Background and early raids
The Rus' first penetrated to the Muslim areas adjacent to the Caspian Sea as traders rather than warriors. By the early 9th century, the Norsemen settled in northwestern Russia, where they established a settlement called Aldeigja (Slavic: Ladoga) about 6 miles (9.7 km) south of the Volkhov River entry into Lake Ladoga. From there, they began trading with the Byzantine Empire along the Dnieper trade route and with the Muslim lands around the Caspian Sea along the Volga trade route. In the late 9th century, ibn Khordadbeh described the Rus' buying goods from the Khazars in the market areas on the lower Volga and selling them on the markets of Caspian towns; these merchants brought furs, honey, and slaves. Small groups of the Rus' even went on camels as far as Baghdad to sell their goods; their European slaves interpreted for them.
Thomas S. Noonan suggested that the Rus' reached Baghdad as early as 800; this argument is supported by the finding of Sassanid, Arab, and Arabo-Sassanid dirham coins dated no later than 804–805 at Peterhof, near Saint-Petersburg. In ibn Khordadbeh's account, the Rus' are described as "a kind of the Saqaliba", a term usually used to refer to Slavs, and anti-Normanist scholars have interpreted this passage as indicative of the Rus' being Slavs rather than Scandinavians. In the interpretation of the Normanist scholars, the word Saqaliba was also frequently applied to all fair-haired, ruddy-complexioned populations of Central, Eastern, and Northeastern Europe, so ibn Khordadbeh's language is ambiguous here.
The first Caspian raid of the Rus' occurred sometime in the reign of Hasan ibn Zaid, ruler of Tabaristan between 864 and 884. The Rus' sailed into the Caspian Sea and unsuccessfully attacked its eastern shore at Abaskun. This raid was probably on a very small scale. The second raid took place in 909 or 910 and was likewise aimed at Abaskun; just like the previous attack, this expedition was a minor one with only sixteen ships participating in it. The third minor raid took place in 911 or 912.