Page 1 (History of Russia: IX - XVIIth centuries)
The ancestors of the Russians were the Slavic tribes, whose original home is thought to have been the wooded areas along the Pripyat River. Relatively little is known about East Slavs prior to approximately the 9th century AD. The reason for this lies mainly in the apparent absence of written language (Cyrillic was created around 863 specifically for adoption by Slavs) and remoteness of East Slavic lands. Moving into the lands populated by the migrating Germanic tribes, the Eastern Slavs – the ancestors of the Russians who occupied the lands between the Carpathians and the Don River – were subject to Greek Christian influences. The culture of declining Bysantine Empire had a continuous influence upon the development of Russia in its formative centuries.
The Khazars were Turkish people who lived in the Volga steppes between the Caspian and Black Seas from the 7th to 13th centuries. Noted for their cosmopolitanism, the Khazars were the main commercial link between the Baltic and the Muslim Abbasid empire centered in Baghdad. In the 8th and 9th centuries, many East Slavic tribes paid tribute to the Khazars. Their dominance began to slip, however, at the end of that period, when Oleg, a Varangian warrior, moved south from Novgorod to expel the Khazars from Kiev and founded Kievan Rus' around the year 880.
According to the earliest chronicle of Kievan Rus', a Varangian named Rurik became prince of Novgorod in about 860 before his successors moved south and extended their authority to Kiev. By the late 9th century the Varangian ruler of Kiev had established his power over a large area that gradually came to be known as Russia.
The name "Russia" is thought to be connected with Slavic or Persian roots. Originally Rus was a medieval country and state that comprised mostly Early East Slavs. The territories of that old Rus are today distributed among the Russian Federation, Belarus and Ukraine.
That early "Rus" state had no proper name. Its inhabitants called it "Russkaya zemla", which might be translated as "Rus land" or "Land of the Rus". In a similar fashion, Poland is still called Polska by its inhabitants, and the Czech Republic (Česká republika) is commonly called by its adjectival name.
In order to distinguish the early "Rus" state from other states that subsequently derived from it, it is called by modern historians as "Kievan Rus".
Kievan Rus', the first East Slavic state, emerged in the 9th century along the Dnieper River valley. A coordinated group of princely states with a common interest in maintaining trade along the river routes, Kievan Rus' controlled the trade route for furs, wax, and slaves between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire along the Dnieper River. By the end of the 10th century the Norse minority had merged with the Slavic population.
Kievan Rus' introduced a Slavic variant of the Eastern Orthodox religion, making a synthesis of Byzantine and Slavic cultures that defined Russian culture for the next thousand years. The region adopted Christianity in 988 by the official act by Prince Vladimir I. Some years later the first code of laws, Russkaya Pravda, was introduced.
By the 11th century, particularly during the reign of Yaroslav the Wise, Kievan Rus' could boast an economy and achievements in architecture and literature compared to those that then existed in the western part of the continent. Russian language was by the way little influenced by the Greek and Latin of early Christian writings.
Kievan Rus' ultimately disintegrated as a state because of the armed struggles among members of the princely family that collectively possessed it. Kiev's dominance waned, to the benefit of Vladimir-Suzdal in the north-east, Novgorod in the north, and Halych-Volhynia in the south-west. Conquest by the Mongol Golden Horde in the 13th century was the final blow. Kiev was destroyed. Halych-Volhynia would eventually be absorbed into the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Mongol-dominated Vladimir-Suzdal and independent Novgorod would establish the basis for the modern Russian nation.
The rulers of this period include the following persons. Note that the succession did not always pass directly from father to son, but sometimes between other male relatives, including brothers and uncles and nephews. Overlapping dates are due to princes ruling in different principalities, all nominally under Kievan suzerainty.
Rurik, ruler of Novgorod
Oleg, first ruler of Kiev, 882-913
Svyatoslav I, 945-973
Yaropolk I, 973-978
St. Vladimir I, 978-1015
Svyatopolk I, 1015-1019
Yaroslav "the Wise," 1019-1054
Izayaslav I, 1054-1073
Svyatoslav II, 1073-1076
Izayaslav I, 1077-1078
Svyatopolk II, 1093-1113
Vladimir Monomakh, 1113-1125
Mstislav I, 1125-1139
Yaropolk II, 1132-1139
Izayaslav II, 1146-1154
Yury Dolgoruky, 1149-1157
Andrei Bogolyubsky, Grand Prince of Kiev, 1157-1174
Vsevolod III, ruler of Vladimir-Suzdal, 1176-1212
Yury II, 1212-1238
Invasion by Mongols
The invading Mongols accelerated the fragmentation of the Kievan Rus'. In 1223, the Kievan Rus' faced a Mongol raiding party at the Kalka River and was soundly defeated. In 1240 the Mongols sacked the city of Kiev and then moved west into Poland and Hungary. By then they had conquered most of the Russian principalities. Only Novgorod escaped that occupation.
The impact of the Mongol invasion on the territories of Kievan Rus' was uneven. About half of the Russian population was lost during the invasion. The advanced city culture was almost completely destroyed. Centers such as Kiev never recovered from the devastation of the initial attack. As Novgorod continued to prosper, a new entity, the city of Moscow, began to flourish under the Mongols since 1328. Although the Russian army defeated the Golden Horde at Kulikovo in 1380, Mongol domination of the Russian-inhabited territories, along with demands of tribute from Russian princes, continued until about 1480.
The princes of southern and eastern Russia had to pay tribute to the Mongols, commonly called Tatars, or the Golden Horde; but in return they received charters authorizing them to act as deputies to the khans. In general, the princes were allowed considerable freedom to rule as they wished. One of them, Alexander Nevsky, prince of Vladimir, became a hero in the mid-13th century as the result of major victories over the Teutonic Knights, the Swedes and the Lithuanians. To the Orthodox Church and most princes, the westerners seemed a greater threat to the Russian way of life than the Mongols. Nevsky obtained Mongol protection and assistance in fighting invaders from the west who tried to grab the territory. Even so, Nevsky's successors would later come to challenge Tartar rule.
The Mongols left their impact on the Russians in such areas as military tactics and the development of trade routes. Under Mongol occupation, Muscovy also developed its postal road network, census, fiscal system, and military organization. Eastern influence remained strong well until the 18th century, when Russian rulers made a conscious effort to westernize their country.
The rulers of this period include:
Yaroslav II, ruler of Kiev, then of Vladimir, 1238-1246
Svyatoslav III, 1247-1248
Andrei II, Prince of Vladimir, 1249-1252
Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod, then of Vladimir, 1252-1263
Yaroslav III, Prince of Tver, 1263-1271
Vasili Yaroslavovich, 1272-1277
Yury Daniilovich, 1313-1322
Alexander of Tver, son of Mikhail, 1326-1328
Princes of Moscow:
Daniil, first Prince of Moscow, 1263-1303
Ivan I, Kalita, Grand Prince of Vladimir, 1328-1340
Simeon, Grand Prince of All Russia, 1340-1353
Ivan II, 1353-1359
Dmitri Donskoy, 1359-1389
Vasili I, 1389-1425
Vasili II, 1425-1462
Ivan III, "The Great", first Sovereign of All Russia, 1462-1505
Nevsky’s youngest son prince Daniel founded the principality of Muscovy based in the city of Moscow, which eventually expelled the Tartars from Russia. Muscovy was very conviniently situated in the central river system of Russia and surrounded by protective forests and marshes. It was at first only a vassal of Vladimir, but soon it absorbed its parent state. A major factor in the ascendancy of Muscovy was the cooperation of its rulers with the Mongol overlords, who granted them the title of Grand Prince of Russia and made them agents for collecting the Tartar tribute from the Russian principalities. The principality's prestige was further enhanced when it became the center of the Russian Orthodox Church.
By the middle of the 14th century, the power of the Mongols was declining, and the Grand Princes felt able to openly oppose the Mongol yoke. In 1380, at Kulikovo on the Don River, the khan was defeated, and although this hard-fought victory did not end Tartar rule of Russia, it did bring great fame to the Grand Prince. Moscow's leadership in Russia was now firmly based and by the middle of the fourteenth century its territory had greatly expanded through purchase, war, and marriage.
Ivan III, the Great
In the 15th century, the grand princes of Muscovy began gathering Russian lands to increase the population and wealth under their rule. The most successful practitioner of this process was Ivan III, the Great (1462–1505), who laid the foundations for a Russian national state. A contemporary of the Tudors and other "new monarchs" in Western Europe, Ivan more than doubled his territories by placing most of north Russia under the rule of Moscow, and he proclaimed his absolute sovereignty over all Russian princes and nobles. Refusing further tribute to the Tartars, Ivan initiated a series of attacks that opened the way for the complete defeat of the declining Golden Horde, now divided into several khanates and hordes.
Ivan sought to protect the southern boundaries of his domain against attacks of hordes. Ivan granted manors to nobles, who in turn were obliged to serve in army. The manor system became a basis for an emerging horse army.
During his conflict with Pskov, monk Filofei composed a letter to Ivan III, with prophecy that the latter's kingdom will be the Third Rome. Ivan competed with his powerful northwestern rival Lithuania for control over some of the semi-independent former principalities of Kievan Rus' in the upper Dnieper and Donets River basins. Through the defections of some princes, border skirmishes, and a long, inconclusive war with Lithuania that ended only in 1503, Ivan III was able to push westward, and Muscovy tripled in size under his rule.
Internal consolidation accompanied outward expansion of the state. By the 16th century, the rulers of Moscow considered the entire Russian territory their collective property. Various semi-independent princes still claimed specific territories, but Ivan III forced the lesser princes to acknowledge the grand prince of Muscovy and his descendants as unquestioned rulers with control over military, judicial, and foreign affairs. Gradually, the Muscovite ruler emerged as a powerful, autocratic ruler, a tsar.
Ivan IV, the Terrible
Ivan IV was the first Muscovite ruler to use the title of "Tsar". The development of the tsar's autocratic powers reached a peak during the reign (1547–1584) of Ivan IV, and he became known as "Ivan the Terrible". Ivan strengthened the position of the tsar to an unprecedented degree, as he ruthlessly subordinated the nobles to his will, exiling or executing many on the slightest provocation. Nevertheless, Ivan was a farsighted statesman who promulgated a new code of laws, reformed the morals of the clergy, and built the great St. Basil's Cathedral that still stands in Moscow's Red Square. Also around this period, Russian cossacks were establishing the first settlements in western Siberia.
The rulers during this period are listed below:
Ivan III, The Great, first Sovereign of All Russia, 1462-1505
Vasili III, son of Ivan III and Sophia Paleologi (niece of last Byzantine emperor), 1505-1533
Ivan IV, The Terrible, 1533-1584, first Tsar of Russia in 1547
Feodor I, 1584-1598
Boris Godunov, 1598-1605
Feodor II, 1605
Dmitri, the "False Dmitri," 1605-1606
Vasily IV Shuysky, 1606-1610
vacant throne, 1610-1613
Time of Troubles
Death of Ivan's childless son Fyodor was followed by a period of civil wars known as the "Time of Troubles" over the succession and resurgence of the power of the nobility.
The autocracy survived the "Time of Troubles" and the rule of weak or corrupt tsars because of the strength of the government's central bureaucracy. Government functionaries continued to serve, regardless of the ruler's legitimacy or the faction controlling the throne.
The succession disputes during the "Time of Troubles" caused the loss of much territory to the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden during the wars. Recovery for Russia came in the middle of the 17th century, when successful wars with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (1654–1667) brought substantial gains, including Smolensk, Kiev and the eastern half of Ukraine.
In 1613 Michael Romanov, the grandnephew of Ivan the Terrible, was elected to the throne by a national assembly that included representatives from fifty cities. The Romanov dynasty ruled Russia until 1917.
The immediate task of the new dynasty was to restore order. Fortunately for Moscow, its major enemies, the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Sweden, were engaged in a bitter conflict with each other, which provided Muscovy the opportunity to make peace with Sweden in 1617 and to sign a truce with the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1619.
Rather than risking their estates in more civil war, the great nobles or boyars cooperated with the first Romanovs, enabling them to finish the work of bureaucratic centralization. Thus, the state required service from both the old and the new nobility, primarily in the military. In return the tsars allowed the boyars to complete the process of serfing peasants.
In the preceding century, the state had gradually curtailed peasants' rights to move from one landlord to another. With the state now fully sanctioning serfdom, runaway peasants became state fugitives. Landlords had a complete power over their peasants and could alienate and transfer them without the land to other landowners. The state and the nobles both placed the overwhelming burden of taxation on the peasants, whose rate was 100 times greater in the middle of the 17th century than it had been a century earlier. In addition, middle-class urban tradesmen and craftsmen were assessed taxes, and, like the serfs, they were forbidden to change residence. All segments of the population were subject to military levy and to special taxes.
The early Romanov tsars and tsaritsas, through the end of the 18th century, are as follows:
Feodor III, 1676-1682
Ivan V, co-tsar with Peter I, 1682-1696
Peter I "the Great", 1682-1725
Catherine I, 1725-1727
Peter II, 1727-1730
Ivan VI, 1740-1741
Peter III, 1762
Catherine II, "the Great", 1762-1796
In a period when peasant disorders were endemic, the greatest peasant uprising in 17th century Europe erupted in 1667. As the Cossacks reacted against the growing centralization of the state, serfs joined their revolts and escaped from their landlords by joining them. The Cossack rebel Stenka Razin led his followers up the Volga River, inciting peasant uprisings and replacing local governments with Cossack rule. The tsar's army finally crushed his forces in 1670; a year later Stenka was captured and beheaded.