[excerpted from Alfred Rambaud, Russia, Leonora B. Lang, tr., vol. 1 (New York: Collier, 1900), pp. 24-26]


The religion of the Russian Slavs, like that of all Aryan races, was founded on nature and its phenomena. It was It pantheism which, as its original meaning was lost, necessarily became a polytheism. Just as the Homeric deities were preceded by the gods of Hesiod, Ouranos and Demeter, or Heaven and Earth, so the most ancient gods of the Russian Slavs seem to have been Svarog, the heaven, and "our mother, the dank earth." Then new conceptions appeared in the first rank in the historic period.

1. Ancient poets and chroniclers (see the Song of Igor, and Nestor) have preserved to us the names of Dagh--Bog, god of the sun, father of nature; Voloss, a solar deity, and, like the Greek Apollo, inspirer of poets and protector of flocks; Perun, god of thunder, another personification of the Sun at war with the Cloud; Stribog, the Russian Aeolus, father of winds, protector of warriors; Khors, a solar god; Semargl and Mokoch, whose attributes are unknown.

2. In some of the early hymns they sing of Koupalo or larilo, god of the summer sun, and Did-- Lado, goddess of fecundity.

3. In the epic songs are celebrated Sviatogor, the giant--hero, whose weight the earth can scarcely bear; Mikoula Selianinovitch, the good laborer, a kind of Slav Triptolemus, the divine personification of the race's passionate love of agriculture, striking with the iron share of his plough the stones of the furrow, with a noise that is heard three days' journey off; VolgaVseslavitch, a Proteus who can take all manner of shapes; Polkan, a centaur; Dounai, Don Ivanovitch, Dnieper Korolevitch, who are rivers; then a series of heroes, conquerors of dragons like Ilia of Mourom, who seem to be solar gods degraded to the rank of paladins.

4. In the stories which beguile the village evening assemblies, appear Morena, goddess of death; Kochtchei and Moroz, personifications of the bitter winter weather; Baba-- Yaga, an ogress who lives on the edge of the forest, in a hut built on the foot of a fowl, and swayed by the winds; and the King of the Sea, who entices sailors to his watery palaces.

5. Popular superstition continues to people nature with good and bad spirits : the Russalki, water sprites; Vedianoi, river genii; the Liechii and the Liesnik, forest demons; the Domovoi (dom, house), the brownie of the domestic hearth; and the Vampires, ghosts who steal by night from their tombs, and suck the blood of the living during their sleep.

Since Mythology reproduces under so many forms the struggle of the heroes of the light with the monsters of darkness, it is possible that she may have admitted a bad principle at variance with a good principle, an ill--doing god, of whom Morena, Kochtchei, Baba--Yaga, the dragon, the mountain--serpent, are only types. We cannot find any positive confirmation of this hypothesis, as far as the Russian Slavs are concerned, but Helmold asserts that the Baltic Slavs recognize Bielibog the White God, and Tchernobog, the Black God.

The Russians do not seem to have had either temples or priests in the proper sense of the word. They erected rude idols on the hills, and venerated the oak consecrated to Perim; the leaders of the people offered the sacrifices. They also had sorcerers, or magicians, analogous to the Tatar Shamans, whose counsels appear to have had great weight.

It has been the study of the Russian Church to combat paganism by purifying the superstitions she cannot uproot. She has turned to account any similarity in names or symbols. She has been able to honor Saint Dmitri and Saint George, the slayers of dragons; Saint John, who thunders in the spring; Saint Elias, who recalls Ilia of Mourom; Saint Blaise or Vlaise, who has succeeded to Voloss as guardian of the flocks; Saint Nicholas, or Mikoula, patron of laborers, like Mikoula Selianinovitch; Saint Cosmas, or Kouzma, protector of blacksmiths, who has taken the place of kouznets, the mysterious blacksmith forger of the destinies of man in the mountains of the north. In some popular songs the Virgin Mary replaces Did--Lado, and then Saint John succeeds to Perim or Iarilo. Who can fail to recognize the myth of the spring and the fruitful rains accompanied by thunder, in this White Russian song that is repeated at the festival of St. John? " John and Mary-- bathed on the hillwhile John bathed--the earth shook--while Mary bathed--the earth germinated." The Church has taken care to consecrate to the Saints of her calendar or to purify by holy rites the sacred trees and mysterious wells to which crowds of pilgrims continued to flock.

Russian Slavs certainly had visions of another life, but, like all primitive peoples, they looked forward to a life which was gross and material. In the 7th century among the Wends, Ger. man Slavs, women refused to survive their husbands, and burned

themselves on their funeral pile. This ancient Aryan custom must have been in vigor among the Russian Slavs at an equally early epoch. The Arabic writer, Ibn--Foszlan (Ibn--Fadlan), gives an account of the Russian funeral rites which he himself witnessed in the 9th century. For ten days the friends of the deceased bewailed him, and intoxicated themselves over his corpse. Then the men--servants were asked, which of them would be buried with his master? One of them replied in the affirmative, and was ininstantly strangled. The same question was also put to the women-- servants, one of whom likewise devoted herself. She was then washed, adorned, and treated like a princess, and did nothing but drink and sing. On the appointed day the dead man was laid in a boat, with part of his arms and his garments. The man--servant was slain with the favorite horse and other domestic animals and was laid in the boat, to which the young girl was then led. She took off her jewels, and with a glass of kvass in her hand sang a song that she would only too willingly have prolonged. "All at once," says the eye--witness, " the old woman who accompanied her, and whom they called the angel of death, ordered her to drink quickly, and to enter into the cabin of the boat, where lay the dead body of her master. At these words she changed color, and as she made some difficulties about entering, the old woman seized her by the hair, drag. ged her in, and entered with her. The men immediately began to beat their shields with clubs to prevent the other girls from hearing the cries of their companion, which might prevent them from one day dying for their masters." While the funeral pile blazed, one of the Russians said to our narrator, "You Arabs are fools: you hide in the earth the man you have loved best, and there he becomes the prey of worms. We, on the contrary, burn him up in the twinkling of an eye, that he may the quicker enter paradise." Nestor found the rite among the Russian Slavs. The excavations made in a great number of kourgans (barrows) confirm his testimony. The discoveries recently made in the tombs of Novgorod by M. Ivanouski, prove that the Slavs of Ilmen had preserved or adopted the custom of burying their dead. In these tombs are found a great quantity of arms, instruments, jewels, animals, bones, and grains of wheat ; from which we may conclude that the Russian Slavs expected the future life to be an exact continuation of the present one, and that they surrounded the dead with all the objects that here contributed to his happiness. The examination of the human bones preserved in the kourgans also confirms the historical accounts, and proves that servants and female slaves were sacrificed over the corpse.


The Slav family was founded on the patriarchal principle. The father was the absolute head, and after his death the power passed to the eldest of the members composing it: first, to the brothers of the deceased, if he had any under his care, then successively to his sons, beginning with the eldest. The chief had the same rights over the women who entered his family by marriage, as over its natural members.

Their domestic manners seemed to have been very barbarous. The monk Nestor may be suspected of exaggeration wherever he describes the condition of pagan Russia, which baptism was to regenerate. There is no exception to this exaggerated censure but in the case of the Polians. "The Drevlians," he tells us, "lived after the manner of wild beasts. They cut each other's throats, ate impure food, declined all marriage--ties; they ravished and stole young girls who came for water to the foun. tains . . . . . The Radimitches, the Viatitches, the Severians lived like wild animals in the forests, were fed on all sorts of horrors, and spoke of ail kinds of shameful things in the presence of their sisters--in--law and relatives. . . . They captured women, who were willing parties to the transaction, often two or three at a time."

The charges which Nestor chiefly urges against the Slavs, are the capture of women and polygamy. This latter charge is completely established; as to the capture, it might be symbol. ical. In the text quoted above we see the women "came" to the fountain, and that they were parties to the transaction. This capture, if we take it for a simple ceremony, may imply, in very early times, the existence of abduction by violence. To. day, the marriage--customs of Russia still preserve traces of these ancient usages. There is still a pretended capture of the woman; a custom to be found in the Germany of the 8th cent. ury, where the very name of marriage has a pointed significa.tion--Brautlauft, the flight of the bride. The songs at Russian weddings also imply the existence of a time when the maiden was bought. One of these songs accuses the kindred of avarice: "Thy brother--the accursed Tatar--has sold his sister for a piece of silver."

Some historians have thought, with Karamsin (Karamzin) that the Slavs held women in less consideration than the Germans did, and in fact "treated them as slaves." We may doubt if there was so great a difference between the two nations. The chronicles speak of Lybed, sister of Kii, the fabulous founder of Kief, dividing her paternal inheritance with her brothers, and of Princess Olga becoming heir and avenger of her husband and guardian of his son. The epic songs show us many bold heroines side by side with the heroes of the Kievian (Kievan) cycle, and mothers of heroes surrounded with wonderful luxury and extraordinary honors. The excavations of the kourgans show us skeletons of women richly ornamented with jewels.

The commune, or mir, was only the expansion of the family, it was subject to the authority of the elders of each household, who assembled in a council or vetche. The village lands were held in common by all the members of the association; the individual only possessed his harvest, and the dvor or enclosure immediately surrounding his house. This primitive condition of property, existing in Russia up to the present day, was once common to all European peoples

The communes nearest together formed a group called volost or pagost (canton, parish). The volost was governed by a council formed of the elders of the communes: one of these elders, either by hereditary right, age, or election, was recognized as more powerful than the rest, and became chief of the canton. His authority seems much to have resembled that of Ulysses over the numerous kings of little Ithaca. In times of danger, the volosts of the same tribe could elect a temporary head, but decline to submit to a general and permanent ruler. The Emperor Maurice had already observed that passion for liberty among the Slavs, which made them detest all sovereignty. The Russian Slavs easily rose from the idea of a commune to that of a canton, with a chief chosen from the elders of the family. In an emergency they might permit a temporary confederation of all the cantons of one tribe (dlemia), but we never find that there was a prince of the Severians, Polians, or Radimitches. Only princes of the volost could exist among them, like the prince of Korosthenes in the legend of Olga. The idea of the unity of a tribe, and a fortiori the unity of a Russian nation, was absolutely foreign to the race. The ideas of government and of the State had to come to them from without.


Nestor declares that the Russian Slavs, for the most part, "lived in forests like the wild beast." Karamsin and Schloezer have concluded from this that they had no towns. Now there exist a number of monuments in Russia which have for long puzzled archaeologists. There are the goradichtches (from gored, town), enclosures formed by the earth being thrown up, and these we find invariably on the steep bank of a watercourse, or on a small hill. M. Samokvassof, who has explored this very country of the Severians, described by Nestor as living wholly in forests, has been able to prove that these gorodichtches are the oppida, the primitive towns of Russia. In the government of Tchernigof alone, M. Samokvassof has reckoned 160; in that of Koursk, 50. We may calculate from this that numbers exist in Russia, and that every volost had at least one. About these earth--enclosures, which were capped by wooden palisades or hedges of osier, and were the common means of defence for each group of families, we usually find grouped, as in a cemetery, the kourgans or tumuli of the dead.

The excavations made, either in the kourgans or in the soil of the goradichtches, have shown us the Slavs were more civilized than Nestor supposed. Vessels of pottery, tolerably well designed, iron and bronze, gold and silver objects, glass, false pearls, rattles, prove that they had a certain amount of trade, and a fairly extensive commerce, particularly with Asia. Oriental coins have been dug up, dating from 699, or near two hundred years before the arrival of the Varangians. There are a great number of these coins in the country. Near Novgorod a vase was discovered, containing about 7000 roubles' worth of this early money. The fame of the swords made by the Russian Slavs extended to Arabia. Nestor relates that the Khazars imposed a tribute of swords on the Polians. When the latter brought the arms to the Khazars, they were afraid, and said to their princes, "Our swords have only one edgethese have two. We tremble test one day this people should levy a tribute on us and other tribes."

Agriculture was the favorite occupation of the Slavs. Nearly all their deities are of an agricultural character. The favorite heroes of their epic cycle, Mikoula and Ilia, were the sons of laborers. They had the more liking for field life, as the serfage of the glebe was still unknown amongst them. It has been said that the Germans borrowed the plough from the Slavs, and that the German name of pflug is derived from the Slav ploug. With the wax and honey of their hives, the corn of the Tchernoziom, and the furs of the north, the Russians carried on a great trade. Their need of strangers, together with a sociable instinct, natural to primitive races, made them very hospitable; it was even permitted to steal for the benefit of the unexpected guest. A--peaceful race, devoted to liberty, music, and dancing, appears in the idyllic picture painted for us of the early Slavs. The Emperor Maurice, on the contrary, who had had dealings with all kinds of adventurous tribe [1] assures us that they were war--like, cruel in battle, full of savage wiles, able to conceal themselves in places where it seemed impossible their bodies could be hidden, or to lie in ambush in streams for hours together, the water over their heads, breathing by means of a reed. Their armor was defective, they had no breast--plates, they fought on foot, were naked to the waist, and had for weapons, pikes, large shields, wooden bows, poisoned arrows, and lassoes to catch their victims. This sketch specially es to the invaders of the Roman provinces of the Danube. It is probable that these agricultural races had in general a military organization inferior to that of their Turkish and Scandinavian neighbors who lived by plunder. The imperfection of their political condition, their minute division into clans and volosts, the incessant warfare of canton with canton, delivered them up, defenceless, to their invade". Whilst the Slavs of the south paid tribute to the Khazars, the Slavs of 'Ilmen, exhausted by their divisions, decided on calling in the Varangians. "'Let us see,' they said, 'a prince who will govern us and reason with us justly.' Then," continues Nestor, --the Tchouds,' the Slavs (Novgorod), the Krivitches, and other confederate races, said to the princes of Varangia, 'Our land is great and fruitful, but it lacks order and justice; come and take possession, and govern us.'"



Who were these Varangians? To what race did they be long? No questions in the early history of Russia are more eagerly debated. After more than a century of controversy, the various views have been reduced to three:

1. The Varangians were of Scandinavian origin, and it was they who imposed the name of Russia on the Slav countries. A most weighty argument in support of this theory is the large number of Scandinavian names in the list of Varangian princes reigning in Russia. The Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, speaking of Russia, makes a distinction between the Slavs and the Russians proper. Describing the cataracts of the Dnieper, he gives to each the Russian and the Slav name. Now these Russian names may nearly all be understood by reference to Scandinavian roots. Liutprand, speaking of the Russians, expresses himself in these terms : -- " Graeci vocant Russos ... nos vero Normannos." The Annals of Saint Bertinus say, that the Emperor Theophilus recommended some Russian envoys to Louis le Débonnaire, but he, taking them for Norman spies, threw them into prison. Finally, the first Russian Code of Laws, compiled by Iaroslaf (Yaroslav), presents a striking analogy with the Scandinavian laws. The Partisans of this opinion place the mother country of the Russians in Sweden, where they point particularly to a spot called Roslog, and associations of oarsmen called Res&gen. At the present day the Finns call the Swedes Rootzi.

2. The Varangians were Slavs, and came either from the Slav shores of the Baltic, or from some Scandinavian region .Where the Slavs had founded a colony. The word Russia is not of Swedish origin; it is applied very early to the country of the Dnieper. To come from Reuss or to go to Reuss are expressions to be met with in the ancient documents, and Rouss there signifies the country of Kief. Arabic writers give the name of Russians to a nation they consider very numerous, and they mean in this case, not Scandinavians, but indigenous Slavs.

3. The Varangians were not a nation, but a band of warriors formed of exiled adventurers, some Slavs, other Scandina. vians. The partisans of this opinion show us the Slav and Scandinavian races from very early times, in frequent commercial and political relations. The leaders of the band were generally Scandinavian, but part of the soldiers were Slav. This hypothesis, which diminishes the Norman element in the Varangians, serves to explain how the establishment of these adventurers in the country but little affected the Slavs of the Ilmen and the Dnieper. It explains, too, the rapid absorption of the new comers in the conquered race, an absorption so complete that the grandson of Rurik, Sviatoslaf, already bears a Slav name, while his great--grandson, Vladimir, remains in the memory of the people as the type of Slav prince. Whether the Varangians were pure Scandinavians, or whether they were mingled with Slav adventurers, it seems certain that the former element predominated, and that we may identify these men from the North with the sea--kings so celebrated in the West during the decay of the Carolings. M. Samokvassof has lately opened, near Tchernigof, the black tomb containing the bones and arms of an unknown prince who lived in the 10th century, and was probably a Varangian. His coat--of--mail and pointed helmet completely resemble the arms of the Norman warriors. The Russian princes that we find in the early miniatures, are clothed and armed like the Norman chiefs in the Bayeux Tapestry of Queen Matilda. It is therefore not surprising that, in our own age, art has made almost identical representations of Rurik on the monument lately erected at Novgorod, and of William the Conqueror on the monument at Falaise. The Varangians, like the Normans. astonished the nations of the South by their reckless courage and gigantic stature. " They were as tall as palm--trees," said the Arabs. Bold sailors, admirable foot--soldiers, the Varangians differed widely from the mounted and nomad races of Southern Russia, Hungarians, Khazars, Patzinaks, whose tactics were always Parthian. The Russians, according to Leo the Deacon, who was an eye--witness of the fact, fought in a compact mass, and seemed like a wall of iron, bristling with lances, glittering with shields, whence rang a ceaseless clamor like the waves of the sea--the famous barditus or barritus of the Germans of Tacitus. A huge shield covered them to their --feet, and, when they fought in retreat, they turned this enormous buckler on their backs, and became invulnerable. The fury of battle at last made them beside themselves, like the Bersarks. Never, says the same author, were they seen to surrender. When victory was lost, they stabbed themselves, for they held that those who died by the hand of an enemy were condemned to serve him in another life. The Greeks had for long highly esteemed these heroes worthy of the Edda. Under the name of Ros or Varangians, they formed the body--guard of the Emperor, and figured in all the Byzantine armies. In the expedition Of 902 against Crete, 700 Russians took part; 415 in that of Lombardy in 925 ; 584 in that of Greece in 949.

The Russian Varangians readily took the pay of foreign nations of Novgorod as well as Byzantium. This is one more feature of resemblance with the Normans of France, whom the Greek emperors also employed in their wars with the Saracens of Italy. Sometimes, instead of fighting for others, they made War for themselves. This was the case with the Danes in Eng. land, the Normans in Neustria, the descendants of Tancred in Naples and Sicily, the companions of Rurik in Russia. As they were usually a very small number, they blended rapidly with the conquered nations. Thus the descendants of Rollo quickly became Frenchmen, and those of Robert Guiscard, Sicilians. In the Varangian bands, Slavs as well as Scandinavians were mixed ; but we likewise know that in the bands of Northmen that ravaged the country of France, there was a large number of Gallo--Romans, renegades from Christianity, who thirsted more for pillage and murder than did the Vikings themselves. This mingling of the adventurers and the indigenous race explains the rapidity with which both the Normans of Russia and the Normans of France lost their language, customs and religion. The Varangians only retained one thing, their military superiority, the habit of obeying the chosen or hereditary chief. Into the Slav anarchy they brought this element of warlike and disciplined force, without which a State cannot exist. They imposed on the natives the amount of constraint necessary to drag them from their isolation and division into gorodichtchés and volosts. The Slavs of the Danube also owe their constitution to a band of Finno-- Bulgarian adventurers under Aspar Asparuch; the Polish Slavs to the invasion of the Liakhs or Lechites; the Tcheques to the Frank Samo, who enabled them to shake off the yoke of the Avars.


The spontaneous appeal of the Slavs to the Varangian princes may seem to us strange. We might believe that the annalist, like the old French historians, has tried to disguise the fact of a conquest, by representing that the Slavs submitted voluntarily to the Varangians of Rurik, as the Gauls are supposed to have done to the Franks of Clovis. In reality there was no conquest, a statement which is proved by the fact that the municipal organization remained intact, that the vetché continued to deliberate by the side of the prince, the local army to fight in conjunction with the band of adventurers. The laws of Iaroslaf established the same wer--gild for the murder of either Slav or Varangian, while the Merovingian laws recognize a great difference between a Gallo--Roman and a Frank. The defence of the country, the administration of justice, and the collection of the tribute were the special cares of the prince, the last being considered his legitimate reward. He played in the Slav towns a rôle similar to that of the Italian podestàs in the 15th century, who were called in to administer justice impartially, or that of the leaders of condottieri, to whom the cities entrusted their defence. As early as 859 the Varangians exacted tribute from the Slavs of Ilmen and the Krivitches, as well as the Tchouds, Vesses, and Merians. The natives had once expelled the Varangians, but as divisions once more became rife among them, they decided that they needed a strong government, and recalled the Varangians in 862. Whether the name of Russia or of Rouss was Originally derived from a province of Sweden, or from the banks of the Dnieper, the fact remains that with the arrival of the Varangians in Slavonia, the true history of Russia commences. It was the 1000th anniversary of this event that was commemorated at Novgorod in 1862. With the Varangians the Russian name became famous in Eastern Europe. It was the epoch of brilliant and adventurous expeditions; it was the heroic age of Russia.

The Varangians of Novgorod and Kief are not unworthy mates of the Normans of the West--the bold conquerors who sought their fortunes from the coasts of England, Sicily, and Syria. They are to be found nearly at the same time under the walls of Constantinople and at the foot of the Caucasus, where they captured the town of Berdaa from the Arabs (944). Nestor, the monk of the Petcherski convent at Kief, whose history extends to 1116, adds to his conscientious accounts many legendary traits, which seem an echo of Scandinavian sagas and early Russian bylinas. His Annals, which Greek and French authorities enable us to check, and which are tolerably exact in all essentials, seem at times, like the first books of Livy, to be epic poetry converted into prose.


At the call of the Slavs, Rurik, Sineous and Trouvor, three Varangian brothers, whose Scandinavian names signify the Peaceful the Victorious , and the Faithful, gathered together " their brothers and their families," that is, their warriors or droujines (resembling the truste of the Frank kings), crossed the Baltic and took up their positions on the borders of the territory they were summoned to defend. Rurik, the eldest, established himself on the lake Ladoga, near to which, on the southern side, he founded the city of Ladoga; Sineous on the White Lake (Biéloe--Ozéro), in the Vess country; Trouvor at Izborsk, to hold the Livonians in check. When the two latter died, Rurik established himself at Novgorod, where he built, not a town as Nestor would have us believe, but a castle. It is thus we must explain the pretended foundation by his orders of Polotsk and of Rostof , which had existed long before the arrival of the Varangians. What he probably did was to transform ancient gorodichtches with ramparts of mud into fortresses. Two other Varangians, Askold and Dir, who were not of the family of Rurik, went down to Kief, and reigned over the Polians. It was they who began the expeditions against Tzargrad (Byzantium), the queen of cities. With 200 vessels, says Nestor, they entered the Sound, in old Slav Soud (the Bosphorus or the Golden Horn), and besieged Constantinople. But the patriarch Photius, according to the Byzantine accounts, took the wonderworking robe of Our Lady of Blachernes, and plunged it in the waves. A fierce tempest instantly arose, and the whole Russian fleet was destroyed.

Rurik's successor was not his son Igor, then a minor, but the eldest member of the family, his fourth brother, the enterprising Ole,--. At the head of an army composed of Varangians, Slavs and Finns, he marched to the south, received the submission of Smolensk and Loubetch, and arrived under the walls of Kief. By means of treachery he took Askold and Dir prisoners, and put them to death, observing: "You are neither princes yourselves, nor of the blood of princes; this is the son of Rurik," pointing to Igor. The tomb of Askold is still shown near Kief. Oleg was charmed with his new conquest, and took up his abode there, saying, "Let Kief be the mother of Russian cities." The Varangian chief held communication both with the Baltic and the Black Sea by means of Novgorod, Smolensk, and Kief. He subdued the Novgorodians, the Krivitches, the Merians, the Drevlians, the Severians, the Polians, the Radimitches, and than united nearly all the Russian tribes under his sceptre. It was about this time that the Hungarians crossed the Dnieper near Kief, and invaded Pannonia. The Magyar chronicles speak of their having defeated Oleg ; Nestor is silent on the subject.

In 907 Oleg collected a large army from among the tributary races, equipped 2000 boats, and prepared to invade Tzargradby land and sea. Russian legends have embellished this expedition with many wonderful details. Oleg built wheels to his vessels, and spread their sails; blown by the wind I they reached the gates of the city. Leo VI. the Philosopher, horror--stricken, agreed to pay tribute, but the Greeks tried to get rid of the Russians by offering them poisoned food. Oleg divined their perfidy. He imposed a heavy contribution, a commerical treaty advantageous to the Russians, and suspended his shield on the Golden Door.

To his subjects Oleg was more than a hero. Terror--stricken by his wisdom, this "foolish and idolatrous people " looked on him as a sorcerer. In the Scandinavian sagas we find many instances of chiefs, such as Odin, Gylf and Raude, being at the same time great warriors and great magicians. It is strange that neither Greek, Frank, nor Venetian historians allude to this campaign. Nestor cites the names of the Russian envoys who negotiated the peace, and gives the text of the treaty.

A magician had predicted to Oleg that his favorite horse would cause his death. It was kept apart from him, and when, five years after, the animal. died, he insisted on being taken to see its body, as a triumph over the ignorance and imposture of the sorcerers. But from the skull of the horse issued a serpent which inflicted a mortal sting on the foot of the hero.

Igor led a third expedition against Tzargrad. The Dnieper conducted, as it were of her own will, the Russian flotilla to the seas of Greece. Igor had 10,000 vessels according to the Greek historians, 1000 according to the more probable calculation of Liutprand. This would allow 400,000 men in the first case, and only 40,000 in the second. Instead of attacking the town, he cruelly ravaged the Greek provinces. The Byzantine admirals and generals united, and destroyed the Russian army in a series of engagements by the aid of Greek fire. Nestor has not copied the numerous details the Byzantine historians give of this battle, but we have the evidence of Liutprand, bishop of Cremona, derived from his father--in--law, the ambassador of the king of Italy at Constantinople , who saw with his own eyes the defeat of Igor, and was present at the sacrifice of prisoners, be, headed by order of the Emperor Romanus Lecapenus. In 944 Igor secured the help of the formidable Patzinaks, and organized an expedition to avenge his defeat. The Greek Emperor, now seriously alarmed, offered to pay tribute, and signed a new commercial treaty, of which the text is given by Nestor. Byzantine and Western writers do not mention this second expedition of Igor. On his return from Russia, he was assassinated by the Drevlians, from whom he had tried to exact tribute. Leo the Deacon, a Greek writer, says he was torn in pieces by means oftwo young trees, bent forcibly to the earth, and then allowed to take their natural direction (945)


Olga, widow of Igor, assumed the regency in the name of her son Sviatoslaf, then a minor. Her first care was to revenge herself on the Drevlians. In Nestor's account it is impossible to distinguish between the history and the epic. The Russian chronicler relates in detail how the Drevlians sent two deputations to Olga to appease her, and to offer her the hand of their prince, and how she disposed of them by treachery, burying some alive, and causing others to be stifled in a bathing--house. Next, says Nestor, she besieged their city Korosthenes, and she offered them peace on payment of a tribute of three pigeons and three sparrows for each house. Lighted tow was tied to the tails of the birds, and they were set free. They flew straight home to the wooden town, where the barns and thatched roofs instantly took fire. Lastly the legend relates that Olga massacred part of the Korosthenians, and the rest became slaves.

This vindictive Scandinavian woman, in spite of all, was destined to be the first apostle of Russia. Nestor relates that she went to Tzargrad to the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, astonished him by the strength and adroitness of her character, and was baptized under the name of Helen, the Greek Tzar being her godfather. Only two facts --in Nestor's account are historical, namely, the reception of Olga at the imperial palace of Constantinople, related in detail in the 'Book of Ceremonies,' and perhaps her baptism. If the Greek historians do not mention it in the contemporary chronicles, it is because they did not perceive the important consequences of this event. If writers allude to it in the chronicles of the 11th and 12th centuries, it is because the consequences of the event bad by that time been completely developed. [2]

Even in Russia Olga's conversion passed almost unnoticed. Christianity had made but little progress in that country. No doubt since Cyril and Methodius had invented the Slavonic alphabet, and translated the Holy Books for the Bulgarians.

Christianity, which had already triumphed over some Slav peoples, was being handed on from one to the other. Some missions were already established in Russia. The Byzantines say, that alarmed by the miraculous defeat of Askold and Dir, and seized with a respectful awe of the Christian talismans of the Patriarch Photius, the Russians "sent envoys to Constantinople to ask for baptism." The Emperor Basil the Macedonian then gave them an archbishop, who performed a miracle before them. He threw a copy of the Gospels into a brazier, and drew it out unharmed. According to this account, Askold was the first Russian prince who became a Christian. Hence the worship rendered to his tomb and memory. In the list of Byzantine Eparchies under Leo VI., the Bishopric of Russia figures, of which no doubt Kief was the metropolis. These missions, however, do not seem to have been very successful ; at the time of the treaty concluded between Oleg and Leo VI., the Russians still swore by their swords, by Voloss and Perun. In the treaty concluded by Igor, when the Russians swore at Kief before the Emperor's envoy, to confirm it, some ascended the hill of Perun and performed the vows in the ancient way; others went to the chapel of Saint Elias, and laid their hand on the Gospel. There existed then, in the "mother of Russian cities," a Christian community, though a very weak one., if it is true that Olga refused to be baptized in Kief 'If or fear of the pagans." The mass of warriors kept Christianity at a distance. In their expeditions against the Byzantine provinces, we find them attacking monasteries and churches by preference, giving them up to the flames, and finding a peculiar pleasure in torturing priests and monks by driving nails into their heads. It was thus that the Normans of France, the fanatics of Odinism, treated the ecclesiastics with refinements of cruelty, boasting that they "sang them the Mass of lances." "When one of the soldiers of the Grand Prince wished to become a convert," says Nestor, " he was not prevented, but only laughed at. , The efforts of Olga for the conversion of her son Sviatoslaf, who had assumed the reins of government on reaching his majority, were fruitless. He did not like exposing himself to the ridicule of his soldiers by embracing anew faith. "My men will mock me," he replied to the prayers of his mother. "And often, " Nestor affirms sadly," he became furious with her." Olga vainly assured him that if he would be baptized, all his subjects would soon follow his example. The public mind was not yet in a condition for the example of the prince to be all--powerful. The Christian Olga, canonized by the Church ' " the first Russian who accounted to the heavenly kingdom," remained an exception, little noticed or thought of in the midst of the pagan aristocracy


The reign of Sviatoslaf, 664--972, though short, was signaliz. ed by two memorable events: the defeat of the Khazars, and the great war against the Byzantine Empire for the possession of Bulgaria. About the former event the annalist gives few details ; but Sviatoslaf must have gained a complete victory, if it be true that he took the White City, capital of the Khazar Empire on the Don, and that he exacted tribute from the Iasses or Ossets of the Caucasus, and the Kassogans or Tcherkesses.

The Russians had no reason to rejoice in their success, for the decline of the Khazars, who were a civilized people, favored the progress of the Patzinaks, the most ferocious of all barbarians. The Arabs spoke of them as wild beasts and Matthew of Edessa calls them "a greedy people, devouring the bodies of men, corrupt and impure, bloody and cruel beasts." During one of the frequent absences of Sviatoslaf, the Patzinaks suddenly appeared under the walls of Kief, where the mother and children of the Grand Prince had taken refuge, and reduced it to the last extremity. The bold manoeuvre of a voïevode Saved the Kievians, who were starving. On his return to his capital, Sviatoslaf was horrified at the risks it had encountered. It was at the hands of these same Patzinaks that he was one day to perish.

On the subject of the Bulgarian war the narrative of Nestor is confused and incomplete. He is silent about the Russian defeats, and legend mixes largely with historical facts. Nestor relates that the Greeks wished to ascertain what sort of man Sviatoslaf was. They sent him gifts of gold and fine tissues, but the Grand Prince looked on them with disdain, and said to his soldiers, "Take them away." Then they sent him a sword and other weapons, and the hero seized them and kissed them enthusiastically. The Greeks were afraid, and said, " This must be a fierce man, since he despises wealth and accepts a sword for tribute." Happily the very minute account of Leo the Deacon appears both exact and impartial, and we are enabled to follow this campaign, where a chief of infant Russia crosses that Danube which the Russian armies are not again to see till the reign of Catherine II. and Nicholas. The Greek Emperor Nicephorus Phocas, in order to avenge himself on Peter the Tzar of Bulgaria, had recourse to the dangerous expedient so frequent in Byzantine policy. He called in the barbarians. A certain Kalokyr was sent as envoy to Sviatoslaf with a sufficient sum of money to allow him to take the field. It was thus that these two Slav races who owned their constitutions, one to the Varangian droujina of Rurik, the other to the Turanian droujina of Asparuch--were urged to conflict by Greek diplomacy. Sviatoslaf descended on Bulgaria with a thoroughly--equipped fleet, reassured the Byzantines by bringing 60,000 men to their assistance, took Pereiaslaf, the Bulgarian capital, and all their fortresses.

The Tzar Peter yielded to his evil destiny at the moment the Patzinaks were besieging Kief. This lesson was, however, lost on Sviatoslaf. He was overjoyed at his conquest, and wished to transport his capital to Pereiaslaf on the Danube, a city distinct from Pereiaslaf or Prislaf, the modern Eski--Stamboul, which was the capital of the Bulgarians in the 10th century. " This place,"' he said to his mother, " is the central point of my possessions, and abounds in wealth. From Greece come precious stuffs, wine, gold, and all kinds of fruit ; from the country of the Tcheques and Hungarians, horses and silver; from Russia, furs, money, wax, and slaves. This resolution of Sviatoslaf was fraught with immense danger to the Greek: Empire. If Byzantium feared the neighborhood of an enfeebled Bulgaria, how was she to resist a power that extended from the Baltic to the Balkans, and which could add to the Bulgarian legions, disciplined after the Roman fashion by the Tzar Simeon, the Varangians of Scandinavia, the Russian Slavs, the Finnish hordes of the Vesses, Tchouds, and Merians, and even the light cavalry of the Patzinaks ?

The formation of a great Slav Empire so close to Constantinople would have been rendered more formidable by the ethnographical constitution of the peninsula. Ancient Thrace and ancient Macedon were peopled by Slav tribes, some of whom were offshoots from the Russian tribes; for example, Dregovitches and Smolenes were to be found there as much as at Minsk and Smolensk. Thessaly, Attica, and the Peloponnesus were invaded by these emigrants, who became the subjects of the Greek Empire. The famous mountain Taygetus, in Laconia, was inhabited by two Slav tribes, still unsubdued ---- the Milingians and the Ezerites. We must not forget that Bulgaria extended as far as the Ochrid, and that the ancient provinces under the names of Croatia, Servia, and Dalmatia, had become almost entirely Slav. This great race extended then almost unbroken from the Peloponnesus, already called by the Slav name of Morea, to Novgorod. Thus, if the town of Pereiaslaf on the Danube had really become the centre of the Russian dominions, according to the wish of Sviatoslaf, the Greek race and the Roman domination in the Balkan peninsula would speedily have come to an end. The Greek emperors had been able to resist Askold, Oleg, and Igor. The Russians of their day had lived far from the Empire, and were obliged to go by water, which limited greatly the number of their armies. With their canoes hollowed out of the trunks of trees, such as are now to be seen in the Russian villages, they had to descend the Dnieper, disembark at each of the seven cataracts, carry canoes (monoxyles) till they could re--embark further on, and all the while gave battle to the Patzinaks, who were in ambush behind the rocks. After they had escaped these perils, they had to brave with their frail barks the tempests of the Black Sea, the powerful Roman galleys manned by the best sailors of the East, and the mysterious Greek fire which filled them with terror. Few reached the walls of Constantinople, and their defeat was certain. Now, on the contrary, masters of the Danube, masters of the land-- route, they could precipitate on Constantinople all the hordes of Scythia.

Fortunately for the Greek Empire, it then chanced to be renewing its youth. A series of great captains succeeded each other on this tottering throne. In John Zimisces the Russian prince was to find an adversary worthy of him. Sviatoslaf, recalled to Bulgaria, had been obliged to reconquer it. It was at this moment that Zimisces summoned him to execute the conditions of the treaty concluded with his predecessor ; that is, to evacuate the country. Sviatoslaf, who had just taken Philippopolis and exterminated the inhabitants, replied haughtily that he hoped soon to be at Constantinople. Zimisces then began his prepara. tions. In the beginning of March 972, he despatched a fleet to the north of the Danube, and himself marched to Adrianople. He surprised the Russians, who had not expected him so soon, in the defiles of the Balkans; appeared suddenly under the walls of Pereiaslaf, defeated a body of many thousand Russians, and obliged them to retire within the walls; then he gave the order for the assault, and took the town by escalade. Eight thousand Russians shut up in the royal castle made a frantic resistance, refused to capitulate, and perished in the flames.

When the news of this disaster reached Sviatoslaf, he advanced with the greater part of his army to meet the Emperor, and came up with him near Dorostol (Silistria). The Greek historians make the Russian army to have consisted of at least 60,000 men ; Nestor only reckons 10,000. Here a bloody battle took place, and twelve times victory appeared to shift from one side to the other. The solidity of the Russian infantry defied the charges of the cavalry--" the Ironside " (kataphraktoi). At last they gave way under a desperate charge, and fell back on Dorostol. There they were besieged by the Emperor, and displayed a wild courage in their sallies. Even their women, like the ancient Amazons, or the heroines of the Scandinavian sagas or Russian songs, took part in the melée. The Russians slew themselves rather than ask for mercy. The night following on an action, they were seen to leave the town by moonlight to burn their dead. On their ashes they sacrificed prisoners of war, and drowned in the Danube cocks and little children. Provisions failed, and Sviatoslaf stole out one stormy night with canoes Manned by 2000 warriors, rowed round the Greek fleet, collected millet and corn in the neighboring villages, and, falling suddenly on the Greeks, re--entered the town victoriously. Zimisces then took measures to prevent any boat from getting out. This epic siege was signalized by some strange combats. One of the bravest of the Russian chiefs was slain by Apemas, a baptized Arab, son of an Emir of Crete, and himself one of the guards of Zimisces.

Sviatoslaf resolved to make one last effort, and issued from the town with all his forces. Before the battle Zimisces proposed to Sviatoslaf to terminate the war by a duel between themselves. It was the barbarian who refused: " I know better than my enemy what I have to do," said Sviatoslaf. " If he is weary of life, there are a thousand means by which he can end his days." This battle was as obstinate and bloody as the former. Sviatoslaf came near being slain by Apemas. At last the Russians gave way, leaving on the battlefield, says Leo the Deacon, 15,500 dead and 20,000 shields. The survivors retired into the town. They were forced to treat. Zimisces allowed them to retire from Bulgaria, and they swore by Perun and Voloss never again to invade the empire, but to help to defend it against all enemies. If they broke their vows, might they "become as yellow as gold, and perish by their own arms." Nestor gives us the text of this convention, which was really a capitulation, and confirms the account of the Greek historians rather than his own. These relate that Zimisces sent deputies to the Patzinaks to beg them to grant a free passage to the remnant of the Russian army. It is certain that the barbarians awaited the Russians at the Cataracts, or porogs of the Dnieper. They killed Sviatoslaf, cut off his head, and his skull was used by their Prince Kouria as a drinking--cup. Sviatoslaf was, in spite of his Slav name, the very type of a Varangian prince of the intrepid, wily, and ambitious Northmen. Nestor boasts his good faith. When he wished to make war on a people, lie sent to warn them. " I march against you," he said.

After the surrender of Dorostol, he had an interview with his enemy Zimisces. Leo the Deacon profits by the occasion to give us his portrait. The Emperor being on horseback by the shore, Sviatoslaf approached him by boat, handling the oar like his companions. He was of middle height, but very robust ; he had a wide chest, a thick neck, blue eyes, thick eyebrows, a flat nose, long mustaches, a thin beard, and a tuft of hair on his shaven head as a mark of his nobility. He wore a gold ring in one of his ears, ornamented with rubies and two pearls. Let us notice this portrait ; we shall have to search far into Russian annals to find another. Between the description given by Leo the Deacon and those of the Russian annalists, there is the same difference as between the eikon of a saint and an authentic likeness.


1. The Tchouds here mentioned are rather Slavs who had colonized the Tchoud country about Pskof and lzborsk.

2. A. Rambaud, L'Empire grec au dixième siècle, p. 383.