Christianization of the Rus' Khaganate

Christianization of the Rus' Khaganate

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The Christianization
Christianization
The historical phenomenon of Christianization is the conversion of individuals to Christianity or the conversion of entire peoples at once...

 of the Rus' Khaganate
Rus' Khaganate
Rus' khaganate is a historiographical term for the formative phase of the Rus state in the 9th century AD....

is supposed to have happened in the 860s and was the first stage in the process of Christianization of the East Slavs which continued well into the 11th century. Despite its obvious historical and cultural significance, records detailing the event are frustratingly hard to come by, and it seems to have been forgotten by the time of Vladimir
Vladimir I of Kiev
Vladimir Sviatoslavich the Great Old East Slavic: Володимѣръ Свѧтославичь Old Norse as Valdamarr Sveinaldsson, , Vladimir, , Volodymyr, was a grand prince of Kiev, ruler of Kievan Rus' in .Vladimir's father was the prince Sviatoslav of the Rurik dynasty...

's Baptism of Kiev in the 980s.

Byzantine sources



The most authoritative source on the first Christianization of the Rus'
Rus' (people)
The Rus' were a group of Varangians . According to the Primary Chronicle of Rus, compiled in about 1113 AD, the Rus had relocated from the Baltic region , first to Northeastern Europe, creating an early polity which finally came under the leadership of Rurik...

 is an encyclical
Encyclical
An encyclical was originally a circular letter sent to all the churches of a particular area in the ancient Catholic Church. At that time, the word could be used for a letter sent out by any bishop...

 letter of Patriarch Photius, datable to early 867. Referencing the Russo-Byzantine War of 860
Rus'-Byzantine War (860)
The Rus'–Byzantine War of 860 was the only major military expedition of the Rus' Khaganate recorded in Byzantine and Western European sources. Accounts vary regarding the events that took place, with discrepancies between contemporary and later sources, and the exact outcome is unknown...

, Photius informs the Oriental patriarchs
Patriarchate
A patriarchate is the office or jurisdiction of a patriarch. A patriarch, as the term is used here, is either* one of the highest-ranking bishops in Eastern Orthodoxy, earlier, the five that were included in the Pentarchy: Rome, Constantinople, Alexandria, Antioch, and Jerusalem, but now nine,...

 and bishops that, after the Bulgars
Bulgars
The Bulgars were a semi-nomadic who flourished in the Pontic Steppe and the Volga basin in the 7th century.The Bulgars emerge after the collapse of the Hunnic Empire in the 5th century....

 turned to Christ
Christianization of Bulgaria
The Christianization of Bulgaria was the process by which 9th-century medieval Bulgaria converted to Christianity. It was influenced by the khan's shifting political alliances with the kingdom of the East Franks and the Byzantine Empire, as well as his reception by the Pope of the Roman Catholic...

 in 863
, the Rus' followed suit so zealously that he found it prudent to send to their land a bishop
Bishop
A bishop is an ordained or consecrated member of the Christian clergy who is generally entrusted with a position of authority and oversight. Within the Catholic Church, Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox Churches, in the Assyrian Church of the East, in the Independent Catholic Churches, and in the...

.

Byzantine historians, starting with the continuation of Theophanes the Confessor
Theophanes the Confessor
Saint Theophanes Confessor was a member of the Byzantine aristocracy, who became a monk and chronicler. He is venerated on March 12 in the Roman Catholic and the Eastern Orthodox Church .-Biography:Theophanes was born in Constantinople of wealthy and noble iconodule parents: Isaac,...

, assumed that the Rus' raid against Constantinople in 860
Rus'-Byzantine War (860)
The Rus'–Byzantine War of 860 was the only major military expedition of the Rus' Khaganate recorded in Byzantine and Western European sources. Accounts vary regarding the events that took place, with discrepancies between contemporary and later sources, and the exact outcome is unknown...

 was a Byzantine success and attributed the presumed victory to the Intercession
The Intercession
The Intercession of the Theotokos or the Protection of Our Most Holy Lady Theotokos and Ever-Virgin Mary, known in Church Slavonic as Pokrova , and in Greek as Sképē , is a feast of the Mother of God celebrated in the Eastern Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic Churches...

 of the Theotokos
Theotokos
Theotokos is the Greek title of Mary, the mother of Jesus used especially in the Eastern Orthodox, Oriental Orthodox, and Eastern Catholic Churches. Its literal English translations include God-bearer and the one who gives birth to God. Less literal translations include Mother of God...

. This conviction dictated the following interpretation: awed by the miracles they witnessed under the walls of the imperial capital and grief-stricken at the disaster that befell them, the Rus' sent envoys to Photius and asked him to send a bishop to their land.

According to Constantine VII
Constantine VII
Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos or Porphyrogenitus, "the Purple-born" was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959...

, who authored a biography of his grandfather, Basil the Macedonian, it was his ancestor who persuaded the Rus' to abandon their pagan
Paganism
Paganism is a blanket term, typically used to refer to non-Abrahamic, indigenous polytheistic religious traditions....

 ways. Constantine attributes the conversion to Basil and to Patriarch Ignatius
Patriarch Ignatius
Ignatius was a Russian Orthodox bishop of Greek descent who was the second Patriarch of Moscow and All Russia in 1605-1606, even though his status is now disputed and he is frequently omitted from the list of Patriarchs of Moscow by the Russian Orthodox Church.Ignatius was reported to be of...

, rather than to their predecessors, Michael III
Michael III
Michael III , , Byzantine Emperor from 842 to 867. Michael III was the third and traditionally last member of the Amorian-Phrygian Dynasty...

 and Photius. He narrates how the Byzantines galvanized the Rus' into conversion by their persuasive words and rich presents, including gold, silver, and precious tissues. He also repeats a traditional story that the pagans were particularly impressed by a miracle: a gospel
Gospel
A gospel is an account, often written, that describes the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In a more general sense the term "gospel" may refer to the good news message of the New Testament. It is primarily used in reference to the four canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John...

 book thrown by the archbishop (sic) into an oven was not damaged by fire.

Constantine's account precipitated a long-term dispute over whether the 9th-century Christianization of the Rus' went through two stages. One school of thought postulates that there was only one Christianization: wishing to glorify his ancestor, Constantine simply ascribed to Basil the missionary triumphs of his predecessor, Michael III.

On the other hand, Constantine Zuckerman
Constantine Zuckerman
Constantine Zuckerman is a French-Jewish historian and Professor of Byzantine studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris.-Biography:...

 argues that, in response to the initial request of the Rus', Photius (and Michael III) sent to the Rus' Khaganate
Rus' Khaganate
Rus' khaganate is a historiographical term for the formative phase of the Rus state in the 9th century AD....

 a simple bishop. The pagans felt slighted at the low rank of the prelate and their Christian zeal evaporated. In September 867, Michael was assassinated by Basil, who (together with a new patriarch, Ignatius) sent to the Rus' an archbishop
Archbishop
An archbishop is a bishop of higher rank, but not of higher sacramental order above that of the three orders of deacon, priest , and bishop...

 who propped up the religious fervor of the local leaders with rich presents. Parenthetically, the contemporaneous Christianization of Bulgaria
Christianization of Bulgaria
The Christianization of Bulgaria was the process by which 9th-century medieval Bulgaria converted to Christianity. It was influenced by the khan's shifting political alliances with the kingdom of the East Franks and the Byzantine Empire, as well as his reception by the Pope of the Roman Catholic...

 was likewise effected in two stages: the Bulgars were offended when a simple bishop arrived to their capital from Constantinople and requested Pope Nicholas I
Pope Nicholas I
Pope Nicholas I, , or Saint Nicholas the Great, reigned from April 24, 858 until his death. He is remembered as a consolidator of papal authority and power, exerting decisive influence upon the historical development of the papacy and its position among the Christian nations of Western Europe.He...

 to send them a higher-ranking church official. Such considerations were an important matter of political prestige. This pattern has parallels with the stories of Frankish
Franks
The Franks were a confederation of Germanic tribes first attested in the third century AD as living north and east of the Lower Rhine River. From the third to fifth centuries some Franks raided Roman territory while other Franks joined the Roman troops in Gaul. Only the Salian Franks formed a...

 historians about the multiple "baptism
Baptism
In Christianity, baptism is for the majority the rite of admission , almost invariably with the use of water, into the Christian Church generally and also membership of a particular church tradition...

s" of the Viking
Viking
The term Viking is customarily used to refer to the Norse explorers, warriors, merchants, and pirates who raided, traded, explored and settled in wide areas of Europe, Asia and the North Atlantic islands from the late 8th to the mid-11th century.These Norsemen used their famed longships to...

s, whose true intention was to get hold of the rich gifts accompanying the Christianization rituals.

The date and rationale for the Christianization are also shrouded in controversy. Grigory Litavrin views the event as "a formal and diplomatic act making it easier to obtain advantageous agreements with the ruler of the Christian state." Zuckerman argues that Ignatius sent his archbishop to Rus' in about 870, while Dmitry Obolensky inclines to accept 874 as the date of the definitive Christianization. Zuckerman further reasons that the Christianization of both Bulgaria and Rus' was triggered by the adoption of Judaism
Judaism
Judaism ) is the "religion, philosophy, and way of life" of the Jewish people...

 by their chief enemy, Khazaria, in the late 8th or early 9th century.

Other primary sources


Although Byzantine sources provide the most detailed account of the 9th-century Christianization of the Rus', the contemporary Muslim authors seem to corroborate their evidence. Ibn Khordadbeh
Ibn Khordadbeh
Abu'l Qasim Ubaid'Allah ibn Khordadbeh , author of the earliest surviving Arabic book of administrative geography, was a Persian geographer and bureaucrat of the 9th century...

, when describing the Rus' in the 880s, notes that "they style themselves as Christians". The phrasing suggests that he did not take these claims seriously. Al-Marwazi
Al-Marwazi
Ahmad ibn 'Abdallah Habash Hasib Marwazi was an astronomer, geographer, and mathematician from Merv in Khorasan.He flourished in Baghdad, and died a centenarian after 869...

, reports that the Rus abandoned their wild pagan ways and raids, settling into Christianity in 912 AD.

The Primary Chronicle
Primary Chronicle
The Primary Chronicle , Ruthenian Primary Chronicle or Russian Primary Chronicle, is a history of Kievan Rus' from about 850 to 1110, originally compiled in Kiev about 1113.- Three editions :...

 posits Olga of Kiev
Olga of Kiev
Saint Olga , or Olga the Beauty, hypothetically Old Norse: Helga In some Scandinavian sources she was called other name. born c. 890 died 11 July 969, Kiev) was a ruler of Kievan Rus' as regent Saint Olga , or Olga the Beauty, hypothetically Old Norse: Helga In some Scandinavian sources she was...

 as the first Christian in Rus'. However, the Rus'-Byzantine Treaty (945)
Rus'-Byzantine Treaty (945)
The Rus'–Byzantine Treaty between the Byzantine emperor Constantine VII and Igor I of Kiev was concluded either in 944 or 945 as a result of a naval expedition undertaken by Kievan Rus against Constantinople in the early 940s...

, concluded during the reign of Olga's predecessor and extensively quoted in the Primary Chronicle, mentions that part of the Rus' envoys who signed the treaty were Christian. Furthermore, the chronicle admits that the collegiate church
Collegiate church
In Christianity, a collegiate church is a church where the daily office of worship is maintained by a college of canons; a non-monastic, or "secular" community of clergy, organised as a self-governing corporate body, which may be presided over by a dean or provost...

 of Saint Elijah existed in Kiev as early as 944, "for many Varangians
Varangians
The Varangians or Varyags , sometimes referred to as Variagians, were people from the Baltic region, most often associated with Vikings, who from the 9th to 11th centuries ventured eastwards and southwards along the rivers of Eastern Europe, through what is now Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.According...

 and Khazars
Khazars
The Khazars were semi-nomadic Turkic people who established one of the largest polities of medieval Eurasia, with the capital of Atil and territory comprising much of modern-day European Russia, western Kazakhstan, eastern Ukraine, Azerbaijan, large portions of the northern Caucasus , parts of...

 were Christians". It is not clear why the authors of the Primary Chronicle, faithfully following George Hamartolus
George Hamartolus
George Hamartolos or Hamartolus was a monk at Constantinople under Michael III and the author of a chronicle of some importance. Hamartolus is not his name but the epithet he gives to himself in the title of his work: "A compendious chronicle from various chroniclers and interpreters, gathered...

 in other details, chose to omit the very mention of Photius's efforts at Christianizing the country. In order to explain this conspicuous silence, Boris Rybakov
Boris Rybakov
Boris Alexandrovich Rybakov was a Soviet and Russian historian who personified the anti-Normanist vision of Russian history....

 constructed an intricate conspiracy theory
Conspiracy theory
A conspiracy theory explains an event as being the result of an alleged plot by a covert group or organization or, more broadly, the idea that important political, social or economic events are the products of secret plots that are largely unknown to the general public.-Usage:The term "conspiracy...

, suggesting that the account of Askold
Askold
Askold may refer to:*Askold and Dir*Russian screw frigate Askold *Russian cruiser Askold...

's Christianization was deliberately removed from the chronicle at the behest of Mstislav the Great, supposedly a pro-Scandinavian and anti-Byzantine
Byzantine Empire
The Byzantine Empire was the Eastern Roman Empire during the periods of Late Antiquity and the Middle Ages, centred on the capital of Constantinople. Known simply as the Roman Empire or Romania to its inhabitants and neighbours, the Empire was the direct continuation of the Ancient Roman State...

 ruler.

Late medieval Russian sources (such as the Nikon Chronicle
Nikon Chronicle
The Nikon Chronicle or Chronicle of Nikon , also known as the Patriarch's Chronicle , is a major 16th century Russian chronicle. It was named after patriarch Nikon, who owned a copy...

 of the 16th century) were aware of the Byzantine account of the 9th-century Christianization and attempted to reconcile it with the traditional version about Vladimir
Vladimir I of Kiev
Vladimir Sviatoslavich the Great Old East Slavic: Володимѣръ Свѧтославичь Old Norse as Valdamarr Sveinaldsson, , Vladimir, , Volodymyr, was a grand prince of Kiev, ruler of Kievan Rus' in .Vladimir's father was the prince Sviatoslav of the Rurik dynasty...

's conversion of Kiev in 992. In the ensuing confusion, Vladimir and Photius were sometimes represented as contemporaries. The name of the first "metropolitan
Metropolitan bishop
In Christian churches with episcopal polity, the rank of metropolitan bishop, or simply metropolitan, pertains to the diocesan bishop or archbishop of a metropolis; that is, the chief city of a historical Roman province, ecclesiastical province, or regional capital.Before the establishment of...

" of Rus' was given as either Michael or Leon. The first Christianization is connected in these sources with the name of Askold
Askold
Askold may refer to:*Askold and Dir*Russian screw frigate Askold *Russian cruiser Askold...

, a Kievan ruler whose assassination was orchestrated by Oleg in 882.

Since the Byzantines believed that the Rus' had been converted in the 9th century, they treated them as a Christian nation and failed to record the second Christianization of the country under Vladimir in 988. (Parenthetically, no foreign source, barring Yahya of Antioch
Yahya of Antioch
Yahya of Antioch, full name Yaḥya ibn Saʿīd al-Anṭākī , was a Melkite Christian physician and historian of the 11th century....

, mentions Vladimir's conversion in the 980s). In Leo VI
Leo VI the Wise
Leo VI, surnamed the Wise or the Philosopher , was Byzantine emperor from 886 to 912. The second ruler of the Macedonian dynasty , he was very well-read, leading to his surname...

's inventory of Orthodox bishoprics, the see of Rus' ranks sixty-first. In the list compiled during Constantine VII
Constantine VII
Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos or Porphyrogenitus, "the Purple-born" was the fourth Emperor of the Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, reigning from 913 to 959...

's reign, the see of Rus' holds the 60th position. The Life of Saint Cyril
Saints Cyril and Methodius
Saints Cyril and Methodius were two Byzantine Greek brothers born in Thessaloniki in the 9th century. They became missionaries of Christianity among the Slavic peoples of Bulgaria, Great Moravia and Pannonia. Through their work they influenced the cultural development of all Slavs, for which they...

 reports that, when passing through Crimea
Crimea
Crimea , or the Autonomous Republic of Crimea , is a sub-national unit, an autonomous republic, of Ukraine. It is located on the northern coast of the Black Sea, occupying a peninsula of the same name...

 on his way to Khazaria, the Apostle of the Slavs found in Chersonesos a Bible written in the Rus' language, possibly indicating the existence of a vernacular written tradition as early as the 9th century.

The outcome


No primary source specifies what happened to the Rus' converts of the 9th century. The scope and importance of this first conversion is also disputed. The authors of the imperial period, starting with August Ludwig von Schlozer
August Ludwig von Schlözer
August Ludwig von Schlözer was a German historian who laid foundations for the critical study of Russian history.-Early career:...

, assumed that only a fraction of the Rus' society adopted Christianity at the time of Photius. Dmitry Ilovaisky
Dmitry Ilovaisky
Dmitry Ivanovich Ilovaysky was an anti-Normanist Russian historian who penned a number of standard history textbooks.Ilovaysky graduated from the Moscow University in 1854 and first attracted critical attention with his thesis on the Principality of Ryazan in 1858...

, for instance, speculated that Photius had referred to the Christianization of the so-called Tmutarakan
Tmutarakan
Tmutarakan was a Mediaeval Russian principality and trading town that controlled the Cimmerian Bosporus, the passage from the Black Sea to the Sea of Azov. Its site was the ancient Greek colony of Hermonassa . It was situated on the Taman peninsula, in the present-day Krasnodar Krai of Russia,...

 (or Pontic) Rus', while the Novgorod (or Northern) Rus' remained pagan for another century.

Most Soviet historians (Boris Grekov
Boris Grekov
Boris Dmitrievich Grekov was a Soviet historian noted for his comprehensive studies of Kievan Rus and the Golden Horde...

, Vladimir Pashuto
Vladimir Pashuto
Vladimir Terentyevich Pashuto was a Russian Marxist historian who specialized in the history of medieval Lithuania and Russia, especially in their foreign policies....

, Rybakov) agree that Christianity was adopted in the 9th century only by the Varangian elite of the Rus' Khaganate. That the fact of the first Christianization was obliterated so rapidly is explained by the 882 coup d'état that led to the downfall of the supposedly Christian Askold and the usurpation of power by the pagan Oleg. The first proponent of this theory was Vasily Tatischev who concluded that Askold and Dir had been murdered on account of their Christian views. He went so far as to style Askold "the first Russian martyr
Martyr
A martyr is somebody who suffers persecution and death for refusing to renounce, or accept, a belief or cause, usually religious.-Meaning:...

".

Constantine Zuckerman
Constantine Zuckerman
Constantine Zuckerman is a French-Jewish historian and Professor of Byzantine studies at the Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes in Paris.-Biography:...

 rejects Rybakov's view that Photius converted the Kievan Rus'. He ranks among those authors who believe that the centre of the Rus' Khanagate was Novgorod. According to him, the Christianised Varangians were expelled from the country during the anti-Varangian movement of the 860s or 870s. This movement, associated in the Novgorodian tradition with the name of Vadim the Bold
Vadim the Bold
Vadim the Bold was a legendary chieftain of the Ilmen Slavs who led their struggle against Rurik and the Varangians in the 9th century.According to the Nikon Chronicle, an historic 16th century Russian chronicle that covered events of 859–1520 CE, the Novgorodians broke into rebellion against...

, may have been triggered by the Varangians' attempts to Christianize the pagan populace. Their failure to convert the Ilmen Slavs
Ilmen Slavs
The Ilmen Slavs was the northernmost tribe of the Early East Slavs, which inhabited the shores of the Lake Ilmen and the basin of the rivers of Volkhov, Lovat, Msta, and the upper stream of the Mologa River in the 8th to 10th centuries....

supposedly resulted in the collapse of the Rus' Khaganate.