The Ruling Families of Rus- Clan, Family and Kingdom by Christian Raffensperger and Donald Ostrowski - 2023- 300 Pages
Kyivan Rus’ was a state in northeastern Europe from the late ninth to the mid-sixteenth century that encompassed a variety of peoples, including Lithuanians, Polish, and Ottomans. The Ruling Families of Rus explores the areas history through local families, revealing how the concept of family rule developed over the centuries into what we understand as now as dynasties. The authors spend a good bit of time talking about, using a term from David Fisher, what are called "historical fallacies". One such fallacy is to start from a point in history after the era you are studying and portray the past only as it leads to the future. In the case of Russian studies it would often taken history as an inevitable march to the Romonovs.
"In other words, as Fischer states it, this represents ‘a complex anachronism , in which the antecedent in a narrative series is falsified by being defined or interpreted in terms of the consequent’. The historians’ fallacy here, in what may be a classic example, judges the relevance of events in early Rus in terms of their leading to the creation of the Russian dynastic state, from the end of the fifteenth until the beginning of the sixteenth century. However, there is another chronological dimension that will lead eventually to the present-day state of Russia. In this respect, according to Fischer, what has been created is ‘the mistaken idea that the proper way to do history is to prune away the dead branches of the past and to preserve the green buds and twigs which have grown into the dark forest of our contemporary world’. 30 The various branches of the history tree that do not lead to the present are chopped off as irrelevant.What we have tried to do in this book is to study early Rus until the sixteenth century from the point of view of the people who lived it, what they knew and what they didn’t know at the time. Our evidence tells us that, among other things, they did not know that they were part of a dynasty. They did, however, know that they were part of a family." From the text.
Ascension to the throne in the period was not strictly through the oldest son. First it would pass through the ruler's brothers. Rulers saw themselves as part of a family, not a dynasty.
Each of the 12 chapters focuses on the family of a different ruler. Marriages were arranged to increase power, develop trade and promote peace.
Some rulers paid tribute to the Mungals, church architecture was adapted from the Byzantine Empire.
Here is how the authors tell us Rus began
" the locals proved to be unable to rule themselves and, thus, the ‘Varangian Rus’ were invited back to rule over them: ‘Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it . Come to rule and reign over us.’ Thus, the author of the much later pvl account, writing at the behest of the descendants of these same Rus, or at least for people claiming descent from them, had now created a proper origin story – not one of conquest and bloodshed, but one where their ancestors were invited in as saviours and peacekeepers by a local population who were unable to take care The explorations of these Scandinavian travellers seemed eventually to turn to conquest or, at least, tribute-taking, as recorded by the pvl. However, only a few years later, the pvlsays that: ‘The tributaries of the Varangians drove them back beyond the sea and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves.’ This expulsion of the tribute-taking Scandinavians is the real beginning of the creation story of Rus"
This book took my knowledge of Russian History much further back than the Romanovs. I highly reccomend it to all into Russian or Medieval European history.
Christian Raffensperger is the Kenneth E. Wray Chair in the Humanities at Wittenberg University.
Donald Ostrowski is a lecturer at the Harvard Extension School and an associate of the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute.