EARLY RECORDS OF RUSSIA
 AT an early period in the history of Greece, we hear of colonies established on the northern shore of the Pontus
Euxinus or Hospitable Sea, as they named the Black Sea. We may even now recognize some of the names of those
colonies, such as Odessos, at the mouth of the Bug, Tyras, at that of the Dniester, and Pityas where Colchis,
the object of the search of Jason and his fellow Argonauts, is supposed to have been. In the fourth century
before our era, some of these colonies united under a hereditary archon or governor, probably for
the purpose of securing better protection against the barbarians who dwelt further inland.
The Greeks mention these barbarians as the Scythians, and divided them into three classes. The agricultural
Scythians dwelt in the black earth belt, near the Dnieper; the nomad Scythians lived at some distance to the
east of them, and the royal Scythians occupied the land around the Sea of Azof.
Learned men of Russia have made many excavations on the spots where the Greek settlements once stood, during
the past century. They have been rewarded by finding many works of art, illustrating the mode of
 living of the Scythians. They have been placed, and may be seen in the Hermitage museum of St. Petersburg.
Among these relics of the past are two beautifully engraved vases, one of gold, the other of silver. The
Scythians on the silver vase wear long hair and beards, and are dressed in gowns or tunics, and bear a close
resemblance to the Russians of our time. These vases and other ancient objects confirm what is said about
these people by Herodotus, a Greek historian who lived in the fourth century before Christ.
We learn from him that the Scythians worshiped a sword stuck into the ground, representing the god of war, and
that they made human sacrifices. They drank the blood of the first enemy killed in battle, scalped their
prisoners, and used their skulls as drinking cups. In the course of time the Greek civilization exerted its
influence, and penetrated to tribes dwelling much further in the north, as is shown by the antiquities found
in the government of Ekaterinoslaf.
The orbis terrarium or world so far as it was known to the Greeks, was centered about the
Mediterranean; hence the name of that sea, meaning Middle of the Land or Middle of the Earth. Beyond that
there was an unknown region, supposed to be inhabited by people of whom many wonderful stories were told. Thus
they believed in the existence of the Arimaspians, a race of one-eyed people; there are legends, too, of the
Agrippei who were described as bald and snub-nosed. The Greeks also mention the Gryphons, who, they said, were
guardians of immense quantities of gold. The most wonderful people to the Greeks were the Hyperboreans, or
 beyond the regions of the north wind, who were looked upon with awe and pity because it was said that they
lived in a country where snow fell summer and winter. These were some of the races and tribes supposed to
inhabit Russia, which goes far to prove that the knowledge of that country, in those times, was neither
extensive nor very accurate.
The truth is that we know very little about the early inhabitants of Russia; nor do they concern us greatly,
because grave changes occurred in the fourth century of our era. At that time several large and warlike tribes
of Central Asia moved westward compelling other tribes on their route to join them or to move ahead. Thus they
gathered strength until it looked as if Asia was bent upon the conquest of Europe. They poured in through the
gap between the Ural mountains and the Caspian Sea, and the civilized people of southeastern Europe were
unable to cope with the savage hordes. In the vanguard were the Goths, who made an effort to settle in
Scythia, but they were forced to move on when Attila, who is known as the Scourge of God, swooped down upon
them with his Huns. He was followed by a host of Finns, Bulgarians, Magyars, and Slavs who, however, left his
wake, scattered and settled down. Soon after the Slavs became known to Greek authors and were described by
them. They were divided into a number of tribes, among them the Russian Slavs who settled about the sources of
the Volga and the Oka, and were the founders of Novgorod, Pskof, and Izborsk.
They must have been a numerous people. We hear of another tribe settling on the banks of the Vistula, and
 laying the foundation of the future kingdom of Poland. They settled on the upper Elbe, and in the north of
Germany. It is believed that the Slavs are ancestors of the people in Bohemia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Servia, and
Dalmatia, and in Prussia of those living in Pomerania and Brandenburg.
All these Slavs, although widely dispersed, practiced the same heathen rites, spoke the same language, and
nursed the same traditions, until they fell under different influences. They were, however, not the sole
occupants of northeastern Europe. Other races had followed in Attila's wake, and among them the Finns were the
most numerous and most warlike. They settled in the basin of the Dwina and the Kama and named their new home
Biarmaland, while the Russians called it Great Permia. They also occupied what is now known as Finland, but
which was then known as Land of the Suomi. The Finns, more than any other tribe, bore evidence of their
Thus the present European Russia was divided among a host of tribes, belonging either to the Slav or Finn
families, and each kept to a great extent the superstitions and traditions of his race. Even in our time the
traces of these superstitions are plainly discernible in many parts of Russia. When Christianity was
introduced among these people, the missionaries found many of the barbaric rites so strongly implanted among
the people that, instead of making vain efforts to uproot them, they preferred to admit them under a Christian
The religion of the Slavs bore a great resemblance to that of the Norsemen and of the Germanic races; that
 is, they worshiped nature and its phenomena. Dagh Bog was the sungod; Perun, the Thor of northern mythology,
was the god of thunder; Stri Bog, the god of the winds; Voloss, the protector of flocks. They had neither
temples nor regular priests, but worshiped the oak as the symbol of Perun, and before it the leaders offered
sacrifices. These ancient deities are preserved under the names of St. John, who displaced Perun; Voloss who
became St. Vlaise, etc. When a chief died, the wife often refused to survive her husband. The men-servants
were summoned and asked which of them would be buried with his master. When one of them came forward, he was
immediately strangled. Then the same question was put to the women servants, and if one of them consented, she
was feasted until the day when the funeral pyre awaited the corpse. She was then killed and her body burned
with that of her master. There were, however, some tribes that buried their dead.
The father was absolute master of his family, but his authority did not descend to the eldest son, but to the
oldest of the family, his brothers, if any were living, according to their age. The Slavs kept several wives,
and were given to consume large quantities of a strong drink called kvass. They were a people devoted to
agriculture; the land under cultivation was not owned by one person or a family, but by all the members of a
community, or mir. The heads of the families composing the mir assembled in a council or vetché,
which had authority over the mir. Only the house and the dvor or inclosure, and his share in the
harvest, were the property of each householder. In the course of time, several
 of these rural communities united in a canton or county, called a volost, which was then governed by a
council composed of the elders of several communes. It happened sometimes that one of these elders, who was
considered unusually wise or powerful, became chief of the volost, a dignity which might become hereditary.
This was probably the origin of the boyards or nobles. As a rule, the volosts were proud of their
independence; they disliked entangling alliances, although in time of danger or necessity they would enter
into a confederacy of all the counties belonging to the same tribe, which was then called plemia. But
it was always understood that such an arrangement was temporary. In most of the volosts, there was at least
one spot fortified by earthen walls and wooden palisades, where the people might take refuge in case of an
We know that some of the Slav tribes attained some degree of civilization as early as the seventh century of
our era. Novgorod was a town, large for that time, which carried on a brisk trade with Asia. This is amply
proved by the discovery of Asiatic coins belonging to that period. Although the favorite occupation of the
Slavs was agriculture, the construction of the fortified places suggests that they were not averse to increase
their wealth by an occasional raid upon their unprepared neighbors. There is other evidence that Novgorod,
grown into a wealthy city in the middle of the ninth century, longed for peace. No wonder that such a
community sought for means of security for its commerce. But the manner in which it accomplished this desire,
decided the fate of Russia.