The Earliest States of Eastern Europe
DG-2019-2020, 51-72

An Anglo-Saxon trail in Russian-Byzantine treaties?

M. V. Eliferova

Some non-Slavonic names in the Russian-Byzantine treaties of 911 and 945 have been claimed to be unidentifiable, and one of the most notorious is the name Aktevu. However, virtually all researchers who ever attempted to interpret it overlooked the possibility that it might have been Anglo-Saxon. If read from an Old English perspective, it is likely a regular Anglo-Saxon compound name Actheow. While this name is not directly attested in Old English sources, both
of its components are well attested in Anglo-Saxon personal names. Moreover, further reconsideration of the name lists in the treaties raises the question whether some other names (up to three more) can be Anglo-Saxon too. The most obvious case is Ingeld which can be, rather than the distorted ON Ingjald, the regular OE form of this name.
Before 2017, detailed linguistic analysis of the name lists in the treaties had been scarce. The year 2017 saw a paper by Sergei L. Nikolayev who undertook this task. Unfortunately, due to the multiple flaws in methodology, he jumped to a conclusion that the Germanic names in the treaties represent some long-lost North Germanic dialect or even a distinct language which somehow has remained unidentified by generations of linguists. A closer look at Nikolayev’s arguments can reveal his flaws: all of the supposed discrepancies between the known ON names and the names from the Russian-Byzantine treaties can be explained either by inaccuracies of transliteration or by the possibility that some of the names in the treaties are actually West Germanic, belonging to known languages (such as OE). There is no reason to infer the existence of an unknown North Germanic language or dialect.
However, some points made by Nikolayev remain valid, and one of them is the question of writing system in which the names were originally recorded. The self-evident idea that it was Greek alphabet faces at least some difficulties, such as the distinction between labials and labiodentals. The distribution of labials / labiodentals in the name lists corresponds more to their actual Germanic pronunciation that to the conventions of Greek writing which by the 10th century had no means to represent the distinction between [b] and [v]. Yet the solution offered by Nikolayev (and by some earlier scholars) — that the chronicle text was edited by somebody who had good knowledge of Scandinavian languages and was able to correct the transliteration in the Slavonic version — seems implausible.
The idea that there had been at least one Anglo-Saxon member in each embassy opens many new possibilities. The most haunting issue related to the treaties is one of literacy, since by the mid-10th century presumably neither Scandinavians nor East Slavs mastered writing on regular basis. On the contrary, Anglo-Saxons by that time were quite used to writing, not only in Latin but in vernacular as well. A high-status Anglo-Saxon from Danelaw would make a perfect secretary for any Viking chieftain planning to make policy with men of letters, such as Greeks. This clarifies the puzzling phrase in the source which seems to state that the Russian ambassadors actually signed the 911 treaty ‘by our own hand’. A single Anglo-Saxon able to put a collective signature in Latin script is the solution which renders unnecessary any conjectures about erroneous readings.

Anglo-Saxons; literacy; Old English; personal names; Russian-Byzantine treaties

Беда Достопочтенный. Церковная история народа англов / Пер. с лат. В. В. Эрлихмана. СПБ., 2001.
Бибиков М. В. Русь в византийской дипломатии: договоры Руси с греками X в. // Древняя Русь. Вопросы медиевистики. 2005. № 1. С. 5–15.
Высоцкий С.А. Надпись о Бояновой земле в Софии киевской // История СССР. 1964. № 3. С. 113.
Гаврилишин М. Р. Древняя Русь и Англия в IX–X веках: от торговых контактов до политических отношений // Вестник Удмуртского университета: История и филология. 2015. Т. 25. Вып. 4. С. 146–151.
Галинская Е. А. Историческая фонетика русского языка. 2-е изд. М., 2009.
Горшкова К. В., Хабургаев Г. А. Историческая грамматика русского языка. М., 1981.
Истрин В. М. Договоры русских с греками Х века // ИОРЯС. 1924 г. Л., 1925. Т. XXIX. С. 383–393.
Каштанов С. М. Из истории русского средневекового источника. Акты X–XVI вв. М., 1996.
Ларин Б. А. Лекции по истории русского литературного языка. 2-е изд. СПб., 2005.
Малингуди Я. Русско-византийские связи с точки зрения дипломатики // ВВ М., 1996. Т. 56 (81). С. 68–91.
Малингуди Я. Русско-византийские договоры X в. в свете дипломатики // ВВ М., 1997. Т. 57 (82). С. 58–87.
Мельникова Е. А. Источниковедческий аспект изучения скандинавских личных имен в древнерусских летописных текстах // У источника: сб. статей в честь чл.-корр. РАН С. М. Каштанова. М., 1997. Вып. 1. Ч. 1. С. 82–92.
Мельникова Е. А. Заложники и клятвы: процедура заключения договоров с норманнами // Именослов. История языка. История культуры. М., 2012. С. 113–182.
Михайлов К. А. Находка англосаксонского наконечника ремня на Рюриковом городище // Новгород и Новгородская земля: История и археология. Вып. 17. Великий Новгород, 2003. С. 154–159.
Михеев С. М. Варяжские князья Якун, Африкан и Шимон: Литературные сюжеты, трансформация имен и исторический контекст // Древняя Русь. Вопросы медиевистики. 2008. № 2. С. 27–32.
Николаев С. Л. К этимологии и сравнительно-исторической фонетике имен северогерманского (скандинавского) происхождения в «Повести временных лет» // Вопросы ономастики. 2017. Т. 14. № 2. С. 7–54.
Обнорский С. П. Язык договоров русских с греками // Язык и мышление. Т. 6–7. Ин-т языка и мышления Н. Я. Марра АН СССР, 1936. С. 79–103.
Стеблин-Каменский М. И. История скандинавских языков. М.; Л., 1953.
Стефанович П. С. Правящая верхушка Руси по русско-византийским договорам X в. // Труды Ин-та российской истории РАН. 2013. № 11. С. 19–57.
Успенский Ф. Б. Имя и власть: Выбор имени как инструмент династической борьбы в средневековой Скандинавии. М., 2001.
Успенский Ф. Б. Варяжское имя в русском обиходе: к этимологии слова «олух» // Успенский Ф. Б. Скандинавы. Варяги. Русь.: Историко-филологические очерки. М., 2002. С. 111–138.
Циммерлинг А. В. Имена варяжских послов в «Повести временных лет»: Материалы к докладу на V круглом столе «Древняя Русь и германский мир в филологической и исторической перспективе» 13–14 июня 2012 года //
URL: (дата обращения 06.02.2020)
Cross S. H. The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text. Mediaeval Academy of America, 1953.
Edmonds F. Norse Influence in North-West England: Jocelin of Furness’s Interpretation of the Name WALTHEOF // Journal of Scottish Name Studies. 2015. Vol. 9. P. 43–62.
Eska С. М. Women and Slavery in the Early Irish Laws // Studia Celtica Fennica. 2011. Vol. 8. P. 29–39.
Hogg R. M. Phonology and Morphology // The Cambridge History of English Language. Cambridge, 1992. Vol. 1: The Beginnings to 1066 / Ed. by Richard Hogg. P. 67–167.
Jurasinski S. The Feminine Name Wealhtheow and the Problem of Beowulfian Anthroponymy // Neophilologus. 2007. Vol. 91. P. 701–715.
Lind J. The Importance of Varangian Traditions for East-West Collaboration and Confrontation in the 12th–13th centuries // Expansion — Integration? Danish-Baltic contacts 1147–1410 AD / Ed. by B. F. Jensen & D. Wille-Jørgensen, Vordingborg, 2009. P. 27–37.
Melnikova E. How Christian Were Viking Christians? // Early Christianity on the Way from the Varangian in the Greek. Kiev, 2011. P. 90–107. (= Ruthenica. Supplementum 4).
Melnikova E. The Cultural Assimilation of the Varangians in Eastern Europe from the Point of View of Language and Literacy // Мельникова Е. А. Древняя Русь и Скандинавия: Избранные труды. М., 2011. С. 257–268.
Searle W. G. Onomasticon Anglo-Saxonicum; a List of Anglo-Saxon Proper Names from the Time of Beda to that of King John. Cambridge, 1897.
Thomsen W. The Relations between Ancient Russia and Scandinavia and the Origins of the Russian State. Oxford, 1877.
Toon T. E. Old English Dialects // The Cambridge History of English Language. Cambridge, 1992. Vol. 1: The Beginnings to 1066 / Ed. by Richard Hogg. P. 409–450.