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The Rus - (860-1054 AD)
DBA 108

By Chris Brantley and David Kuijt

In 860 AD, the Slavic chieftains Askold and Dir of Novgorod first occupied Kiev and then launched a massive raid against Constantinople, marking the start of this DBA army list.

RurikThe 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 in 862 AD, several Slavic tribes agreed to invite Rurik (right), Sineus and Truvor, three famous Viking warriors of Ross (a.k.a. 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 the ruled Kievan Russ until the 1200s.

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 Bosphorus 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 Scandanavian 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).

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 Scandanavian Ingvar the Widefarer skirted the eastern boundaries of Russ 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 Russ 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, Byelorus and Ukraine, was effectively fragmented into a loose confederation of highly independent principalities.

As a historical aside, the Scandanavian nature of Kievan Rus is a subject of some historical controversy. Certainly, leaders such as Rurik and Oleg were of Scandanavian 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 Russian Chronicle, written in the 12th Century. 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.


The Princes of Rus will tussle with the Early Bulgars (#87), Slavs (#89), Khazar (#93), Ghuzz (#94), Thematic Byzantines (#99), Magyars (#107), their fellow Rus princes (#108), Pechenegs (#109), Nikephorian Byzantines (#117), Early Hungarians (#119), and Early Polish (#122).

Missing from the list of enemies are the Caspian Sea Arabs of the Abbasid Caliphate and Alid Emirate, who can be represented somewhat questionably by the Arab Imperial (DBA 100) list.


2x3Cv or 4Sp






Essex sells a Rus army pack of thirteen elements (giving you the Cavalry or Blade option, but only six elements of Spear), which is comprised of the following figures: 1x HSA13 (General); 3x HSA3 (Cv.), 6x HSA10 (Cv.), 4x BZA27 (Bd.), 24x HSA9 (Sp.) and 6x HSA7 (Ps.). HSA3 are Bulgar heavy cavalry. HSA7 are Slavic foot archers. HSA9 are Slavic javelinmen. HSA 10 are Slavic medium cavalry. BZA27 are Varangian Guards from the Essex Byzantine range. Not included in the pack are Essex HSA8 (Slav axeman, which could be used to supplement or substitute the Blade element.

Gripping Beast sells 25mm Rus warriors as well as an extensive Viking and Dark Ages range. Old Glory offers 25mm Rus and other adaptable Dark Ages miniatures.

In 15mm, Irregular offers Rus heavy axemen, spearmen and archers; Tin Soldier offers Rus heavy infantry with axe or spear, Rus/Slavic heavy cavalry, and Slavic archers, javelinmen, and axemen; Outpost Wargames Services offers various Slavs; and Two Dragons offers a mix-pack of 20 different miniatures selected from their range of 20 Rus/Slav figures.

For painting inspiration, here are pictures of a Varangian Rus reenactor and a 54mm Rus model by Martindale.

On-Line Resources

Here are links to several historical sites on the Rus and related subjects:

The De Bellis Bookstore includes the following general historical titles:

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Last Updated: April 14 , 1999

Questions, comments, suggestions welcome. Send them to Chris Brantley, brant@erols.com.