Prince Rurik
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Brief biography

Rurik, miniature from the "Royal titular" XVII century
miniature from the “Royal titular” XVII century

Prince Rurik – was a Varangian, according to ancient Russian chronicles, summoned along with his clan members by representatives of Slavic tribes to rule in Novgorod in 862. He founded the Rurik dynasty, which extended its power over the East Slavic tribes and united them into the ancient Russian state with its capital in Kiev.

Upon his arrival in Novgorods land with his brothers Truvor and Sineus, Rurik became the sole ruler two years after the death of his brothers and placed his people in charge of the central cities of tribal alliances: Polotsk (Kriviches), Rostov (Merya), Murom (Muroma), and Beloozero (Veps).

According to the Nikon Chronicle, at a certain point, the Novgorodians rebelled against Rurik’s rule, but he suppressed the revolt and killed their leader, Prince Vadim the Brave.

The Tale of Bygone Years mentions, among other deeds of Rurik, his permission for Askold and Dir to undertake a campaign to Tsargrad (Constantinople) in 866. However, historians later revised the dating to 860, which calls into question both Rurik’s involvement in the campaign and Askold and Dir’s affiliation with his retinue. Additionally, the Nikon Chronicle reports that in 865, Askold and Dir waged a campaign against the inhabitants of Polotsk, which was controlled by Rurik.

In 879, Rurik died, leaving his underage son Igor under the guardianship of Oleg the Wise (who was either Rurik’s relative or his comrade, depending on different versions).

Prince Rurik’s rule in Rus
862-879 AD

The beginning of Rurik’s reign – the invitation of Rurik and the Varangians to Novgorod

Traditionally, the invitation of Slavic tribes to Rurik to rule with his Varangian brothers Sineus and Truvor is considered the starting point of Russian statehood.

According to chronicles, in the middle of the 9th century, Slavic and Finnish tribal unions of Slovenes, Kriviches, Chudes, Meria, and Vesi paid tribute to the Varangians coming from across the sea. In 862, these tribes expelled the Varangians, and conflicts arose between them. To end the conflicts, representatives of the tribes decided to invite a prince from the outside.

Calling Rurik Art V. V. Dudarenko
Calling Rurik
Art. V. V. Dudarenko

«And thay said:

„Let us seek a prince for ourselves, who will rule over us and judge us by law and right.“

…nd the eldest, Rurik, came and settled in Novgorod, the second, Sineus, settled in Belozersk, and the third, Truvor, settled in Izborsk.»[1]Tale of Bygone Years

Thus, the invited Varangians were supposed to play the role of judges who were not interested in the benefit of any of the disputing parties, observe the so-called ryad – a set of laws and rules that they recognized and promised to observe when taking on the reign.

The version that Rurik immediately became the prince of Novgorod is disputed by some historians. According to archaeology, a more reliable assumption is that the first capital of Rurik was the settlement of Ladoga, now known as Old Ladoga. At the time of Rurik’s appearance, the first wooden fortress was built there.

Artifacts from the Rurik settlement
Artifacts from the Rurik settlement (in the center): the tip of the belt, dirhams, spindle whorls. Novgorod: bone comb, necklace, noisy pendant, escutcheon. Gnezdovo: knife, fibula-clasp, flint, whetstone, flint tip.
State Historical Museum

A brief overview of the external and internal policies

It is impossible to speak specifically about Rurik’s policy directions due to the scarcity of information that has reached us, and furthermore, some of it contradicts each other. Like other founders of ruling dynasties, Rurik needed to maintain his own power, create conditions for the comfortable transfer of his rights to rule and, if possible, expand the boundaries of his possessions.

Maintaining power and expanding influence over neighboring cities

There were many dissatisfied Novgorodians who opposed Rurik’s autocracy and the actions of his relatives. Under the leadership of Vadim the Brave, a rebellion erupted in defense of lost freedom in 864. Vadim was killed by Rurik, along with many of his followers. According to V. N. Tatishchev’s account, Vadim was a local Slovenian prince.

According to the chronicle, it can be seen that Rurik’s lands under his control expanded primarily by gaining control of Izborsk and Belozersk, when Sineus and Truvor died in 865. The chronicles indicate that Rurik, while being in Novgorod himself, began to distribute the management of cities to his associates, including Polotsk, Rostov, and Murom. The Varangian prince carefully watched over his own possessions and the surrounding territories, not allowing his competitors to take over the control and expanding the borders of the emerging state wherever possible.

Rurik and his relationships with Askold and Dir

The chronicles do not agree on the interaction between Prince Rurik, Askold, and Dir. The Tale of Bygone Years asserts that Askold and Dir were boyars (warriors) of the Novgorod Prince Rurik (“And two men of non-Slavic origin were with him, but they were boyars”), whom he sent on a campaign to Tsargrad. They settled in Kiev, seizing power over the Polyanians who, at the time, had no prince of their own and paid tribute to the Khazars. However, in the “Tale…”, it is mentioned that after the deaths of Kiy, Shchek, and Khoryv, their descendants ruled over the Polyanians:

 «And the descendants of these brothers held sway, and their clan became known as the Princes of the Polyanians.».

It is worth remembering that the Tale of Bygone Years underwent numerous revisions during the reign of Vladimir Monomakh, who belonged to the Rurik dynasty and had a direct interest in affirming the initially Novgorodian dynasty’s rule over Kiev.

Rurik allows Askold and Dir to go on a trip to Tsargrad. Radziwill Chronicle. Miniature.
Rurik allows Askold and Dir to go on a trip to Tsargrad. Radziwill Chronicle. Miniature.

It is noteworthy that in the First Novgorod Chronicle, Askold and Dir are not associated with Rurik and ruled in Kiev before he was invited to Novgorod but after the Rus’ campaign on Tsargrad.

The Second Pskov Chronicle (15th century) states:

«And the princes were in the Russian land that year; of the Varangians, the first was named Skalld (i.e., Askold), the second Dir, and the third Rurik…»

– Thus, Askold and Dir are not linked to Rurik in any way, except for the fact that they were also Varangians.

The Nikon and Ioakimov Chronicles contain information about the events of the 870s that is unknown from other sources: the flight of some of the Novgorod nobility from Rurik to Askold during the struggle for power in Novgorod, Askold’s campaigns against the Polochans and Krivichs in 865 (i.e., in the territory of Polotsk, where Rurik planted his governors). The Rus’ campaign on Tsargrad, attributed by the Tale of Bygone Years to 866, is dated to 874-875.

In 1894, the Belgian scholar Franz Cumont published the Chronicle of the Reigns of the Byzantine Emperors, the so-called Brussels Chronicle,[2]The Brussels Codex, Cod. Brux. gr. 11376, was rewritten
in Constantinople between 1280 and 1300. It contains,
among other things, a brief imperial chronicle.
, which contained a mention of the Rus’ campaign and an exact date – June 18, 860. This either casts doubt on the accuracy of the dating of the Tale of Bygone Years or the truthfulness of the information it provides on these events.

In addition to ancient Russian chronicles, Askold and Dir are mentioned in the work of the Polish historian Jan Dlugosz from the 15th century[3]Ioannis Dlugossii Annales seu cronicae incliti regni
Poloniae. Liber 1-2. — Warszawa, 1964. — P. 121.
. It was not excluded that this version was invented to support Poland’s claims to the Kiev inheritance, in opposition to the Moscow Rurikids. According to his interpretation, Askold and Dir were Polish princes, descendants of Kiev, the legendary founder of Kiev.

Results of Rurik’s Reign

  • Rurik managed to maintain his power in Novgorod by suppressing the rebellion of Vadim the Brave.
  • He extended his influence to the cities of Murom, Rostov, Belozersk, Polotsk, and Izborsk.
  • He ruled for 17 years, leaving behind his son Igor and as a regent for him – Oleg the Prophet

Events in Rus’ after the death of Prince Rurik

In 879, Rurik died, leaving his underage son Igor as heir and ordering his comrade (or possibly relative) Oleg the Prophet to rule until he came of age.

After gaining control of the Novgorod lands following Rurik’s death, Oleg continued to expand the territories under Rurik’s control, seized Kiev (killing Askold and Dir), and moved the capital there, thereby uniting the two main centers of the Eastern Slavs. In addition, Oleg was able to unite under his rule the surrounding Slavic tribes who had previously paid tribute to the Khazars. Therefore, it is often Oleg, rather than Rurik, who is considered the founder of the Ancient Russian state.

Oleg the Prophet (Farewell to the horse), Art. Ozhiganov I.
Oleg the Prophet (Farewell to the horse),
Art. Ozhiganov I.

Oleg the Prophet

Theories about Rurik’s origin and ethnic affiliation

The dispute between Normanists and anti-Normanists regarding the ethnic origin of the founder of the Rurik dynasty has not subsided for almost three centuries. Describing each separate theory takes up quite a bit of space, so they are listed briefly below:

  • Norman theory – based on the fact that in Russian chronicles Rurik is called a Varangian, and Varangians are associated with Normans or Swedes in various sources, supporters of the Norman concept consider Rurik a Varangian Viking from Scandinavia. According to one version, Rurik was a Viking named Rorik of Jutland from the dynasty of the Scyldings.

Slavic theories:

  • M.V. Lomonosov traced Rurik and the Varangians back to the Prussians,, relying on toponyms and later chronicles that replaced the lexeme “Varangians” with the pseudonym “Germans.”
  • The Austrian Gerberstein, serving as a counselor to the ambassador in the Grand Duchy of Moscow in the first half of the 16th century, was one of the first Europeans to become acquainted with Russian chronicles and associated the name of the Varangians with the Slavic-Baltic tribe of the Wagrians.
  • The 19th-century historian S.A. Gedeonov suggested that Rurik was not a proper name but a hereditary nickname for the ruling dynasty of the Obodrites (a Germanized West Slavic tribe).
  • In the 1830s, the French traveler and writer Xavier Marmier mentioned in his book “Northern Letters” the folk legend about Rurik and his brothers. Also, in the early 18th century, a number of genealogical works on the dynasties of the North German land of Mecklenburg appeared, which mentioned Rurik as the son of one of the leaders of the Obodrites.
  • According to the Ioakimovskaya Chronicle, Rurik was the son of an unknown Varangian prince in Finland from Umila, the middle daughter of the Slavic elder Gostomysl.
  • D.I. Ilovaisky considered the chronicle account of the Varangians’ call entirely legendary and rejected everything associated with Rurik on this basis. Being a supporter of the southern origin of Russia, he traced the Russians back to the Roxolani tribe mentioned in ancient sources and living in the middle Dnieper region.

Family and personal life

It is unknown how many wives and children Rurik had. Chronicles only mention one son — Igor. According to the Ioakimovskaya Chronicle, Rurik had several wives, one of whom was the “Urmansky” princess Efanda, the mother of Igor. Tatischev, referring to the Ioakimovskaya Chronicle and possibly using some late sources that have not been preserved, tells about Rurik’s marriage to Efanda, the daughter of the Novgorod governor Gastomasla, the initiator of Rurik’s invitation.

In addition to Igor, Rurik may have had other children, since the Russian-Byzantine treaty of 944 mentions Igor’s nephews – Igor and Akun. There is a version that Igor the Younger was from the son of Rurik, and Akun from his daughter.

Image in culture and the memory of generations

The personality of Prince Rurik left a significant mark in the history of modern Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Over the centuries, paintings, films, and monuments have been created…

Список литературы

  1. Tale of Bygone Years
  2. The Brussels Codex, Cod. Brux. gr. 11376, was rewritten in Constantinople between 1280 and 1300. It contains, among other things, a brief imperial chronicle.
  3. Ioannis Dlugossii Annales seu cronicae incliti regni Poloniae. Liber 1-2. — Warszawa, 1964. — P. 121.
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Опубликовано: 03.03.2023
Изменено: 28.05.2023