Normanist theory

Normanist theory (aka Norman theory). A historical theory about the origin of states in Eastern Europe, particularly of Kyivan Rus’, and of the name ‘Rus'’. Drawing on the last redaction of the Rus’ Primary Chronicle (1118) and various linguistic data, the theory's adherents maintain that the creators of the Kyivan state and its culture were Normans (ie, Norsemen or Varangians) who arrived in Eastern Europe from Scandinavia in the 9th century, and that ‘Rus'’ is a word of Norman origin. The theory's first proponents were 18th-century German historians of Russia—G. Bayer, Gerhard Friedrich Müller, and A. Schlözer—and other German historians, such as F. Krug and J. Thunmann. Their views were elaborated in the 19th century by the Russian historians Nikolai Karamzin and Sergei Solovev and in works dealing specifically with the theory by E. Kunik, Mikhail Pogodin, and the Danish Slavist V. Thomsen.

The first ‘anti-Normanist’ response was articulated by the 18th-century Russian scholar M. Lomonosov. Anti-Normanist views were expressed in the 19th century by the Decembrists and the Slavophiles, and a number of professional historians (eg, J. Ewers) posited theories about the Baltic-Slav, Lithuanian, and Gothic origin of Rus’ and its name. Their theories received little recognition in historical circles, however. The first serious critiques of the Normanists came from late 19th-century Russian historians, such as S. Gedeonov, D. Ilovaisky, and V. Vasilevsky, but they failed to present well-substantiated alternatives. Consequently the popularity of the Normanist theory was revived at the turn of the 20th century, as reflected in the works of F. Braun, S. Rożniecki, Aleksei Shakhmatov, K. Tiander, and F. Westberg. Besides the traditional conception of Norman conquest, neo-Normanist theories of Norman commercial and ethnic-agrarian colonization, of the social domination of the Slavs by Norman elites, and of continuous domination of the Slavs by foreigners (from the Scythians to the Normans) were presented.

In its various forms the Normanist theory prevails to this day among Western historians, particularly those of Germany and the Scandinavian countries (eg, H. Arbman, T. Arne, O. Hötzsch, K. Rahbek Schmidt, A. Stender-Petersen, G. Stöckl), among Russian émigré historians (eg, N. Beliaev, V. Kiparsky, V. Moshin, P. Struve, M. Taube, A. Vasiliev, and George Vernadsky), and among Polish historians (eg, H. Paszkiewicz). Most Western textbooks present the Normanist interpretation.

Soviet historiography, on the other hand, tended to be anti-Normanist. Although in the 1920s Normanist influences could still be found in the works of the prominent Soviet Russian historians Mikhail Pokrovsky and Aleksandr Presniakov, from the 1930s anti-Normanist views were officially sanctioned. They were expressed in the works of Soviet historians of Rus’ such as Boris Grekov, V. Mavrodin, A. Nasonov, and M. Tikhomirov, the archeologists M. Artamonov and Boris Rybakov, and the literary scholar D. Likhachev. All of them denounced the Normanist theory as unscientific, as did historians in other Soviet-bloc countries, particularly in Poland (eg, H. Łowmiański).

Since its inception the Normanist theory has been unpopular among Ukrainian historians. In the late 18th century the anonymous author(s) of Istoriia Rusov contended that the Kyivan state and the name ‘Rus'’ were of local, Slavic origin. The leading 19th-century Ukrainian anti-Normanists were Mykhailo Maksymovych, who polemicized with Mikhail Pogodin; Mykola Kostomarov, the author of the theory of the Lithuanian origin of Rus’; and Volodymyr Antonovych and members of his historical school in Kyiv, who either rejected the Norman legend of the Rus’ chronicles outright or denied its historical significance. In the early 20th century Mykhailo Hrushevsky contended that the Normanist theory has no historical basis and is simply unnecessary for explicating the origin of the Ukrainian Rus’ state. He did not, however, reject the fact that the Varangians contributed in some measure to the creation of the Kyivan empire. The literary scholar Mykhailo Vozniak held similar views, as did Dmytro Bahalii and other historians of Hrushevsky's generation.

The Normanist theory had adherents among Ukrainian historians in interwar Galicia and the émigré community. Its influence is particularly evident in the works of Stepan Tomashivsky, but also in those of Mykola Chubaty, Myron Korduba, and Borys Krupnytsky (a ‘critical Normanist’). Serhii Shelukhyn's attempt at supplanting the Normanist theory with a Celtic one was not successful. Soviet Ukrainian historians by and large adhered to the anti-Normanist positions articulated by Mykhailo Hrushevsky, Dmytro Bahalii, and Volodymyr Parkhomenko. Most postwar Ukrainian émigré historians (eg, Nataliia Polonska-Vasylenko, Omeljan Pritsak) have rejected the classical Normanist theory and its various neo-Normanist modifications. Like Hrushevsky, however, they have not denied the Varangian influence in the political and economic life of the Kyivan state as it evolved into the Rus’ empire of the 10th and 11th centuries.

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Korduba, M. ‘Les théories le plus récentes sur les origines de la Ruthénie,’ Le Monde slave, 2, no. 2 (1931)
Stender-Petersen, A. Varangica (Aarhus 1953)
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Łowmiański, H. Zagadnienie roli normanów w genezie państw słowiańskich (Warsaw 1957)
Grekov, B. Kiev Rus (Moscow 1959)
Vernadsky, G. The Origins of Russia (Oxford 1959)
Shaskol’skii, I.P. Normanskaia teoriia v sovremennoi burzhuaznoi nauke (Moscow and Leningrad 1965)
Pritsak, O. The Origin of Rus’: An Inaugural Lecture, October 24, 1975 (Cambridge, Mass 1976)
Stöckl, G. Der russische Staat in Mittelalter und früher Neuzeit (Wiesbaden 1981)
Hrushevsky, M. History of Ukraine-Rus’, vol 1 (Edmonton–Toronto 1997)

Oleksander Ohloblyn

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