Tradition long regarded the original compilation as the work of a monk named Nestor (c. 1056 – c. 1114); hence scholars spoke of Nestor’s Chronicle or of Nestor’s manuscript. His compilation has not survived. Nestor’s many sources included the earlier but now lost Slavonic chronicles; the Byzantine annals of John Malalas, a Greek chronicler, who in 563 produced an 18 book work of intertwined myth and truth; and the Byzantine annals of George Hamartolus, a monk, who tried to adhere strictly to truth, and whose works are the unique contemporary source for the period 813–842. Sources of Nestor’s Chronicle also included byliny (singular bylina), which were traditional East Slavic oral epic narrative poems; Norse sagas; several Greek religious texts; Rus’–Byzantine treaties and oral accounts of Yan Vyshatich and of other military leaders. Nestor worked at the court of Sviatopolk II of Kiev (ruled 1093–1113) and probably shared Sviatopolk’s pro-Scandinavian policies.
The early part of the Chronicle features many anecdotal stories, among them those of the arrival of the three Varangian brothers, the founding of Kiev, the murder of Askold and Dir, ca. 882, the death of Oleg in 912, the “cause” of which was reported foreseen by him, and the thorough vengeance taken by Olga, the wife of Igor, on the Drevlians, who had murdered her husband. Her actions secured Kievan Rus’ from the Drevlians, preventing her from having to marry a Drevlian prince, and allowing her to act as regent until her young son came of age. The account of the labors of Saints Cyril and Methodius among the Slavic peoples also makes a very interesting tale, and to Nestor we owe the story of the summary way in which Vladimir the Great (ruled 980 to 1015) suppressed the worship of Perun and other traditional gods at Kiev.
Translated and edited by SAMUEL HAZZARD CROSS AND OLGERD P. SHERB O W1TZ-WETZOR
COPYRIGHT BY THE MEDIAEVAL ACADEMY OF AMERICA CAMBRIDGE, MASSACHUSETTS
These are the narratives of bygone years regarding the origin of the land of Rus’, the first princes of Kiev, and from what source the land of Rus’ had its beginning. Let us accordingly begin this narrative. After the flood, the sons of Noah (Shem, Ham, and Japheth) divided the earth among them. To the lot of Shem fell the Orient, and his share extended lengthwise as far as India and breadthwise (i.e., from east to south ) as far as Rhinocurura, including Persia and Bactria, as well as Syria, Media ( which lies beside the Euphrates River), Babylon, Cordyna, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Arabia the Ancient, Elymais, India, Arabia the Mighty, Coelesyria, Commagene, and all Phoenicia. To the lot of Ham fell the southern region, comprising Egypt, Ethiopia facing toward India, the other (2) Ethiopia out of which the red Ethiopian river flows to the eastward, the Thebaid, Libya as far as Cyrene, Marmaris, Syrtis, and other Libya, Numidia, Massyris, and Maurentania over against Cadiz. Among the regions of the Orient, Ham also received Cilicia, Pamphylia, Mysia, Lycaonia, Phrygia, Ca- malia, Lycia, Car’ta, Lydia, the rest of Moesia, Troas, Aeolia, Bithynia, and ancient Phrygia. He likewise acquired the islands of Sardinia, Crete, and Cyprus, and the river Gihon, called the Nile. (3) To the lot of Japheth fell the northern and the western sections, including Media, Albania, Armenia ( both little and great), Cappadocia, Paphlagonia, Galatia, Colchis, Bosporus, Maeotis, Dervis, Sar- matia, Tauria, Scythia, Thrace, Macedonia, Dalmatia, Molossia, Thes- saly, Locris, Pellene ( which is also called the Peloponnese), Arcadia, Epirus, Illyria, the Slavs, Lychnitis and Adriaca, from which the Adri- atic Sea is named. He received also the islands of Britain, Sicily, Eu- boea, Rhodes, Chios, Lesbos, Cythera, Zacynthus, Cephallenia, Ithaca, and Corcyra, as well as a portion of the land of Asia called Ionia, the river Tigris flowing between the Medes and Babylon / and the territory to the north extending as far as the Pontus and including the Danube, the Dniester, and the Carpathian Mountains, which are called Hungarian, and thence even to the Dnieper. (4) He likewise acquired dominion over other rivers, among them the Desna, the Pripet’, the Dvina, the Volkhov, and the Volga, which flows eastward into the portion of Shem. In the share of Japheth lies Rus’, Chud’, and all the gentiles: Merya, Muroma, Ves’, Mordva, Chud’ beyond the portages, Perm’, Pechera, Yam’, Ugra, Litva, Zimegola, Kors’, Let’gola, and Liv\ The Lyakhs, the Prussians, and Chud’ border on the Varangian Sea. The Varangians dwell on the shores of that same sea, and extend to the eastward as far as the portion of Shem. They likewise live to the west beside this sea as far as the land of the English and the French. For the following nations also are a part of the race of Japheth: the Varangians, the Swedes, the Normans, the Gotlanders, the Russes, the English, the Spaniards, the Italians, the Romans, the Germans, the French, the Venetians, the Genoese, and so on. Their homes are situated in the northwest, and adjoin the Hamitic tribes. (5) Continue reading The Russian Primary Chronicle – Laurentian Text – Until 1075 AD by Nestor