Portage

Rus (860 - 1054 AD)
DBA III/48

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Starting from a region sparsely populated by Finns, Balts, and Slavs through the Seventh and Eighth centuries, Rus gradually emerged as one of the most powerful principalities of Eastern Europe. The modern states of Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine all trace their roots back to Rus.

There had long been a small Scandinavian presence on the eastern shores of the Baltic sea, and the end of the Eighth century saw an aggressive expansion of that presence, sparked by the flow of silver coins out of the Abbasid Caliphate in Baghdad. While the details are unclear and the contribution of the various groups is in dispute, we do know that the first half of the Ninth century saw this mixture of Finns, Balts, Slavs, and Scandinavians coalesce into a network of towns, thriving on trade between the Baltic region and the wealthy south.

Rurik

According to the Primary Chronicle (a history of Rus composed in the early Twelfth century), the Slavs of Novgorod had been forced to pay tribute to raiding Varyagi (a.k.a. Varangians or Vikings) throughout the early 800s AD, but eventually rose up and drove the Varangians "beyond the seas." Tribal feuds, however, prevented the Slavs from forming an effective confederation. So around the middle of the Ninth century, several Slavic tribes agreed to invite Rurik (right), Sineus and Truvor, three famous Viking warriors of Rhos to rule them. Rurik settled at Novgorod, then a small trading post. Sineus and Truvor settled at two nearby towns, but died shortly thereafter. Rurik united the local tribes and towns, making Novgorod a prosperous center of trade until his death in 879 AD and starting the dynasty that ruled Kievan Rus until the 1200s.

In 860 AD, the Byzantines recorded a massive raid by the Rus against Constantinople, marking the start of this DBA army list. Actually composed of both Scandinavians and Rus, this army terrified the Byzantines. Franklin and Shepard describe this raid:

A large fleet, said to have numbered 200 ships, arrived in the Bosporus without warning. The raiders pillaged along its shores and devastated the countryside and settlements outside Constantinople. They made a point of trying to terrify the capital's citizens; at one point they sailed past the walls and raised their swords, 'as if threatening the city with death by the sword'.

Rurik was succeeded by his kinsmen Oleg who conquered Kiev in 882 AD. With Kiev as his capital, he then set about expanding his borders and controlling the lucrative trade route from Novgorod through to the Black Sea. In 907 AD, Oleg led an army of 80,000 with 2000 boats on a raid on Constantinople, moving his boats overland on wheels to avoid chains placed in the Bosporus straights. This raid and subsequent expeditions into the Black Sea prompted Byzantium to negotiate a favorable commercial treaty with the Rus in 911 AD, which also resulted in Byzantine recruitment of its fabled Varangian Guard, including famous mercenary and future Viking king Harald Hardrada.

Oleg was succeeded by Rurik's son Igor, who ruled Kiev from 912-945 AD. Igor was the last of the Rus leaders to bear a Scandinavian name; the balance were Slavic in derivation. In 912 AD, Igor negotiated a safe passage for portage of his fleet through Khazar territory to raid Muslim cities in the Caspian Sea, but the Rus atrocities so outraged the Khazars that they ambushed and destroyed the Rus fleet at Itil (913 AD). Igor's next great exploit was the 941 AD raid on Constantinople, which resulted in disaster for the Rus when they ran into a Byzantine fleet using Greek Fire. Another Rus Caspian expedition in 943 AD resulted in the sack of Muslim Barda, which the Rus held against counterattacks until an epidemic forced them to withdraw.

After Igor's death, his wife Olga (945-969 AD) ruled as regent and became the first of the Rus rulers to accept Christianity. During Olga's regency, her pagan son Grand Prince Svyatoslav launched a series of punitive campaigns (966-971 AD) southwest into Bulgaria, south against the Khazars to the Caspian Sea, up the Volga River on a punitive expedition against their trade competitors, the Volga Bulgars, and west to the sea of Azov (966-971 AD). Svyatoslav's campaign to conquer Bulgaria resulted in the sack of Preslav and Philippolois, but came to an abrupt end in July 971 AD when the Byzantines intervened. Not too long after Olga relinquished the throne to Svyatoslav (969-972 AD), his luck ran out. The ruler of Rus fell in an ambush and suffered the indignity of having his skull used as a Pecheneg drinking cup. Svyatoslav's first son, Yaropolk then ruled uneventfully for eight years (972-980 AD).

Vladimir

In 980 AD, Svyatoslav's second son, Prince Vladimir (later Saint Vladimir) inherited the crown thanks to an army recruited in Sweden. Vladimir embraced Christianity and allied himself with Byzantium, marrying the sister of the Byzantine emperor, Anna, in 988 AD. He was famous as a law giver and for his charity. He decreed the conversion of Novgorod and Kiev to orthodox Christianity ("The Baptism of Russia"), and expanded Kievan Rus with successful campaigns against the Poles, Bulgars and Pechenegs. He organized the expanded Kingdom as a confederation with his sons assigned to rule each region in rotation.

When Vladimir died in 1015 AD, he left six sons to vie for the crown. His eldest son, Svyatopolk the Damned seized the cities of his Christian brothers Boris and Gleb and had them put to death. Svyatopolk then ruled (1015-1019 AD) until his death. The two remaining sons, Yaroslav and Mistislav split the kingdom and ruled jointly until Mistislav's death in 1036. In 1041 AD, an army recruited by the Scandinavian Ingvar the Widefarer skirted the eastern boundaries of Rus and down the Volga to raid the coasts of the Caspian Sea before striking east and disappearing in some unrecorded disaster. In 1043 AD, a Rus fleet mounted the last raid on Constantinople, but were soundly defeated. Their survivors were hunted down and killed or captured at Varna on the west coast of the Black Sea.

Yarolsav continued to reign until his death in 1054 AD, earning the sobriquet "the Wise" for his law codes (the Pravda) and his efforts to promote the church. This period was known as the Golden Age of Kievan Rus. After Yarolsav's death, pressure from nomadic tribes and isolationism resulting from the schism between Western and Eastern Orthodox churches resulted in gradual Kievan decline. The unified state of Rus, which had grown to encompass most of present day Russia, Belarus, and Ukraine, was effectively fragmented into a loose confederation of highly independent principalities.

As a historical aside, the Scandinavian nature of Kievan Rus is a subject of some historical controversy. Certainly, leaders such as Rurik and Oleg were of Scandinavian origin, as were many of their followers. Viking migrations along the river trading routes east and south to Byzantium are well documented in the Primary Chronicle. The name Rus is usually attributed to the Viking tribe Ross or Rhos, which was known at the time in the court of Byzantium. Other historians (especially many Russian historians) minimize the impact of the Vikings on the largely Slavic population and argue that "Rus" is derived from a Slavic tribe of the same name that lived in that region on the banks of the Ros river.

Composition

A prince of the Rus who was preparing for a major battle would typically draw on three different sources for troops. First, each prince had his Druzhina, his personal retinue. This was a more or less permanent group of followers who would accompany the prince while raiding or collecting tribute. Similar to the Hird of the Scandinavians, they functioned as something of a cross between bodyguards and drinking buddies, and in battle would be found in the company of the prince. During the early part of this period the Druzhina would have fought entirely on foot, gradually changing over to fighting on horseback as time went on.

A second source of troops was the Voi, called up from the towns and surrounding hinterland controlled by the prince. These troops weren't continually in arms but would be called up for a specific campaign, assuming that the prince could convince them (through money or charisma) to follow him. Typically armed with spear or axe, and large shield, these troops fought entirely on foot.

Finally, the prince could draw on outsiders. Scandinavian mercenaries, Varangians, were frequently recruited. And horsemen from the steppe could be recruited or called on as subjects to fight for the Rus.

The DBA Rus army list includes the following element types:

3Cav or 4Bd (Gen) The prince, accompanied by his Druzhina.
4Sp Voi, foot troops drawn from the towns, armed with large rectangular shields and long spears.
4Bd More Druzhina or Scandinavian mercenaries.
2Ps Slavic or steppe archers.
2LH Steppe horsemen. Bulgars, Turks, and Pechenegs are all appropriate.

To field this army with all element options, you would need 3 Cavalry figures, 44 Slavic foot armed with spear, 4 Slavic or steppe foot armed with bow and based as Psiloi, 10 to 12 Scandinavians armed with sword and axe, and 4 light horse -- as many as 60 foot figures and 7 mounted figures.

Opponents

The official DBA army list includes the following enemies for the Rus: Early Slav (III/1c), Early Bulgar (III/14c), Thematic Byzantine (III/29), Magyar (III/30ab), Volga Bulgar (III/32), Pecheneg (III/47), Rus (III/48), Early Polish (III/62a), Nikephorian Byzantine (III/64), Early Hungarian (III/67a), Konstantinian Byzantine (III/75), and Early Russian (III/78).

A significant omission from this list are the Khazars (III/16). As described above, the Rus fought major battles against the Khazars in 913 and 966 AD.

Camps and BUAs

Rus Lodya

The Rus home topography is Forest, so BUA's are not allowed. Of course, with an aggression of 3, a Rus army is likely to fight most of its battles on its opponent's home ground anyway.

A typical camp might be a simple ditch and bank fortification, with or without stockade. A more distinctive camp could include a boat (lodya or monoxile) drawn up on the bank of a river.

Miniatures

Two Dragons makes a nice 15mm range of Rus foot soldiers with a lot of variety in poses. Like other figures made by Two Dragons, their Rus figures have a very distinctive look; some find them short and squat, others like their fullness and interesting poses. One downside to this range is that there is only one mounted figure available, you'll need to fill out your army from other ranges.

Other 15mm figures include those from Essex, Old Glory 15's, Tin Soldier, and Irregular. Thistle & Rose made Rus figures, but the line is out of production and the figures are now very hard to find. Outpost Wargame Services makes some Slavic foot that might be useful. Finally, the Italian maker Camelot has a range of Rus figures.

In 25mm, choices include Navigator and Old Glory, and, especially for later in the period, Mirliton and Gripping Beast.

Other Resources

On-line resources include:

For painting guides and other historical detail, see: Armies of Medieval Russia 750-1250 (Men-At-Arms, No 333) by David Nicolle and Angus McBride (Osprey, September 1999.

In addition, Ian Heath's Armies of the Dark Ages 600 - 1066 AD, (Wargames Research Group, 1980) covers the organization, tactics, and appearance of Rus armies.

For general historical background relevant to the Rus:


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Thanks to Jack Sheriff for updating this essay.
Comments, questions or suggested additions to this page
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Last Updated: Sept. 16, 2004