[excerpted from Alfred Rambaud, Russia, Leonora B. Lang, tr., vol. 1 (New York: Collier, 1900), pp. 26-33]


The great barbaric invasions in the 4th century of our era formed a period of change and terrible catastrophe in Eastern Europe. The Goths, under Hermanaric, founded a vast empire in Eastern Scythia. The Huns, under Attila, overthrew this Gothic dominion, and a cloud of Finnish peoples, Avars and Bulgarians, followed later by Magyars and Khazars, hurried swiftly on the traces of the Huns. In the midst of this strife and medley of peoples, the Slavs came to the front with their own marked character, and appeared in history under their pro. per name. They were described by the Greek chroniclers and by the Emperors Maurice and Constantine Porphyrogenitus. They clashed against the Roman Empire of the East; they be. gan the secular duel between the Greek and Slavonic races, a duel which is still being waged for the prize of mastery in the peninsula of the Balkans. Certain tribes formed a separate group among the others, and received the name of the Russian Slavs. Nestor, the first Russian historian, a monk of Kief (Kiev), of the 12th century, has described their geographical distribution as it existed two hundred years before his time. The Slavs, properly so called, inhabited the basin of the Ilmen, and the west bank of Lake Peïpus; their towns, Novgorod, Pskof (Pskov), lzborsk, appear in the very beginning of the history of Russia. The Krivitches, again, were settled on the sources of the Dwina (Dvina) and the Dnieper, round their city of Smolensk. The Polotchans had Polotsk, on the Upper Dwina. The Dregovitches dwelt on the west of the Dwina, and of the Upper Dnieper, and held Tourof (Tourov). The Radimitches abode on the Soja, a tributary of the Dnieper, and possessed the old cities of Ouvritch and Korosthenes; the Viatitches on the Higher Oka; the Drevlians, so called from the thick forests which covered their territory, in the basin of the Pripet. Between the Desna and the Dnieper the Severians were established; their towns were Loubetch, Tchernigof (Chernigov), and Pereiaslavl. The Polians faced the Severians on the right bank of the Dnieper; Kief was their centre. The White Croats abode between the Dniester and the Carpathians; the Tivertses and the Loutitches on the Lower Dniester and the Pruth; the Doulebes and the Boujans on the Bug, a tributary of the Vistula.

Nestor's list of the Russian Slavs shows that, in the 9th century of our era, when their history begins, they occupied but a small part of the Russia of today. They were almost completely penned in the districts of the Dwina and the Upper Dnieper, the Ilmen and the Dniester. In all the immense basin of the Caspian, their share was only the land they occupied around the sources of the Volga and the Oka.

On the west and north, the Russian Slavs bordered on other Slavonic tribes, which, about this period, acquired distinct national names. Some groups, scattered about the Upper Elbe and the two banks of the Vistula, after the invasion of the Tcheques (Czechs) and the Liakhs or Lechites (from the 4th to the 7th century), formed themselves into the States of Bohemia and Poland.

Other tribes on the March, or Morava, made, in the kingdom of Moravia, their first attempt to secure political existence (9th century). Certain others scattered on the Lower Danube formed the kingdom of Bulgaria, after the invasion of the Bulgarians under Asparuch (680). In a more distant land on the Adriatic, the Servian (Serbian) and Croatian tribes were preparing to organize themselves into the kingdoms of Croatia, Dalmatia, and Servia (Serbia). On the Baltic were the Slavs of Pomerania, of Brandenburg (Havelians), and Sprevanians of the banks of the Elbe (Obotrites, Wiltzes, Lutitzes, and Sorabians or Sorbes), all one day to be absorbed by the German Conquest.

At this period there was little difference between Russian and Polish Slavs. M. Koulich thinks that conquests achieved by two different races of men; that the adoption of two irrecon. cilable creeds (those of Rome and of Byzantium); that the influence of two rival civilizations, the Greek and the Latin, with their separate literatures and alphabets; that all these influ. ences created two antagonistic peoples in the midst of a race of one blood, and stamped on the inert and unconscious material of the Slavonic kindred the impress of two hostile nationalities. The Slav, moulded by the Lechites, converted to the Church of Rome, and subject to the influences of the west, became the Pole. The Slav, moulded by the Varangians, converted to the Greek church, and subject to Byzantine influences, became the Russian. In the beginning, on the Vistula as on the Dnieper, all were Slavs alike; all practised the same heathen ritual; all were governed by the same traditions, and spoke almost the same language. Indeed, the affinities of the Russian and Polish idioms, between which the dialects of White Russia, of Red Russia, and of Little Russia serve as links, sufficiently demonstrate an original brotherhood, which the strifes of churches and of thrones have destroyed.

The Russian Slavs, before taking possession of all the domain assigned to them by history, had to struggle in the north and cast against the nations belonging to three principal races, the LettoLithuanians, the Finns and the Turks, in whom Finnish and Tatar elements were more or less mingled. The Finns and the Turks belong to that branch of the human family which has been named, from its twofold cradle of the Oural (Ural) and the Altai, OuraloAltaic. The first of these races belongs to the Aryan family, but is nevertheless distinct from the Germanic or Slav races, and its dialects have more resemblance to Sanscrit than any other European tongue. The Jmouds and the Lithuanians, properly so called, dwell on the Niemen, the Iatviagues on the Narev. On the western shore of the Gulf of Rigs and on the Baltic, the Korses, who give their name to Courland, are to be found, while the Semigalli inhabit the left bank of the Dwina; and the Letgols, from whom are descended by a mingling with the Finnish race of Livonians, the Letts or Latiches of Southern Livonia. The Livonians on the Gulfs of Livonia and Finland, and the TchoudEstonians, who gave their name to Peïpus, the Lake of the Tchouds, belong to the Finnish race. They are the ancestors of the present inhabitants of Northern Livonia and Esthonia (Estonia). The three socalled German provinces of the Baltic are then Lettish in the south, Finnish in the north. The Narovians were established on the Narova, which is a territory of the Peïpus; the Votes or Vodes, between the Volkhof (Volkhov) and the sea, in a country called by the Novgorodians, Vodskaia Piatina; the Ingrians or Ijors, on the Ijora or Ingra, a tributary on the left bank of the Neva. The TchoudEstonians at the present day number 719,000, the Livonians 2540, the Vodes 5000, and the Ingrians 18,000.

Finland or Suomenmaa (land of the Suomi) is still inhabited by the Suomi, who were divided into three tribes, the Iames or Tavasts on the southeast, round Inamburg and Tavastehus; the Kvins or Kaïans, on the Gulf of Bothnia; the Carelians (Karelians), who were more numerous than the two other nations put together, occupied the rest of Finland. These three peoples at present amount to a total of I, 450,000. The north of Finland was and is inhabited by the Laps or Laplanders, who form a special division of the Finnish race, and reckon in Russia about 4000 souls. The shores of the Icy Ocean, from the Mezen to the Yenissei, have been always occupied by the Samoyedes, a very widespread but far from numerous people, who amount in Europe to about 5000 souls In the time of Nestor the Vesses dwelt on the Cheksna and the White Lake; the Mouromians (whose name is repeated in that of Mourom) on the Oka and its affluents, the Moskowa (Moskova) and the Kliazma; the Merians on the Upper Volga around the Lake Klechtchine and Lake Nero or Rostof (Rostov). These three tribes have completely disappeared, having been absorbed or transformed by the Russian colonization, but leave behind them innumerable kourgans or tumuli. Between 1851 and 1854, M. Ouvarof and M. Savelief excavated 7729 in the Merian country alone. Besides these monuments and the remains which they contain, the only traces left of these tribes are to be found in names of places, and in certain peculiarities of the local dialects. It was around their territory that the Muscovite State and the Russian empire were formed. The TchoudZavolotchians were encamped on the Lower Dwina; the Erzes, or Zyrians, inhabited the basin of the Petchora; the Permians, the source of the Dwina and the Kama; the Votiaks of Ari lived on the Viatka, where the town of Viatka still preserves their name. These races form what is called the Permian branch of the Finnish nation; their country was named by the Scandinavians, Biarmia or Biarmaland, and 11 Great Permia" by the Muscovites. Biarmaland was discovered in the 9th century by the Norwegian navigator Other, who not long afterwards entered the Service of Alfred the Great, king of England, and has left in AngloSaxon an account of his travels. This narrative proves that the Permians were then a civilized people, who traded with India and Persia. The temple of their god Ioumala was so richly ornamented with precious stones, that its brilliance illuminated all the surrounding country. The Erzes number at the present day only 80,000, the Permians 70,000, the Votiaks 234,000.

The Ougrian branch is composed first of the Ostiaks, amounting to 20,000 and of the Voguls (7000) On the east they inhabit the Ourals, and only border on Europe. Formerly they lived more to the south. The Magyars, who made Europe tremble in the 10th century, and founded the kingdom of Hungary, belonged to this race.

Between the Kama and the Oural were already to be found the BachKourtes (shavenheads) or Bachkirs, of the 16tb to the 17th centuries, originally a Finnish people, no doubt of the Ugrian branch, but profoundly Tatarized, with whom were mingled the Metcheraks, a tribe named by Nestor. There are at present 500,000 Bachkirs, and 100,000 Metcheraks. On the Middle Volga dwelt the Tcheremisses, the Tchouvaches (Chuvashes), and the Mordvians; the Tcheremisses are found again today in the government of Kazan, NijniNovgorod (NizhniNovgorod), and Viatka; the Tchouvaches in Kazan, NijniNovgorod, and Simbirsk; the Mordvians in Kazan, Tambof (Tambov), Pensa, Simbirsk, Samara, and Saratof (Saratov), but these are now only small islets amid the Russian colonization, whereas in the time of Nestor they formed a compact mass. The Tcheremisses now only number 165,000, the Tchouvaches 430,000, and the Mordvians 500,000; all the Test have become Russians except a few who have become Tatar.

All seems strange among these ancient peoples. The type of countenance is blurred and, as it were, unfinished; the costume seems to have been adopted from some antediluvian fashion; the manners and superstitions preserve the trace of early religions beyond the date of any known paganisms; the language is sometimes so very primitive that the Tchouvaches for example do not possess more than a thousand original words.

The Tcheremiss women wear on their breasts two plates forming a cuirass, and ornamented with pieces of silver, transmitted from generation to generation. A numismatist would make wonderful discoveries in these walking museums of medals. They drape their legs in a piece of tightly "tied back" black cloth, and think that modesty consists in never showing the legs, s, as the Tatar women make a point of never unveiling the ace.

The Tchouvach women cover their beads with a little peaked cap like a Saracen helmet, carry on their backs a covering of leather and metal, like the trapping of a warhorse, and wear on fÍtedays a stiff and rectangular mantle like a chasuble. Among this singular people, "black" and "beautiful" are synonymous, and when they wish to revenge themselves they ban. them. selves at their enemy's door.

In spite of three centuries of Christian missions, these tribes dwelling in the heart of Russia and on the great artery of the Volga are not even yet complete converts to Christianity.

There are still some pagan districts. It may even be said that a considerable portion of the Tcheremisses, Tchouvaches, Mordvians, and Votiaks remain attached to the worship of the ancient deities, which they sometimes mingle with the orthodox practices and the worship of St. Nicholas. Their religion consistedessentially in dualism: the good principle is called by the Tchouvaches, Thora; Iouma (the "Ioumal" of the Finns) by the Tcheremisses; Inma by the Votiaks, etc. The bad principle was named Cbaïtan or Satan. Between the two is a divinity whom men had in former times cruelly offended, who is called Keremet. From the good god proceeded an infinity of gods and goddesses; from Keremet a numerous progeny of male and female Keremets, genii more mischievous and ma. levolent, to whom the aborigines offer pieces of money, and sacrifice horses, oxen, sheep, swans, and cocks and hens, in sanctuaries also named Keremet, built in the depths of the forests and far from Russian spies.

Human sacrifices have been talked of. The worship of the dead inspired ideas which guide the savage everywhere. Men have preserved the custom of wifecapture, or buying brides from the fathers by paying the kalym; they practise agricultural communism. In a word, the life of these races of the Volga in the 19th century is the living commentary of the accounts of Nestor of the Russian Slavs of the 9th century.

It is probable that Slavs and Russians then lived in an absolutely identical state of civilization, and had almost the same religious ideas and the same customs.

There remain two Finnish peoples still to be spoken of, who, mentioned by Nestor, have at present disappeared, but who were far more remarkable than any of the preceding. These are the Khazars, who, although mingled with Turkish elements, were essentially Finnish. Remarkable for their aptitude for civilization, they had formed in the 9th century a vast empire, which embraced the regions of the Lower Dnieper, the Don, and the Lower Volga, round the Sea of Azof and the Caspian; they had built Itil on the Volga, and Sarkel or the White City on the Don; they had sometimes governors at Bosporos and Cherson in the Taurid peninsula; in the Kuban they possessed the Tamatarchia of the Greeks. They had commercial and friendly relations with Byzantium, the caliphate of Bagdad, and even the caliphate of Cordova, the only civilized states of the then known world. The Khazars had flourishing schools, and tolerated all religions besides the national paganism. Mussulman missionaries appeared in the 7th, Jewish missionaries in the 8th century, and Saint Cyril arrived about 860 at the court of their Chagan. A Jewish Chagan of the name of Joseph interchanged some curious letters with the Rabbi Hasdai of Cordova, announcing to him that the people of God, the Israel Khazar, ruled over nine nations of the nineteen of the Caucasus, and thirteen of the Black Sea, and that he did not allow the Russians to descend the Volga to ravage the territory of the Caliph of Bagdad. The Israelitish Khazars became afterwards mingled with the Kharaite Jews, and the Moslem Khazars with the Tatars of the Crimea. Among the vassal nations of the Khazars enumerated by the Chagan Joseph, were the Bourtass and the Bulgars of the Volga; the latter, kinsmen of the Bulgars who were subjected by the Danubian Slavs, and apparently nearly related to the Tchouvaches, were a mixture of Finnish, Turkish, and even Slav elements, according to an Arabian account. Sedentary, industrious, and destined to inherit the commercial splendor of the Khazars, they blended with the native superstitions the Islamism which was preached to them in 922 by missionaries from Bagdad, and possessed in the 10th century a flourishing state. Their capital was Bolgary or the "Great City," on the Junction of the Volga and the Kama. They also owned the cities of Bouliar or Biliarsk, Souvar, Krementchoug, etc. Their descendants were fused with the Tatar conquerors of the 13th century.

The Finnish races, even more than the Slavs, are the real aborigines of Russia. In the 5th century B.C. Herodotus writes of them as already long possessed of the soil. Everywhere in these wide regions the traces of their occupation are visible. At different periods they extended from the Livonian Gulf to the Ourals, and from the Icy Ocean to the Black Sea. They withdrew at various times, especially from the 5th to the 9th centuries, to allow the passage of the great migrations and of the great invasions; but in the 10th century they occupied, with the Khazars, the shores of the Sea of Azof and of the Caspian, while the Finns of Esthonia held the Lithuanians in check.

The Turkish races, on the contrary, made their appearance much later in Russia. In the 9th century the Lower Volga and the Lower Oural began to fall a prey to the Patzinaks, incorrigible brigands who marched over the bodies of the Khazars to establish themselves on the Lower Dnieper. After them appeared the Polovtsi or Koumans, the Ouzes or Torques. The invasion of the Tatars was more Turkish than Mongolian. The nomads vanished or, according to Nestor, were absorbed by new arrivals, namely the Nogaïs, formed in the 13th century of the remnants of the Polovtsi, and of the TurkoKanglis, at present numbering 50.000; the Kirghis (Kirghiz), who entered Europe about 1721, and today amount to about 82,000 Souls; the Kalmucks, who are Mongols not Turks, belong to the Oeleutes or Western Mongols, invaders of Russia in 1636, number 87,000 in the provinces of Astrakhan, Stavropol, and the Don, and in spite of the efforts of Christians and Mussulmans have remained Lamaists. As to the Tatars, properly so called, or sedentary Turks (More or less a mixture of Finnish and Mongol elements), who inhabit the governments of the Volga, Kazan, and Astrakhan, as well as those of Stavropol and the Crimea, they number altogether about 1,420,000 heads.