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Thread: An Inquiry Into A Scandinavian Homeland For The Rus'

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    An Inquiry Into A Scandinavian Homeland For The Rus'

    by

    Hugh R. Whinfrey



    The ethnic origin of the Rus' is generally indicated by various historical sources to be Scandinavian, although a wide variety of alternative theories have been proposed. If the Scandinavian origin is taken as a given, then next question that logically arises is one of locating their homeland in Scandinavia. Extant evidence is tenuous at best, and serious scholars of the Rus' seem to prefer to avoid tangling with the homeland issue altogether. It is however the one great burning curiosity that pervades the Normanist position.

    In the course of examining the evidence for possible clues to the homeland, I was struck numerous times by the urge to want to draw the conclusion that the core of the Rus' were probably Gotlanders in origin. There are some bold leaps of association in this, and yet if I were forced to pronounce some conclusion regardless of any gaps, vagueness, and contradictions in the evidence, it would be precisely that. This paper investigates the arguments surrounding the two major threads that need to be tied together to draw this conclusion. The pedantic value will be in the obviating of the weak points which will serve as a critique of the extant body of scholarship applicable to the homeland issue.

    There is a set of archaeological evidence that indicates Scandinavians were among the inhabitants of northwestern Russia in the eighth and ninth centuries. There is an unstated but nevertheless omnipresent supposition in much of this archaeological work that relates these Scandinavians to the Scandinavian tribe of the Rus'. It needs to be stressed that these two groups need not necessarily be the same, although the fact that they shared some of the same time, some of the same territory, and had a common ethnic background does indeed give some justification for the supposition. One major thread of a homeland argument needs to tie the Rus' to these Scandinavians, who in turn need to be tied back to a homeland by the other major thread. The latter is examined first.

    Five settlement areas in northwestern Russia have produced Scandinavian finds: Pskov, Novgorod, the Riurik fortified site, Old Ladoga, and Beloozero.1 Two runic inscriptions have been recovered from Old Ladoga and also two from Novgorod.2 However none of the settlements has produced what could be called numerous finds, least of all in Novgorod.3 (The appearance of two Rus' travellers at Ingelheim in 839 predates the founding of Novgorod.) From the dating of the artifacts, Stalsberg draws the conclusion that a Scandinavian presence is likely from the very beginning of these settlements.4 However, the archaeological evidence is not sufficient enough in her view to estimate the size of a Scandinavian component in the local population.5
    The Old Ladoga finds are the most promising. The most important early Scandinavian find is a smithy with Scandinavian tools, dendochronologically dated to the 760's.6 The only cemetery in Russia that has been identified as Scandinavian, Plakun, is on the Volkhov opposite Old Ladoga.7 It consists of thirteen graves from the ninth and tenth centuries. Plakun has been fully excavated, but the results have not been fully published.

    All other other relevant pre-tenth century archaeological evidence in northwestern Russia comes from gravesites. Issues of subjective interpretation surround these gravesites. Stalsberg summarizes the difficulties in the following passage:
    The common Scandinavian rite of burial, a cremation under a mound, is, per se, useless for our purposes since it also was the predominant rite in Russia. It is not a distinguishing feature. Burial in, or with, a boat has to be regarded as Scandinavian. Burial in a chamber (here a wooden structure larger than a coffin in which are placed the dead person and the grave goods) is regarded by some as Scandinavian, but there is considerable disagreement about this.8

    Judging a particular grave as Scandinavian is necessarily a judgment about the grave goods. One peculiar Scandinavian feature, which may be associated with military activity, is the placing of swords and spears, often bent to make them unusable, in the graves. Stalsberg accepts however only one-third of the graves with swords in northwestern Russia as Scandinavian.9

    There are three very glaring weaknesses in the methodology based on analysis of grave goods. The first is that a grave is not classified as Scandinavian unless it is stringently proved to be so, biasing the resulting synthesis of the research away from Scandinavian elements. The second problem is the spread of Christianity, which forbade all but simple grave goods.10 The third is that pagan burial customs varied widely in Scandinavia. Danish graves, for example, are systematically characterized by a paucity of grave goods.11 No clear solution has emerged to compensate for these weaknesses in the methodology, and all one can do is note that those graves which have been deemed Scandinavian are only indicative of the lower limit.

    The British archaeologist David Wilson addresses the issue of the slim and uncertain nature in general of the Scandinavian evidence in northwestern Russia by noting that a similar set of scanty archaeological evidence emerges from the Viking areas in England, where their settlements unquestionably occurred on a large scale.12

    The evidence from graves that are accepted as Scandinavian leads Stalsberg to synthesize a picture of these Scandinavians as intermingling with the local population in a non-hostile relationship. The immigrants frequently brought their wives with them and were not the lowest class in the society. This, in turn, implies to some extent that the Scandinavians were traders.

    There is a suggestive archaeological parallel to this picture from the Swedish colony in Grobin, modern-day Latvia. The colony is presumed to have existed from ca. 650 to ca. 800. Excavations there show a Swedish and Gotlandic ethnic mix, apparently in cooperation rather than rivalry, where the Swedish component is unmistakably military in character and the Gotlandic community civil in character. The Gotlanders brought their wives and apparently engaged in trading activities.13 There exists no evidence suggestive of where any survivors of these colonists went after the settlement was abandoned.
    Using the Grobin evidence as a template, one would have some justification for suspecting that the settlers in northwestern Russia were predominantly Gotlanders. Stalsberg notes however that Viking Age finds of Gotlandic character are rare in Russia, and laments that this has been known since the 1930's but has been generally disregarded.14 Grobin has however been used in support of prior suppositions by scholars that peaceful trading activity by Scandinavians in the eastern Baltic was an occupation dominated by Gotlanders up to the beginning of the raiding period.15

    The history of Gotland as told by the Gutasaga recounts a Viking Age emigration to the island of Dago, in the Gulf of Riga, which they later abandoned, sailing up the Dvina into Russia.16 Whether some of these Gotlanders eventually ended up in northwestern Russia or in the Volga system is in the realm of speculation. There is some archaeological evidence indicating a Scandinavian presence in the Gnezdovo-Smolensk area17, which certainly is up the Dvina. The Gutasaga does mention that some of them travelled as far as Greece.

    The only other glaring clue as to the origin of the northwestern Russian settlers comes from the Yngling Saga. It recounts the tale of the semi-legendary Ivar Vidfadmi (ca. 650-700?) who drowned on an expedition to Russia. The saga asserts that part of his realm included the area around Lake Ladoga.18 The time in which Ivar lived is coincident with the depiction of the Gotlanders as traders. Political control of the Lake Ladoga area would also seem to imply some mainland Swedish military presence there. After Ivar, there are no indications of direct Swedish political control of the area.

    The two Rus' in Ingelheim in 839 were envoys from the Rus' to Constantinople. This implies a lack of political association between the Rus' and Sweden already by 839. Furthermore it indicates that the Rus' probably established their own political identity prior to the beginning of age of the Viking raids, usually dated as around 800. It should also be noted that Gotland had no consistent history of political unity with Sweden.

    Peter Sawyer notes that "among the hundred runic inscriptions commemorating men who died in the east, almost all refer to warriors and were made in the eleventh century."19 Sawyer finds only one runic inscription that does imply the man mentioned was a trader in Russia20. These offer no clues about the eighth and ninth century settlers.

    The other major thread that needs to be tied in is a connection between the Rus' and the presumably Gotlandic trading element in northwestern Russia. Economic arguments are the only way do this as the physical and literary evidence goes from slim to none down this path. That the Rus' lived by some combination of raiding and trading is generally accepted, as are their trading contacts with the Bulgars in the Volga basin and with Constantinople. To set the context properly, it has to be emphasized that during the eighth and ninth centuries, it was silver that drove the Swedish economy, and Islamic silver at that.

    An analysis of the trade routes that brought Islamic silver to Sweden reveals that the major route was through northwestern Russia, with a minor route going through Poland. The Dneiper and the Volga were the two arteries to the Islamic world within Russia. At Old Ladoga, easily accessible from the Gulf of Finland without portages, travellers chose which river system they would enter. Beloozero was on one of two possible routes beyond Old Ladoga that led into the Volga system.21 Izborsk was on the only other direct river route that led into the Dneiper system from the Gulf of Finland.

    Izborsk, and later Novgorod and Pskov, could also be reached by the southern Dvina from the Gulf of Riga. The ethnic Baltic areas were successfully resistant to Swedish armies in the ninth century and the Gulf of Finland seems to have been the preferred route. Coin evidence indicates that overland routes through Finland were of no major significance.22 Thus the flow of silver to Sweden was constricted into a a narrow geographical bottleneck in northwestern Russia, precisely where we have located presumably Gotlandic traders. At this point the implication that elements of the Scandinavian community in northwestern Russia may have profited by journeying down these river systems into Russia and evolving into the Rus' is clear.
    Up until ca. 800 the Dneiper route was blocked by the Avars, which meant that the easier pickings were in the Volga basin. It seems then no coincidence that the earliest Rus' are sometimes placed in the Volga basin.

    The most innovative argument I can offer is one that convolutes the generally accepted view of cause and effect. That much of the silver trade went through northwestern Russia rather than through the Gulf of Riga is a disturbing point since the distances to the Swedish mainland were shorter if one bypassed the Gulf of Finland altogether. The hostility of the Baltic peoples to journeying traders on a fairly wide river is not an adequate explanation.
    If one contemplates the fact that after long journeys, travellers like to return home, then the situation starts to clarify itself. If the silver trade was begun by the Scandinavians of northwestern Russia, then the trade route would have developed fanning out from their center, which would appear as an unexplained constriction in the route. And once established, a trade route has a certain inertia to it. This would require the placement of a lively market in the center. Such did develop in Novgorod, a peculiarly out-of-the-way place, and I can only suggest that it was the later by-product of this need for a market at the center.

    The generally disregarded remark in the Primary Chronicle that the Novgorodians were of the Varangian race, may contain more truth to it than is realized from a strictly genetic and linguistic viewpoint. It does appear that it could be the culmination of the legacy of these presumably Gotlandic traders of northwestern Russia.

    In summary, the Gotlandic connection is plausible, but not conclusive. The evidence and conjectures raise more questions than they solve. Nevertheless, I get the sense that conclusively disproving a Gotland connection would be a far more difficult task than conclusively proving it, which under the circumstances is a significant statement.
    Seattle, December 1993
    Endnotes
    1 Anne Stalsberg, "Scandinavian Relations with Northwestern Russia during the Viking Age: The Archaeological Evidence," Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), p.272.2 Elena A. Melnikova, Skandinavskie runicheskie nadpisi: Teksty, perevod, komentarii (Moscow: Izdatel'vstvo "Nauka", 1977), pp.156-169.3 Stalsberg, "Scandinavian Relations," p.272.4 Ibid, p.272.5 Ibid, p.273.6 Ibid, p.272.7 Ibid, p.274.8 Ibid, p.269.9 Ibid, p.269.10 Gwyn Jones, A History of the Vikings (London: Oxford University Press, 1968), p.332.11 Ibid, pp.330-332.12 David M. Wilson, "East and West: A Comparison of Viking Settlement," Varangian Problems, Scando-Slavica supplement 1 (Copenhagen, 1970), p.113.13 Jones, A History of the Vikings, p.243.14 Stalsberg, "Scandinavian Relations," p.271.15 Johannes Brondsted, The Vikings, (London: Penguin Books, 1965), p.20.16 Jones, A History of the Vikings, p.196 and 252.17 Ibid, p.253.18 Ibid, p.241.19 Peter Sawyer, "The Viking Perspective," Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), p.181.20 Ibid, p.181.21 Jones, A History of the Vikings, p.252.22 Tuukka Talvio, "Finland's Place in Viking-Age Relations between Sweden and the Eastern Baltic/Northern Russia: The Numismatic Evidence," Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), p.246.
    Bibliography
    Arbman, Holger. Svear i osterviking. Stockholm: Natur och Kultur, 1955.Birnbaum, Henrik. "Yaroslav's Varangian Connection." Scando-Slavica, Tomus 24 (1978), pp.5-25.Bjernum, Jorgen. Kilder til vikingetidens historie. Copenhagen: Gyldendal,1969.Brondsted, Johannes. The Vikings. London: Penguin Books, 1965.Davidson, H. R. Ellis. The Viking Road to Byzantium. London: George, Allen & Unwin Ltd., 1976.Hoven, Bengt E. "Ninth-Century Dirham Hoards from Sweden." Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), pp.202-219.Jones, Gwyn. A History of the Vikings. London: Oxford University Press, 1968.Melnikova, Elena A. Skandinavskie runicheskie nadpisi: Teksty, perevod, komentarii. Moscow: Izdatel'vstvo "Nauka", 1977.Noonan, Thomas S. "Ninth-Century Dirham Hoards from Northwestern Russia and the Southeastern Baltic." Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), pp.220-244.Olrik, Axel. Viking Civilization. New York: Norton & Co., 1930.Pritsak, Omeljan. "The Invitation to the Varangians." Harvard Ukrainian Studies, I, no. 1 (March 1977), pp.7-22.________. The Origin of Rus'. Vol. I: Old Scandinavian Sources other than the Sagas. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981.________. "The Perspective of the Slavs, Finns and Balts." Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), pp.185-201.________. Review of Skandinavskie runicheskie nadpisi: Teksty, perevod, komentarii, by Elena A. Melnikova. Kritika, XIV, No. 1 (Winter, 1978), pp.21-29.Reisman, Edward S. "The Absence of a Common-Descent Myth For Rus'," Russian History, Vol 15, Number 1 (Spring 1988), pp.9-19.Sawyer, Peter. "The Viking Perspective." Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), pp.177-184.________. The Age of the Vikings. London: Edward Arnold, 1962.Schmidt, Knud Rahbek, et al. Varangian Problems. Report of the First International Symposium on the Theme "The Eastern Connections of the Nordic Peoples in the Viking Period and the Early Middle Ages," Moesgaard - University of Århus, 7-11 October 1968, Scando-Slavica, supp. 1, Copenhagen, 1970.Sørensen, Hans Christian. "The So-Called Varangian-Russian Problem." Scando-Slavica, Tomus XIV (1968), pp.141-148.Stalsberg, Anne. "Scandinavian Relations with Northwestern Russia during the Viking Age: The Archaeological Evidence." Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), pp.267-295.Stein-Wilkeshuis, Martina. "A Viking-Age Treaty Between Constantinople and Northern Merchants, With Its Provisions on Theft and Robbery." Scando-Slavica. Tomus 37 (1991), pp.35-47.Talvio, Tuukka. "Finland's Place in Viking-Age Relations between Sweden and the Eastern Baltic/Northern Russia: The Numismatic Evidence." Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), pp.245-255.Vernadsky, George. A History of Russia, Volume II: Kievan Russia. New Haven, Yale University Press, 1948.Waller, Jutta. "Swedish Contacts with the Eastern Baltic in the Pre-Viking and Viking Ages: The Evidence from Helgo." Journal of Baltic Studies, XIII, No. 3 (Fall 1982), pp.256-266.
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    "At Old Ladoga, easily accessible from the Gulf of Finland without portages, travellers chose which river system they would enter.......... "

    yes -- the early days of Viking exploration in the east ....I remember reading about this some time ago, I remember stuying the map to work out the various portages they must have used to eventually take them all the way to the Black Sea and Constantinople.....founding the Kingdom of the Rus on Kiev - wasnt it?

    Were there not some wonderful pictures from up there on Old Skadi?

    Important to remember this when one thinks about northern Russia at least.....quite a bit of North Germanic blood there to be cherished ???

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    Quote Originally Posted by Carl View Post
    "[B][I]
    Were there not some wonderful pictures from up there on Old Skadi?
    I had those pictures on my computer for a long while (of Novgorod).

    Nice green landscapes

    Heres a map to help out.


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    Rus’

    The former name of Ukraine. In the Kyiv Chronicle the term was a collective noun (ie, ‘the Rus’) referring initially to the Varangians and then to the land of the Polianians around Kyiv bounded by a triangle formed by the Dnieper River, Irpin River, and Ros River. Gradually it came to signify the entire realm of the grand prince of Kyiv (Kyivan Rus’). Inhabitants of Kyivan Rus’ and later Ukraine were called rusyny—a designation that remained in use in Galicia, Bukovyna, and Transcarpathia until the 20th century.

    There are still many disputed, inconclusive hypotheses on the origin of the name. One is that its etymology is Norse, or more exactly, Swedish. This Normanist theory, first propounded by G.S. Bayer in the early 18th century, is based on the evidence of the Kyiv Chronicle and 9th- and 10th-century West European, Arabic, and Byzantine sources. In De administrando imperio Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus provided separate ‘Rus'’ (Norse) and Slavic names for the Dnieper cataracts. At that time (and even now), the Finns called the Swedes Ruotsi. Although there is no evidence for a Swedish tribe by that name, it has been inferred that the Finns derived Ruotsi from the Swedish Róþsmenn (‘seafarers’; cf Old Swedish rōþer ‘rudder’ or rođhr ‘rowing’). One weakness of the theory is that it fails to explain why a Finnish term was adopted for a state founded by Swedes. Nor does it explain the appearance of the term Rōs in 8th-century Byzantine sources (and once in a 5th-century source, in connection with the Hunnic (see Huns) attack of 434–7), before the Varangian route to the Byzantines had been established. Some scholars, such as E. Kunik (1875), Aleksei Shakhmatov (1904), and A. Stender-Petersen (1953), have tried to overcome this objection by positing earlier stages of Germanic (Varangian/Gothic) colonization.

    Anti-Normanists have put forth the theory of the autochthonous origin of the term ‘Rus'.’ Beginning with Mykhailo Maksymovych in 1837, they have proposed etymologies based on the names of the Ros River and the Rusna River and have posited that the Varangians were multiethnic, multilingual companies of mercenaries and traders consisting of Norsemen, Balts, and Slavs. This theory does not explain, however, the fact that the names of known Varangian dukes and warriors are of Swedish origin.

    Supporters of a third theory, that ‘Rus'’ is of Iranian origin, derive the etymology of the term from the Iranian tribe of the Roxolani (from Iranian rokhs ‘light’). Although it suitably explains the early occurrences of the name, this theory is vitiated by historical and geographic evidence. The Roxolani lived in the Don River Basin, whereas ‘Rus'’ was first used in reference to the Polianian land. Interpretations of the term as being simultaneously of Iranian origin in the Don Basin and of Gothic origin along the Dnieper River (eg, by V. Mavrodin), or as having been transferred from a Varangian kaganate along the Don to Kyiv (eg, by George Vernadsky), are in fact compromises with the Normanist theory.


    ________________________________________ ______________________


    IBN FAḌLĀN AND THE RŪSIYYAH

    James E. Montgomery

    Cambridge

    Ibn Faḍlān's account of the caliphal embassy from Baghdad to the King of the Volga Bulghārs in the early fourth/tenth century is one of our principal, textual sources for the history, ethnogenesis and polity formation of a number of tribes and peoples who populated Inner Asia. Of especial significance is his description of a people whom he calls the Rūsiyyah. Attempts to identify this people have been the stuff of ontroversy for almost two centuries and have largely focused on how this description can be made to contribute to the Normanist Controversy (the principal, but by no means the only, controversy concerns the extent of Viking involvement in the creation of Russia). This article provides a fresh, annotated translation of Ibn Faḍlān's passage and considers a multiplicity of identities for the Rūsiyyah.

    Ibn Faḍlān’s account of his participation in the deputation sent by the Caliph al-Muqtadir in the year 921 A.D. to the King of the Bulghārs of the Volga, in response to his request for help, has proved to be an invaluable source of information for modern scholars interested in, among other subjects, the birth and formation of the Russian state, in the Viking involvement in northern and eastern Europe, in the Slavs and the Khazars. It has been analyzed and commented upon frequently and forms the substance of many observations on the study of the ethnography and sociology of the peoples concerned. Yet it is no exaggeration to say that, with a few very conspicuous exceptions, the majority of the scholars who refer to it, who base their observations upon it and who argue from it, are at best improperly familiar with classical Arabic. In the case of the people known as the Rūsiyyah, for example, two modern commentators have surveyed Ibn Faḍlān’s Kitāb, or a portion of it, and have all too hastily identified the Rūs, variously, as the Vikings[1] and the Russians,[2] a scholarly commonplace among those involved [2] in the Normanist debate. Both authors give the impression that they are blissfully unaware that their identifications may be contentious or that the Rūs have now been the subject of heated debate for more than one and a half centuries, though in later years the balance has swung in favour of the Normanists. Pavel Dolukhanov, however, a leading authority on the archaeology of the period, in his The Early Slavs: Eastern Europe from the Initial Settlement to the Kievan Rus, Harlow, 1996, is the most sophisticated and persuasive exponent of an essentially anti-Normanist, pro-Slav stance. There are numerous translations of the work into European languages.[3] It is the nature of the accuracy of Ibn Faḍlān’s report which interests me in this study. I shall concentrate on a test case: the section of the Kitāb evoted to the Rūsiyyah. My interest in this passage was occasioned by the three and a half years which I spent as Senior Lecturer in Arabic at the niversity [3] of Oslo, where, among scholars interested in the Vikings, as indeed among scholars generally, it is widely assumed that the Rūs were scandinavians of eastern Swedish origin and where there are those who cast aspersions upon Ibn Faḍlān’s veracity as an observer.[4] In a companion piece I have attempted to set the Kitāb, and this section in particular, within a wider textual context.[5] Ibn Faḍlān’s cultural chauvinism does not, however, in my opinion, necessitate a total rejection of his veridicality.

    The translation and commentary of the following passage benefited from the observations of Kjellfrid Nome and Ulla Stang Dahl, students in the Arabic Storfag at Oslo (1995), with whom I read the work. I am not convinced that by Rūs/Rūsiyyah our text means either the Vikings or the Russians specifically. I am neither a Normanist nor an anti-Normanist. The Arabic sources in general quite simply do not afford us enough clarity. The tendency among scholars is to presume that different Arab authors mean the same thing when they apply the names Rūs or Majūs to the people they describe.[6] After a perusal of the sources, this strikes me as a perilous presumption. It is a distinct possibility that the medieval Arabs themselves were perplexed as to the exact identity of the Rūs, confusing, say, two different peoples.[7] This, indeed, is the conclusion which Mel’nikova and Petruchkin (as reported by Dolukhanov, 190) draw, arguing that: Arab writers who often used the word ‘ar-rus’ never attached to it any ethnic significance. They viewed the ‘ar-rus’ as warriors and merchants regardless of their ethnic [4] affiliation. The same applies to Byzantine sources, which often mentioned ‘people calling themselves the Ross’ (Rhos), who in reality were groups of Scandinavians accomplishing various missions.

    Although Mel’nikova and Petruchkin seem both to have their cake and to eat it (by evaluating unequally both sets of linguistic evidence—consistency on the part of the Greeks, inconsistency on the part of the Arabs), their assessment of the Arab sources is judicious. Each reference ought to be evaluated on its own merits. To avoid prejudicing the issue, I have therefore retained the transliterated form Rūs and Rūsiyyah and have generally referred to peoples and places in accordance with Ibn Faḍlān’s own usage. In 1970 I. P. Šaskol’skij, in a survey of modern trends within the Normanist problem (“Recent Developments in the Normanist Controversy,” in Varangian Problems, Scando Slavica Supplementum 1 [Copenhagen 1970, 21–38], hereafter VP), called for a reassessment and thorough scrutiny of “the Oriental (Arabic and Persian) sources on the history of ancient Rus’” (31). This is now available in Golden’s thorough article in the Encyclopaedia of Islam referred to above (n. 3). Golden (621) concludes the section on “The Origins of the Rūs” as follows: The evidence is highly circumstantial at best. Given the complexities of their conjectured origins, it may, nonetheless, not be amiss to view the Rūs at this stage of their development, as they began to penetrate Eastern Europe, not as an ethnos, in the strict sense of the term, for this could shift as new ethnic elements were added, but rather as a commercial and political organisation. The term was certainly associated with maritime and riverine traders and merchant-mercenaries/pirates of “Ṣaḳāliba” stock (Northern and Eastern European, Scandinavian, Slavic and Finnic). Dolukhanov (197) characterizes the Kievan Rus’ as “a loose confederation of regional arenas of power with strong separatist trends”. In a time of such manifest change and lack of imposition of cultural uniformity, it would be unwise to look for unanimous consistency among the Rūs, each group of whom may have represented a variable level of ethnic assimilation. These are cautious appraisals[8] according to which the Rūs appear as a more fluid social unit than recent scholarship has hitherto, often with its interests firmly vested in nationalist concerns, been willing to acknowledge. The Rūsiyyah in the passage which follows are a fine example of ethnic/social fluidity, [5] combining, as Ibn Faḍlān portrays them (assuming, of course, that he has not himself confused two distinct peoples, either with or without the ethnonym Rūs), both essentially Varangian (costumary, among others) and Khazarian (regal) ethnic traits.[9] It is quintessentially this fluidity that must be determined.


    TRANSLATION


    I saw the Rūsiyyah when they had arrived on their trading expedition[10] and had disembarked at the River Ātil.[11] I have never seen more perfect physiques than theirs—they are like palm trees,[12] are fair and reddish,[13] and do not wear the qurṭaq or the caftan. The man wears a cloak with which he covers one half of his body, leaving one of his arms uncovered.[14] Every one of [6] them carries an axe,[15] a sword and a dagger[16] and is never without all of that which we have mentioned. Their swords are of the Frankish variety, with broad, ridged blades.[17] Each man, from the tip of his toes to his neck, is covered in dark-green lines,[18] pictures and such like. Each woman has, on her breast, a small disc, tied <around her neck>, made of either iron, silver, copper or gold, in relation to her husband’s financial and social worth. Each disc has a ring to which a dagger is attached, also lying on her breast.[19] Around [7] their necks they wear bands of gold and silver.[20] Whenever a man’s wealth reaches ten thousand dirhams, he has a band made for his wife; if it reaches twenty thousand dirhams, he has two bands made for her—for every ten thousand more, he gives another band to his wife. Sometimes one woman may wear many bands around her neck. The jewellery which they prize the most is the dark-green ceramic beads which they have aboard their boats[21] and which they value very highly: they purchase beads for a dirham a piece and string them together as necklaces for their wives.[22]

    They are the filthiest of all Allāh’s creatures: they do not clean themselves after excreting or urinating or wash themselves when in a state of ritual impurity (i.e., after coitus) and do not <even> wash their hands after food.[23] [8] Indeed they are like asses that roam <in the fields>.

    They arrive from their territory (min baladi-him) and moor their boats by the Ātil (a large river), building on its banks large wooden houses.[24] They [9] gather in the one house in their tens and twenties, sometimes more, sometimes less. Each of them has a couch on which he sits. They are accompanied by beautiful slave girls for trading. One man will have intercourse with his slave-girl while his companion looks on. Sometimes a group of them comes together to do this, each in front of the other. Sometimes indeed the merchant will come in to buy a slave-girl from one of them and he will chance upon him having intercourse with her, but <the Rūs> will not leave her alone until he has satisfied his urge. They cannot, of course, avoid washing their faces and their heads each day, which they do with the filthiest and most polluted water imaginable. I shall explain. Every day the slave-girl arrives in the morning with a large basin containing water, which she hands to her owner. He washes his hands and his face and his hair in the water, then he dips his comb in the water and brushes his hair, blows his nose and spits in the basin. There is no filthy impurity which he will not do in this water. When he no longer requires it, the slave-girl takes the basin to the man beside him and he goes through the same routine as his friend. She continues to carry it from one man to the next until she has gone round everyone in the house, with each of them blowing his nose and spitting, washing his face and hair in the basin.[25]

    The moment their boats reach this dock[26] every one of them disembarks, carrying bread, meat, onions, milk and alcohol (nabīdh),[27] and goes to a tall piece of wood set up <in the ground>. This piece of wood has a face like the face of a man and is surrounded by small figurines behind which are long [10] pieces of wood set up in the ground.[28] <When> he reaches the large figure, he prostrates himself before it and says, “Lord, I have come from a distant land, bringing so many slave-girls <priced at> such and such per head and so many sables <priced at> such and such per pelt.”[29] He continues until he has mentioned all of the merchandise he has brought with him, then says, “And I have brought this offering,” leaving what he has brought with him in front of the piece of wood, saying, “I wish you to provide me with a merchant who has many dīnārs and dirhams[30] and who will buy from me whatever I want <to sell> without haggling over the price I fix.”[31] Then he departs. If he has difficulty in selling <his goods> and he has to remain too many days, he returns with a second and third offering. If his wishes prove to be impossible he brings an offering to every single one of those figurines and seeks its intercession, saying, “These are the wives, daughters and sons of our Lord.”[32] He goes up to each figurine in turn and questions it, begging its [11] intercession and grovelling before it. Sometimes business is good and he makes a quick sell, at which point he will say, “My Lord has satisfied my request, so I am required to recompense him.” He procures a number of sheep or cows and slaughters them, donating a portion of the meat to charity[33] and taking the rest and casting it before the large piece of wood and the small ones around it. He ties the heads of the cows or the sheep to that piece of wood set up in the ground.[34] At night, the dogs come and eat it all, but the man who has done all this will say, “My Lord is pleased with me and has eaten my offering.”[35]

    When one of them falls ill, they erect a tent away from them and cast him into it, giving him some bread and water. They do not come near him or speak to him, indeed they have no contact with him for the duration of his illness, especially if he is socially inferior or is a slave. If he recovers and gets back to his feet, he rejoins them. If he dies, they bury him, though if he was a slave they leave him there as food for the dogs and the birds.[36]

    [12] If they catch a thief or a bandit, they bring him to a large tree and tie a strong rope around his neck. They tie it to the tree and leave him hanging there until <the rope>[37] breaks, <rotted away> by exposure to the rain and the wind.[38]

    I was told that when their chieftains die, the least they do is to cremate them.[39] I was very keen to verify this, when I learned of the death of one of [13] their great men. They placed him in his grave (qabr) and erected a canopy[40] over it for ten days, until they had finished making and sewing his <funeral garments>.[41]

    [14] In the case of a poor man[42] they build a small boat, place him inside and burn it. In the case of a rich man, they gather together his possessions and divide them into three, one third for his family, one third to use for <his funeral> garments,[43] and one third with which they purchase[44] alcohol which they drink on the day when his slave-girl kills herself[45] and is cremated together with her master.[46] (They are addicted to alcohol, which they drink night and day. Sometimes one of them dies with the cup still in his hand.)[47]

    When their chieftain dies, his family ask his slave-girls and slave-boys, “Who among you will die with him?” and some of them reply, “I shall.” Having said this, it becomes incumbent upon the person and it is impossible ever to turn back. Should that person try to, he is not permitted to do so. It is usually slave-girls who make this offer. When that man whom I mentioned earlier died, they said to his slave-girls, “Who will die with him?” and one of them said, “I shall.” So they placed [15] two slave-girls[48] in charge of her to take care of her and accompany her wherever she went, even to the point of occasionally washing her feet with their own hands. They set about attending to the dead man, preparing his clothes for him and setting right all he needed. Every day the slave-girl would drink <alcohol> and would sing merrily and cheerfully.[49]

    On the day when he and the slave-girl were to be burned I arrived at the river where his ship was. To my surprise I discovered that it had been beached and that four planks of birch (khadank) and other types of wood had been erected for it. Around them wood had been placed in such a way as to resemble scaffolding (anābīr).[50] Then the ship was hauled and placed on top of this wood.[51] They advanced, going to and fro <around the boat> uttering words which I did not understand, while he was still in his grave and had not been exhumed. Then they produced a couch and placed it on the ship, covering it with quilts <made of> Byzantine silk brocade and cushions <made of> Byzantine silk brocade. Then a crone arrived whom they called the “Angel of Death” and she spread on the couch the coverings we have mentioned. She is responsible for having his <garments> sewn up and putting him in order[52] and it is she who kills the slave-girls. I myself saw her: a gloomy, corpulent woman, neither young nor old.[53]

    When they came to his grave, they removed the soil from the wood and then removed the wood, exhuming him <still dressed> in the izār in which [16] he had died. I could see that he had turned black because of the coldness of the ground. They had also placed alcohol, fruit and a pandora (ṭunbūr)[54] beside him in the grave, all of which they took out. Surprisingly, he had not begun to stink and only his colour had deteriorated. They clothed him in trousers, leggings (rān), boots, a qurṭaq, and a silk caftan with golden buttons,[55] and placed a silk qalansuwwah <fringed> with sable on his head. They carried him inside the pavilion[56] on the ship and laid him to rest on the quilt, propping him with cushions. Then they brought alcohol, fruit and herbs (rayḥān)[57] and placed them beside him. Next they brought bread, meat and onions, which they cast in front of him, a dog, which they cut in two and which they threw onto the ship, and all of his weaponry, which they placed beside him. They then brought two mounts, made them gallop until they began to sweat, cut them up into pieces and threw the flesh onto the ship.[58] They next fetched two cows, which they also cut up into pieces and threw on board, and a cock and a hen, which they slaughtered and cast onto it.[59]

    [17] Meanwhile, the slave-girl who wished to be killed was coming and going, entering one pavilion after another. The owner of the pavilion would have intercourse with her and say to her, “Tell your master that I have done this purely out of love for you.”

    At the time of the evening prayer on Friday they brought the slave-girl to a thing that they had constructed, like a door-frame. She placed her feet on the hands of the men and was raised above that door-frame. She said something and they brought her down. Then they lifted her up a second time and she did what she had done the first time. They brought her down and then lifted her up a third time and she did what she had done on the first two occasions. They next handed her a hen. She cut off its head and threw it away. They took the hen and threw it on board the ship.[60] [18] I quizzed the interpreter about her actions and he said, “The first time they lifted her, she said, ‘Behold, I see my father and my mother.’ The second time she said, ‘Behold, I see all of my dead kindred, seated.’ The third time she said, ‘Behold, I see my master, seated in Paradise. Paradise is beautiful and verdant. He is accompanied by his men and his male-slaves. He summons me, so bring me to him.’”[61] So they brought her to the ship and she removed two bracelets that she was wearing, handing them to the woman called the “Angel of Death,” the one who was to kill her. She also removed two anklets that she was wearing, handing them to the two slave-girls who had waited upon her: they were the daughters of the crone known as the “Angel of Death.” Then they lifted her onto the ship but did not bring her into the pavilion. The men came with their shields and sticks and handed her a cup of alcohol over which she chanted and then drank. The interpreter said to me, “Thereby she bids her female companions farewell.” She was handed another cup, which she [19] took and chanted for a long time, while the crone urged her to drink it and to enter the pavilion in which her master lay.[62] I saw that she was befuddled and wanted to enter the pavilion but she had <only> put her head into the pavilion <while her body remained outside it>.[63] The crone grabbed hold of her head and dragged her into the pavilion, entering it at the same time. The men began to bang their shields with the sticks so that her screams could not be heard and so terrify the other slave-girls, who would not, then, seek to die with their masters.[64]

    Six men entered the pavilion and all had intercourse with the slave-girl.[65] They laid her down beside her master and two of them took hold of her feet, two her hands. The crone called the “Angel of Death” placed a rope around her neck in such a way that the ends crossed one another (mukhālafan) and handed it to two <of the men> to pull on it. She advanced with a broad-bladed dagger and began to thrust it in and out between her ribs, now here, now there, while the two men throttled her with the rope until she died.[66]

    [20] Then the deceased’s next of kin approached and took hold of a piece of wood and set fire to it. He walked backwards, with the back of his neck to the ship, his face to the people, with the lighted piece of wood in one hand and the other hand on his anus, being completely naked.[67] He ignited the wood that had been set up under the ship after they had placed the slave-girl whom they had killed beside her master. Then the people came forward with sticks and firewood. Each one carried a stick the end of which he had set fire to and which he threw on top of the wood. The wood caught fire, and then the ship, the pavilion, the man, the slave-girl and all it contained. A dreadful wind arose and the flames leapt higher and blazed fiercely.

    One of the Rūsiyyah stood beside me and I heard him speaking to my interpreter. I quizzed him about what he had said, and he replied, “He said, ‘You Arabs are a foolish lot!’” So I said, “Why is that?” and he replied, “Because you purposely take those who are dearest to you and whom you hold in highest esteem and throw them under the earth, where they are eaten by the earth, by vermin and by worms, whereas we burn them in the fire there and then, so that they enter Paradise immediately.” Then he laughed loud and long. I quizzed him about that <i.e., the entry into Paradise> and he said, “Because of the love which my Lord feels for him. He has sent the wind to take him away within an hour.”[68] Actually, [21] it took scarcely an hour for the ship, the firewood, the slave-girl and her master to be burnt to a fine ash.

    They built something like a round hillock over the ship, which they had pulled out of the water, and placed in the middle of it a large piece of birch (khadank) on which they wrote the name of the man and the name of the King of the Rūs. Then they left.[69]

    He (Ibn Faḍlān) said: One of the customs of the King of the Rūs is that in his palace he keeps company with four hundred of his bravest and most trusted companions; they die when he dies and they offer their lives to protect him.[70] Each of them has a slave-girl who waits on him, washes his head and prepares his food and drink, and another with whom he has coitus. These four hundred <men> sit below his throne, which is huge and is studded with precious stones. On his throne there sit forty slave-girls who belong to his bed. Sometimes he has coitus with one of them in the presence of those companions whom we have mentioned. He does not come down from his throne. When he wants to satisfy an urge, he satisfies it in a salver. When he wants to ride, they bring his beast up to the [22] throne, whence he mounts it, and when he wants to dismount, he brings his beast <up to the throne> so that he can dismount there. He has a vicegerent who leads the army, fights against the enemy and stands in for him among his subjects.[71]

    ________________________________________ _______________________________


    Gotland

    "...The moral man is a lower species than the immoral, a weaker species; indeed - he is a type in regard to morality, but not a type in himself; a copy...the measure of his value lies outside him. ... I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage; I do not account the evil and painful character of existence a reproach to it, but hope rather that it will one day be more evil and painful than hitherto..." (Nietzsche)

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    Can't follow on from that , Suut - but thanks for the detail. If I remember at all the previous discussions, my impression was that the early Kings of the Rus were indeed Viking - and of ?Swedish ancestry. The Swedes tended inevitably to fare eastwards when they went aViking! ( OHG faran - to go , L. portare - to carry -as Longman's puts it !! )

    I've always thought that the foundation was from these earliest times - with Norse sounding ruler names.... only latter becoming more clearly 'slavic' - if that is the right term.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Carl View Post
    Can't follow on from that , Suut - but thanks for the detail. If I remember at all the previous discussions, my impression was that the early Kings of the Rus were indeed Viking - and of ?Swedish ancestry. The Swedes tended inevitably to fare eastwards when they went aViking! ( OHG faran - to go , L. portare - to carry -as Longman's puts it !! )

    I've always thought that the foundation was from these earliest times - with Norse sounding ruler names.... only latter becoming more clearly 'slavic' - if that is the right term.

    It was difficult (and I'm still perplexed as to why) finding what is, and has been for awhile, the academic concensus as to the Normanist (Viking) position on the internet. There simply is no real (empirical) evidence that the Rus' were anything other than Vikingr; so the best that I could do was to post Ibn Faḍlān's account for people to see for themselves the paralells between his account of the Rūsiyyah and other barbarian accounts.

    The only real question that reamins is that of point of origin; or, homeland.

    The "Gotlanders thesis" stands-out as the most elegant. Given the scant evidence, many inferences have to be made: Whinfrey does a fine job in his closing statement: "...the Gotlandic connection is plausible, but not conclusive. The evidence and conjectures raise more questions than they solve. Nevertheless, I get the sense that conclusively disproving a Gotland connection would be a far more difficult task than conclusively proving it, which under the circumstances is a significant statement."
    "...The moral man is a lower species than the immoral, a weaker species; indeed - he is a type in regard to morality, but not a type in himself; a copy...the measure of his value lies outside him. ... I assess the power of a will by how much resistance, pain, torture it endures and knows how to turn to its advantage; I do not account the evil and painful character of existence a reproach to it, but hope rather that it will one day be more evil and painful than hitherto..." (Nietzsche)

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    I think the "rus" and "vargangians" were continental germanics "goths" and northmen "goths" and perhaps the term goth was a generic term for germanics as gaul was for celts.

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    Don't the Finns call the Swedes Routsi-lainen still? Similar to Rus. Denoting ruddy complexions, hair etc.

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    Quote Originally Posted by forkbeard View Post
    Don't the Finns call the Swedes Routsi-lainen still? Similar to Rus. Denoting ruddy complexions, hair etc.
    Sweden is Ruotsi, swedes 'ruotsalainen'.

    However, the finnish name for Russia is Venäjä, so I think that the etymological theory of 'Ruotsi' derives from 'Rus', just because both start with 'ru', must be a misconception.

    Quote Originally Posted by Wikipedia
    The name of Sweden in Finnish is Ruotsi; in Estonian: Rootsi. This name is commonly held to be derived from Roslagen, the coastal areas of the Uppland province in Sweden.

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    Dissertation Assistance

    Hi guys,

    For my 3rd year undergraduate dissertation I'm actually investigating this topic, in which I'm specifically trying to link similarities between Gotland and the customs of the Rus (particularly within the funeral and burial customs.)

    One of my major fields of investigation is regarding the Gotlandic picture stones that have suggested some links towards the Rus settlers, and in particular Ibn Fadlan's account. For example I have seen similar motifs of sacrifice, and also possibly a visual indication of the so called 'Angel of Death.'

    Any assistance within this field would be vitally helpful, anything at all, whether being own opinions and arguments or even recommended literature or academics.

    Many thanks, and look forward to hopefully hearing from you!

    Jack

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