The Early Origins of Russia

StarlessJack By StarlessJack, 27th Oct 2011 | Follow this author | RSS Feed
Posted in Wikinut>Guides>History

A short history of the early origins of the modern state of Russia, known previously as Rus. Included are the basic origins of the slavonic peoples who became the inhabitants of Rus.

The origins of the Slavonic peoples

There is very little recorded history among the Slavonic peoples in the 7th century, mainly due to the absence of a non-pagan religion. In the early period, the main source of recorded history in the pre-medieval period was the church, and so the absence of a major source of literacy meant that there was very little scope to record history in writing; most histories were passed down by word of mouth. Despite this, it is generally thought that the Slavonic people orignated among the Indo-Europeans from the north Caucuses (in modern day Ukraine). Originally from the area just north of the Caspian Sea, the Slavs moved into north-central Europe, where they were surrounded by other groups. By contrast to many of the other contemporary local peoples, the Slavs were not nomads; they were a very quiet people, who mainly focused on animal husbandry. They were not very powerful militarily, although Slavs did fight in other armies.

The Slavonic Migrations

In about 700, the Slavs were pushed out of the north-central Europe area by a nomadic people from the neighbouring steppes, and in the process, the various tribes were scattered in every direction. Some Slavs moved as far as Greece, becoming the South Slavs (the origins of the Baltic states), others moved in Germany to become the West Slavs (the ancestors of the Poles and the Czechs among others), while still others moved East into modern-day Russia to form the East Slavs (who were to become the Belorussians, Ukranians and, of course, Russians). Due to this migration, the Slavonic peoples became less isolated than they had been previously as they encountered different and more developed cultures as they migrated.

The Neighbours of the East Slavs

Immediately following the migrations, the East Slavs found themselves surrounded by previously unknown (to them at least) groups.

The Khazars

Ethnically a Turkic people, the Khazars were a nomadic people. They controlled an empire on the southern edge of the East Slavonic lands between the 7th and 10th century. They are hugely unusual for one reason: in the 9th century, for an unknown reason, the entire people converted to Judaism - the only people in recorded history to do so. They did not however try to impose their religion on anyone else, and were largely traders. The Khazars ruled over a few East Slav tribes and did leave a lasting cultural imprint. In the 970s, they suffered a significant defeat at the hands of the new state of Rus, after which they ceased to be an influence.

The Abbasid Caliphate

The people of the Caliphate were Arabic by ethnicity, and ruled vast amounts of Arabia and North Africa. The Abbasids were widely famed for the level to which their society had advanced: they were famed for their learning, and their skill at mathematics (among other things). In terms of trade, they were also widely well regarded, due to their trade in luxury goods (such as silk and pottery) as well as, importantly, their silver trade. The Abbasids pioneered the use a valuable currency with their silver dirhams. This caused interest (and the accordant trade routes) from as far away as Finland.

The Byzantine Empire

The remnants of the Eastern Roman Empire, the word Byzantine comes from the old name of Constantinople (modern-day Istanbul): Byzantium. The inhabitants still referred to themselves as Romans, and it was by far the most powerful Christian state in Europe. Another state famed for its scholarship, the Byzantines also traded their luxury goods for fur, wax, honey and timber (much like the Abbasid Caliphate).

The Vikings (or Varangians)

The Vikings who travelled East were known as the Varangians, and traded with everyone from the East Slavs to Constantinople, and as far south as Baghdad. To begin with, the trade purely involved individuals, or small groups, however as the trade grew more popular, some Varangians began settling in the East (in what is now Russia). As they did so, they also paid or exploited the East Slavs to extract the resources to trade with their various partners. As they settled more, they gave their name: 'Rus' to the land they began to rule. The earliest eastern viking trading post was established in the early 8th century.


Abbasid Caliphate, Byzantines, Byzantium, Early History, Guide, Khazars, Medieval, Russia, Russian, Russian History, Slav, Slavonic, 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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