Nomads, Northmen and Slavs. Eastern Europe in the ninth century

Imre Boba




A. The chronology of the tributary affiliation of the Slavs  56

B. The testimony of Muslim sources  59

C. The forms and extent of the affiliation  63





Our main source for the study of Khazar-East Slavic relations is the Primary Chronicle. The first contact between the Khazars and the Slavs known to the Chronicler is described in the following words:


... subsequent to the death of the three brothers in Kiev, the Polanians were oppressed by the Derevlians and other neighbors of theirs. Then the Khazars came upon them as they lived in the hills and forests and demanded tribute from them. After consulting among themselves, the Polanians paid as tribute one sword per hearth... [1]


The fact of the tribute payment is confirmed by another fragment of the same Chronicle which describes the first arrival of the Northmen in Kiev. On that occasion the newcomers were told that the inhabitants of Kiev paid tribute to the Khazars. [2] These two fragments on tribute payments also corroborate a third fragment of the same Chronicle, which records that after the death of Kii and his brothers, their kinsmen, that is, the Khazars, assumed dominion in the land of the Polanians. [3] It must also be noted that all three fragments are parts of three independent stories presented in legendary form, without contradicting each other - a clear indication that all these legends reflect a single national tradition.


Problems are posed only by the chronology of the tributary affiliation. Legendary descriptions usually lack absolute dating, and the relative chronology is vague. But in this case, the fact of the tribute payment is confirmed also by specific entries in the Chronicle, and it is even possible to surmise the initial date of such payments. The first specific reference to a tribute payment is, in fact, the first dated reference to Eastern Slavs:



1. Likhachev, Povest vremennykh let, p. 16; cf. Cross, The Russian Primary Chronicle, p. 58. Our translation follows as closely as possible that of Cross, but fragments of importance for interpretation are direct translations from the Old Russian text.


2. See above, p. 49.


3. See above, p. 51.





6367 (859). The Varangians from beyond the sea imposed tribute upon the Chud, the Slovenes, the Meria, the Ves, and the Krivichi. But the Khazars imposed it upon the Polane, the Severiane, and the Viatichi, and collected a white squirrel skin from each hearth. [4]


The next entry confirms that the Severians were tributaries of the Khazars until 884:


(884). Oleg attacked the Severiane, and conquered them. He imposed a light tribute upon them and forbade their further payment of tribute to the Khazars, on the ground that there was no reason for them to pay it as long as the Khazars were his enemies. [5]


And again, the following year, Oleg conquered the Radimichians, who were also tributaries to the Khazars:


(885). Oleg sent messengers to the Radimichi to inquire to whom they paid tribute. Upon their reply that they paid tribute to the Khazars, he directed them to render it to himself instead, and they accordingly paid him a shilling apiece, the same amount that they had paid the Khazars. Thus Oleg established his authority over the Polanie, the Derevliane, the Severiane, and the Radimichi. [6]


For some eighty years there were no changes (or at least none recorded by the Chronicler) in the political equilibrium between the Ruses and the Khazars which might have affected the Slavs. The next reference of the Chronicler to the tribute payment is under the year 964:


6472 (964). When Prince Sviatoslav had grown up and matured, he began to collect a numerous and valiant army.... He sent messengers to the other lands announcing his intention to attack them. He went to the Oka and to the Volga, and on coming in contact with the Viatichi, he inquired of them to whom they paid tribute. They made answer that they paid a silver piece per plowshare to the Khazars. [7]


The reliability of the Chronicler in respect to the tribute payments is sometimes questioned on the ground that the Radimichians appear as tributaries of the Khazars in 885, although they were not enumerated among the tributaries in 859. This reservation may be disregarded, because it is obvious that the Chronicler had only fragmentary information, at least for the ninth and tenth centuries, and gaps in his narrative may



4. Likhachev, Povest vremennykh let, p. 18; cf. Cross, The Russian Primary Chronicle, p. 59. The dates preceding the entries from the Chronicle are those used in the cited editions. The chronology of the Chronicles is partly erroneous. We shall discuss the possibility of reconstructing a more precise chronology in the chapter: “The Invitation of the Ruses”.


5. Likhachev. Povest vremennykh let, p. 20.


6. Ibid., pp. 20-21.


7. Ibid., pp. 46-47.





therefore be expected. The Chronicler himself was aware of the lacunose character of his narrative, especially for those two centuries, and in the original draft he entered dates with blank spaces, obviously hoping to fill the gaps should additional information become available. [8]


Whereas the fact of the tribute payment cannot be denied, the initial date of the tributary affiliation of the Slavs with the Khazars remains a problem to be solved. Any controversy on this issue centers around the information entered in the Chronicle under the year 6367 (859). [9] If the narrative is interpreted literally, the text would indicate that the Northmen and the Khazars acted simultaneously. But the vagueness of the formulation allows us also to understand the text as indicating that in the year 859 it was only the Ruses who initiated the collection of tributes from the various tribes of the north, whereas in the east and south the Khazars had already been receiving such tributes since an earlier date.


There are various interpretations of this ambiguous text. The year 859 as the initial date for tribute payments to the Khazars, as well as the essence of the whole entry under that date, is entirely ignored by B. A. Rybakov. His contention is that the whole story of tribute payments is an invention of the Chronicler. According to his interpretation, Kii was a strong, independent Polanian prince in the sixth century, and as, according to the Chronicler, the imposition of the tribute followed immediately after Kii's death, the encounter of the Polanians with the Khazars could have happened only in the sixth or seventh century, and not around 859. In Rybakov's opinion, the Khazars failed to collect the tribute because, instead of payments, they were shown swords as a symbol of force. Rybakov concluded that the Chronicler had deliberately misinterpreted the whole incident. [10]


Rybakov also disregarded much of the Chronicler’s testimony on the Slav-Khazar relations and thus was able to avoid the necessity of explaining why some Eastern Slavs paid tribute to the Khazars in the ninth, or even in the tenth, century, or why the Ruses had to liberate the Slavs from Khazar domination. [11]



8. Ibid., passim.


9. The text quoted above, p. 57.


10. B. A. Rybakov, “Rus i khazary”, Akademiku Borisu Dmitrievichu Grekovu... (Moscow, 1952), p. 77. In this study Rybakov rejects any notion of tribute payment and concedes only temporary harassment of Severians and Viatichians by the Khazars, and that only at the time when the Khazars first appeared in the Steppes. In the revised version of this study. “K voprosu o roli khazarskogo khaganata v istorii Rusi”, Sovetskaia Arkheologiia, XVIII (1953), p. 135, Rybakov maintains his basic view, but admits that the Khazars could collect tribute from any Severians and Yiatichians who, in the seventh and eighth centuries, infiltrated into the Steppes as settlers.


11. Some arguments used by B. A. Rybakov are based on unsupported surmises, and. therefore, any attempt to repudiate his constructions w ould take us back to the controversy as to whether the Ruses of the ninth century were Slavs. His argument against the notion of the subordination of the Slavs to the Khazars is that “Ibn Fadlan nowhere speaks about the Ruses as a nation dependent on the Khazars”. As the Ruses of the ninth century were not identical with the Slavs, Rybakov’s argument appears to be only an exercise in syllogism.





G. Vernadsky, in his most recent survey of early Russian history, accepts the information on the tribute payment as fairly reliable. [12] He proposes only a slight adjustment: to correct the date "859” to "around 850”. Nevertheless, in the same work, in a different context, he implies that some of the Eastern Slavs were dependent upon the Khazars much earlier. In his opinion, the Slavs, together with the Alans and the Magyars, were already providing auxiliary troops to the Khazar army in the early eighth century. [13] The twenty-thousand prisoners taken by the Arabs during a conflict with the Khazars in 737 are assumed by Vernadsky to have been Slavs. [14] The assumption of the existence of Slavic auxiliary troops in the Khazar army at such an early date is derived by Vernadsky, and others, from writings of the Arabic historian al-Balādhurī.


As our analysis of the available contemporary sources does not support the theory of such an early affiliation of the Slavs to the Khazars, we propose a detailed discussion of the relevant narratives.





The assumption that the Eastern Slavs provided auxiliary troops to the Khazar Army in the early decades of the eighth century is based on the writings of the Arabic historian al-Baladuri, although there are also various other sources describing the same events. The assumption, as is often the case, is based on a misinterpretation of the term ‘a-aqāliba’.


Our re-evaluation of al-Balādhurī's narrative, in conjunction with other relevant sources, attempts to show that the ‘aqāliba’ of the Khazar Empire were definitely not Slavs, that they were not necessarily auxiliary troops, and that they were probably Bulgars.


The text of al-Balādhurī's Kitāb Futū al-Buldān reads as follows:


Marwān ibn Muhammad invaded the a-aqāliba, who lived in the land of the Khazars, and removed from among them into captivity twenty thousand families, which he resettled in Khāhīt. Later they killed their leader and escaped, but [Marwān] pursued and killed them.


It is told: as soon as [the news] about the multitude of the people with whom Marwān entered his land reached the great [ruler] of the Khazars, and with what force they were advancing against him, [that news] frightened his



12. Vernadsky, The Origins, pp. 203-4.


13. Ibid., p. 93.


14 Ibid., pp. 96, 181 and note H on p. 319; cf. G. Vernadsky, Ancient Russia (New Haven, 1946), pp. 260, 330-33.





heart and filled it with terror. As soon as [Marwān] drew near to him, he sent to him an envoy calling on him to accept Islam or to take flight. [The ruler of the KhazarsJ answered: “I accept Islam. Send to me someone who will explain it to me.” He did so, and he accepted Islam, and Marwān agreed to confirm him in his kingdom. Afterwards, Marwān departed with a group of the people from among the Khazars, and settled them between as-Samūr and as-Shābirān, on the plains of the land al-Lakz. [15]


The war between the Arabs and the Khazars, described in this fragment, is dated 737. Marwān was at this time governor of the frontier district and later became Khalif (744-50). Vernadsky, and before him Harkavi and Barthold [16] among others, interpreted the a-aqāliba as referring to Slavs. Also Lewicki, in his translation of the Arabic text, interpreted the term as meaning “the Slavs”. [17] Zeki Validi Togan proposed three possible equivalents, namely: the Volga Bulgars, the Suwars on the Volga, or the Burtases. [18] Artamonov, most recently, accepted the very last suggestion and equated the aqāliba of al-Balādhurī’s narrative with the Burtases of the Middle Volga Region. [19]


The was war? described by al-Balādhurī did not result in fighting, and the ruler of the Khazars capitulated before any armed encounter with the Muslim army occurred. Marwān confirmed the ruler of the Khazars in his function, and departed with a group of people “from among the Khazars”. There is no evidence that Marwān, with his army, progressing into Khazar territory, ever reached Slav settlements. In the eighth century, by a liberal estimate, the Slavs could have lived only in the upper regions of the Don River, far from the Caucasus and even far from the Khazars. [20] The ‘a-aqāliba’, according to al-Balādhurī, lived on Khazar territory. Harkavi suggested that the captured ‘a-aqāliba’ were Slav warriors in Khazar service, but his conjecture is contradicted by the fact that Balādhurī’s text refers to families and not to warriors. Besides this, there is no indication in other sources that the Slavs ever served in compact units in



15. Cf. Lewicki, Źródła arabskie, p. 225. Our translation deviates from Lewicki's interpretation of the original text.


16. A. Ia. Harkavi (spelled also “Garkavi’), Skazaniia musulmanskikh pisatelei o slavianakh i russkikh (Sanktpeterburg, 1874), pp. 41-43;

V. V. Barthold, “Slavs", Encyclopaedia of Islam.


17. Lewicki, Źródła arabskie, pp. 225 (text), 238 (comments).


18. Zeki Validi Togan, Ibn Fadldn's Reisebericht (Leipzig, 1939), pp. 307-9.

Z. V. Togan also provides a translation of the account of Marvan’s expedition made by Abu Mubammad Ahmed b. Actham al-Kufi in the work Kitāb al-Futū, ibid., pp. 298-302.


19. M. I. Artamonov, Istoriia Khazar (Leningrad, 1962), pp. 220, 223.


20. I. I. Liapushkin, “Slaviano-russkie poseleniia IX-XII vv. na Donu i Tamani po arkheologicheskim pamiatnikam”, Materialy i izsledovaniia po arkheologii SSSR, VI, (1941), p. 91; “the settlements of the Eastern Slavs did not go beyond the mixed forest-steppe zone (za predely lesostepi) before the second half of the tenth century. Cf. also Atlas istorii SSSR, I (Moscow, 1949), pp. 7, 8.





the Khazar army, although such units were employed by the Avars and the Danubian Bulgars. [21] The term ‘a-aqāliba’ in al-Balādhurī's narrative cannot therefore be interpreted as meaning ‘Slavs’. The term ‘a-aqāliba’ in this case carries its original meaning and may denote any group of population of fair complexion, distinct from the Arabs and other ethnic groups of the Caliphate and also distinct from the Khazars. Since al-Balādhurī knew the Khazars under their own name, the term ‘a-aqāliba’ may be applicable only to some other ethnic element of the Khazar federation, e.g., the Alans, the Burtases of the Middle Volga, or the Bulgars of the Kuban region. The tribe of the Burtases was, in fact, providing ten thousand warriors to the permanent Khazar army. [22] The Burtases were probably Ugro-Finns, and therefore the term ‘aqāliba’, with its original meaning of people of fair complexion of the North, could also easily be applied to them. But al-Balādhurī speaks of families, not of soldiers, although members of a permanent army may have lived with their families. We should also consider the Alans as possible victims of the mass relocation, because they were part of the Khazar federation and lived southwest of the ethnic Khazars.


Independent evidence can be brought forward only for the assumption that the twenty thousand families were taken from among the Bulgars dwelling along the Kuban River, in the imminent neighborhood of the Caucasus. This is the region which would have been the first to have fallen into the hands of an invading army coming from the south. We have to remember that mass transfers of population were often practiced by the Arabs, Khazars, Danubian Bulgars, and also by the Byzantine Greeks. Whereas the Alans were equal partners of the Khazars in the Alan-Khazar federation, the Bulgars were more reluctant allies and could easily have fallen victim to the harsh conditions of the peace settlement.


Decisive for the supposition that the Bulgars should be understood under the term ‘a-aqāliba’ is the fact that Amad ibn Falān, when later describing the Bulgars of the Volga-Kama region, calls them ’aqāliba’ and never uses the term ‘Bulgar’. Ibn Falān undertook a journey in 921-22 to the Volga-Kama region and related


“what he saw in the lands of the Turks, of the Khazars, of the Ruses, of ‘aqāliba’, of the Bashkirs, and of other [nations]. . . .” [23]


So reads the opening sentence of his description,



21. Mas'ūdī's has a statement to the effect that Ruses and a-aqāliba could enter the mercenary army of the Khazar king. The information probably refers to individual volunteers only. The term a-aqāliba cannot be definitely applied to the Slavs. Compact mercenary units were provided by the Khwarezmians and by the Burtases, cf. A magyar honfoglalás kútföi, edited by Gyula Pauler and Sandor Szilágyi (Budapest, 1900), p. 258.


22. Ibn Rūsta and Gardīzī. English translation in C. A. Macartney, The Magyars in the Ninth Century (Cambridge, 1930), p. 194. There is no evidence that this relationship existed already in the eighth century, or, more precisely, in 737 or before.


23. A. P. Kovalivśkyi (A. P. Kovalevskii), Kniga Akhmeda ibn-Fadlana o ego puteshestvii na Volgu v 921-922 gg. (Kharkov, 1956), p. 121.





in which, surprisingly, the name ‘Bulgar’ is not used although the only state formation of the region was that of the Bulgars and he visited the King of the Bulgars. In the text itself he names the king residing in the city of ‘Bulgar’ as ruler of a-aqāliba. It seems obvious that aqāliba in his description is a synonym for Bulgar. Only on one occasion did Ibn Fadlan also use the title ‘ruler of Bulgar’, [24] but in this context the name refers to the city of Bulgar and not to the population of the whole region.


Of a different opinion is A. P. Kovalivśkyi, who, in a recent edition of “Ibn Falān’s Journey”, expressed the opinion that the term Bulgar in the phrase ‘ruler of Bulgar’ must refer to the people and not to a city by the name of Bulgar. His argument is that in 921-22 the city of Bulgar did not yet exist. [25] This argument cannot be accepted, however, because the city of Bulgar was a very important trading emporium in the tenth century, and most probably already in the second half of the ninth century. [26]


We have also some further indication that Ibn Falān used the term aqāliba exclusivly for the Bulgars:


“When we were at a distance of a day’s and night’s journey from the king of aqāliba, he dispatched for our reception four kings who were under his rule, his brother, and his sons.” [27]


In this sentence, the ‘king of aqāliba’ is contrasted with the four kings subordinated to him. And, finally, there is the sentence according to which


“the king of the aqāliba. .. gave his daughter in marriage to the king of the Eskels, [a tribe] which is under his command. ...” [28]


Here again, the aqāliba is an exclusive term which does not apply to the



24. Ibid., pp. 132-33.


25. Ibid., note 390 on page 198.


26. Ibn Falān uses the name Bulgar in singular form, which would be applicable only to a city of that name, cf. Omeljan Pritsak. “Kašgarīs Angaben über die Sprache der Bolgaren”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenländischen Gesellschaft, CIX (1959), p. 104.

A. P. Smirnov is of the opinion that the city (gorod) of Bulgar existed since the ninth century, cf. A. P. Smirnov, Volzhskie Bulgary (Leningrad, 1951), pp. 228-29. See also Hudud al-Alam, pp. 163, 461.


27. A. P. Kovalivśkyi, op. cit., p. 131. Of significance for the proper interpretation of the term a-aqāliba is that Kovalivśkyi translated the term as ‘Slaviane’ (i.e. 'Slavs’), using quotation marks consistently whenever the name occurs. In the Notes (p. 159) he explained that the term aqāliba basically denotes the Slavs, but nevertheless is often used in a broader sense to describe, in addition to the Slavs, also the Finns, Bulgars on the Volga, and Germanic people of the North. Kovalivśkyi suggested that the term aqāliba should be interpreted in each case independently. In his opinion the term used by Ibn Falān is a synonym of 'masses of the people of the North'. It may be remarked that V. Minorsky realized that the king of the Bulgars of Ibn Falān’s description could not be, in any case, connected with the Slavs. In order to save the consistent use of the term 'Slav’ for a-aqāliba, he interpreted the title ‘malik a-aqāliba’ to mean ‘king in charge of the Slavic frontier’, i.e. ‘the king defending the state against the Slavs’. Minorsky’s interpretation is more ingenious than convincing. Cf. V. Minorsky, A History of Sharvan and Darban in the 10th and 11th Centuries (Cambridge, 1958), pp. 109-10.


28. Kovalivśkyi, op. cit., p. 141.





Eskels. In both instances, the term could not have been applied to the Slavs, because during the ninth and tenth centuries there were no Slavic settlements under Bulgar control. [29] Since the term cannot be applied to “all people of the North" either, because the people subordinated to the Bulgars are excluded, it is reasonable to identify the aqāliba with the Bulgars only. [30]


On the basis of the analysis of al-Balādhurī's text, in conjunction with Ibn Falān’s use of the term aqāliba, we may now disregard the notion I that the Slavs were subordinated to the Khazars already in the eighth century. [31]


A formal independence of the Eastern Slavs in the eighth and earlier part of the ninth century can be surmised also from some fragments of the Russian Primary Chronicle. According to the date supplied by that Chronicle, the Viatichi, with some other Eastern Slav tribes, were tributaries of the Khazars in 859. As there is no written source or any circumstantial evidence which could contradict the statement of the Russian Primary Chronicle, we should interpret the relevant fragments as an indication that the tribute payments to the Khazars began only around the middle of the ninth century. Although the date rendered in the Chronicle must be adjusted because of the error in chronological computation, the relative chronology remains binding: the Khazars interfered in the self-government of the East Slavic tribes only shortly after 850, when the Northmen began their penetration into Eastern Europe, proceeding from north to south.





The Khazars extended nominal political control over the Polanians, Viatichians, and Severians, and thus prevented the Northmen from subordinating those tribal territories to themselves. Violation of Khazar rights or claims might have caused a conflict that could have excluded the



29. Between the Volga Bulgars and the Eastern Slavs (Viatichians, Krivichians) there were the tribes of the Mordvins, Meshchers etc.; cf. Atlas istorii SSSR, I (Moscow, 1949), p. 8.


30. The whole problem of the expedition by Marwān is still far from being solved. There are several Muslim sources on the events which should be correlated.


31. On the basis of the use by al-Balādhurī and Ibn Falān of the term a-aqāliba we can draw the conclusion that the invasion by Marwān was the cause for the mass exodus of the Bulgars from the Kuban region. Thus we have a chronological approximation for the arrival of the Bulgars at the Kama-Volga, namely shortly after 737. We have to note that not all a-aqāliba were taken prisoners and even the prisoners, having killed their leader, escaped. At the time of Ibn Falān the migration of the Bulgars from the Kuban to the Kama-Volga region could still be part of living tradition - hence the application of the name a-aqāliba with the connotation as applied by Al-Balādhurī.





Northmen from the use of the Volga River, which was the main trade route connecting Scandinavia with the East. The Polanians and other East Slavic tribes were not necessarily a passive element in the Khazar-Northman rivalry. It is possible that the Southeastern Slavs themselves sought the protection of the Khazars, when they learned that the Northmen had begun the occupation of some strategically important regions in the north.


This assumption of peaceful cooperation is supported by the fact that there is no indication of any armed conflict between the Slavs and the Khazars. In the case of the Polanians, we also know that the Khazar protection was extended at a time when the Polanians were menaced by their direct neighbors. As the Khazars did not remain on Polanian territory, the tributary affiliation was probably a better solution than a possible direct dominion by the Derevlians, Northmen, or other neighboring tribes.


Except for the fact of the tribute payments by various Slavic tribes to the Khazars and the approximate dates for the duration of such tributary affiliations, there is no direct information which gives details of the stipulations of the subordination. It is evident from the Russian Chronicles that the tribute payments to the Khazars were relatively light: only one fur from a household per year or a silver piece per plow. We know much about the technique of tribute collections by the Northmen. [32] We also know from the description of the Dulebians by Fredegarius how harshly the Avars treated the Western Slavs. [33] But the forms of tribute payments to the Northmen or Avars were not necessarily paralleled in the relations between the Khazars and the Eastern Slavs.


One may, however, reasonably suppose that the Khazars’ relation to the Eastern Slavs resembled to some degree their relation to the Volga Bulgars, who were also tribute-paying members of the Khazar Empire at the same time. For information on this latter group, there is the account of Ibn Fadlan.


The subordination of the Bulgars to the Khazars was expressed in the form of a tax consisting of one fur from a household. Otherwise, the Bulgars enjoyed full internal self-government. They had their own king and even some non-Bulgar tribes subordinated to them. They had an independent army, and there were no Khazar garrisons on territories controlled by the Bulgars. They were free to control the trade passing through their territory, and their king was free to impose tithes on foreign merchants entering or leaving the country. [34] Of course, the Bulgars were obliged not to wage wars on their own initiative or carry on an independent foreign



32. Cf. Annales Bertiniani, passim, and De administrando imperio on ‘poludie’, pp. 62-63.


33. See above, p. 45.


34. Ibn Rūsta and Gardīzī quoted by C. A. Macartney, The Magyars in the Ninth Century (Cambridge, 1930), p. 193; A. P. Kovalivśkyi, op. cit., pp. 140-41.





policy without Khazar consent. The loyalty of the Bulgars was assured by the system of hostages and dynastic marriages practiced by the Khazars and common throughout medieval Europe. [35]


The Bulgar-Khazar rapprochement also increased the prestige of the Bulgars somewhat, since any attack on them would automatically bring forth the help of the Khazars. The subordination of the Bulgars to the Khazars allowed the former to participate as equal partners of the latter in the benefits of trade with the Near East and Central Asia.


It is significant that the Khazars did not maintain garrisons on the territory of the Bulgars. This implies that the relationship was based on consent; it was beneficial for both contracting parties and depended on reciprocal good will. There were, no doubt, occasional strains in the relations: for example, in the early tenth century the king of the Bulgars conspired with the Khalif against the Khazars. But even this case shows that the subordination to the Khazars left much room for independent action.


The facts governing Bulgar-Khazar relations may reflect the basic policy of the Khazars toward other subordinated tribes. The intention of the Khazars was, at least during the ninth to eleventh centuries, to ensure peace along the borders of Khazaria proper. The integration into the empire of the Burtases and the Bulgars, both living along the economically important Volga River, assured peace in the fur-producing regions of the European Northeast through a system of satellite buffer states.


It might be added here that in the Khazar Empire the Khazars themselves were taxed. The Khazar nobility had to maintain at its own expense the mercenary troops of the state. [36] In the Altaic states, as in other medieval states, there was no gradation of burdens or privileges according to ethnic or linguistic classifications, although there were different assessments of taxes according to the religion professed. [37] In Altaic states anyone who did not serve in the army or in the administration had to pay taxes. The Slavs were not necessarily excluded from the armed services. For instance, the Slavs provided large contingents to the armies of the Avar and Danubian Bulgar states. But we have no evidence of mass participation of Slavs in the Khazar army or administration. The fact that the Slavs paid tribute implies that like the Bulgars of the Volga



35. A. P. Kovalivśkyi, op. cit., p. 147.


36. Ibn Rūsta: “Their king ... has imposed taxes upon the wealthy people among them; they have to maintain a number of horsemen in proportion to their income ...”.

Cf. Michael Kmoskó, “Die Quellen Istachri’s in seinem Berichte über die Chasaren”, Kőrösi Csoma Archivum, I (1921-25), p. 146; cf. also a translation in C. A. Macartney, op. cit., p. 199.


37. E.g., in the Caliphate the fiscal policy was changing, but basically the Muslims were the ones to enjoy exceptions. Also the Jews and the Christians had some privileges. According to Ibn Khurdādhbeh, the Rus merchants arriving in Bagdad claimed to be Christians and paid only a head tax (quoted above, p. 28).





region they did not provide contingents to the Khazar army. We do know that the Burtases had to provide ten thousand warriors, but there is no evidence that they also made tax payments. [38]


Except for the settlement associated with the name of 'Kii' there were no Avar or Khazar garrisons on East Slavic territory. This proposition is amply supported by evidence from the Primary Chronicle. When the first Northmen arrived at Kiev, they were informed that the town paid tribute to the Khazars. The Northmen remained in the city. There is no reference to any armed clash. This fact should not be surprising, and should not yel necessarily imply that there were no Khazar garrisons in the town. The Northmen, as tradesmen, could easily have remained as transients on the basis of an agreement with the local Slavic or Khazar authorities. But the Northmen, after inviting reinforcements from the north, imposed their rule by force over all the Polanian land. [39] The absence of a reference to the Khazars here is more significant; it obviously shows that there were no Khazar forces in Kiev or in the Polanian land.


Similar is the case later, when Oleg began the conquest of the tribes previously politically subordinated to the Khazars. First, in 884, he attacked the Severians and subordinated them to his own rule. In the following year (885) he did the same with the Radimichians. [40] In both cases Oleg had to deal with the Slavs, and not with the Khazars. It was only eighty years later that the Ruses ventured into the land of the Viatichians, who at that time were still tributaries of the Khazars:


964: Prince Sviatoslav ... went to the Oka and the Volga and on coming in contact with the Viatichians, he inquired of them to whom they paid tribute. They made answer that they paid a silver piece per plowshare to the Khazars.


965: Sviatoslav sallied forth against the Khazars. When they heard of his approach, they went out to meet him with their prince, the Khagan, and the armies came to blows. When the battle thus took place, Sviatoslav defeated the Khazars, and took their city of Bela Vezha. ...


966: Sviatoslav conquered the Viatichians and made them his tributaries. [41]


This continuous story clearly shows that the Viatichians, although politically dependent on the Khazars, were self-governing, and like other Slavic tribes, had their own military organization to resist the Ruses.


Obviously, the Khazars were far away from their tributary tribes and were unable to render them immediate assistance. The Ruses, in order to



38. Ibn Rūsta: “The Burdas are in allegiance to the king of the Khazars and he takes as tribute from the 10,000 horsemen ...” Similar text by Gardīzī. Both quoted by C. A. Macartney, op. cit., p. 194.


39. Likhachev, Povest vremennykh let, pp. 18-19.


40. Ibid., pp. 20-21.


41. Ibid., p. 47. Ibn auqal, Muslim geographer from the tenth century, dates these events in 965-66, cf. Lewicki, Źródła arabskie, p. 35.





encounter the Khazar army, had to traverse the Slavic regions and move into the territory populated by the Khazars and Alans. Sviatoslav could conquer the Viatichi only after having first defeated the Khazars completely.


All the quoted instances show that the Slavs, when subordinated to the Khazars, were self-governing and in control of their own military organizations. The Ruses had to defeat the Severians and some of the other East Slavic tribes in order to impose tribute. The Viatichians were able to resist all attempts at subordination at least until the late eleventh century. The last information about their opposition to the Ruses comes from 1080, when the Ruses had to fight the Viatichian Prince Khodota and his son. [42] The expedition of the Ruses lasted two years. If tribal princes could exist in the eleventh century, then, no doubt, princes could have functioned also during the Khazar domination.


Ibn Falān, in his description of the Khazar state system, remarked that “the neighboring kings obey him”, i.e., the Khagan-Beh. [43] Thus, we have another indication that the Khazars allowed the kings or princes to remain in charge of local affairs.


Before accepting the notion of the formal independence of the Eastern Slavs before and during the first half of the ninth century, and the notion of the mild forms of the subsequent Khazar domination, we should clarify the peculiar character of Kiev amidst the Slavic-populated regions of the middle Dnieper.


Kiev, with its Altaic background, could easily have come into existence and maintained its function as a trading post without infringement of the rights of the Polanians. Foreign trading posts, and even foreign military garrisons for the protection of trade routes across Slavic territories, could exist without being incompatible with tribal independence. Early Slavic or Germanic tribes did not know the modern concept of territorial sovereignty. A tribe claimed ‘dominium’ only over lands in actual utilization. Slavic tribes were divided by natural or artificial barriers. A trading post, used for international trade, could be established even under foreign military protection at points not claimed by any of the neighboring tribes. Here the observation should be made that Kiev is not in the center of the Polanian territories, but at the very edge of compact Polanian settlements. We should also recall the fragment already analyzed from the Russian Primary Chronicle that while the Polanians lived apart and governed their families, the founders of Kiev ruled only over their own kinsfolk. [44]


The penetration of Northmen into Eastern Europe began through trading posts protected by small military retinues. Such settlements were



42. Cf. “The Testament of Vladimir Monomakh”, English text in Cross, The Russian Primary Chronicle, p. 211.


43. A. P. Kovalivśkyi, op. cit., p. 146.


44. See above, p. 48.





established not only among the Eastern Slavs or the Ugro-Finns of the northeast (for example Murmansk i.e. ‘burgh of Norwegians’), but also on West Slavic territory.


On Polish ethnic territory there are today toponyms such as: ‘Waręźyn’, ‘Waręgowice’, ‘Waręska Kuźnica’, etc. All these place names, and other similar ones, are to be found along navigable rivers or places suitable for portages. The names, of course, reflect the fact that the localities were established by ‘Varangians’ (or specifically by Ruses, in the case of place names such as: ‘Rusek’, ‘Rusocin’, etc.). The usual interpretation of these toponyms is that the places so named were used by Scandinavian merchants or military personnel securing the safety of communication lines. [45]


Despite such obvious Scandinavian toponyms and archeological finds of Nordic character, no one seriously contends that the Western Slavs were tributaries of the Northmen. Similarities with the developments in Eastern Europe are numerous.


It should not be surprising, therefore, that Kiev could become a foreign - in our case, an Altaic - trading post without affecting the independence of the neighboring Slavs.


The trade in Eastern Europe during the ninth century was in the hands of the Northmen, the heterogeneous population of Khazaria and the Jewish merchants of Western Europe. Also the Avars remained interested in East-West trade relations. As long as the Slavic tribes could maintain peace along the trade routes, there was no need for the Khazars or Avars to interfere in their internal affairs. A Khazar intervention came only when the Polanians and Kiev were threatened by neighboring tribes, as well as by the expansion of the Northmen, shortly after the year 850 A.D.


We may conclude that, despite the political affiliation and the tribute payment to the Khazars since the middle of the ninth century, the Slavic tribes still maintained their own organization under their own princes and Veche. The Slavs were free also to maintain their own military organization.



45. R. Ekblom, “Die Varäger im Weichselgebiet”, Archiv für slavische Philologie, XXXDC (1925). Ekblom’s opinion is shared by Henryk Łowmiański, Zagadnienie roli Normanów w genezie państw słowiańskich (Warsaw, 1957), p. 31.


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