Rus – What does it mean?

Sometime last year, I offered to help make garb for a friend and asked him what time period and style interested him. Being a typical early period fighter-type guy in the SCA, I knew he was leaning towards the Viking-age, but when he said Rus I had to pause. “What do you mean by Rus?” I asked.

How little did I know that this one simple question pushed me into my rabbit hole, and I have little hope of ever returning. The general idea of a Russian Viking is not hard to find, but as a serious costumer I wanted to know what makes the costumes of the Russian Vikings different from all of the other Viking-age outfits. My rabbit hole question is trying to define the garb of the elusive “Rus.”

Before I could do that, there were many other questions I needed to answer. Did the Rus exist as a separate and distinctly different culture from the other Viking groups of the time? What made them different? How would they have defined themselves?  What distinguishes a Viking-Rus grave from a grave of a native Slavic or someone from the East?

And then the more penitent questions for me: What extant evidence do we have?  What is the current hypothesis that the Russian archaeologists propose concerning the costumes?

With as many people bandying about the term Rus and with as many books written on the subject, one would think it would be a cut and dry answer. Not so much! I’m still searching for these answers, but I want to share what I’ve learned so far and what I will learn.  My posts on this may be slow since I’m painstakingly translating Russian archaeology articles, but when one wants to know about something, it is best to go to those with the most access.

First of all, for my personal use, I am defining Viking-Rus as those settled in Russian areas who were of Scandinavian origin culturally.  What does that mean?  Whether or not they were born in Russia or in Norway, I’m focusing on the people who still had connections to the Scandinavian Viking culture.

How is this determined?

One word: graves.  An archaeologist determines what someone is culturally based on how the dead person was physically treated and what items were in their resting place.  What about a DNA test? you ask.  Those are really expensive and most archaeology departments are not that well funded.  Maybe some future culture will value the information more and swing for a slew of DNA tests, but until then we have body remains and grave finds.  And that topic deserved its own blog post.

I hope you enjoy this series. Leave comments and questions – I always appreciate them and we learn best from each-other.

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