Route from the Varangians to the Greeks

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Route from the Varangians to the Greeks


a commercial waterway in Kievan Rus’ connecting Northern Rus’ with Southern Rus’ and the Baltic region and Scandinavia with Byzantium. From the Varangian (Baltic) Sea, the route went along the Neva River to Lake Ladoga, along the Volkhov River to Lake Il’men’, along the Lovat’ River, and from there by portage to the Dnieper. The term first appears in the Primary Chronicle.

The route “from the Varangians to the Greeks” was first used in the late ninth and early tenth centuries, acquiring its greatest importance in the tenth century and the first third of the 11th. Byzantine writers were well acquainted with the southern portion of the route. Constantine Porphyrogenitus wrote in the tenth century that the Krivichi and other tribes ruled by Kiev would send large boats (carrying 30 to 40 persons) hollowed from single tree trunks to Smolensk, Liubech, Chernigov, and other cities every spring. These boats then made their way down the Dnieper to Kiev, where they were reequipped, loaded, and sent further down the river. After negotiating seven rapids—the largest one, Nenasytetskii, was bypassed by portage—and a rocky and narrow area known as the Krariiskaia Ford—where the Pechenegs often lay in ambush—the merchants would stop at the island of Khortitsa. The boats were then fitted with opensea sails in the estuary of the Dnieper and sailed along the western shores of the Black Sea to Constantinople.

One branch of the route ran along the Zapadnaia Dvina River between the Lovat’ and the Dnieper Rivers, thence from the Smolensk area along the Kasplia River. Another branch ran from the Dnieper along the Usiazh-Buk River to Lukoml’ and Polotsk.

The route was connected to the other waterways of Rus’: the Pripiat’-Bug network stretching to Western Europe and the Volga waterway leading to the Caspian Sea. The following articles were brought from the south: wine, spices, jewelry, glassware, precious cloths, icons, and books from Byzantium; grain, handicraft and decorative items, and silver coins from Kiev; and slate spindle weights and other articles from Volyn’. From the north, certain types of weapons and handicraft items came from Scandinavia; wood, fur, honey, and wax came from Northern Rus’; and amber came from the Baltic countries. The commercial ties between Rus’ and Western Europe expanded in the second half of the 11th century and in the 12th century, and the route from the Varangians to the Greeks was replaced by the Pripiat’-Bug route, the Zapadnaia Dvina route, and others.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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