Around the 8th century AD, modern-day European Russia was inhabited by various different peoples, including Uralic, Finno-Ugric, Slavic and Turkic peoples. At that time, the Slavic peoples that came to dominate Russia later on lived mostly in the areas of modern-day Ukraine, Belarus and Poland. The Kievan Rus culture began to arise as these peoples spread to the east, experiencing cultural exchange with their Uralic neighbors. Scandinavians had been trading along the Volga River during this time period, as a way to access Byzantine riches. In the mid 800s, Rurik, a figure of disputed origins, came from Scandinavia and ruled over Novgorod. His descendants established the Rurikid Dynasty in Kiev. Through a system of Grand Princes nominally ruling over smaller princes, Russia was divided into many small states, with Kiev as the main political center.
In 988, Grand Prince Vladimir I of Kiev led a mass baptism of people in the river Dniepr, which symbolized the conversion of Rus to Christianity. Around that time, Slavic people began displacing Uralic peoples throughout modern-day Russia. By the 12th century, there was still little political unity in the Russian states. Many of them were at the mercy of Muslim lords from the south, who would sporadically raid Slavic villages and capture people for slavery. Farther north, Teutonic knights would repeatedly invade and try to convert Russian states to Roman Catholicism. Sometimes called the Northern Crusade, these attacks were largely repulsed, made famous by the Battle of the Ice on Lake Peipus. There, heavily armed Teutonic horsemen battled a Novgorodian militia led by Alexander Nevsky, gradually being driven back onto the frozen lake until the armor-clad cavalry began falling through the ice. This constant warfare would give rise to a military culture in Russia.
By the 10th century, the Norse and Slavic groups had merged, and Orthodox Christianity became widespread. Sviatoslav I defeated the Khazars in the southern steppe, and Constantinople was raided several times. Russkaya Pravda was introduced as the earliest code of laws in Russia, while princes took the Byzantine example of a close church and state. This synthesis of Slavic, Norse and Greek elements would form the modern Russian culture. In the 12th century, particularly under Yaroslav the Wise, Russian culture flourished and literacy was much higher than in Western Europe at the time.
Continuing attacks and invasions by nomadic steppe peoples in the south led to a migration of Slavs to the safer, more northern region of Zalesye. The influence of Kiev waned, while the northern regions of Novgorod and Vladimir benefited from this. In 1223, Mongol invaders defeated a disunited army of southern Russian princes at the Kalka river. This began the Mongol invasion of Russia, in which Moscow, Kiev, Vladimir and other major cities were destroyed. Southern and central Russia were occupied by the Mongols, who forced the Russian princes to pay tribute. Novgorod, part of the Hanseatic League, was largely spared of the Mongol terror due to its northern location. Kiev, however, was completely destroyed. The Mongol invasions marked a major turning point in Russian history, shifting the political strength from south to north and isolating Russia from the rest of Europe.
The most eastern Slavic states were absorbed into Poland-Lithuania, while Novgorod and Vladimir formed the basis for modern-day Russia. Moscow, a small town at the time, became an important trading city and was successful in appeasing the Mongols. Becoming a safe haven from raids, it grew in strength. By the late 1300s, Mongol power waned and the Russian principalities felt that they were in a position to openly oppose Mongol rule. In 1380, an army led by Dmitri Donskoy of Moscow defeated a Mongol force at the Battle of Kulikovo. Though this did not end Mongol rule, it showed that united, the Russian princes were able to defeat a larger Mongol force. The battle led to the rise in popularity of Moscow's princes, increasing its role in Russian politics.
Muscovy and the Time of TroublesEdit
With its position of leadership among Russian states solidified through the removal of the Golden Horde, Moscow expanded its territory by absorbing and conquering nearby states. The patriarch of Kiev had fled to Moscow, establishing the headquarters of the Church there, further solidifying Moscow's influence. The culmination of the Grand Duchy of Moscow's rule came with Ivan III, who competed with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania for control over the small states between the two powers. He was famous for declaring Moscow to be the "third Rome", after Rome itself and Constantinople, which had recently fallen to the Ottomans. Seeing himself as the spiritual successor to the Roman and Byzantine emperors, Ivan greatly expanded Muscovy's territory. He was able to annex Tver and Novgorod, building the foundations for the Russian state.
Muscovy's dominance in Russia was solidified by the 16th century, when Ivan IV came to power. Calling himself the tsar of all Russia, he transformed Muscovy into the Tsardom of Russia. Ivan IV was ruthless in eliminating political opponents, though he established he Zemsky Sobor as an institution of the people, and curbed church powers. He conquered the khanates of Astrakhan, Kazan and Siberia, beginning Russia's tradition of continuous territorial expansion. Near the end of his rule, Ivan IV acted increasingly irrationally, leading mass executions of citizens and launching a series of costly wars in Livonia. Combined with famines, military losses and epidemics, Russia became increasingly devastated. By the end of his rule, Sweden had significantly curbed Russian influence in the Baltic, while Crimeans raided central Russia and sacked Moscow in 1571. In 1572, however, a 60,000-man Russian force defeated a 100,000-stong Ottoman and Crimean army, halting Ottoman ambitions of conquering Russia.
The reign of Ivan IV, though successful at expanding Russia's borders, ended with the nation in disarray. The tsar had no viable successors, as his son Fyodor was mentally retarded and he killed his other son Dmitri, now a famous, fictionalized story. After Fyodor ruled nominally for a short time, Boyar Vasily Shuyskiy ruled for a brief time afterwards, but he was later killed. Various pretenders arose, claiming to be Ivan's dead son Dmitri. This began the so-called Time of Troubles (Смутное время), whereupon a Polish-Lithuanian army, supporting a False Dmitri pretender, occupied Moscow. Kuzma Minin and Dmitri Pozharsky organized a militia, assisted by Dmitri Trubetskoy and cossack cavalry. This combined force drove out the Polish in 1612, and Dmitri Trubetskoy, who had organized the militia, was hailed as "Liberator of the Motherland". Asked to accept the tsar's throne, Trubetskoy was unable to accept because his Catholic relatives held royal positions in Poland-Lithuania, meaning he would be unable to pass on the throne. Instead, he gave the throne to Mikhail Romanov, his nephew, who founded the Romanov dynasty 1613.
Tsardom of RussiaEdit
Following the rule of Tsar Mikhail I, the policy of serfdom became much more widely used as a way to increase agricultural productivity. Part of the reason for Romanov's election, in addition to being vouched for by Trubetskoy, was that he supported restricting the rights of peasants in favor of local governance by landlords. Though this would allow for greater agricultural establishments that were ultimately more productive than the previous subsistence farming, the introduction of serfdom would ultimately set in place a system that would bring about the downfall of the Empire. At the time, however, this increased food supply, which was a particularly important achievement due to Russia's short growing season and harsh winters. However, the peasant class did not support these changes. Between 1613 and 1700 there were numerous large-scale peasant uprisings, the largest of which was led by cossack Stenka Razin in 1670. Razin managed to capture several cities before the Russian military surrounded him and his rebellion fell apart. Occurring mainly in southern Russia, these revolts created some disruption, but all were brutally crushed and their perpetrators summarily executed.
Starting in in mid 1600s, Russia resumed its campaign of military conquest and expansion. Reaching a vigor seen previously with Ivan III and Ivan IV, Siberian tribes were fully pacified and the Pacific Ocean had been reached in 1639. In Ukraine, a local leader named Bogdan Khmelnitskiy led a revolt against Polish and Ottoman authorities, establishing a briefly independent Ukraine that was passed on to the Tsardom of Russia in the 1650s. The Russo-Polish War concluded with large territorial gains for Russia in 1667, including most of left-bank Ukraine and parts of modern-day Belarus. Bessarabia was taken from the Ottomans around this time. In the late 17th century, the Russian state became increasingly centralized. Serfdom was reshaped, with kholops (restricted peasants) becoming full serfs. The boyars had merged with the rest of the high-ranking officials to become a new form of nobility, not unlike Western European aristocracy, known as dvoryane (lit. "people of the court").
Around that time, Patriarch Nikon instituted a series of liturgical and other religious reforms in order to bring the traditions of the Russian Orthodox Church in line with Greek traditions; centuries of sparse contact had led to many Russian "innovations" in religious services and texts that were considered un-orthodox. Commissioning a retranslation of the Bible and other texts based on ancient originals and changing several church services, Nikon carried out the reforms to the opposition of some groups. In what is known as the Raskol, the Old Believers retained the old traditions and were persecuted by the government. The primary leader of the Old Believer movement, Avvakum, was burned at the stake.
Peter I, known as "the Great", acceded to the throne in 1682, following a dispute about succession that saw him ruling jointly with his brother Fyodor, his sister Sofia acting as regent. Having been raised in a heavily German area of Russia and having spend his youth in Western Europe, Peter realized that Russia had begun to lag behind the West technologically and economically. Going on an incognito trip to Dutch shipyards and other Western industrial venues, he learned various trades and began establishing Western-style institutions in Russia. Peter hired Italian and German craftsmen, engineers and builders to help design new structures in Russia, including many churches and palaces. Peter's greatest engineering project was the construction of a new capital, St. Petersburg, to be located on the Baltic Sea and modeled after Western cities. Officially founded in 1704, the city was built largely through forces peasant labor.
In 1700, Peter made a secret pact with Poland-Lithuania and Denmark to attack Sweden, which was at the peak of its golden age and controlled the entire Baltic Sea. This began the Great Northern War, in which Peter's armies quickly besieged Riga and Reval (modern-day Tallinn) and secured the Neva River area. Swedish forces moved through Poland but were defeated several times by Polish and Russian armies. The final blow to the Swedish army came at the Battle of Poltava in 1709, when Swedish troops were decisively routed. In 1710, Vyborg was captured by the Russians, who were then able to advance into Finland. Despite these land victories, the war was drawn out until 1721 thanks to a superior Swedish navy and Ottoman interference. The Great Northern War concluded with Russia gaining access to the Baltic, annexing land from Riga to the Neva. Peter's mission of finally gaining year-round sea access had been achieved, and with the coronation of St. Petersburg in 1714 he opened the proverbial "window to Europe".