Eastern Vikings Conference Results

The Legends of the Eastern Vikings Sigfús Blöndal memorial conference was held at Laugarvatn on the 21st to 22nd of October. Sigfús Blöndal wrote one of the defining accounts of the Vikings in the east over 50 years ago, but a lot has happened in the field since and at Laugarvatn some of the world’s leading scholars in the field presented their findings. Happily, the papers will be published in a book that should be out next year.

Meanwhile, Sverrir Jakobsson’s The Varangians: In God’s Holy Fire presents an updated account of recent scholarship. And while we wait for the book, here is a radio interview with Þórir Jónsson Hraundal about the conference.

Samfélagið – Flatnefja gæludýr, meðafli og væringjar | RÚV Útvarp (ruv.is)


Who Did the Rus Fear More than the Mongols?

Ryazan was one of the easternmost principalities of the Old Rus and hence one of the first to feel the Mongol fury. After resisting for about a week in 1237, the city was raised to the ground and apparently not a single inhabitant was left standing.

It perhaps comes as little surprise that some elected to bury their valuable possessions before the Mongols came. Russian archaeologists have unearthed a treasure including hryvna pendants, which could be used as both jewelry and currency, and from which the current Ukrainian currency derives its name.

What is more surprising is that the treasure seems to have been buried 100 years before the Mongol attack. So what were the inhabitants of Ryazan afraid of? Perhaps further research will shed further light.

Medieval Russians hid silver hoard before Mongol invasion | Live Science

old ryazan buried treasure

New Podcast Available! Who Were the Rus?

Who were the Rus? Host Valur Gunnarsson speaks with Dr. Sverrir Jakobsson, one of the worlds’ leading authorities, about all things Rus. Where did they come from, and how did they impact the Middle Ages as well as the world we know today? (In English)

Part 2 of the Legends of the Eastern Vikings Podcast.

Spotify – Legends of the Eastern Vikings: Who were the Varangians and the Rus, with Dr. Sverrir Jakobsson – Legends of the Eastern Vikings | Podcast on Spotify

(see also the Podcast Page for Part 1)

Ukrainians March to Commemorate St. Volodymyr

This week, Ukrainians celebrated 1033 years since the adoption of Christianity. According to tradition, this took place in the summer of 988. Prince Volodymyr (or Vladimir or Valdimar), soon to become a saint, decided he needed organised religion to hold his vast realm together. To this end, he summoned emissaries representing the major monotheisms to his court. The great prince found Judaism to be too complicated while Islam banned alcohol which was an obvious no-no. This left the two major strains of Christianity at the time, the Catholic and the Orthodox.

Volodymyr went with Orthodoxy, no doubt the promise of marriage to a Byzantine princess having sweetened the deal. Had he opted otherwise, the history of not just Ukraine, Russia and Belarus, but perhaps also of Europe as a whole, might have been very different. However, Orthodoxy was probably always the front-runner, despite this rather amusing story. The Byzantine Emperor was still the regional great power and Volodymyr’s grandmother Olga had converted, although this did not extend to her subjects.

The day has been an official holiday in Ukraine since 2008. However, it can still be cause for contention. 34 percent of Ukrainians see themselves as belonging to the Kyiv patriarchate which became separate from Moscow in 2019, while 14 percent still look to the Moscow patriarchate. The rest see themselves are being Orthodox of no particular denomination or belonging to other Christian sects.

Putin has emphasised the Christianisation of Rus as an event that unites Russia and Ukraine and came to Kyiv to celebrate in 2013, before the present war started. Ukrainian president Zelensky, however, asked people to stay home to avoid contagion. The mayor of Kyiv did allow the Moscow-led event to take place on July 27th, with tens of thousands of people attending. The next day, the Kyiv patriarchate also held a march. There is now worry that the marching may have been a superspreader event, but participants claim to have faith that God will protect them.

Remembrance of St. Volodymyr of Kyiv and the Day of baptism of Rus celebrated in Ukraine - RISU


Zelensky criticizes Klitschko for allowing religious mass event amid pandemic | KyivPost – Ukraine’s Global Voice


BBC World Service – The Fifth Floor, Kyiv march: ‘Eucharist is our vaccine’

Origin Stories: The Kyivan Rus in Ukrainian Historiography

A new paper is now available in our dissertations segment. Written by your humble editor while on location in Kyiv and having to prolong his stay because of covid, 2020 turned into a very productive period. The stay formed the backdrop to the nr. 1 best-selling non-fiction book Bjarmalönd, now back in the Icelandic charts. The dissertation, which was part of my master’s degree, can be found below. The opening reads:

“The Russians and the Ukrainians, and indeed the Belarusians too, share an origin myth which reaches back to the legendary Rurik’s founding of the kingdom of the Kyivan Rus However, rather than reaching fruition in the early 20th century, as was the case in much of Central Europe, the origin story was subsumed into the Soviet experiment, and only remerged after 1991. It is still very much a work in progress.
Here we will look at how the founding myth of the Rus has been used in the Ukrainian
nation building project, which will unavoidably lead to comparisons with Russia and, to a
lesser extent, other neighbouring countries such as Poland, Belarus and Lithuania. From the Normanist debate of the mid-18th century to the rise of nationalism in the 19th century and the use of the Rus in the the Soviet Union, we turn to the present with its all its historical complexity and political ramifications regarding the relationship between Ukraine and Russia.”

Lokaverkefni: “Origin Stories: The Kyivan Rus in Ukrainian Historiography” | Skemman

Rus Family Dramas

The Rus may not have looked upon themselves as Russians, Ukrainians or Swedes, but how did they self-identify? And perhaps more importantly, to whom did they owe allegiance. Our podcast with dr. Þórir Hraundal (see under the podcast section) we discussed how various groups of Rus may have competed, fought and even enslaved one another rather than forming one cohesive group that saw themselves as distinct from the locals. When the different groups of Rus formed kingdoms centred on Novgorod and later Kyiv, did they see themselves as a tribe or a proto-nation of sorts? Or were different dynasties competing? What held the kingdoms together, and why did they so often tear themselves apart?

Dr. Daniel Ostrowski and Christian Raffensberger of the Ukrainian Studies department at Harvard University claims that the people who mattered most to the Rus were in fact the immediate family rather than larger dynasties. In a description of their forthcoming book, they say:

“If dynasties are difficult to discuss in the medieval world, where does this leave us? The answer is with families. Families are the building blocks of dynasties and it is through studying families – fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, and spouses of both – that we are able to better understand the human face of history. Families, in turn, are part of more extended kin entities that we call clans, which themselves can comprise multiple families which may, or may not, always share the same overarching objectives.”

They will be discussing this further at a live zoom session on Wednesday, March 24th, at 16.00 UTC (Greenwich Mean Time)

To register, click the following link. Registration required. Also available on youtube.
The Ruling Families of Rus’ | Ukrainian Research Institute at Harvard University

Why Belarus Protesters Dress Like Santa Claus

Protests in Belarus continue, though largely absent from the international media. 300 people were detained last Sunday and more protests are expected tomorrow. Instead of taking place in the central square, they are now dispersed all over the city to make the detaining more difficult. The protesters are now sometimes seen in Santa Claus costumes, asking Lukashenko to give the people the present of going away.

Red and white has in fact been the colour of the protests since the beginning. Last August, people were wearing red and white, getting married in red and white wedding dresses, putting red and white underwear next to each other on the clothes line, white dogs wore red ribbons and white-clad women sported red umbrellas.

This is a reference to the old Belarusian state flag, first used in 1918-19 and again from 1991-95 before being substituted for the present green and red flag by Lukashenko after a referendum. It is even illegal to wave the old flag, and “Lukashenko’s ninjas,” police special forces, have been known to escalate buildings to take down the banned flags.

The origins of the flag are traced back as far as the 13th century, as battle flag for what now might be considered Belarusians who fought for the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. As the Rus principality of Polotsk, in what is present day Belarus, was incorporated into the Grand Duchy, it could almost be said that the Belarusian opposition is still flying the flag of the ancient Rus.

Flying The Flag: Belarusians Show Their True Colors In Solidarity With Protests (rferl.org)

Here’s why are protesters in Belarus are flying a white-and-red flag — Meduza

Hundreds arrested in fresh Belarus protests against Lukashenko (france24.com)

Belarus: Waving the Flag of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania

Avid news watchers may have spotted that Belarusian protesters are waving a red and white flag, often with a picture of a knight on it. This flag, in fact, goes back to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania when it was used by Belarusians under Lithuanian rule. It was briefly adopted as the flag of the independence movement at the end of World War I. The white reflected the country’s name. One theory behind the naming of Belarus (sometimes called White Russia) is that it was the part of the Rus kingdoms that was not conquered by the Mongols in the 13th Century and hence was ruled by Christian princes. The westernisers in Belarus, as in Ukraine, see continuity from the ancient Rus through the Lithuanian Duchy and later the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth to today.

Hence, a red stripe was added and sometimes the picture of the knight. This was the official flag of Belarus from independence in 1991 until 1995, when Lukashenko changed it back to the flag of the Belarusians SSR of the Soviet Union. Perhaps it will be changed back if he relinquishes power. For more on the Belarus flag, see:


Belarus: He Who Controls the Present Controls the Past

History is being made these days in Belarus and inevitably whoever comes out on top will have his own of history canonized. The current conflict between Westernizers and Pro-Russian groups goes back over 100 years, each faction viewing historical events in very different terms. The difference between the two is recounted in an article late last year by Moscow-born University of Radford Professor Grigory Ioffe called “Split Identity and a Tug-of-War for Belarus’s Memory.”


For the pro-Russians, the history of Belarus goes back to the Polotsk principality, which was subservient to the Kyivan Rus, the precursor to both modern day Ukraine and Russia. For centuries after the collapse of Kyiv, most of Belarus was occupied by Lithuanians and Poles before being liberated by the Russians in the 18th Century (and again during World War II). The official view, quite neatly, sees Kyiv, Novgorod and Polotsk as separate ancestors of the three eastern Slavic states of Ukraine, Russia and Belarus.

For the Westernizers, the county’s history also begins with Polotsk but here the connection with Kyiv is downplayed. St. Volodymyr is seen to have incorporated the principality against the wishes of the populace (as related in the Primary Chronicle) and so a heritage of resistance to foreign authority is established. Conversely, the union with the Lithuanians and the Poles in the later Middle Ages is seen as having been on equal terms, making Belarus a full member of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. In this narrative, Russia comes the main enemy and the many uprisings of the Poles against the Russians in the 19th Century are seen as joint Polish-Belarusian affairs.

According to Belarusian philosopher (and Westernizer) Valantsyn Akudovich, the former view appeals more to Belarusians as it allows them to be a part of the glory of Russian and Soviet Empires rather than its victims.

Svetlana Tikhanovskaya’s move to Lithuania and Lukashenko’s calls for assistance to Russia can be the seen as the latest chapter in the long running debate about whether Belarus’ history runs through the Grand Duchy of Lithuania or Muscovy, and whether its future belongs to the Westernisers or pro-Russians.

St. Vladimir and Comrade Stalin

Celebrations in Kyiv Rus Park

Despite restrictions, Kyivans celebrated the holiday of Ivan Kupala on July 12th. The holiday is analogous to St John’s Day, known in Scandinavia as Midsommar, Sankthans or Johannus. Ivan is a Slavisation of John and the word kupala probably comes from the proto-slavic “kump,” which means gathering. In the Nordic and Baltic countries, it is celebrated on June 24th but for countries that use the orthodox liturgical calendar such as Ukraine, Russia and Belarus (and even Poland which does not), it is celebrated on July 6-7. or the weekend after, which explains the late date this year.

The occasion is connected with fertility. Young women are supposed to make flower wreaths and float them on the water. If they float, love will come, but if it sinks, it will not. Alternately, men may attempt to capture the wreaths to catch the attention of the woman in question. The celebration is also connected with water and children play pranks, mostly involving pouring water on people.

The main celebrations in Kyiv this year were held at the at Pyrohiv Outdoor Museum of Folk Architecture and at the Kyivan Rus Park. The latter is situated 35 kilometers south of the city and attempts to recreate the ancient town of Kyiv as it stood in the 10th century on a 1 to 1 scale. Only a small part has yet been completed, but it is open to the public on weekends in the summer, with events taking place in full Rus regalia.

“Ukraine is not a 26-year-old country; it is a great state with a history longer than a millennium. It has always been admired and its enemies have always feared it,” says park director Nataliia Koval in the Kyiv Post.

Park founder and “Knyaz of Ancient Kiev” Vladimir Vladimirovich Yanchenko says on its website: “Ancient Kiev became the center of gravity in the process of creation of states of Eastern Europe … Lately, this Rus’ galaxy gave birth to such countries as Ukraine, Russia, Belorussia. So, if we want to strengthen and develop our country – Ukraine, it is necessary to save and protect this gravity of the Kievan Detinets.”

Ukrainian history is still a work in progress and like the Park itself, a stout edifice is being built upon much that remains conjecture. What we know about the Kievan Rus is gleamed from incomplete and sometime contradictory sources, and much is open to debate, whereas the process of nation-building tends to prefer clearer narratives. Nevertheless, leading specialists such as Petro Tolochko of the NASU Institute of Archaeology of Ukraine have been consulted for the recreation. Not everything here may look exactly as it did a thousand years ago, but there is no faulting the ambition.

For more information, see: https://parkkyivrus.com/en/

The Wise Woman

Ready to read your fortune: The Wise Woman