The Info List - Severians

The Severians or Severyans or Siverians (Russian: Северяне; Ukrainian: Сiверяни; Belarusian: Севяране; Bulgarian: Сeверяни) were a tribe or tribal union of early East Slavs occupying areas to the east of the middle Dnieper river, and Danube. They are mentioned by the Bavarian Geographer (9th century), Emperor Constantine VII (956-959), by Khazars ruler Joseph (c. 955), and in the Primary Chronicle (1113).


The etymology of the name of Severians is uncertain. One theory propose derivation from the Slavic word for "north" (sěver; men of the north[1]), but the Severians never were the northernmost tribe of Slavs. Another theory proposes Iranian derivation from the name of the Sarmatian tribe Seuer, with seu meaning "black".[2] Some scholars argued that the Yehudah called Sawarta from the Kievian Letter (c. 930), written in Hebrew as SWRTH (read either as Sur'ata or Sever'ata), which is derived from Slavic sirota (orphan; in the letter sense possibly convert) or Magyar Savarti (black), can be connected to the Severians.[3]

Based on the 9th-century Bavarian Geographer the ethnonym is connected by some scholars to the Zeriuani,[4] or Sebbirozi (by some scholars considered as the Sabirs[4]).[5]


It is considered that the Severians continued the East Slavic tribal union after the political disappearance of the Antae, and Dulebes, along the middle Dnieper valley, independent or under the Khazar policy. It is presumed they inhabited along the lower Desna and upper Sejm and Sula. Their main center is considered to be in Chernihiv ("black city"[2]).[6] However, as the Severians in the historical sources inhabited both Dnieper and one part Danube valley, and it's said that the Zeriuani realm was so great from it all Slavs traced their origin, Henryk Łowmiański considered that the Ruthenian Severians were Slavic mother-tribe.[4]

Part of the Severians was settled in the territory of present-day north-eastern Bulgaria (Moesia Inferior and Scythia Minor).[7] According to Theophanes the Confessor, the Bulgars subjugated the so-called Seven Slavic tribes, of which the Severeis were re-settled from the mountain pass of Beregaba or Veregava, most likely the Rish Pass of the Balkan Mountains, to the East, while the other six tribes to the Southern and Western regions as far the boundary with the Pannonian Avars.[8] In 767 by the Byzantines was kidnapped Severian prince Slavun who made trouble in Thrace, indicating they retained tributary relation with the Bulgars.[7]

The other Severians had as neighbours the Radimichs, Krivichs and Vyatichs in the north, and the Derevlians and Polianians tribes in the west.[9] Those tribes along the Polianians and the Viatichians in 859 had to pay tribute to the Khazars in the form of squirrel and beaver skin.[10] This suggests they lived in or near the north forests.[1] In the 884 Oleg of Novgorod annexed their territory to the Kievan Rus'.[6][10][11] They had to pay a "light tribute", and according to Oleg his activity was not against them, but the Khazars. It is possible that the Oleg's rule was accepted by the payment of lower taxes.[1]

Severians participated together with other East Slavic tribes in the Oleg's campaign against Constantinople in 907.[12] In the 10th century, Constantine VII in his De Administrando Imperio recorded that during the winter the Rus princes (archontes) moved and were maintained in the lands of their tributaries Severians and Krivichs.[1] Finally, they became part of the Grand Principality of Chernigov, and the last reference to them dates from 1024, when were mentioned as part of the recruited troops by Mstislav of Chernigov along his druzhina.[1] They had a significant impact on the victory at the Battle of Listven (1024), precisely against the Varangians.[13]

There is dispute among the scholars about the dating; some place Oleg conquest in the 920-930s; the source by Khazar ruler Joseph (c. 955) mentioned his empire ruled over Sever, Slaviun and Ventit; while Constantine VII recorded that the Severians paid tribue to the Rus in circa 950, and not Khazars.[3]

They were eventually known as Chernihovians,[14] and gave their name to the region called Severia.[15]


Archaeologists have found numerous rural settlements, and burial mounds with cremated bodies, of the 8th to 10th centuries which are associated with the Severians. The Severians like other East Slavs were mostly engaged in agriculture, cattle breeding, hunting and different handicrafts like production of pottery, weaving, and metal.[6] It is considered that trade was not very developed, and they offered honey, wax, furs, and slaves.[11] According to Constantine VII, they didn't only provide tribute, but also transport with boats made from single hollowed tree.[16]

They were a tribal confederation ruled by clan or tribal leaders, whose patriarchial figures even had the political authority of the commune (zadruga), and met on tribal councils. The center of political power was in the fortified grady which were placed in the forests or elevated places, around which developed villages.[11][6] Some Saltovo-Mayaki forts were situated in the Severians land.[3]

In the Primary Chronicle is recorded that the Drevlians, Radimichs, Vyatichi and Severians had the same custom of violent lifestyle, and there was no marriage among them yet lived in polygamy.[17]


  1. ^ a b c d e Simon Franklin; Jonathan Shepard (2014). The Emergence of Russia 750-1200. Routledge. pp. 77–78, 109, 120, 195, 197. ISBN 9781317872238. 
  2. ^ a b "The Ukrainian Quarterly". The Ukrainian Quarterly. Ukrainian Congress Committee of America. 56: 184. 2000. 
  3. ^ a b c Kevin Alan Brook (2006). The Jews of Khazaria. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 105–106, 55, 58, 35. ISBN 9781442203020. 
  4. ^ a b c Krzysztof Tomasz Witczak (2013). "Poselstwo ruskie w państwie niemieckim w roku 839: Kulisy śledztwa w świetle danych Geografa Bawarskiego". Slavia Orientalis (in Polish (English summary). 62 (1): 25–43. 
  5. ^ Henryk Łowmiański (1986). Studia nad dziejami Słowiańszczyzny, Polski i Rusi w wiekach średnich. Uniwersytet im. Adama Mickiewica w Poznaniu. pp. 161–169. 
  6. ^ a b c d Paul Robert Magocsi (2010). A History of Ukraine: The Land and Its Peoples. University of Toronto Press. p. 47, 49, 57, 66. ISBN 9781442610217. 
  7. ^ a b John Van Antwerp Fine (1991). The Early Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Sixth to the Late Twelfth Century. University of Michigan Press. pp. 69, 77. ISBN 9780472081493. 
  8. ^ Fiedler, Uwe (2008). "Bulgars in the Lower Danube region: A survey of the archaeological evidence and of the state of current research". In Curta, Florin; Kovalev, Roman. The Other Europe in the Middle Ages: Avars, Bulgars, Khazars and Cumans. Brill. p. 154. ISBN 9789004163898. 
  9. ^ Martin Gilbert (2002). The Routledge Atlas of Russian History. Psychology Press. p. 12. ISBN 9780415281195. 
  10. ^ a b Pavel Dolukhanov (2014). The Early Slavs: Eastern Europe from the Initial Settlement to the Kievan Rus. Routledge. pp. 182, 194. ISBN 9781317892229. 
  11. ^ a b c Orest Subtelny (2009). Ukraine: A History (4 ed.). University of Toronto Press. p. 21–22, 43. ISBN 9781442697287. 
  12. ^ Vladimir Plugin (2007). Russian Intellignce Services. Algora Publishing. p. 19. ISBN 9781892941251. 
  13. ^ John Marsden (2011). Harald Hardrada: The Warrior's Way. The History Press. ISBN 9780752474441. 
  14. ^ Serhii Plokhii (2006). The Origins of the Slavic Nations: Premodern Identities in Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Cambridge University Press. p. 31. ISBN 9781139458924. 
  15. ^ Joseph L. Wieczynski (1994). The Modern encyclopedia of Russian and Soviet history. Academic International Press. p. 117. ISBN 9780875690643. 
  16. ^ Michael Postan (1987) [1952]. The Cambridge economic history of Europe: 2. Trade and Industry in the Middle Ages. Cambridge University Press. pp. 488–489. ISBN 9780521087094. 
  17. ^ Eve Levin (1995). Sex and Society in the World of the Orthodox Slavs, 900-1700. Cornell University Press. p. 41–42. ISBN 9780801483042. 

See also