In the 9th century Scandinavian Vikings invaded and settled a number of regions in northern Europe, from Russia in the east to Ireland in the west. From these eastward-moving Scandinavians, called Varangians or Rus, came the name Rossiya, or Russia, meaning “land of the Rus.” (Scholars debate the origin of the word Rus, which also may have been derived from ruotsi, the Finnish name for the Swedes, or from Rukhs-As, the name of an Alanic tribe in southern Russia.)
Scandinavian princes from the house of Ryurik organized the East Slavs into a single state. According to tradition recorded in the Primary Chronicle, the chief East Slavic source of much of early Russian history, internal dissension and feuds among the East Slavs around Novgorod became so violent that the people voluntarily chose a Scandinavian chief, Ryurik, to rule over them in ad 862. In fact, Ryurik is a semimythical figure and his precise relationship with subsequent princely rulers of Rus is debated.
In 882 Kyiv and Novgorod were united as the state of Kievan Rus under a single ruler from the house of Ryurik. The East Slavs were pagans who worshiped the Earth’s natural forces. By the early 10th century, however, Kievan Rus had established close commercial and cultural ties with the Byzantine Empire, the center of Orthodox Christianity. In 980 Vladimir I (whose name is spelled Volodymyr in Ukrainian) became ruler; eight years later he converted to Orthodox Christianity and made Orthodoxy (see Orthodox Church) the official religion of Kievan Rus. The Slavic church had considerable autonomy, and services were held in a Slavic liturgical language known as Old Church Slavonic rather than in the Greek language of the Byzantine Empire.
In matters of doctrine, however, the church obeyed the rulings of the patriarch of Constantinople in the Byzantine capital.
Monasteries and churches were built in Byzantine style, and Byzantine culture became the predominant influence in fields such as art, architecture, and music. Vladimir’s choice of Orthodox Christianity, rather than the Latin church (Roman Catholicism) or Islam, had an important influence on the future of Russia. Orthodoxy played a crucial role in shaping the values and the separate identity of the East Slavs. As Christians, they belonged unequivocally to Europe rather than to one of the other great regional civilizations of the world. As Orthodox, particularly after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, they were powerful but peripheral members of the European Christian community.
Kievan Rus achieved its greatest power and splendor under Yaroslav the Wise in the 11th century. Yaroslav made Kyiv a great city and built magnificent buildings, including the notable Cathedral of Saint Sophia (also known as the Hagia Sophia of Kyiv). Yaroslav did much to develop Rus education and culture. He also compiled the first Russian law code, the so-called Russkaya Pravda (Russian Justice). "Russia" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia.
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