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The Polans (Polish: Polanie; Ukrainian: Поляни Polyany; Russian: Поляне Polyane); also Polianians; were a Slavic tribe between the 6th and the 9th century, which inhabited both sides of the Dnieper river from Liubech to Rodnia and also down the lower streams of the rivers Ros', Sula, Stuhna, Teteriv, Irpin', Desna and Pripyat. In the Early Middle Ages there were two separate Slavic tribes bearing the name of Polans, the other being the western Polans (ancestors of the modern Poles). The name derives from the Old East Slavic word поле or поляна (polyana), which means "field", because the Polans used to settle in the open fields. In roughly 862 Polans were attached to ancient Rus'. After shifting the ancient Rus' capital to their city Kiev, the Polans managed to provide their language as state language and were the first non-Rus' tribe to change their name to Rus' and played a key role in the formation of Ukrainian genetics. Ukrainian, Belorussian and, somewhat possibly, Rusyn languages descend from Polyan.
The land of the Polans was at the crossroads of territories, belonging to different Eastern Slavic tribes, such as Drevlyans, Radimichs, Drehovians and Severians and connected them all with water arteries. An important trade route called the Road from the Varangians to the Greeks passed through the land of the Polans and connected Northern Europe with the Black Sea and the Byzantine Empire. In the 9th and 10th centuries the Polans had well-developed arable land farming, cattle-breeding, hunting, fishing, wild-hive beekeeping and various handicrafts such as blacksmithing, casting, pottery, Goldsmithing, etc. Thousands of (pre-Polan) kurgans, found by archaeologists in the Polan region, indicate that that land had a relatively high population density. They lived in small families in semi dug-outs ("earth-houses") and wore homespun clothes and modest jewellery. Before converting to Christianity, the inhabitants used to burn their dead and erect kurgan-like embankments over them.
In the 9th century, the Polans were ruled by the Khazars and had to pay tribute to them. In the 860s, the Varangians (Vikings) arrived and organized a few successful military campaigns against the Byzantine Empire, who eventually defeated them and made peace with them, the Pechenegs and the Polochans.
The chronicles repeatedly note that socio-economic relations in the Polan communities were highly developed compared to the neighboring tribes. In the 880s, the land of the Polans was conquered by Oleg of Novgorod and the chronicles name the Polans as the founders of Kiev (see Kyi, Schek and Khoryv), making them the tribe that had contributed the most to the development of the Kievan Rus' state.
According to chronicalized legends, the largest cities of the eastern Polans were Kiev, Pereyaslav, Rodnia, Vyshhorod, Belgorod (now Bilohorodka village at the Irpin river) and Kaniv. In the 10th century, the term "Polans" was virtually out of use and exchanged for "Rus", with Polans as a tribe being last mentioned in a chronicle of 944.
There is an unproven hypothesis (represented by Z. Skrok) that Eastern Polans or a part of their population could have escaped (together with Varangians) from Kiev and settled down in the west as Western Polans. As a possible sign of confirmation of this hypothesis is the fact that historical sources about Western Polans appear after historic sources about Eastern Polans disappeared.
- H. Łowmiański, Początki Polski, P. 2, Warszawa 1964, p. 66, 106.
- Г. Півторак, Українці: звідки ми і наша мова, Київ 1993, p. 77.
- П. П. Толочко, "Роль Киева в эпоху формирования Древнерусского государства," [In:] Становление раннефеодальных славянских государств, Киев, 1972, p. 129; Б. А. Рыбаков, Киевская Русь и русские княжества ХII–ХIII вв., Москва 1982, p. 98, 99; М. Ю. Брайчевский, Восточнославянские союзы племен в эпоху формирования древнерусского государства, [In:] Древнерусское государство и славяне, Минск 1983, p. 102-111.