History according to Sofya

(Updated slightly 16 February 2013)

This my attempt to recreate what Sofya, born in 1272, might have known about the history of the world based largely on primary sources of her time. Items in italics are history that Sofya probably wouldn't have known, but that I've included for context.

Our Russian calendar begins with God's creation of the world, 5,508 years before our Lord Jesus Christ was born. The Bible is the source of our knowledge of early history. Many of us in the land of Rus can read and frequently use birchbark letters to communicate. And since the Bible was translated into Old Slavonic when the southern Slavic lands were first converted to Christianity, we can read it as well.

The Beginning of the World

В начале сотворил Бог небо и землю. Земля же была безвидна и пуста, и тьма над бездною, и Дух Божий носился над водою.

In the beginning, created God the heaven and earth. Earth then was without form and empty, and darkness was over the abyss, and the Spirit of God moved about over the water.

Genesis 1:1-2

The Creation of Mankind

И создал Господь Бог человека из праха земного, и вдунул в лице его дыхание жизни, и стал человек душею живою. И насадил Господь Бог рай в Едеме на востоке, и поместил там человека, которого создал.

And created Lord God man from the dust of the earth, and breathed into his the breath of life, and man became a living soul. And planted Lord God a paradise in Eden in the east, and placed there man, which he had created.

Genesis 2:7-8

World History in the Primary Chronicle as told by the Greek scholar sent to convert Grand Prince Vladimir and the Rus

(my translation from the Russian)

    In the beginning, during the first day, God created the sky and the earth. During the second day, he created the sky among the water. The waters were divided during the same day - half ascended the sky, and half descended under the sky, during the third day he created sea, river, sources and seeds. In the fourth day - God decorated the sky with the sun, the moon, the stars. The first of the angels saw all this - elder of the rank of angelic, and he thought: "I will descend to the earth, and dominate it, and I will be like god, and I will place my throne on the clouds of north". And he was immediately thrown down from the skies, and those fell following him, who were under him from the beginning to the tenth angelic rank.

    And God mounted paradise in the east in the Eden, and he introduced into it man, whom it created, and it commanded to it to eat fruits of each tree, but fruits of one tree - the knowledge of good and evil - was not. And Adam was there in paradise, he saw God and glorified him, when angels glorified, God directed sleep to Adam, and Adam fell asleep, and God took one rib in Adam, and he created for him a wife, and introduced her into the paradise for Adam, and Adam said: "here is the bone from my bone from the flesh of my flesh; it will be called wife ".

    But devil, after seeing, how God honored man, he began to envy, it changed into a snake, he arrived at Eve and said to her: "why you do not eat from the tree, growing in the center of the paradise?". And said wife to the serpent: " God said: "do not eat, but if you eat, then you will die" ". And the serpent said to the wife: "you will not die; God knows that during the day that, in which you eat from the tree of this, your eyes will be opened and you will be as God, after getting to know good and evil ". And the wife saw that the tree was edible, and, after taking, she ate fruit, and it gave to husband, and both ate, and the eyes of both were opened, and they understood that they were naked, and sewed to themselves prepoyasaniye from leaves of fig-tree. And God said: " the earth is cursed for your actions, with grief you will be saturated all days of your life".

    Adam bore Cain and Abel, Cain was ploughman, and Abel a herdsman. And Cain carried into the sacrifice to God terrestrial fruits, and God did not accept them. However, Abel brought the first-born lamb, and God accepted the gifts of Abel. However, Satan entered into Cain and began to incite him to kill Abel. And Cain said to Abel: "go in the field". And Abel listened to him, and, when they left, Cain rose to Abel and he wanted to kill him, but he did not know how to do this. And Satan said to him: "take stone and strike him". He took stone and killed Abel. And God said to Cain: "Where is your brother?". The very same answered: "Am I a watchmen to my brother?". And God said: "the blood of your brother cries out to me, you will moan and shake to the end of your life". Adam and Eve cried, and the devil was glad, saying: "whom god honored, that I forced to fall from God..." And 30 years they mourned Abel, and his body did not rot, and they did not know how to bury him. And by God’s command arrived two flying nestlings, one of them died, another dug up pit and placed dead one into it and buried him. After seeing this, Adam and Eve dug a pit, placed Abel into it and buried him with weeping.

    Only Noah was righteous among men. And he bore three sons: Sima, Hama Iafeta (Shem, Ham and Japheth). And God said: "my spirit will not be among the people"; and further: "I will destroy what I created, from the man and to the cattle". And Lord God said to Noah: "Build an ark in length 300 cubits, into width 80, and into height 30"; however, Egyptians call segene cubit. For 100 years made Noah his ark, and when Noah told the people, that there will be a flood, they laughed about it. When the ark was made, the Lord said to Noah: "enter into it you, and your wife, and your sons, and your daughters-in-law, and introduce to yourself a pair from all beasts, both from all birds and from all reptiles". And Noah introduced, whom God ordered. God directed the flood to the earth, sank all living, and the ark sailed on the water. When the water fell, it left Noah, his sons and his wife. From them was populated the earth...

    However, God loved Abraham and said to him: "Go out from the house of your father and go into the land, which I will show you, and I will create from you great people, and will bless through you generations of humans". And made Abraham in the manner that commanded to it God and Abraham took the nephew of his lead; this lead there was to it both brother-in-law and nephew, since Abraham took as himself the daughter of his brother, Aaron - Sara. And Abraham arrived into the land of Canaan at the high oak, and God said to Abraham: "to your posterity I will give this land". And Abraham bowed to God. ..

    The Jews were strengthened after the lapse of these years and they were multiplied, and Egyptians oppressed them as slaves. In these times Moisey was borne among the Jews, and magi said to the Egyptian tsar: "a child was borne among Jews, who will ruin Egypt". And the tsar commanded all Jewish children being born immediately to be thrown into the river. However, the mother of Moiseya, fearing this destruction, took the baby, put him into a basket and, after carrying, placed him next to the river. The daughter of pharaoh fermufi arrived to bathe at this time and she saw the weeping child, took him, spared him, and gave the name Moisey to him, and raised him. However, that boy was beautiful, and, when he was four years old, the daughter of pharaoh brought him to her father. But pharaoh, after seeing Moiseya, fell in love with boy. But Moisey, being sufficient somehow at the neck of tsar, dropped from the tsar’s head the corona and broke [?] it. But magi, after seeing this, it said to the tsar: "Oh, tsar! the youth has ruined this, but if you do not destroy him, then he will ruin all Egypt "...

    The Jews of God, who delivered them from Egypt, forgot with them and they began to serve besam. And god was angry, and he betrayed to their foreigners to the embezzlement. When they began to repent, had pity their god; and when freed they, again they avoided to the service to besam. Then there was judge Ilya priest, and then prophet Samuel. And people said to Samuel: "place over us a tsar". And the Lord was angry toward Israel, and he placed over them the tsar Saul. However, Saul did not want to obey the law. And the Lord selected David, and he placed him as tsar over Israel, and David pleased God...

    And Greek scholar continues his review of the important events of the beginning of history with the history of Israel and finishes his story with the birth and life of the Lord Jesus Christ.

The Vilnius Chronograph?
Josephus History?
Original inhabitants of Russia
The Slavs were relative late-comers to the Russian plains. Before they arrived, the area that gave birth to the Russian nation was inhabited by other peoples for many thousands of years.

There is suggestive archaeological evidence of human habitation back as far as one million years ago, but the evidence for human habitation during the "Neolithic Age" is much clearer, dating from about 4,000 B.C. Then about 1,000 B.C., there is evidence of numerous waves of migration into the Eurasian plain of Russia from Asia and the Middle East.

The first historical group was the Cimmerians - around 1,000 B.C. They arrived as conquerors from Thracian stock and may have introduced the use of iron to the area, although its use was not widespread until the Scythians came.

The Scythians replaced the Cimmerians as rulers around 700 B.C. Their origins are unclear. Some argue that they were Iranian, or Mongol, or even proto-Slavic. In any event, their culture incorporated many elements of the Cimmerian culture already in place. They were herders, hunters, warriors and agriculturists and maintained extensive trade and cultural contacts in their area.

Around the same time, Greeks started to settle around the Black Sea in the Crimea (word derived from Cimmeria?) with trading colonies and cities. The relations between the Greeks and the Scythians foreshadowed the future relationship between Russia and the Byzantine "Greek" Empire. Herodotus, the famous Greek historian, spent time in one of the Crimean Greek cities and wrote about the Scythians, although his works are not altogether reliable and he uses the term "Scythian" a bit carelessly to refer to anyone living in that general area of the Eurasian plain.

In the third century the Sarmatians, a group of warrior tribes, began to move in from central Asia. They were ethnically Iranian and had replaced the Scythians as the ruling class by the second century. They were nomadic cattle-breeders living in wheeled felt huts, but adopted much of the Scythian culture and maintained the trade ties with the Black Sea Greeks. The last group of Sarmatians to arrive were the Alans, and one of their tribes was called "Rukhs-As," the fair-haired As, and an old theory claimed that that term gavie rise to the term "Russian." A competing theory claimed that another Sarmatian tribe, the Roxalani, became the Rosalani, then the Ros, and then the Rus.

During the first century A.D., the Goths started to move down out of Scandinavia - conquering and displacing the peoples they met. Among these peoples are mentioned the Venedae, the Sclaveni, and the Antes. Jordanis, a sixth century A.D. Goth, says that that these tribes gave rise to the Slavs. The Goths generally adopted the culture of the Sarmatians, so that the period from 500 B.C. to 500 A.D. was a time of general cultural continuity for the Eurasian plain.

The Huns arrived in the fourth century A.D. from Central Asia, after having been blocked from eastward movement by the construction of the Great Wall of China. They crushed the Alans between the Don River and the Sea of Azov. Many Alans fled west, pursued by the Huns, who then fought the Goths. This movement of the Huns gave rise to the "Great Migration of Peoples" as it caused massive dislocations. They forced the Visigoths (West Goths) and Ostrogoths (East Goths) and Alans out of the Eurasian plain. The Visigoths went to southern Gaul, then Spain. The Ostrogoths went to Thrace, then conquered Italy, destroying the Western Roman Empire. A group of the Alans moved into the Caucasus Mountains and became the Ossetians. (Joseph Stalin was Ossetin.) The Huns peaked under Attila and attacked the Eastern Roman Byzantine Empire in 447, invaded Frankish Gaul in 451 and attacked Italy in 452. Fortunately for all of western Europe, Attila died in 453 and his empire crumbled. But many historians believe that it was during this period of the Great Migration of Peoples that the Slavs began to migrate out of central and eastern Europe - heading east, south and west.


After the Huns came the Avars, a mixed people of Turkish, Mongolian and Chinese decent, who conquered in the mid-sixth century and created a state reaching from the Volga River to the Elbe. They were powerful enough to pressure the Byzantine Empire into paying tribute in 581, and the Byzantine sources make it clear that Slavic groups were included in the Avar campaigns - refered to as Sclaveni. The Avars ruled (and oppressed according to the oldest Russian histories) until the seventh century when they were defeated by the Byzantine Empire.

In the eighth century, the nomadic Turkic Khazars arrived along the Black and Caspian seas to rule over the array of peoples now living in the Eurasian plain - Huns, Avars, Antes, Altaic Turks and Slavs. The Khazars developed lively trading relationships with the Byzantine Empire to the west and the rising Arab Empire to the east, and served as the middlemen between these two empires and the tribes living to the north. As a result, south Russia as a fairly cosmopolitan region at this time. Also by the eighth century, Slavic tribes had settled permanently along the Dnieper River, forming the basis for the future Kievan state.

In summary, there is no definite evidence of Slavs in the Eurasian plain until the sixth century, when Slavic or proto-Slavic tribes had moved east out of central Europe and spread along the Dnieper to form the nucleus of the eastern Slavs - the "Great Russians", the "White Russians" (Byelorussians) and the "Little Russians" (Ukrainians). Other Slavic tribes moved south into the Balkans and gave rise to the southern Slavs - Serbs, Croats, Slovenes, and Bulgars. Slavic tribes also moved west to become the western Slavs - Poles, Czechs, Slovaks, Moravians, Kashubs and Wends.

Notes about the Rus from De Administrando Imperio of Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, written around 950 A.D. This knowledge may not have been available to Sofya.

The "monoxyla" which come to Constantinople from outer Russia originate from Novgorod (the previous seat of Sviatoslav, son of Igor, prince of Rus), Smolensk, Teliutza, Chernigov and Vyshegrad. The Krivichians, the Lenzanenes and the rest of the Slavonic regions that are tributary to the Rus of Kiev cut "monoxyla" on their mountains in the winter and prepare them until spring. When the ice melts, they bring them to the neighboring lakes that debouch into the Dnieper and take them down the Dnieper to Kiev.
The Russians at Kiev buy the "monoxyla" to use as bottoms and furnish them with the fittings (oars, rowlocks, etc.) from the old "monoxyla" which they dismantle. In June they set out down the Dnieper to Vitichev, a tributary city, and wait there 2 or 3 days until all the "monoxyla" have arrived. Then they continue down the Dnieper.
Along the Dnieper they encounter several mighty barrages, or rapids. These they navigate by putting in to shore and unloading most of the men, leaving the goods on board, then a skeleton crew guides the ship carefully along the shore, feeling with their feet to avoid striking rocks. Some of them sit at the prow, some amidships to do this, and some are in the stern punting with poles, to edge the craft around under the river bank. They are able to navigate most of the barrages this way. However, the 4th barrage is too difficult and must be portaged. The goods, "monoxyla" and the slaves in chains must be conveyed some 6 miles. This maneuver is complicated by the danger of attack by the Pechenegs and so some men are set to watch.
There are 7 barrages in all. The first is Essoupi, which in Russian and Slavonic means "Do not sleep!" The second is Oulvorsi in Russian and Ostrovouniprach in Slavonic, which means "the Island of the Barrage". The third barrage is called Gelandri, which means "Noise of the Barrage" in Slavonic. The fourth barrage, the big one, is called Aeifor in Russian and Neasit in Slavonic, because pelicans nest in there. The 5th barrage is called Varouforos in Russian and Voulniprach in Slavoic, because it forms a large lake. The sixth barrage is Leanti in Russian and Veroutzi in Slavonic, meaning "the Boiling of the Water". The seventh barrage is Stroukoun in Russian and Naprezi in Slavonic, which means "Little Barrage".
The seventh barrage is crossed at the ford of Vrar, where the Chersonites cross over from Russia and the Pechengs to Cherson. It is at this point, that the Pechengs come down and attack. After traversing this area, the "monoxyla" reach St. Gregory island where they perform sacrifices at the gigantic oak there. They sacrifice live cocks, throwing lots to determine whether to slaughter and eat them or leave them alive. They will also leave some arrows, bread and meat, or whatever they may have. After this island, the Russians consider themselves safe from the Pechenegs until they reach the Selinas river.
It takes four days to reach the lake which forms the mouth of the river, where they rest at the island of St. Aitherios, which lies on the sea, for two or three days. Here they re-equip their "monoxyla" with sails, masts, and rudders, which they've brought with them. They come thence to the Dniester river, where they can rest again. If the weather is propitious, they put to sea to reach the Aspros river, where they rest again. Then they set out to the Selinas, the so-called branch of the Danube. Until they are past the Selinas, the Pechenegs keep pace with them on shore. If the sea casts a "monoxylon" on shore, they all put in to defend it.
After the Selinas river, the Russians fear nobody as, entering the territory of Bulgaria the reach the mouth of the Danube. They proceed to Konopas, to Constantia, to the river of Varna, to the Ditzina river, all of which are in Bulgarian territory. From the Ditzina they reach the district of Mesembira, where their difficult and dangerous journey reaches its end.
In the winter, these same Russians live severely. At the beginning of November, the chiefs with all the Russians leave Kiev and go on the "poliudia", or rounds, to visit their Slav tributaries, the Vervians, Drugovichiand, Krivichians, Severians, and others. There they are maintained all winter, until April when the ice on the Dnieper melts, and they return to Kiev to fit out their "monoxyla" and go to Romania.

Obolensky, D. "Original text and English translation of the ninth chapter of Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De Administrando Imperio." Byzantium and the Slavs: collected studies. Variorum Reprints: London. 1971.

On-line Exerpt from Constantine Porphyrogenitus

My Notes from:
Obolensky, D. "Commentary on the ninth chapter of Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De Administrando Imperio." Byzantium and the Slavs: collected studies. Variorum Reprints: London. 1971.

The ninth chapter is made up of at least three different sections each derived from a different source, and doesn't quite fit into the rest of the De Administrando Imperio (DAI).
Most of the source material was probably compiled around 944, based on what we know of Igor who is believed to have come to the throne in 913 and died in 944, and what we know of his son, Sviatoslav, who was still a child at his father's death, but was still mentioned as the ruler of Novgorod. Since he was ruler of Kiev after Igor's death, we would expect that he would have been called the prince of Russia instead of Igor in the DAI, if its source dated after 944. It was common for 10th century prices of Kiev to install their sons to the throne of Novgorod.
The author of the main source of the chapter was apparently from Constantinople, since he uses landmarks of that city to describe features of the Russians' journey, while the vividness and accuracy of the account suggest the work of an eye witness. He doesn't seem to have been a merchant since he gives short shrift to such topics in his story. Likely, he was a member of one of the diplomatic missions that were sent to the Byzantine empire's northern neighbors on a regular basis. In fact, an embassy from Romanus I was sent to Kiev in 944 to conclude a treaty with Igor.
The word used in the DAI "Pws" is derived from the Slavonic Rus' and corresponds to the term Rus used by Arabic writers and the Slavs. It is interesting that the term was "contaminated" by the title of the Biblical King Gog used in the LXX version of Ezekiel, made easier by the fact that Gog and Magog were associated with the ancient Scythian peoples of the steppes and associated with the belief that Russian attacks on the Byzantine empire were fulfilling Ezekiel's prophecy. False etymology connected the term Povsioi, a declinable form of Pws, with the adjective povsios, "red, red-haired."
The Scandinavian origins of the Rus' are betrayed by the fact that the "Russian" names given for the barrages in chapter 9 are actually Old Swedish. Gradually, the term came to be applied to the Slavic peoples that the Northmen Rus' ruled over. This integrative process was under way by the time of the writing of the DAI, yet it is clear that the use of the term in the DAI is largely restricted to the elites of Kiev.
As a geographic term, Rus' designates the territory inhabited by the Eastern Slavs and goverened by the princes of Kiev. In the mid 10th century, it extended from Lake Ladoga in the north to a point on the Dnieper some hundred miles south of Kiev plus a southern enclave along the southern Bug, Dniester and Pruth to the Black Sea, to the west it reached the Carpathians and the middle courses of the western Dvina and the Niemen in the north-east it included the upper reaches of the Oka and the Volga. This territory pivoted politically and economically on the Baltic-Black Sea waterway along the Volkhov, Lovat' and Dnieper. The term, Rus', may also be used in a more restricted sense to refer to the southern Russian prinicpalities of Kiev, Chernigov and Pereyaslavl' - the centers of power and wealth. The old Norse name of Novgorod is Holmgardr. Novgorod retained close commercial ties with Scandinavia until the 12th century, and the Norse considered Novgorod, not Kiev, the principle city of Russia. In the 10th century, the city of Novgorod was the largest Russian town after Kiev. Located on the upper reaches of the Volkhov river it dominated the northern sector of the Baltic-Black Sea waterway linking the gulf of Finland to the upper Dnieper via the Neva, Lake Ladoga, the Volkhov, Lake Il'men', the Lovat' and portages over the western Dvina. Its importance was also enhanced by its proximity to the upper reaches of the Volga. It was the principal city of the Slovene, the most northerly of the East Slavonic tribes.
Svyatoslav ruled under the regency of his mother Olga from 945-69, then on his own from 969-72. Nasal vowels were no longer pronounced in Russia by the middle of the 10th century so it is interesting that Svyatoslav's name is written in the DAI in a nasalized form, presumably because of a Bulgarian intermediary. Such Old Bulgarian influence is seen in other names in chapter 9.
For the Eastern Slavs in the early Middle Ages, a gorod or grad was an inhabited place situated on the high bank of a river or at the confluence of two rivers and often enclosed by an earthwork or a wooden palisade and serving as a enter of craftsmanship and trade. The earliest goroda arose in the 8th and 9th centuries in the middle Dnieper, Dniester and Bug river valleys. The Scandinavians called Russia Gardariki, land of goroda, indicating that by the time the Rus' arrived, numerous cities were a distinctive feature of the area. The Old Norse work gardr (yard, stronghold) is related to the Slavic term gorod/grad, and is used in the Old Norse names for Novgorod and Kiev, Holmgardr and Kaenugardr.
Smolensk derived commercial and, later, political importance from its position near the watershed between the Dnieper, the western Dvina, the Lovat' and the Volga. Its exact location in the 9th and 10th centuries is as yet unknown. The Primary Chronicle names it as the principal city of the Slavonic Krivichians. By the 10th century, it was a fortified stronghold with an attached area of merchants and artisans growing up. It was referred to as Moliskov in DAI after somehow losing the initial S in the translations. Lyubech, called Teliovtchav in DAI, was situated on the middle Dnieper North of Kiev and not far to the northwest of Chernigov. It had close commercial relations with Kiev.
Chernigov was near the bank of the lower Desna, northeast of Kiev. Its economic importance was ensured by its proximity to the Dnieper. It is mentioned along with Lyubech as subject to Kiev and receiving tribute from Byzantium in 907. By 944, it was the most important city in south Russian after Kiev and it retained this position for many centuries.
Vyshegorod, Bovsegrade in DAI, is on the right bank of the Dnieper 20 km upstream from Kiev near the confluence of the Desna and the Dnieper. It's name means "the upper city", the acropolis.
The Dnieper was the main artery of the Baltic-Black Sea waterway from Scandinavia to Byzantium. This was one of the most important trade routes of early medieval Europe starting from the 9th century when the Northmen started moving in and the Dnepr replaced the Volga as the great Swedish highway for eastern adventure, the austrvegr. The Primary Chronicle describes the northern section from the Baltic, up the Neva, the Volkhov, Lake Il'men', the Lovat' into the Dnieper. DAI is more detailed about the southern section from Kiev to Constantinople, called the "Greek route" (grechesky put') but does list the principal cities on the northern section - Novgorod, Smolensk, Lyubech, Vyshgorod and Chernigov. Chernigov was the last on the line, standing by the lower Desna, but in the Dnieper basin. The other towns, except Novgorod, were on the banks of the Dnieper. It is only the exact itinerary from Novgorod to the Dnieper that remains uncertain. Between the Lovat' and the Dnieper, there is a 140 km expans of land which the Primary Chronicle simply calls a portage but is in fact bisected by the western Dvina, with several portages and many possible routes across it. Seredonin says, "The Varangians, and the Russians after them, pulled and dragged their boats over comparatively small distances, making use of every little river, every lake, to sail their boats, or at least to drag them over water rather than over dry land." Many researchers, including Seredonin, have tried to determine the most likely route. The section between the Lovat' and the western Dvina is the shortest and consists of a maze of rivulets and small lakes. The most convenient route seems to have led through the town of Toropets by sailing up the Kun'ya (an affluent of the Lovat') and then up the Ser‘zha, over a portage to the Toropa river - or by moving up the Pola river over several portages into the Toropa, and thence down the Toropa into the western Dvina. From the western Dvina and the Dnieper there were two main routes. One ran up the Kasplya river, over Lake Kasplya, up the Vydra, over Lake Kuprino, up the Krapivka (or Lelekva), over a small portage to the Katynka, and down that river into the Dnieper a little below Smolensk. The other option went up the Mezha rier and its affluent the El'sha, over a portage to the Votrya, down that river and the Vor' to the Dnieper above Smolensk.
Kiev is a very ancient city on the right bank of the Dnieper with archeological evidence of Slavonic settlement dating from before the 8th century. Historical records begin with the Primary Chronicle in 862 when two Varangians, Askold and Dir, captured Kiev from the Khazars. At that time, Kiev was the capital of the Slavonic Polyanians. Its role as the political center of Rus' began when it was captured in 882 by Oleg, who allegedly declared it "the mother of Russian cities", and continued until the 12th century. Kiev was also referred to as Sambatas in DAI. There has been much discussion as to where this name could have come from. One theory is that it derives from the Turkic language of the Khazars and means high fortress (sam-high, bat-strong).
The reference to the "mountains" where the Slavs cut the monoxyla is puzzling since the nearest mountain range, the Carpathians, is very distant from the Slavonic regions mentioned in DAI. The few hills around Kiev and Chernigov are not big enough to fit. It may refer to the Valdai Hills near the great water-divide between the Volga, the Dnieper and the western Dvina, the upland Oka forest of the Primary Chronicle, but this hardly encompasses all the regions that were contributing monoxyla. The other option is that the term "mountain" was meant as a translation of the Slavonic term gory, from gora, which means not only mountain but also dry land. In addition, in the Russian language ofthe time, the notions of mountain and forest were closely connected. Thus it is not hard to imagine that a Byzantine or his interpreters could confound the notions of forests and hills and mountains.
With the monoxyla gathered in Kiev during Aril, the month of May was presumably spent fitting them out. The departure times are balanced between the melting of the ice on the rivers, generally in early April, and the sailing conditions on the Black Sea, at its calmest in June and July, but bearing in mind that the Russians were required to leave Constantinople by early autumn, and had to be back to Kiev by early November to begin the polyudie. The trip from Kiev to the rapids, including the 2-3 day stop in Vitichev, probably took about ten days. The rapids were probaby passed in a day (?) then a day might have been spend on the island of St. Gregory. From St. Gregory to St. Aitherios at the mouth of the Dnieper was four days. After a two or three day break, (about 18-19 days out of Kiev), they began the trip across the Black Sea, where speed would have varied according to the weather. A Russian naval attack fleet might have made the crossing in 10 days, but a group of merchants probably took closer to 20 days since they'd have to put in to shore often. So the whole journey from Kiev to Constantinople would have taken at least 6 weeks. In bad weather, or when the Pechenegs were troublesome, it would have taken longer. The Russians would have arrived in Constaninople at mid-July at the earliest, although some of the armed flotillas managed to make their attacks in mid-June.
The town of Vitichev on the Dnieper about 60 km downstream from Kiev was a place of some importance because it was the final assembly-point of the monoxyla. It is not mentioned, however, in the early Primary Chronicle. The choice of Vitichev as the final assembly-point seems a bit odd, with Kiev the seemingly obvious alternative, however, the text of the DAI implies that additional monoxyla joined up here. With Pereslavl, ranked third among ancient Rus' cities after Kiev and Chernigov in 10th cent. treaties, standing on the lower course of the Trubezh near its confluence with the the Dnieper some 50 km downstream from Vitichev, it may supposed that Vitichev was where the Pereslavl' monoxyla joined the expedition and were fitted out after a short trip down the Trubezh and up the Dnieper.
The Dnieper rapids extend 67.7 km from Dnepropetrovsk (Ekaterinoslav) and Zaporosh'e (Aleksandrovsk). They are formed by a granite deposit that extends across southwest Russian in a southeast direction from the Carpatians to the Sea of Azov. The Dnieper parallels this deposit until it is joined by the Samara, where it changes course and is forced to cut through the granite from north to south. Thus the river bed is intersected by a series of granite ridges which form ledges 200-850 m long. Nine of these extend all the way across the river and are called porogi, the barrages proper, and some thirty more extent partway across and are called zabory. (see the map on page V:39) These, of course, stir up the water considerably. Navigation hazards were increased by the strong and variable spring winds, the large scattered rocks between the rapids, and the sixty-odd islands which stud this sector of the Dnieper. The speed of the current in most of the river is 40-50 m/minute, and in the rapids it can reach 200-320 m/minute. Today, the rapids have been drowned by a dam.
Slavonic was the "lingua franca" of Eastern Europe at the time of the DAI. The "Russian" names of the rapids are actually Scandinavian with features typical of the Swedish language of the Viking age. The Slavonic names of the Rapids are among the earliest examples of the language spoken by the Eastern Slavs that is now called Old Russian.
The primary purpose of the annual trip down the Dnieper was trade, although Russian merchants occasionally were employed for diplomatic activities. According to the Primary Chronicle, the primary goods shipped in the 10th cent. were furs, wax, honey and slaves. The slave-trade, in particular, was important and is addressed in treaties which also dealt with the protocols for dealing with runaway slaves, both Russian and Byzantine. A Russian slave who had escaped to Byzantium, or to the St. Mamas quarter of Constantinople where the Russina merchants were forced to reside, was to be returned. Likewise for Byzantine slaves escaped to Russia. Furs from the forests of central and northern Russia were highly prized in Europe and Asia, and formed the standard contribution of the tribute collected by the Russians from their Slav tributaries. The furs exported at this time included beaver, sable, ermine, black fox and squirrel. Wax was highly rated on the Byzantine market and was used to make candles for the Church. It was collected in the forest, along with honey. Russian merchants were heavily armed because of the threat presented by the Pechenegs and because the boundary between trader and warrior was a narrow one. The merchants of the Russian cities were still members of the military aristocracy, in the prince's retinue, which monopolized trade. The trade with Byzantium was conducted mostly by barter.
The Kichkas ford seems to be a bit of a crossroads between the waterway of the "Greek route" with the land route used by the Chersonites and the Pechenegs and probably serving as a trade route connecting Kiev with the Don, the lower Volga and Tmutarakan. The land route used by the Chersonites also provided an alternate trade route to Constantinople, shorter but not as commercially convenient. It was used by Russians until the early 13th cent. for trading through Cherson with Constantinople.
Pecheneg/Russian relations were important and close. The Primary Chronicle records mutual hostilities occurring in 920, 968, 971-2, 988, 992, 997 with peace reigning in 915, 944 and 968. The Pechenegs, Turkic neighbors on the steppes, were in a position to sever Russian's economic lifeline with Byzantium, but they were also trade partners and intermediaries. The pagan rites performed on the island could be of Slavic origin, Scandinavian origin, or both. Oak-trees seems to have been important in Slavonic paganism, especially in Russia. A Russian travellor reported the existence of an oak which "had lived for thousands of years" and was "of colossal width" on this same island, and was thought to have been the traditional meeting-place of the Zaporog Cossacks. The slaughtering of cocks and/or hens for sacrifice is ascribed to pagan Russians in several sources. Arrows, and weapons in general, were used by Russians as sacred objects in pagan rituals. To make a treaty with Byzantium in 907, the Russians took the oath on their weapons "in accordance with the Russian religion" and they ratified the 944 treaty by ritually laying down their weapons before the statue of Perun. Arrows, pegged in the ground in a circle, were probably used for divination. Spears were used similarly by the Baltic Slavs. Both Slavs and Norhtmen offered food to their pagan divinities. Christian ritual may have also been heard at the island, since there were many Christians in Kiev by 944.
The statement the the Russians end their voyage at Mesembria presumably just means that they were at that point in Byzantine waters and therefore safe.
The term poludie was used in medieval Russian sources to refer to both the tribute collected by the princes from their subjects and the journey, or circuit undertaken by the prince to collect the tribute, administer the realm and dispense justice. In the DAI, it clearly refers to the second meaning. The duty of the local visited population included both the maintenance of the prince and his retinue and contributions of furs, honey and wax.
The tribute was collected from each homestead. The right of poludie was occasionally granted by the prince to his retainers and companions. When such dues were collected by a subsidiary ruler, he was to keep 1/3 for his own use and send 2/3 to Kiev. This practice was not popular and it was on such a poludie expedition that Igor was killed by the Derevlyanians in 944. It is interesting that the system seems to have been overhauled in 946 or 947 with new regulations introduced by Princess Olga, perhaps to make tribute collection more organized and less arbitrary.

Origins of the Rus and the city of Kiev in the Primary Russian Chronicle/Tale of Bygone Years

В год 6367 (859). Варяги из заморья взимали дань с чуди, и со словен, и с мери, и с кривичей. А хазары брали с поля, и с северян, и с вятичей по серебряной монете и по белке от дыма.

6367 (859). The Varangians from beyond the sea imposed tribute upon the Chuds, the Slavs, the Merians, the Ves, and the Krivichians. But the Khazars imposed it upon the Polianians, the Severians, and the Viatichians, and collected a white squirrel skin from each hearth.

В год 6370 (862). Изгнали варяг за море, и не дали им дани, и начали сами собой владеть, и не было среди них правды, и встал род на род, и была у них усобица, и стали воевать друг с другом. И сказали себе: «Поищем себе князя, который бы владел нами и судил по праву». И пошли за море к варягам, к руси. Те варяги назывались русью, как другие называются шведы, а иные норманны и англы, а еще иные готландцы, — вот так и эти. Сказали руси чудь, словене, кривичи и весь: «Земля наша велика и обильна, а порядка в ней нет. Приходите княжить и владеть нами». И избрались трое братьев со своими родам, и взяли с собой всю русь, и пришли, и сел старший, Рюрик, в Новгороде, а другой, Синеус, — на Белоозере, а третий, Трувор, — в Изборске. И от тех варягов прозвалась Русская земля. Новгородцы же — те люди от варяжского рода, а прежде были словене. Через два же года умерли Синеус и брат его Трувор. И принял всю власть один Рюрик, и стал раздавать мужам своим города — тому Полоцк, этому Ростов, другому Белоозеро. Варяги в этих городах — находники, а коренное население в Новгороде — словене, в Полоцке — кривичи, в Ростове — меря, в Белоозере — весь, в Муроме — мурома, и над теми всеми властвовал Рюрик. И было у него два мужа, не родственники его, но бояре, и отпросились они в Царьград со своим родом. И отправились по Днепру, и когда плыли мимо, то увидели на горе небольшой город. И спросили: «Чей это городок?». Те же ответили: «Были три брата» Кий» Щек и Хорив, которые построили городок этот и сгинули, а мы тут сидим, их потомки, и платим дань хазарам». Аскольд же и Дир остались в этом городе, собрали у себя много варягов и стали владеть землею полян. Рюрик же княжил в Новгороде.

6370 (862). Those who paid tribute to the Varangians drove them back beyond the sea and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves. There was no law among them, but tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensued among them, and they began to war one against another. They said to themselves, "Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to the law." They accordingly went beyond the sea to the Varangian Rus; these particular Varangians were known as Rus, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans, Angles, and Goths, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs and the Krivichians then said to the people of Rus, "Our whole land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us." They thus selected three brothers, with their kinfolk, who took with them all the Rus and migrated. The oldest, Rurik, located hiself in Novgorod; the second, Sineus, in Beloozero; and the thrid, Truvor, in Izborsk. On account of these Varangians, the district of Novgorod became known as the land of the Rus. The present inhabitants of Novgorod are descended from the Varangian race, but prviously they were Slavs.

After two years, Sineaus and his brother Truvor died, and Rurik assumed the sole authority. He assigned cities to his followers, Polotsk to one, Rostov to another, and to another Beloozero. In these cities there are thus Varangian colonists, but the first settlers were, in Novgorod, Slavs; in Polotsk, Krivichians; at Beloozero, Ves; in Rostov, Merians; and in Murom, Muromians. Rurik had dominion over all these districts.
With Rurik there were two men who did not belong to his kin, but were boyars. They obtained permission to go to Tsargrad with their families. They thus sailed down the Dnieper, and in the course of their journey they saw a small city on a hill. Upon their inquiry as to whose town it was, they were informed that three brothers, Kii, Shchek, and Khoriv, had once built the city but that, since their deaths, their descendants were living there as tribute payers to the Khazars. Askold and Dir remianed in this city, and after gathering together many Varangians, they established their domination over the country of the Polianians at the same time that Rurik was ruling at Novgorod.


    Samuel Cross translation of The Russian Primary Chronicle as used by Readings in Russian History, edited by Don C. Rawson
    Повесть временных лет - Russian website version of the Tale of Bygone Years.

Commentary on Origins of the Rus'

The original Russian history, the Primary Russian Chronicle or the Tale of Bygone Years, describes the period from 852 to 1110 A.D., and portions of it are believed to have been written by the Kievan monk Nestor in the 12th century, thus it is sometimes known as the Chronicle of Nestor.

The Chronicle states that in 860, the Slavs of the Novgorod region invited the Scandinavian Vikings, Varangians, to rule over them since they couldn't rule themselves and so the Varangians created the first Russian state. More specifically, the Chronicle suggests that the tribes of the area, some of them Slavic, were caught between the Varangians of Scandinavia and the Khazar Empire along the Volga, and the Russes were Scandinavian Vikings who created a state for the tribes of northern Russia, and this state, Rus, was originally founded in Novgorod by Riurik, who started the first Rus dynasty. His decendents intermarried with the local peoples and established Kiev as their capital. And so the Rus would be descendents of both the Scandinavian Varangians and the Slavs according to the Primary Chronicle.

Modern historians have, however, come up with their own theories for the origin of the "Rus" and the first feudal state on Russian soil.

The "Norman Theory" of the origin of the Rus is inspired by the Primary Russian Chronicle and makes three main claims: 1) the words "Rus" and "Variag" (Varangian) are Scandinavian, 2) the Rus and the Swedes are identical, 3) the latter founded the first Russian state in the Novgorod region.

The Soviet "Anti-Normanists" made their own arguments: 1) the unreliablility of the Primary Russian Chronicle, 2) the first state in Rus arose due to socioeconomic changes among the Slavs (shift from primitive communism to feudalism in parallel with the changes in Western Europe) long before the Varangians arrived, 3) the Rus were a south Russian tribe living along the Ros River that gave its name to a loose confederation of tribes and the land they inhabited.

The "Anti-Normanists" point out that the old histories are not entirely reliable and the Soviet scholars used archaeological evidince to argue that the Slavs had established a feudal state before the arrival of the Varangians.

A compromise argument was enunciated by V.O. Kliuchevskii who wrote the Course of Russian History before the Bolshevik Revolution. He said that from the begining of the ninth century and the end of Charlemagne's reign, Vikings began their attacks along the coasts of western Europe. Likewise, Baltic Scandinavian opportunists, called Varangians, began plying the rivers of the Eurasian plain. During the tenth and eleventh centuries, these Varangian visits continued - for trade and to serve in the retinues of the local princes. The Chronicle exaggerated their numbers and influence, stating they had begun arriving early in the ninth century and even founded Kiev. While the Vikings of western Europe were pirates, the Varangians in Rus differed in being armed merchants making their way to reach the riches of Byzantium. Thus the Varangians settled in the commercial centers of Rus and were absorbed into the local armed merchant class. The first political units in Rus about the mid-ninth century were city-states - a fortified town administering a commercial district that centered a region. These ancient city-states - Kiev, Chernigov, Smolensk, etc. - were absorbed as ready-made units into the developing nation.

The military and merchant presence of the Varangians was an important influence and apparently most of the early rulers of Kievan Rus were of Varangian origin. This moderate Normanism is the leading position today but research and controversy continues.

The Mother of Russia
The city of Kiev (capital of the modern Ukraine) was dominant in Rus from 878 to 1132. 878-972 was an era of imperial expansion and included attacks on Constantinople. 972-1054 was an era of internal consolidation, growth and prosperity. The era of disintegration beginning in 1054 was interupted by a brief recovery from 1093-1132, before the last effective Kievan prince died in 1132 and the empire split into numerous, competing principalities. The city's importance was decreased by the decline of trade with the deteriorating Byzantine empire, and as trade shifted to the north and west, more northern cities such as Novgorod and Smolensk gained power. But Kiev was supreme when the Russian nation first gained its unique identity and this is the reason why Kiev is called the "mother of Russia".

The Conversion of the Rus to Christianity in the Primary Chronicle

В год 6494 (986). Пришли болгары магометанской веры, говоря: «Ты, князь, мудр и смыслен, а закона не знаешь, уверуй в закон наш и поклонись Магомету». И спросил Владимир: «Какова же вера ваша?». Они же ответили: «Веруем Богу, и учит нас Магомет так: совершать обрезание, не есть свинины, не пить вина, зато по смерти, говорит, можно творить блуд с женами. Даст Магомет каждому по семидесяти красивых жен, и изберет одну из них красивейшую, и возложит на нее красоту всех; та и будет ему женой. Здесь же, говорит, следует предаваться всякому блуду. Если кто беден на этом свете, то и на том», и другую всякую ложь говорили, о которой и писать стыдно. Владимир же слушал их, так как и сам любил жен и всякий блуд; потому и слушал их всласть. Но вот что было ему нелюбо: обрезание и воздержание от свиного мяса, а о питье, напротив, сказал он: «Руси есть веселие пить: не можем без того быть». Потом пришли иноземцы из Рима и сказали: «Пришли мы, посланные папой», и обратились к Владимиру: «Так говорит тебе папа: «Земля твоя такая же, как и наша, а вера ваша не похожа на веру нашу, так как наша вера — свет; кланяемся мы Богу, сотворившему небо и землю, звезды и месяц и все, что дышит, а ваши боги — просто дерево». Владимир же спросил их: «В чем заповедь ваша?». И ответили они: «Пост по силе: «если кто пьет или ест, то все это во славу Божию», — как сказал учитель наш Павел». Сказал же Владимир немцам: «Идите, откуда пришли, ибо отцы наши не приняли этого». Услышав об этом, пришли хазарские евреи и сказали: «Слышали мы, что приходили болгары и христиане, уча тебя каждый своей вере. Христиане же веруют в того, кого мы распяли, а мы веруем в единого Бога Авраамова, Исаакова и Иаковля». И спросил Владимир: «Что у вас за закон?». Они же ответили: «Обрезаться, не есть свинины и заячины, соблюдать субботу». Он же спросил: «А где земля ваша?». Они же сказали: «В Иерусалиме». А он спросил: «Точно ли она там?». И ответили: «Разгневался Бог на отцов наших и рассеял нас по различным странам за грехи наши, а землю нашу отдал христианам». Сказал на это Владимир: «Как же вы иных учите, а сами отвергнуты Богом и рассеяны? Если бы Бог любил вас и закон ваш, то не были бы вы рассеяны по чужим землям. Или и нам того же хотите?»...

6494 (986). Vladimir was visited by Bulgarians of Mohammedan faith, who said, "Though you are a wise and prudent prince, you have no religion. Adopt our faith, and revere Mohammed." Vladimir inquired what was the nature of their religion. They replied that they believed in God, and that Mohammed instructed them to practice circumcision, to eat no pork, to drink no wine, and, after death, promised them complete fulfillment of their carnal desires. "Mohammed," they asserted, "will give each man seventy fair women. He may choose one fair one, and upon that woman will Mohammed confer the charms of them all, and she shall be his wife. Mohammed promises that one may then satisfy every desire, but whoever is poor in this world will be no different in the next." They also spoke other false things which out of modesty may not be written down. Vladimir listened to them, for he was fond of women and indulgence, regarding which he heard with pleasure. But circumcision and abstinence from pork and wine were disagreeable to him. "Drinking," said he, "is the joy of the Rus. We cannot exist without that pleasure."

Then came the Germans, asserting that they had come as emissaries of the pope. They added, "Thus says the pope; 'Your country is like our country, but your faith is not as ours. For our faith is the light. We worship God, who has made heaven and earth, the stars, the moon, and every creature, while your gods are only wood.'" Vladimir inquired what their teaching was. They replied, "Fasting according to one's strength. But whatever one eats or drinks is all to the glory of God, as our teacher Paul has said." Then Vladimir answered, "Deaprt hence; our fathers accepted no such principle."
The Jewish Khazars heard of these missions, and came themselves saying, "We have learned that Bulgarians and Christians came hither to instruct you in their faiths. The Christians believe in him whom we crucified, but we believe in the one God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob." Then Vladimir inqiured what their religion was. They replied that its tenets included circumcision, not eating pork or hare, and observing the Sabbath." The prince then asked where their native land was, and they replied that it was in Jerusalem. When Vladimir inquired where that was, they made answer, "God was angry at our forefathers, and scattered us among the gentiles on account of our sins. Our land was given to the Christians." The prince then demanded, "How can you hope to teach others while you yourselves are cast out and scattered abroad by the hand of God? If God loved you and your faith, you would not be thus dispersed in foreign lands. Do you expect us to accept that fate also?"
Then the Greeks sent to Vladimir a scholar, who spoke thus: "We have heard that the Bulgarians came and urged you to adopt their faith, which pollutes heaven and earth. They are accursed above all men, like Sodom and Gomorrah, upon which the Lord let fall burning stones, and which he buried and submerged. The day of destruction likewise awaits these men, on which the Lord will come to judge the earth, and to destroy all those who do evil and abomination. For they moisten their excrement, and pour the water into their mouths, and anoint their beards with it, remembering Mohammed. The women also perform this same abomination, and even worse ones." Vladimir, upon hearing their statements, spat upon the earth, saying, "This is a vile thing."
Then the scholar said, "We have likewise heard how men came from Rome to convert you to the Roman faith. It differs but little from ours, for they commune with wafers, called oblates, which God did not give them, for he ordained that we should commune with bread. For when he had taken bread, the Lord gave it to his disciples, saying, 'This is my body broken for you.' Likewise he took the cup, and said, 'This is my blood of the New Testament.' They do no so act, for they have modified the faith."
Then Vladimir remarked that the Jews had come into his presence and had stated that the Germans and the Greeks believe in him whom they had crucified. To this the scholar replied, "Of a truth we believe in him. For some of the porphets foretold that God should be incarnate, and others that he should be crucified and buried, but arise on the third day and ascend into heaven. For the Jews killed the prophets, and still others they persecuted. When their prophecy was fulfilled, our Lord came down to earth, was crucified, arose again, and ascended into heaven. He awaited their repentance for forty-six years, but they did not repent, so that the Lord let loose the Romans upon them. Their cities were destroyed, and they were scattered among the gentiles, under whom they are now in servitude."
[The scholar then described God's power from the creation through the last judgement.]
As he spoke thus, he exhibited to Vladimir a canvas on which was depicted the judgement day of the Lord, and showed him, on the right, the righteous going to their bliss in paradise, and on the left, the sinners on their way to torment. Then Vladimir sighted and said, "Happy are they upon the right, but woe to those upon the left!" The scholar replied, "If you desire to take your place upon the right with the just, then accept baptism." Vladimir took this counsel to heart, saying, "I shall wait yet a little longer," for he wished to inquire about all the faiths. Vladimir then gave the scholar many gifts, and dismissed him with great honor.

6495 (987). Vladimir summoned together his boyars and city-elders, and said to them, "Behold, the Bulgarians came before me urging me to accept their religion. Then came the Germans and praised their own faith; and after them came the Jews. Finally the Greeks appeared, criticizing all other faiths but commending their own, and they spoke at length, telling the history of the whole world from its beginning. Their words were artful, and it was wondrous to listen and pleasant to hear them. They preach the existence of another world: 'Whosever adopts our religion and then dies shall arise and live forever. But whosoever embraces another faith, shall be consumed with fire in the next world.' What is your opinion on this subject, and what do you answer?" The boyars and elders replied, "You know, O Prince, that no man condemns his own possessions, but praises them instead. If you desire to make certain, you have servants at your disposal. Send them to inquire about the ritual of each and how he worships God.

Their counsel pleased the prince and all the people, so that they chose good and wise men to the number of ten, and directed them to go first among the Bulgarians and inspect their faith. The emissaries went their way, and when they arrived at their destination they beheld the disgraceful actions of the Bulgarians and their worship in their mosque; then they returned to their own country. Vladimir then instructed them to go likewise among the Germans, and viewing the German ceremonial, they proceeded to Tsargrad, where they appeared before the emperor. He inquired on what mission they had come, and they reported to him all that had occurred. When the emperor heard their words, he rejoiced, and did them great honor on that very day.
On the morrow, the emperor sent a message to the patriarch to inform him that a Russian delegation had arrived to examine the Greek faith, and directed him to prepare the church and the clergy, and to array himself in his sacerdotal robes, so that the Rus might behold the glory of the God of the Greeks. When the patriarch received these commands, he bade the clergy assemble, and they performed the customary rites. They burned incense, and the choirs sang hymns. The emperor accompanied the Rus to the church, and placed them in a wide space, calling their attention to the beauty of the edifice, the chanting, and the offices of the archpriest and the ministry of the deacons, while he explained to them the worship of his God. The Rus were astonished, and in their wonder praised the Greek ceremonial. Then the emperors Basil and Constantine invited the envoys to their presence, and said, "Go hence to your native coutry," and thus dismissed them with valuable presents and great honor.
Thus they returned to their own country, and the prince called together his boyars and elders. Vladimir then announced the return of the envoys who had been sent out, and sugested that their report be heard. He thus commanded them to speak out before his retinue. The envoys reported, "When we journeyed among the Bulgarians, we behold how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, andthere is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good.
Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many cermonies in their temples; but we beheld no glory there.
Then we went on to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices where they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it. We only know that God dwells there among men, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of other nations. For we cannot forget that beauty. Every man, after tasting something sweet, is afterward unwilling to accept that which is better, and therefore we cannot dwell longer here." Then the boyars spoke and said, "If the Greek faith were evil, it would not have been adopted by your grandmother Olga, who was wiser than all other men."
Vladimir then inquired where they should all accept baptism and they replied that the decision rested with him.

After a year had passed, in 6496 (988), Vladimir marched with an armed force against Kherson, a Greek city, and the people of Kherson barricaded themselves therein. Vladimir halted at the farther side of the city beside the bay, a bowshot from the town, and the inhabitants resisted energetically while Vladimir besieged the town. Eventually, however, they became exhausted, and Vladimir warned them that if they did not surrender, he would remain on the spot for three years. When they failed to heed this threat, Vladimir marshaled his troops and ordered the construction of an earthwork in the direction of the city. While this work was under construction, the inhabitants dug a tunnel under the city wall, stole the heaped-up earth, and carried it into the city, where they piled it up in the center of the town. But the soldiers kept on building, and Vladimir persisted.
Then a man of Kherson, Anastasius by name, shot into the Russian camp an arrow on which he had written, "There are springs behind you to the east, from which water flows in pipes. Dig down and cut them off." When Vladimir received his information, he raised his eyes to heaven and vowed that if this hope was realized, he would be baptized. He gave orders straightway to dig down above the pipes, and the water supply was thus cut off. The inahibtants were accordingly overcome by thirst, and surrendered.
Vladimir and his retinue entered the city, and he sent messages to the emperors Basil and Constantine saying, "Behold, I have captured your glorious city. I have also heard that you have an unwedded sister. Unless you give her to me to wife, I shall deal with your own city as I have with Kherson." When the emperors heard this message, they were troubled, and replied, "It is not meet for Christians to give in marriage to pagans. If you are baptized, you shall have her to wife, inherit the kingdom of God and be our companion in the faith. Unless you do so, however, we cannot give you our sister in marriage."
When Vladimir learned their response, he directed the envoys of the emperors to report to the latter that he was willing to accept baptism, having already given some study to their religion, and that the Greek faith and ritual, as described by the emissaries sent to examine it, had pleased him well. When the emprors heard this report, they rejoiced, and persuaded their sister Anna to consent to the match. They then requested Vladimir to submit to baptism before they should send their sister to him, but Vladimir desired that the princess should herself bring priests to baptize him. The emperors complied with his request, and sent forth their sister, accompanied by some dignitaries and priests.
Anna, however, departed with reluctance. "It is as if I were setting out into captivity," she lamented; "better were it for me to die here." But her brothers protested, "Through your agency God turns the land of Rus to repentance, and you will relieve Greece from the danger of grievous war. Do you not see how much evil the Rus have already brought upon the Greeks? If you do not set out, they may bring on us the same misfortunes." It was thus that they overcame her hesitation only with great difficulty. The princess embarked upon a ship, and after tearfully embracing her kinsfolk, she set forth across the sea and arrived at Kherson. The native came forth to greet her, and conducted her into the city, where they settled her in the palace.
By divine agency, Vladimir was suffering at that moment from a disease of the eyes, and could see nothing, being in great distress. The princess declared to him that if he desired to be relieved of this disease, he should be baptized with all speed, otherwise it could not be cured. When Vladimir heard her message, he said, "If this proves true, then of a surety is the God of the Christians great," and gave order that he should be baptized. The bishop of Kherson, together with the princess's priests, after announcing the tidings, baptized Vladimir, and as the bishop laid his hand upon him, he straightway received his sight. Upon experiencing this miraculous cure, Vladimir glorified God, saying, "I have now perceived the one true God. " When his followers beheld this miracle, many of them were also baptized.
When the prince arrived at his capital, he directed that the idols should be overthrown, and that some should be cut to pieces and others burned with fire. He thus ordered that Perun should be bound to a horse's tail and dragged along Borichev to the river. He appointed twelve men to beat the idol with sticks, not because he thought the wood was sensitive, but to affront the demon who had deceived man in this guise, that he might receive chastisement at the hands of men. Great art though, O Lord, and marvelous are thy works! Yesterday he was honored of men, but today held in derision. While the idol was being dragged along the stream to the Dnieper, the unbelievers wept over it, for they had not yet received holy baptism. After they had thus dragged the idol along, they cast it into the Dnieper. But Vladimir had given this injunction, "If it halts anywhere, then push it out from the bank, until it goes over the falls. Then let it loose." His command was duly obeyed. When the men let the idol go, and it passed through the falls, the wind cast it out on the bank, which since that time has been called Perun's Shore, a name that it bears to this very day.
Thereafter Vladimir sent heralds throughout the whole city to proclaim that if any inhabitant, rich or poor, did not betake himself to the river, he would risk the prince's displeasure. When the people heard these words, they wept for joy, and exclaimed in their enthusaism, "If this were not good, the prince and his boyars would not have accepted it." On the morrow, the prince went forth to the Dnieper with the priests of the Princess and those from Kherson, and a countless multitude assembled. They all went into the water; some stood up to their necks, others to their breasts, the younger near the bank, some of them holding children in their arms, while the adults waded farther out. The priests stood by and offered prayers. There was joy in heaven and upon earth to behold so many souls saved.

Comments on the Rus Conversion to Christianity

Olga, the widow of Grand Prince Igor, was the first female ruler of Rus from 945-962 and converted to Christianity during a 955 visit to Constantinople, however, her son, and Rus in general, remained pagan. (Christianity came to the Caucasus region in the sixth century.)

It was Vladimir, Olga's grandson, who converted the people of Rus to Christianity around 988.

The conversion stories of both Vladimir and his grandmother both demonstrate the care of the Rus rulers to avoid appearing too submissive/subservient to the Byzantine rulers. Grand Princess Olga, although converting and being baptized during her visit to Constantinople, summoned a German bishop to Kiev to help guide her. And Vladimir's negotiations from a position of military strength after taking Kherson, can be seen as a continuation of this.

It is quite impressive that Byzantine princess actually married Vladimir. The Byzantine emperors were notorious for their reluctance to marry "princesses of the blood" to any minor foreign princes, which Vladimir certainly was, the flattery of the Primary Chronicle not-withstanding.

Mongol invasion...Even after the disintegration of the Kievan state, the old Russian order persisted in a recognizable form under the decendants of Riurik until the Mongol conquest in 1237-1241.

The History in the Lay of Igor's Campaign

Our Russian princes have often quarreled among themselves, rather than joining forces to defeat our enemies. Prince Igor of Novgorod-Seversk went on campaign against the Polovtsian steppe nomads, who had been raiding the Russian lands. His campaign ended in death and defeat. This has happened over and over in our history. Rus only achieves true safety and prosperity when our lands unite under a strong ruler in the tradition of Rurik, and Yaroslav the Wise. (The Germans suffer the same weakness of fragmentation under their Holy Roman Emperor, whom few German princes regard.)


Power in Ancient Rus

Each major city in Rus had its own prince from the dynasty of Riurik, but all officially deferred to the grand prince of Kiev. There was no central bureaucracy. The political system had monarchical, aristocratic and democratic elements. Even the greatest princes were limited in their rule. They ruled with the assistance of noble councils that evolved from the Varangian and Slav warrior merchants as they acquired wealth and estates. A town meeting was also often used to gauge the temper of the population - any freemen could participate, but only male heads of households actually voted.

Iaroslav the Wise (1036-1054) brought Kievan Rus to the peak of its power, ruling over territory from the Black Sea to the Baltic, from the Oka River to the Carpathian Mountains. Europe's royalty sought marriage alliance with his family, and he built a large library and may have helped draft Russia's first written law code. St. Sofia Cathedral was built in Kiev during his reign, and the Russian Orthodox Church started to try to gain independence from the Byzantine Orthodox Church.

The Kievan Rus military consisted of the armies of individual princes and town militias. The royal armies were small but mobile and well-equiped. The militias were supplied by the prince and were only mobilized for major campaigns or emergencies. Cavalry was key, especially when fighting steppe nomads, the major adversary of Rus. Soldiers were armed much like their western European counterparts.

Until the 12th century, the primary external relationship was with Byzantium, the leading Christian power in the world. But Kievan Rus was also affected by incursions from the steppe nomads and maintained relationships with Scandinavia, other Slavic countries, western Europe and traded with Asia. Kievan Rus was generally open to foreigners and external influence. The sack of Constantinople by the fourth Crusade in 1204 revealed the extent of the decline of the Byzantine Empire and helped shift the focus of Rus toward the west - until the Mongol invasion.

The Mongol Conquest in the Novgorod Chronicle

Etc. etc.

The royal succession in the late 13th and early 14th century

More fragmentation, weakness in the face of steppe nomads...
Foreign History

Rus is not isolated from other nations. And so I have been learning some foreign history all my life. It has been easier to learn about nations such as England and the German nations since my family moved to the trading center of Novgorod the Great in 1293 by Western reckoning. And even more so since I married a German merchant in 1304...

References: Constantine Porphyrogenitus. Exerpt from De Administrando Imperio.

Fennell, John. The Crisis of Medieval Russia: 1200-1304. Longman, London and New York. 1983.

Freeze, Gregory L. Russia, A History. Oxford University Press. New York. 1997.

MacKenzie, David and Michael Curran. A History of Russia, the Soviet Union and Beyond, 4th Edition. Wadsworth Publishing Co. Celmont, CA. 1993.

Excerpts from the Novgorod Chronicle at the Medieval Sourcebook.

Obolensky, D. "Commentary on the ninth chapter of Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De Administrando Imperio." Byzantium and the Slavs: collected studies. Variorum Reprints: London. 1971.

Obolensky, D. "Original text and English translation of the ninth chapter of Constantine Porphyrogenitus' De Administrando Imperio." Byzantium and the Slavs: collected studies. Variorum Reprints: London. 1971.

Повесть временных лет - Russian website version of the Tale of Bygone Years/Russian Primary Chronicle.

Rawson, Don C. (editor) Readings in Russian History. Iowa State University, 1992.

Riha, Thomas (editor). Readings in Russian Civilization: Volume I, Russia before Peter the Great. University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 1969. The Russian Bible On-line.

Return to Russian Materials
Return to homepage