The Kievan Rus'
While the lands of the Rus' have been occupied for centuries, their history truly lies within the heart of the Norse people - those who many know today as the Vikings. For many years, the Norse had been terrorizing the known world, raiding and attacking every civilized country in Europe. However, in their search for glory and gold, the Norsemen would create one of the largest and most powerful kingdoms in all of Europe.
The Early Period
It is said that the first true Rus' were Swedish of origin, crossing the Baltic Seas in order to find new land and new places to trade. They first settled in a town they called "Aldeigjuborg" near modern day Ladoga. The name came from the Finnish Alode-joki, which meant "lowland river". As the name suggests, the Norse continued their tradition of building a fortified settlement on or near the edge of a river.
From here, the Norse settlers traded with and ruled over the surrounding tribes of Finns, Balts and Slavs. The Norse enacted tribute from the tribes of the Chudes, Merias, Veses, and Krivichs until the tribes unexpectedly rose up against them and kicked them out of their land. According to the Primary Chronicle, a written history of the Rus', they "…drove the Varangians back beyond the sea, refused to pay them tribute, and set out to govern themselves". Soon, however, they began fighting amongst themselves and invited the chieftain Rorik to rule over them.
The Rorikid Dynasty
Although the Primary Chronicle states he is a Varangian, there are many theories of Rorik's origins. His name is written in a number of different languages, such as Old Norse Hrœrekr or Hrørikr, the Slavic Riurik, or the Germanic Hrodric. One such opposing theory to the Chronicles is that Rorik was actually of Wendish descent - a Slav from the area around Pomerania. Another states that Rorik is actually the same man of Hrörek, a Viking King of Frisia.
Whatever his origins may be, it is known that upon arriving in 862, he immediately began expanding his rule. In almost no time at all (exact dates are unknown) he ruled over the forts Lyubsha, Áluborg, Duboviki, Sarskoe, Timerevo, and the great city Holmgarðr (modern Novgorod). Rurik remained in rule until he died in the year 879. Oleg, his kinsman, ruled in place of his son Igor (Old Norse Ingvarr) while he was too young to rule.
The Years of Oleg
Oleg proved himself to be a great ruler, expanding his predecessor's territory even more. In the year 882, Oleg attacked and conquered a city ruled by two Norse warlords named Askold and Dir. After gaining the great city of Kiev (called Kœnugarðr in Old Norse), Oleg moved his capitol from Novgorod to there. Kiev soon grew to a rich and prosperous city under Oleg, and continued to expand his rule. In the year 907, he launched a raid from Kiev on the mighty city of Constantinople. When he found the entrance to the Bosporus blocked and the gates to Constantinople barred, he fixed wheels to each of his ships and rolled them to the walls. Oleg nailed his shield above the gates, showing the Romans that the Rus' were dangerous.
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Although the Rus' were mainly composed of the Norse Vikings, they still adopted many of the names of the Slavic peoples they conquered. One of these names was the druzhina - coming from the slavic word drug, which meant "friend". The Druzhina Kagana literally translated to "the Khagan's companions". The druzhina - in its many different forms - made up the bulk of the army while the local Slavic levies were rarely used in true campaigns. The Khagan would have chose his companions from the strongest and most proven warriors of his lands. Although much of his warriors would be armed in the typical chainmail hauberks of his ancestors, through trade with the Romans and other Eastern peoples lamellar became much more common. Only the best could afford this armor, however, so the Khagan's druzhina is one of the few that can potentially own lamellar.
Although the Norse were quite proficient with the sword and the spear, they were specifically known for one weapon; the powerful Dane ax, a massive two handed ax capable of cleaving man, horse, or shield completely in two. They were so well known for their axes that when the Romans incorporated them into their ranks to form the Varangian Guard, they named them the "axe-bearing foreigners". With their large Dane axes, the druzhina form powerful shock troops - but this isn't their only skill. They are also armed with a sword and a large round shield, giving them the ability to fight in the true style of their ancestors.
Since the Ancient Slavs came into contact with the Norse people, they have referred to them as varjazi or varęgŭ - a cognate of the Old Norse væringjar, meaning "sworn person" or "pledge companion". These are the men known from Scotland to the Middle East as the "ax-bearing foreigners". The Roman Empire was impressed by them from the very first time they waged war; so impressed, in fact, that they would go on to create an entire Imperial Guard composed of them. The Varjazi are formed of nobles and men who have left their frozen Scandinavian homelands to travel in the East to find their fortune or a glorious death. They are experienced and wise, as well as very well-armored. Each warrior wears chainmail and a Nordic-style helm, and wields the combination of the axe and shield to deadly effect.
Another Norse tradition, the Huskarlar (meaning "house man" in Old Norse) were retainers of the Jarl or Prince. In the Norse world, the huskarls were the bodyguards of important people, warriors and could be important people themselves. In the lands of the Rus', the Huskarlar retained their important status, but they were somewhat lower of status than the druzhyna who guarded the King. Because of their high status, their pay was fairly substantial and they used it wisely. They were armored in thick chainmail and strong helmets, and armed with massive Dane axes, in the tradition of their Norse ancestors. As with many of the Rus', their sheer ferocity in battle was enough to terrify even the most fearless Roman general.
Underneath the noble troops were the part of the lesser druzhina. Their name literally translates to "footmen" in Old Slavic, as most of them did not own a horse. These were young men, usually sons of nobility and the upper classes. They could afford decent armor, usually chainmail but occasionally lamellar as well. In the Rus' traditions a man would be given a sword when he was born, as described by Ibn Rustah: "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 any property: you have only what you can provide with this weapon!'" The sword was almost a sacred symbol to the Rus', as it indicated a certain social status that the lower classes could only aspire to
As with the Peshatsi, these men form the bulk of the druzhina. They are somewhat poorer than the upper level of the druzhina, but still can be much better equipped than the lower classes. They can afford short chainmail shirts and leather armor, and use a combination of spears and large shields. Their name, Bronist'tsi, literally means "armored" in Old Russian, and refers to the fact that these are defensive troops. They should be used as the backbone of any defending Rus' army, forming the main line or the shield wall of the Rus'. Once packed into the shield wall they will not be broken or routed by any troops but the absolute best.
During the early Middle Ages, archery in Europe began to decline. Archers became the cheapest military units and bows were regarded as little more than peasant weapons. However, in Norse warfare a great archer was revered. The Germanic longbow originated in the cold lands of Scandinavia and as such the men of the North were masters of the bow. As the Swedes, Ruossi and Slavs passed through Russia, they often hunted for the beautiful animal furs that Russia had to offer. In order to hunt, they had to be highly skilled at using the bow. These men were often utilized by the military to support the heavy troops and provide suppressing fire. As all rulers should know; any man, no matter how powerful a warrior he is, can die from a well-placed arrow.
The Vikingar; the calling card of the Norsemen. The word Vikingr literally came to mean "one who goes on a viking (an expedition)". In other countries, the Vikingar came to be known as pirates, raiders and cutthroats, but they were truly traders, merchants, explorers and warriors. All men in Norse society were trained in warfare, so every man could become a warrior when needed. These men are clothed in chainmail haubergeons over gambeson, and armed with cruel axes ready to bite deep into their foes. These men of the North are hardy and strong, ready to fight for their king at any moment.
Before the Rus' established their massive kingdom, another group of people aimed to rule over the lands of modern Russia. The Khazar Khaganate once encompassed much of the southern Steppes, eastern Russia, the northern Caucasus and northern Turkey. Their capital was based in the great city of Atil, a massive trade and multi-ethnic center. The Khazars were a sophisticated people, of many different ethnic and religious backgrounds. Through dealings with the Eastern Roman Empire to the west of them and the Arabs to their south, they also developed a strong military base. The ancient Rus' knew of their power and were considered vassals to the Khagan. The Rus' even went as far as copying much of their customs and government in order to become more like them. Eventually, in the year 968, Prince Svyatoslav of Kiev sacked Atil, and sent the Khazar Empire into a downward spiral that they could not return from. These noblemen are remnants of great Khazaria, and are highly trained heavy cavalry. Once their lands have been conquered, they may decide to join with the army of their new rulers.
Once the Norse settled in Russia and created a kingdom over the Slavs, the old aristocracy was soon replaced by the new Norse elites. Although they remained alive and a part of the kingdom, they were not held as high in society as the Norse were. Much of the eastern Slavs had a lot of contact with Steppe warriors, including the famous Khazars, and the Eastern Romans, and so retained a certain level of horsemanship that the Norse did not have. So, any Slavs who wished a higher standard of life could become a part of the druzhina and fight for his glory. They formed much needed heavy cavalry, clad in heavy chain mail and armed with deadly spears.
Before the Norse arrived, the Slavs dealt with many eastern peoples; the Khazars, Avars, Huns, Magyars and Pechenegs raided, terrorized, and - some - even attempted to conquer the Slavs. In dealing with so many cultures centering around horses and cavalry, the eastern Slavs took up the traditions of horsemanship and became excellent riders. Cavalry became natural, and many Slavs began to domesticate their own horses. These men are lower status than the nobles, however can still afford to own their own horse. Being unarmored for the most part, these horsemen are swift and can be quite deadly to archers and fleeing enemies, but should not be kept in melee.
As the Rus' conquered more and more Slavic tribes, they began to gain more and more tribes providing tribute to them. That tribute could have been anything from furs and trade-able goods to manpower for their wars. These levies would never be a large part of the armies, as the druzhina made up most of the army; but when war was brought to the villages, towns and cities of the Ruslands these men would rise and fight for their homes and families. They are simply armed, with spears and shields, and only armored in padded clothes, but what they lack in arms, they make up for in courage and valour.
As the Rus' conquered more and more Slavic tribes, they began to gain more and more tribes providing tribute to them. That tribute could have been anything from furs and trade-able goods to manpower for their wars. These levies would never be a large part of the armies, as the druzhina made up most of the army; but when war was brought to the villages, towns and cities of the Ruslands these men would rise and fight for their homes and families. They are simply armed, with javelins and shields, and only armored in padded clothes, but what they lack in arms, they make up for in courage and valour. These men are known for their raiding abilities, and a smart Rus' leader will mainly use these men in ambushes. A Slavic warrior's biggest advantage lay in the element of surprise - as the Romans and other adversaries found, by the time they knew of the ambush it was already too late to run.