Most of the scholars writing on pre-history of what is now
tend to describe mainly the area which later became the core of Kievan Rus.
That territory, however, has very little to do with today’s Russia whereas most of it lies within the
limits of modern Ukraine.
An excellent example of that writing would be Chapter 3 of the book “History of
Ukraine” by Paul Robert Magocsi that is available in the Ukrainian history section of this
web resource. But what was going on in the north-eastern frontier of the the
future Kievan Rus before the Varangians (Vikings) established themselves in
the middle of the 8th century in Aldeigyuborg (Ladoga) and
Not claiming to be a detailed research of pre-Varangian
Russia, this little essay is an attempt to describe ethno-linguistic
situation in the future Russian core in the 4th- 7th
centuries as well as the major changes that occurred as a result of the
Slavic invasion of the years 550-700.
The early Slavs (can also be called proto-Slavs) were
known at least as early as the 5th c. BC, first being
mentioned by Herodotus as “Scolots”, “Borysphenites” and “Scythian farmers”,
they were later described by Pliny the Elder, Tacitus and Ptolemy as “the Veneti”. According to all
the above authors, in the 1st - 2nd centuries AD, the
Proto-Slavs inhabited a relatively small area of upper Vistula and
upper-middle Dniester to the east and north-east of the Carpathian
mountains. In other words, the Proto-Slavic core included
roughly speaking the territory of modern western Ukraine
and south-eastern Poland.
The south-eastern frontier of the Proto-Slavs was also the border between the
East European forest zone and the vast Eurasian steppe area that was
dominated by various nomadic hordes coming mostly from the East that by the
end of the year 200 AD destroyed the Aryan Scythian realm north of the Black Sea.
Attila, the emperor of the Huns (on a horseback with golden bow
symbolizing his power) and Ostgoth warrior (standing with the sword over the
captured Bosporan soldier) as seen by modern artist Angus McBride / 1990
While Goths, Huns, Avars, Magyars and Early Turks were
ravaging the westernmost corner of the Eurasian steppe area between the Black
Sea and the Carpathians between 150 and 600 AD, the forest area covering the
territory of modern northern and Western Ukraine, Belarus
and north-central Russia
enjoyed a certain degree of stability. Being dominated by the
Germanic-speaking Ostgoths during the 3rd and most of the 4th
centuries, the Slavs later fell under the influence of the Huns who
overwhelmed the area in 370-453, and their territory was included into the
vast Hun empire of Attila (434-453). During the Hun period the Slavs expanded
north-and north-eastwards taking over the middle-Dnieper basin that had been
still inhabited by the remnants of Scythian population and some Baltic
tribes. As a result of Hun-backed Slavic expansion, the remaining Scythians
were wiped out or assimilated by the Slavs.
Clash of the Slavs with the Scythians as seen by classical Russian
artist Sergei Vasnetsov / 1914
As of the beginning of the 6th century there
was in fact no significant Slavic presence anywhere in the territory of
modern Russia except the province of Bryansk
while the Slavic core embraced contemporary western and northern Ukraine, southern Belarus
and south-eastern Poland.
The territory north f the Slavs was dominated by various Baltic tribes who
occupied significant area that included all of the contemporary Lithuania,
most of Belarus, southern half of Latvia, all of the modern province of
Smolensk and partially the provinces of Moscow (western half) and Pskov
(southern districts) as well as the historical East Prussia now shard by
Poland and Russian enclave of Kaliningrad. All the rest of today’s central
and northern Russia
was the realm of Finnic and Finno-Ugric tribes.
The decisive expansion of Slavic tribes into modern
European Russia started only in the 6th-7th centuries
drastically changing ethno-cultural makeup of the area.