Are many Russians descended from Varangian Vikings? Some historians say yes, but some do not.

There had been archaeological diggings in Saint-Petersburg and the Novgorod region, as seen in one rare documentary on Youtube.

Its hard to find articles on the origins of Russians and therefore I am asking if anyone of you would know any possible explanations and answers. I think the strongest proof is archaeological proof, but Russian archaeology is very unpopular.

How does the influence of Varangian Vikings compare to that of other tribes that wandered in the area that we now know as European Russia?


  1. История Государства Российского-Рюрик

  2. Second Link

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    Russians are descended from a combination of multiple tribes that had settled in and intermarried with successive generations of inhabitants that once lived in Rus. – Semaphore Jun 18 '15 at 15:54
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    What do you mean by "descended from"? Given that the Norse traded & raided throughout the area, it seems implausible, given human nature, that at least some present-day Russians are not descended from them, among others. – jamesqf Jun 18 '15 at 17:43
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    It's unclear why this has been closed. – o0'. Jun 20 '15 at 8:23
  • I (hopefully clarified the question and nominate it for reopening in its current form. – Tom Au Apr 29 '17 at 0:37

There are two ways to answer this question, the easy way and the hard way.

The easy way is to use language as an indication of lineage. Language is probably the foremost component of a culture, so this is a valid and typical approach.

The language Russians use ("Russian") is Slavic, while the language the Varangians used was Germanic. Historically it appears that the Varangians were never much more than a ruling class in some areas (much like the Normans in England), while the vast majority of the population remained Slavic. Much like with the Normans, it didn't take many generations for the ruling classes to become culturally absorbed into the society of their subjects. After a while even the rulers' names start looking Slavic, and at some point they quit using their Germanic language altogether, with the only traces left being some loan words. Unfortunately, the study of this exact process has been relatively light, and heavily tainted by politics, but the basic facts are there. Culturally, the Russians are descendants of the Slavic Kievan Rus people, themselves the descendants of a set of eastern Slavic tribes.

The hard way would be to perform DNA tests. I personally don't think DNA is a very good way to think about descent in any but the most technical sense. For our behavior, everything that makes a people unique, you have to look to culture, and that is decidedly not carried in the DNA. But it sometimes can be useful to back up other historical and linguistic sources.

There have been some efforts on this, but mostly as it relates to individuals. I don't know of any serious effort to apply it to the Russian public at large.

  • Yea, it might as well have been the same case with the Norman conquer on France. This is an interesting point, which throughout the history of many countries, their ruler may be foreigners while their subjects remain indigenous habitants. And this case might be applied to Rus' people. But I think using linguistics to differentiate groups of ancient tribes may be a weak proof. I have never studied anything about linguistics, but I think a certain ancient language may eventually have the chance to evolve into many different and distictive modern languages. (Consider anglo-saxons & englishmen) – Sanna Lannovna Jun 19 '15 at 16:43
  • I agree with this answer, although would like to add a little bit, mostly because it's not quite clear about which centuries "Russians" OP is talking about. Prior to Vagrarians led by legendary Rurik these were Slavic tribes. After that Varangians remained the ruling class, including not just Kiev principality but also Novgorod and other cities associated with Rus, but the culture remained "mostly" Slavic. TBC... – Michael Jun 19 '15 at 20:25
  • ... However, "mostly" needs to be clarified with numerous heavy influences. First there were quite a few clashes with Turkish peoples, mostly Pechenegs, with mutual cultural influences. The first known poem in Old Russian, "The Word About Prince Igor", could not be fully understood for nearly 200 years by Russian scholars, until Suleimenov pointed out that many cryptic words in that poem were actually transliterations of Turkish words, and everything became clear. TBC... – Michael Jun 19 '15 at 20:32
  • ... Then Prince Vladimir allied Rus with Byzantine Empire and here came Christianity and the Cyrillic writing system based mostly on Greek alphabet. Then came Mongols and Rus became a Mongol province for about 200 years. Then Romanov dynasty succeeded Ruriks and invited German settlers to Moscow; although they were very few they influenced technical jargon of Russian language very much (words like "compass" for "compass", etc.) TBC... – Michael Jun 19 '15 at 20:37
  • ... Then Catherine the Great leaned toward France, and entire Russian aristocracy used French more than Russian. Since Russia entered the Seas at that time the marine Russian word for "compass" is "boussole", although everybody except sailors still uses German-derived "compass". At that time Russian borrowed quite a few French words. All of that combined to make Russian the least Slavic of all Slavic languages. – Michael Jun 19 '15 at 20:40

In general, yes, sort of. First of all there are two main divisions of Russians, the Bolshoi Russky (great Russians) and the little Russians. Then beyond this there were innumerable so-called "Slavic" tribes (Pechenegs, etc etc etc). It is important to realize that the "Slavic" peoples have widely varying ethnicities and it is only language similarities that tie them together. For example, the Serbs are completely different culturally and genetically than any of the eastern slavic tribes, who are primarily Finno-Ugaric. Even among the Finno-Ugaric slavs there are big differences between the tribes that are more from Finland compared to the so-called Turkic tribes that are from the Ural mountains. A third type which is ill-defined are the swamp-based tribes, which are very ancient, dating long before the Varangians who come from the Mansurian Lakes region. There are even also the remnants of Mongolians who date from the Golden Horde days.

Anyway, getting back to the Russians. Even though the Russians (meaning the Bolshoi Russkiy, the great Russians) are described as "slavic", this is only because of their language, not because of their ethnicity which is of Scandinavian origin. Both the great Russians and little Russians came from the Baltic region and presumably invaded there from Scandinavia. Ethnically they are completely different than the Finno-Ugaric peoples. For example, great Russians have blond hair, but Finno-Ugaric people have black hair, one of many differences.

The general tradition in Russia itself, at least before the Revolution, was that the Bolshoi Russky were the "original Russians", meaning the Rus tribe itself, and were a major group of Varangians (the oath takers). They came during 400-500 A.D. The little Russians were Scandinavians who came later during the Tuetonic invasions 800 A.D. to 1200 A.D. It is difficult to verify such things because they are oral traditions. I am merely repeating what the Bolshoi Russky, or people close to them, have told me. In any case, before the Revolution there was a clear difference in physiology and culture which differentiated the two different kinds of Russians and was obvious at the time.

During the revolution the Bolshoi Russky were all killed systematically and the little Russians became assimilated into the population, so further studies of these matters is difficult.

(By the way, I hope you appreciate that I am going to have to eat downvotes to provide you this answer.)

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    @Cicero Any question/answer dealing with racial identification gets downvoted. – Tyler Durden Jun 19 '15 at 15:59
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    But all of those stories need proof, not just being told by ancient cronicles, but more archeogical evidence. But this sort of information basically unable to find, in internet or books. Even though there had been diggings, viking artifects had been found, but still hard to proof the interaction between the two ancient people, which is a big question mark in my heart. The mystery of ancient Rus' still ended up in the context of deductive story. Perhaps due to political reason, and historical (not early historical) reason, the russians would prefer being part of a proud slavic family :). – Sanna Lannovna Jun 19 '15 at 17:21
  • P.S. This interesting point of this topic is, it is funny if its able to proof that russians were part of the ancient scandinavian family because some russians behave like vikings :P. Don't ask me who ;P – Sanna Lannovna Jun 19 '15 at 17:24
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    Thanks for your bold answer :), just for historical knowledge mate! It is a weak proof differentiate people by their appearance because different physical appearance cannot differentiate people. I think it is equally interesting to discover their cultural and ancestral origin, as a people, or a group of people, may obtain their cultural knowledge from their family household and to create a culture in society in general. Ancesters may have a great connection on transfering cultural to the next generation which may create civilization. But this view is just a guess. – Sanna Lannovna Jun 19 '15 at 17:29
  • The answer is not so bad, but it's too many minor factual mistakes/misprints making it quite useless: a. "Pechenegs" are not a "Slavic" tribe. b. "Bolshoi Russky" - there's no such words ("Great Russians" is "Великороссы" in Russian). c. not because of their ethnicity which is of Scandinavian origin - DNA studies do not support this statement (not counting that the Varyangian injection came centuries before East Slavs divided into Great/Little/White Russians - so applying it only to Great Russians is an anachronism at best). Etc. and so on - just too many not strictly valid statements. – seven-phases-max Sep 30 '18 at 12:34

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