The Land of the Rus
The Vikings are generally known as ruthless raiders and robbers and there is some truth in this. However, a proportion of those who lived in Scandinavia in the Viking Age were armed traders. Just like the raiders who attacked the coasts of Europe, they were great travellers and extremely daring. They had to be very brave because their voyages took them through some extremely dangerous and inhospitable regions.
So why did the traders embark on such hazardous routes to do business? The answer is, silver. Silver was the currency of the Vikings and in the Middle East there was plenty of it.
Men were willing to risk their lives to travel huge distances through hostile country to trade the furs of animals only found in Scandinavia, amber and jewellery for Arabian silver.
The traders were mainly from what we today call Sweden. They travelled across the Baltic, along the Gulf of Finland, past what is now St Petersburg and into Lake Ladoga. Around 850 AD, they set up a trading post on the shore of the lake at the entrance to a river leading south, and colonised the land. The trading post grew into a town called Staraya Ladoga, a name still used today. The local Slavic people called the colonisers, “Rus”. It is not certain where this name came from, but it is probable that it is derived from the Finnish word “Ruotsi”, which meant “Sweden”. The term “Rus” eventually became “Russia”.
From Staraya Ladoga the traders travelled south along rivers to Miklagard. This was the Viking name for Constantinople, which today we call “Istanbul”. Here they bartered their goods for silver. Over the years, they founded other towns on their route south, such as Novgorod and Kiev.