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May 31, 2022
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How the Varangians built the greatest empire in Europe. History of the Vikings in Russia

How the Varangians built the greatest empire in Europe.  History of the Vikings in Russia.

While their Danish and Norwegian cousins ​​were devastating Western Europe, the Swedish Vikings were traveling east. Along the rivers of Eastern Europe they established bustling trading cities, and soon the New Viking Kingdom grew both in size and power.

Few fascinated as much as the mighty Varangian prince. And there were good reasons for this, because the leader of the Vikings was one of the most powerful people of his time and ruled a gigantic state, which had no equal in Europe.

The prince’s possessions extended far across the steppes. From the shores of the Black Sea, east along the Don River and north to south of Finland. In the West, the Viking Kingdom extended far into what is now Ukraine.

The most important trade routes of that time ran throughout the empire. To the south – to the silver and spices of the Byzantine Empire and Arabia. To the Northeast – to the Silk Road. And to the southeast – to the markets of Samarkand, where trade caravans from India, Persia and China met.

The territory of the Varangians was not only the most powerful in Europe, but also the richest. An empire built with business acumen and diplomacy, as well as conquest and brutality.

The territory of the Varangians was not only the most powerful in Europe, but also the richest.  An empire built with business acumen and diplomacy, as well as conquest and brutality.

The Vikings did business in the East

The Vikings in Eastern Europe were called Russ. The word is possibly derived from the Finnish ruotsi, meaning Sweden. It first appears in both Arabic and European sources around 840. But the history of the Scandinavians in the East goes even further into the past.

Already a couple of centuries ago, the Swedes crossed the Baltic Sea to trade in what is today Latvia and Lithuania. To find good places to trade, they sailed up the Volkhov River to the city of Ladoga, founded in the 760s.

The city, which until the time of Russia consisted of only a few scattered houses and courtyards, surrounded by hills and dark green coniferous forests, was located right next to the gray river. The city soon became a popular trading and transit point for northerners. Here their ships moored to the shore. They stocked up on fish and dried meat, and filled the ships with trade goods.

Gateway to the treasures of the East

With the advent of the Vikings, Ladoga soon turned into a busy place for trade. Goods from near and far abroad flocked to the city; furs, honey, amber, weapons, wax and slaves came from the Slavic tribes from the south and the East.

From the Byzantine Empire and Arabia came gold, silver, silk and valuable spices. And Scandinavian, Slavic, and other exotic languages ​​were heard in the streets as merchants met and traded for goods.

Some Scandinavians settled in the city as artisans. And they made a living selling carvings, shoes, glass beads, and blacksmithing. They bought food and raw materials such as bones, horns and wax for their workshops. The Vikings also bought furs, which they exchanged for Arab silver coins.

Some Scandinavians settled in the city as artisans.  And they made a living selling carvings, shoes, glass beads, and blacksmithing.  They bought food and raw materials such as bones, horns and wax for their workshops.  The Vikings also bought furs, which they exchanged for Arab silver coins.

In the end, the reputation of Ladoga as a “silver gate to the treasures of the East” reached Scandinavia. After that, even more Vikings went east to partake of the riches.

However, eminent Russians realized that they had a vulnerable position. Slavs and steppe tribes, as well as rival groups of Scandinavians, posed a constant threat to trade. Which gave the city its influence and prosperity.

In order to secure power over trade routes and be able to collect taxes from the local population, the Russians went on raids to the South. The ships of the Varangians, which had previously brought peaceful traders to the tribes along the river, were now disgorging hordes of angry warriors. Armed with swords, spears and axes.

After quick surprise attacks, the same technique used by their Viking relatives in Western Europe, the inhabitants fled in panic. Soon Russia conquered the Slavic and Finnish tribes that lived along the Volkhov. And also took control of the node on which the city of Novgorod is located today.

Rurik became the ancestor of Russia

For two years the Vikings ravaged before the Slavs got fed up with looting and taxes and rebelled. “862 year. They drove the werewolves (Vikings) across the sea and did not give them any treasure, ”says the Nestorian chronicle. Written by monks in Kyiv in the 12th century.

However, according to the Chronicle, the Slavs could not manage their newfound freedom. There was no truth among them, and the relatives rebelled against Rodney. And enmity arose between them, and they began a war against themselves. Then they said to each other: let’s look for a prince who would rule over us and judge righteously. And they went overseas to the Varangians. And they said: our country is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come and be princes over us.”

One of these Vikings was called Rurik, and it was he who was to become the ancestor of the rulers in Russia.  Rurik settled in Ladoga, where he erected a stone wall three meters high and three meters thick.  On the banks of the Ladoga River, a port was built according to the Scandinavian model.  And in the city there were houses where merchants could spend the night.

According to modern historians, the Slavs were tormented by internal conflicts. Until one of the warring parties sent messengers for a group of Vikings. Which could help him seize power. Skillfully using the situation to their advantage, the Scandinavians seized dominance.

One of these Vikings was called Rurik, and it was he who was to become the ancestor of the rulers in Russia.

Rurik settled in Ladoga, where he erected a stone wall three meters high and three meters thick. On the banks of the Ladoga River, a port was built according to the Scandinavian model. And in the city there were houses where merchants could spend the night.

Settlement Novgorod

At one time, Rurik moved south and settled in the Slavic city of Gorodishche. Here, in the upper reaches of the Volkhov River, the waterway from the Baltic Sea intersected with two of the most important Viking routes. By river routes to the Arab countries and the Byzantine Empire, respectively.

The city was located on a mountain range, it was easy to defend. And it was well suited as the residence of the ruler. The settlement quickly gained popularity among influential Slavic families. Who moved there to be closer to the center of trade and power. The Slavs built their houses not far north of Gorodishche. And they called their new settlement Novgorod.

Novgorod grew steadily under Russian rule and received, among other things, an excellent road network. The layout of the streets remained unchanged until the 18th century.

On the trade route to the south, the Rus used small, maneuverable ships that could accommodate 10-20 people.  The ships were so light that they could be lifted and dragged from one river to another.  One of the places where the Varangians dragged their ships overland was the city of Gnezdovo.  Located a few kilometers west of modern Smolensk.

Kyiv becomes the capital

On the trade route to the south, the Rus used small, maneuverable ships that could accommodate 10-20 people. The ships were so light that they could be lifted and dragged from one river to another. One of the places where the Varangians dragged their ships overland was the city of Gnezdovo. Located a few kilometers west of modern Smolensk.

From here, the Vikings-Varangians could freely sail along the Dnieper to Kyiv and further to the Black Sea.

In 880, in order to secure the road to this important junction, the Kyiv prince Oleg took Gnezdovo. Rurik died last year, and since his son Igor was still a minor, Oleg, a relative of Rurik, was placed at the head of the kingdom.

However, Gnezdovo was only a stopover on the way south. In 882, Oleg came to Kyiv, a city that had existed for a couple of hundred years. The city was located on the border of vast steppe territories and was ruled by a nomadic tribe.

It was easy for Oleg’s soldiers to conquer the city, which soon became the new capital of Russia and the most beautiful place in the principality. Around the city was an impregnable fortress wall 14 meters high and more than three kilometers long. There were as many as eight market squares and 400 churches in Kyiv.

Vikings adopted local customs

Although Svyatoslav absorbed most of the culture of the Slavs, the Rurik family did not forget their old homeland.  When Prince Vladimir, Svyatoslav's successor, was challenged by one of his brothers, he immediately went to Sweden for help.  In 980, Vladimir returned with a large Viking army, and soon the prince became the undisputed ruler of Russia.

The rulers of Russia did not rest on their laurels. The calm winter months were used to travel through the domains. Partly to collect taxes, and partly to visit princes. With whom they entered into trade agreements and political alliances.

When Rurik’s son Igor was old enough to take over after Oleg, the powerful Scandinavian and Slavic clans merged. Already under the young Igor, the custom of giving princes Scandinavian names disappeared.

And the son Svyatoslav, who ruled until 972, seems to have even adopted many customs from the Slavs and the steppe peoples of this area.

Although Svyatoslav absorbed most of the culture of the Slavs, the Rurik family did not forget their old homeland. When Prince Vladimir, Svyatoslav’s successor, was challenged by one of his brothers, he immediately went to Sweden for help. In 980, Vladimir returned with a large Viking army, and soon the prince became the undisputed ruler of Russia.

The time spent in exile strengthened Vladimir’s attachment to the North. He married the daughter of a Norwegian chief, and the couple’s sons followed suit.

One of them even married the daughter of the Swedish royal family. The custom of marriage between Russian princely families in the East and Scandinavian royal houses persisted until the 12th century.

Historians do not know the identity of the Swedish mercenaries who struck the Pechenegs.  But in central Sweden there are 26 runestones erected in honor of those who went east with the leader Ingvar the Wise.  According to the Icelandic sagas, Ingvar went to the court of Yaroslav just in 1036, when the Pechenegs attacked.

The Swedes came to the rescue

The time after Vladimir was marked by internal strife and rivalry between the princes. But there were other dangers as well. In the steppes south of Kyiv lived a nomadic tribe of Pechenegs. Which repeatedly attacked Kyiv and tried to deprive the northerners of power over a rich city.

In 1036 they launched another major attack. But Yaroslav, whose wife was the sister of the Swedish king, called on mercenaries from Sweden. And he gathered his large and powerful troops to defend the city.

Historians do not know the identity of the Swedish mercenaries who struck the Pechenegs. But in central Sweden there are 26 runestones erected in honor of those who went east with the leader Ingvar the Wise. According to the Icelandic sagas, Ingvar went to the court of Yaroslav just in 1036, when the Pechenegs attacked.

The arrival of the Mongols

Under Yaroslav, the Viking area became the largest and most prosperous in Europe.  Trade was brisk and prosperity great.  However, after the death of the prince in 1054, things in Russia went downhill.  While the sons and grandsons of Yaroslav fought for power, a new and strong nomadic tribe appeared, which began to push Russia.

Under Yaroslav, the Viking area became the largest and most prosperous in Europe. Trade was brisk and prosperity great. However, after the death of the prince in 1054, things in Russia went downhill. While the sons and grandsons of Yaroslav fought for power, a new and strong nomadic tribe appeared, which began to push Russia.

In 1132, the last powerful Kyiv prince Mstislav died. After that, the city quickly lost its importance, and the kingdom of the Rus was divided into smaller principalities. A ruthless blow was dealt by the Mongols, who ravaged Russia in the 13th century.

Only a few centuries later, the territory that would later become Russia was freed from the rule of the Mongols. By that time, most of the traces of the Vikings had long been buried in history. But archaeological finds still unequivocally speak of the peoples who gave Russia its name.

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