Political Organization of Rus’ in the 10th Century
This study is an attempt to present the political organization of Rus’ in the 10th century reevaluating the much debated role of the Scandinavians in the formation of the Rus’ian polity.
A large number of Scandinavians (mostly from Sweden and Gotland) migrated to Eastern Europe in the 9th – middle of the 11th centuries. This fact is clear from the historical, linguistic and archeological evidence accumulated to date. However, there is much unclear about results and significance of this migration. Particularly controversial is the question if and how it related to the formation of the political structures of Rus’ which united a variety of peoples (gentes) in Eastern Europe in the 10-11th centuries.
I examine the elite of Kievan Rus’ in the middle of the 10th century. The original sources from this time give us some valuable information on the political organization and social hierarchy of Rus’. Two of these sources are of particular importance in the case: the treaty of 944 between Rus’ and Byzantium (a copy included in the “Tale of Bygone Years”) and the description of the embassy of Olga, princess of Rus’, to Constantinople in 957 given by the Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogentis in his treatise “De Ceremoniis” (II, 15). In my opinion there are some correspondences between the evidence on Rus’ in these two texts which have not been noticed or articulated in the debates on the texts. Emphasizing these correspondences and referring to other sources’ data I attempt a consistent description of the elite of Kievan Rus’. I conclude that the Rus’ of the middle of the 10th century was, politically and territorially, an association of 25 non-tribal administrative units located mostly along the famous “route from the Varangians to the Greeks”. These units or most of them were headed by Scandinavian leaders who formally recognized a superiority of the Kievan prince. This model disagrees sharply with a picture created by the Rus’ian chronicles of the 11th – early 12th centuries who exalted the Rurikid’s dynasty and did not mention in their narratives any other leaders or clans of Rus’ competing to it. My conclusions aim at verifying this picture and considering a contribution of the Scandinavians to political developments in medieval Rus’.