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The Volga Vikings

Duration:
45 minutes
First broadcast:
Thursday 11 November 2010

Melvyn Bragg and his guests discuss the Volga Vikings.

Between the 8th and the 10th centuries AD, fierce Scandinavian warriors raided and then settled large swathes of Europe, particularly Britain, Ireland and parts of northern France. These were the Vikings, and their story is well known today. Far fewer people realise that groups of Norsemen also travelled east.

These Volga Vikings, also known as the Rus, crossed the Baltic into present-day Russia and the Ukraine and founded settlements there. They traded commodities including furs and slaves for Islamic silver, and penetrated so far east as to reach Baghdad. Their activities were documented by Arab scholars: one, Ahmad ibn Fadlan, recorded that the Volga Vikings he met were perfect physical specimens but also "the filthiest of God's creatures". Through trade and culture they brought West and East into regular contact; their story sheds light on both Scandinavian and early Islamic history.

With:

James Montgomery
Professor of Classical Arabic at the University of Cambridge

Neil Price
Professor of Archaeology at the University of Aberdeen

Elizabeth Rowe
Lecturer in Scandinavian History of the Viking Age at Clare Hall, University of Cambridge

Producer: Thomas Morris.

  • FURTHER READING

    MODERN WORKS ABOUT THE RUS

    C. Batey et al., Cultural Atlas of the Viking World (1994)

    E.A. Melnikova, The Eastern World of the Vikings (1996)

    M. Brisbane, and D.R.M. Gaimster, eds., Novgorod: The Archaeology of a Russian Medieval City and its Hinterland (2001)

    W. Duczko, Viking Rus’: Studies on the Presence of Scandinavians in Eastern Europe (2004)

    N.I. Petrov, ‘Ladoga, Ryurik’s stronghold, and Novgorod: fortifications and power in early medieval Russia’, East Central and Eastern Europe in the Early Middle Ages, ed. F. Curta (2005)

    S. Franklin, ‘Kievan Rus (1015-1125)’, The Cambridge History of Russia, vol. 1, ed. M. Perrie (2006), 73-97

    S. Brink, N. Price, eds., The Viking World (2008)

    Pavel Dolukhanov, Eastern Europe from the Initial Settlement to the Kievan Rus (Longman: London, 1996)

    James E. Montgomery, Ibn Fadlan and the Rusiyyah, Journal of Arabic and Islamic Studies 3 (2000), 1-25

    James E. Montgomery, Travelling Autopsies: Ibn Fadlan and the Bulghar, in: Middle Eastern Literatures, 7.1 (January 2004), 4-32

    James E. Montgomery, Spectral Armies, Snakes, and a Giant from Gog and Magog: Ibn Fadlan as Eyewitness among the Volga Bulghars, The Medieval History Journal 9 (2006), 63-87

    James E. Montgomery, The Vikings in Arabic Sources, in: S. Brink and N. Price (eds.), The Viking World (Oxford and New York: Routledge, 2008), pp. 550-561

    James E. Montgomery, Vikings and Rus in Arabic Sources, in Living Islamic History, ed. Yasir Suleiman (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2010), pp. 151-165 (includes a translation of Ibn Khurradadhbih)

    Thomas S. Noonan, The Islamic World, Russia and the Vikings, 750-900. The Numismatic Evidence (Aldershot: Ashgate Variorum, 1998)

    Thomas S. Noonan, Scandinavians in European Russia, in The Oxford Illustrated History of the Vikings, ed. Peter Sawyer (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), pp. 134-155

    Neil Price, Passing Into Poetry: Viking Age Mortuary Drama and the Origins of Norse Mythology, Medieval Archaeology 54 (2010), 123-157

    Jonathan Shepard and Simon Franklin, The Emergence of Rus’ 750-1200 (London: Longman, 1996)

    Dirk Meier, trans. Angus McGeoch, Seafarers, Merchants and Pirates in the Middle Ages (2006)


    PRIMARY SOURCES

    O. Pritsak, The Origin of Rus’. Vol. 1: Old Scandinavian sources other than the sagas (1981)

    S.H. Cross and O.P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor, trans., The Russian Primary Chronicle (1953)

    F.A. Wright, trans., Liudprand of Cremona: the Embassy to Constantinople and other writings (1993)


    EXCERPTS OF CONTEMPORARY ACCOUNTS OF THE VOLGA VIKINGS

    Ibn Fadlan’s Journey to Russia: A Tenth Century Traveler From Baghdad to the Volga River, translated by Richard N. Frye (Princeton: Markus Wiener, 2005)


    NOVELISATION

    Michael Crichton, Eaters of the Dead: The Manuscript of Ibn Fadlan, Relating his Experiences with the Northmen in AD 922 (Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1976)

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