Early Arab Accounts of the Ancestral Rus

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The Samoyeds of northern Russia

The Muslim diplomat and traveler, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, who visited Volga Bulgaria in 922, described the Rus (Rusiyyah) in the terms strongly suggestive of the Norsemen:

I have seen the Rus as they came on their merchant journeys and encamped by the Itil. I have never seen more perfect physical specimens, tall as date palms, blond and ruddy; they wear neither tunics nor caftans, but the men wear a garment which covers one side of the body and leaves a hand free. Each man has an axe, a sword, and a knife, and keeps each by him at all times. The swords are broad and grooved, of Frankish sort. Each woman wears on either breast a box of iron, silver, copper, or gold; the value of the box indicates the wealth of the husband. Each box has a ring from which depends a knife. The women wear neck-rings of gold and silver. Their most prized ornaments are green glass beads. They string them as necklaces for their women.

Apart from Ibn Fadlan's account, the Normanist theory draws heavily on the evidence of the Persian traveler Ibn Rustah who allegedly visited Novgorod and described how the Rus' exploited the Slavs:

As for the Rus, they live on an island … that takes three days to walk round and is covered with thick undergrowth and forests; it is most unhealthy…They harry the Slavs, using ships to reach them; they carry them off as slaves and…sell them. They have no fields but simply live on what they get from the Slav's lands…. When a son is born, the father will go up to the newborn baby, sword in hand; throwing it down, he says, "I shall not leave you with any property: You have only what you can provide with this weapon."

When the Varangians first appeared in Constantinople, the Byzantines seem to have perceived the "Rhos" as a different people from the Slavs. At least they are never said to be part of the Slavic race. Characteristically, pseudo-Symeon Magister refers to the Rhos as Rusta, a word related to the Greek word meaning "a run", suggesting the mobility of their movement by waterways.

In his treatise "De Administrando Imperio", Constantine VII describes the Rhos as the neighbors of Pechenegs who buy from the latter cows, horses, and sheep "because none of these animals may be found in Rhosia". His description represents the Rus as a warlike northern tribe. Constantine also enumerates the names of the Dnieper cataracts in both Rhos and in Slavic languages.

The first Western European source to mention the Rus is the annals of Saint Bertan which relate that Emperor Louis the Pious' court in Ingelheim, 839 (the same year as the first appearance of Varangians in Constantinople), was visited by a delegation from the Byzantine emperor. In this delegation there were two men who called themselves Rhos (Rhos vocari dicebant). Louis inquired about their origins and learns that they were Swedes. Fearing that they were spies for their brothers, the Danes, he incarcerated them. Subsequently, in the 10th and 11th centuries, Latin sources routinely confused the Rus with the extinct East Germanic tribe of Rugians. Olga of Kiev, for instance, was designated in one manuscript as a Rugian queen


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