Kievan Rus

Before the emergence of Kyïvan Rus', the lands between the Baltic Sea and the Black Sea had been primarily populated by eastern Slavic tribes. In the northern region around Novgorod were the Ilmen Slavs and neighboring Krivichi, who occupied territories surrounding the upper reaches of the West Dvina, Dnieper, and Volga Rivers. To their north in the Ladoga and Karelia regions were the Finnic Chud tribe. In the area around Kyïv were the Polyans, a group of Slavicized tribes with Iranian origins. To the west of the Dnieper river lived the Drevlyans and the Severyans to the east. To their north and east were the Vyatichi, and to their south was forested land settled by Slav farmers, giving way to steppelands populated by nomadic herdsmen.

Controversy persists over whether the Rus’ were Varangians (Vikings) or Slavs. This uncertainty is due to lack of contemporary sources. This question relies on archaeological evidence, the accounts of foreign observers and legends and literature from centuries later. To some extent the controversy is related to the foundation myths of modern states in the region. According to the 'Normanist' view, the Rus' were Scandinavians, while Russian and Ukrainian nationalist historians generally argue that the Rus' were themselves Slavs.

Normanist theories focus on the earliest written source for the East Slavs, the Russian Primary Chronicle, although even this account was not produced until the 12th century. Nationalist accounts have suggested that the Rus' were present before the arrival of the Varangians, noting that only a handful of Scandinavian words can be found in modern Russian and that Scandinavian names in the early chronicles were soon replaced by Slavic names.

Nevertheless, archaeological evidence from the area suggests that a Scandinavian population was present during the 10th century at the latest. On balance, it seems likely that the Rus' proper were a small minority of Scandinavians who formed an elite ruling class, while the great majority of their subjects were Slavs. Considering the linguistic arguments mounted by nationalist scholars, if the proto-Rus' were Scandinavians, they must have quickly become nativized, adopting Slavic languages and other cultural practices.

Ahmad ibn Fadlan, an Arab traveler during the 10th century, provided one of the earliest written descriptions of the Rus': "They are as tall as a date palm, blond and ruddy, so that they do not need to wear a tunic nor a cloak; rather the men among them wear garments that only cover half of his body and leaves one of his hands free." Liutprand of Cremona, who was twice an envoy to the Byzantine court (949 and 968 AD), identifies the 'Russi' with the Norse - "The Russi, whom we call Norsemen by another name" - but explains the name as a Greek term referring to their physical traits - "A certain people made up of a part of the Norse, whom the Greeks call (...) the Russi on account of their physical features, we designate as Norsemen because of the location of their origin." Leo the Deacon, a 10th century Byzantine historian and chronicler, refers to the Rus' as Scythians and notes that they tended to adopt Greek rituals and customs.

By Viktor Mikhailovich Vasnetsov, Public Domain, Wikimedia

Invitation of the Varangians

According to the Primary Chronicle, the territories of the East Slavs in the 9th century were divided between the Varangians and the Khazars. The Varangians are first mentioned imposing tribute from Slavic and Finnic tribes in 859 AD. In 862 AD, the Finnic and Slavic tribes in the area of Novgorod rebelled against the Varangians, driving them 'back beyond the sea and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves.' The tribes had no laws, however, and soon began to make war with one another, prompting them to invite the Varangians back to rule them and bring peace to the region:
The Invitation of the Varangians by Viktor Vasnetsov: Rurik and his brothers Sineus and Truvor arrive at the lands of the Ilmen Slavs. They said to themselves: "Let us seek a prince who may rule over us, and judge us according to the Law." They accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Rus'. 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 to rule and reign over us." They thus selected three brothers with their kinfolk, who took with them all the Rus' and migrated.

The Primary Chronicle

The three brothers Rurik, Sineus, and Truvor established themselves in respectively Novgorod, Beloozero and Izborsk. Two of the brothers died and Rurik became the sole ruler of the territory and became father of the Rurik Dynasty. A short time later, two of Rurik’s men, Askold and Dir, asked him for permission to go to Tsargrad (Constantinople). On their way south, they discovered 'a small city on a hill', Kiev, captured it and the surrounding country from the Khazars, populated the region with more Varangians, and established their dominion over the country of the Polyanians.

The Chronicle reports that Askold and Dyr continued to Constantinople with a fleet to attack the city in 863–66 AD, catching the Byzantines by surprise and ravaging the surrounding area. Though other accounts date the attack in 860 AD. Patriarch Photius vividly describes the 'universal' devastation of the suburbs and nearby islands, and another account further details the destruction and slaughter of the invasion. The Rus' turned back before attacking the city itself, due to either a storm dispersing their boats, the return of the Emperor, or in a later account, a miracle after a ceremonial appeal by the Patriarch and the Emperor to the Virgin. The attack was the first encounter between the Rus' and Byzantines and led the Patriarch to send missionaries north to engage and attempt to convert the Rus' and the Slavs.

Click image to enlarge. Map of Rurik's territory. At first he shared it with his two brothers, who were seated in Izborsk and Beloozero, but when they died, Rurik became the sole ruler.

Foundation of the Kyïvan state

Rurik led the Rus' until his death (879 AD) passing his kingdom on to his kinsman Prince Oleg the Wise, as regent for his young son Igor. In 880-82 AD Oleg led a military force south along the Dnieper river, capturing Smolensk and Lyubech before reaching Kyïv, where he deposed and killed Askold and Dyr. He proclaimed himself prince and declared Kyïv the 'mother of Rus' cities.' Oleg set about consolidating his power over the surrounding region and the riverways north to Novgorod, imposing tribute on the East Slav tribes. In 883 AD he conquered the Drevlians. By 885 AD he had subjugated the Polyans, Severyans, Vyatichi, and Radimichs, forbidding them to pay further tribute to the Khazars. Oleg continued to develop and expand a network of Rus' forts in Slav lands, begun by Rurik in the north.

The new Kyïvan state prospered due to its abundant supply of furs, beeswax, honey and slaves for export, and because it controlled three main trade routes of Eastern Europe. In the north, Novgorod served as a commercial link between the Baltic Sea and the Volga trade route. This route ran down to the lands of the Volga Bulgars, the Khazars and across the Caspian Sea as far as Baghdad, providing access to markets and products from Central Asia and the Middle East.

Trade from the Baltic also moved south on a network of rivers and short portages along the Dnieper known as the 'route from the Varangians to the Greeks', continuing to the Black Sea and on to Constantinople. Kyïv was a central outpost along the Dnieper route and a hub with the east-west overland trade route between the Khazars and the Germanic lands of Central Europe.

These commercial connections enriched Rus' merchants and princes, funding military forces and the construction of churches, palaces, fortifications, and further towns. Demand for luxury goods fostered production of expensive jewelry and religious wares. And an advanced credit and money-lending system may have also been in place.

Early foreign relations

The rapid expansion of the Rus' to the south led to conflict and volatile relationships with the Khazars and other neighbors on the Pontic steppe. The Khazars dominated the Black Sea steppe during the 8th century, trading and frequently allying with the Byzantine Empire against Persians and Arabs. In the late 8th century the collapse of the Göktürk Khaganate forced the Magyars and the Pechenegs, Ugric and Turkic peoples from Central Asia to migrate west into the steppe region. This led to military conflict, disruption of trade and instability within the Khazar Khaganate. The Rus' and Slavs had earlier allied with the Khazars against Arab raids on the Caucasus, but they increasingly worked against them to secure control of the trade routes.

The Byzantine Empire was able to take advantage of the turmoil to expand its political influence and commercial relationships, first with the Khazars and later with the Rus' and other steppe groups. The Byzantines established the 'Theme of Chersonesos', formally known as Klimata, in Crimea in the 830s to defend against raids by the Rus' and to protect vital grain shipments supplying Constantinople. Chersonesos also served as a key diplomatic link with the Khazars and others on the steppe, and it became the center of Black Sea commerce. The Byzantines also helped the Khazars build a fortress at Sarkel on the Don river to protect their northwest frontier against incursions by the Turkic migrants and the Rus', and to control caravan trade routes and the portage between the Don and Volga rivers.

The expansion of the Rus' put further military and economic pressure on the Khazars, taking their territory, tributaries and trade. In around 890 AD, Oleg waged an indecisive war in the lands of the lower Dniester and Dnieper rivers with the Tivertsi and the Ulichs, who were likely acting as vassals of the Magyars, blocking Rus' access to the Black Sea.

In 894 AD the Magyars and Pechenegs were drawn into the wars between the Byzantines and the Bulgarian Empire. The Byzantines arranged for the Magyars to attack Bulgarian territory from the north, and Bulgaria in turn persuaded the Pechenegs to attack the Magyars from their rear. Boxed in, the Magyars were forced to migrate further west across the Carpathian mountains into the Hungarian plain, depriving the Khazars of an important ally and a buffer from the Rus'. The migration of the Magyars allowed Rus' access to the Black Sea and they soon launched excursions into Khazar territory along the sea coast, up the Don river and into the lower Volga region. The Rus' were raiding and plundering into the Caspian Sea region by 913 AD, when they raided Baku and penetrated into the Caucasus.

Click image to enlarge.

As the 10th century progressed, the Khazars were no longer able to command tribute from the Volga Bulgars and their relationship with the Byzantines deteriorated, as Byzantium increasingly allied with the Pechenegs against them. The Pechenegs were thus secure to raid the lands of the Khazars from their base between the Volga and Don rivers, allowing them to expand to the west. Rus' relations with the Pechenegs were complex, as the groups alternately formed alliances with and against one another. The Pechenegs were nomads roaming the steppe raising livestock which they traded with the Rus' for agricultural goods and other products. The lucrative Rus' trade with the Byzantine Empire had to pass through Pecheneg-controlled territory, so the need for generally peaceful relations was essential. Nevertheless, while the Primary Chronicle reports the Pechenegs entering Rus' territory in 915 AD and then making peace again. They were waging war with one another again in 920 AD. Pechenegs are reported assisting the Rus' in later campaigns against the Byzantines, yet allied with the Byzantines against the Rus' at other times.

Rus' - Byzantine relations

After the Rus' attack on Constantinople in 860 AD, the Byzantine Patriarch Photius sent missionaries north to convert the Rus' and the Slavs. Prince Rastislav of Moravia had requested the Emperor to provide teachers to interpret the holy scriptures, so in 863 AD the brothers Cyril and Methodius were sent as missionaries, due to their knowledge of the Slavonic language. The Slavs had no written language, so the brothers devised the Glagolitic alphabet. That developed into Cyrillic and it standardized the language of the Slavs, later known as Old Church Slavonic. They translated portions of the Bible and drafted the first Slavic civil code and other documents. The language and texts spread throughout Slavic territories, including Kievan Rus’. The mission of Cyril and Methodius served both evangelical and diplomatic purposes, spreading Byzantine cultural influence in support of imperial foreign policy. In 867 AD the Patriarch announced that the Rus' had accepted a bishop and in 874 AD he speaks of an 'Archbishop of the Rus'.'

Relations between the Rus' and Byzantines became more complex after Oleg took control over Kyïv, reflecting commercial, cultural, and military concerns. The wealth and income of the Rus' depended heavily upon trade with Byzantium. Constantine Porphyrogenitus described the annual course of the princes of Kyïv, collecting tribute from client tribes, assembling the product into a flotilla of hundreds of boats, conducting them down the Dnieper to the Black Sea and sailing to the estuary of the Dniester, the Danube delta and on to Constantinople. On their return trip they would carry silk fabrics, spices, wine, and fruit. The importance of this trade relationship led to military action when disputes arose. The Primary Chronicle reports that the Rus' attacked Constantinople again in 907 AD, probably to secure trade access. The Chronicle glorifies the military prowess and shrewdness of Oleg, an account imbued with legendary detail. Byzantine sources do not mention the attack, but a pair of treaties in 907 and 911 AD set forth a trade agreement with the Rus'. The terms suggest pressure on the Byzantines, who granted the Rus' quarters and supplies for their merchants and tax-free trading privileges in Constantinople.

Princess Olga's avenge to the Drevlians (Radzivill chronicle)

The Chronicle provides a mythic tale of Oleg's death. A sorcerer prophesies that the death of the Grand Prince would be associated with a certain horse. Oleg has the horse sequestered and it later dies. Oleg goes to visit the horse and stands over the carcass, gloating that he had outlived the threat, when a snake strikes him from among the bones, and he soon becomes ill and dies. The Chronicle reports that Prince Igor succeeded Oleg in 913 AD and after some brief conflicts with the Drevlians and the Pechenegs, a period of peace ensued for over twenty years.

In 941 AD Igor led another major Rus' attack on Constantinople, probably over trading rights again. A fleet of 10,000 vessels, including Pecheneg allies, landed on the Bithynian coast and devastated the Asiatic shore of the Bosphorus. The attack was well-timed, perhaps due to intelligence, as the Byzantine fleet was occupied with the Arabs in the Mediterranean and the bulk of its army was stationed in the east.

The Rus’ burned towns, churches, and monasteries, butchering the people and amassing booty. The emperor arranged for a small group of retired ships to be outfitted with Greek fire throwers and sent them out to meet the Rus’, luring them into surrounding the contingent before unleashing the Greek fire. Liutprand of Cremona wrote that 'The Rus', seeing the flames, jumped overboard, preferring water to fire. Some sank, weighed down by the weight of their breastplates and helmets; others caught fire." Those captured were beheaded. The ploy dispelled the Rus’ fleet, but their attacks continued into the hinterland as far as Nicomedia, with many atrocities reported as victims were crucified and set up for target practice. At last a Byzantine army arrived from the Balkans to drive the Rus' back and a naval contingent reportedly destroyed much of the Rus' fleet on its return voyage. This is possibly an exaggeration since the Rus' soon mounted another attack. The outcome indicates increased military might by Byzantium since 911 AD, suggesting a shift in the balance of power.

Igor returned to Kyïv keen on revenge. He assembled a large force of warriors from among neighboring Slavs and Pecheneg allies and sent for reinforcements of Varangians from 'beyond the sea.' In 944 AD the Rus' force advanced again on the Greeks by land and sea, and a Byzantine force from Chersonesos responded. The Emperor sent gifts and offered tribute in stead of war and the Rus' accepted. Envoys were sent between the Rus’, the Byzantines, and the Bulgarians in 945 AD and a peace treaty was completed. The agreement again focused on trade, but this time with terms less favorable to the Rus’, including stringent regulations on the conduct of Rus’ merchants in Cherson and Constantinople and specific punishments for violations of the law. The Byzantines may have been motivated to enter the treaty out of concern of a prolonged alliance of the Rus', Pechenegs, and Bulgarians against them, though the more favorable terms further suggest a shift in power.


Following the death of Grand Prince Igor in 945 AD, his wife Olga ruled as regent in Kyïv until their son Sviatoslav reached maturity (ca. 963 AD). His decade-long reign over Rus' was marked by rapid expansion through the conquest of the Khazars of the Pontic steppe and the invasion of the Balkans. By the end of his short life, Sviatoslav carved out for himself the largest state in Europe, eventually moving his capital from Kyïv to Pereyaslavets on the Danube in 969 AD. In contrast with his mother's conversion to Christianity, Sviatoslav, like his druzhina, remained a staunch pagan. Due to his abrupt death in an ambush in 972 AD, Sviatoslav's conquests were not consolidated into a functioning empire. He failed to establish a stable succession, which led to a fratricidal feud among his sons, resulting in two of his three sons being killed.

Click image to enlarge.Prince Igor (912–45) expanded his territory to include the northern Pontic littoral. His widow Princess Olga (945–962) ruled as regent until their son Svialoslav I came of age. The reign of Sviatoslav I Igorovych (962–972) was marked by almost uninterrupted warfare.

Reign of Vladimir and Christianisation

It is not clearly documented when the title of the Grand Duke was first introduced, but the importance of the Kyïv principality was recognized after the death of Sviatoslav I in 972 AD and the ensuing struggle between Vladimir the Great and Yaropolk I. The region of Kyïv dominated the state of Kyïvan Rus' for the next two centuries. The Grand Prince (velikiy kniaz') of Kyïv controlled the lands around the city, and his formally subordinate relatives ruled the other cities and paid him tribute. The zenith of the state's power came during the reigns of Vladimir the Great (980–1015 AD) and Prince Yaroslav I the Wise (1019–1054). Both rulers continued the steady expansion of Kyïvan Rus' that had begun under Oleg.

Vladimir had been prince of V.Novgorod when his father Sviatoslav I died in 972 AD. He was forced to flee to Scandinavia in 976 AD after his half-brother Yaropolk had murdered his other brother Oleg and taken control of Rus'. In Scandinavia, with the help of his relative Earl Håkon Sigurdsson, ruler of Norway, Vladimir assembled a viking army and reconquered V.Novgorod and Kyïv from Yaropolk. As Prince of Kyïv, Vladimir's most notable achievement was the Christianization of Kyïvan Rus', a process that began in 988 AD. The Primary Chronicle states 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. They visited the Christians of the Latin Rite, the Jews and the Muslims before finally arriving in Constantinople.

They rejected Islam because, among other things, it prohibited the consumption of alcohol and Judaism because the god of the Jews had permitted his chosen people to be deprived of their country. They found the ceremonies in the Roman church to be dull. But at Constantinople, 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 about the faith they would like to follow. Upon their arrival home, they convinced Vladimir that the faith of the Byzantine Rite was the best choice of all, upon which Vladimir made a journey to Constantinople and arranged to marry Princess Anna, the sister of 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 Kyïv's most vital commercial route, the Dnieper River. Adherence to the Eastern 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. 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 Eastern Orthodox countries. (See: Old East Slavic language and Architecture of Kyïvan Rus). Following the Great Schism of 1054, the Rus' church maintained communion with both Rome and Constantinople for some time, but along with most of the Eastern churches it eventually split to follow the Eastern Orthodox. That being said, unlike other parts of the Greek world, Kyïvan Rus' did not have a hostility to the Western world.

Click image to enlarge.Yaropolk I Sviatoslavych reigned from 972 till 980. In 980, he was killed by his brother Volodymyr the Great. Kyïvan Rus’ became one of the pre-eminent states of Europe. In 988, Volodymyr adopted Christianity. He died in 1015. His son Sviatopolk seized power, but he was opposed in a bitter war. His brother Yaroslav the Wise captured Kyïv. He shared reign over Rus' with his brother Mstyslav Volodymyrovych until Mstyslav died in 1036. Yaroslav became grand prince of a reunited Rus’ until 1054.

Golden age

Yaroslav, known as 'the Wise', struggled for power with his brothers. A son of Vladimir the Great, he was vice-regent of V.Novgorod at the time of his father's death in 1015. Subsequently, his eldest surviving brother, Svyatopolk the Accursed, killed three of his other brothers and seized power in Kyïv. Yaroslav, with the active support of the Novgorodians and the help of Viking mercenaries, defeated Svyatopolk and became the grand prince of Kyïv in 1019. Although he first established his rule over Kiev in 1019, he did not have uncontested rule of all of Kyïvan Rus' 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 Kyïv, 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, Russkaya Pravda, built Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyïv 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 monastery Pechersk Lavra, which functioned in Kievan Rus' as an ecclesiastical academy.

The cave-monastry of Pechersk Lavra in Kyïv (photo:

In the centuries that followed the state's foundation, Rurik's descendants shared power over Kyïvan 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 Kyïv.

Fragmentation and decline

The gradual disintegration of the Kyïvan Rus' began in the 11th century, after the death of Yaroslav the Wise. The position of the Grand Prince of Kyïv was weakened by the growing influence of regional clans. An unconventional power succession system was established (rota system) whereby power was transferred to the eldest member of the ruling dynasty rather than from father to son, i.e. in most cases to the eldest brother of the ruler. Because of this there was constant hatred and rivalry within the royal family. Killing family members happened frequently in obtaining power.

The most prominent struggle for power was the conflict that erupted after the death of Yaroslav the Wise. The rivaling Principality of Polotsk was contesting the power of the Grand Prince by occupying Novgorod, while Rostislav Vladimirovich was fighting for the Black Sea port of Tmutarakan belonging to Chernihiv. Three of Yaroslav's sons that first allied together found themselves fighting each other, especially after their defeat to the Cuman forces in 1068 at the Battle of the Alta River.

At the same time an uprising took place in Kyïv, bringing to power Vseslav of Polotsk who supported the traditional Slavic paganism. The ruling Grand Prince Iziaslav fled to Poland asking for support and in couple of years returned to establish the order. The affairs became even more complicated by the end of the 11th century driving the state into chaos and constant warfare. On the initiative of Vladimir II Monomakh in 1097, the first federal council of Kyïvan Rus took place near Chernihiv (in the city of Liubech) with the main intention to find an understanding among the fighting parties. However even though that did not really stop the fighting, it certainly cooled things off.

By 1130 all descendants of Vseslav the Seer were exiled to the Byzantine Empire by Mstislav the Great. The most fierce resistance to Monomakhs posed Olegovichi, when the izgoi Vsevolod II managed to become the Grand Prince of Kyïv. Rostislavichi who have initially established in Halych lands by 1189 were defeated by the Monomakh-Piast descendant Roman the Great.

The decline of Constantinople - a main trading partner of Kyïvan Rus' - played a significant role in the decline of the Kyïvan Rus'. The trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks, along which the goods were moving from the Black Sea (mainly Byzantine) through eastern Europe to the Baltic, was a cornerstone of Kyïv's wealth and prosperity. Kyïv was the main power and initiator in this relationship. Once the Byzantine Empire fell into turmoil and the supplies became erratic, profits dried out and Kyïv lost its appeal.

MAP 1132

The last ruler to maintain a united state was Mstislav the Great. After his death in 1132 the Kyïvan Rus' fell into recession and a rapid decline, and Mstislav's successor Yaropolk II of Kyïv instead of focussing on the external threat of the Cumans was embroiled in conflicts with the growing power of the Novgorod Republic. In 1169, as the Kyïvan Rus' state was full of internal conflict, Andrei Bogolyubsky of Vladimir sacked the city of Kyïv. The sack of the city fundamentally changed the perception of Kyïv and was evidence of the fragmentation of the Kyïvan Rus'. By the end of the 12th century, the Kyïvan state became even further fragmented and had been divided into roughly twelve different principalities.

The Crusades brought a shift in European trade routes that accelerated the decline of Kyïvan Rus'. In 1204 the forces of the Fourth Crusade sacked Constantinople, making the Dnieper trade route marginal. At the same time the Teutonic Knights (of the Northern Crusades) were conquering the Baltic region and were a threat to the Lands of Novgorod. Concurrently with it, the Ruthenian Federation of Kyïvan Rus' started to disintegrate into smaller principalities as the Rurik dynasty grew. The local Orthodox Christianity of Kyïvan Rus', while struggling to establish itself in the predominantly pagan state and losing its main base in Constantinople, was on the brink of extinction.

Some of the main regional centers that later have developed, were Novgorod, Chernihiv, Galich, Kyïv, Ryazan, Vladimir-upon-Klyazma, Vladimir of Volyn, Polotsk, and others.

MAP 1220

Novgorod Republic

In the north, the Republic of Novgorod prospered because it controlled trade routes from the River Volga to the Baltic Sea. As Kyïvan Rus' declined, Novgorod became more independent. A local oligarchy ruled Novgorod and 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 Ilya in 1169, a sign of increased importance and political independence. About 30 years prior to that in 1136, a republican form of government (elective monarchy) was established in Novgorod. Since then Novgorod enjoyed a wide degree of autonomy, although being closely associated with the Kyïvan Rus.


In the northeast, Slavs from the Kyïvan region colonized the territory that later would become the Grand Duchy of Moscow. They subjugated and merged with the Finnic tribes that were already occupying the area. The city of Rostov, the oldest centre of the northeast, was supplanted first by Suzdal and then by the city of Vladimir, which became the capital of Vladimir-Suzdal. The combined principality of Vladimir-Suzdal asserted itself as a major power in Kyïvan Rus' in the late 12th century. In 1169, Prince Andrey Bogolyubskiy of Vladimir-Suzdal sacked the city of Kyïv and took over the title of the Grand Prince or Grand Duke (Великий Князь), this way claiming the primacy in Rus'. Prince Andrey then installed his younger brother, who ruled briefly in Kyïv while Andrey continued to rule his realm from Suzdal. In 1299, in the wake of the Mongol invasion, the metropolitan moved from Kyïv to the city of Vladimir and Vladimir-Suzdal.

Southwest, Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia

To the southwest, the principality of Halych had developed trade relations with its Polish, Hungarian and Lithuanian neighbours and emerged as the local successor to Kyïvan Rus'. In 1199, Prince Roman Mstislavich united the two previously separate principalities. In 1202 he conquered Kyïv, and assumed the title of Grand Duke of Kyïvan Rus', which was held by the rulers of Vladimir-Suzdal since 1169. His son, Prince Daniil (r. 1238–1264) looked for support from the West. He accepted a crown as a 'Rex Rusiae' (King of Russia) from the Roman papacy, apparently doing so without breaking with Constantinople. In 1370, the patriarch of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Constantinople granted the King of Poland a metropolitan for his Russian subjects. Lithuanian rulers also requested and received a metropolitan for Novagrudok shortly afterwards. Cyprian, a candidate pushed by the Lithuanian rulers, became Metropolitan of Kyïv in 1375 and metropolitan of Moscow in 1382; this way the church in the Russian countries was reunited for some time. In 1439, Kyïv became the seat of a separate 'Metropolitan of Kyïv, Galich and all Rus' for all Greek Orthodox Christians under Polish-Lithuanian rule.

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 Kyïv, conquered by Gediminas in 1321 ending the rule of Rurikids in the city. Lithuanian rulers then assumed the title over Ruthenia (Ukraine).

Final disintegration

The state finally disintegrated under the pressure of the Mongol invasion of Rus', fragmenting it into successor principalities, who paid tribute to the Golden Horde (the so-called Tatar Yoke). In the late 15th century the Muscovite Grand Dukes began taking over former Kyïvan territories and proclaimed themselves the sole legal successors of the Kyïvan principality according to the protocols of the medieval theory of translatio imperii.

On the western periphery, Kyïvan Rus' was succeeded by the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia. Later, as these territories - now part of modern central Ukraine and Belarus - fell to the Gediminids. The powerful, largely Ruthenized Grand Duchy of Lithuania drew heavily on Rus' cultural and legal traditions. Due to the fact of the economic and cultural core of Rus' being located on the territory of modern Ukraine, Ukrainian historians and scholars consider Kyïvan Rus' to be a founding Ukrainian state.

On the north-eastern periphery of Kyïvan Rus', traditions were adapted in the Vladimir-Suzdal Principality that gradually gravitated towards Moscow. To the very north, the Novgorod and Pskov Feudal Republics were less autocratic than Vladimir-Suzdal – Moscow, until they were absorbed by the Grand Duchy of Moscow. Russian historians consider Kyïvan Rus 'the first period of Russian history'.

(Source: Wikipedia)


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