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Under the influence of the Byzantine culture, Slavs and Scandinavian Varangians had been merging in the kingdom of Kiev since the ninth century. The ruling Rurik dynasty involved the country in 1 struggles for the throne and the division of the dynastic inheritance. The divided principalities found themselves under Mongolian rule from the 13th century. At the same time, Moscow's rise began. Russia was united by Moscow in the 14th and 15th centuries and began its path to becoming a major European power. With the death of the last of the Ruriks, a period of chaos set in, ended only in 1613 by a new dynasty, the Romanovs.

1 Battling Russian principalities of Novgorod and Suzdal, icon, 15th century


1 Battling Russian principalities of Novgorod and Suzdal, icon, 15th century


1 Battling Russian principalities of Novgorod and Suzdal, icon, 15th century



Kievan Rus

The Scandinavian Varangians founded the first kingdom on Russian soil.


Scandinavian Vikings, known to Slavs and Byzantines as "Varangians" or "Rus," began moving into the territory of present-day Russia and Ukraine in the eighth century as warriors, traders, and settlers, using large rivers such as the Neva, Don, and Volga as transportation routes. The small defensive nuclei of the steppes became staging posts on a route linking the Baltic to the Volga. Trading links, by way of the Black and Caspian seas, existed as far as the Byzantine Empire and the Abbasid caliphate, in Constantinople, Varangians formed the emperor's personal elite bodyguard.

According to the Primary Chronicle, the inhabitants of the old Slav trading metropolis of 3 Novgorod in northern Russia elevated a Varangian named 2 Rurik to the status of prince in 862 in order to settle their feuds; Varangians also came to power in other towns after being appointed by the Slavs or by taking them by force.

3 Varangian ship in the port of Novgorod,
painting, 1900

2 Slavic deputies kneel before Rurik,
wood engraving, ca. 1890



Rurik, also spelled Rorik or Hrorekr, Russian Ryurik (died ad 879), the semilegendary founder of the Rurik dynasty of Kievan Rus.

Rurik was a Viking, or Varangian, prince. His story is told in the The Russian Primary Chronicle (compiled at the beginning of the 12th century) but is not accepted at face value by modern historians. According to the chronicle, the people of Novgorod, tired of political strife, invited the Varangians about ad 862 to establish an orderly and just government there. Hence, Rurik came with his two brothers and a large retinue (druzhina) and became ruler of the city and region of Novgorod.

Some historians think that Rurik came from the Scandinavian peninsula or from Jutland (now in Denmark) and seized the town of Ladoga, on Lake Ladoga. After establishing a stronghold there (c. 855), he may have gone southward along the Volkhov and captured Novgorod. Another possibility is that Rurik and his army were mercenaries, hired to guard the Volkhov-Dnieper waterway, who turned against their employers.

Rurik’s kinsman Oleg founded the grand principality of Kiev. Oleg’s successor, Igor, believed to be Rurik’s son, is considered the real founder of the Russian princely house.

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Oleg, (died c. 912), semilegendary Viking (Varangian) leader who became prince of Kiev and is considered to be the founder of the Kievan Rus state.

According to The Russian Primary Chronicle of the 12th century, Oleg, after succeeding his kinsman Rurik as ruler of Novgorod (c. 879), went down the Dnieper River with his Varangian retinue and seized control of Smolensk and Kiev (882), which he subsequently made his capital. Extending his authority east and west of the Volkhov–Dnieper waterway, he united the local Slavic and Finnish tribes under his rule and became the undisputed ruler of the Kievan–Novgorodian state.

Described in the chronicle as a skilled warrior, Oleg defeated the Khazars, delivering several Slavic tribes from dependence upon them, and also undertook a successful expedition against Constantinople (907), forcing the Byzantine government to sue for peace and pay a large indemnity. In 911 Oleg also concluded an advantageous trade agreement with Constantinople, which regulated commercial relations between the two states and laid the basis for the development of permanent and lucrative trade activities between Constantinople and Kievan Rus.

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Igor, also called Ingvar (born c. 877—died 945, Dereva region [Russia]), grand prince of Kiev and presumably the son of Rurik, prince of Novgorod, who is considered the founder of the dynasty that ruled Kievan Rus and, later, Muscovy until 1598. Igor, successor to the great warrior and diplomat Oleg (reigned c. 879–912), assumed the throne of Kiev in 912.

Depicted as a greedy, rapacious, and unsuccessful prince by the 12th-century The Russian Primary Chronicle, Igor in 913–914 led an expedition into Transcaucasia that ended in total disaster for his forces. He also conducted two expeditions against Byzantium (941 and 944), but many of his ships were destroyed by “Greek fire,” and the treaty that he finally concluded in 944 was less advantageous to Kiev than the one obtained by Oleg in 911. Igor did manage to extend the authority of Kiev over the Pechenegs, a Turkic people inhabiting the steppes north of the Black Sea, as well as over the East Slavic tribe of Drevlyane. When he went to Dereva (the land of the Drevlyane located in the region of the Pripet River) to collect tribute (945), however, his attempt to extort more than the customary amount provoked the Drevlyane into rebelling and killing him.

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Rurik Dynasty

Rurik Dynasty, princes of Kievan Rus and, later, Muscovy who, according to tradition, were descendants of the Varangian prince Rurik, who had been invited by the people of Novgorod to rule that city (c. 862); the Rurik princes maintained their control over Kievan Rus and, later, Muscovy until 1598.

Rurik’s successor Oleg (d. 912) conquered Kiev (c. 882) and established control of the trade route extending from Novgorod, along the Dnieper River, to the Black Sea. Igor (allegedly Rurik’s son; reigned 912–945) and his successors—his wife, St. Olga (regent 945–969), and their son Svyatoslav (reigned 945–972)—further extended their territories; Svyatoslav’s son Vladimir I (St. Vladimir; reigned c. 980–1015) consolidated the dynasty’s rule.

Vladimir compiled the first Kievan Rus law code and introduced Christianity into the country. He also organized the Kievan Rus lands into a cohesive confederation by distributing the major cities among his sons; the eldest was to be grand prince of Kiev, and the brothers were to succeed each other, moving up the hierarchy of cities toward Kiev, filling vacancies left by the advancement or death of an elder brother. The youngest brother was to be succeeded as grand prince by his eldest nephew whose father had been a grand prince. This succession pattern was generally followed through the reigns of Svyatopolk (1015–19); Yaroslav the Wise (1019–54); his sons Izyaslav (1054–68; 1069–73; and 1077–78), Svyatoslav (1073–76), and Vsevolod (1078–93); and Svyatopolk II (son of Izyaslav; reigned 1093–1113).

The successions were accomplished, however, amid continual civil wars. In addition to the princes’ unwillingness to adhere to the pattern and readiness to seize their positions by force instead, the system was upset whenever a city rejected the prince designated to rule it. It was also undermined by the tendency of the princes to settle in regions they ruled rather than move from city to city to become the prince of Kiev.

In 1097 all the princes of Kievan Rus met at Lyubech (northwest of Chernigov) and decided to divide their lands into patrimonial estates. The succession for grand prince, however, continued to be based on the generation pattern; thus, Vladimir Monomakh succeeded his cousin Svyatopolk II as grand prince of Kiev. During his reign (1113–25) Vladimir tried to restore unity to the lands of Kievan Rus; and his sons (Mstislav, reigned 1125–32; Yaropolk, 1132–39; Vyacheslav, 1139; and Yury Dolgoruky, 1149–57) succeeded him eventually, though not without some troubles in the 1140s.

Nevertheless, distinct branches of the dynasty established their own rule in the major centres of the country outside Kiev—Halicz, Novgorod, and Suzdal. The princes of these regions vied with each other for control of Kiev; but when Andrew Bogolyubsky of Suzdal finally conquered and sacked the city (1169), he returned to Vladimir (a city in the Suzdal principality) and transferred the seat of the grand prince to Vladimir. Andrew Bogolyubsky’s brother Vsevolod III succeeded him as grand prince of Vladimir (reigned 1176–1212); Vsevolod was followed by his sons Yury (1212–38), Yaroslav (1238–46), and Svyatoslav (1246–47) and his grandson Andrew (1247–52).

Alexander Nevsky (1252–63) succeeded his brother Andrew; and Alexander’s brothers and sons succeeded him. Furthering the tendency toward fragmentation, however, none moved to Vladimir but remained in their regional seats and secured their local princely houses. Thus, Alexander’s brother Yaroslav (grand prince of Vladimir, 1264–71) founded the house of Tver, and Alexander’s son Daniel founded the house of Moscow.

After the Mongol invasion (1240) the Russian princes were obliged to seek a patent from the Mongol khan in order to rule as grand prince. Rivalry for the patent, as well as for leadership in the grand principality of Vladimir, developed among the princely houses, particularly those of Tver and Moscow. Gradually, the princes of Moscow became dominant, forming the grand principality of Moscow (Muscovy), which they ruled until their male line died out in 1598.

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Rurik's successor Oleg the Wise advanced to the south and in 882 occupied Kiev, which became the capital of his realm, known as Kievan Rus. A trade agreement with Byzantium in 911 also opened up the principality to Christianity; Rurik's daughter-in-law Olga was baptized in 957.

Her grandson, Vladimir I (the Great), married the sister of the Byzantine emperor and converted to 6, 5 Christianity in 988 as part of a pact with Basil II of Constantinople.

Kiev became the seat of an Orthodox bishop, who was nominally subject to the patriarch of Constantinople until 1589.

When Vladimir died in 1015, his sons fought over the throne. Eventually, Yaroslav the Wise prevailed and by 1036 had subdued the whole of Kievan Rus.

6 Olga was baptized in 957

6 Baptism of Vladimir I in 988


Vladimir I

Vladimir I, in full Vladimir Svyatoslavich or Ukrainian Volodymyr Sviatoslavych, byname Saint Vladimir or Vladimir the Great, Russian Svyatoy Vladimir or Vladimir Veliky (born c. 956, Kiev, Kievan Rus [now in Ukraine]—died July 15, 1015, Berestova, near Kiev; feast day July 15), grand prince of Kiev (Kyiv) and first Christian ruler in Kievan Rus, whose military conquests consolidated the provinces of Kiev and Novgorod into a single state, and whose Byzantine baptism determined the course of Christianity in the region.

Vladimir was the son of the Norman-Rus prince Svyatoslav of Kiev by one of his courtesans and was a member of the Rurik lineage dominant from the 10th to the 13th century. He was made prince of Novgorod in 970. On the death of his father in 972, he was forced to flee to Scandinavia, where he enlisted help from an uncle and overcame Yaropolk, another son of Svyatoslav, who attempted to seize the duchy of Novgorod as well as Kiev. By 980 Vladimir had consolidated the Kievan realm from Ukraine to the Baltic Sea and had solidified the frontiers against incursions of Bulgarian, Baltic, and Eastern nomads.

Although Christianity in Kiev existed before Vladimir’s time, he had remained a pagan, accumulated about seven wives, established temples, and, it is said, taken part in idolatrous rites involving human sacrifice. With insurrections troubling Byzantium, the emperor Basil II (976–1025) sought military aid from Vladimir, who agreed, in exchange for Basil’s sister Anne in marriage. A pact was reached about 987, when Vladimir also consented to the condition that he become a Christian. Having undergone baptism, assuming the Christian patronal name Basil, he stormed the Byzantine area of Chersonesus (Korsun, now part of Sevastopol) to eliminate Constantinople’s final reluctance. Vladimir then ordered the Christian conversion of Kiev and Novgorod, where idols were cast into the Dnieper River after local resistance had been suppressed. The new Rus Christian worship adopted the Byzantine rite in the Old Church Slavonic language. The story (deriving from the 11th-century monk Jacob) that Vladimir chose the Byzantine rite over the liturgies of German Christendom, Judaism, and Islam because of its transcendent beauty is apparently mythically symbolic of his determination to remain independent of external political control, particularly of the Germans. The Byzantines, however, maintained ecclesiastical control over the new Rus church, appointing a Greek metropolitan, or archbishop, for Kiev, who functioned both as legate of the patriarch of Constantinople and of the emperor. The Rus-Byzantine religio-political integration checked the influence of the Roman Latin church in the Slavic East and determined the course of Russian Christianity, although Kiev exchanged legates with the papacy. Among the churches erected by Vladimir was the Desiatynna in Kiev (designed by Byzantine architects and dedicated about 996) that became the symbol of the Rus conversion. The Christian Vladimir also expanded education, judicial institutions, and aid to the poor.

Another marriage, following the death of Anne (1011), affiliated Vladimir with the Holy Roman emperors of the German Ottonian dynasty and produced a daughter, who became the consort of Casimir I the Restorer of Poland (1016–58). Vladimir’s memory was kept alive by innumerable folk ballads and legends.

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Yaroslav Mudry


Yaroslav I

Yaroslav I, byname Yaroslav The Wise, Russian Yaroslav Mudry (born 980—died Feb. 2, 1054), grand prince of Kiev from 1019 to 1054.

A son of the grand prince Vladimir, he was vice-regent of Novgorod at the time of his father’s death in 1015. Then his eldest surviving brother, Svyatopolk the Accursed, killed three of his other brothers and seized power in Kiev. Yaroslav, with the active support of the Novgorodians and the help of Varangian (Viking) mercenaries, defeated Svyatopolk and became the grand prince of Kiev in 1019.

Yaroslav began consolidating the Kievan state through both cultural and administrative improvements and through military campaigns. He promoted the spread of Christianity in the Kievan state, gathered a large collection of books, and employed many scribes to translate Greek religious texts into the Slavic language. He founded churches and monasteries and issued statutes regulating the legal position of the Christian Church and the rights of the clergy. With the help of Byzantine architects and craftsmen, Yaroslav fortified and beautified Kiev along Byzantine lines. He built the majestic Cathedral of St. Sophia and the famous Golden Gate of the Kievan fortress. Under Yaroslav the codification of legal customs and princely enactments was begun, and this work served as the basis for a law code called the Russkaya Pravda (“Russian Justice”).

Yaroslav pursued an active foreign policy, and his forces won several notable military victories. He regained Galicia from the Poles, decisively defeated the nomadic Pechenegs on the Kievan state’s southern frontier, and expanded Kievan possessions in the Baltic region, suppressing the Lithuanians, Estonians, and Finnish tribes. His military campaign against Constantinople in 1043 was a failure, however.

Trade with the East and West played an important role in Kievan Rus in the 11th century, and Yaroslav maintained diplomatic relations with the European states. His daughters Elizabeth, Anna, and Anastasia were married respectively to Harald III of Norway, Henry I of France, and Andrew I of Hungary.

In his testament, Yaroslav sought to prevent a power struggle among his five sons by dividing his empire among them and enjoining the younger four sons to obey the eldest, Izyaslav, who was to succeed his father as grand prince of Kiev. This advice had no lasting effect, and civil war ensued after Yaroslav’s death.

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5 St. Sophie's cathedral in Novgorod,
built under Vladimir I in the eleventh с


During Yaroslav's reign, Kiev experienced a golden era in 4 architecture and culture influenced by Byzantine culture.

Yaroslav was the first to codify Russian law—a combination of Byzantine laws and Slavic common law.

4 St. Sophie's cathedral in Kiev,
eleventh century




The Russian Primary Chronicle

The Primary Chronicle recounts Kievan Rus history up to the twelfth century. It was compiled by an unknown author probably at the end of the eleventh century in Kiev's cave monastery.

For along time, it was known by the name of the monk Nestor, who was thought to have compiled it. However, he only revised it, shortly after 1110.

Manuscript illustration in a medieval Russian chronicle:
 looting of Kiev by an opposed Russian prince



The Rule of the Mongols

The Mongols conquered the internally divided Kievan Rus in the early 13th century and obligated it to make tribute payments.


After the death of Yaroslav in 1054, Kievan Rus was divided among his sons. The eldest member of the Rurik dynasty was supposed to exercise titular sovereignty, yet after every change in ruler there were renewed struggles for the throne and further division of the inheritance.

Even significant rulers such as 8 Vladimir II (known as Monomakh or "sole ruler") and Mstislav the Great in the twelfth century were unable to reunite Kievan Rus.

To make matters worse, economic declim set in. The profitable Black Sea trade, for example, was lost to the Venetians and Genoese in the 13th century.

Only 7 Novgorod continued to experience growth through trade with the Hanse.

Kievan Rus was politically splintered and shaken by wars and attacks on its borders. Thus the Mongols—known as "Tatars" to the Russians—were easily able to conquer the Russian principalities. The first defeat of the Russians at the Kalka River, northeast of the Crimea, in 1223 was without consequence at first as the Mongols under Genghis Khan considered it only a preparation for further conquests in the future. However, a decade after Genghis Khan's death, his grandson, Batu Khan of the Golden Horde, established the rule of the Mongols in Russia. The Russian princes were forced to pay tribute to the khans, pay taxes, and tolerate political control by Mongol envoys.

8 Crown of Vladimir II (Monomakh), ca. 300

7 View over the city of Novgorod, copper engraving, 17th century



Vladimir II Monomakh

Vladimir II Monomakh, in full Vladimir Vsevolodovich Monomakh (born 1053—died May 19, 1125, near Kiev [now in Ukraine]), grand prince of Kiev from 1113 to 1125.

Vladimir was the son of Grand Prince Vsevolod I Yaroslavich (ruled Kiev 1078–93) and Irina, the daughter of the Byzantine emperor Constantine IX Monomachus. He became active in the politics of Kievan Rus, helping his father and uncle Izyaslav I (ruled at Kiev intermittently 1054–78) defeat his cousins Oleg Svyatoslavich and Boris Vyacheslavich at Chernigov (1078; modern Chernihiv, Ukraine) and succeeding his father as prince of Chernigov when Vsevolod became grand prince of Kiev. Vladimir ruled Chernigov from 1078 to 1094, restoring order among his cousins in Volhynia (1084–86) and assuming a leading role among princes of Rus at the conferences held to avert perpetual warfare among themselves (1097 and 1100). When his cousin Grand Prince Svyatopolk II (ruled Kiev 1093–1113) died, the veche (city council) of Kiev named him successor.

During his reign, as prior to it, Vladimir was almost constantly involved in wars, fighting primarily the Polovtsy, who had settled in the steppe region southeast of the Kievan state and had been raiding the lands of Rus since 1061. In his “Testament,” which he wrote for his sons and which constitutes the earliest known example of Old Russian literature written by a layman, Vladimir recounted participating in 83 noteworthy military campaigns and recorded killing 200 Polovtsy princes. In addition to his martial qualities, Vladimir Monomakh was known as an adept administrator, whose ability to curtail the internecine warfare among his princely relatives revived, if only temporarily, the declining strength of Kievan Rus. He was also noted as a builder; he founded the city of Vladimir on the Klyazma River in northeastern Russia, which by the end of the 12th century replaced Kiev as the seat of the grand prince.

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In 1240 the Rurik prince Alexander repelled a Swedish invasion at the Neva River, thus acquiring the surname Nevsky.

He also 10 beat back the Teutonic Knights on the frozen Lake Peipus in 1242.

10 Battle between Russians and the Teutonic Order, movie scene

In 1263, Alexander Nevsky entrusted the city of Moscow to his son Daniel as an independent principality.

Daniel's son, 9 Ivan I—known as Kalita ("moneybags")—bought the favor of the khans and began to subjugate neighboring principalities; in 1328 he assumed the title of grand prince.

9 Ivan I Kalita

The head of the Russian Orthodox Church also moved his seat to Moscow.

Eventually, the Moscow grand princes turned against their Mongol overlords and successfully rebelled against them.

Ivan's grandson, Dmitri Donskoi, won the first major victory over the Mongol army in 1380 at 12 Kulikovo on the Don, taking advantage of the fact that the Golden Horde had been disintegrating since 1357 and that the plague had hit them especially hard.

Competing Turik khanates had emerged from the Crimea to Siberia, and these were later conquered by Russia.

The last of these to come under Russian influence was the 11 khanate of the Crimean Tatars in the 18th century. At the time it had been under Ottoman suzerainty.

12 Battle of Kulikovo, book illustration, 16th с

11 Palace of the Crimean Tatar Khans in Bachtshissarai,
painting, 19th century



Alexander Nevsky

Saint Alexander Nevsky, Russian Aleksandr Nevsky, original name Aleksandr Yaroslavich (born c. 1220, Vladimir, Grand Principality of Vladimir—died Nov. 14, 1263, Gorodets; canonized in Russian Church 1547; feast days November 23, August 30), prince of Novgorod (1236–52) and of Kiev (1246–52) and grand prince of Vladimir (1252–63), who halted the eastward drive of the Germans and Swedes but collaborated with the Mongols in imposing their rule on Russia. By defeating a Swedish invasion force at the confluence of the Rivers Izhora and Neva (1240), he won the name Nevsky, “of the Neva.”

Alexander was the son of Yaroslav II Vsevolodovich, grand prince of Vladimir, the foremost among the Russian rulers. In 1236 Alexander was elected prince—a figure who functioned as little more than military commander—of the city of Novgorod. In 1239 he married the daughter of the Prince of Polotsk.

When in 1240 the Swedes invaded Russia to punish the Novgorodians for encroaching on Finnish tribes and to bar Russia’s access to the sea, Alexander defeated the Swedes at the confluence of the Rivers Izhora and Neva. His standing enhanced by his victory, he apparently began to intervene in the affairs of the city and was expelled a few months later.

When, urged by Pope Gregory IX to “Christianize” the Baltic region, the Teutonic Knights shortly thereafter invaded Russia, Novgorod invited Alexander to return. After a number of battles, Alexander decisively defeated the Germans in the famous “massacre on the ice” in April 1242 on a narrow channel between Lakes Chud (Peipus) and Pskov. Alexander, who continued to fight both the Swedes and Germans and eventually stopped their eastward expansion, also won many victories over the pagan Lithuanians and the Finnic peoples.

In the east, however, Mongol armies were conquering most of the politically fragmented Russian lands. Alexander’s father, the grand prince Yaroslav, agreed to serve the new rulers of Russia but died in September 1246 of poisoning after his return from a visit to the Great Khan in Mongolia. When, in the ensuing struggle for the grand princely throne, Alexander and his younger brother Andrew appealed to Khan Batu of the Mongol Golden Horde, he sent them to the Great Khan. Violating Russian customs of seniority, the Great Khan appointed Andrew grand prince of Vladimir and Alexander prince of Kiev—probably because Alexander was Batu’s favourite and Batu was in disfavour with the Great Khan. When Andrew began to conspire against the Mongol overlords with other Russian princes and western nations, Alexander went to Saray on the Volga and denounced his brother to Sartak, Batu’s son, who sent an army to depose Andrew and installed Alexander as grand prince. Henceforth, for over a century, no northeastern Russian prince challenged the Mongol conquest. Alexander proceeded to restore Russia by building fortifications and churches and promulgating laws. As grand prince, he continued to rule Novgorod through his son Vasily, thus changing the constitutional basis of rule in Novgorod from personal sovereignty by invitation to institutional sovereignty by the principal Russian ruler. When, in 1255, Novgorod, tiring of grand princely rule, expelled Vasily and invited an opponent of Mongol hegemony, Alexander assembled an army and reinstalled his son.

In 1257 the Mongols, in order to levy taxes, took a census in most of Russia. It encountered little opposition, but when news of the impending enumeration reached Novgorod an uprising broke out. In 1258 Alexander, fearing that the Mongols would punish all of Russia for the Novgorodian revolt, helped force Novgorod to submit to the census and to Mongol taxation. This completed the process of imposing the Mongol yoke on northern Russia.

In 1262 uprisings broke out in many towns against the Muslim tax farmers of the Golden Horde, and Alexander made a fourth journey to Saray to avert reprisals. He succeeded in his mission, as well as in obtaining exemption for Russians from a draft of men for a planned invasion of Iran. Returning home, Alexander died on Nov. 14, 1263, in Gorodets on the Volga. After his death Russia once more disintegrated into many feuding principalities. His personal power, based upon support of the princes, boyars, and clergy, as well as the fear of Mongols, could not be transmitted to any other man, including his weak sons.

Whether Alexander was a quisling in his dealings with the Mongol conquerors is a question seldom posed by Russian historians, because some Russian princes had for centuries concluded alliances with Turkic steppe nomads in order to gain advantage in domestic rivalries. Because Alexander was a willing collaborator, he may have reduced the common people’s suffering by interceding for them with the Khan. He was supported by the church, which thrived under Mongol protection and tax exemption and feared the anti-Mongol princes who negotiated with the papacy. For these reasons, Alexander by 1381 was elevated to the status of a local saint and was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547. Alexander’s son Daniel founded the house of Moscow, which subsequently reunited the northern Russian lands and ruled until 1598. Alexander was one of the great military commanders of his time, who protected Russia’s western frontier against invasion by Swedes or Germans. This image of him was popular in northwestern Russia and has in succeeding centuries been adduced for propaganda purposes. Thus, after the conclusion of the war with Sweden, the Order of Alexander Nevsky was created in 1725, and during World War II (in July 1942), when Germany had deeply penetrated into the Soviet Union, Stalin pronounced Alexander Nevsky a national hero and established a military order in his name.

Richard Hellie

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Ivan Kalita

Ivan I, in full Ivan Danilovich, byname Ivan Moneybag, Russian Ivan Kalita (born 1304?—died March 31, 1340, Moscow), grand prince of Moscow (1328–40) and grand prince of Vladimir (1331–40) whose policies increased Moscow’s power and made it the richest principality in northeastern Russia.

The son of Prince Daniel of Moscow, Ivan succeeded his brother Yury as prince (1325) and then as grand prince (1328) of Moscow. Determined to persuade the Khan of the Golden Horde, the overlord of all the Russian princes, to make him grand prince of Vladimir, he cooperated with the Khan in an expedition against his chief rival, Grand Prince Alexander of Tver, whose subjects had revolted against the Khanate (1327). Despite his efforts, when Alexander was deposed as grand prince, Ivan was not chosen to replace him until 1331; and he was never given authority over the major principalities of Tver, Suzdal, and Ryazan.

Nevertheless, Ivan maintained cordial relations with the Khan; and, while collecting tribute for the Tatars throughout his domain, he acquired a reputation for thrift and financial shrewdness that earned him the nickname Kalita (“Moneybag”). Preferring to expand his realm by purchasing territory rather than conquering it, Ivan enlarged Moscow; he also increased its influence over the neighbouring principalities, and, by forming a close alliance with the metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church, whose seat was transferred to Moscow in 1326, he made Moscow the spiritual centre of the Russian lands.

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Dmitry (II) Donskoy

Dmitry (II) Donskoy, byname of Dmitry Ivanovich (born Oct. 12, 1350, Moscow [Russia]—died May 19, 1389, Moscow), prince of Moscow, or Muscovy (1359–89), and grand prince of Vladimir (1362–89), who won a victory over the Golden Horde (Mongols who had controlled Russian lands since 1240) at the Battle of Kulikovo (Sept. 8, 1380).

Son of Ivan II the Meek of Moscow (reigned 1353–59), Dmitry became ruler of Muscovy when he was only nine years old; three years later he convinced his suzerain, the great khan of the Golden Horde, to transfer the title grand prince of Vladimir (which had been held by Muscovite princes from 1328 to 1359) from Dmitry of Suzdal to him.

In addition to gaining the title grand prince of Vladimir for himself, Dmitry strengthened his position by increasing the territory of the principality of Muscovy, by subduing the princes of Rostov and Ryazan, and by deposing the princes of Galich and Starodub. While the Golden Horde was suffering from internal conflicts, Dmitry stopped making regular tribute payments and encouraged the Russian princes to resist the Mongols’ raids. In 1378 the Russians defeated an army of the Horde on the Vozha River.

Subsequently, Mamai, the Mongol general who was the effective ruler of the western portion of the Golden Horde, formed a military alliance with neighbouring rulers for the purpose of subduing the Russians. Confronting the Mongols on the Don River, however, in the bloody battle on Kulikovo Pole (“Snipes’ Field”), Dmitry routed Mamai’s forces; for his victory Dmitry was honoured with the surname Donskoy (“of the Don”). Shortly afterward, however, his lands were resubjected to Mongol domination when the Mongol leader Tokhtamysh overthrew Mamai (1381), sacked Moscow (1382), and restored Mongol rule over the Russian lands.

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Battle of Kulikovo

Battle of Kulikovo, (Sept. 8, 1380), military engagement in which the Russians defeated the forces of the Golden Horde, thereby demonstrating the developing independence of the Russian lands from Mongol rule (which had been imposed in 1240). The battle occurred when Mamai, a Mongol general who effectively ruled the western portion of the Golden Horde, invaded the Russian lands. The Russians, whose respect for Mongol authority had been declining—particularly since a series of dynastic quarrels following the death of the khan Jani Beg (1357) had weakened the Horde—resisted Mamai.

Led by Dmitry Ivanovich, prince of Moscow and grand prince of Vladimir, the Russians met Mamai’s forces at Kulikovo Pole (“Snipes’ Field”) on the upper Don River before Mamai’s Lithuanian allies could join him. Although the Mongol armies gained an early advantage, they fled when the Russians sent in a reserve force. The battle was extremely bloody, and casualties on both sides were heavy. In honour of the victory on the Don, Dmitry assumed the surname Donskoy (“of the Don”).

But the great victory of the Russians was of little political consequence. Two years later (1382) Tokhtamysh, the khan who had overthrown Mamai in 1381 and extended his control over the entire Golden Horde, invaded Russia. He devastated the lands, looted and burned Moscow, and forced the Russians to recognize once again the suzerainty of the Golden Horde.

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