Libmonster ID: RU-17217
Author(s) of the publication: Yevgeny PCHELOV

Yevgeny PCHELOV, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), Russian State University of the Humanities (Moscow)

According to the Tale of Bygone Years (the earliest extant annalistic collection of the 12th century), the alliance of the Slavonic and Finno-Ugric tribes, inhabiting the territory of the present Novgorod Region, called upon the Varangian brothers to defend their towns and ploughlands in 862. The author writes: "They came, and the elder brother Rurik settled down in Novgorod, another brother Sineus in Beloozero and the third one Truvor in Izborsk." It is the first brother who gave birth to the family of great princes, which ruled over our country for many centuries. Therefore, the said year became a starting point for Russian statehood, the fact, which is embodied in the wonderful monument "Millennium of Russia" (sculptors Mikhail Mikeshin and Ivan Shreder, architect Viktor Gartman) erected in Veliky Novgorod in 1862.

One page of the "Tale of Bygone Years".

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The Tale of Bygone Years expressly associated our first princes with the inhabitants of the Scandinavian region, whom it referred to, for example, as Svears (Swedes), Normans (Norwegians) and also Rus*: "they were called Ruses by Varangians, though before they were Slavs." However, in the mid-18th century a conflict developed among national historians between supporters and opponents of the foreign origin of the ruling dynasty. But what is its history?

This problem was first scientifically analyzed by German philologist and researcher of the Russian antiquities, Acad. of the Petersburg AS (from 1725) Gottlieb-Ziegfried Bayer, who published in 1735 The Work on the Varangians in Latin as was accepted at that time. Based on the annals, foreign sources of the 9th-11th centuries, and what is more, on linguistic research, the author substantiated the Scandinavian origin of these natives from the Baltic region who were called Norsemen in Western Europe. The modern historical science recognizes rightness of the thesis expressed by the scientist. But at that time, after his work had been published, it found itself in the center of ideological confrontation.

In 1749, Russian historian of the German origin Gerard Friedrich Miller (Acad. of the Petersburg AS from 1735)* prepared a report "Origin of the Russian People and Its Name" for the Academy of Sciences assembly associated with the name day of Empress Yelizaveta Petrovna. However, the learned community made the following decision after almost a year's discussion: such work should not be read to audience nor published, therefore almost the whole edition was destroyed (the work was published in Russia only in 2006). The point is that the author tried to prove the Scandinavian affiliation of the Varangians and the very name Rus, justly deriving it from

* Rus (Ruses)-people who gave their name to and made up a social upper class of the first state of Eastern Slavs known in modern literature as Kievan Rus.--Ed.

See: O. Bazanova, "True to History, Impartial, Modest", Science in Russia, No. 3, 2006.--Ed.

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the Finnish borrowing. Moreover, being as Bayer a defender of the "Norse theory"*, Miller believed that a part of our population had the same origin.

Thus, both bona fide researchers turned out to be misunderstood. What is the reason of rejecting their arguments? Let's get down to a brilliant description of the situation in the country of that time given by the outstanding historian Vasily Klyuchevsky (full member of the Petersburg AS from 1900). "It was the height of national excitement.., to which Yelizaveta Petrovna was indebted for her throne... The new national reign started during the war with Sweden, which ended with the Treaty of Abo in 1743. At that time, to say on the occasion of the name day of the empress at the ceremonial meeting of the Academy that the Swedes gave Rus its name and monarchs would hardly make the festivity more attractive."

Therefore, the works by supporters of the "Norse theory" aroused a negative reaction in the academic and court circles. Among the strictest critics was Mikhail Lomonosov*, scientist of encyclopaedic learning, who wrote: "The origin of the first great Russian princes from nameless Scandinavians.., the origin of the Russian name is not older and that from Finns...; finally, frequent victories of the Scandinavians over the Russians with annoying descriptions are unworthy not only in such speech, which Mr. Miller was ordered to make to the honor of Russia and the Academy and to inspire the Russian people for love of sciences, but also for the whole Russia in the face of other states are wrong, and should be disappointing and intolerable for the Russian audience."

Contrary to Miller, Lomonosov depicted quite a fantastic picture of the history of the Ruses, connecting them with the Baltic-language speaking Prussians, who inhabited a territory of the present Kaliningrad Region in the Middle Ages, Rugii (German tribe) and other ancient peoples, and moved back the origin of the Slavs to the time of ancient Hellas (13th-12th centuries B.C.). Such scientific attitude looked archaic even for the 18th

* The Norse theory (Normanism) is a trend of historiography, which develops the concept of origin of the Rus tribe and people from Scandinavia in the period of Varangian (Norse) expansion. The supporters of Normanism assign the latter to the founders of the first states of Eastern Slavs, i.e. the Novgorod and later Kievan Rus.-Ed.

See: A. Utkin, "Phenomenon of Lomonosov's Personality"; Ye. Sysoeva, "He Saw Through Ages"; V. Vasilyev, "Honor of Russian People Requires Its Talent and Pungency to Be Shown in Sciences...", Science in Russia, No. 6, 2011.--Ed.

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century, nevertheless, such views became determining for national science for some time.

The intensity of emotions concerning the problem of national belonging of our first princes was stirred up also by the attitude of another outstanding Russian and German historian August Ludwig von Schlözer (foreign honorary member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1769). In his multivolume work Nestor, published in the early 19th century first in Germany and later in Russia, he absolutized the idea of the Scandinavian origin of the Varangians. According to him, it was they, who "in a general sense, established Russian power", and before their arrival, the local tribes lived without any rule "like beasts and birds".

A very balanced estimate of this subject was given by Nikolai Karamzin (member of the Petersburg AS from 1818) in his History of the Russian State. He advanced six well-grounded proofs (five out of them are irrefutable until now) of the fact that the Varangians were the Scandinavians, and defined a range of sources, which became basic for the problem under consideration for many years. It was the vocation of Rurik, Sineus and Truvor that the author considered a beginning of Russian statehood. He wrote: "The great peoples, like great names of history, have their infancy and should not be ashamed of it: our motherland, weak and divided into small provinces up to the year of 862 according to Nestor's calendar, is indebted for its greatness to the fortunate institution of monarchical power." The authority of Karamzin's work was so high that his views determined the main line of our science for long.

The "Norse problem" came to the forefront again in the reign of Emperor Alexander II (1855-1881): on the threshold of the Great Reforms of the 1860s-1870s (judicial, military, abolition of serfdom and other reforms) liberalization of social life as a subject of the beginning of Russian history became a topic of full-scale discussions. In 1860 at the Petersburg University the second (from the times of Miller and Lomonosov) public dispute on the Varangians was held, in which two historians took part in an intellectual battle. One of them was Acad. (from 1841) Mikhail Pogodin, writer, journalist and supporter of Karamzin's idea, and the other was Nikolai Kostomarov, public figure, publicist, poet, Corresponding Member of the Petersburg AS (from 1876), who advanced an original hypothesis on the Lithuanian origin of the Varangians-Ruses (not supported by anybody afterwards).

Both opponents argued in favor of their positions, followed by a lively response of the student audience, which "was large and numerous but no order maintained

стр. 56

there", as was written in the press, citing the Tale of Bygone Years. The dispute was a failure, but it showed importance of public discussions of similar problems, i.e. openness of science, and revealed disputable topics of our early history. Prince Pyotr Vyazemsky, a known poet, literary critic and public figure at that time wittily summed up the event: "Formerly we did not know where we were going, but now we do not know also from where."

The last and most powerful "salvo" of the scientific anti-Normanism thundered in 1876, when the work Varangians and Rus was published by the director of Hermitage (1863-1878), playwright, art critic, historian and theatrical figure Stepan Gedeonov, honorary member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1863). By the way, its first version was published in early 1860s-explicitly timed for the millennium of calling of the Varangian princes, who belonged, according to the author, to the Slavs inhabiting the southern coast of the Baltic Sea before the Nordic peoples came there. And though his hypothesis did not prove true later on, the book played a great role in the elaboration of the problem, in particular, it demonstrated complexity of its study, and remaining "blind-spots".

Accumulation of the archeological material, development and mastering of the methods of linguistics and source studies promoted further steps in studying the "Norse problem". So, the works by the Danish linguist and historian Wilhelm Tomsen, foreign Corresponding Member of the Petersburg Academy of Sciences (from 1894), his colleague Acad. (from 1899) Alexei Shakhmatov, and other scientists of the end of the 19th century expressly proved the Scandinavian origin of the Varangians, the first Russian princes and the word "Rus". It seemed that the disputes on this subject were a thing of the past. But after the Bolsheviks came to power in Russia, they flared up again.

The end of the 1930s was a time of rise of patriotism in the USSR, which achieved the highest stage after the victory in the Great Patriotic War of 1941-1945. Furthermore, the situation with the "Varangian problem" was aggravated by the fact that the idea of establishing the Russian state by the Scandinavians (i.e. ancient Teutons) was used by the Nazi propaganda for its own benefit. At the end of the 1940s, the Soviet state began fighting against cosmopolitism and "servility to the West", rejecting any foreign influence and considering the "Norse theory" as a tool of world reaction, which strived to discredit the historical past of our people.

The official science of those days declared the story of the Tale of Bygone Years about the "calling of the

стр. 57

Varangians" as "a legend which, though includes some historical features, is nevertheless only a tendentious composition of chroniclers", and attributed the formation of the Old Russian state to the 6th-7th centuries. By the way, such point of view was slightly modified later on, and this historical event was dated as the 9th century in the school textbooks, but the latter contained no information whatsoever about Rurik and the Varangians.

The leading role in the formation of viewpoints about the "Varangian problem" in the Soviet historiography in the course of several decades belonged to Academician (from 1958) Boris Rybakov, who popularized the idea of the word "Rus" origin from the name of one of the Dnieper's tributaries Ros. According to Rybakov, it was just on the banks of this small river, where a powerful union of Slavonic tribes was formed, that our statehood took shape in the 6th-7th centuries. The scientist attributed the activities of prince Kiy, founder of Kiev, the chief town of the Old Rus, to that time too, and considered the role of the Varangians in its foundation as insignificant. However, the official science did not revive the version of their Baltic-Slavonic origin (there are attempts to do so now), but no serious discussion of this problem has taken place up till now.

The first steps were made only in 1965, first of all in the sphere of archeology: a number of artifacts have already been accumulated, which testify not only to the presence but also to the life of the Scandinavians in the territory of the Old Rus (remains of dwelling places, handicraft and trade constructions, burials). In the same year the Leningrad University held the third dispute of supporters and opponents of the "Norse theory". The opposing parties were represented by Igor Shaskolsky, Dr. Sc. (Hist.) and Leo Klein, Cand. Sc. (Hist.) (the work of the latter Dispute on the Varangians written in connection with this discussion and its materials, were published only in 2009).

This open discussion, which made doubtful the verdict of official science, signified the start of a more weighted and objective study of the "Varangian problem". With the help of works by many historians, archeologists and linguists it returned gradually to the national and world scientific world, and the Varangian princes, who had come to Rus in 862, again took the rightful place in our history.

It is known from the Tale of Bygone Years that after the brothers Sineus and Truvor, who reigned in Beloozero and Izborsk, died, and Rurik "took power in his hands... and started to grant towns Polotsk, Rostov and Beloozero to his friends". Consequently, he possessed quite a vast territory including the lands of not only the Ilmen Slavs, Krivichi, Chuds, Merias and Veses (the present northwest of our country), who, as was mentioned, had called him to reign, but also of other tribes, for example, Polochane, up to the tributaries of the rivers Zapadnaya Dvina and Verkhnyaya Volga.

The name Rurik has originated from the Old Scandinavian Hrœrekr, consisting of two stems: hróδr, i.e. "glory" and rekr (-ríkr) as "potent, possessing power" and thus means literally "glorious for his might". The Russian sources do not inform of the origin of the first Varangian prince and from what place he came (probably, it was not important for the authors). According to the chronicle, Rurik died in 879.

Another interesting hypothesis in historical science appeared as early as in the first half of the 19th century. The permanent professor of the Derpt University (today Tartu, Estonia) Friedrich Kruse assumed in 1836: Rurik of Novgorod is identical to Rorik from the family of supreme leaders of Jutland, who was a ruler of regions in Friesland in the 9th century. This name revealed itself first around 850 in annals (chronicles) of the Frankish Empire. The author called him "the bile of Christianity": "Rorik, a Norseman.., erroneously accused of betrayal, was seized and thrown into prison... After escaping from prison, he became a vassal of Lois, king of eastern Franks...", etc. The life of this man was a series of adventures and military marches, according to the same source, "to seize royal power", which ended probably in 882, as it was then that his lands in Friesland had passed to another leader of the Norsemen-Gottfried.

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Later on the attractive identification of Rurik with Rorik was supported by several national researchers. The Russian expatriate Nikolai Belyaev carried out thorough studies and published their results in Prague in 1929. Since then the Kruse hypothesis gained popularity. It was recognized by Russian and American historian Georgi Vernadsky, Boris Rybakov and others. Of course, it was impossible to prove it finally as there were neither sources confirming it directly nor those denying it. But we can advance indirect arguments in favor of this hypothesis, first of all, similarity of the names going back to the said Scandinavian prototype.

Besides, the Frankish annals include chronological gaps, when Rorik might well find himself in Rus. The archeological evidence testifies that already in the second half of the 8th century its northern regions were involved in trade with peoples of not only the eastern Baltic countries but also Friesland via Denmark. Therefore, the address of the local tribes to the Jutland konung looks quite logical. Moreover, he was not directly connected with the Swedes, who attacked the eastern

стр. 59

Slavs. But the dating of the annals is, as many historians stressed repeatedly, rather conditional, and often the events stretched out in time could be reduced to a heading under one year.

Nevertheless, the information on meetings of Rorik with Charles II the Bald (ruler of the West Frankish Kingdom, i.e. future France, in 840-877) contains a serious objection to the identity of Rurik and Rorik. Of course, one man could not simultaneously rule the lands in Friesland and in the north of Rus. But probably he was not in Veliky Novgorod all the time but only occasionally, using the Russian north as a kind of reserve alternative.

Another fact of interest. The possessions of the annalistic Rurik finally passed into the hands of his kinsmen just in 882, and this also "makes him related" with Rorik mentioned in the Frankish annals. In a word, it cannot be ruled out that the dynasty of our grand princes was really a branch of one family of Jutland rulers, and its founder was an outstanding person of the Varangian epoch in Northern Europe.


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