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10th century ancient Rus' region

Ruthenia is a geographic and culturo-ethnic name applied to the parts of Eastern Europe populated by Eastern Slavic peoples, as well as to the past various states that existed in these territories. Essentially, the word is a Latin rendering of the ancient place name Rus. Today, the historical territory of Rus, in the broadest sense, is formed with part(s) of the lands of Russiamarker, Ukrainemarker, Belarusmarker, a small part of northeastern Slovakiamarker and a narrow strip of eastern Polandmarker.

The term "Ruthenia" may mean significantly different things, depending on to whom the term applies and the when, why, and to which period. It may refer to any of the following entities, appearing in rough chronological order:

Early Middle Ages

If the name Ruthenia has any connection to the name Rus, it is in the west generally held to derive from the Varangians whom the early Slavic and Finnic tribes called Rus' and this name is derived from the Old Norse root roðs- or roths- referring to the domain of rowing and still existing in the Finnish and Estonian names for Swedenmarker, Ruotsi and Rootsi. Later the name came to denote not only the Scandinavian aristocracy in Eastern Europe but also the ethnically mixed population of their domains.

The term Ruteni first appears in the form rex Rutenorum in the 12th-century Augsburgmarker annals. It was most likely a reflex of the ancient tradition, when the barbaric people were called by the names found in Classical Latin authors, i.e. Danes were called Daci and Germans were called Theutoni. Likewise, the Rus passed by the name of Ruteni, the form being influenced by one of the Gallic tribes mentioned by Julius Caesar.

There is a 12th-century Latin geography from Francemarker which says that "Russia is also called Ruthenia, as you may see from the following phrase of Lucan…" The original Latin text: Polonia in uno sui capite contingit Russiam, quae et Ruthenia, de qua Lucanus: Solvuntur flavi longa statione Rutheni.

By the end of the 12th century, the word Ruthenia was used, among the alternative spelling Ruscia and Russia, in Latin papal documents to denote the lands formerly dominated by Kievmarker. By the 13th century, the term became the dominant name for Rus' in Latin documents, particularly those written in Hungarymarker, Bohemia, and Polandmarker.

Late Middle Ages

By the 14th century, the state of Rus had disintegrated into loosely united principalities. Vladimir-Suzdal and the Novgorod Republic in the north were kept from Mongol domination. Later, one of the daughter-principalities of Vladimir-Suzdal, the Moscow principality (or Muscovy) took control of most of the northern principalities of Rus, and started to use the word, "Rus'", to cover the expanded state. Natives used other forms of the name Rus for their country, and some of these forms also passed into Latin and English.

The territories of Halych-Volynia, Kievmarker and other in the south were occupied by the Mongols and were freed just in the XV century, and united with Lithuania and Catholic Poland, and therefore were usually denoted by the Latin Ruthenia. However, other spellings were used in Latin, English and other languages during this period as well.

These southern territories have corresponding names in Polish:

Modern age


After World War II, in relation to Belarusians from the so called Kresy region of pre-World War II Poland who found themselves in displaced persons camps in the Western occupation zones of the post-war Germany. At that time the notion of a Belarusian nation met with little recognition in the West . Therefore, to avoid confusion with the term "Russian" and hence "repatriation" to the Soviet Union, the terms White Ruthenian, Whiteruthenian, and Krivian were used. The last of these terms derives from the name of an old Eastern Slavic tribe called the Krivichs, who used to inhabit the territory of Belarus.


The use of the term "Ruthenia" survived longer as a name used by Ukrainians for Ukraine. When the Austrian monarchy made Galicia a province in 1772, Habsburg officials realized that the local East Slavic people were distinct from both Poles and Russians. Their own name for themselves, Rusyny, was similar in sound to the German term for Russians, Russen. Austria adopted the ethnonym Ruthenen (Ruthenians), and continued to use it officially until the empire fell apart in 1918.

In the 19th century the ethnonym "Ukrainian" was not in common use. Indeed, even the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko despite using the word Ukraine for the area, never uses the term Ukrainian as an ethnonym in any of his works, but rather uses the terms Kozak or Rusyn.

From 1840 on the term "Little Rus" for Ukrayinamarker and "Malorosy" for Ukrainians began to fall out of fashion. In the 1880s and 1900s, the popularity of the ethnonym Ukrainian spread and the term "Ukraine" became a substitute for "Ruthenia" among the Ruthenian/Ukrainian population of the Russian Empiremarker. In time the term "Ruthenian" became restricted to western Ukraine, an area then part of the Austro-Hungarian state.

By the early 20th century, the term "Ukraine" had replaced "Ruthenia" in Galicia/Halychyna and by the mid 1920's also in the Ukrainian diaspora in North America.


The term Rusyn is used to describe the ethnicity and language of Ruthenians who did not embrace the Ukrainian national identity.

After 1918, the name "Ruthenia" became narrowed to the area south of the Carpathian mountainsmarker in the Kingdom of Hungary, named Carpathian Rutheniamarker (It incorporated the cities of Mukachevomarker, Uzhhorodmarker and Prešovmarker) and populated by Carpatho-Ruthenians), a group of East Slavic highlanders. Galician Ruthenians considered themselves to be Ukrainians, and the Carpatho-Ruthenians were the last East Slavic people that kept the ancient historic name (Ruthen is a Latin deformation of the Slavic rusyn).

Carpatho-Rutheniamarker has been part of the Hungarian Kingdom since the late eleventh century, where it was known as Kárpátalja. In May 1919, it was incorporated with nominal autonomy into Czechoslovakiamarker. After this date, Ruthenian people have been divided among three orientations. First, there were the Russophiles, who saw Ruthenians as part of the Russian nation; second, there were the Ukrainophiles who, like their Galician counterparts across the Carpathian mountains, considered Ruthenians part of the Ukrainian nation; and, lastly, there were Ruthenophiles, who said that Carpatho-Ruthenians were a separate nation, and who wanted to develop a native Rusyn language and culture. In 1939, the Ukrainophile president of Carpatho-Ruthenia, Avhustyn Voloshyn, declared its independence as Carpatho-Ukraine. On 15 March 1939, Hungarian Army regular troops again crossed into Czechoslovakia, now the state of Carpatho-Ukraine. The Hungarian occupation regime was pro-Ruthenophile . In 1944, the Soviet Army occupied Carpatho-Ruthenia, and in 1946, annexed it to the Ukrainian SSR. Officially, there were no Rusyns in the USSR. In fact, Soviet and some modern Ukrainian politicians, as well as Ukrainian government claim that Rusyns are part of the Ukrainian nation. Nowadays the majority of the population in the Zakarpattya oblast of Ukrainemarker consider themselves Ukrainians, however, a small Rusyn minority is still present.

A Rusyn minority also remained after World War II in northeastern Czechoslovakia (now Slovakiamarker). The people of the region rapidly became Slovakicised, because their language is closely related to the Slovak language and because most of them refused to identify themselves as Ukrainians, as the Communist government, after 1953, wished them to do [12302].

The name "Ruthenia" became largely identical with Carpathian Rutheniamarker , that is mostly the westernmost region of present-day Ukraine. It was sometimes referred to as Carpatho-Russia before the fall of the Soviet Union.

Cognate word

The element ruthenium was isolated in 1844 from platinum ore found in the Ural mountains. Ruthenia is the Latin word for Rus'.

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