As a History major, I kind of wanted to explore the early years of the country/area that is now known as Russia (because none of my History classes have ever paid as much attention to ancient Russia as they have to other civilizations). I'm sure this will be a fairly dry and boring post to the majority of you who actually read these, so you may just want to turn away now.
Originally, before Russia became home to an empire, the country was simply scattered with a random assortment of cities and smaller towns. Around the 9th Century AD, a Scandinavian group known as the Varangians, who are most commonly considered to simply be Vikings, crossed the Baltic Sea and found their way to the city of Novgorod. Somehow, the group came into possession of the area by 862 AD (apparently it could have been gifted to them, or taken by force) and began to extend Novgorod's influence southward. Oleg, the successor to the original leader of the Varangians, acquired Kiev in 882 AD and established the first, dynastic structure in the general area.
Within the next century, Oleg's great-grandson, Vladimir I, had established a large kingdom and sought to establish a state religion, eventually deciding upon Greek Orthodox and subsequently forging a connection with Constantinople. Vladimir was followed by Yaroslav the Wise, who is known for codifying laws, encouraging the arts, and dividing his kingdom between his children; by 1054 AD, the area had broken up into separate states, yet again, and was finally invaded by the Cumans / Kipchak peoples.
Just a few side notes:
1. One of the Russian terms for the Varangians, немец, was used to denote any foreigner from a European country, but today is interpreted as referring to a German.
2. Several different languages and groups have terms for the Cumans that refer largely to their blond hair. The Russian word Пóловцы means "blond," and derives from the older word polovo or "straw." It is also said that the term comes from the Russian word for "pole," an open field. Lastly, Пóловцы may come from the Serbo-Croatian plav, which means "blue" and could refer to "blue-eyed."
Recordings (with Josh Solomon):
1. Page 50, Dialogue 1
2. Page 53, 2-18, #2, Airport Arrival