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Рѹсь « Rousĵ » / Русь « Rusĵ »

Rus, or Ruthenia, was a cultural nation and socio-political system of eastern Europe comprising an East Slavic common culture with a Norse ruling class, which began in the early-to-mid Middle Ages, along the Volkhov (Волхов « Volxov ») River near the Baltic Sea. Its first major cities were Ladoga (Norse Aldeigjuborg / Aldeigja, modern Старая Ладога « Staraja Ladoga ») and Novgorod (Norse Holmgarđr “island city”, Slavic Новгородъ « Novgorodə », “new fort”, modern Новгород « Novgorod »).

The East Slavic dialects of Rus were a component of North Slavic, an Indo-European dialect continuum of northeastern Europe. The conventional modern dialects grouped as East Slavic, which share a high degree of mutually intelligibility, are Russian (Русский « Russkiĭ »), Ukrainian (Українська « Ukransĵka »), Belarusian (Беларускі « Belaruskí »), and Transcarpathian Ruthenian (Русиньскый « Rusinĵskyĭ »). But these standardized dialects were taken from the continuum of local dialects that blended into each other, and also into their western North Slavic neighbors, such as Polish (Polski). At the time of Rus, the local dialects would have possessed an even greater degree of mutual intelligibility.

The Norse of Rus called their land simply Garđar, “cities”, or Garđaríki, “realm of cities”. The word ‘garđr’, a cognate of ‘yard’, meant an enclosed area. It was used in Scandinavia for “farm”, but here meant a walled town; its use for “city” in general was presumably following the same trajectory as and likely influenced by the Slavic ‘городъ’ « gorodə », “fort; city”, of which it is also a cognate. Other important early cities include the “five original Russian towns”, which, besides Novgorod, were Beloozero (Бѣлоѡзеро « Běloōzero », “white lake”, modern Белозерск « Belozersk »), Murom (Муромъ « Muromə » / Moramar, modern Муром « Murom »), Polotsk (Полотескъ « Poloteskə », modern Полоцк « Polock »), and Rostov (Ростовъ « Rostovə », modern Ростов « Rostov »). Later important cities include Kiev (Кыѥвъ « Kyvə » / Кꙑевъ « Kỳevə »; modern Киев « Kiev » / Київ « Kiv »), Smolensk (Smaleskja, modern Смоленск « Smolensk »), Chernigov (Черниговъ « Černigovə » , modern Чернігів « Černígív »), Halicz (modern Галич « Galič »), Suzdal (Суждаль « Suždalĵ », modern Суздаль « Suzdalĵ »), Vladimir (Володимѣръ « Volodiměrə », modern Владимир « Vladimir »), Tver (Тверь « Tverĵ »), and, finally, Moscow (*Москы « Mosky », modern Москва « Moskva »).

The Norse of Rus are known historiographically as the Varangians (Vćringjar / Варѧги « Varẽgi »), and originated primarily in modern Sweden, thus speaking an eastern dialect of Old Norse. The individual city-states were headed by a ruler variously given as “duke” or “prince” (князь « knjazĵ », a cognate of ‘king’), and for much of Ruthenian history, these were members of a dynasty tracing back to a semi-legendary figure, Rurik (Hrřríkr / Рюрикъ « Rjurikə »), originally ruling from Ladoga, later from Novgorod. Rurik’s brothers supposedly settled in Beloozero and Izborsk (modern Изборск « Izborsk »), though the latter is an unlikely Varangian colony, with Pskov (Плѣсковъ « Plěskovə », modern Псков « Pskov ») being more likely. Rurik’s kinsman and successor, Oleg (Helgi / Ольгъ « Olĵgə » / Ѡлегъ « Ōlegə »), conquered Kiev from other Varangians and made it the center of his expanding state, thus known as Kievan Rus. Eventually even the Varangian rulers were slavicized. A main source of both history and legend for the Varangian period is the ‘Tale of bygone years’ (Повѣсть времѧньныхъ лѣтъ « Pověstĵ vremẽnĵnyxə lětə »), otherwise known as the Primary Chronicle, a compilation of texts in Slavic first produced in Kiev in the early twelfth century, with later revisions.

Rus was converted to Christianity at the hands of missionaries from Slavic Macedonia, who were part of the Byzantine sphere; Rus and its descendants thus fall traditionally within Eastern Christianity. The predominant sect today is Eastern Orthodoxy, while in the far west there are Eastern Rite Catholics, and of course the Soviet period resulted in many non-believers. The East Slavic dialects have a large body of borrowed vocabulary from those missionaries’ South Slavic literary dialect, Old Church Slavonic (Словѣньскъ « Slověnĵskə »), as well as the borrowed Greek vocabulary typical of Christian culture more broadly. The borrowed South Slavic vocabulary gives East Slavic a system of paired cognates, with an inherited North Slavic stem used for common objects and concepts, and a borrowed South Slavic stem used for technical objects and concepts (similar to the relationship between inherited Germanic vocabulary and borrowed Romance and Greek vocabulary in English). The East Slavs also adopted the Cyrillic script used by the South Slavs, which was based on the Greek script; Cyrillic was later spread further through Russian imperialism.

Kievan Rus was the greatest population and spatial extent in a single East Slavic state until the later Russian empire under Moscow. In time the Slavs of Rus came under the control of various other powers. In the east and south, this was primarily a Turkicized Mongol dynasty, the Golden Horde, also historically referred to as “Tatars”, though that term has been applied to several distinct Turkic peoples. In the north and west, the Slavs fell under the political control of Lithuanians, and later the Poles. The decline and collapse of Rus as a unified state led eventually to a distinction between three “Russias”, or descendants of Rus: Great Russia (Великая Русь « Velikaja Rusĵ »), today’s Russia (Россия « Rossija »); Little or Lesser Russia (Мала(я) Русь « Mala(ja) Rusĵ »), generally associated with today’s Ukraine (Україна « Ukrana » / Украина « Ukraina »); and White Russia (Бѣлая Русь « Bělaja Rusĵ »), today’s Belarus (Беларусь « Belarusĵ »). These names are used for countries, states, and (in adjective form) standardized dialects, but importantly, these three categories do not cover the same populations or regions. Each state and each country has minority populations; Russian imperialism in particular has led to many minorities in the Russian state, while Russian colonization and imperial policy has led to many Russians or Russian speakers outside of the Russian state. The modern Russian state currently controls much of the country of Ukraine directly, and Belarus indirectly. The standard Russian dialect is spoken natively in parts of both Belarus and Ukraine, and both countries also have mixed dialects that draw from both Russian dialects and Belarusian/Ukrainian dialects — Trasyanka (Трасянка « Trasjanka ») in the case of Belarus and Surzhyk (Суржик « Suržik ») in the case of Ukraine.



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