Rus' (people)

Rus' (people)

Rus’ (Русь, IPA2|rusʲ, Русичи, Русы) are an ancient people whose name survives in the cognates "Russians", [ [ at Encyclopedia Britannica] ] "Rusyns", and "Ruthenians", and who are viewed by the modern Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians as the predecessors of their own peoples.


The origin of the name is a matter of considerable dispute. In general, the hypothesis of E. Kunik and Vilhelm Thomsen has met with the widest acceptance. According to them this appellation derives from the Finnic languages. The name of Sweden in Finnish is Ruotsi; in Estonian: Rootsi. This name is commonly held to be derived from Roslagen, the coastal areas of the Uppland province in Sweden. The Danish scholar T.E. Karsten has pointed out that the territory now occupying the areas of Uppland, Sodermanland and East Gotland in ancient times was known as "Rođer" or "rođin". Thomsen accordingly has suggested that "Rođer" probably derived from "rođsmenn" or "rođskarlar", meaning seafarers or rowers.

However, it has been also suggested that the name Rus might have originated from the Iranic name of the Volga River (by F.Knauer Moscow 1901), as well as from the Rosh of Ezekiel. Prof. George Vernadsky has suggested a derivation from the Roxolani or from the Aryan term "ronsa" (moisture, water). There is a recurrence of river names like Ros in Eastern Europe.The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text Translated by O. P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor ISBN 0910956340 ]

Key sources

Slavic sources

According to the earliest East Slavic record, the Primary Chronicle, the Rus' was a group of Varangians among others like Swedes and Gotlanders who lived on the other side of the Baltic Sea, in Scandinavia and as far as the land of the English and the French. The Varangians were first expelled, then invited to rule the warring Slavic and Finnic tribes of Novgorod:

Later, the Primary Chronicle tells us, they conquered Kiev and created the state of Kievan Rus' (which, as most historians agree, was preceded by the Rus' Khaganate). The territory they conquered was named after them as were, eventually, the local people (see Etymology of Rus and derivatives for further details).

Islamic sources

Ibn Haukal and two other early Islamic sources such Muhammad al-Idrisi, who would follow them later) distinguish three groups of the Rus: Kuyavia, Slavia, and Arcania. In the mainstream Russian-Soviet historiography (as represented by Boris Rybakov), these were tentatively identified with the "tribal centres" at Kiev, Novgorod and Tmutarakan.

The Muslim diplomat and traveller, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, who visited Volga Bulgaria in 922, described the Rus ("Rusiyyah") in the terms strongly suggestive of the Norsemen:

Apart from Ibn Fadlan's account, the Normanist theory draws heavily on the evidence of the Persian traveler Ibn Rustah who allegedly visited Novgorod (or Tmutarakan, according to George Vernadsky) and described how the Rus' exploited the Slavs.

Greek sources

When the Varangians first appeared in Constantinople (Paphlagonian expedition of the Rus, Siege of Constantinople (860)), the Byzantines seem to have perceived the "Rhos" (Greek: "Ῥώς") as a different people from the Slavs. At least they are never said to be part of the Slavic race. Characteristically, pseudo-Symeon Magister refers to the Rhos as Δρομΐται, a word related to the Greek word meaning "a run", suggesting the mobility of their movement by waterways.

In his treatise "De Administrando Imperio", Constantine VII describes the Rhos as the neighbours of Pechenegs who buy from the latter cows, horses, and sheep "because none of these animals may be found in Rhosia". His description represents the Rus as a warlike northern tribe. Constantine also enumerates the names of the Dnieper cataracts in both "Rhos" and in "Slavic" languages. The Rhos names have distinct Germanic etymology:

*Essoupi (Old Norse "vesuppi", "do not sleep")
*Oulvorsi (Old Norse "holmfors", "island rapid")
*Gelandri (Old Norse "gjallandi", "yelling, loudly ringing")
*Aeifor (Old Norse "eiforr", "ever fierce")
*Varouforos (Old Norse "varufors", "cliff rapid" or "barufors", "wave rapid")
*Leanti (Old Norse "leandi", "seething", or "hlaejandi", "laughing")
*Stroukoun (Old Norse "strukum", "rapid current").

Western European sources

The first Western European source to mention the Rus is the annals of Saint Bertan which relate that Emperor Louis the Pious' court in Ingelheim, 839 (the same year as the first appearance of Varangians in Constantinople), was visited by a delegation from the Byzantine emperor. In this delegation there were two men who called themselves Rhos ("Rhos vocari dicebant"). Louis enquired about their origins and learnt that they were Swedes. Fearing that they were spies for their brothers, the Danes, he incarcerated them. Subsequently, in the 10th and 11th centuries, Latin sources routinely confused the Rus with the extinct East Germanic tribe of Rugians. Olga of Kiev, for instance, was designated in one manuscript as a Rugian queen

Normanist theory

The "Normanist" theory suggests that Kievan Rus' may have been named after its Scandinavian ruling elite, much as was the case with Normandy.

The proponents of this theory claim that the name "Rus", like the Finnish name for Sweden, is derived from an Old Norse term for "the men who row" ("rods-") as rowing was the main method of navigating the Russian rivers, and that it is linked to the Swedish coastal area of Roslagen (Rus-law) or "Roden", from where the Varangians came from according to the Russian Primary Chronicle. The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text Translated by O. P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor ISBN 0910956340 ] The name "Rus" would then have the same origin as the Finnish and Estonian names for Sweden: Ruotsi and Rootsi.

It has been suggested that the Vikings had some enduring influence in Rus, as testified by loan words, such as "yabeda" "complaining person" (from "aembaetti" "office"), "skot" "cattle" (from "skattr" "tax") and knout (from "knutr", "a knotty wood"). Fact|date=June 2007 Moreover three Nordic names of the first Varangian rulers also became popular among the later Rurikids and then among the East Slavic people in general: Oleg (Helgi), Olga (Helga) and Igor (Ingvar).

The Normanist theory was first elaborated by the German historian Gerhardt Friedrich Müller (1705-1783), who was invited to work in the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1748. At the beginning of his notorious speech from 1749, Müller declared that the "glorious Scandinavians conquered all the Russian lands with their victorious arms". As the rest of the speech represented a lengthy list of Russian defeats by the Germans and Swedes, Müller was forced to curtail his lecture by shouts from the audience. The scathing criticism from Lomonosov, Krasheninnikov, and other academicians led to Müller being forced to suspend his work on the issue until Lomonosov's death. Although the printed text of the original lecture was destroyed, Müller managed to rework it and had it reprinted as "Origines Rossicae" in 1768.

Other notable proponents of the "Normanist theory" of the Russian state — including Nikolai Karamzin (1766–1826) and his disciple Mikhail Pogodin (1800–75) — gave credit to the claims of the Primary Chronicle that the Varangians were invited by East Slavs to rule over them and bring order. Fact|date=June 2007 The theory was not without political implications. In Karamzin's writing the Normanist theory formed the basis and justification for Russian autocracy (as opposed to anarchy of the pre-Rurikid period), and Pogodin used the theory to advance his view that Russia was immune to social upheavals and revolutions, because the Russian state originated from a voluntary treaty between the people of Novgorod and Varangian rulers.

Antinormanist theories

Starting with Lomonosov (1711-1765), scholars from Eastern Europe have criticised the Normanist theory. During the imperial period, Karamzin's and Pogodin's official views were disputed by the more liberal sectors of Russian society and by some Polish historians. Fact|date=June 2007 In the early 20th century, the traditional anti-Normanist doctrine (as articulated by Dmitry Ilovaisky) seemed to have lost currency. However, the Normanist rhetoric was abused by Goebbels during the Soviet-German War and, in the eyes of the Soviet authorities, the theory was discredited forever. The war over, the anti-Normanist arguments were revived and adopted in official Soviet historiography. Mikhail Artamonov ranks among those who attempted to reconcile both theories by hypothesizing that the Kievan state united the southern Rus (of Slavic stock) and the northern Rus (of Germanic stock) into a single nation.

The staunchest advocate of the anti-Normanist views in the post-WWII period was Boris Rybakov, who argued that the cultural level of the Varangians could not have warranted an invitation from the culturally advanced Slavs. This conclusion leads Slavicists to deny or reinterpret the Primary Chronicle, which claims that the Varangian Rus' were "invited". Rybakov assumes that Nestor, putative author of the Chronicle, was biased against the pro-Greek party of Vladimir Monomakh and supported the pro-Scandinavian party of the ruling prince Svyatopolk. He cites Nestor's factual inaccuracies as pro-Scandinavian manipulations and compares his account of Rurik's invitation with numerous similar stories found in folklore around the world.

Quite a few alternative, non-Normanist origins for the word "Rus" have been postulated by Sigismund von Herberstein, Ilovaisky, Rybakov, and others, Fact|date=June 2007 although none was endorsed in the academic mainstream:

*From the Old Slavic name that meant "river-people" (tribes of fishermen and ploughmen who settled near the rivers Dnieper, Don, Dniester and Western Dvina and were known to navigate them). The "rus" root is preserved in the modern Slavic and Russian words "ruslo" (river-bed), "rusalka" (water sprite), etc.
*From one of two rivers in Ukraine (near Kiev and Pereyaslav), "Ros'" and "Rusna", whose names are derived from a postulated Slavic term for water, akin to "rosa" (dew) (related to the above theory).
*A Slavic word "rusy" (refers only to hair color — from dark ash-blond to light-brown), cognate with "ryzhy" (red-haired) and English "red".
*A postulated proto-Slavic word for bear, cognate with Greek "arctos" and Latin "ursus".
*The Iranian tribe of the "Roxolani" (from the Persian, "rokhs" ‘light’; R "русые волосы" /rusyje volosy/ "light-brown hair"; cf. Dahl's dictionary definition of "Русь" /rus/: "Русь ж. в знач. мир, белсвет." Rus, fig. world, universe ["белсвет": lit. "white world", "white light"] ).
* The modern Finnish word "Ruotsi" means Sweden and refers to the Swedish people ("Ruotsalainen") which in turn is very similar to the Slavic word "Rus" and could be historically connected. [Christian 334; Goehrke 157-162.]

According to F. Donald Logan ("The Vikings in History", cit. Montgomery, p. 24), "in 839, the Rus' were Swedes. In 1043, the Rus' were Slavs." The Scandinavians were completely absorbed and, unlike their brethren in England and in Normandy, they left little cultural heritage in Eastern Europe. This almost complete absence of cultural traces (besides several names, as discussed above, and arguably the "veche"-system of Novgorod, comparable to "thing" in Scandinavia), is remarkable, and the Slavicists therefore call the Vikings "cultural chameleons", who came, ruled and then disappeared, leaving little cultural trace in Eastern Europe. This seems to suggest that these Rus' were a small group, less than a people in the nation sense of the word; less than an ethnos.


References and further reading

* "The Annals of Saint-Bertin", transl. Janet L. Nelson, Ninth-Century Histories 1 (Manchester and New York, 1991).
* Davies, Norman. "" New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
* Christian, David. "A History of Russia, Mongolia, and Central Asia." Blackwell, 1999.
* Dolukhanov, Pavel M. "The Early Slavs: Eastern Europe from the Initial Settlement to the Kievan Rus." New York: Longman, 1996.
* Duczko, Wladyslaw. "Viking Rus: Studies on the Presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe (The Northern World; 12)". Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2004 (hardcover, ISBN 90-04-13874-9).
*Goehrke, C. "Frühzeit des Ostslaven." Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1992.
* Magocsi, Paul R. "A History of Ukraine." Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1996.
* Pritsak, Omeljan. "The Origin of Rus'." Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991.
* Stang, Hakon. "The Naming of Russia." Oslo: Middelelser, 1996.
* [ Gerard Miller as the author of the Normanist theory] (Brockhaus and Efron)

External links

*PDFlink| [ Ibn Fadlan and the Rusiyyah, by James E. Montgomery, with full translation of Ibn Fadlan] |8.90 KiB
* [ An overview of the controversy]

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