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Early Russian East Slavs

The East Slavs are the ethnic group that evolved into the Russian, Ukrainian and Belorussian peoples. Each of the many nationalities of Russia has a separate history and complex origins. The historical origins of the Russian state, however, are chiefly those of the East Slavs.

The Inhabitants of the East European Plain

Many ethnically diverse peoples migrated onto the East European Plain, but the East Slavs remained and gradually became dominant.

Long before the organization of Kievan Rus', Iranian and other peoples lived in the area of present-day Ukraine. The best known of those groups was the nomadic Scythians, who occupied the region from about the 6th century BC to the 2nd century BC and whose skill in warfare and horsemanship is legendary. Between the 1st century AD and the 9th century, Goths and nomadic Huns, Avars, and Magyars passed through the region in their migrations. Although some of them subjugated the Slavs in the region, those tribes left little of lasting importance. More significant in this period was the expansion of the Slavs, who were agriculturists and beekeepers as well as hunters, fishers, herders, and trappers. By the 6th century, the Slavs were the dominant ethnic group on the East European Plain.

Little is known of the origin of the Slavs. Philologists and archaeologists theorize that the Slavs settled very early in the Carpathian Mountains or in the area of present-day Belarus. By 600 AD, they had split linguistically into southern, western, and eastern branches. The East Slavs settled along the Dnepr[?] in what is now Ukraine; then they spread northward to the northern Volga valley, east of modern-day Moscow, and westward to the basins of the northern Dnestr[?] and the western Bug[?] rivers, in present-day Moldova and southern Ukraine. In the eighth and ninth centuries, many East Slavic tribes paid tribute to the Khazars, a Turkic-speaking people who adopted Judaism about A.D. 740 and lived in the southern Volga and Caucasus regions.

The East Slavs and the Varangians

By the ninth century, Scandinavian warriors and merchants, called Varangians (more commonly known as Vikings), had penetrated the East Slavic regions. According to the Primary Chronicle , the earliest chronicle of Kievan Rus', a Varangian named Rurik first established himself in Novgorod, just south of modern-day St. Petersburg, in about 860 before moving south and extending his authority to Kiev. The chronicle cites Rurik as the progenitor of a dynasty that ruled in Eastern Europe until 1598. Another Varangian, Oleg, moved south from Novgorod to expel the Khazars from Kiev and founded Kievan Rus' about A.D. 880. During the next thirty-five years, Oleg subdued the various East Slavic tribes.

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This article is part of History of Russia.

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