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Originally, the name Rus (Русь, Rus’) referred to the people, the region and the medieval states (9th to 12th centuries): Rus' Khaganate and Kievan Rus' polities. The territories of the latter are today distributed among Belarus, Ukraine and a part of the European section of the Russian Federation. The name of Russia that came into use in the 17th century is derived from Rus. [1]

To distinguish the medieval "Rus" state from other states that derived from it, modern historiography calls it "Kievan Rus'." Its predecessor, the 9th-century "Rus' Khaganate" is a somewhat hypothetical state whose existence is inferred from a handful of early medieval Byzantine and Persian/Arabic sources that mention that the Rus people were governed by a khagan.

"Rus'" as a state had no proper name; by its inhabitants it was called "ruska zemlya" (with ruska alternatively spelled rouska, ruska, rus'ka, and russka), which might be translated as "Land of the Rus". The word "russka" is an adjective: the morpheme -sk- is used to form adjectives in Slavic; -a is a grammatical ending for feminine adjectives (namely, zemlya, "land", is grammatically feminine in Slavic). In similar fashion, Poland is called Polska by its inhabitants, that is, Pol-sk-a, originally being the adjective Polish (land).



The origin of the name is a matter of considerable dispute. Sometimes referred to as Normanist theory, the hypothesis of E. Kunik and Vilhelm Thomsen has met with the widest acceptance. According to them this appellation derives from the Baltic-Finnic languages. The name of Sweden in Finnish is Ruotsi; in Estonian: Rootsi. This name is commonly held to be derived from Roslagen, the coastal areas of the Uppland province in Sweden. The Danish scholar T.E. Karsten has pointed out that the territory now occupying the areas of Uppland, Södermanland and East Gotland in ancient times was known as Rođer or rođin. Thomsen accordingly has suggested that Rođer probably derived from rođsmenn or rođskarlar, meaning seafarers or rowers.[2]

It has been also suggested that the name Rus' might have originated from the Iranic name of the Volga River (by F.Knauer Moscow 1901), as well as from the Rosh of Ezekiel.[3] Prof. George Vernadsky has suggested a derivation from the Roxolani or from the Aryan term ronsa (moisture, water). There is a recurrence of river names like Ros in Eastern Europe.[2]

Theories of native Slavic origins for "Rus'", known as Anti-Normanist theories, garner narrower support among western scholars but are more popular within Russian historical thought. Suggested origins for "Rus'" include:

  • The Sarmatian of the Roxolani, who inhabited southern Ukraine, Moldova and Romania (from the Old- Persian rokhs, meaning light, white);
  • One of two rivers in Ukraine, the Ros and Rusna, near Kiev and Pereyaslav, respectively, whose names are derived from a postulated Slavic term for "water", akin to rosa (dew), rusalka (water nymph), ruslo (stream bed). (The relation to the Sanskrit 'rasa'—water, juice, essence—suggests itself.)
  • Rusiy (Русый), light-brown, said of hair color (the translation "reddish-haired", cognate with the Slavic "ryzhiy", "red-haired", is not quite exact);
  • A postulated proto-Slavic word for "bear", cognate with arctos and ursus.

The Russian linguist I.N. Danilevskiy, in his Ancient Rus as Seen by Contemporaries and Descendants, argued against these theories, stating that the anti-Normanists neglected the realities of the Ancient Slavic languages and that the nation name Rus' could not have arisen from any of the proposed origins:

  • The populace of the Ros River would have been known as Roshane;
  • Red-haired or bear-origined people would have ended their self-name with the plural -ane or -ichi, and not with the singular -s';
  • Most theories are based on a Ros- root, and in Ancient Slavic an o would never have become the u in Rus'.

Danilevskiy further argued that the term followed the general pattern of Slavic names for neighboring Finno-Ugric peoples—the Chud', Ves', Perm', Sum', etc.—but that the only possible word that it could be based on, Ruotsi, presented a historical dead-end, since no such tribal or national name was known from non-Slavic sources. "Ruotsi" is, however, the Finnish name for Sweden [4].

Furthermore, Danilevskiy shows that the oldest historical source, the Primary Chronicle, is very inconsistent in what it refers to as the "Rus'": in adjacent passages, the Rus' are grouped with Varangians, with the Slavs, and even set apart from the Slavs and Varangians. Danilevskiy therefore proposes a theory that the Rus' were originally not a nation but a social class, and thus explains all the irregularities in the ''Primary Chronicle, and the lack of early non-Slavic sources.

Early evidence

In Old East Slavic literature, the East Slavs refer to themselves as "[muzhi] ruskie" ("Rus men") or, rarely, "rusichi." The East Slavs are thought to have adopted this name from the Varangian elite, which was first mentioned in the 830s in the Annals of Saint Bertan. The Annals recount that Holy Roman Emperor Louis II's court at Ingelheim, in 839 (the same year as the first appearance of Varangians in Constantinople), was visited by a delegation from the Byzantine emperor. The delegates included two men who called themselves "Rhos" ("Rhos vocari dicebant"). Louis inquired about their origins and learned that they were Swedes. Fearing that they were spies for their brothers, the Danes, he incarcerated them. They were also mentioned in the 860s by Byzantine Patriarch Photius under the name, "Rhos."

Rusiyyah was used by Ibn Fadlan for Varangians near Astrakhan, and by the Persian traveler Ibn Rustah who visited Novgorod and described how the Rus' exploited the Slavs.

As for the Rus, they live on an island ... that takes three days to walk round and is covered with thick undergrowth and forests; it is most unhealthy... They harry the Slavs, using ships to reach them; they carry them off as slaves and... sell them. They have no fields but simply live on what they get from the Slav's lands... When a son is born, the father will go up to the newborn baby, sword in hand; throwing it down, he says, "I shall not leave you with any property: You have only what you can provide with this weapon." (Ibn Rustah, according to National Geographic, March 1985)

When the Varangians arrived in Constantinople, the Byzantines considered and described the Rhos (Greek Ρως) as a different people from the Slavs. De Administrando Imperio[2] gives the names of the Dnieper cataracts in both Rhos and Slavic. The Rhos names are:

  • Essoupi (Old Norse vesuppi, "do not sleep");
  • Oulvorsi (Old Norse holmfors, "island rapid");
  • Gelandri (Old Norse gjallandi, "yelling, loudly ringing");
  • Aeifor (Old Norse eiforr, "ever fierce");
  • Varouforos (Old Norse varufors, "cliff rapid" or barufors, "wave rapid");
  • Leanti (Old Norse leandi, "seething", or hlæjandi, "laughing"); and
  • Stroukoun (Old Norse strukum, "rapid current").

According to the Primary Chronicle, a historical compilation attributed to the twelfth century, Rus was a group of Varangians who lived on the other side of the Baltic sea, in Scandinavia. The Varangians were first expelled, then invited to rule the warring Slavic and Finnic tribes of Novgorod:

The four tribes who had been forced to pay tribute to the Varangians - Chuds, Slavs, Merians and Krivichs drove the Varangians back beyond the sea, refused to pay them further tribute, and set out to govern themselves. But there was no law among them, and tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensued among them, and they began to war one against the other. They said to themselves, "Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to custom. Thus they went overseas to the Varangians, to the Rus. These particular Varangians were known as Rus, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans and Angles, and still others Gotlanders, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichs and the Ves then said to the Rus, "Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come reign as princes, rule over us". Three brothers, with their kinfolk, were selected. They brought with them all the Rus and migrated.

The earliest written mention of the word 'Rus' or 'Russian' appears in the Primary Chronicle under the year 912. When describing a peace treaty signed by Varangian Oleg of Novgorod during his campaign on Constantinople, it contains the following passage:

Oleg sent his men to make peace and sign a treaty between the Greeks and the Rus, saying thus: [...] "We are the Rus: Karl, Inegeld, Farlaf, Veremud, Rulav, Gudi, Ruald, Karn, Frelav, Ruar, Aktevu, Truan, Lidul, Vost, Stemid, sent by Oleg, the great prince of Rus, and all those under him, [...]

Quite tellingly, none of the Rus names listed are Slavic, but are Germanic and few are likely Finnic.

Later, the Primary Chronicle tells us, they conquered Kiev and created Kievan Rus'. The territory they conquered was named after them as were, eventually, the local people (cf. Normans).

However, the Synod Scroll of the Novgorod First Chronicle, which is partially based on the original list of the late 11th Century and partially on the Primary Chronicle, does not name the Varangians asked by the Chuds, Slavs and Krivichs to reign their obstreperous lands as the "Rus". One can assume that there was no original mention of the Varangians as the Rus as the old list predates the Primary Chronicle and the Synod Scroll only referred to the Primary Chronicle if the pages of the old list were blemished.

Other spellings used in Europe during the ninth and tenth centuries were as follows: Ruzi, Ruzzi, Ruzia and Ruzari. But perhaps the most popular term to refer to the Rus was Rugi, a name of the ancient East Germanic tribe related to the Goths. Olga of Kiev, for instance, was called in the Frankish annals regina Rugorum, that is, "the Queen of the Rugi."

In the eleventh century, the dominant term in the Latin tradition was Ruscia. It was used, among others, by Thietmar of Merseburg, Adam of Bremen, Kozma of Prague and Pope Gregory VII in his letter to Izyaslav I. Rucia, Ruzzia, Ruzsia were alternative spellings.

During the twelfth century, Ruscia gradually made way for two other Latin terms, Russia and Ruthenia. Russia (also spelled Rossia and Russie) was a dominant Romance-language form, first used by Liutprand of Cremona in the 960s and then by Peter Damiani in the 1030s. It became ubiquitous in English and French documents in the twelfth century. Ruthenia, first documented in the early twelfth-century Augsburg annals, was a Latin form preferred by the Papal chancellery (see Ruthenia for more information).

From Rus to Russia

In modern English historiography, Kievan Rus is the most common name for the ancient East Slavic state (often retaining the pedantically-correct apostrophe in Rus’, a transliteration of the soft sign, ь) followed by Kievan Russia, Ancient Russian state, and, extremely rarely, Kievan Ruthenia. It is also called the Princedom or Principality of Kiev, or just Kiev.

But Rus actually has two meanings:

  • a small princedom around Kiev, incorporating the cities of Vyshgorod and Pereyaslav (roughly within a 200-kilometre radius of Kiev), and
  • a vast political state (of the territories mentioned above) ruled first from Novgorod and then from Kiev.

The latter country was subsequently divided into several parts. The most influential were, in the south, Halych-Volyn Rus; and, in the north, Vladimir-Suzdal Rus and the Novgorod Republic. The southern part fell under Catholic Polish influence; the northern part, under much weaker Mongol influence, and went on to become a loose federation of principalities.

Byzantine hierarchs established their own names (in Greek) for the northern and southern parts: respectively, Μακρα Ρωσία (Makra Rosia, Great Russia) and Μικρα Ρωσία (Mikra Rosia, Russia Minor or Little Russia).

By the fifteenth century, the rulers of the Grand Duchy of Moscow had reunited the northern parts of the former Kievan Rus. Ivan III of Moscow was the first local ruler to become universally recognized under the title Grand Duke of all Rus. This title was used by the Grand Dukes of Vladimir since early 14th century, and the first prince to use it was Mikhail Yaroslavich of Tver. Ivan III was styled by Emperor Maximilian I as rex albus and rex Russiae. Later, Rus’ — in the Russian language — evolved into the Byzantine-influenced form, Rossiya (Russia is Ρωσία [Rosia] in Greek).

In the modern Russian language, there are two adjectives, each of which may be translated as "Russian." These are: russky (русский), relating to the Russian people and their language; and rossiysky (российский), relating to the Russian state. However, in the modern Ukrainian language, rus’kyy (руський) refers exclusively to Rus’, whereas rosiys’kyy (російський) refers to everything belonging to Russia: people, language, and state.


The S's in Russia

While constant in Western sources, in Slavic documents two historic spellings are common, with one or two s's (Rosiya or Rossiya (noun), and ruskiy or russkiy (adjective)). In earlier sources, dating back to Kievan Rus, the spelling with one s is found most often; while in modern Russian two s's are used. The doubling of the s can occasionally be found as far back as Kievan Rus, however the one-s variant was prevalent until the 17th century; for example, the 16th-century correspondence between Ivan the Terrible and Prince Kurbsky constantly uses the one-s spelling.

By the 16th century, the Slavic adjective "russkiy" ("Russian") is usually spelled with two s's, while the Greek-influenced noun "Rosiya" is spelled with one s, to conform to the original Greek spelling. The two-s spelling of the noun then follows the adjective in the 17th century. Finally, the two-s spelling of both the noun and the adjective in Russian was made standard by Lomonosov's Grammar (1755).

From Rus to Ukraine

Meanwhile the southwestern territories of historical Rus had been incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (whose full name was Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Rus' and Samogitia). The Grand Duchy of Lithuania, as a whole, was dominated by Rus, as it was populated mainly by Rus, many of its nobles were of Rus origin, and a descendant of the Old East Slavic language, Ruthenian, is the language of most surviving official documents prior to 1697 (excluding Polish).

The southern territories dominated by Lithuania have cognate names in Russian and Polish, respectively:

While Russian descendants of the Rus called themselves Russkiye, the residents of these lands called themselves Rusyny, Ruthenians.

The word "Ukraine" (ukraina) is first recorded in the fifteenth-century Hypatian Codex of the twelfth and thirteenth-century Primary Chronicle, whose 1187 entry on the death of Prince Volodymyr of Pereyaslav says “The Ukraina groaned for him”, ѡ нем же Оукраина много постона (o nem že Ukraina mnogo postona).[5] The term is also mentioned for the years 1189, 1213, 1280, and 1282 for various East Slavic lands (for example, Galician Ukrayina, etc),[6] possibly referring to different principalities of Kievan Rus' (cf. Skljarenko 1991, Pivtorak 1998) or to different borderlands (Vasmer 1953-1958, Rudnyc’kyj and Sychynskyj 1949).

In 1654, under the Treaty of Pereyaslav, the Cossack lands of the Zaporozhian Host came under the protection of Muscovy, including the Hetmanate of Left-bank Ukraine, and Zaporozhia. In Russia, these lands were referred to as Little Russia (Malorossiya). Colonies established in lands ceded from the Ottoman Empire along the Black Sea were called New Russia (Novorossiya).

In the final decades of the eighteenth century, the Russian Empire, Prussia and Austria dismembered the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in a series of partitions, and all of historic Rus, save for Galicia, became part of the Russian Empire.

During a period of cultural revival after 1840, the members of a secret ideological society in Kiev, the Brotherhood of Saints Cyril and Methodius, revived the use of the name Ukrayina for the homeland of the "Little Russian" people. They drew upon a name which had been used by 17th-century Ukrainian Cossacks. It had earlier appeared on 16th-century maps of Kiev and its local area (Kievan Rus). Ukrayina was originally an Old East Slavic word for a "borderland", attested as far back as the 12th century. See krajina for cognates.

In the early twentieth century, the name Ukraine became more widely accepted, and was used as the official name for the short-lived Ukrainian People's Republic, West Ukrainian National Republic and Ukrainian Hetmanate, and for the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic.

Application of the name "Ruthenia" (Rus') became narrowed to Carpathian Ruthenia (Karpats’ka Rus’), south of the Carpathian mountains in the Kingdom of Hungary, where many local Slavs consider themselves Rusyns. Carpathian Ruthenia incorporated the cities of Mukachiv (Rusyn: Mukachevo; Hungarian: Munkács), Uzhhorod (Hungarian: Ungvár) and Prešov (Pryashiv; Hungarian: Eperjes). Carpathian Rus had been part of the Hungarian Kingdom since 907 AD, and had been known as Magna Rus but was also called Karpato-Rus’ or Zakarpattia.


See also


  1. ^ Milner-Gulland, R. R. (1997). The Russians: The People of Europe. Blackwell Publishing. pp. 1–4. ISBN 063121849.  
  2. ^ a b Nestor; Samuel Hazzard Cross, Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (1953). The Russian Primary Chronicle. Mediaeval Academy of America. ISBN 0910956340.  
  3. ^ For the most thorough summary of this option see, Jon Ruthven, The Prophecy That Is Shaping History: New Research on Ezekiel's Vision of the End. Fairfax, VA: Xulon Press, 2003), 55-96. ISBN 1-591602-14-9 [1]
  4. ^ Ruotsi - Wikipedia (FI)
  5. ^ PSRL , published online at Izbornyk, 1187.
  6. ^ PSRL, published online at Izbornyk, 1189, И еха и Смоленьска в борзѣ и приѣхавшю же емоу ко Оукраинѣ Галичькои [галицкои] (I exa i Smolen’ska v borzě i priěxavšju že emu ko Ukraině Galičkoi [galickoi]), 1213, и всю Оукраиноу (i vsju Ukrainu), 1280, города на Въкраини [оукраинѣ] (goroda na Vъkraini [ukraině]), 1282, село на Въкраиници [вокраиници] именемь Воинь, (selo na Vъkrainici [vokrainici] Imenem’ Voin’).


  • "How Rusyns Became Ukrainians", Zerkalo Nedeli (Mirror Weekly), July, 2005. Available online in Russian and in Ukrainian.
  • "We Are More 'Russian' than Them: a History of Myths and Sensations", Zerkalo Nedeli (Mirror Weekly), January 27 – February 2, 2001. Available online in Russian and in Ukrainian.
  • "Such a Deceptive Triunity", Zerkalo Nedeli (Mirror Weekly), May 2–8, 1998. Available online in Russian and in Ukrainian.
  • Hakon Stang, The Naming of Russia (Oslo: Meddelelser, 1996).
  • Ya. M. Suzumov. Etymology of Rus (in Appendix to S. Fomin's "Russia before the Second Coming", available on-line in Russian.)
  • P. Pekarskiy. Science and Literature in Russia in the age of Peter the Great. (St Petersburg, 1862)
  • S. M Solovyov. History of Russia since the ancient times. (Moscow, 1993)
  • E. Nakonechniy. The Stolen Name: How the Ruthenians became Ukrainians. (Lviv, 1998)


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