Vikings in the East: Scandinavian Influence in Kievan Rus
The Vikings, referred to as Varangians in Eastern Europe, were known throughout Europe as traders and raiders, and perhaps the creators or instigators of the first organized Russian state: Kievan Rus. It is the intention of this paper to explore the evidence of the Viking or Varangian presence in Kievan Rus, more specifically the areas that are now the Ukraine and Western Russia. There is not an argument over whether the Vikings were present in the region, but rather over the effect their presence had on the native Slavic people and their government. This paper will explore and explain the research of several scholars, who generally ascribe to one of the rival Norman and AntiNorman Theories, as well as looking at the evidence that appears in the Russian Primary Chronicle, some of the laws in place in the eleventh century, and two of the Icelandic Sagas that take place in modern Russia.
The state of Kievan Rus was the dominant political entity in the modern country the Ukraine and western Russia beginning in the tenth century and lasting until Ivan IV’s death in 1584. The region “extended from Novgorod on the Volkhov River southward across the divide where the Volga, the West Dvina, and the Dnieper Rivers all had their origins, and down the Dnieper just past Kiev.” It was during this period that the Slavs of the region converted to Christianity, under the ruler Vladimir in 988 C.E. The princes that ruled Kievan Rus collected tribute from the Slavic people in the form of local products, which were then traded in the foreign markets, as Janet Martin explains: “The fur, wax, and honey that the princes collected from the Slav tribes had limited domestic use. They could, however, be converted into valuable items through trade.” There were two major trade routes through the Kievan region, one leading to the North, connecting to the Baltic Sea, and the other following the Volga River to the South, connecting to the Caspian Sea. The region in which Kievan Rus appeared is the home of the more productive farmland of the former Soviet Block. Another prominent feature of Kievan Rus is the democratic organization on a local level. Within the towns in Kievan Rus, there were democratic meetings in which all could attend and vote, called “veche.”