Kievan Rus

StarlessJack By StarlessJack, 28th Oct 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

Following on from my previous page about the origins of the Slavonic people, this page is specifically about the East Slavs.


In the 9th century the Vikings (Varangians) began establishing trade posts throughout an area which was becoming known as Kievan Rus. These trade posts were a means not only of trading with local people, but also (more importantly) with the Mediterranean states. It is important to say however that the Slavs were not the only people in the area; there were Baltic peoples, as well as Finno-Ugric tribes. The land came to be known as Rus due to the fact that the Viking tribe which emerged as dominant was named Rus. The traditional leader of the period has been given the name Riurik, although it is probable that the now-legendary figure never actually existed: he was a work of fiction, which made the telling of the Rus rise to power more convenient.

Throughout this period (the 9th century), Kiev began to emerge as the centre of Varangian power. This was because Kiev was in a much more advantageous position (in terms of trade with the mediterranean) than their previous major base Novgorod (much further to the north).

Varangian (Viking) Expansion

This growth brought with it a large amount of organisation, and political structure, and this is shown by the massive attack (which would have required a lot of complex planning) on Constantinople in 860. The attack was not really meant to acheive anything other than to scare the Emperor of Byzantium into giving them a better trade agreement.

Following the attack, the Vikings were allowed to establish a small colony in Constantinople, although initially there were lots of restrictions: Vikings had to be unarmed within the city, and they could not come in groups of larger than 50 at a time. These restrictions had a major effect in that they caused the Viking trade operation to become far more organised, although the mere fact that they were allowed to negotiate trade agreements with the Emperor of Byzantium shows that their trade organisations must already have been at a fairly advanced level.

Igor (Ingvar), the Prince of Kiev

Igor (or Ingvar by his Scandinavian name) is the first historically recorded ruler of the Rus, and under his rule, Kiev became definitively pre-eminent (pushing Novgorod into a much more secondary role). In his time in charge, Igor organised and launched another attack on Constantinople, again to negotiate a better trade agreement. By the 940s, his people were also being introduced (in part through their trade) to ideas of Christianity, and there was a mixture of Paganism and Christianity among the people living in the area. When Igor died in 945, his wife (Olga) took the throne, on behalf of her under-aged son, in the process becoming the first female ruler of Rus. During her time in power, she developed a more efficient taxation system. Despite this sign of Rus settling down, Olga maintained the strong cultural links with Scandinavia.

Religious and Succession Struggles

Olga became, in the 950s, the first Christian ruler of the Rus (as well as being the first female ruler), when she was baptised as a Christian by the Church in Constantinople. She evidently changed her mind to a certain extent later on though as, upon returning home, she threw the Byzantine clergy out, and invited Frankish (Western) missionaries in. With her death in 969, Christianity took a major blow, as her son, Sviatoslav, took the throne. Sviatoslav was a staunch defender of the old ways, and a resolute pagan. As a result the Frankish mission collapsed almost immediately.

Sviatoslav was a warrior prince intent on aggressive expansion. He looked both south (towards the Bulgars) and west (toward the Khazars). In 965, he inflicted a massive defeat on the Khazars, which although causing them to fade, meant that it opened the door to the steppes, and hordes of nomad tribes (against which the Khazars had previously been a buffer).

When Sviatoslav died in 972, there was a major succession struggle which lasted around 8 years until eventually he was succeeded in 980 by Vladimir. When he became the prince of Kiev, he was a pagan, although paganism was not very strong at the time mainly due to the fact that it was surrounded by the major monotheistic religions: In the West (the Frankish states) there was Christianity (catholicism), in the South (the Byzantine Empire there was Orthodox Christianity, in the South East (the remnants of the Khazars) there was Judaism, and in the North East (with the Volga Bulgars) there was Islam. Despite trying to create a unified pantheon of pagan gods, the system was far too artificial, and failed very quickly. After this, Vladimir sent ambassadors to the major faiths (having decided he could not 'update' paganism).


Guide, Historical Events, History, Kiev, Russia, Russian, Russian History, Ukraine, Varangian, Viking, Viking History, Vikings

Meet the author

author avatar StarlessJack
I am currently in my first year reading BA History at the University of Nottingham. I am very interested also in Rugby Union, both watching and playing, and my articles will focus on either historical issues or rugby union.

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author avatar Anisha Achankunju (Aiyanna)
29th Oct 2011 (#)

Interesting piece of HIStory.
Its sad and surprising that the son didnot follow the footsteps of the mother despite spending more time with her than the father. But yes, it is true, it is the maximum influence seen in the formative years of 0-6 that creates the personality of the person and if those years are not taken care of properly the above can occur and hell on earth is unleashed.
Reminded me of the game Age of Empires, learnt a lot playing that.

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