1160 years ago, in September 862, an event took place that went down in Russian history as the calling of the Varangians to reign in the lands of the north of Russia.

This date, associated with a specific the first prince named Rurik, has long been considered the day of the beginning of the Russian state as such. What does the inscription on the famous monument “The Millennium of Russia” testify to, which was opened and consecrated in Novgorod on September 21, 1862, during a large-scale holiday. 

Novgorod or Kyiv?

The scenario of those celebrations with every little detail emphasized the role of Rurik in the foundation of the Russian state — even the arrival in Novgorod of Emperor Alexander IIwas furnished with a clear hint of continuity. The sovereign did not come by train, but “came by water” — just as once the Varangians “from across the sea” on their ships. And in a festive speech addressed to the Novgorod nobility, Alexander II openly called Novgorod “the cradle of the All-Russian Kingdom.”

Subsequently, the official historical doctrine changed. It seemed shameful to count the beginning of statehood from the calling of some foreigners. The request to search for the domestic roots of statehood naturally led to Kyiv, where at the time of Rurik's calling there was an urban tribal center. In general, it could pass for a kind of state.

The idea of ​​the southern start of Russian statehood was so actively promoted that the marginal term “Kievan Rus”, which arose in the 19th century, was revived in the USSR. Sonorous and biting, from frequent use it began to be perceived as an objective reality. 

Which has done a disservice in recent years. As you know, nationalists are obsessed with delusions of their own grandeur. Not without reliance on the term “Kievan Rus” the understanding of Kyiv and its inhabitants as the only center of the ancient Russian state, as a unique cultural torch, as the center of the universe, immediately arose, and the local authorities officially approved it. Everything else was declared a “Finno-Ugric swamp”, and the inhabitants of the historical ancient Russian regions were automatically transferred to the category of “backward”.

Such an attitude is absurd and dangerous. Besides, it has nothing to do with reality. Its adherents between the concepts of «statehood» and “state” put an equal sign. And absolutely in vain. To understand how the Old Russian state developed, one must rewind from the calling of Rurik a hundred years ago.

From rags to riches

Then Europe was brought to the brink of an economic disaster. The 8th century can safely be called the “age of the crescent.” Muslims took possession of Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Libya, Tripolitania, the countries of the Maghreb and Spain. The Arabs captured the key points of the Mediterranean Sea, Sardinia, Sicily and Crete, controlled the coast of France and Italy. The 14th-century Arab economist, philosopher, and historian Ibn Khaldun boastfully wrote: “In those days, Christians could not even let a plank float on the sea.” The control of trade between the Western kingdoms, Byzantium and the countries of the East was now carried out by Muslims — on frankly onerous conditions.

It was necessary to look for new, alternative, workarounds. Attention and activity is transferred to the periphery of Europe. The basins of the Black and Baltic Seas suddenly become centers of attraction. There was very little — to lay between them a more or less suitable and safe path. Geography dictated the only option — East European Plain. What used to be considered the periphery, the bear corner and the “end of geography” suddenly found itself at the center of the current economic agenda. 

For the possession of the key places of this trade artery, which would later be called the “Road from the Varangians to the Greeks,” a grandiose fight unfolded. In the south, this led to the fact that a not very large Slavic settlement on the right bank of the Dnieper in the 8th century grows, expands, acquires a fortification on Starokievsky Hill and, in fact, gets the name Kyiv. He instantly establishes trade relations with the Byzantine Crimea. The southern section of the future “Roads from the Varangians to the Greeks” set up and started working. How far has its statehood managed to develop there — not very clear. Apparently, at first he depended on the Khazar Khaganate. But a hundred years later, it was already a completely independent structure.

Things were different in the North. At first, the Scandinavians dominated there. The town of Aldeygya, on a cape between the Volkhov and Ladozhka rivers, becomes the key that opens and closes a new promising trade artery. Its walls were cut down no earlier than 753. The original population — the Scandinavian tribe of the Svei, who later gave the name to the whole country, Sweden. However, in 765, disaster struck the town. He is captured by a strong enemy. A layer of fire is fixed, the development of the former culture is stopped. But in the same place, another town appears with a different, already Slavic population, who came from the interfluve of the Vistula and the Oder. The new residents call their city Ladoga. 

North vs South

The beginning and end of the path took shape. The Slavs did it. True, different — linguists count at least twenty differences between the ancient South Russian, that is, the Kyiv dialect, and the Novgorod dialect. One thing is clear — both of them had similar ideas about law and about the state. The Ladoga Slavs called on Rurik not as a source of statehood, but as a hired worker — a “row” was established with him, that is, an agreement. The source of power was not an alien prince, but the people. Apparently, similar processes were going on in Kyiv, as evidenced by the Scandinavian names of the Kyiv princes — Askoldand Dir

Now it was necessary to find out the main — which of these two centers will finally close the main trading artery of Europe. This clarification of relations became the main content of the history of the first centuries of Russia.

And here we have to admit that the conditional north won a convincing victory. Rurik's successor Oleg, nicknamed the Prophet, captures Kyiv and physically eliminates the local princes, his fellow tribesmen-competitors. A structure providing for transcontinental trade has emerged. From that moment on, we can talk about the formation of the Russian state. Indeed — no matter how rich, influential and militant Kyiv itself may have been, it has not achieved international recognition. Yes, in 860 a raid on Constantinople was carried out from there, setting up the “capital of the world”; to the brink of disaster. But in Byzantium, Kyiv was not taken seriously. At that time, Constantinople did not conclude any agreements with Kyiv — too much honor. With the Khazars — yes, with the Bulgarians — Yes, but what is Kyiv? “The people, barbaric, having the audacity of weapons and therefore overly proud, raised their hand against the Roman power itself.” That is, gopniks and nouveau riches, and not a geopolitical subject.

New Russian reality

And they speak quite differently with the united Novgorod-Kyiv state. In 911, Oleg concludes the first written agreement with Byzantium. Equal treaty: “We, emperors and princes, strive to live in peace and love, not only by word, but by scripture and by a firm oath.” The treaty for Russia is very flattering. In fact, the Greeks called pagan leaders “archons”, that is, “tribal leaders”, and considered second-class people. An exception was made for the emperor of the Franks — he was a Christian, was regarded as almost equal and was called the “Bright Archon”. In 911, the Russian prince Oleg came into his company. He, an inveterate pagan, is also called the “Bright Archon”, equating to the emperor of the Franks — “To the Lord of the West”.

The most interesting thing is that the Rurik dynasty, having made Kyiv a capital city mainly for economic reasons, did not consider it as something sacred for themselves. That is, at any time could reconsider priorities. Prince Svyatoslavgenerally stated: “I don’t like to sit in Kyiv, I want to live in Pereyaslavets on the Danube — there is the middle of my land, there flows all good. However, while the trade artery was profitable, and Byzantium was strong and rich, Kyiv remained a coveted prize in internecine wars — fought for the throne of Kyiv. But a few centuries later, the situation changed. And Andrei Bogolyubsky, the son of the founder of Moscow Yuri Dolgoruky, will take this city only for the purpose of robbery. 

But the attitude towards Novgorod was different. They could fight with him. Sometimes they also wanted to rob him. But what the first Novgorod princes did for Russia was always remembered. In the XIV century, when Russia was in heavy political and financial dependence on the Horde, Prince Simeon the Proud found funds for the construction of a stone temple on the Rurik settlement, which is 2 versts from Novgorod Detinets. Simeon himself was considered the Grand Duke of Vladimir. He sat in Moscow. But I thought it necessary to remind you that the capitals are changing, but the sacred places remain unchanged.

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