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A guide to the Viking History of Northwest Russia
In The Footsteps of Rurik
By Dan Carlsson and Adrian Selin
Published by Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture
Financed by EU
In the footsteps of Rurik
A guide to the Viking History of Northwest Russia
By Dan Carlsson and Adrian Selin
Financed by EU
Dan Carlsson, Adrian Selin
LAYOUT AND FORM
ILLUSTRATIONS AND PHOTOS
Dan Carlsson, if not otherwise stated
COVER PHOTO AND LAYOUT
Photo Natalia Eunisova
Layout Roland Hejdström
Books on Demand GmbH, Stockholm,
Books on Demand GmbH, Norderstedt,
by HTSPE and EuroTrends under contract
© 2012 NDCP and the authors
Northern Dimension Partnership on Culture
The Northern Dimension (ND) is a common policy of the EU, Russia,
Norway and Iceland, with Belarus also playing an increasingly
important role in the cooperation. ND was first initiated in 1999, and
it gained new momentum after the adoption of a revised ND Action
Plan in 2006. ND is based on the principle of equal partnership
among the partners.
The cooperation takes place in the form of meetings of senior
representatives from the participating countries as well as in the four
partnerships: The ND Environmental Partnership (NDEP), the ND
Partnership for Public Health and Social Well-being (NDPHS), the
ND Partnership for Transport and Logistics (NDPTL) and the ND
Partnership for Culture (NDPC).
The NDPC is one of the newer partnerships. Its preparation
started in 2008. In May 2010 a Memorandum of Understanding was
signed between the participating countries and an NDPC Action
Plan was submitted to the ND Ministerial Meeting in November
2010. The Partnership became operational in January 2011, and it has
a small secretariat hosted by the Nordic Council of Ministers in
Copenhagen. The NDPC also has a Steering Committee, which is
composed of representatives of the participating countries and which
meets regularly. For more information on the NDPC and its activities
The NDPC Steering Committee has identified Viking heritage as a
topic of common interest for the participating countries. While the
Viking Route is an important European cultural route, it has been
largely dormant. The Route offers potential for the development of
cultural tourism across the borders in the Northern Dimension area,
and is therefore of interest for the NDPC.
The background to this initiative is that Viking heritage has long
been of common interest in Western Europe, as well as in Canada, as
a resource for cultural tourism, with places like The Viking Ship
Museum in Oslo, The Hedeby museum in Germany and the ship
museum in Roskilde, Denmark, as well-known examples. Many of
the sites are on the world Heritage list, like L’Ans aux Meadows at
Newfoundland, Canada, the Viking town Birka in Sweden, the
Viking Ship Museum in Oslo, Norway, as well as the famous stave
churches in Norway.
While many of the Viking settlements in Northern Europe
already exist as heritage sites, less is known about the Viking Route
heritage sites located in Russia and the information available on
them is largely available in the Russian language. The NDPC
Steering Committee therefore decided that a study on the Viking
heritage sites in Russia was needed, to have a survey of the sites and
information on their state and development needs. Eventually the
heritage sites located in Russia could be connected with those located
in other countries to complete the Viking Route.
Besides being well taken care of, many sites are direct focal
points for tourism, and part of international visits, not at least the
ship museums in Denmark and Norway, visited by huge number of
tourists from all over the world. It has to be concluded that the
tourist side of the Viking heritage is to a very high degree a Western
European phenomenon. It can clearly be seen as a biased picture,
while the Eastern side of the Baltic Sea to a very high degree was a
part of the Viking history, not at least the rivers leading down to
Black Sea and Caspian Sea. This bias was noticed already while
compiling the Council of Europe cultural route - Viking route, and it
was foreseen that with better knowledge of sites in Russia and other
areas in Eastern Europe, the selection of sites should be revised.
The main objectives of the assignment was to map and give an
account of the Viking Route heritage sites located in Russia, to reveal
the most important of them and to analyse their status today when it
comes to maintenance, marketing and open up for tourism, as well
as conclude what would be needed in order to develop the Viking
Route’s potential for international cultural tourism and to combine it
into existing Viking Routes. It was also important to indicate the
readiness of local stockholders to develop this sites as sites of Viking
The mission was concluded in November 2011, and the report
delivered to NDCP is the base for this short guidebook into Viking
history in Russia. The idea behind this guidebook is to open up to
the public the deep interaction that were at hand between the
Scandinavian countries and the states on the eastern side of the
Baltic Sea in the Viking Age, and point out our common history.
Signed by Someone from NDCP!?
Vikings in Russia
The Viking World
The Eastern connection
Towns in the Viking world
Politics and assimilation
Places to visit
In the footstep of Rurik–places to visit
Staraya Ladoga (Aldeigjuborg)
Gorodische (Holmgård) and Novgorod
Izborsk and Pskov
Gnezdovo and Smolensk
Sarskoye Gorodische and Rostov
Timerevo and Petrovskoe. Jaroslavl
Beloozero, Kirillov and Sugorie
Kurkijoki and surroundings
Vikings and Russia - a short introduction
The Viking World
In the year AD 789, three strange ships arrived at Portland on the
southern coast of England, and Beaduheard, the reeve of the King of
Wessex, rode out to meet them. He took with him only a small band
of men under the mistaken impression that the strangers were
traders: ”and they slew him...” records the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle
tersely. It adds, with over a century of grim hindsight, ”those were
the first ships [of Northmen] which came to the land of the English”.
In June of the year 793, ”the ravages of heathen men miserably
destroyed God’s church on Lindisfarne with plunder and slaughter”.
The Christian monastic sites of Jarrow and Ionas, lying on Britain’s
exposed northern coasts, were looted in the years immediately
afterwards. In 795 raiders were recorded near Dublin, and in 799 on
the coast of south-west France. As far as we know this was all the
work of Norwegian Vikings. The first raids by Danes in the West
were on Frisia and, in 834, the thriving and populous trading centre
of Dorestad on the Rhine estuary was attacked.
This was the beginning of a period of history known to us as the
Viking Age, normally dated to around AD 800 - 1050, when
Scandinavian peoples from the modern countries of Denmark,
Norway and Sweden influenced much of Northern and Eastern
Europe and beyond. They travelled further than Europeans had ever
gone before and established a network of communications over great
distances. They exploited the riches of the East and explored the
uncharted waters of North Atlantic. They settled as farmers in the
barren Western lands of Greenland and discovered America five
hundred years before Columbus. They were part of the development
Figure 1. From their home countries, Denmark, Norway and Sweden, the
Scandinavians penetrated the known world; from the Caspian Sea in the East to
the American continent in the West, from Northern Africa in the south to the
Arctic Ocean in the north. Dates indicate known attacks by Vikings.
of the Russian State, and they served as mercenaries at the court of
They ravaged Christian Anglo-Saxon kingdoms, and they
penetrated to the very heart of the Carolingian empire and deep into
Russia. They stole and extorted massive quantities of silver and gold
from their victims. Yet they also took an active part in the
development of successful commercial centres from York to
Novgorod and Kiev, colonised lands in the North
Atlantic and formed powerful states.
To be a Viking was
strictly to be a pirate (from
the Old Norse Vikingr, a
pirate or raider) but it is
misleading to describe
more then three centuries of
Northern history as an age Figure 2. In the end of the tenth century,
of raiders. Scandinavians some Viking ships where blown off course,
and ended up along the North American
were undoubtedly respon- coast. This was followed up around AD 1000
sible for great changes by Leif Erikson, travelling from Greenland.
during the Viking Age,
many of which were beneficial. By colonising the North Atlantic Islands they extended the
frontiers of Europe, while elsewhere they played a significant part in
reshaping political structures. As traders they made a positive
contribution, mainly by stimulating commerce and encouraging the
growth of towns, as in Russia.
Whether as colonisers, traders or warriors, Scandinavians
reached almost every part of the known world and discovered new
lands. From the Nordic kingdoms, their ships penetrated the West
European coasts, sailed through the Strait of Gibraltar into the
Mediterranean Sea and, from there journeyed to Italy, Spain,
Morocco and the Holy Land. From the Baltic Sea, they penetrated the
Continent, travelling up Russian rivers and waterways to the Black
Sea and the Caspian Sea, and all the way to Baghdad. In Asia, they
met caravans from China and traded walrus ivory and furs for
spices, silver and exotic goods.
The reason for this extraordinary outpouring of people from
Scandinavia has been debated ever since the Viking Age. Duddo, a
priest writing in Normandy in about 1020, blamed overpopulation in
the Viking homelands; the writers of the thirteen-century Icelandic
Sagas thought that the tyranny of those in power in the homelands
had caused mass emigration. The most fertile and easily worked
areas in Scandinavia had been settled since prehistoric times; as the
population grew in the Viking Age, settlement spread and intensified
wherever farming was viable.
This dependence on agriculture when the available land was
limited in extent, as well as the search for wealth as goods or land
and the growing imposition of royal power, were probably the main
reasons for the Viking expansion.
What is clear is that Viking expansion was only made possible by
the Vikings’ legendary superiority in shipbuilding technology and
their supreme navigational skills, which allowed them to travel
further, faster and more surely than their contemporaries. ”Never
before has such a terror appeared in Britain as we have now suffered
from a pagan race, nor was it thought possible that such an inroad
from the sea could be made”. So commented the English scholar
Alcuin in AD 793 when he heard of the Viking raid on Lindisfarne
The Eastern Connection
According to the Russian Primary Chronicle, the Varangians
(Scandinavians) where forcing tribute from the tribes in the East
around the middle of the ninth century. For how long a time that has
been the case is still unclear, but it had obviously gone on for some
time. Then, according to the Primary Chronicle, ”the tributaries of
Figure 3. The map showing the many trade routes between Byzantium and the
Caliphate, and the Scandinavian area.
the Varangian’s drove them back beyond the sea and, refusing them
further tribute, set out to govern themselves.
Figure 4. The towns of Rurik. Rurik and his brothers settled in the towns of
Novgorod (some say Staraya Ladoga), Beloozero and Izborsk. After two years
Rurik took over after his brothers, and handed out Rostov and Polotsk to his men.
All according to the Primary Russian Chronicle.
There was no law among them, but tribe rose against tribe.
Discord thus ensued among them, and they began to war one against
another. They said to themselves, "Let us seek a prince who may rule
over us, and judge us according to the law."
They accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Rus: these
particular Varangians were known as Rus, just as some are called
Swedes, and others Normans, Angles, and Goths, for they were thus
named. The Chuds, the Slavs, and the Krivichians then said to the
people of Rus, "Our whole land is great and rich, but there is no
order in it. Come to rule and reign over us." They thus selected three
brothers, with their kinfolk, who took with them all the Rus, and
migrated. The oldest, Rurik, located himself in Novgorod; the
second, Sineus, in Beloozero; and the third, Truvor, in Izborsk.
Because of these Varangians, the district of Novgorod became known
as Russian (Rus) land. The present inhabitants of Novgorod are
descended from the Varangian race, but afore time they were Slavs.
After two years, Sineus and his brother Truvor died, and Rurik
assumed the sole authority. He assigned cities to his followers,
Polotsk to one, Rostov to another, and to another Beloozero. In these
cities there are thus Varangian colonists, but the first settlers were, in
Novgorod, Slavs; in Polotsk, Krivichians; at Beloozero, Ves; in Rostov,
Merians; and in Murom, Muromians.
Rurik had dominion over all these
districts”. As it is said to be according
to the Primary Russian Chronicle, compiled in the early twelfth century by a monk
(Nestor) in Kiev.
Are we to believe the Primary Russian
Chronicle, the foundation of the NovgorodKiev dominion, took place in the middle of
the ninth century, as a result of the
Scandinavian Vikings (Varangians/Varjager, sometimes called Rus), came to rule
among the tribes in North Western Russia.
The exact meaning of the name
"Varangian" (Varjagi in Russian sources,
Figur 5. Typical female
Varangoi to the Byzantine Greeks) as
b r o o che s fr o m ma inla nd
used of the Eastern Vikings is not fully Scandinavia from ninth and
understood. It appears alongside "Rus" tenth centuries, found at
in the sources, but seems to have had a Staraya Ladoga. Top; a equal
more warlike association than the latter arm brooch, bottom an oval
brooch, gilded and with silver
term. Varangians appear as mercenaries
inlays. Displayed at the
and bodyguards to Russian rulers in the museum in Staraya Ladoga.
eleventh and twelfth centuries.
In Photo Dan Carlsson.
Staraya Ladoga, a road name,
dating from medieval times and
still in use today meaning,
"Varangian Street" may indicate
that this was a Scandinavian
quarter of the settlement. The same
goes for Novgorod, where there also
is a Varangian Street, and close by a
Gotlandic Hof, pointing to the island
of Gotland, Sweden.
There is ample evidence that
Scandinavians were in the Russian
area at the early time mentioned by
the Chronicle, evidenced, mainly by Figur 6. Different brooches found in
Staraya Ladoga, dated to the
the archaeological material found in seventh and eight century and of
places like Staraya Ladoga, Goro- Gotlandic origin. Photo Dan
dische and Gnezdovo. Still, there are Carlsson.
signs in the archaeological material
that Scandinavians, specifically Gotlanders, where settled along the
costal areas of the Baltic States as well as in Staraya Ladoga long
before that time.
For instance, in Staraya Ladoga, there are found among other
things three female brooches from the island of Gotland, dating to
the seventh and eight centuries. These brooches are typically
Gotlandic objects, and not in use in other parts of Scandinavia.
Looking to Grobina in Latvia, there appears to be a Gotlandic, as well
as a mainland Swedish settlement in the seventh century, also further
south along the Baltic Sea Eastern coast, at Apoulo in Lithuania. In
other words, contact between Scandinavia, Gotland and the Russian
area goes well beyond the eight century.
Figure 7. The spread of Arabic coins in Northwest Europe. There is a
concentration around the Baltic Sea, not at least to the island of Gotland, but also
in connection to towns along the trading routes. Even so, there is a wide
distribution in a huge area outside the main trading routes. Western Europe,
including Norway, has very few collections of Arabic coins. After Balint, Cs.: Einige
Fragen des Dirham-Verkehr in Europe. Acta Archaeologica Academiae
Scientiarum Hungaricae 33, 1981, complemented by the author.
There seems to be a change of
contacts over time, meaning that the
initial contacts are, to a high degree,
concentrated around the coastal area of
the Baltic Sea, with some extension into
Figure 8. A resurrection egg, made of clay,
found at Fröjel Viking Port of Trade, Gotland,
Sweden. Probably originally coming from Kiev,
Ukraine. Photo Roland Hejdström.
Ladoga Lake, like Staraya Ladoga, Grobina and Apoulo. During the
following centuries, the contact net spread further inland into Russia
along the main rivers, like to Gorodische, Gnezdovo and Timerevo.
Looking specifically to the north-west part of Russia, there are a
huge number of artefacts found connected to Scandinavia, among
them, many hoards of Arabic coins. The most numerous finds of
undoubted Scandinavian origin are the oval brooches and other
bronze jewellery characteristic of female dresses. These are often
found in graves which are so similar to graves on the Scandinavian
mainland that they must have belonged to Scandinavian immigrants.
While there were so many immigrant females keeping to their own
fashions, we must assume that whole families immigrated; men
women and children.
This can also be seen by the fact that there are many objects
found outside the main trading routes that only can point to a
farming situation. For instance the site at Timerevo, being an
undefended settlement on a slope in good agricultural land, away
from the main River Volga.
The Russian and Arabic connection to Sweden is also evident
from a large number of archaeological finds from the East found in
Scandinavia, especially in Birka, Sigtuna and on the island of
Gotland, where on Gotland some 70,000 Arabic coins have been
found. These huge amount of silver have obviously travelled up
Russian rivers, through towns like Staraya Ladoga, Novgorod,
Gnezdovo and Polotsk, to mention just a few.
From the town of Birka, of importance in some graves, there are
ample evidence of artefacts from the Orient and Russia, like clothes
of silk, carnelian and rock crystal beads, and pottery.
Also, a number of
inscriptions on runic
s t o n e s f ro m M i d d l e
Sweden and Gotland tell
the story of contacts
between Sweden, Russia
and the Caliphate. There
are some 30 stones,
mainly from Middle
Sweden and Gotland,
telling about travel to
One example is the
runic inscription (U 209)
that has been carved into
a flat bedrock at Veda,
Uppland, Sweden. It is
dated to the middle of Figure 9. The map is showing runic inscriptions
on stones mentioning Rus area. There is a clear
the eleventh century, and
concentration to the area around Lake Mälaren,
i t w a s o r d e r e d b y and Gotland.
Þorsteinn, who got rich
in Kievan Rus, in memory of his son. It has been suggested that Þorsteinn was the
commander of a retinue of Yaroslav the Wise, and that his son
Erinmundr may have died in Kievan Rus while serving under his
In old Norse, the text reads; Þorstæinn gærði æftiR Ærinmund, sun
sinn, ok køypti þennsa by ok aflaði austr i Garðum. Translated into
English, one reads; "Þorsteinn made (the stone) in memory of
Figure 10. The runic inscription (U209) mentioning Þorsteinn getting rich in
Russia. Photo Swedish National Heritage Board.
Erinmundr, his son, and bought this estate and earned (wealth) in
the East in Garðar (Russia)."
Another example from Uppland, Sweden (U687), tells about
Spjallboði, who died in St. Olof Church in Novgorod. This stone,
signed by the rune master Öpir, is found at Sjusta near Skokloster in
central Sweden. It is raised by a woman named Rúna in memory of
her four sons who had died. She had it made together with her
daughter-in-law Sigríðr who was the widow of Spjallboði. The text
reads; Runa let gæra mærki at Spiallbuða ok at Svæin ok at Andvett ok at
Ragnar, syni sina ok Hælga/Ægla/Ængla, ok Sigrið at Spiallbuða, bonda
sinn. Hann vaR dauðr i Holmgarði i Olafs kirkiu. ØpiR risti runaR.
Figure 11. Spjallboði died in St. Olof church in Novgorod (U687). Photo Swedish
National Heritage Board.
In English translation; "Rúna had the landmark made in memory
of Spjallboði and in memory of Sveinn and in memory of Andvéttr
and in memory of Ragnarr, sons of her and Helgi/Egli/Engli; and
Sigríðr in memory of Spjallboði, her husbandman. He died in
Holmgarðr in Ólafr's church. Œpir carved the runes."
Along with the archaeological material, there are the written
records, combined with the Icelandic Sagas, that give many
indications of Scandinavians travel from the Varangian Sea through
Russia to Miklagård (Constantinople) and Serkland (the Muslim
One of the more fascinating stories about Swedish-Russian
contacts in the eleventh century is the story of Ingvar the Far-travelled.
Here, we have information
both from the Icelandic
Sagas, and from runic inscriptions on stones in
Middle Sweden. According
to the Sagas, Ingvar set out
from middle Sweden with
some 500 men in 1035,
heading for Russia and to
the orient. He spent a year
or two in Russia, probably
both in Novgorod and Kiev.
From here, he went
down to the Black Sea, and
it looks like he tried to find
another way to the Caspian Figure 12. The map is showing the spatial
Sea, by passing the moun- distribution of stones mentioning the travel
with Ingvar. There is a clear concentration to
tain area between the Black
the central Eastern part of Sweden.
Sea and Caspian Sea. He
o b v i o u s l y re a c h e d t h e
Caspian Sea, and probably travelled around in the area for some
time. It might even be, that they tried to reach even further east,
towards our day’s Afghanistan.
On the way back, around 1041, some kind of disaster happened,
that apparently killed most of the men. It had been discussed that it
might have been a plague. Some obviously managed to get back to
tell their story of what happened. The journey is commemorated in
Middle Sweden by some 30 runic inscriptions on stones.
Among the stones are those raised for Ingvar and his brother by
their mother. So, one can read on the stone at Gripsholm (SÖ 179);
Tola let ræisa stæin þennsa at sun sinn Harald, broður Ingvars. ÞæiR foru
drængila fiarri at gulli ok
austarla ærni gafu, dou
sunnarla a Særklandi.
Translated into English;
"Tóla had this stone raised
in memory of her son
Haraldr, Ingvar's brother.
They travelled valiantly far
for gold, and in the East
gave (food) to the eagle.
(They) died in the South in
The history of Vikings in
Russia, as well as of the
local population, is to a
large degree connected to
rivers and water systems.
In ancient times, and even Figure 13. A runic inscription in memory of
Haraldr, Ingvar the Far-travelled’s brother,
today, there are huge areas who died in Serkland. Photo Swedish National
of wet lands, making travel Heritage Board.
on land difficult. In many
areas the wide rivers also gave protection from attacks while
travelling through hostile areas.
Looking in a broader scale, there are three main routes from the
Varangian Sea (Baltic Sea) to the Caliphate; the Volkhov– Lovat
rivers, down to Dnieper, the Volga River passing Bulgar, down to the
Caspian Sea, and Wistula/Dvina River through Latvia and
Figure 14. The most important river routes from Scandinavia through Russia to the
Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. Along those rivers, many important towns were
established during the Viking Age.
Belorussia, connecting to the Dnieper River around the area of
Along these rivers, trading places and towns grew up during the
eight century and onwards, at the same time as many other towns
where established around the Baltic Sea, like Wolin, Hedeby, Grobina
and Birka. In other words, the early towns in Russia were part of a
general tendency of networks and towns growing up, as a result of
an ever expanding trade and exchange connection.
For most of our knowledge about the actual river route taken by
the Vikings to the Black Sea we must turn to the Byzantine sources,
and in particular to a secret document of the Emperor Constantine
Porphyrogenitos outlining the empire's foreign policy strategies in
the mid tenth century.
The hazardous journey taken by the Scandinavians down the
Dnieper each June after the ice had melted comes vividly to life as
we read of them carrying their
ships around the series of seven
fierce rapids in the river and
fighting off the attacks of local
Even in the Greek source, the
rapids all have recognizable,
descriptive Scandinavian names.
The name given to one of the
rapids Aifur (Evernoisy) is
found on a Swedish rune stone
from Pilgårds, on Gotland,
raised to the memory of a man
named Hrafn by his four
brothers who had accompanied
him on an expedition east. Hi
Figure 15. The stone raised as a
died along the rapids, by what memory of Hrafn, who died along the
reason is unknown. Sweden's rapid Aifur in Dnieper River
runic inscriptions contain a number of references to the river road to
It is in tributes to people such as Spialbodi "who met his death in
Novgorod", and Rognvald "leader of a troop of men in Greece” that
the Viking push to the East has found some of its most lasting
While some Scandinavians made the journey south from Staraya
Ladoga into Russia and down to the Black Sea, others followed an
even more ambitious route directly east to the lands of the VolgaBulgar tribes, the Khazar nomads and finally to the deserts of Arabia
and the seat of the Abbasid caliphate Baghdad. After Lake Ladoga
these voyagers joined the upper waters of the River Volga, passing
through settlements at Beloozero, Jaroslav, Vladimir and Murom;
Scandinavian artifacts have been found at all of these places.
The Volga makes a great bend at Bulgar (close to the site of the
modern city of Kazan) as it turns south to the Caspian Sea. This
marked the western end of the Silk Road, the overland trade route
that ran through Samarkand and Tashkent to China, and here a great
market place had developed controlled by the Bulgar tribes. We
know that Scandinavian merchants must have met with the caravans
that travelled the Silk Road because Chinese silks have been found in
graves at Birka in central Sweden. These finds, together with the
figure of Buddha that has been found at the pre Viking Site at Helgö,
not far from Birka, may even allow us to speculate on the
extraordinary possibility that Scandinavians themselves may have
journeyed all the way to the Chinese court or the Indian
It was here, in Bulgar, that the Arabic Emissary Ibn Fadlan, met
Scandinavians in the year 922. He was sent out by the head of the
Caliphate at Bagdad on a mission to the king of Volga-Bulgar. Ibn
Fadlan recount of the Vikings, he call them Rus, is famous, and the
description has also been the background for the novel by Michael
Crichton; ”Eaters of the Dead. The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan,
Relating his Experiences with the Northmen in A.D. 922”, New York:
Random House, 1988 (1976). Crichton’s fantasy was filmed in 1999 as
The Thirteenth Warrior by John McTiernan (Touchstone Pictures),
with Antonio Banderas as the Muslim voyager.
”I saw the Rüsiyyah (Rus) when they had arrived on their trading
expeditions and had disembarked at the River. I have never seen
more perfect physiques than theirs – they are like palm trees, are fair
and reddish, and do not wear the qurtaq or the caftan. The man
wears a cloak with which he covers one half of his body, leaving one
of his arms uncovered. Every one of them carries an axe, a sword
and a dagger and all of that which we have mentioned never parts
from him. Their swords are Frankish, with broad, ridged blades.
Each man, from the tip of his toes to his neck, is covered in dark
lines: trees, pictures and such like. Each woman has, on her breast, a
small disc, tied <around her neck>, made of either iron, silver,
copper or gold, in relation to her husband’s financial and social
worth” (English translation James E. Montgomery).
Ibn Fadlan is obviously impressed by the Vikings physic, but
discusted by their behaviour when it comes to cleanness. According
to his words, ”they cannot, of course, avoid washing their faces and
their heads each day, which they do with the filthiest and most
polluted water imaginable. I shall explain. Every day the járiyah
(slave-girl) arrives in the morning with a large basin containing
water which she hands to her master. He washes his hands and his
face and the hair on his head in the water, then he dips his comb in
the water and brushes his hair, blows his nose and spits in the basin.
There is no filthy impurity which he will not do in that water. When
he no longer requires it, the slave-girl takes the basin to the man
beside him and he goes through the same routine as his comrade.
She continues to carry it from one man to the next until she has gone
round everyone in the house, with each of them blowing his nose
and spitting, washing his face and hair in the basin.”
Towns in the Viking World
At around the same time, there where many towns and trading
places that sprang up along the waterways in Northern and
Southern Russia, for instance at Sarsky, the hill fort close to Rostov,
Timerevo outside modern days Jaroslavl, Beloozero being the
forerunner of Belozersk in Vologda oblast, Gnezdovo close to
Smolensk and Izborsk near Pskov. It is evidently an expansive period
of contacts across the Baltic Sea, and in all these places there is a
mixture of people, Finnish, Slavish and Scandinavians, among
Besides all these important trading sites along the rivers, there
appears to be, at this time, what we might call an immigration from
Scandinavia of whole families settling along many small rivers,
outside the main trading routes. It can be remembered that Rurik
and his brothers came with all their folks and families. Looking at a
map of the places concerning finds with a Scandinavian provenience,
it is noticeable how many finds are outside the main trading routes,
meaning Volkhov, Lovat, Volga, Dnieper and Dvina.
Over time, many of these small sites loose their importance,
taken over by fewer but bigger places, like Novgorod (founded in
the middle of the tenth century), and Kiev in the Ukraine.
Politics and assimilation
The political history of the tenth and beginning of the eleventh
centuries contains many references to the aristocratic connections
between the Russian State and Scandinavia. It is rather clear from
written sources, like the Russian Primary Chronicle, and even the
Icelandic Sagas, that there were important alliances between
Scandinavians and the ruling class in towns such as Novgorod and
The Norwegian king Olaf the Holy (Olaf Haraldson, 995-1030)
spent time at the court of Jaroslav the Wise in Novgorod during his
exile and before his return and death at the battle of Stiklestad in
Norway in 1030. In reality, these two kings were brothers-in-law,
each married to a daughter of the Swedish king Olof Skötkonung.
Jaroslav was married to Olof’s legitimate daughter Ingegerd (in
Russia called Irina and canonised), and Olaf was married to the
illegitimate daughter Astrid.
Another Norwegian well known from written sources and with
deep connection to the upper class in Russia, was Harald Haraldson,
brother of Olaf by the same mother. Harald took part in the battle at
Stiklestad 1030 where king Olaf fell, when he was fifteen years old.
He was wounded and fled to Sweden and the following year, he
went to Russia, and was well received by Jaroslav the Wise, who
made Harald and Rangvald head of his defence force.
After several years in Russia, Harald travelled to Greece and
Constantinople, and became head of the Varangian guard for the
Emperor. During some 15 years, he was fighting all around the
Mediterranean Sea, and gained a huge tribute, that he sent to
Jaroslav to look after. After being put in jail, he escaped, and sailed
back to Novgorod and Jaroslav, where he arrived in 1045. Here, he
married Jaroslav's daughter Elisabeth (or Ellisif, as she is known to
the Northmen), and returned to Norway to be king. He ended his
days in 1066, when he tried to take England, in a battle at Stamford
Bridge, just outside the town of York.
Figure 16. The life of the Norwegian Harald Haraldson (called Hardruler). Taking
part in the battle at Stiklastad 1030, 15 years old, he fled to Sweden, and further to
Russia. Later on, he became the head of the Varangian Guard at the court of the
Emperor in Constantinople. After many years of fighting in most part around the
Mediterranean Sea, he returned to Norway. On the way back, he married the
daughter of Jaroslav the Wise in Novgorod. Trying to take England in 1066, he met
his destiny at Stamford Bridge, when he was killed.
Through time, it is obvious that the Scandinavian influence in
Russia diminished. There are fewer Scandinavian finds in Russia
from the eleventh and twelfth centuries. By then the Nordic
immigrants had probably been assimilated, and one can notice that
in the Primary Chronicle, names with a Scandinavian origin are over
time becoming fewer and fewer.
Looking at the whole Viking period, the situation changed when
it comes to Russian-Scandinavian contacts and exchange. The very
first phases of contacts and exchange, then we are as far back as at
least the seventh century, these took place along the coast or a short
distance up some rivers. These contacts were more of a trading and
exchange situation than of political ruling nature. That changed over
time, as we experience from the Primary Chronicle, giving way to a
tribute situation where Scandinavians had the people of Western
Russia paying tribute.
The third step can be seen in the material from the middle of the
ninth century, where there appears to be both a political situation,
where high ranked persons from Scandinavia come to be a part of
the ruling system and second, at the same time, we can probably talk
about an immigration of families/farmers, settling up along many
tributary rivers, clearly shown in the Icelandic Sagas, and other
But the contacts between Scandinavia and Russia, did not fade
away with the end of the Viking Age, as can be clearly seen in all the
material in the town of Sigtuna and on the island of Gotland, with
Novgorod becoming the most prominent town in Russia connected
to the Hanseatic league, and with close contacts with the town of
Visby on the island of Gotland as well as with Sigtuna in middle
In the footstep of Rurik–places to visit
A natural starting point for a travel in the footstep of Rurik, is the
town St Petersburg, with air links to many cities in Europe. From
here, all the sites can be reached by car on a day trip, or by train or
buses to most of the places.
Figure 17. Sites to visit. The number correspond to the following presentation of
each site. Drawing by Dan Carlsson.
The description of the different sites follow the same manner.
Initially, there is a short description of the place and its surroundings,
followed by a recount of the historical importance of the site in
Viking age. Then there is some information about research,
preservation and visibility. Then there is some information about
tourism to the site, and how to get there.
Place and surroundings
Called Aldeigjuborg in Scandinavian sources, Ladoga was the first
port-of-call in the long
journey south throughout the history of Scandinavian contact with
Russia, and served as
the gateway to the
heart of Russia and
Staraya Ladoga lies
on the Western side of
the Volkhov River, at its Figure 18. The fortress at Staraya Ladoga is
situated on the tip of a promontory between the
confluence with the main River Volkhov (to the left in the picture), and
s m a l l e r L a d o z h k a the tributary River Ladozhka, entering from the
River. Today, the town right. Photo Dan Carlsson.
hold some 3 200 inhabitants, is situated
some 8 km from the
town Volchov, further
up the River Volkhov,
and some 120 km to
the east of St Petersburg.
Today the small
town of Staraya La- Figure 19. Along the River Volkhov, there are
several huge burial mounds, so called Sopki, visible
doga comprises old- from far away, now, as in prehistoric times, dated to
fashioned wooden buil- Iron Age. Photo Dan Carlsson.
Figure 20. Plan of the Viking age settlement area (number 6), showing the extent of
the settlement, not only covering the central hill fort area, but also an extensive area
along the river bank, as well as around the tributary river. Today, most of the
settlement area is covered with later houses.
dings and a number of Orthodox churches and monasteries, nestling
around a medieval and later fortification on the headland between
the rivers Volkhov and the tributary smaller River Ladozhka.
The site grew from a small market place in the eight century to a
large fortified site with a princely residence and a military presence
in the tenth century. The foundation of Staraya Ladoga has been
dated by dendrochronology to AD 753. Already by that early date,
wooden houses and many Scandinavian Viking objects were present
in the town, among them a magnificent
hoard of a smithies iron tools. Some objects
of Scandinavian origin, mainly from
Gotland, suggest that the market place was
established already in the early seventh
century, making it one of the oldest trading
places around the Baltic Sea.
According to one version of the Primary
Chronicle (Hypatian Codex),
), this was the place
the Varangian leader Rurik arrived in 862, and
made it his capital. There are several huge
”Kurgans”, or royal funeral barrows at
the outskirts of Ladoga, also called Sopki.
Staraya Ladoga was the most important
trading centre in Eastern Europe from
about 800 to 900, and it is estimated that
between 90 to 95% of all Arabic Coins
found in Sweden passed through Staraya
Ladoga is mentioned in chronicles
1019, when Ingegerd of Sweden married
Jaroslav of Novgorod. According to terms
in the marriage settlement, Jaroslav ceded
Ladoga to his wife, who appointed her
father ’s cousin, the Swedish Earl Figure 21. Some objects of
Scandinavian origin. Top, a
Ragnvald Ulfsson, to rule the town. At brooch from early Viking Age,
least two Swedish kings spent their probably from Gotland. Below,
youths in Ladoga, king Stenkil and a mould of stone for making a
Thor’s hammer, bottom an oval
Inge I, and possible also king Anund brooch from mainland Sweden.
From Staraya Ladoga Museum.
Staraya Ladoga is without question, Photo Dan Carlsson.
Figure 22. Excavation at the area of the Viking age settlement is an ongoing activity,
where part of the area is research every year, under the leadership of Professor
Kirpichnikov. Photo Dan Carlsson
one of the most important sites concerning exchange and contacts
between Scandinavia and Russia during early Viking Age, and even
before. The archaeological excavations have given clear evidence of
these contacts, shown in a huge number of Scandinavian artefacts,
like oval brooches, combs, beads, pendants, and runic inscriptions on
The whole settlement is ringed by cemeteries of different kinds,
some with cremations under mounds and others with flat
inhumations, typical Viking Age burials are found at Plakun
opposite the town. Along the peripheries of the town are a number of
great conical mounds, known as sopki, which often contain Slavic
objects buried in a manner that is probably Scandinavian in origin.
The decade of the 1970:s was a productive one for Staraya Ladoga’s
archaeology. In addition to Zemlianoe gorodishche, excavations were
conducted at the Varangian Street, the burial fields of Plakun
and Pobedishche, and the Malyshev Hill.
The hill fort’s waterlogged anaerobic soil had provided optimum
conditions for the preservation of organic materials and the remains
of wooden buildings. A detailed and
ongoing study of the hill
fort has revealed a complex
settlement which emerged
in the lower Volkhov River
several decades before the
beginning of the Viking Age Figure 23. A typical Viking Age comb,
on the periphery of the common in many parts of Sweden, insisted
with dots and circles. On display at Staraya
Ladoga Museum. Photo Dan Carlson.
During the 1981-1983
discovered huge wooden structures
in the Gorodishche’s lowest layers,
dendrochronology dated to 753-754.
In 2003, a stone with the number
“753” was erected in the town’s
centre, signifying the year when the
oldest piece of wood found to date
Figure 24. The memory stone depicting the
year 753, the dating of wooden structures
from the excavation in Staraya Ladoga.
Photo Dan Carlsson.
Preservation and visibility
The area of Staraya Ladoga holds a number of historical places, from
Iron age up the present days. The central point is the fortress,
occupying approximately the original area of Staraya Ladoga, and
built in the sixteenth and seventeenth
centuries. Much effort has been put on
restoring the fortress, and it is the main
attraction in Staraya Ladoga.
Outside the fortress is the site for an
ongoing excavation, inside the earthen
rampart. The museum in Staraya
Ladoga, situated close to the main road
and to the fortress, have a very
comprehensive exhibition detailing the
region and the town. There are
numerous objects on display, and
among the more outstanding are two
Figure 25. Some of the
runic inscriptions: one on a
Carnelian and rock crystal
beads found at Staraya Ladoga, wooden stick about 40 centimetres long,
of the same fashion as is found inscribed in the ninth century with a
in for instance Birka, middle skaldic verse written in short twig
Sweden, and on the island of
Gotland. Displayed at the
archaeological museum. Photo another
amulet with a two-row inscription
carved on both sides.
Besides these finds, there are
Figure 26. Equal armed brooch of
numerous brooches, combs, beads, Scandinavian type. Displayed at the
pins etc of a typical Scandinavian archaeological museum in Staraya
origin, including oval brooches, Ladoga. Photo Dan Carlsson.
Figure 27. On the right hand, in the red brick building, is the office and souvenir
connected for the fortress, seen in the background. Close to the road is an
information display by maps and texts about the history of Staraya Ladoga, though
only in the Russian language. Photo Dan Carlsson.
equal arm brooches and Thor ’s hammer pendants.
At the museum, there is also a video running on a TV screen at
certain intervals, giving a good summary of the history of Staraya
Ladoga, though only in the Russian language.
On the outskirt of the town, along the river towards the Lake
Ladoga, there are on the high banks of the river impressive, and
visible from a considerable distance, burial mounds, so called Sopki,
dated to tenth century. On the Eastern bank of the river, opposite the
fortress and the rampart covering the Viking Age town, there has
been an excavation of Scandinavian graves. At the site, there is
nothing to see today.
Both in connection to the fortress, and along the main road close
to the archaeological museum, there are informative information
billboards on poles describing the history of the town, with maps
showing the location of different monuments and sites.
Visitors and tourism
The Staraya Ladoga Museum was first established in 1984 (prior that
established in 1971 there was a museum of local history), the primary
function of which is the preservation of the town’s historical
Staraya Ladoga is known for its 3 main attractions: Primarily, the
sixteenth-seventeenth centuries Ladoga fortress (in restoration since
2008, but open to the visitors all around the year), the two stone 12th
century churches (closed from October to April) and, third, its
archaeological heritage. The majority of the tourists come for the
architectural monuments, but the archaeological exhibition is
included in all the guided tours.
Figure 28. A reconstructed Viking ship outside the hill fort, being a part of the
Viking Festival taking place every year in the end of June. Photo Dan Carlsson
Every year, at the end of June,
there is a Viking Festival, drawing
some 3000-4000 visitors. The festival
is held in a field on the outskirt of
The archaeological exhibition is
in the Museum of Archaeology (a
part of Staraya Ladoga museum,
situated in the central part of
Ladoga, in a white nineteenth
century stone house). There is a sign
near the house (in the Russian
language). The fortress in Staraya
Ladoga is just along the main road,
easy to reach by cars. Close to the
entrance to the fortress, there is a
shop, selling tickets to the fortress
and souvenirs, and some literature.
Figure 29. A poster for the 2011
Viking Festival in Staraya Ladoga.
How to get there
Staraya Ladoga is situated some 120 km east of St Petersburg, and
can be reached by bus or trains to Volchov, and from there with local
buses to Staraya Ladoga. There is a good road from St. Petersburg,
making a trip to Staraya Ladoga takes about 2 hours.
Most visitors to Staraya Ladoga come by way of St. Petersburg,
mainly in groups, and by buses or trains. Lately, there also is a
growing number coming from Novgorod from the South. The town
have two very modest hotels, one for 20 persons, the other for 49
persons; one restaurant and 2 cafés. There is one ATM in the town.
The fortress is open all days from 10.00 to 19.00 (May-October)
and Tuesday–Sunday, 9.00-16.00 (November-April). There is a
souvenir shop at the fortress, and possibility to have guided tours.
The archaeological museum, situated in a separate house some
hundred metres apart from the hill fort is open all days from 10.00 to
19.00 (May-October) and Tuesday–Sunday, 9.00-16.00 (NovemberApril). There is also a souvenir shop.
The homepage (only in Russian language) of the museum:
Gorodische and Novgorod
Place and surroundings
Situated along the River
Volchov, just north of Lake
Ilmen and some 180 km
south from St. Petersburg,
Novgorod rest on both sides
of the river, with the Kremlin on the left bank, and the
old merchant quarter on the
right bank. The town has
today some 290 000 inhabitants, and is mainly an
industrial town, but also has
a growing tourism industry.
On a small peninsula
some 2 kilometres upstream
along the River Volchov
from the great medieval Figure 30. The spatial arrangement of old
t o w n o f N o v g o r o d , i n Novgorod and Gorodische, situated along the
western Russia and sited on
the Volchov River just north
of Lake Ilmen, lies a fort and settlement extending over several
hectares, known as Gorodische, the forerunner to Novgorod.
According to the Chronicles the Church of Annunciation used to
be a part of Gorodische. The estimated size of the site is more than 40
hectars, but the size of the Rurik’s stronghold at the Gorodische’s hill
is about 10 to 12 hectares.
In the question of Scandinavian contacts, few places, besides Kiev,
Staraya Ladoga and Gnezdovo, are as clearly connected with
Scandinavia and the Viking history, as Novgorod and its forerunner
Gorodische. According to the Nestor Chronicle, it was to Novgorod
the Scandinavian Rurik and his kinsmen were invited to become and
rule over the population. The date of his arrival is set to 862, and if it
was to this area he came it must have been to Gorodische, known to
Scandinavian by the name Holmgård (settlement on the island).
When the Scandinavians first arrived here, there existed only a
small settlement. Archaeological excavations carried out for many
years have revealed a bustling defended market centre, occupied in
the ninth and tenth centuries by a mixed Slavic and Scandinavian
population. Its trading connections extended far to the West, whence
its craft goods were exported in return for imports.
When the settlement expanded to Novgorod in the
mid tenth century (see
below), Gorodische seems
to have continued as a
military and administrative
centre as well as the residence of the princes who
Figure 31. Areal photo of Gorodische hill fort, Pottery, jewellery, beads,
surrounded by water. In the western part of combs and other objects of
the ”island”, there is the ruin of the church of
Scandinavian character conAnnounciation, now under reconstruction.
firm the presence of ScandiGoogle Maps.
navians from at least the
Figure 32. Gorodische seen from the river. On top the island is the ruin of Church of
Announciation, under reconstruction. Photo Dan Carlsson.
mid ninth century, and perhaps earlier. The most remarkable finds
are two Scandinavian amulets with runic inscriptions: one from the
ninth or early tenth century was inscribed on one side with a
combination of older and
younger runes, and on the
other with younger but
very complicated runes;
the latter inscription was
copied on the second
amulet at the end of the
tenth century. Another
interesting material telling Figure 33. Part of the rampart around the
about trade and distant settlement Gorodische. Photo Dan Carlsson.
connection are the 3000
seals of lead.
Scandinavians and Slavs moved to Novgorod from Gorodische in
about AD 930. Here the Volchov River, flowing north to Lake
Ladoga, divides Novgorod into two - the Sofia Bank on the west and
Figure 34. The historical central part of Novgorod, with the Kremlin on the left
(western) side of the river, and the merchants quarter with many churches, on the
right hand side of the river.
the Merchants’ Bank on the east side of the river. At the heart of the
settlement on the Sofia Bank is the citadel (or Kremlin), which was
surrounded by a rampart in the tenth century and is still dominated
by the eleventh-century cathedral of St Sofia. In 14th century new
large rampart defenced both Sofia and Merchant’s Bank and in early
fourteenth century the stone walls of Kremlin had been erected
After the Viking Age, Novgorod played an important role in the
Hanseatic league, and had extensive trade connection with for
instance the town of Visby on the island of Gotland, Sweden. There
was a Gotlandic ”Hof” in Novgorod, and in Visby, at least one