Textbooks about Russian history often discuss the importance of trade routes "from the Varangians to the Greeks," which allowed ships to pass from the Baltic to the Black Sea using a network of waterways and portages. I'm interested in some of the practical details of that journey.

During the peak period of the river routes' use, how much time did a journey from "the Varangians to the Greeks" typically take?

  • 2
    This is a good question, that I have asked myself but never bothered to actually figure out. So this was a good opportunity to dig a bit. +1 Nov 6, 2013 at 9:34
  • An interesting source would be Ahmad ibn Fadlan's account (that Crichton's "Eaters of the Dead" was based on, which later was turned into Banderas' movie "13th warrior")
    – DVK
    Nov 22, 2013 at 21:57

1 Answer 1


There have been several travels in boats reconstructed from the relevant times. One that I can find good records of is the boat known is Aifur. It travelled in 1994 from Sigtuna in Sweden to Novgorod. This took 41 days.

In 1994, the Aifur crossed the Baltic Sea and sailed up the rivers Neva and Volkhov to Novgorod. Distance covered was 1382 km. The effective time was 307 hours, of which sailing time 192 1/2 hours and rowing time, incl. manual towing, 114 1/2 hours.

In 1996 they continued from Novgorod. This was during a year with very little water in the rivers, so this can be counted as a sort of "worst case":

The distance covered was 1568 km. The effective time was 415 1/2 hours, of which sailing time 113 1/2 hours, rowing, incl. manual towing, 264 hours and manual towing over land, 38 hours.

The total time was 113 days. It might have been faster other years, with more water. From Odessa it should be a fairly quick sailing trip over the Black Sea to Istanbul, but the only period-authentic expedition I can find that ended up in Istanbul went via Poland (because of Politics).

Reference: http://web.comhem.se/aifur/varangians.html

More reading: http://web.comhem.se/aifur/vikingvoyages.pdf

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    +1 for giving a good bound, but you'd think there would have been records kept at the time that would still happen to be around somwhere. Traders tend to be kind of big on accounting.
    – T.E.D.
    Nov 6, 2013 at 14:45
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    @T.E.D. They weren't even big on literacy, so I highly doubt that. Not even the laws were written down until hundreds of years later. Nov 6, 2013 at 15:33
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    @T.E.D.FYI, this are the records we have, and none of them mention how long the journeys took (because it's not accounting, but memorials): en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ingvar_runestones en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Greece_Runestones also: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/England_Runestones Nov 7, 2013 at 11:29
  • Thanks! This is exactly the kind of analysis I was looking for. Can you also add a link to the Polish expedition you mention in your last paragraph?
    – Alex P
    Nov 7, 2013 at 16:31
  • @AlexP: I added a link to an article which is the only useful thing I found in English. The boat was called "Krampmacken". Nov 7, 2013 at 16:40

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