Russian Early History

By | November 18, 2021

Russian history, beginning with the rise of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, was only given the name “Rossija” in 1547 after Ivan IV (1530–1584) ascended the throne and developed into a major European power under Tsar Peter I (1672–1725). From 1922 to 1991 Russia was the leading republic of the Soviet Union. After its disintegration in 1991, the republic was renamed the Russian Federation.


The territory of Russia, which has been inhabited in part since the Paleolithic Age (Paleolithic), was the residence and migration or expansion area of ​​numerous tribes and peoples (Eastern Europe, Siberia) in its early historical period. That was probably already in the 2nd millennium BC. The nomadic cavalry people of the Cimmerians who appeared in southern Russia were founded around the 8th / 7th centuries. Century BC Ousted by the Scythians advancing from the east; The Sarmatians, who were linguistically related to them, lived east of the Don and Volga who, on their move to the west in the 4th / 3rd Century BC The Scythians expelled. The Greeks founded since the 7th century BC. BC cities on the Black Sea coast (including Tyras, Chersonesos, Pantikapaion). That in the 5th century BC The Bosphoran Empire, established on the north coast of the Black Sea on both sides of the Kerch Strait, extended its rule to the Don (foundation of the city of Tanais) and existed (at times in personal union with the Pontic Empire) until the 4th century, when it came from the Huns advancing Central Asia destroyed. They were followed by the Avars, who crossed the steppes north of the Black Sea at the beginning of the 6th century, on their advance to Pannonia into the settlement areas of the Slavs, which were gradually spreading over Eastern Europe penetrated and caused their migration. Various East Slavic tribes were subjugated by the Khazar Empire (7th – 10th centuries) that arose between the Don and the Volga, and which also ruled the Bulgarians (Volga Bulgarians) who had lived on the central Volga since the 7th century.

Beginnings of Russian History

The Old Russian Chronicle (Nestor Chronicle) lets the history of Russia begin with the takeover of the rule of the Waragrian princes (Rus).

The ethnogenesis of the Eastern Slavs took place in a polyethnic milieu and an area characterized by migration and population fluctuations, originally populated by Finno-Ugric tribes in the north-eastern forest area and by Baltic tribes in the south. According to archaeological excavations, the Slavs did not migrate to the upper and middle river basins of the Dnieper and the Daugava as well as to the area around the Ilmen Lake until the 6th century AD. A more compact Slavic conquest in the Mesopotamian region between the Oka and the Upper Volga, the center of later Muscovite Russia, is not to be expected before the year 1000.

Since the 8th century, the Slavic tribes came into the catchment area of ​​armed Warsaw distant merchants (Varangians), the v. a. had reached the Volga and Dnieper basins via the Daugava and Wolchow rivers and established the trade connection from the Baltic Sea to Constantinople and the Middle East. According to the “vocation” saga of the Russian Chronicle, at the invitation of the Slavic and Finnish tribes, they replaced the castle rulers of local princes and built fortified bases along the rivers and trade routes since the 9th century. The arrival of Rurik with his brothers Sineus and Truwor is dated to the year 862 by the chronicler. In the year 882 the successor of Ruriks is said to be, Oleg, with his train to Kiev have established the union of the two northern and southern domains of the Varangian princes.

The Kiev Empire

The Kiev Empire was initially just a loose association of individual princely rulers grouped around the Kiev princely seat. The Grand Duke held a prominent position as Primus inter Pares until the 2nd half of the 11th century with Novgorod as a neighboring country. He relied on an armed retinue (Druzhina) of mostly Scandinavian origin and lived from wars and raids, from the forcibly collected taxes of the Slavic tribes and from the sale of local products (honey, wax, furs) on the Mediterranean markets (Constantinople, Volga Bulgarians, Caliphate Empire). Treaties with the Byzantine emperors under the Kiev princes Oleg (until 912) and Igor (912–945) had been negotiated (907 or 911, 944), ensured this profitable exchange. Princess Olga (945–962), who ruled for her son, laid the foundations for a firmer administrative structure, but after her baptism tried in vain to Christianize the country. In the second half of the 10th century, the Slavic element of the majority of the population also increasingly prevailed among the ruling class. Olga’s son, Svyatoslav (945 / 962–972 / 73), was the first Kiev prince with a Slavic name. He undertook extensive military campaigns to the east (Caucasus, Crimea) and the Balkans (Bulgaria). In 965 he smashed the Khazar Empire and inadvertently removed an effective protection against the steppe peoples. In 968 the Pechenegen appeared for the first time in front of Kiev and opened a centuries-long eventful struggle in southern Russia.

Through the lively trade contacts with Byzantium, Christianity found its way into Kiev, which Vladimir the Holy (978-1015) made the official state religion through the baptism of princes in 988 and the subsequent forced conversion of the population. The marriage of Vladimir to Anna, the sister of the Byzantine emperor Basil II, was a considerable gain in prestige for the ruling dynasty. Through the mediation of the Bulgarian Church and Greek churchmen and artists, a Christian cultural tradition based on the Byzantine model and church-based written form (Russian literature) spread at the Kiev court. Yaroslav the Wise (1019–54) continued this work with representative church and monastery buildings (Sophia cathedrals in Kiev and Novgorod), with educational measures, with the consolidation of the ecclesiastical organizational structure (Russian metropolis in the judicial association of the Patriarchate of Constantinople) and with the codification of the legal Tradition (“Russkaya prawda”). Through a targeted marriage policy, he strengthened relationships with leading European royal houses. The succession to the throne according to the seniority principle, which he passed, could not prevent disagreements among his descendants and the disintegration of political unity. The Kiev Empire dissolved into competing principalities, the nobility settled down and turned into a landed upper class. Could only temporarily Vladimir II Monomakh (1113-25) once again realize the overall state idea.

The period of the partial principalities (1169-1240)

The Princes’ Day at Lyubetsch in 1097 had for the first time confirmed the sovereignty of the princes in their respective “fatherly inheritance” (Vottschina). In the 12th century, independent centers of power emerged in the peripheral zones: in the north-west Novgorod, which is favored by overseas connections, in the west Polotsk, in the south-west Galitsch-Vladimir and in the north-east between Oka and the Upper Volga Vladimir-Suzdal, which is under the “city founder” Yuri Dolgoruki († 1157) took his rise. In 1169 his son Andrei Bogoljubski burned (1157–74) down in Kiev and relocated the grand ducal residence to the distant Bogoljubowo, which he had expanded based on the model of the Hohenstaufen Palatinate. Different political structures developed in the individual parts: In the Kiev Empire, the essential political decisions were made in cooperation between the prince and the boyars (aristocratic element) and church dignitaries as well as the representatives of the people (wetsche) in the cities (democratic element); now the aristocratic prevailed in the Principality of Galitsch, and in the Principality of Vladimir-Suzdal the monarchical and, in Novgorod, the democratic element, which, however, was increasingly overshadowed by the oligarchical city regiment of rich landowners and merchants. The smaller principalities were usually under the influence of the militarily most powerful prince of Vladimir-Suzdal. Some of the western principalities turned to Lithuania in the course of the 13th and 14th centuries. The unified church constitution of the empire was preserved under the metropolitan who resided in Kiev until 1299.

Russian Early History