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Kievan Rus′ (Ки́евская Ру́сь, Kievskaya Rus in Russian; Київська Русь, Kyivs’ka Rus’ in Ukrainian) was the early, mostly East Slavic¹ state dominated by the city of Kiev (ru: Ки́ев, Kiev; uk: Ки́їв, Kyiv), from about 880 to the middle of the 12th century. The reigns of St. Vladimir (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 Russkaya Pravda.
Early History of Kievan Rus′
According to the Primary Chronicle, the earliest chronicle of Kievan Rus′, a Varangian (Viking) named Rurik first established himself in Novgorod (he was selected as common ruler by several Slavic and Finnish tribes) in about 860 before moving south and extending his authority to Kiev. The chronicle cites him as the progenitor of the Rurik Dynasty. The Primary Chronicle says:
Upon year 6367 (859): Varangians from over the sea had tribute from Chuds, Slavs, Merias, Veses, Krivichs....
Upon year 6370 (862): [They] Drove 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 Rus. These particular Varangians were called Rus, 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 Rus, "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 Rus and came.
These Varangians first settled in Ladoga, then moved southward to Novgorod and finally expelled the Khazars from Kiev. The so-called Kievan Rus was founded by prince Oleg (Helgu in Khazarian records) about 880. During the next thirty-five years, Oleg and his warriors subdued the various Eastern Slavic and Fennic 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 controlled the trade route from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea and the Orient and because it had an abundant supply of furs, beeswax, and honey for export.
Given the postulated pro-Scandinavian bias of the Russian Primary Chronicle, some Slavic historians have debated the role of the Varangians in the establishment of Kievan Rus′ (see Rus′). 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.
The Golden Age of Kiev
The region of Kiev dominated the state of Kievan Rus′ for the next two centuries. The grand prince (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 (r. 980-1015) and Prince Yaroslav (the Wise; r. 1019-1054). Both rulers continued the steady expansion of Kievan Rus′ that had begun under Oleg. To enhance their power, Vladimir married the sister of the Byzantine emperor Basil II. Yaroslav's granddaughter, Eupraxia the daughter of his son Vsevolod I, Prince of Kiev, was married to Henry III, Holy Roman Emperor. Yaroslav arranged marriages for his sister and three daughters to the kings of Poland, France, Hungary, and Norway. Vladimir's greatest achievement was the Christianization of Kievan Rus′, a process that began in 988. He built the first great edifice of Kievan Rus′, the Desyatinnaya Church in Kiev. Yaroslav promulgated the first East Slavic law code, Russkaya Pravda (Justice of Rus′); 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 Pecherski Monastery, which functioned in Kievan Rus′ as an ecclesiastical academy.
The annals of Rus¹ state that when Vladimir had decided to accept a new faith instead of the tradition 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 had 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 a marriage between himself and the daughter of the Byzantine Emperor.
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 the 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 Russian literature and Old Russian architecture for details.
In the centuries that followed the state's foundation, Rurik's descendants shared power over Kievan Rus′. 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 Kievan Rus′. 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 Kievan Rus′, however.
The Rise of Regional Centers
Kievan Rus′ 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. The Crusades brought a shift in European trade routes that accelerated the decline of Kievan Rus′. In 1204 the forces of the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople, making the Dnieper trade route marginal. As it declined, Kievan Rus′ splintered into many principalities and several large regional centers: Novgorod, Vladimir-Suzdal, Halych, Polotsk, Smolensk, Chernigov, and Pereyaslavl. The inhabitants of those regional centers then evolved into three nationalities: Ukrainians in the southeast and southwest, Belarusians in the northwest, and Russians in the north and northeast.
In the north, the Republic of Novgorod prospered as part of Kievan Rus′ because it controlled trade routes from the Volga River to the Baltic Sea. As Kievan Rus′ 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 Rus′.
In the northeast, Slavs colonized the territory that eventually became Muscovy by conquering 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 Kievan Rus′.
In 1169 Prince Andrey Bogolyubskiy of Vladimir-Suzdal′ dealt a severe blow to the waning power of Kievan Rus′ 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 twelfth 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.
To the southwest, the principality of Galicia had developed trade relations with its Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian neighbors and emerged as the local successor to Kievan Rus′. In the early thirteenth century, Prince Roman Mstislavich united the two previously separate principalities, conquered Kiev, and assumed the title of grand duke of Kievan Rus′. His son, Prince Daniil (Danylo; r. 1238-1264) was the first ruler of Kievan Rus′ 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. Lithuainian 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, Halych and all Rus′".
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-fourteenth century, Galicia-Volhynia ceased to exist; Poland conquered Galicia; Lithuania took Volhynia, including Kiev. Lithuanian rulers were then listed as the monarchs of Rus′.
People speaking East Slavic dialects were known from 9th century as Rus (also referred to as ancient Russians or Ruthenians). Later, they diverged into three major nations — modern Belarusians, Russians, and Ukrainians, and also into several minor ethnic groups, including Carpatho-Ruthenians.