Andrew Andersen








Most of the scholars writing on pre-history of what is now Russia, tend to describe mainly the area which later became the core of Kievan Rus. That territory, however, has very little to do with today’s Russia whereas most of it lies within the limits of modern Ukraine. An excellent example of that writing would be Chapter 3 of the book “History of Ukraine” by Paul Robert Magocsi that is available in the Ukrainian history section of this web resource. But what was going on in the north-eastern frontier of the the future Kievan Rus before the Varangians (Vikings) established themselves in the middle of the 8th century in Aldeigyuborg (Ladoga) and Holmgaard (Novgorod)?


Not claiming to be a detailed research of pre-Varangian Russia, this little essay is an attempt to describe ethno-linguistic situation in the future Russian core in the 4th- 7th centuries as well as the major changes that occurred as a result of the Slavic invasion of the years 550-700.


The early Slavs (can also be called proto-Slavs) were known at least as early as the 5th c. BC, first being mentioned by Herodotus as “Scolots”, “Borysphenites” and “Scythian farmers”, they were later described by Pliny the Elder, Tacitus and Ptolemy as “the Veneti”. According to all the above authors, in the 1st - 2nd centuries AD, the Proto-Slavs inhabited a relatively small area of upper Vistula and upper-middle Dniester to the east and north-east of the Carpathian mountains. In other words, the Proto-Slavic core included roughly speaking the territory of modern western Ukraine and south-eastern Poland. The south-eastern frontier of the Proto-Slavs was also the border between the East European forest zone and the vast Eurasian steppe area that was dominated by various nomadic hordes coming mostly from the East that by the end of the year 200 AD destroyed the Aryan Scythian realm north of the Black Sea.


Attila, the emperor of the Huns (on a horseback with golden bow symbolizing his power) and Ostgoth warrior (standing with the sword over the captured Bosporan soldier) as seen by modern artist Angus McBride / 1990



While Goths, Huns, Avars, Magyars and Early Turks were ravaging the westernmost corner of the Eurasian steppe area between the Black Sea and the Carpathians between 150 and 600 AD, the forest area covering the territory of modern northern and Western Ukraine, Belarus and north-central Russia enjoyed a certain degree of stability. Being dominated by the Germanic-speaking Ostgoths during the 3rd and most of the 4th centuries, the Slavs later fell under the influence of the Huns who overwhelmed the area in 370-453, and their territory was included into the vast Hun empire of Attila (434-453). During the Hun period the Slavs expanded north-and north-eastwards taking over the middle-Dnieper basin that had been still inhabited by the remnants of Scythian population and some Baltic tribes. As a result of Hun-backed Slavic expansion, the remaining Scythians were wiped out or assimilated by the Slavs.



File:Бой скифов со славянами.jpg


Clash of the Slavs with the Scythians as seen by classical Russian artist Sergei Vasnetsov / 1914



As of the beginning of the 6th century there was in fact no significant Slavic presence anywhere in the territory of modern Russia except the province of Bryansk while the Slavic core embraced contemporary western and northern Ukraine, southern Belarus and south-eastern Poland. The territory north f the Slavs was dominated by various Baltic tribes who occupied significant area that included all of the contemporary Lithuania, most of Belarus, southern half of Latvia, all of the modern province of Smolensk and partially the provinces of Moscow (western half) and Pskov (southern districts) as well as the historical East Prussia now shard by Poland and Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. All the rest of today’s central and northern Russia was the realm of Finnic and Finno-Ugric tribes.





The decisive expansion of Slavic tribes into modern European Russia started only in the 6th-7th centuries drastically changing ethno-cultural makeup of the area.