9/23/09 - more on russia

In today's excerpt - in approximately 1000 CE Swedish explorers known as the 'Rus' or 'rowers' descended to a land of opportunity, then known as 'Sweden the Great' and now known as Russia, and there established their dominance. They built their palaces or 'kremlins', and kept an envious eye fixed southward on the splendor of the Byzantine 'capital of the world', Constantinople:

"Even among the Northmen [Scandinavians] the vastness of the landmass that stretched eastwards of the Baltic was capable of inspiring a shudder. 'Sweden the Great' they termed it—or 'Sweden the Cold.' Giants lived there, it was reported, and dwarfs, and men with mouths between their nipples who never spoke but only barked, 'and also beasts and dragons of enormous size.' Yet the Northmen, a people incorrigibly adventurous, had never been ones to shrink from the rumor of terrors [and] they had ventured ever further southwards, until at length, borne along widening currents, the Northmen had found themselves debouching into the warm waters of the South, the Black Sea and the Caspian, with easy passage onwards to fabulous cities rich in silks and gold. The seeming wilderness of Sweden the Great had proved itself in truth the very opposite: a land of opportunity. No less than the surging waters of the Atlantic, mighty rivers such as the Dnieper and the Volga had served the Northmen as highways to adventure and betterment. Tirelessly, their oars had dipped and flashed. No wonder that the natives, watching them from the banks, had referred to them simply as 'rowers'—as the 'Rus.'  ...

"Although the Rus were tiny in number, intruders within a vast and hostile land, the very knowledge of how perilous were their circumstances had served to instill in them a ferocious sense of discipline. And steadily, over the decades, their swords had reddened, and their coffers overflowed. ... Inexorably, in the decades that preceded the Millennium, the Rus had succeeded in establishing themselves as something more than merely merchants—as princes. ... Everything in the lands of the Rus—'Russia'—existed on a vaster and more fabulous scale. ...

"Even though the Vikings in Russia had long been regular visitors to 'Serkland,' [Arabia], where the dark-skinned Tartars and Saracens lived, and even though they had brought back treasures garnered from the very limits of the horizon, whether silver dirhams from Baghdad, or golden tableware from Egypt, or idols of a peculiar god named the Buddha from strange realms unheard of, all along they had never doubted where the surest wellspring of riches lay. To the Northmen, Constantinople was, quite simply, the capital of the world: 'the Great City', Miklagard. For almost two hundred years it had glittered in their dreams, 'tall-towered Byzantium', a repository of everything that was most beautiful and wondrous on Middle Earth. ...

"The Rus might have been Swedish in origin, and Slavonic by adoption and yet deep in their heart of hearts, where inferiority complexes invariably lurk, they yearned to be Byzantine."


Tom Holland


The Forge of Christendom






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