The historiography of Normanist and anti-Normanist theories on the origins of Rus' : a review of modern historiography and major sources on Varangian controversy and other Scandinavian concepts of the origins of Rus'
The Normanist theory is one of the main controversial aspects in the history of Rus / Russian / Ukrainian. Generally speaking, to most Russian and Ukrainian historians, this theory has been a "barbarian one" in relation to the Russian and Ukrainian history and its origins. Practically speaking, being based on this theory, whole Russian / Ukrainian nations was assigned some "horrible non-capability" even in purely national questions. This was one of the reasons that ignited the controversy. For many decades, the Normanist theory of origins of Rus´ has been firmly considered to be correct. However during the last century its basic grounds and commonly used postulates have been undermined and strongly criticized.
As an example - one of the views advanced in the Normanist teaching was the Scandinavian toponymics (place-names) in the Rus lands. Such placenames had been researched in the works of M. Farsmer and E. Rydzevskaya. Altogether they discovered 370 placenames and river-names. But if we take into account that there were 60.000 named-places in the researched territory, this fact turns to be not much appealing (7 Scandinavian names for 1000 placenames). So we can rather speak of commercial links rather than the Varangian expansion or colonization, as a leading Normanist Ture Arne concluded.
Adherents of the Normanist theory also stressed the abundance of Scandinavian terms in the Russian language, especially in regard to the hydronyms (river / water / sea related terms): terms lahta (gulf), motka (way), voloknema (cape), sora (river-branch) and a few others seem to be of Scandinavian origin. However, it has later been proved that those words are of local Finnish (Ugro-Finnic to be more precise) origin. The same fortune encountered many other major Normanist statements.
Also, in the words of V. Moshin, "one finds oneself in a quagmire when one begins to operate with terms derived from rus or ros."
A leading Soviet historian B. Grekov wrote: "It is not easy to do with the evidence of the Normanists. I am convinced that it will never be completely suppressed. All too many facts have been verified by this school." But in 1942, the same author affirmed that the Normanist thesis was the work of "fascist falsifiers of history".
While summarizing the discussion, one must be critical of those historians and scholars who have viewed the problem from a narrow perspective with nearly a total concentration on the term Rus'. Such an approach to the issue can be compared to studying the etymology of the name America in order to understand the emergence of the American state as such.
That the debate has continued non-resolved to this day seems to be, to the following reasons: historians have often substituted political (or patriotic) issues for improved techniques of historical methodology in their discussions; they have had limited knowledge of world history; and they have used source materials in a biased way. The work of the historians can be compared to mosaicists who piece together excerpts from sources of different provenance, and who often disregard the semantics of the original, since they have usually relied on simple translation instead of acquiring knowledge of the sources and their cultural sphere. This was one of the thoughts expressed by Pritsak. The scholar carried out the most serious and up-to-date historical in-depth research on the subject.
The lack of written and archaeological sources posed the major problem in the discussion. In this respect, T. Noonan notes: The controversies about the truth to be found in written and archaeological sources have generated several academic industries which will undoubtedly continue to flourish regardless of the fluctuations in the real economy. Noonan, being a numismatist stressed that the dirhams (deposited in Eastern and Northern Europe during the Viking Age) can serve as a more objective source on the Varangian activities in the East. However the value of the archaeological material should not be underestimated. The archaeological studies showed that the foundation of Gorodishche residence (Scandinavian settlement in Novgorod) coincides with the period of the 850s - 860s, that is with the date of "the invitation of the Scandinavian princes: Riurik, Truvor and Sineus" given in the controversial Primary Chronicle.
In my opinion, an up-to-date approach to this controversy, would be the recent studies and theories offered by above noted Pritsak and Noonan, who claim that the whole issue of the ethnic origin of Rus' is not essential. Intially Rus´ was a multi-ethnic and multi-linguistic trade union. In its attempt to establish control over trade routes between the Baltic and Medittereanian Seas, it had created a political entity named Kyivan Rus´.
The two-hundred-year-old Normanist versus Anti-Normanist discussion has been incapable to offer a solution to the question of the origin of Rus'. Thus, in recent studies it had been replaced by another suggestion that based itself on the historical criteria and in the broader scope of universal historical processes.
In the 8th and 9th centuries there emerged a multiethnic, multilingual, unified social and economic entity represented by the maritime and trading society of the Baltic Sea. It took more than two centuries for the multiethnic and multilingual commercial ventures to trashape this into a Christian and linguistically Slavic high culture that came to be the powerful Eastern European Rus' state during the reigns of Sviatoslav, Olha, Volodymyr and Yaroslav.