Tuesday, December 8, 2009

The Vikings and the Russians

We all know this guy as the stereotypical Viking. We often associate these guys with plundering, violence, and anarchy and for the most part it is true. These raiders were the scourge of Europe for the better part of 200 years, their fast ships allowed them to raid with impunity. The only way to beat them was to either be incredibly lucky or to buy them off. But wait you might ask, were'nt they from Norway, Sweden, and Denmark? What on earth do these people have to do with Russia? In order to understand we must first look at Russian geography. Russia is known for its rivers, most of which flow north to south. Three of the largest rivers are the Volga, the Dnieper, and the Dvina. The proximity of these rivers allowed for easy transportation of goods from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Around the 9th century A.D a group of Viking traders set up a trading post around the current city of Novgorod. The name of the tribe is the Rus and that is the beginning of the Vikings impact on the foundation of Russia. The Vikings were more than savage raiders out for blood and a good time, they were successful merchants and traders. After establishing a successful base of operations at Novgorod the Vikings branch out and in 882 A.D a Viking chief named Oleg captures the small town of Kiev. In 911 A.D he negotiates a trade agreement with the Byzintine empire. This established a connection that will forever influence Russian culture. Kiev becomes a hub for a three teir trading system between the Byzatine empire, the steppes of the Rus', and the forests of the north. Eventually the Rus assimilate into the culture of the steppes and become what is now known as Russians. A wild adventurer named Vladamir captures Kiev in 980 becoming king of all Russia. Vladamir is a pagan chief but converts to Greek Orthodox Christianity in 988. Although the Russian Vikings are now seperate from their cousins in the North their influence can still be seen today. Names that are quintessentially Russian such as Vladamir and Olga can be traced back to the Viking names of Waldamar and Oleg. It was the Vikings that gave Russia its identity and culture and the Vikings that allowed the outside influence of the Byzantine empire to reach the steppes of Russia and flourish.

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