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When Viking Kings and Queens Ruled Medieval Russia

December 4, 2019 in History

By Becky Little

For four centuries, Vikings held sway over parts of Russia, Belarus and Ukraine, with the greatest expansion happening under Prince Oleg the Prophet.

The historical people known as Vikings, who hailed from Scandinavia in Northern Europe, are well-known today for their exploits in the west. But the merchant-warriors also made their way into Eastern Europe, where they helped found a medieval federation in territory now known as Belarus, Ukraine and part of Russia. Their loose federation of principalities called Kievan Rus survived for nearly 400 years, finally collapsing during the 13th-century Mongol invasion.

Early Scandinavian settlements in the East

Vikings founded Kievan Rus in the mid-9th century, but Scandanavian settlements in Eastern Europe actually date back to at least A.D. 750. This is when pre-Viking-Age Scandanavians likely settled the northwestern Russian town of Staraya Ladoga (or “Old Ladoga”), across Lake Ladoga from what is now Finland. One of the artifacts archaeologists have unearthed from the city is a talisman with the face of Odin, the Norse god of war.

“The early Scandinavians were particularly attracted to Ladoga by the appearance of Islamic silver coins or dirhams there,” writes scholar Thomas S. Noonan. “The regular flow of Islamic dirhams from Russia to Scandinavia via Ladoga began in the early ninth century and is further evidence of a Viking presence in Ladoga long before 840.”

READ MORE: 10 Things You May Not Know About the Vikings

Prince Oleg expands territory, moves the capital to Kiev

Rurik and his brothers arriving in Staraya Ladog.

It was after 840 that Scandanavian Vikings—who were known in Eastern Europe as “Varangians” or “Rus”—established Viking rule over Slavic tribes in what came to be called Kievan Rus. At first, the region was divided between three noble brothers.

“The oldest, Rurik, located himself at Novgorod; the second, Sineus, at Beloozero; and the third, Truvor, in Izborsk,” recounts the Russian Primary Chronicle, a history of the region completed in the 12th century by Kievan monks. “On account of these Varangians, the district of Novgorod became known as the land of Rus.” (“Rus,” which is where the name “Russia” comes from, purportedly derives from an old Nordic word for “men who row.”)

Rurik’s brothers died within two years, so he claimed their territory and established Novgorod as the capital of his domain. After Rurik died, his successor Prince Oleg of Novgorod (or Oleg the Prophet) captured the city of Kiev in 882 and …read more

Source: HISTORY

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