updownTHE VIKING INFLUENCE IN RUSSIA

By Michael Pettibone

 

The influence of Viking culture has been largely overlooked despite the fact that the Viking world extended across the entire European continent.

It extended from Scandinavia to the Mediterranean, and many points East and West including modern-day Eastern Europe, Greenland, Iceland, and modern-day America.

 

Early on in the ninth century, a group of Swedish Vikings, otherwise known as the Rus, entered the area today known as Russia. At the time the area was largely occupied by several groups of disorganized Slavic tribes.

The tribes found themselves constantly at reckless war with one another until they finally called out for guidance. They said to themselves, "Let us seek a prince who may rule over us and judge us accordingly to the law." They henceforth went to the land of the Rus and said, "Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come rule and reign over us." (Roesdahl, p. 287). A Rus chieftain named Rurik came to the region and set up a kingdom in Novgorod in the time around 860 AD. The new kingdom thrived, and just a short twenty years later, a successor of Rurik conquered Kiev, a city over 600 miles south of Novgorod. The once jumbled region quickly became unified and seeds of a new empire had been created.

 

There has been much debate as to the exact origin of the Rus. It has been argued that the Rus were Slavic to begin with, but archeological evidence has shown that Rus are clearly Swedish in descent. What baffles many historians is the fact that by the eleventh century the Rus had become Slavic. The Rus who had entered the region had in less than 200 hundred years lost their "Swedishness" and become Slavic, which is typical of Viking behavior in other areas they conquered. The question still remains, however, were the Rus Slavic by nature, or were they Scandinavian who quickly assimilated with the Slavic culture?

 

If you conclude that Rus were indeed Swedish in origin, the claim that the Swedes founded the Russian state has proved to be much debated topic, for the very reasons that are stated in the above paragraph. The creation of a state does not occur overnight. A state gradually evolves over time, and is a combination of events and influences that shape its identity. Was this identity Slavic or Swedish? To ignore the "Swedish factor" (Logan, p. 203) in the creation if the Russian state would be a misrepresentation of history. The Rus influence in early Russian culture was great, and the fact that the origin of the first Russian dynasty stems from Rurik is evidence strong enough to prove this point. Without the leadership of the Rus, Russian history might not be the same, in fact Russian history might not have existed. It may have existed but it might have existed under different terms and cultural influences. It is not a mere coincidence that the word Russia contains the word Rus. The Rus can be remembered for bringing order to an unstable region. Although history, for the most part, has downplayed the influence of the Vikings in their endeavors all over the world, they (the Rus) can be credited with helping the formation of a state that eventually came to play a major role in the history of world.

 

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