Between the 8th and the 10th centuries AD, fierce Scandinavian warriors raided and then settled large swathes of Europe, particularly Britain, Ireland and parts of northern France. These were the Vikings, and their story is well known today. Far fewer people realise that groups of Norsemen also travelled east.
These Volga Vikings, also known as the Rus, crossed the Baltic into present-day Russia and
theUkraine and founded settlements there. They traded commodities including furs and slaves for Islamic silver, and penetrated so far east as to reach Baghdad. Their activities were documented by Arab scholars: one, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, recorded that the Volga Vikings he met were perfect physical specimens but also “the filthiest of God’s creatures”. Through trade and culture they brought West and East into regular contact; their story sheds light on both Scandinavian and early Islamic history.
…and yesterday, Martin Sixsmith kicked-off a new 25 part series which will trace the story of Russia from it’s creation to the present day: Russia: The Wild East. (listen here)
In this first programme, Martin travels to the northern city of Novgorod. It was there that, ancient history has it, the warring Slav tribes invited Rurik to come and bring order. He was the first iron fist, and he gave Rus-sia its name. But, as Martin Sixsmith points out, already by the late ninth century, two key leitmotifs of Russian history are beginning to emerge – the tendency towards autocracy, and the urge for aggression and expansion. Today Russia spans eleven time zones and is home to a hundred nationalities and a hundred and fifty languages