AHC: More extensive Varangian influence in Kievan Rus'

Deleted member 114175

Could the Rus' Khaganate, later Kievan Rus' federation, or the Republic of Novgorod have taken on heavy Norse influence, possibly eventually seeing itself as an extension of the Scandinavian kingdoms? What events could have transpired to expand the areas of Varangian settlement in Kievan Rus'?

To start off the discussion, here are some possible PODs.

1. Incomplete conquest of Kiev, more northerly Rus'. What if the Varangians never reliably took control of Kiev? It's possible that the Varangians might never subjugate the city in the first place, leaving it as a settlement of Slavic/Iranic tribes or as a Khazar trading fortress. Alternatively, the Varangians might initially subjugate or take control over the authorities of Kiev, but then, the Khazars (potentially with Byzantine, Bulghar, or Abbasid backing) manage to raid Kiev one or more times after its acquisition, destabilizing the city, and decreasing the city's influence while severing its connection to the other East Slavic regions of the then non-Kievan, but still Varangian Rus'.

I would argue that this would decrease the area of land settled by the Varangians, without significantly decreasing the number of Varangians settling the region. On one hand, while less loot would be taken by Norse adventurers on Viking expeditions, at the same time, there would be a higher need for Varangian mercenaries to guard the less secure frontier, leading to more invitations of said mercenaries from Scandinavia. Loot, in any case, did not constitute as much of the Norse wealth in the East as one might initially expect based on their actions in the west. For example, the Norse expeditions to the Caspian Sea, if reading only the written historical record, were all failed enterprises. Instead it was by and large, the non-military expeditions of trade with the Khazar and Islamic realms which, as shown by the archaeological record, brought goods and Islamic silver through the Rus' lands and into Scandinavia. A prosperous Khazar Khaganate increases trade so much that even more extensive control by the Khazar Khagan at the expense of the Rus' may not mitigate the actual settlement of the Rus'.

Restrict the same amount of Varangian influence into a smaller area, and they may end up forming a permanent base to expand from. They could form a "Republic of Novgorod"-esque state earlier, which becomes the center instead of Kiev.

2. Khazar Khaganate survives, Pax Khazarica maintained. The archaeological record shows that the flow of Islamic silver into Scandinavia declines significantly in the 950s, in a trend that continues into the 970s. There have been a number of proposals as to the causes, focusing on all sorts of factors. I believe it was probably an effect of the long-term decay in the northern Eurasian trade routes. Particularly, this exacerbated by the sharp decline of the Khazar Khaganate and the gradual decline of the Abbasids in the period. It was in the 960s that the Khazars were essentially destroyed as a state with any real influence, by the expeditions of Sviatoslav I of Kiev. Since the Khazars kept peace and vitalized trade routes over a large area that would later become quite unstable after their collapse, it's seems like no coincidence that the Varangian influence, and indeed the Viking Age starts to decline after the Khazars do. If we keep the Khazars alive, either by having the expeditions of Sviatoslav fail, or the Norsemen make an alliance with the Khaganate, then the emporia system survives longer, potentially allowing for a continuation of Rus' connections with the Norse at least in terms of continued invitations of Varangians.

3. Abbasids retain Mesopotamia, strengthening Islamic trade routes. Another event that occurs in the mid 10th century is the terminal decline of the Abbasid Caliphate, when the Buyids seize Iraq and the Abbasid state loses all real authority over the region. I don't know much about the effects of the Buyids on trade, but it seems like the decrease in trade between northern Europe and the Islamic world in the final centuries of the Early Middle Ages, could certainly be connected to the military conflict that devastated the Abbasids. As such, it seems reasonable that to increase the vitality of Islamic trade routes, one could preserve the Abbasid power. Indirectly, this could prolong the economic viability of Norse trading settlements in Kievan Rus' who played a role in connecting these areas with Northwestern Europe.

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What do you think about each of these PODs? Do any of them seem feasible for creating a more "Viking" Rus, or is the historically Byzantine influence in medieval Russia too powerful to overcome?
 
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This is a hard question to ask precisely because the nature of Varangians in Russias is quite shrouded in myth. How Rurik was invited in if he was invited in. Where exactly did they come and how did they consolidate power over such a large area. Kiev was taken by either a man named Dir, Oskold, or two men named Dir and Oskold.

The thing with a more Viking influenced Rus, is by and large the Norse tended to assimilate into the areas they conquered, look at the Norse-Gaels, Normans, parts of the Danelaw. As for Byzantine influence, it is not a given choice between Viking or Byzantine Rus whatever that may be, for a time the Rus was basically Slavicized Vikings. As for a Novgorod esqe republic, it seems unlikely if there is no thing system like in other Germanic realms as a substitute of the Veche, and rotating election of Nobles.
 

Deleted member 114175

This is a hard question to ask precisely because the nature of Varangians in Russias is quite shrouded in myth. How Rurik was invited in if he was invited in. Where exactly did they come and how did they consolidate power over such a large area. Kiev was taken by either a man named Dir, Oskold, or two men named Dir and Oskold.

The thing with a more Viking influenced Rus, is by and large the Norse tended to assimilate into the areas they conquered, look at the Norse-Gaels, Normans, parts of the Danelaw. As for Byzantine influence, it is not a given choice between Viking or Byzantine Rus whatever that may be, for a time the Rus was basically Slavicized Vikings. As for a Novgorod esqe republic, it seems unlikely if there is no thing system like in other Germanic realms as a substitute of the Veche, and rotating election of Nobles.

Shrouded in myth, yes, and the arrival of the Varangians in Russia is certainly a matter where some level of speculation and uncertainty is unavoidable. The "How" is indeed largely unknown.

However, archaeology has given much more context, beyond the old legendary story in the Primary Chronicle. The exact individuals involved and the historicity of specific figures is a matter of dispute, but material culture combined with clues from the Frankish chronicle Annales Bertiniani reveals the extent of the overall economic and social processes.

In Viking Rus: Studies on the Presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe, focusing on archaeology and material culture, historian Wladyslaw Duczko argues that the story of Scandinavians in Rus' began many years beforehand, with the first voyages from Middle Sweden in the eighth century. Duczko connects the boom in Norse settlement with Abbasid trade and Khazar contact:

"In the mid eighth century a number of the traders reached a level at which it was necessary for them to have a common place for meetings, a place where parties of Scandinavians could stay and make preparations for their travels. It was because of those needs that the settlement Staraja Ladoga on the River Volkhov came into being. The site was originally quite small, but after a while, from the end of the eighth century, it expanded considerably. This was a reaction to the changed circumstances set in train by political and economical changes that occurred in Mesopotamia, where in the middle of the eight century the Abbasid rulers created a new caliphate with a centre in Baghdad. Its booming economy activated even the region north of the Caucasus turning it to the one of the most important places of exchange in this part of the continent. The news about these great economical possibilities soon became known to Scandinavians, who immediately adjusted to the situation by offering a range of commodities including furs, swords, wax and, most of all, slaves. The boom in trade caused the number of people from Middle Sweden engaged in the eastern developments to rise dramatically. Amongst Norsemen coming to the East were now even groups of warriors ruled by leaders who established organisation for the taking of tributes. We learn about one such military organization, probably the biggest one, from the information in Frankish chronicle Annales Bertiniani, where under year 839 a group of Swedes called Rhos is mentioned. The title of their leader, chacanus, indicates intimate contacts with the Khazars, whose empire at the lower Don and Volga rivers was the main power-factor in the region."

Duczko, Wladyslaw. Viking Rus: Studies on the Presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe, Brill Academic Publishers, 2004.

This is before the traditional settlement of Rus' as recorded in the Primary Chronicle. Duczko mentions that some scholars connected the later destruction and refounding of the Staraja Ladoga settlement in 860 with the "calling-in of the Varangians" although this is disputed. In any case the archaeological record reveals the rate of expansion of the Norse settlements, which continued steadily until the late 10th century.

Hence why I suggest that a continuation of these trade-related pull-factors from Abbasid and Khazar spheres, could increase Varangian settlement. In the pre-Christianization Rus' period the Varangians were not conspicuous, alien dominators, but one of many peoples in a highly multiethnic stretch of land and settlement. They need not replace the previous culture to leave a more lasting influence, like the Swedes in Finland and Estonia. For example, modern Finland and to a large extent Estonia perceive themselves as Nordic countries despite not speaking North Germanic languages.
 
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Fascinating idea. Indeed, 1 and 2 could be said to combine: surviving Khazars (2) could well limit Varangian expansion (1).
Thing is, the more Varangians you pull into the region, and the more even other East Slavic people to their East are influenced by the Varangian Rus', the harder it is to maintain Khazaria (and we haven't talked about Turkic newcomers on the scene, either).
If you maintain a bulwark there, you change extremely much of history.
 

Deleted member 114175

Fascinating idea. Indeed, 1 and 2 could be said to combine: surviving Khazars (2) could well limit Varangian expansion (1).
Thing is, the more Varangians you pull into the region, and the more even other East Slavic people to their East are influenced by the Varangian Rus', the harder it is to maintain Khazaria (and we haven't talked about Turkic newcomers on the scene, either).
If you maintain a bulwark there, you change extremely much of history.
Another possibility could be that when Rus' invades Khazaria (which happens later than it did in our history) instead of just sacking the Khazar Khaganate, the Rus' instead prop up a pretender Khazar khagan who becomes a client king or tributary. Perhaps this could increase the chances of a Rus' conversion to Judaism, and potentially the migration of the Khazar center of power to Tmutarakan if it becomes more closely aligned with the Rus' sphere at the same time.

Eventually a "Khazarian Rus" could form in the south, compared with "Holmgardian Rus" in the north, looking something like the initial Rus' settlement in the Rus' Khaganate era.

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