Early Russian History
Summary of Events in Russian History 300 BC- 900 AD
Eurasia is a vast land of deserts, forests, fields, and seas, where peoples of Turkic, Mongolic, and Indo-European ethnicities lived. It is here that the Russian came into existence. Below the Baltic Sea, but above the Black Sea, and in between the Don and Danube rivers lay the beginning of the Rhos civilization; Russia.
The first civilizations in connection to Russia were the Scythians and Sarmatians. The Scythians were an Irannic people with Turkic and Mongol culture who lived in the area which is now the Ukraine and expanded down to the Caucasus mountains. They were known to have two major goals in life: Horse trade and war. The Scythians were excellent horsemen, and they influenced the Greeks heavily, and quite frankly frightened them to death, and not without cause. The Scythians were known to be quite cruel, as we read when Herodotus wrote about them in his history books:
The Scythian soldier scrapes the scalp clean of flesh and softening it by rubbing between the hands, uses it thenceforth as a napkin. The Scyth is proud of these scalps and hangs them from his bridle rein; the greater the number of such napkins that a man can show, the more highly is he esteemed among them. Many make themselves cloaks by sewing a quantity of these scalps together.....Such as the Scythian customs with respect to scalps. (HERODOTUS)
However cruel these people were, it only frightened westerners, but not other Turkic peoples. By the 2nd century before Christ, the Sarmatians took over the region occupied by the Scythians. The Sarmatians were a group of Turkic tribes, with the Alans being the most powerful, and, like all the populous in Eurasia, were excellent horsemen. They were recorded by the Byzantines to be “tall, handsome, and blond” ¹. They were originally nomads, but soon settled down along the black sea coast with the Slavs, and it is here that they traded with the Byzantines, and they developed an artistic sense, making jewelry and other artistic crafts. One of the Slavic tribes that lived among the Alans was the Rukhs, who eventually became known as the Rhos tribes, hence the name “Russians”. The Rhos were a slavic tribe, but their adherence and culture was Irannic with Norse influences.
The next groups to influence the Russians were the Finns and Baltic tribes. The Finns were a people from the artic forests, and their main occupation was fishing and hunting. They were able to keep warm in an environment that spent weeks at -10° F. They lived in northern Eurasia, and also in what is now Finland. The Baltic tribes lived off the Baltic coast in what is now Estonia, Livonia, and Lithuania. The largest groups of people, the Lithuanians, are linguistically Indo-European, and their main occupation was farming. Unlike most peoples of the time, they did not settle in villages. The family was the prime government. In times of war, the families would unite into a clan and fight off their enemies, but generally they stayed in their farms without interfearing with their clansmen.
In the third century, the Goths from the Germanic lands took conquered the Sarmatians, and lived along the Dnieper and Don rivers, and like the original inhabitants of the area also became very talented mounted warriors, and became a huge military power under Ermenrich. However, by the 4th century the Huns swept to the region and allied with the Alans. Together, they fought and defeated the Goths, and Ermenrich in humiliation committed suicide. The Goths left the region and went into Roman territory, later marching their armies into Rome. After sweeping destruction across Europe, the Huns died out and the remnants of their tribe settled in the Black Sea city of Azov, and became known as the Bulgars. Soon, the Magyars swept into the Dnieper region, but eventually settled in Pannonia, establishing a state known as Hungary.
The Antes were a tribe that lived along the Donets and Bug rivers. However, when the Byzantines threatened their region, the Antes allied with the Slavs and with the help of the Avars they fought against the Byzantine Empire, and settled the Balkan region, with the Avars settling in Hungary. The Atlatic Turks who had initially pushed the Avars to Pannonia now occupied the area between the Volga and Don, who then mixed with the Bulgars and Caucasians in the area.
As the groups united together, they began calling themselves Khazars, and sought to create their kingdom there. By 650, the Khazars had established the state of Khazaria. Many of the Bulgars refused to submit to Khazar rule, so they left the region to what is now Bulgaria, and created their Slavic-influenced Kingdom there. The Alans and Slavs were also part of Khazaria, but they were allowed to have quite a bit of autonomy. They were allowed to have their own trade, and they only needed to assist the kagan (the Khazar “king) in times of war, but even then were allowed to have their own generals and run their own armies.
With the kaganate came politics. The kagan knew that the Christian Byzantines to the west sought to conquer the region as a vassal state, and Arabs to the south had already warred with the Khazars in 642-652. To neutralize between the Arabs and Byzantines, they converted to Judaism. Nonetheless, this did not prevent the Arab invasion of the region, and by 722 the Arabs invaded the Don region of Khazaria, and took 20,000 Slavs to Syria. With the events surrounding the Arab-Khazar wars, the Alans and Slavs lost faith in the Khazars, and made new allies with the Vikings. The Vikings, the barbarians who came from what is now Sweden and swept through the coastal nations of Europe with destruction, had traded with the Rhos tribes, and eventually settled there and took their name. The new generation of the Rhos traded with the Byzantines and Arabs- there are even reports that the Russians went as far south as Baghdad.
However, the Khazars felt threatened by the growing power of the Rhos, and so requested the Byzantines to build a fort in Khazaria, who gladly built it, and the Kagan, Tsymlianskaia, named it Sarkel (“White House”). The Khazars also made allies with the Magyars, and so the Rhos, who at this point became known as Russians, felt surrounded. In response, the Russians sent envoys to Constantinople, but the Byzantine Emperor received them coldly, and refused to allow the envoys return to their homeland. In response, the Russians with the help of Viking tribes lead attacks on the Byzantine Empire in Amastris (840) and even reaching Constantinople (860). Soon, the Khazars began to war on the Russians, but again the Vikings had defended the Russians, and the western and central part of Khazaria was conquered by the Russians, and the Vikings assisted in the creation of the Kievian state. After negotiations with the Byzantines, several people of the government converted to Christianity. It wasn’t until the turn of the millennium that the entire nation converted to Christianity with the influence of Vladimir, who had visited Constantinople and was impressed by the Christian religion, and so converted. 911 and 944 the Russians established treaties with the Greeks, who heavily influenced the Russians.
The first era of Russian history is very a crucial part of their civilization, as it was what brought the Russians from a primitive tribe to a prominent trader in eastern society. From this bred new beginnings for the development of the beautiful Russian culture and language. This promoted the expansion of the Russian Empire of the 18th century.
1. A History of Russia, George Vernadsky