THE NORSEMEN (OR VARINGIANS) IN RUSSIA
 IT would have been strange indeed, if the bold Norsemen, the bold buccaneers who in their frail craft pillaged
the west coasts of Europe and extended their voyages into the Mediterranean, should have omitted to pay a
visit to the shores of the Baltic Sea. We know that they settled in England and France, and it causes no
surprise when we read that the Slavs in the neighborhood of the Baltic paid tribute to them. They must have
been exacting tax collectors, because we read also that, in 859, the Slavs rose and expelled their visitors.
Three years later they returned at the invitation of the people of Novgorod.
Nestor, the historian of the Slav race, who lived in the twelfth century, and whose account is remarkably
clear and trustworthy, wrote that the inhabitants of Novgorod "said to the princes of Varingia, 'Our land is
great and fertile, but it lacks order and justice; come, take possession, and govern us.'"
The invitation was accepted. Three brothers, Rurik or the Peaceful, Sineous or the Victorious, and Truvor or
the Faithful, proceeded to Russia with their families and fighting men. Rurik settled on the south shore of
Lake Ladoga, Sineous on the White Lake, and Truvor
 at Izborsk. The two younger brothers died, and Rurik moved to Novgorod where he built a castle. At about the
same time two other Norsemen, Askold and Dir, landed in Russia, and went to Kief, then also a flourishing
city, where they were equally well received. They persuaded its people to prepare an expedition against
Czargrad, the City of the Czar or Emperor of the Eastern Roman Empire, now known as Constantinople, but at
that time named Byzantium. The expedition of Kief under Askold and Dir sailed down the Dnieper in a fleet of
200 large boats, entered the Golden Horn—or Bosphorus,—and began the siege of Constantinople. The
capital was saved by the Patriarch or head of the Greek Church, who plunged a wonder-working robe into the
waves, whereupon a violent storm destroyed the Russian fleet.
The two chiefs, Askold and Dir, must have escaped, because they were back at Kief when that city received a
disagreeable visit. Upon Rurik's death, he was succeeded, not by his son Igor, but by his brother Oleg as the
eldest of the family. The new prince or kniaz did not approve of rival Norsemen in his
neighborhood. With his own men and a large number of Slavs and Finns, he marched upon Kief, and on his way
compelled Smolensk and Loubetch to submit to his authority.
When he arrived before Kief, he succeeded in capturing Askold and Dir who were put to death "because," Oleg
explained, "they were neither princes themselves, nor of the blood of princes." Kief was taken, and Oleg took
up his residence in that city.
It is at this time that the name Russia first appears.
 Its derivation is doubtful and is, besides, of no great importance. Oleg ruled over Russia, that is, the plain
extending from Kief to Novgorod. There is a story that he was defeated by the Hungarians, who had crossed the
Dnieper, but it is doubtful, because in the year 907, we find him preparing another expedition against
Constantinople. On this occasion the people of that capital forgot to bring out the robe, and tried to poison
the invaders, but their scheme was discovered in time; they were forced to pay a heavy tribute and Oleg
secured, besides, a very advantageous commercial treaty.
One of the wizards at Oleg's court had warned him that his favorite horse would be the cause of his death, and
the animal was kept away from him until it died. Oleg did not believe in wizards; he insisted upon seeing the
body and entered the stable. A snake came out of the horse's skull and stung Oleg in the foot, and he died
from the effect of the poison.
Igor, Rurik's son, was the eldest, and succeeded his uncle. He led another expedition against Constantinople,
but it ended in disaster, because the Russian fleet was destroyed by Greek fire. A large number of Russians
were captured but Igor escaped. This failure did not prevent him from again attacking the Byzantine Empire,
and this time he was successful. The emperor agreed to pay tribute and signed another commercial treaty.
Nestor, the Russian historian, tells us the story of Igor's death. "In the year 945," he says, "the
drujina" (that is, the body-guard, composed of Norsemen or their descendants), "of Igor said to
him, 'The men of Sveneld are richly provided with weapons and garments, while
 we go in rags; lead us, Prince, to collect the tribute so that thou and we may become rich.' Igor consented,
and conducted them to the Drevlians to raise the tribute. He increased the first imposts, and did them
violence, he and his men; after having taken all he wanted, he returned to his city. While on the road he
bethought himself and said to his drujina, 'Go on with the tribute; I will go back and try to get some more
out of them.' Leaving the greater part of his men to go on their way, he returned with only a few, to the end
that he might increase his riches. The Drevlians, when they learnt that Igor was coming back, held council
with Nal, their prince. 'When the wolf enters the sheepfold he slays the whole flock, if the shepherd does not
slay him. Thus it is with us and Igor; if we do not destroy him, we are lost.' Then they sent deputies who
said to him, 'why dost thou come anew unto us? Hast thou not collected all the tribute?' But Igor would not
hear them, so the Drevlians came out of the town of Korosthenes, and slew Igor and his men, for they were but
The drujina or body-guard of the duke was at the same time his council. The men composing it were considered
as members of his family; they ate at his table and shared his amusements as well as his toil. He did nothing
without consulting them, and was really but the first among his peers. They formed a court of justice, and it
was from among them that he appointed the voievods or governors of fortresses, and possadniks or commandants
of large towns. We have a description of the courts of that time by an Arab writer named Ibn
 Dost. He says: "When a Russian brings a complaint against another, he summons him before the court of the
prince where both state their case. When the prince has pronounced his verdict, his orders are executed; but
if both parties are dissatisfied, the dispute must be decided by weapons. He whose sword cuts sharper, gains
his cause. At the time of the fight, the relatives of the two adversaries appear armed, and surround the space
set apart. The combatants then come to blows, and the victor may impose any terms he pleases."
The people of the country, the peasants, were not quite so free as when Rurik landed. They began to be known
as moujik, a contemptuous diminutive of the word mouj or man, literally manikin. The merchants or
gosti did not form a distinct class, but in larger cities, such as Novgorod and Kief, they had a
voice in the administration. These cities had a vetché or municipal council which directed the city's business
without any direct interference from the prince. The successors of Rurik attended to the defense of the
country, the administration of justice, and the collection of tribute and taxes, which sources of revenue were
appropriated by them and served for their support and for that of the drujina.
The Slavs of that time exhibited many characteristics which we recognize in the Russians of our time. Leo the
Deacon, a noted writer of that time, mentions that they fought in a compact body, and seemed like a wall of
iron, bristling with lances, glittering with shields, whence rang a ceaseless clamor like the waves of the
sea. A huge shield covered them to their feet, and, when they fought in retreat, they turned this enormous
 on their backs and became invulnerable. The fury of the battle frenzied them. They were never seen to
surrender. When victory was lost they stabbed themselves, for they believed that those who died by the hand of
an enemy were condemned to serve him in the life after death. The emperors of Byzantium were glad to secure
their services, and the ross, as they called them, often formed the body-guard. In the Byzantine
expedition against Crete, 700 Russians served in the army.
The Norsemen readily adapted themselves to the habits, customs, and language of the people among whom they
settled. We find the Norse names of Rurik, Oleg, and Igor, but after the last named their descendants were
Russians and bore Russian names.
At Igor's death his son Sviatoslaf was still a minor, whose mother, Olga, became Regent. She was a woman of
determination, whose first thought was to avenge the death of her husband. The Drevlians, hearing of her
preparations, sent two deputations to appease her: not a man returned. They were all put to death at her
command. Nestor tells us that Olga herself commanded her warriors at the siege of Korosthenes, and that she
offered to make peace on payment of a tribute of three pigeons and three sparrows for every house. This was
accepted and the birds were delivered, when she ordered lighted tow to be fastened to their tails, and when
they flew back to the wooden town, they set fire to the houses and barns. Korosthenes was then captured and a
great number of its inhabitants were slaughtered and the rest were made slaves.
It seems strange that such a woman should have been
 the first of Rurik's house to embrace Christianity. There is no doubt that she visited Constantinople where
she astonished the emperor by the force of her character. She was baptized and received the name of Helen. It
is quite possible that she came to Constantinople for that purpose, because we read that she refused to be
baptized at Kief "for fear of the pagans." This confirms the Greek records in which it is stated that a bishop
was established in Russia, probably at Kief, in the time of Oleg.
It is not strange that Christianity should have taken root in Russia after the frequent wars with the
Byzantine Empire, and considering the commerce carried on between Kief and Constantinople. Missionaries
entered Russia at an early period. Two of them, Cyril and Methodius, prepared a Slavonic alphabet, in which
many Greek letters were used, and the Bible was translated into that language. There is a tradition that
Askold was baptized after his defeat at Constantinople, and that this is the reason why the people still
worship at his tomb at Kief, as of that of the first Christian prince. The Norsemen had no taste for
persecution on account of religious belief, but for themselves they clung to the heathen deities. When Igor
swore to observe the treaty concluded with Emperor Leo VI, he went up to the hill of Perun and used the
ancient Slavonic rites; but the emperor's deputies went to the church of St. Elias, and there laid their hands
upon the Bible as a token of good faith.
The drujina and warriors did not take kindly to Christianity. They, as well as the peasants, preferred to
worship Perun and Voloss. The same thing happened
 elsewhere. Christianity made the greatest progress in cities, whereas the dwellers on the "heath" remained
"heathen." "When one of the warriors of the prince wished to become a convert," says Nestor, "he was not
prevented; they simply laughed at him." When Olga returned from Constantinople, she was anxious that her son,
who was of age and had succeeded to his father, should follow her example. Sviatoslaf refused; "my men will
laugh at me," was his usual answer. Nestor mentions that he sometimes lost his temper. Christianity did not
make much progress during his reign.
He was a warrior, like his Norse ancestors. In the brief time of eight years, 964-972, he found time to wage
two wars. The first was with the Khazar empire on the Don. Sviatoslaf captured its capital, the White City,
and received tribute from two tribes of the Caucasus. The second war did not turn out so well.
From Nestor's account and that of Leo the Deacon, it appears that the Byzantine emperor, wishing to make use
of Sviatoslaf, decided to find out what sort of man he was. He therefore sent him presents of gold and fine
clothes, but the grandson of Rurik would scarcely look at them and told his warriors to take them away. When
the emperor heard this, he sent him a fine sword and other weapons; these were accepted with every token of
satisfaction by Sviatoslaf. When the emperor was informed of the result, he exclaimed: "This must be a fierce
man, because he despises wealth and accepts a sword as tribute."
This did not prevent the emperor, who had a private quarrel with Peter, Czar of Bulgaria, from urging
 Sviatoslaf to make war upon his enemy. The Russian gave a hearty consent, and in a very short time he captured
several fortresses and Peréiaslaf, the capital, fell into his hands. He determined to transfer his capital
there, and when he returned to Kief, the told his mother of the city on the Danube. "The place," he said, "is
the central point of my territory, and abounds in wealth. Precious goods, gold, wine, and all kinds of fruit,
come from Greece. Silver and horses are brought from the country of the Czechs and Hungarians, and the
Russians bring money, furs, wax, and slaves."
Meanwhile the emperor of Constantinople was dead; his successor, John Zimisces was a very different man, who
preferred having a weak Bulgarian ruler as his neighbor, instead of an empire which, even at that time,
extended from Lakes Ladoga and Onega to the Balkans. He, therefore, made up his mind to oust the Russians.
Sviatoslaf had left Bulgaria, but he returned and reconquered it, when he received a demand from the new
emperor to execute the treaty entered into with his predecessor, that is, to leave Bulgaria. Sviatoslaf
replied proudly that he expected to visit the emperor at Constantinople before long, but Zimisces, a brave and
able man, took measures to prevent it. Before Sviatoslaf expected him, Zimisces attacked and defeated the
Russians in the defiles of the Balkan, and soon after stormed and captured Peréiaslaf. Eight thousand Russians
withdrew into the castle, which they defended heroically. They refused to surrender and, when the castle was
set on fire, they perished in the flames.
When Sviatoslaf heard of this disaster, he advanced
 against the emperor. The Greek historian says that the Russian army was 60,000 men strong, but Nestor gives
the number at 10,000. The two armies met and both fought with desperate valor, but at last the Russians gave
way before the furious charges of the Greek cavalry—the Ironsides—and withdrew to Dorostol.
Zimisces started in pursuit, and laid siege to the city where the same courage was displayed. After Sviatoslaf
drew his men up out of the city and prepared to give battle, Zimisces proposed to him to decide the issue by a
personal fight, but the offer was declined. "I know better than my enemy what I have to do," said Sviatoslaf.
"If he is weary of life, there are a thousand ways by which he can end his days." The battle ended in defeat
for the Russians who, Leo the Deacon tells us, left 15,500 dead, and 20,000 shields on the battlefield.
Sviatoslaf was compelled to come to terms. Zimisces permitted him and what remained of his army to return to
Russia, after he had sworn by Perun and Voloss that he would never again invade the empire, but would help in
defending it against its enemies. If he broke his oath, he wished that he might "become as yellow as gold, and
perish by his own arms." Zimisces showed the nobility of a brave man. He sent messengers to a warlike tribe
requesting a free passage for the Russians; but this tribe was anxious to seize the opportunity. Sviatoslaf
and his men were attacked near the Cataracts of the Dnieper; he was killed, but most of his men escaped.