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Thursday, 04 January 2018 23:39

A HISTORY OF UKRAINE. EPISODE 16. PRINCES OF VARANGIAN ORIGIN

Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 04.01.2018 

 

EPISODE 15 HERE 


Since the end of the 8th century, groups of Scandinavian warriors began to attack European states. They were called Varangians in Ukraine, Normans in Western Europe, and their self-designation was Vikings. The most active Varangians started to establish their own dynasties in France, England, Southern Italy and in the lands of the Slavs

 

According to chronicles, the Varangians Askold and Dyr (in Varangian: Høskuldr and Dýri) came with a group of warriors along the route “from the Varangians to the Greeks”, i.e. from Scandinavia to Byzantium, seized power in Kyiv in 862 and established control over the surrounding lands. At the time, foreigners wrote about a powerful principality headed by “King Dyr” on the Dnipro River. However, Kyiv attacked the capital of Byzantium even before the arrival of the Varangians, which means it was a fairly strong city. 

 

the varangian 2

Using “Greek fire”, from the Chronicle of John Skylitzes, 12th century. 

 

In 882 BC, other Varangians came to Kyiv — young Prince Ihor (in Varangian: Ingvar), son of the Varangian leader Rurik, and his relative Oleh (in Varangian: Helgi), named “the Prophet” for his prescience. 

 

The new arrivals treacherously killed Askold and Dyr on the pretext that they were not of the princely family. Prince Oleh began to view other towns and tribes controlled by the Varangians as being subject to Kyiv. “This will be the mother of the Rus’ cities,” he said about Kyiv. It should be emphasized that the territory of modern Central Muscovy (Russia) fell under the rule of Rus’ only a hundred years later, and the “Rus’ cities” Oleh referred to were the towns of the Polans in the area around the Middle Dnipro. 

 

Oleh brought the tribes of the Drevlians (883 AD) and Severians (884 AD) into the Kyivan state. Kyivan princes made several raids to the Khazar state and Transcaucasia. In 907 AD, the Kyivans attacked Byzantium. According to a chronicler, Prince Oleh nailed his shield on the gate of Constantinople as a sign of his success and exacted tribute. He also concluded an advantageous trade agreement with Byzantium. 

 

the varangian 1

Varangians in Byzantium, from the Chronicle of John Skylitzes, 12th century.

 

Prince Ihor began to rule in Kyiv around 915 AD. He made a series of raids on Byzantium and Transcaucasia and was killed by the Drevlians, a tribe that lived close to Kyiv, while trying to extort tribute from them. 

 

In 946 AD, Princess Olha (in Varangian: Helga), Ihor’s widow, brutally suppressed the Drevlian rebellion and, according to the chronicle, burned their main city with the help of sparrows and pigeons which she treacherously demanded as tribute from each homestead. She ordered to tie some tinder with a fire to the birds’ legs and set them free. The birds flew onto the roofs and into threshing barns, setting the town on fire. Princess Olha learned a lesson from the rebellion and set a quota of tribute for all dependent towns and lands. Two thirds of tribute collected went to Kyiv and the army and a third to Vyshgorod, where Olha set up her residence. 

 

In 957 AD, Olha visited the capital of the Byzantine Empire where she adopted Christianity. Despite Olha’s ambitions, the southern borders of the Kyivan state suffered from the attacks of the Pechenegs, a nomadic Turkic tribe which came to southern Ukraine from the east in the late 9th century.

 

the varangian 3
Entry in a chronicle about the campaigns of Prince Ihor, early 10th century. 

 

TO EPISODE 17

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