Russian history 7: History of Varangian kings

There are few reliable facts about the life of Roerik. It is said that first he settled in Ladoga and moved to Novgorod only after his brothers died. There are also stories about a rebellion against him, led by someone Vadim the Brave. Many people fled from Roerik's Novgorod to Kiev which was ruled by two Varangians, Ascold and Dir.

After Roerik's death, his son Igor (Ingvarr in Scandinavian) was a child and Roerik's relative Oleg (Helgi) became a regent. Oleg together with Igor moved southward along the trade route known as "The route from the Varangian to the Greeks," conquered towns Lyubech and Smolensk and went to Kiev. He killed Ascold and Dir and made Kiev his capital city, saying that Kiev will become "the mother of the Russian cities". So, he achieved his first goal, to unite all towns along the trade way under one ruler. From Kiev he continued to conquer other Russian tribes, such as Drevlyans, Severians, Radimichs. He set Russia free from the Khazars and built a number of fortresses along the Eastern border of Russia.

Like his predecessors, Ascold and Dir, Oleg tried to attack Byzantium. In 907, he sieged the town. Greeks payed him a large tribute and signed a peace treaty, which was confirmed in 912. Some folk tales tell a story of this siege and mention that Oleg put his ships on wheels and attacked Constantinople from land, while Greeks expected him from the sea. Oleg created a large country from a number of disjoint tribes, got rid of Khazars and established trade routes with Byzantium.

After Oleg's death, Igor became the ruler. He was not a gifted chieftain and his two most important wars were not successful. In Asia Minor, he lost a sea battle, and in 945, he tried to attacked Constantinople again, but signed a new peace treaty, which is considered to be not as advantegeous for Russians as the previous one. He was killed in the land of Drevlyans, when he tried to collect larger, than usually, tribute.

His wife, Olga (Helga) ruled together with her small son Svyatoslav. According to the Slavs' traditions, widows were highly respected and the position of women was generally better than in the Western Europe. Chroniclers describe her as a wise ruler. Her most important input in history was the acceptance of Christianity.

Olga's son Svyatoslav, unlike previous rulers, had a Slav name, but he was remained a typical Varyag. He spent most of his life in military campaigns. He subjugated Vyatichs, seized main Khazar cities of Sarkel and Itil, triumphed over the tribes of Yas and Kasogs (Circassians), Volga Bulgarians and seized their capital Bulgar. Rus became the leading force on the Northern banks of the Black Sea. But the fall of Khazars strengthened the Pechenegs who soon became the most important enemies of Russia

Byzantians asked Svyatoslav to help them in the war against the Danubian Bulgars. Svyatoslav conquered Bulgaria and stayed there, since he considered Bulgaria his own property. Attacks of Pechenegs on Kiev made him to come back. Olga asked him to stay in Kiev, but he left again to Bulgaria as soon as she died, leaving his sons in Kiev. Greeks, though, didn't want to lose Bulgaria and started a war against Svyatoslav. Emperor John Tzimiskes sieged Svyatoslav in Dorostol and forced him to leave Bulgaria. On the way to Kiev, Svyatoslav's army was attacked by Pechenegs and he was killed near the Dnieper cataracts.

After his death, his three sons, Yaropolk, Oleg and Vladimir, started a bloody strife and Yaropolk and Oleg were killed. During the strife, some Slav tribes seceded from the Kievan Rus and Vladimir had to spend much time to tame them. He also waged wars with Bulgarians and Greeks. During the latter war, he was converted into Christianity.

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