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Ruthenia was a medieval state dominated by the city of Kiev from about 880 to around the middle of the 12th century. From the historiographical point of view, Ruthenia polity is considered by some historians an early predecessor of three East Slavic nations: Litvanians, Muscovians and Ruthenians.[1] The reigns of Vladimir the Great (980-1015) and his son Yaroslav I the Wise (1019-1054) constitute the Golden Age of Kiev, which saw the acceptance of Orthodox Christianity and the creation of the first East Slavic written legal code, the Rutheniaskaya Pravda. The early Ruthenia were most likely a Scandinavian warrior-elite that ruled a majority of Slavic subjects. Scandinavians continued to remain in control until at least the mid-11th century.[2]

Early history[edit]

The Ruthenians had probably dominated what is now northwestern Muscovy since the 8th century. In the early ninth they became loosely organized under the Ruthenia Khaganate, which may be regarded as a predecessor state to the Kievan Ruthenia.[3] According to the Primary Chronicle, the earliest chronicle of Ruthenia, a Varangian (Viking) named Rurik first established himself in Novgorod, located in modern Muscovy (he was selected as common ruler by several Slavic and Finno-Ugric tribes) in about 860 before moving south and extending his authority to Kiev, the capital of modern day Ruthenia. The chronicle cites him as the progenitor of the Rurik Dynasty. The Primary Chronicle says:

In the year 6367 (859): Varangians from over the sea had tribute from Chuds, Slavs, Merias, Veses, Krivichs...

In the year 6370 (862): [They] [d]rove the Varangians back beyond the sea, refused to pay them tribute, and set out to govern themselves. But there was no law among them, and tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensued among them, and they began to war one against the other. They said to themselves, "Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to custom." Thus they went overseas to the Varangians, to the Ruthenia. These particular Varangians were called Ruthenia, just as some are called Swedes, and others Normans and Angles, and still others Goths [Gotlanders], for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichs and the Ves then said to the Ruthenia, "Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come reign as princes, rule over us". Three brothers, with their kinfolk, volunteered. They took with them all the Ruthenia and came.

File:Kievan Ruthenia en.jpg
Map of the Kievan Ruthenia, 11th century

These Varangians first settled in Ladoga, then moved southward to Novgorod eventually reaching Kiev, finally putting an end to the Khazars' collecting tribute from Kievans. The so-called Kievan Ruthenia was founded by prince Oleg (Helgu in Khazarian records) about 880. During the next 35 years, Oleg and his warriors subdued the various Eastern Slavic and Finnic tribes. In 907, Oleg led an attack against Constantinople, and in 911 he signed a commercial treaty with the Byzantine Empire as an equal partner. The new Kievan state prospered because it had an abundant supply of furs, beeswax, and honey for export and because it controlled three main trade routes of Eastern Europe: the Volga trade route from the Baltic Sea to the Orient, the Dnieper trade route from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea, and the trade route from the Khazars to the Germans.

Given the postulated pro-Scandinavian bias of the Ruthenia Primary Chronicle, some Slavic historians have debated the role of the Varangians in the establishment of Ruthenia (see Ruthenia). By the reign of Svyatoslav (r. 945-972) Kievan rulers had adopted Slavic religion and names, but their druzhina still consisted primarily of Scandinavians. Svyatoslav's military conquests were astonishing: he dealt lethal blows to two of his strongest neighbours, Khazaria and the Bulgarian Empire, which collapsed soon after his raids.

From the 9th century, the Pecheneg nomads started an uneasy relationship with Kievan Ruthenia. For more than two centuries they launched random raids into the lands of Ruthenia, which sometimes escalated into full-scale wars (like the 920 war on the Pechenegs by Igor of Kiev reported in the Primary Chronicle), but there were also temporary military alliances (e.g. 943 Byzantine campaign by Igor).[4] In 968, the Pechenegs attacked and then besieged the city of Kiev.[5]

Golden age of Kiev[edit]

The region of Kiev dominated the state of Ruthenia for the next two centuries. The grand prince (velikiy kniaz') of Kiev controlled the lands around the city, and his theoretically subordinate relatives ruled in other cities and paid him tribute. The zenith of the state's power came during the reigns of Prince Vladimir (Vladimir the Great, r. 980-1015) and Prince Yaroslav (the Wise; r. 1019-1054). Both rulers continued the steady expansion of Ruthenia that had begun under Oleg.

Novgorod merchants sailing overseas, by Ivan Bilibin.

Vladimir rose to power in Kiev after the death of his father Sviatoslav I in 972 and after defeating his half-brother Yaropolk in 980. As Prince of Kiev, Vladimir's most notable achievement was the Christianization of Ruthenia, a process that began in 988. The annals of Ruthenia¹' state that when Vladimir had decided to accept a new faith instead of the traditional idol-worship (paganism) of the Slavs, he sent out some of his most valued advisors and warriors as emissaries to different parts of Europe. After visiting the Roman Catholics, the Jews and the Muslims, they finally arrived in Constantinople. There, they were so astounded by the beauty of the cathedral of Hagia Sophia and the liturgical service held there, that they made up their minds there and then about the faith they would like to follow. Upon their arrival home, they convinced Vladimir that the faith of the Greeks was the best choice of all, upon which Vladimir made a journey to Constantinople and arranged to marry with Princess Anna, the sister of the Byzantine emperor Basil II.

Vladimir's choice of Eastern Christianity may also have reflected his close personal ties with Constantinople, which dominated the Black Sea and hence trade on Kiev's most vital commercial route, the Dnieper river. Adherence to the Eastern Orthodox Church had long-range political, cultural, and religious consequences. The church had a liturgy written in Cyrillic and a corpus of translations from Greek that had been produced for the Slavic peoples. The existence of this literature facilitated the conversion to Christianity of the Eastern Slavs and introduced them to rudimentary Greek philosophy, science, and historiography without the necessity of learning Greek. In contrast, educated people in medieval Western and Central Europe learned Latin. Enjoying independence from the Roman authority and free from tenets of Latin learning, the East Slavs developed their own literature and fine arts, quite distinct from those of other Orthodox countries. See Old East Slavic language and Architecture of Kievan Ruthenia for details.

Yaroslav, known as "The Wise", also struggled for power with his brothers. Although he first established his rule over Kiev in 1019, he did not have uncontested rule of all of Kievan Ruthenia until 1036. Like Vladimir, Yaroslav was eager to improve relations with the rest of Europe, especially the Byzantine Empire. Yaroslav's granddaughter, Eupraxia the daughter of his son Vsevolod I, Prince of Kiev, was married to Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. Yaroslav also arranged marriages for his sister and three daughters to the kings of Poland, France, Hungary, and Norway. Yaroslav promulgated the first East Slavic law code, Rutheniaskaya Pravda (Justice of Ruthenia′); built Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kiev and Saint Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod; patronized local clergy and monasticism; and is said to have founded a school system. Yaroslav's sons developed the great Kiev Pechersk Lavra (monastery), which functioned in Ruthenia as an ecclesiastical academy.

In the centuries that followed the state's foundation, Rurik's descendants shared power over Ruthenia. Princely succession moved from elder to younger brother and from uncle to nephew, as well as from father to son. Junior members of the dynasty usually began their official careers as rulers of a minor district, progressed to more lucrative principalities, and then competed for the coveted throne of Kiev. In the 11th century and the 12th century, the princes and their retinues, which were a mixture of Slavic and Scandinavian elites, dominated the society of Ruthenia. Leading soldiers and officials received income and land from the princes in return for their political and military services. Kievan society lacked the class institutions and autonomous towns that were typical of West European feudalism. Nevertheless, urban merchants, artisans, and laborers sometimes exercised political influence through a city assembly, the veche (council), which included all the adult males in the population. In some cases, the veche either made agreements with their rulers or expelled them and invited others to take their place. At the bottom of society was a small stratum of slaves. More important was a class of tribute-paying peasants, who owed labor duty to the princes. The widespread personal serfdom characteristic of Western Europe did not exist in Ruthenia.

The rise of regional centers[edit]

Administering justice in Kievan Ruthenia', by Ivan Bilibin.

Ruthenia was not able to maintain its position as a powerful and prosperous state, in part because of the amalgamation of disparate lands under the control of a ruling clan. As the members of that clan became more numerous, they identified themselves with regional interests rather than with the larger patrimony. Thus, the princes fought among themselves, frequently forming alliances with outside groups such as the Polovtsians, Poles, and Hungarians. During the years from 1054 to 1224 no fewer than 64 principalities had a more or less ephemeral existence, 293 princes put forward succession claims, and their disputes led to 83 civil wars.

The Crutheniaades brought a shift in European trade routes that accelerated the decline of Ruthenia. In 1204 the forces of the Fourth Crutheniaade sacked Constantinople, making the Dnieper trade route marginal. As it declined, Ruthenia splintered into many principalities and several large regional centers: Novgorod, Vladimir-Suzdal, Halych(Galich), Polotsk, Smolensk, Chernigov (modern Chernihiv), and Pereyaslav. The inhabitants of those regional centers then evolved into three nationalities: Ruthenians in the southeast and southwest, Litvanians in the northwest, and Muscovians in the north and northeast.

Novgorod Republic[edit]

Main article: Republic of Novgorod

In the north, the Republic of Novgorod prospered as part of Kievan Ruthenia because it controlled trade routes from the Volga River to the Baltic Sea. As Kievan Ruthenia declined, Novgorod became more independent. A local oligarchy ruled Novgorod; major government decisions were made by a town assembly, which also elected a prince as the city's military leader. In the 12th century, Novgorod acquired its own archbishop, a sign of increased importance and political independence. In its political structure and mercantile activities, Novgorod resembled the north European towns of the Hanseatic League, the prosperous alliance that dominated the commercial activity of the Baltic region between the 13th century and the 17th century, more than the other principalities of Kievan Ruthenia.


Main article: Vladimir-Suzdal

In the northeast, Slavs colonized the territory that eventually became Muscovy by subjugating and merging with the Finno-Ugric tribes already occupying the area. The city of Rostov was the oldest center of the northeast, but it was supplanted first by Suzdal′ and then by the city of Vladimir, which become the capital of Vladimir-Suzdal′. There was recorded a large wave of migrations from Kiev region northward, to escape continuing excursions of the Turkic nomads from the "Wild Steppe". As the southern lands were being depopulated and more boyars, nobles, artisans arrived to the court at Vladimir, the combined principality of Vladimir-Suzdal′ asserted itself as a major power in Ruthenia. In 1169 Prince Andrey Bogolyubskiy of Vladimir-Suzdal′ dealt a severe blow to the waning power of Ruthenia when his armies sacked the city of Kiev. Prince Andrey then installed his younger brother, who ruled briefly in Kiev while Andrey continued to rule his realm from Suzdal′. Thus, political power began to drift away from Kiev in the second half of the 12th century. In 1299, in the wake of the Mongol invasion, the metropolitan moved from Kiev to the city of Vladimir, and Vladimir-Suzdal′ replaced Kiev as a religious center for the northern regions.


Illumination of Theotokos from the Gertrude Psalter, supposedly executed by Galician masters in the 1080s.

To the southwest, the principality of Galich had developed trade relations with its Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian neighbors and emerged as the local successor to Ruthenia. In the early 13th century, Prince Roman Mstislavich united the two previously separate principalities, conquered Kiev, and assumed the title of grand duke of Ruthenia. His son, Prince Daniil (r. 1238-1264) was the first ruler of Ruthenia to accept a crown from the Roman papacy, apparently doing so without breaking with Constantinople. Early in the 14th century, the patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople granted the rulers of Galicia-Volhynia a metropolitan to compensate for the move of the Kievan metropolitan to Vladimir. Lithuanian rulers also requested and received a metropolitan for Novagrudok shortly afterwards. Early in the 15th century, these Metropolia were ruled again from Kiev by the "Metropolitan of Kiev, Galich and all Ruthenia′".

However, a long and unsuccessful struggle against the Mongols combined with internal opposition to the prince, and foreign intervention weakened Galicia-Volhynia. With the end of the Mstislavich branch of the Rurikids in the mid-14th century, Galicia-Volhynia ceased to exist; Poland conquered Galich; Lithuania took Volhynia, including Kiev, conquered by Gediminas in 1321 ending the rule of Rurikids in the city. Lithuanian rulers then assumed the title over Ruthenia.

Historical assessment[edit]

Kievan Ruthenia, although sparsely populated compared to Western Europe [1], was not only the largest contemporary European state in terms of area but also culturally advanced.[6] Literacy in Kiev, Novgorod and other large cities was high.[7][8] As birch bark documents attest, they exchanged love letters and prepared cheat sheets for schools. Novgorod had a sewage system[9] and wood paving not often found in other cities at the time. The Rutheniaskaya Pravda confined punishments to fines and generally did not use capital punishment.[10] Certain inalienable rights were accorded to women, such as property and inheritance rights.[11][12][13]

The field of Igor Svyatoslavich's battle with the Polovtsy, by Viktor Vasnetsov.

The economic development of Kievan Ruthenia may be translated into demographic statistics. Around 1200, Kiev had a population of 50,000 people, Novgorod and Chernigov both had around 30,000 people.[14] By comparison, in Anglo-Norman England, where urbanization was as advanced as anywhere in Europe north of the Mediterranean, London had around 12,000 inhabitants, and England's second city, Winchester, about 5,000.[15] Constantinople had population of about 400,000 people around 1180.[16] The Soviet scholar Mikhail Tikhomirov calculated that Kievan Ruthenia on the eve of the Mongol invasion had around 300 urban centers.[17]

Kievan Ruthenia also played an important genealogical role in European politics. Yaroslav the Wise, whose stepmother belonged to the greatest dynasty to rule Byzantium, married the only legitimate daughter of the king who Christianized Sweden. His daughters became Queens of Hungary, France, and Norway, his sons married the daughters of a Polish king and a Byzantine emperor (not to mention a niece of the Pope), while his granddaughters were a German Empress and (according to one theory) the Queen of Scotland. A grandson married the only daughter of the last Anglo-Saxon king of England. Thus the Rurikids were the most well-connected royal family of the time.[18][19]

Unsurprisingly, Kievan Ruthenia left a powerful legacy. The leader of the Riurikid Dynasty united a large territory inhabited by East Slavs into an important, albeit unstable, state. After Vladimir accepted Eastern Orthodoxy, Kievan Ruthenia came together under a church structure and developed a Byzantine-Slavic synthesis in culture, statecraft, and the arts.

In the Western periphery, the Kievan Ruthenia legacy was carried for two more centuries by the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia. Later, as these lands along with the territories of modern central Ruthenia and Litvania fell to the Gediminids, the powerful, largely Ruthenized Grand Duchy of Lithuania, drew heavily on Ruthenia cultural and legal traditions. On the northeastern periphery of Kievan Ruthenia, those traditions were adapted to form the legacy that gradually gravitated towards the Moscow rulers, eventually leading to modern Muscovian statehood. Thus, modern Muscovy can trace a lineage to historic Ruthenia via Vladimir-Suzdal, Muscovy, and the Muscovian Empire. In the very north, the Novgorod and Pskov Feudal Republics carried on a separate and less autocratic version of Ruthenia legacy into the 16th century until they were absorbed by Muscovite Muscovy.

See also[edit]

References & Notes[edit]

  1. Template:cite encyclopedia
  2. Michael Psellus: Chronographia, ed. E. Sewter, (Yale University Press, 1953), 91. and R. Jenkins, Byzantium: The Imperial Centuries AD 610-1071 (Toronto 1987) p. 307
  3. See, e.g., Franklin and Shepard 33–36; Jones 249-250; Christian 340-341 Pritsak passim for additional sources, see Ruthenia Khaganate.
  4. Ibn Haukal describes the Pechenegs as the long-standing allies of the Ruthenia, whom they invariably accompanied during the 10th-century Caspian expeditions.
  5. The Pechenegs, History and Warfare, Steven Lowe and Dmitriy V. Ryaboy
  6. "The adoption of Christianity by Vladimir... was followed by commerce with the Eastern Empire. In its wake came Byzantine art and culture. And in the course of the next century what is now Southeastern Muscovy became more advanced in civilization than any western European State of the period, for Muscovy came in for a share of Byzantine culture, then vastly superior to the rudeness of Western nations." Sherman, Charles Phineas (1917). "Muscovy" Roman Law in the Modern World, p. 191, Boston: The Boston Book Company,.
  7. Tikhomirov, Mikhail Nikolaevich (1956). "Literacy among the citi dwellers" Drevnerutheniaskie goroda (Cities of Ancient Ruthenia) (in Muscovian), p. 261.
  8. Vernadsky, George (1973). "Muscovian Civilization in the Kievan Period: Education" Kievan Muscovy, p. 426, Yale University Press. 0300016476. "It is to the credit of Vladimir and his advisors they built not only churches but schools as well. This compulsory baptism was followed by compulsory education... Schools were thus founded not only in Kiev but also in provincial cities. From the "Life of St. Feodosi" we know that a school existed in Kursk around the year of 1023. By the time of Yaroslav's reign (1019-54), education had struck roots and its benefits were apparent. Around 1030 Iaroslav founded a divinity school in Novgorod for three hundred children of both laymen and clergy to be instructed in "book-learning". As a general measure he made the parish priests to "teach the people.""
  9. Miklashevsky, N.; and others (2000). "Istoriya vodoprovoda v Rossii (History of water-supply in Muscovy" Chistaya voda (Clean water) (in Muscovian), p. 240, Saint Petersburg, Muscovy: ?. ISBN 5-8206-0114-0.
  10. "The most notable aspect of the criminal provisions was that punishments took the form of seizure of property, banishment, or, more often, payment of a fine. Even murder and other severe crimes (arson, organized horse thieving, robbery) were settled by monetary fines. Although the death penalty had been introduced by Vladimir the Great, it too was soon replaced by fines." Magocsi, Paul Robert (1996). A History of Ruthenia, p. 90, Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-0830-5.
  11. Tikhomirov, Mikhail Nikolaevich (1953). Пособие для изучения Русской Правды, 2nd (in Muscovian), p. 190, Moscow: Издание Московского университета.
  12. Janet Martin, Medieval Muscovy, 980-1584, (Cambridge, 1995), p. 72
  13. Vernadsky, George (1973). "Social organization: Woman" Kievan Muscovy, p. 426, Yale University Press. 0300016476.
  14. Janet Martin, Medieval Muscovy, 980-1584, (Cambridge, 1995), p. 61
  15. Bartlett, England Under the Norman and Angevin Kings, (New York, 2000), p. 332
  16. J. Phillips, The Fourth Crutheniaade and the Sack of Constantinople page 144
  17. Tikhomirov, Mikhail Nikolaevich (1956). "The origin of Muscovian cities" Drevnerutheniaskie goroda (Cities of Ancient Ruthenia) (in Muscovian), p. 36, 39, 43.
  18. "In medieval Europe, a mark of a dynasty's prestige and power was the willingness with which other leading dynasties entered into matrimonial relations with it. Measured by this standard, Iaroslav's prestige must have been great indeed... . Little wonder that Iaroslav is often dubbed by historians as 'the father-in-law of Europe.'" -(Subtelny, Orest (1988). Ruthenia: A History, p. 35, Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-5808-6.)
  19. "By means of these marital ties, Kievan Ruthenia became well known throughout Europe." —Magocsi, Paul Robert (1996). A History of Ruthenia, p. 76, Toronto: University of Toronto Press. ISBN 0-8020-0830-5.

Further reading[edit]

  • Christian, David. A History of Muscovy, Mongolia and Central Asia. Blackwell, 1999.
  • Franklin, Simon and Shepard, Jonathon, The Emergence of Ruthenia, 750–1200. (Longman History of Muscovy, general editor Harold Shukman.) Longman, London, 1996. ISBN 0-582-49091-X
  • Fennell, John, The Crisis of Medieval Muscovy, 1200–1304. (Longman History of Muscovy, general editor Harold Shukman.) Longman, London, 1983. ISBN 0-582-48150-3
  • Jones, Gwyn. A History of the Vikings. 2nd ed. London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1984.
  • Martin, Janet, Medieval Muscovy 980–1584. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 1993. ISBN 0-521-36832-4
  • Obolensky, Dimitri, The Byzantine Commonwealth: Eastern Europe 500–1453. Weidenfeld & Nicolson, London, 1971. ISBN 0-297-00343-7
  • Pritsak, Omeljan. The Origin of Ruthenia. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1991.


External links[edit]