James W. Meng

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

2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6


The Russian State, 14th - 16th Centuries
2.1. Rus in the 14th Century.

At the beginning of the 14th century, the Russian state experienced an extended period of internal political disunity. In the Northeast, in the Great Vladimir principality, an ongoing battle between the princes of Moscow and Tver was being waged over control of official rights to tribute collection under the Mongol Horde. Ultimately, their dispute would come to decide the question of which principality would be the one to unite the Russian lands in an historical sense.

In the year 1327, in Tver, a grassroots revolution arose against the Tartars. The Muscovite prince Ivan Danilovich - better known as Ivan Kalita - orchestrated its repression and, in exchange for his service to the Uzbek Khan, was made a Grand Prince. From this point forward, Moscow gradually arose to primacy as the economic, political, and religious center of the Russian lands.

During the first half of the 14th century the Muscovite princes, understanding the role that the Orthodox Church played in daily Russian life, made a bet on the future of their union with the Golden Horde Empire and began to gather resources for a war of independence. Thanks to a long history of efforts by the Moscow princes to maintain political unity, Moscow was saved from internal squabbles during this period.

Prince Dmitry Ivanovich (1359-1389), grandson to Ivan Kalita, began a process of bringing other regional princes to heel under his rule in order to strengthen his seat of power in Moscow.

This same period saw a great many political intrigues and other internal challenges within the Golden Horde Empire, the ultimate result of which was a transition of power to a new leader, Mamai. However Mamai was not a descendant of the Khan Chingishan, and therefore did not hold legal rights to the Tsar's throne. On this basis, Prince Dmitry Ivanovich refused to pay tribute, alleging that Mamai did not have the right to govern - and so Moscow began to withdraw from its allegiance to the Golden Horde. The dispute quickly led to the Battle of Kulikovo on 8th September 1380. Thanks to the patriotism and courage of the Russian forces, who came together from regions far and wide to unite against the Golden Horde, Mamai's armies were soundly defeated. Historically, the battle not only tipped the scales in favor of Russian independence from the Mongols, but in doing so mostly saved its future from ruin. The Moscow principality, thus, secured its role as the region to unite the Russian lands, and its princes - that of the protectors of all Russian lands. For his role in this successful campaign, Prince Dmitry Ivanovich became known as Dmitry Donskoi.

2.2. Conclusion to the Formation of the United Russian State. Freedom from the Mongol Yoke.

Under Ivan III (1462-1505), the process of uniting the Northeast regions of Russia under Muscovite rule began to conclude; and thus began the history of Muscovite tsardom. The greatest opposition to the new, centralized politics of the Muscovite princehood came from Novgorod, which desired to maintain not only its independence, but also its nature as a republic.

With the pretext of religious motives as a guise, Ivan III mounted a campaign against the Novgorod militias in 1471, swiftly routing them at the river Sheloni. By 1478 the entirety of the Novgorod territory was integrated into that of the Moscow state; and by 1485 the Tver region, rival of old to the Moscow princehood, had likewise lost its independence. Additionally, as a result of successful campaigns agaist Lithuania at the end of the 15th century, its border regions were also integrated into the territories of the Moscow state.

Under Vasilii III (1505-1533), son to Ivan III, additional territories were integrated into the Moscow state, the first of which was Pskov in 1510. Smolensk followed quickly thereafter in 1514, after another successful campaign against Lithuania; and in 1521 Ryazan too was added, after which a pause was struck in territorial gains for the Moscow state.

In 1480, Khan Akhmat of the Golden Horde made the decision to attempt to reclaim the Mongols' dominance over Russia, and force Moscow once again to make tribute payments to the Khan. In support of his plans, he secured an allegiance with the Lithuanian prince Kazimir, and moved his forces to the outer southwest reaches of Russia. The armies of Ivan III closed the route to the Tartars, and camped on the banks of the river Ugry. The Khan's attempts to cross the river were swiftly routed by Russian forces. Unable to await long enough for support from the armies of Prince Kazimir, Khan Akhmat withdrew, thereby ending 240 years of the Mongol yoke.

Moscow's victory over the Mongol Horde was no small feat: it required the mobilization of all of the resources of the country, the creation of a well-armed military force of trained servicemen, and the spiritual preparedness of the general public to a potentially bloody and definitive battle for independence. Against these efforts, the Horde weakened and gradually disintegrated into multiple independent states following its defeat.

Following the victory over the Mongols, the power associated with the position of Moscow's Grand Prince began to grow with a fair degree of consistency. Boyars became subjects of the Grand Prince, dependent on his will. The Grand Prince received the title of Sovereign; nevertheless, his autocratic power was limited by traditional organs of government power and by historical norms of law. The boyars' Duma was maintained, and offered a venue for boyars to bring their issues to the attention of governing bodies.

In an territorial administrative sense, the country was divided up into counties, which were then divided into townships. Counties were managed by boyar-governors and, as before, the bulk of the country's military strength came from trained servicemen, who received landholding rights in exchange for their service.

In the year 1497, the Sudebnik - the first unified code of law for the united Russian state - was adopted. It determined and outlined the norms of punishment for a wide array of crimes. The death penalty was prescribed, for example, in cases of murder, arson, and treason. The Sudebnik also introduced the right for peasants to leave their feudal lords once per year, for one week either prior to or after the Day of Saint George (26th November), also known as Yuriev Day.

2.3. Socioeconomic Development of Russia, 15th-16th Centuries.

Russia during this epoch was first and foremost an agrarian country, of whose population more than 90% lived in rural areas. Agriculture was, for the vast majority of the population, the predominant profession. For these rural peasants, the plow was the primary tool of day-to-day work. They grew rye, oats, barley, and vegetables: turnips, cabbage, carrots, cucumbers.

In Russia the typical agricultural season is short - just five and a half months - and unlike in other countries, this short season did not offer farmers the opportunity to avail themselves of the soil's full growing potential. The harsh climate and relatively infertile soil typically tended to offer up low crop yields. As a result the Russian agriculture of the period had a somewhat extreme character wherein production of greater harvests was driven almost entirely by greater land use. The tough natural conditions exacted upon agricultural workers made for unpleasant, grinding, day-to-day work to which the ability to adapt and bring strengths to bear was highly valued within communities.

During the first half of the 16th century, farmers began to convert and subsequently till the soil of lands that previously were covered by forests, increasing the amount of available arable land for farming. By this point in history the Russian nation had still not encountered serious epidemics, famines, or poverty; and the average size of peasant families grew, offering the necessary manpower to cultivate these new lands.

Also during this period a system of taxation and tax collection was established. Under the typical conditions of this system, a peasant farmer might give up to 30% of his total production to the government and to his feudal lord. In exchange for these contributions, the government guaranteed physical security for the various economic activities of the peasants, and the peasants were guaranteed a substantial material interest in the results of their work.

All of these factors, taken together, contributed immensely to growth in agricultural production. But for the majority of peasants, the primary goal was not increasing monetary profits - rather, it was the fulfillment of their families' needs in terms of food, clothing, warmth, and housing. Christian morals, which formed the relatively rigid groundwork for the social values of the peasants, condemned the accumulation of wealth, hence, outsize growth of production beyond what naturally occurred as a result of increases in population size tended to be minimal.

Another development of significance during this period was a major change in the social and legal position of farmers. It was during this period that the word "krestyanin" from "Christian" was adopted as the noun used for the peasants, while other earlier and more derogatory terms - "smerdy" and "siroty" (orphans) - were taken out of common usage. Peasants additionally gained the right to litigate against their feudal lords; the right to take part in local self-government; and the right to a free exit from work on "Yuriev Day". Peasant communities became more tightly-knit, with common norms and traditions that united both their economic and spiritual lives, encouraging a substantial degree of collectivism.

One particular population group that grew into a rather unique position was that of the people living on the Southeast borders of the Russian state, along the Dniepr, Don, Volga, and Ural rivers - known as the wild lands. These were the Cossacks. Composed from runaway, formerly city-dwelling peasant populations of various national origins, the Cossacks' primary sources of economic sustenance ranged from various handicrafts, to trade, to small-scale war loot and, later, salaries from the Sovereign in exchange for military service.

All important matters among the Cossacks were debated and resolved at their own common assembly, for which they democratically selected representatives - Hetmen. For a long period of time the Cossacks existed autonomously, effectively independently from the Russian state. They maintained the right to retain runaways and refuse their return to their feudal lords; these runaways would then join the ranks of the Cossacks. Periodically the Cossacks took part in revolutions against the Russian state, which then attempted to bring them under control.

At the beginning of the 16th century the various cities - Moscow, Novgorod, Tver, Yaroslavl, Kostroma, Nizhny Novgorod and others - of the Russian state began to develop. Nevertheless due to the country's enormous expanses of territory and small-in-number population, most cities did not exceed 30,000 people. The primary exception was Moscow, which maintained a population of roughly 100,000 people. Cities were chiefly centers of handicrafts and trade. Markets in these cities were often both places of manufacture for goods like jewelry, shoes, and pottery, as well as the point of sale.

Around the end of the 15th century Moscow also became the site of the first state manufactory for guns and other firearms. But production was not at the same standard as that of Western Europe, and the manufactory could not entirely meet the modern needs of the army. In order to meet those needs, Russia needed to expand trade relations with Western Europe by both land and maritime routes.

2.4. The Rule of Ivan the Terrible.

Ivan IV ascended the throne following the death of his father, Vasilii III, at the age of three. During his childhood his mother, Elena Glinskaya, effectively held power; she was best known for the introduction of the kopeck, the fractional monetary unit of the ruble, and also began a series of reforms of governance in the country's regions.

Elena Glinskaya died relatively shortly thereafter, in 1538, after which internal squabbles for power among various groups of boyars began. Over the next five years, other members of the Glinskiy family found their way to power through their influence on the young Ivan. During this period, the greed and lack of principles among boyar-governors is generally viewed to have contributed to a weakening central power.

In January of 1547, Ivan IV assumed the title of Tsar. His coronation was an important event, intended to strengthen the authority of the Sovereign, and emphasize the succession of his rule and its ancient connection with Byzantine emperors.

During the summer of 1547 a revolution arose in Moscow, the result of a series of out-of-control fires in the city, for which blame fell on the Glinsky family. The boyars' duma, after a period of considerable difficulty, managed to calm the city's residents. One result of these events was the beginning of reformist politics, carried out by a council of carefully selected new advisors to the Tsar. Thus began a period of reorientation of the state's general methods of governance, directed particularly upon the state government apparatus and upon the country's army. During this period one particular nobleman of the State Duma, Aleksei Adashev, held enormous influence over the Tsar and his decision-making.

In an official sense, the beginnings of this reform were found in the convocation of the first Zemskiy Sobor of 1549, a meeting of the boyars' Duma - the first united meeting of both the highest levels of clergy and nobility. During his speech before the group, Tsar Ivan IV called Russian society to a position of all-encompassing forgiveness, invoking the perception of all segments of Russian society as a united whole around a centralized state power.

In 1550, an updated Sudebnik was formally accepted into law. In comparison to its predecessor, it primarily sought to re-evaluate and more effectively address punishments for boyars and government functionaries in order to address corrupt governing practices and unfair court decisions.

Also during the 1550s, a wide range of formal proclamations were put into place in order to define the functioning of individual branches of government. Thus there was, for example, an ambassadorial order addressing foreign policy; a law enforcement order addressing the punishment of criminals; and so forth.

Throughout 1555 and 1556 a number of reforms addressing provincial governance were also adopted. Primarily, these reforms served to replace the previous arrangement of provincial fiefdoms, allowing local residents to select their own governors - elders, who held the responsibility of searching for and capturing criminals, collecting taxes, and other typical duties of day-to-day provincial governance.

As the end of the 1550s approached, the Tsar, reflecting on the impact of these reforms, noted that while they had satisfied his desire to strengthen his own power, they nevertheless gave what he viewed as too many rights to the ranks of the boyars. Ivan IV, now far more firmly established as a public personality and as a political figure, now hungered for a more autocratic seat of power - and so he became dissatisfied with the pace of change and the results of reform, abandoning further reforms after consultation with his closest advisors.

Ivan IV's transition to new, post-reform politics, dubbed oprichnina, arose for a range of reasons. These included Tsar Ivan's own ambitions to unlimited autocratic power; the general worsening of conditions within the country in connection with the Livonian War; and religious relations between the Tsar and his people. Ivan IV believed quite seriously in the God-ordained nature of his rule, yet related to his people as a master who could punish or absolve them on a whim. The severe conditions under which the people lived were additionally worsened both by the war and by the seemingly arbitrary tyranny of the boyars, and so they looked to the Tsar for the re-establishment of order and fairness under his governance. Nevertheless the Tsar's personal qualities overwhelmingly came to bear upon the ultimately abandoned fulfillment of their desires: Ivan IV was well known to be a cowardly, suspicious, cruel man of relatively weak-minded constitution whose fixation on an autocracy ordained by God under his personal control came to deeply define his leadership.

Following heavy defeats of Russian troops during the Livonian War, as well as the flight of Voevod Prince Andrei Kurbsky to Lithuania in 1564, Tsar Ivan IV was able to seize on an opportune moment to complete a quick and full transition to oprichnina. In December 1564, Ivan IV left Moscow, taking with him the entirety of the state treasury and other riches and symbols of power. He then accused the boyars of treason, theft of state money, violence against the people, and thus total responsiblity for the horrible costs of war and for the country's current fate, and declared that he wished to abandon his reign. As a result the boyars faced an incensed and war-weary people, and acceeded to the Tsar's demands. These demands were relatively uncomplicated: the division of the country into a zemschina, an advisory council of representatives of the aristocracy led by the Tsar himself, and a separate oprichnina, with its own governance apparatus, which afforded the Tsar the right to control and manage the lives and property of the people without restriction and without formal court procedures.

The primary activities of the oprichnina were, in a word, violent - in order to, in the opinion of the Tsar, reduce the "sin of disobeying power" among the people. Over time, however, it became a vehicle to abuse the displeased and enrich the treasury and oprichniki with their confiscated wealth. Generally, the vast majority of those killed by the oprichnina were ordinary people: townspeople, peasants, serfs.

At the beginning of the year 1570, a military expedition was mounted against Novgorod, which allegedly desired to replace the Tsar. Organized by the Tsar's personal army, this pogrom killed over ten thousand people and resulted in the elimination of the last vestiges of famed Novgorodian independence.

In 1571 Tsar Ivan IV failed to effectively organize Moscow's defense against raids of Crimean Tatars, led by Khan Devlet-Girey. The oprichnina, which had rapidly transformed into a gang of robbers and murderers, was unable to resist the invading enemy, who went on to burn the capital. Roughly a year later, in 1572, Ivan IV had no choice but to abandon the planned division of the country's territory, troops, and governance. Repressions nevertheless continued until his death.

While Ivan IV had created the oprichnina in hopes that it would lead to a strengthening of power around the Tsar, the result was rather the opposite, as it led to a major political crisis. Fear of the oprichnina left the command structure of the army in a state of constant fear, ultimately contributing to major Russian losses and defeat in the Livonian War. Additionally, domestic politics and the devastation of war led to an extended economic crisis in which a substantial amount of the population fled from central areas to more distant regions. The state sustained major losses among the ranks of taxpayers, servicemen, and peasants alike. All of these factors also undermined the readiness of the army. In efforts to overcome the crisis, the government moved to a "temporary" abolishment of Yuriev Day in 1581, which was viewed to have lead to the further enslavement of the peasants.

2.5. External Politics.

Having only gained independence at the end of the 15th century, Russia's primary purpose as a nation-state was to maintain its national sovereignty. The rulers of Moscow, who considered themselves the rightful successors to Kievan Rus, saw the Russian state's territorial integrity, particularly as it pertained to all the lands of Ancient Rus, as of paramount importance. Renewed westward expansion was also driven by strategic motivations and by the need to obtain more arable land.

During the 16th centtury, Russia focused considerably upon developing foreign economic relations with other states, and securing uninterrupted trade. And so a struggle for access to the Baltic Sea, along which several important European trade routes were already long established, began.

Moscow's relations with the Kazan khanate worsened throughout the first half of the 1540s, eventually leading to war (1545-1552). Early setbacks led Ivan IV to pursue reforms, after which the army went on to an hard-won victory in 1552. In October 1552 the armies of Moscow took Kazan, and between 1554-1556 Moscow went on to conquer the Astrakhan Khanate entirely, after which the Nogai Horde and the Bashkirs agreed to accept Moscow's rule. The Volga region and its important trade route also fell under Moscow's control following this conquest.

Subsequent Russian ambitions to gain direct access to Baltic trade routes quickly led to war with the Livonian Order of German Knights-Crusaders, an extended conflict that continued from 1558 to 1583. Initial successes at Narva, Dorpat, and others resulted in a relatively quick rout of the Order, but in 1561 its lands became dependent on Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania - and the Russian armies then came face to face with powerful and well-equipped European opponents.

An additional challenge for the Russian armies in the course of the Livonian War was the maintenance of a second front at once against the Crimean Khanate. While Moscow managed to take Polotsk in early 1563, they lost it to the Lithuanians in 1564 and subsequently, in 1569, Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania united under the Commonwealth and a single monarch.

Sweden later also entered the war against Russia, eventually seizing Narva and other settlements. Russia was able to stop the Swedes' advances at Pskov in 1581, a battle which saved it from defeat and forced the Poles to the bargaining table. In their eventual truce Russia lost Polotsk and all other lands previously conquered in Livonia; in 1583 a final agreement with Sweden likewise surrendered Russian access to the Baltic Sea.

In 1582 a Cossack detatchment of roughly 600 people led by Hetman Ermak departed on a colonization campaign to Western Siberia. Superior armaments on the part of the Cossacks, as well as local peoples' dissatisfaction with the leadership of the Tartar Khan Kuchum, contributed to a number of quick victories over the enemy. But their small numbers and the Tartars' determined military resistance, combined with the severe Siberian winters limited their progress, and so the conquest of Western Siberia ground on until 1598.

2.6. Culture of Russia, 14th-16th Centuries.

Historians observe a major revival of Russian culture at the end of the 14th century following the victories over the Golden Horde, which served as a core of national identity and played a key role in restoring broken ties with Byzantium. Victory over foreign occupiers led to a central role of patriotism in Russia's reemergent cultural traditions.

The fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 to the Turks at Constantinople made Russia the defining stronghold of global Orthodox Christianity, contributing to Russia's international authority and to its cultural development.

Russian patriotism reached a sort of pinaccle in the 16th century, identified primarily in the Chronicles of that time by the idea of unification of all historical Russian lands and arising particularly after the Battle of Kulikovo. Visions for the strengthening of the state and its authority under the Tsar are frequent, and often built around the notion that the Russia of the day is a direct heir to the monarchies of the past.

Perhaps the best documented 'monuments' of Russian culture during this period are historical stories of Russia's battles with foreign occupiers: The Tale of the Ruin of Ryazan by Khan Batu, Tale of the Mamai Battle and so forth. But the literary canon of this period is by no means limited to patriotic celebrations of battlefield glory, and in fact also includes travelogues such as Walking Across Three Seas by the Tver merchant Athanasius Nikitin, and Domostroy an original encyclopedia of household and moral norms of the time that offered Russians of the time (as well as historians of future centuries) pragmatic suggestions on how Russian people should behave in order to positively impact their families and society as a whole.

Also an important moment in the evolution of Russian culture was the appearance of printing, which first appeared in Moscow in 1563. Funded by the state, the first Russian printing house, headed by an Ivan Fedorov, published its first book, The Apostle, in 1564.

The Moscow school of architecture formed on the basis of the traditional Slavic architectural styles found in Vladimir-Suzdal architecture. Notably, the construction of the earliest buildings of the Moscow Kremlin is completed during the late 15th and early 16th centuries, employing both the best domestic and foreign - primarily Italian - masters in its construction. One particularly important example of monumental architecture among these buildings is the Assumption Cathedral, built by Aristotle Fioravanti after the model of the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir though significantly larger in size.

In the architecture of the Moscow Kremlin's Archangel cathedral, built 1506-1508 by architect Aleviz Novy, and which also contains the burial vaults of Moscow princes and Tsars through the 18th century, one sees the unification of Russian architectural traditions with many stylistic elements of the Italian Rennaissance and French Revival.

Of the original ensemble of buildings in the Moscow Kremlin, the architectural center was its bell tower built in honor of Ivan the Great, erected in 1505-1508. The encircling borders and towers of the Kremlin itself, finished in 1600, together with the original ensemble became an important symbol of the greatness and power of the capital of the Russian state.

Another characteristic style of Russian architecture emerged during this period - a tent-roofed style based on national traditions in wooden architecture and lacking internal pillars. One of the first and more important monuments built in this style was the Church of the Ascension in Kolomenskoye, built in 1532 in honor of the birth of the future Tsar Ivan the Terrible on the order of Vasily III. Perhaps the most famous monument in the quintessentially Russian tent-roofed style, however, is the Intercession Cathedral in Moscow, built slightly later, between 1555 and 1561 by Russian architects Barma and Postnik in honor of the successful conquest of Kazan.

During this period, the primary genre of painting continued to be iconography, largely associated with the predominance of wooden churches throughout Russia, which were poorly suited to wall painting. Within the Moscow school of iconography, perhaps the most reknowned artist of the period was Andrei Rublev, creator of many masterpieces including the Trinity that today hangs in Moscow's Tretyakov Gallery; the frescoes of the Assumption Cathedral in Vladimir; and the icons of the Annunciation Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.

One particularly notable element of the spiritual life of this period is the emergence of literary publicism and journalism. Primary figures in this field at the turn of the 15th-16th centuries include Josef Volotsky and Nil Sorsky. One such work, the Tales of the Princes of Vladimir followed the theme of an hereditary connection between the Russian soverigns and the emperors of Byzantium and Rome, and their divine right to autocratic rule. Another work, a thesis on the notion of Moscow as Third Rome by the abbot Philotheus, addressed the unique religious and historical mission of Russia and its distinct national character. A later publicist, Ivan Peresvetov, was active during the mid-16th century and among other themes advocated for a strong autocratic power based on local nobility. Peresvetov additionally advocated for the elevation of people on the basis of merit and not by wealth or nobility. Meanwhile, Prince Andrei Kurbsky, who authored a number of works including an History of the Grand Duke of Moscow advocated for limits on the powers of the Tsar; his correspondence with Tsar Ivan II on political themes are now a seminal work of the period's literary canon.