Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

The Coming of the Northmen

While the Slavs beyond the Dnieper were paying to these fierce Finnish tribes their tribute of two-edged swords and squirrel skins, down from the shores of Jutland and Sweden came the warlike Northmen, ready for plunder or for trade. Not a sea in those wild days but was ploughed by their venturesome keels, not a city but trembled before the demands of their impetuous Vikings; under Rollo they invaded France; they waged continual war with the English kings, attracted by the wealth of the monasteries; they roved through the Mediterranean, fought on the coasts of Sicily and Syria, and it is believed by many that they were the true discoverers of the Western Continent.

The Norman adventurers who served in the body-guard of the Eastern emperors, under the name of Ros or Variags, reached the Queen City of the Bosphorus by Russian rivers, called the "Great Water Way." Clad in their coats of mail and pointed helmets, they embarked in long-boats, and, rowing across the Baltic, entered the Neva, or the Western Dvina.

We can see their fleets of war pillaging Novgorod, gaining the upper waters of the Dnieper, and swiftly descending past Kief, devastating the shores of the Black Sea, and bringing dismay to the nations of the south. Reckless was their courage, and gigantic their stature: the Arabs declared that they were as tall as palm-trees. According to the chroniclers, their compact ranks when they fought seemed like a wall of steel, bristling with lances and glittering with shields, and their clamor was like the waves of the sea. They sheltered Themselves behind huge bucklers taller than a man, and no arrow could reach them when they retreated. They fought like madmen. Never would they yield themselves up as prisoners; if the battle went against them, they stabbed themselves to the heart, lest, falling by the hand of an enemy, they should be forced to serve him in the world to come.

Ready always for war, they did not scorn the peaceful pursuits of trade. They exacted tribute from the tribes of Russia, and often made marauding expeditions down the Volga to fight with the Kozars and Bulgarians.

The old Monk of Kief tells us in his simple prose how the Northmen became the masters of Russia and the real founders of its future greatness:—

"For many years the Normans, who dwell on the other side of the sea, took tribute from the Northern Slavs and their neighbors, the Finns. One year the tribes which they had conquered refused to pay their tribute, and, uniting together, drove out the strangers and tried to govern themselves, but there was no manner of justice among them. One family was set against another, and great quarrels arose among them, and at last they said:—

"'Let us find a prince who will govern us, and speak according to the law.'

"Then they sent their ambassadors across the sea to the Norman tribe, the Russ, and said unto them:—

"'Our land is great and fruitful, but order in it there is none. Come and be our princes, and rule over us.'

"A certain Rurik determined to heed this call, and he came with his brothers and all his followers, and settled on Lake Ilmen. From them our land was called Russia."

A little more than a thousand years ago Rurik the Peaceful, and his brothers the Victorious and the Faithful, crossed the stormy sea of the Variags to establish order and security, in place of misrule and dissension. They built strong castles on the borders of the Slav lands, the elder brother on Lake Ladoga, the Victorious on the White Lake, and the Faithful at Izborsk.

After the death of his two brothers, Rurik, or Roderik, the Peaceful, took up his abode in the old merchant city of Novgorod, and became the prince of all the land round about. He divided the power among his followers, and set them over fortresses to hold the unruly tribes in close subjection.



Among Rurik's captains were two Norman nobles of his own blood, Askold and Dir, who, without asking for leave, deserted their brothers, and with a small band of warriors set out for a marauding expedition down the Dnieper. On their way they came to a city, beautifully situated on a high hill, commanding the river. The inhabitants, seeing the Norman troop approaching in their galleys, hastened to the bank and welcomed them, and told them that their city was called Kief, and that they were compelled to pay tribute to the Kozars. Askold and Dir established themselves among the Field Folk and freed them from their oppressors, and ruled over their land.

This was the beginning of the heroic age of Russia.