Primary Chronicle Reading: Call for Varangians

Discussion Notes

Another enduring myth – or argument – is the beginning of the Rurikid dynasty. 
Most of the concept that the Slavic tribes called some Vikings to come and rule over them – that's the reading for the day, of course.
The saying: “Our land is wide and plentiful, but there is no order in it” (or no law) is something school kids learn, along with other saying and counting rhymes. And the theory seems supported by other accounts, some of them more authentically contemporary than the Chronicle. The Arab traveler Ibn Fadhlan (whose name you may remember from The 13th Warrior). He describes a delegation to the court of the Bulgar king of a group he calls the Rus. They are dressed like Vikings, and in addition Ibn Fadlan documents a funeral that is also just like the Viking rite.
http://www.uib.no/jais/v003ht/03-001-025Montgom1.htm (IBN FAḌLĀN AND THE RŪSIYYAH – James E. Montgomery, Cambridge)
http://www.vikinganswerlady.com/ibn_fdln.shtml
However this account, or the Chronicles, or other references to “Rus” and similar peoples or tribes or groups, are not consistent enough to paint a clear picture of what any of these medieval authors were referring to. Maybe a Slavic tribe; maybe a Scandinavian one. Maybe a trading group, possibly comprised of several different tribes. 
The problem is that archeological evidence doesn't support the idea of a group of non-Slavs taking over. The artifacts uncovered are not like the Viking finds (although some cross-trading is evidenced by the discoveries). The architecture is not the same. Again, there are some similarities, but the basic building material would have defined certain parameters, like the size of a house depending on the size of the logs, or the number of people building it. 
So are all these sources lying?

 

  1. The Varangians are the Vikings or Scandinavians in general.
  2. The numbers at the beginning of each entry are the years for each Chronicle entry, first since the “Beginning of the world” and then CE. 
  3. Under 6367/859: A list of tributes paid by various tribes to others. 
  4. Looks like the Slavs got rid of whoever demanded tribute, at first. Then...
    1. They were still in trouble.
    2. They needed a ruler.
Is the Chronicle lying? What else could they mean by “let us seek a prince to rule over us?”
  1. Elect a leader. The Rurikids became in essence warlords, military leaders, and only progressively unified the Slavs under a common rule – or rather a common set of laws and customs.
  2. Did it have to be a foreigner?
  3. The Chronicle also seems to indicate that this story concerns the Novgorod lands, rather than all of medieval Russia.
  4. Last paragraph: “boyars who were not kin”: kinship at this point is important.

 

What could it be if not a foreign ruler taking over?
  1. A garbled story of one family's or one man's rise to power.
  2. A feud, and one faction (the winners) hiring mercenaries, then becoming the chieftains with the mercenaries as their permanent troops.
  3. A mixture of internal strife and dynastic marriage to a foreigner (a foreign warlord, or someone who could hire mercenaries).
  4. Something else.