James W. Meng

Home/Resume/CV -- VLNLAB -- Projects -- Abuse by the United States Government -- Writings -- Donate

Units: Foreword 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22

1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5

History of Ancient Rus (Kievan Rus, 9th - 13th Century)
1.1. Eastern Slavs and the Origins and Development of the State of Ancient Rus

Our first body of knowledge of the lives of the ancestors of the Russian people and the development of their first state on the territory of their settlement comes from the Chronicles, which first begin to appear roughly 1000 years ago.

In these early Chronicles there are, to some degree, varying accounts of who ultimately - in an ethnic sense - was most directly responsible for founding the state of Rus. The Kievan Chronicles, for example, assert that a tribe of Eastern Slavs united on the Dniepr river in an area that we now know as Kiev; the Novgorodian Chronicles, meanwhile, assert that the emergence of the State of Rus hinged upon the invitation of the Vikings, who arrived on their northern territory. This information corroborates the narrative supplied in the Tale of Years Past, now also known as the Primary Chronicle.

During the 8th century, Eastern Slavs acquired vast expanses of forest and forest-steppe territory in Eastern Europe, which were already settled sparsely with Finno-Ugric, Baltic, Scythian, and other Iranic-language people. They brought with them a community-based, agrarian culture that raised livestock in addition to the traditional reliance on hunting and fishing for food. This period also gave rise to production of iron tools and other functional implements, as well as that of clay dishes and other vessels, and woven cloth. External trade was the main driver of their economy, with the development of the Baltic-Volga trade route creating a key link from the Arabic and Byzantine worlds to Europe.

Among themselves, the Eastern Slavs maintained a variety of tribal unions during this period: those from the villages, from the plains, and so forth. They coexisted more or less in a state of "war democracy". Most of the major decisions faced by these tribes were decided at meetings of free community members, who selected their leaders directly. Those leaders, in turn, were responsible for managing raids on their neighbors - particularly upon wealthy Byzantium. Successful campaigns and the confiscated loot obtained from them strengthened the prestige of these leaders as well as the preparedness of their squads, made up of comrades-in-arms, their professional allies.

In a foundational sense, the central world view of Eastern Slavs centered on traditional paganism - the worship of the natural world, the human experience of nature, and of the human world as a natural whole. In deep antiquity, the Eastern Slavs maintained a widespread cult of paganist and ancestral worship, centered on a god known as Rod, a supreme divinity who encompassed all earthly creation: the sky, the land, and even underground habitats that sheltered and provided for the Eastern Slavs and their ancestors. Another major divinity, a menacing god known as Perun, known most importantly as the creator of thunder and lightning, was especially venerated among tribal nobles and military leaders.

The development of Ancient Rus continued smoothly from the middle of the eighth century through the end of the tenth century, emanating outward from the geographic center of the forest-steppe region of the middle Dniepr and its arable land. Agricultural surpluses were plentiful, creating the opportunity for nobility and their military squads to develop into a separately defined class of society with unique responsibilities. In northeast Europe, less favorable climactic conditions limited crop yields to a degree that de-emphasized the development of separate, more specialized classes of society to a certain extent, resulting in greater reliance on traditional hunting and fishing, though the rise of internal trade meant that agricultural surpluses were nevertheless available throughout the land. Further economic development gradually led to internal squabbles over land and trade routes between local tribes; this, in turn, strengthened the roles of princes and their military squads - the druzhiny. This increased need for defense of individual tribes' commercial interests eventually resulted in organized collection of taxes (tribute).

During the second half of the ninth century, active funding of the state quickened due to the interference of neighboring non-Slavic tribes, primarily Hussars and Normans (Vikings) who sought to collect tribute in exchange for security. In the year 862 the Slavs successfully pushed them back across the sea. Shortly thereafter, though, internal feuding began to arise among the Slavic tribes in the absence of the Vikings' leadership, as tribes found it difficult to give preference to a unitary tribe's views and interests in attempts to come to any agreement. Eventually, the Viking Prince Rurik was invited to Novgorod to moderate and govern. In the year 882 a close associate of Rurik, Prince Oleg, seized Kiev and converted it into the political and governmental center of the Eastern Slavic lands. From Kiev, in the year 907 Oleg conducted a successful expedition to Byzantium, securing the traditional Baltic-Volga trade route.

The reign of Prince Vladimir the Great (980-1015) is generally considered the end of the foundational period of the state of Ancient Rus. Under his rule, Orthodox Christianity was taken up as the official religion of the Eastern Slavic tribes. Among Islam, Hinduism, Catholic Christianity, and Orthodox Christianity, Vladimir chose Orthodox Christianity - from Byzantium - due to the close economic and cultural ties of Rus with Byzantium, which then was essentially the center of civilization. The subsequent baptism of Prince Vladimir and members of his inner circle took place in the city of Korsuni (nearby to contemporary Sevastopol). Following his return from Korsuni, Prince Vladimir organized a mass baptism of Kievites on the Dniepr river, thereby Christianizing his people.

Via its Christianization, the state of Rus joined the family of European peoples. Christianity became the spiritual foundation of Russian nationhood, strengthening both the territorial unity of Kievan Rus and the power of its ruling princes. Kievan Rus also benefited from exposure to the traditions and legacy of Byzantine culture, and the adoption of Orthodoxy became a defining and highly characteristic factor in all future development of Russian nationhood.

Following the adoption of Christianity, Prince Vladimir replaced the remaining tribal princes with their sons, calling upon them to uphold the new religion and strengthen the rule of the Kiev princehood in their respective regions. And thus Prince Vladimir united Russian lands under one princely line - the Rurikids.

As was customary through the end of the tenth century, the state favorably influenced the development and renewal of its economy, society, and culture; and in its framework a united, traditional Russian national character emerged and became the foundation for the Eastern Slavic peoples: Great Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian. Through the course of centuries following its genesis, this state took a blow from a wave of nomads, as it provided advantageous conditions for the development of European civilization. Through these events, Russia became a unique bridge through which both cultural and trade exchange was conducted between the East and West. One particularity of the state of Ancient Rus was that many unique peoples participated in its development: Slavs, Normans, Finno-Ugric peoples, Turks, Hussars, etc. Thus from the very beginning of its history it was intrinsically multiethnic and, throughout future events, these ethnic origins promoted the development of a multinational society on the territory of Russia.

1.2. Ancient Rus at the end of the 10th through the beginning of the 12th century

The principle enterprise of Ancient Rus was agriculture: cultivation of rye, oats, barley, wheat, and buckwheat. However in the aggregate the development of agriculture was restrained to a degree by an harsh climate and other conditions of nature.

During this period various handicrafts nevertheless developed rapidly: this began the process of differentiating professions and regional economies beyond agriculture and contributed greatly to the development of cities, which became centers of handicrafts and trade. The most significant of these cities were Kiev, Novgorod, Smolensk, Chernigov, Suzdal, and Vladimir. Ancient Rus exported furs, mead, wax, and flax, while importing jewelry, high-quality weapons, expensive textiles (silk and felt) as well as precious metals and thoroughbred horses.

Also during this period the first compilation of the codes of law of Kievan Rus - the Russkaya Pravda - appeared. Reflecting the societal formation of the state of Rus, the Russkaya Pravda established the first codification of the state's system of property rights and definitions of social stratification.

As previously, the agricultural community remained a social backbone for the Russian people, and free community members made up the majority of its population. In exchange for their ability to hold and use their lands, as well as for their security against periodic raids by nomadic tribes, these free community members paid tribute to regional princes, who were understood to be the highest authority over the land and who accepted their tribute accordingly.

From the end of the tenth century, direct land ownership by princes began to emerge. As the ranks of the Rurikid princes grew in number, tribute became insufficient to finance their activities. The princes then began to send their lieutenants to cultivate and manage separate territories. In exchange, these lieutenants were permitted to retain part of the tribute ordinarily payable on the lands they managed. In due course, these separate settlements established for these lieutenants - known as boyars - a secure means of remuneration in exchange for their service to the princes that was transferrable by inheritance and thus, in time, would become ancestral estates for their progeny. And thus feudalism began to arise in Ancient Rus at the end of the tenth century.

The workers on princely landholdings and boyars' estates were, for the most part, dependent people. At first the workers on these estates were predominantly slaves - bonded serfs and other servants - and prisoners. Also found frequently were debtors who had little choice but to sell their freedom. Later, various other groups of otherwise feudally-dependent people appear: peasants and purchased slaves. Various forms and degrees of dependence existed in Ancient Rus; the fact that the preponderance of them were constituted from initially-free people testified to the often-transitional nature of the dependent relationship.

Gradually, an early-feudal monarchy began to take hold in Ancient Rus, with its head at the seat of the Grand Prince of Kiev - regarded as the protector of all Russian lands, the head of state and chief lawmaker, the highest judge of all matters of dispute, and the intended recipient and allocator of all tribute.

Many features of the early-feudal monarchy of Ancient Rus existed to secure elements of social organization that originated in the war democracy era and limited princely powers. Chiefly among these was the veche, or popular assembly, which was maintained in Novgorod.

The princely militias - druzhiny - instituted as a formal part of the state apparatus, also served to secure traditions originating in the war democracy era. These militiamen regarded themselves not as subjects of the princes, but rather as comrades-in-arms. Older militiamen, upon their retirement from active participation in military activities, often became members of the princes' close council - the duma - at which point they became known as boyars.

Favorable development of Ancient Rus continued under the rule of Yaroslav the Wise (1019-1054), son of Vladimir the Great. His rule was generally characterized by cultural development and by a strengthening of military authority on an international scale. Many of the Christian monarchs of Europe desired to intermarry with the ruling family of Kievan Rus, and indeed the daughters of Yaroslav - Anna, Anastasia, and Elizaveta - went on to marry the kings of France, Hungary, and Norway. Kiev became a major cultural center, competing on a level with Constantinople. The process of compiling the first code of law for Kievan Rus - the Russkaya Pravda - also began under Yaroslav.

Nevertheless, after the death of Yaroslav and subsequent division of his lands by his brothers, many disagreements flared among the various extended branches of Rurikid nobility. Especially contentious was the fight between the children of Sviyatoslav Yaroslavich, who ruled in Chernigov; and the children of Vsevolod Yaroslavich of Suzdal. In efforts to overcome disagreement, and in light of the perpetual threat of danger posed to all Russian lands by the raids of foreign tribes, a convocation of regional princes was assembled in Lyubeche in 1097 on the initiative of Vladimir Vsevolodovich Monomach. There it was decided that regional princes should govern their lands independently, although this led to political disunity.

At the beginning of the twelfth century, the partitioning of the country came to a halt as a result of the political activities of Vladimir Monomach (1113-1125), who achieved considerable notoriety for his political acumen and for his successful military campaigns against the Polovtsy. He was subsequently invited to assume the throne in Kiev in the year 1113.

1.3. Political Disunity in Ancient Rus (12th - 13th Centuries)

Following the death of Vladimir Monomakh, the state of Ancient Rus began to be partitioned off once again. In the middle of the 12th century, fifteen separate states arose from what had been previously a unitary country: Kiev, Chernigov, Pereyaslav, Ryazan, Vladimir-Suzdal, Smolensk, Galytsyn, Vladimir-Volyn, Polotsyn, Novgorod, and others. Nevertheless, the cohesiveness of the previous, unitary state was mostly maintained. Connections between the independent principalities were well supported by common religious beliefs, language, and system of law. All in all, this period of political disunity weakened the overall military strength of Ancient Rus and contributed to internal strife and feudal wars among the independent principalities. These internal conflicts contributed to the success of the eventual Mongol invasion and the national catastrophe that resulted from it.

Vladimir-Suzdal Principality. A significant and important part of North-Eastern Rus, located in the Oka river basin at the upper reaches of the Volga River on heavily-forested ground. However the soil yielded poor harvests, and the climate was generally harsh. Alongside the historic city centers of the region in Rostov and Suzdal, during this period the cities of Vladimir and Pereyaslavl (contemporary Ryazan) were founded. The first historical record of Moscow also occurs during this period of history, in a chronicle dating to the year 1147.

The territory of Suzdal fell out from under Kievan control in the 1130s, through the efforts of the youngest son of Vladimir Monomach, Yuri, who became known by the name "Dolgorukiy" - the "long-armed" - for his aggressive interference in the affairs of neighboring principalities. He is today generally thought of as the primary founder of Moscow. Following his death, power in the northeast fell to his son, Andrey Yurievich, better known as Andrey Bogolyubskiy (1157-1174). Aspring to a greater degree of control, Andrey Bogolyubskiy moved the capitol to Vladimir, which for the most part lacked the established local groups and alliances of boyars and independent assembly (the veche) that typically limited princely powers. Inspired by what he perceived as the opportunity to consolidate power, and eager to build Vladimir into a major regional center - and not just as a part of his own territory, but of all Russian lands - he ordered the construction of several new cathedrals, chiefly among them the Uspenskiy Cathedral. As his aspirations to even greater influence grew, Andrey Bogolyubskiy began a series of repressions against a number of boyars. Those, in combination with several significant military losses, led to the organization of a coup against him in 1174 during which he was killed. Following his death, Andrey Bogolyubskiy's younger brother, Andrey Vsevolod Bolshoe Gnezdo (1176-1212) assumed power after a two-year period of internal struggle. By comparison, his rule was somewhat less eventful and expanded the territory of the principality, strengthened the power of his druzhina, and also brought Novgorod under his control.

Novgorod Territories. The territories of Novgorod spead from the Finnish gulf to the Urals and from the north Arctic Ocean to the upper reaches of the Volga. Primary drivers of the region's economic conditions were the somewhat unfavorable soil and climate, the ethnically-mixed population and its socio-political organization, and its geographic location. Location specifically offered Novgorod the opportunity to develop into a major trading hub, offering up a wide range of goods from mead and furs to down feathers and leather to the entirety of Europe. Merchants typically organized the bulk of trade, representing the production of boyars' estates. Gradually the boyars, drawing upon their economic might, began to predominate in ruling over the territory of Novgorod, though the traditional assembly - the veche - was maintained.

The forcible expulsion of Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich led to full independence for the Novgorodians, after which the veche became the primary institution of state power in which all free men were eligible to take part. Alongside the veche was an house of lords, constituted from the ranks of the boyars. In effect, this house of lords prepared and directed the meetings of the veche, guiding its agenda and incentivizing voters in various ways to produce desired outcomes from the democratic process. High-level government personalities were also chosen from a tight circle of boyars. As such, the Novgorod veche formally remained a democratic institution, while by definition representing and expressing primarily the views and interests of the higher strata of the region's society.

Even after the expulsion and fall of Vsevolod Mstislavich, the Novgorodians continued to invite new princes in for leadership functions. Officially, the prince's functions were to be concentrated in the areas of military defense and offense, internal policework, and legal administration - assessing crimes and their appropriate punishments and so forth. To this end, the prince would secure an official agreement with the Novgorodians, in which his functions were clearly delineated and the opportunity to intervene in the self-governing functions of the region was specifically excluded. These agreements were extremely specific: these princes invited from abroad were not permitted to hold lands within the region; they were not permitted to change or otherwise manipulate any appointments of government figures within the region; and in the case of any recognized violation of the agreement, the punishment was very clear: immediate ejection from power. The Novgorodian territories, thus, maintained a political system that combined democratic, oligarchic, and monarchist elements of government.

Galytsyno-Volynskoe Principality, located on the western and south-western borders of Rus, posessed highly favorable conditions for the development of agriculture, handicrafts, and international trade. Borders with the Danube region and the Carpathian mountains opened substantial opportunities for the development of trade relations with Poland, Hungary, and Byzantium.

The fertile earth of the Volyn region was long of great interest to the agriculturally-engaged population of Ancient Rus. Naturally, substantial private landownership from a large swath of "foreign" boyars - aspiring even to full independence from Kiev and its princes - formed quite early, with the cities of Galych, Vladimir-Volyn, Lutsk, and others springing up around it.

The Galytsyno-Volynskoe principality reached its pinnacle of power under Yaroslav Vladimirovich Osmomysle (1153-1187), who even successfully seized Kiev during an high point of his reign. Nevertheless, during the period following this conquest substantial concessions had to be made to local boyars in order to maintain full control, and follwing his death not terribly long thereafter, an extended period of disunity and confusion began in the province.

By the year 1199, the Volyn Prince Roman Mstislavich had seized Galych and successfully united the southwestern lands of the region into one, united, Galytsyn-Volynskoe principality. Relying on villagers and smaller landholders, he was able to unite larger landowners and regional boyars who were previously unimpressed with his approach and policies. Amongst his handling of local disputes he also successfully mounted campaigns against Lithuania, Poland, Polovtisian tribes, and even for a time was able to push back the Kievans.

Danil Romanovich, the son of Roman Mstislavich, continued the political approach of his father following his death. In the year 1239 he became Prince of Kiev and united the south and south-western geographies of Russia, though further development was interrupted by the Mongol invasions.

1.4. Culture of Ancient Rus (10th - 13th Centuries)

The culture of Ancient Rus formed around a multifaceted union of the Pagan traditions of Eastern Slavic civilization and Byzantine Orthodox Christian culture. Orthodoxy, adopted from Byzantium, formed the core of Russian culture, and also helped to formed the cultural and diplomatic conditions on which it based its relations with Europe.

The appearance of a written alphabet and written language in Rus is typically associated with the work of brothers Cyril and Methodius at the end of the 9th century. Together, they created the Cyrillic alphabet, on whose basis the modern Russian alphabet arose.

During the reign of Yaroslav the Wise, translations of books of church and secular content began to appear, and monasteries began to open schools. Based upon discoveries of early birch bark writings, it appears that widespread literary education of urban populations became commonplace from the beginning of the XII century onward. Similarly, the emergence of written literature was preceded by the development of oral folk writings - particularly the epics, proverbs, sayings, and riddles of bygone eras. As time passed, the written Chronicles became a cultural phenomenon of great importance, the most famous of which is The Tale of Bygone Years (1113) ascribed to the monk Nestor of the Kiev-Pechersk Monastery. Another important early 'monument' in Russian literature is the Word of Law and Grace by Metropolitan Ilarion of Kiev, dating to the second quarter of the eleventh century. It is the first known original work by the author, who was the first to write a scholarly discourse on the significance of the adoption of Christianity for Russia, glorifing the Russian land and its princes.

1.5. Internal Strife & Provincial Invasions of Ancient Rus (13th Century)

Mongol tribesmen, who roamed the steppes of Central Asia, lived through a period of extended internal feuding between clans in the second half of the twelfth century, primarily over rights to livestock and grazing lands. This conflict ended at the turn of the thirteenth century with the victory of a group led by the Mongol nobleman Temuchin, who then united the Mongol tribes together and set about to build a formalized Mongol state.

Nevertheless the process of state-building led the Mongols back to internal feuding and disunity almost immediately. In a historical sense, this is attributed to the insufficiency of the meagre economic and material conditions of nomadic life as foundations for the development of formal statehood, and so the Mongol state came into existence primarily on the exploitation of neighboring peoples. Consequently it was doomed to constant war, though the iron discipline and strong hierarchical culture from which its foundations arose, combined with the general weakness of their more civilized surrounding neighbors, resulted in substantial military successes almost immediately.

The first major military conquest of the Mongol state was of Northern China (1211-1215). It strengthed the Mongols' military capabilities quite substantially: they for the first time gained access to siege technologies and to a wide range of skilled Chinese craftsmen. They also began to incorporate Chinese bureaucratic methods into their own affairs of state.

By 1219, the Mongols had mounted another major military campaign, this time against the Khwarazm Shahs of Central Asia. Over the course of a year, what was once a blossoming civilization was quickly demolished, primarily due to internal struggles over efforts to mount a serious resistance to the Mongol campaign. Shortly afterward the Mongol troops left to the Polovtsian steppe, and the Polovtsy requested assistance from the princes of southern Rus. In 1223, a particularly notable battle occurred between the Mongols and the alliance of Rus and Polovtsy, ending in a crushing defeat attributed to the unfortunate combination of a lack of knowledge of the Mongols' capabilities and the lack of a unified command structure.

Following the death of Temuchin in 1227, his large empire was broken into smaller Khanates, all of which were owned by his sons and grandsons. By 1235, the Mongols were preparing for war again, this time united by the Khan Batu, who intended to push all the way through Europe to the Atlantic Ocean.

In December 1237, the Khan's forces arrived at the outer reaches of the Ryazan principality. In the chronicles of the period they are often mentioned as a punishment for sins, most often as a possible punishment for internal, feudal wars. Ryazan defended itself heroically, but fell after five days of fighting. Prince Yuri Igorevich, his family, and all other citizens of Ryazan, who the Mongols valued no higher than dirt, were killed. By February 1238, Vladimir had also fell to the Mongols. In March, the armies of Prince Vsevolodovich were destroyed in a particularly violent battle on the river Siti, during which the Prince himself was killed. Many cities and settlements farther throughout the Vladimir-Suzdal principality were also destroyed in the fighting.

The Mongol armies then set their sights on Novgorod, but upon travelling less than 100 kilometers, stepped back in consideration of their own battle losses and the weariness of their men. They returned to the south, stopping in the city of Kozelsk. Successfully defending itself against the Mongols for over seven weeks, the battle dragged on to such an extent that even the Khan himself began to refer to Kozelsk as an 'evil city'.

By the spring of 1239, the Mongols had adequately rested and regrouped their armies, and descended first upon the south and then upon the southwest of Rus. In December 1240 Khan Batu successfully took Kiev after a hard-won battle. Subsequently the Mongols attempted to move farther into Eastern Europe, encroaching on to the territory of contemporary Poland, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia, but having been badly weakened in battles with Kievan Rus their armies were unable to continue the siege. Pulling back, the Khan's armies returned to Sarai - the capital of the Golden Horde Khanate, located on the banks of the Volga.

The historical reasons for the domination of Russian lands by the Mongols during this period are diverse. Broadly, we attribute the relative ease of their conquest to a combination of internal political disunity in Rus, along with the strength of their armies who were both far superior in number as well as far better prepared. Nevertheless, having assumed the greastest shock of the Mongol invasion, Ancient Rus inadvertently offered Europe favorable conditions for the development of European civilization over the following centuries.

Nevertheless, while Ancient Rus faced down the Mongols from the south, its borders to the northwest faced a new threat as well: that of the Swedes and Germans, who were becoming increasingly aggressive. By 1240, a large detatchment of Swedes sat on the western banks of the Neva near Novgorod. Alexander Yaroslavich, who was then the reigning prince of Novgorod, mounted his army on heir camps and quickly crushed them - for which he became known as "Alexander Nevsky". This battle is generally known as the one to have secured the western frontier of Rus.

Also in 1240, Pskov was overrun by Livonian cavalry, thereby encroaching on the Novgorod territories. In 1242 Prince Alexander Nevsky successfully defeated their batallions on the ice of the Chudskoye lake - an important victory that, much like the victory on the Neva just a few short years before, helped establish not only territorial but also civilizational boundaries, holding back both Western aggressions and attempts to forcibly connect Ancient Rus with Roman Catholicism.

Following these invasions, Ancient Rus eventually entered into a union with the Golden Horde Khanate, which at that time spread from the Carpathians to Western Siberia and Khorezm. At the same time, Rus retained a degree of regional autonomy, including its internal procedures and customs, the traditional princely dynasties that remained, and various forms of governance. Economic dependence of Rus on the Mongol Khanate was largely limited to the required payment of tribute, which at first was collected by representatives of the Khan, and eventually by Russian princes. The Orthodox church was freed from payment of any taxes or tribute. But a certain degree of political dependence on the Khan remained: the rights, for example, to the Vladimir-Suzdal princehood were authorized directly by the Khan, who for the Russian princes was the ultimate authority - in a certain sense, a Tsar.

While governance following the Mongol invasions was fairly clear-cut, the economics of the region were not. As a result of the invasions many thousands of people were killed, of which those in cities suffered especially badly. Of the 74 cities that existed in pre-invasion Rus, 49 were destroyed during the conflict with the Mongols, and this all but destroyed most production of handicrafts. But those suffering the greatest losses were the druzhniki - the feudal nobility. At the same time, they saw quite an healthy resurgence in the years following theinvasions, and one in which they enjoyed a greater degree of independence from local princes then they had previously, becoming not just comrades-in-arms of the princes but actually their subjects and public servants.

The invasion also impacted, to some degree, the expansion of the Russian state. The process of expansion and delineation of the Russian territories in the northeast continued; while the southwest region expropriation of the southwest to the Grand Duchy of Poland and Lithuania finalized by the 14th century.

Also as a result of the Mongol invasions, many major landmarks of Russian spiritual and material culture were damaged or destroyed, rendering the history of the pre-Mongol period of Rus more challenging to record and preserve.