At the Origins of the Russian Statehood

At the Origins of the Russian Statehood

In 2012, Russia celebrates the 1150th anniversary of the origin of Russian statehood. The collection dedicated to this event includes materials reflecting both the issues of establishment and development of the Old Russian state and the history of the holiday itself.

On August 21 (September 2), 1852, the Emperor Nicholas I signed the Decree, according to which the year 862 was appointed the official year of “initial event of Russian statehood.” The highest act requested “to adhere strictly to a chronology of the Reverend Nestor and to follow this in all educational institutions of the Ministry of Education.”

An appeal to the Varangians to come and to reign was chosen as a starting point. According to the remark of the Russian historian, Academician S. M. Solovyov, “inviting the first princes is of great importance in our history, the event of all-Russian significance, and with it the Russian history is justly begins. The main thing, the initial phenomenon at the base of the state, is the unification of scattered tribes through the emergence among them of a focusing principle — authorities.” The story about this event remained in the oldest Russian source on the history of the Old Russian state, “The Tale of Past Years,” or “Primary Chronicle,” which came up to us as a part of Russian chronicles.

According to the chronicle legend, in 862 several living in the north of the region Slavic and Finno-Ugric tribes expelled the Varangians, whom they had previously paid tribute to, “and they themselves became rulers, and there was no justice between them, and on family went against the other, and there was a quarrel among them, and they began to fight with themselves.” Tired of enmity, the Chud, Slovene, Krivichi, and Ves decided to find a prince who was not associated with any of the local tribes and who could reconcile them. They turned to their neighbors for help, saying “Our land is large and plentiful, but there is no order in it; come to reign and to own us.” One of the leaders of Varangian Russia, Rurik, responded to the call, originated the ruling dynasty of Ancient Rus, which led the country for more than seven centuries.

The question of the origin of the ruling dynasty at all times was one of the most controversial in the study of the history of emergence of the Old Russian state. To this day, there are different hypotheses about the tribal affiliation of the Varangians in general and Rus in particular — some consider them Slavs, some Scandinavians, some Balts, and some generally believe that the chronicle legend has little to do with reality, and in fact, there was no the appeal at all. This situation arose both because of a lack of reliable information, and because a long process of interaction of various in the ethnic, socio-political and cultural sense peoples of Eastern Europe preceded the formation of the state.

Whoever Rurik and the Varangians, which he brought, were, their take over was a consequence of the choice of the population of Eastern Europe. Domestic historians repeatedly stressed the fact that the Russian statehood was initially established not by the sword of the strong, but by the general consent of the citizens. Therefore, most attention in studying the origins of Russian statehood has always been given to the particularities of the organization of the Old Russian state, a continuity of the administrating methods and a participation in the management of various strata of society both in the preceding and subsequent periods.

These and other topics are reflected in two hundred evidences featured in the collection. More than half of them is currently available on the Presidential Library website. In the future, it is planned to increase both the total volume of the collection and the number of publicly open digital copies.

A special place in the collection belongs to the texts of ancient written sources. Of the greatest significance among them is the Laurentian Chronicle, the oldest surviving annals list that, apart from “The Tale of Past Years,” also includes a number of documents on the history of the Old Russian state, which are not known in other versions. A digital copy of this unique monument in the collection is courtesy by its original keeper —  the Russian National Library.

  • General section

    The section includes the works of general character covering the history of the Eastern Europe from the settlement of Slavic tributes to the first centuries of existence of the Old Russian state.
  • Sources on the history of the Old Russia

    The section contains both the texts of the sources (first of all, various lists and versions of the Chronicle of Nestor), and certain related studies and comments, as well as analysis of foreign - eastern and western - materials that contain information about the Slavs and the Old Russian history.
  • Varangian question

    The materials of the section cover the problems related to the origin of the first Russian princes - Varangains. Specially highlighted are the works of supporters and critics of the Norman theory.
  • Anniversaries celebrating the birth of the Russian statehood

    The section includes studies on the celebration of the 1000th anniversary of the birth of Russian statehood that took place in the Russian Empire in the 19th century; it contains official documents related to the celebration of the 1150th anniversary of this event in the Russian Federation, as well as images of commemorative jubilee coin issued by the Bank of Russia in 2012.
  • The Old Russian state

    The section contains materials relating to the first centuries of the existence of the Russian state - from the origin to the period of strife. The array is divided into several sections, covering the activities of the government, the particularities of life in certain principalities, international relations, religious policy, cultural life, craft and everyday life.