views updated Jun 27 2018


The legendary Norman warrior Rurik (died ca. 873) was the founder of the first Russian state and of the dynasty that ruled in Russia until the death of Feodor I in 1598.

According to the first Russian annals, the Primary Chronicle, Rurik was a Scandinavian "from the tribe of the Rus" whom the people of Novgorod invited in 862 to assume rule over them, as they had been unable to govern themselves. Accompanied by his family and retinue, Rurik settled in Novgorod, and his brothers took control of adjacent regions. The area under their authority came to be called "the land of the Rus" and eventually Rus'. The descendants of Rurik continued to rule over this region following his death about 873.

Although this account of the origins of the first Russian state and dynasty enjoyed considerable credibility among older historians, modern scholars no longer accept it in its entirety and even question the actual existence of Rurik. The story of Rurik contains inconsistencies and information that cannot be confirmed from other sources. The origin of the name Rus' has never been satisfactorily explained. Scholars are certain only that the Scandinavians frequently invaded and migrated into Russia in the 9th century and that the origin of the names of early Russian princes, including the name Rurik, derives from the Normans. Though possibly reflecting earlier records or legends that have not been preserved, the Primary Chronicle has obviously used the story of Rurik to explain, justify, and antedate the rule of the Rurik dynasty, during which the chronicle was written and compiled (early 12th century).

The notion of Rurik's having been invited to rule in Russia seems in particular to be a product of such efforts. The original Rurik, if one existed at all, might have been one of the Norman chieftains who went to Russia from Scandinavia either as conquerors or as hirelings of local communities in which they often subsequently usurped power. At best, Rurik might have been invited to Novgorod as an auxiliary to one of several local parties competing for power. The establishment of his own power there under these circumstances was probably achieved through usurpation.

Further Reading

A standard translation of the Primary Chronicle, with a balanced commentary on its contents, is The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text, edited and translated by Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (1953). Compare with N. K. Chadwick, The Beginnings of Russian History: An Enquiry into Sources (1946). Varying interpretations of these events are reflected in a number of works on old Russia: Vilhelm Thomsen, The Relations between Ancient Russia and Scandinavia and the Origin of the Russian State (1877); V. O. Kliuchevskii, A Russian History, vol. 1 (1911); George Vernadsky and Michael Karpovich, A History of Russia, vol. 1 (1943); and Boris D. Grekov, Kiev Rus (trans. 1959). □


views updated May 18 2018


(d. 879), Varangian (Viking) leader who established his rule over the Eastern Slavs in the Novgorod region and became the progenitor of the line of princes, the Rurikid dynasty (Rurikovichi), that ruled Kiev and Muscovy.

The Primary Chronicle reports that a number of Eastern Slavic tribes quarreled but agreed to invite a prince to come and rule them and to establish peace. They sent their petition overseas to the Varangians called the Rus. In 862 three brothers came with their kin. Sineus occupied Beloozero and Truvor took Izborsk, but they died within two years. Consequently Rurik, who initially may have ruled Staraya Ladoga, made Novgorod his capital and asserted his control over the entire region. He sent men to Polotsk, Rostov, Beloozero, and Murom. In doing so, he controlled the mayor river routes carrying trade between the Baltic to the Caspian Seas. Rurik allowed two boyars, Askold and Dir, to go to Constantinople; on the way they captured Kiev. In 879, while on his deathbed, Rurik handed over authority to his kinsman Oleg and placed his young son Igor into Oleg's custody.

The chronicle information about the semi-legendary Rurik has been interpreted in various ways. For example, the so-called Normanists accept the reliability of the chronicle information showing that the Varangians, or Normans, founded the first Russian state, but the so-called Anti-Normanists look upon the chronicle reports as unreliable if not fictitious. Some identify Rurik with Rorik of Jutland, who was based in Frisia. Significantly, other written sources and archaeological evidence neither prove nor disprove the chronicle information.

See also: kievan rus; novgorod the great; rurikid dynasty; vikings


Franklin, Simon, and Shepard, Jonathan. (1996). The Emergence of Rus 7501200. London: Longman.

Martin Dimnik


views updated Jun 11 2018

Rurik (d.c.879) Semi-legendary leader of the Varangians (Vikings) in Russia and first Prince of Novgorod. He established his rule in c.862, a date usually taken as marking the beginning of the first Russian state. The capital moved to Kiev under Rurik's successor, Oleg, and members of his dynasty ruled there, and later in Moscow, until the 16th century, eventually being replaced by the Romanovs.


views updated May 29 2018


d. 879

Varangian prince who in 862 established the Rus dynasty in Novgorod, regarded as the historic foundation of the Russian state. According to the Russian Primary Chronicle, compiled at the beginning of the twelfth century, the people of Novgorod, tired of political unrest, invited the Varangians (Scandinavian interlopers also known as the Rus) to establish a stable government. Rurik, along with his two brothers, responded by seizing control of Novgorod and the surrounding region. Whether Rurik was an invited monarch or simply a conqueror is debatable. The Rurik dynasty ruled Russian until the death of Fyodor I in 1598.


views updated Jun 11 2018

Rurik a member of a dynasty that ruled Muscovy and much of Russia from the 9th century until the death of Fyodor, son of Ivan the Terrible, in 1598. It was reputedly founded by a Varangian chief who settled in Novgorod in 862.