Rus' Khaganate - Location


The location of the khaganate has been actively disputed since the early 20th century. According to one fringe theory, the Rus' khagan resided somewhere in Scandinavia or even as far west as Walcheren. In stark contrast, George Vernadsky believed that the khagan had his headquarters in the eastern part of the Crimea or in the Taman Peninsula and that the island described by Ibn Rustah was most likely situated in the estuary of the Kuban River. Neither of these theories has won many adherents, as archaeologists have uncovered no traces of a Slavic-Norse settlement in the Crimea region in the 9th century and there are no Norse sources documenting "khagans" in Scandinavia.

Soviet historiography, as represented by Boris Rybakov and Lev Gumilev, advanced Kiev as the residence of the khagan, assuming that Askold and Dir were the only khagans recorded by name. Mikhail Artamonov became an adherent of the theory that Kiev was the seat of the Rus' Khaganate, and continued to hold this view into the 1990s.

Western historians, however, have generally argued against this theory. There is no evidence of a Norse presence in Kiev prior to the 10th century. Troublesome is the absence of hoards of coins which would prove that the Dnieper trade route — the backbone of later Kievan Rus' — was operating in the 9th century. Based on his examination of the archaeological evidence, Zuckerman concludes that Kiev originated as a fortress on the Khazar border with Levedia, and that only after the Magyars departed for the west in 889 did the middle Dnieper region start to progress economically.

A number of historians, the first of whom was Vasily Bartold, have advocated a more northerly position for the khaganate. They have tended to emphasize ibn Rustah's report as the only historical clue to the location of the khagan's residence. Recent archaeological research, conducted by Anatoly Kirpichnikov and Dmitry Machinsky, has raised the possibility that this polity was based on a group of settlements along the Volkhov River, including Ladoga, Lyubsha, Duboviki, Alaborg, and Holmgard. "Most of these were initially small sites, probably not much more than stations for re-fitting and resupply, providing an opportunity for exchange and the redistribution of items passing along the river and caravan routes". If the anonymous traveller quoted by ibn Rustah is to be believed, the Rus of the Khaganate period made extensive use of the Volga route to trade with the Middle East, possibly through Bulgar and Khazar intermediaries. His description of the Rus' island suggests that their center was at Holmgard, an early medieval precursor of Novgorod whose name translates from Old Norse as "the river-island castle". The First Novgorod Chronicle describes unrest in Novgorod before Rurik was invited to come rule the region in the 860s. This account prompted Johannes Brøndsted to assert that Holmgard-Novgorod was the khaganate's capital for several decades prior to the appearance of Rurik, including the time of the Byzantine embassy in 839. Machinsky accepts this theory but notes that, before the rise of Holmgard-Novgorod, the chief political and economic centre of the area was located at Aldeigja-Ladoga.

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