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7th Grade Social Studies /  Lesson 3 - The Rise of Russia

   What will we be learning in this unit?
  • How did geography help shape early Russian and the growth of Kiev?
  • How did the Mongol conquest affect Russia?
  • Why did Moscow emerge as the chief power in Russia?


 The Geography of Russia

  • Russia lies on the vast Eurasian plain that reaches from Europe to the borders of China. Although mapmakers use the Ural Mountains to mark the boundary between Europe and Asia, these ancient mountains were long ago worn away to wooded hills. They posed no obstacle to migration. 
  • Three broad zones with different climates and resources helped shape early Russian life. The northern forests supplied lumber for building and fuel. Fur-bearing animals attracted hunters, but poor soil and a cold, snowy climate hindered farming. Farther south, a band of fertile land attracted early farmers. This region-today the country of Ukraine-was home to Russia's first civilization.




The Geography of Russia
  • A third region, the southern steppe, is an open, treeless grassland. It offered splendid pasture for the herds and horses of nomadic peoples. With no natural barriers, the steppe was a great highway, along which streams of nomads migrated from Asia into Europe. 
  • Russia's network of rivers provided transportation for both people and goods. The Dnieper and Volga rivers became productive trade routes. Major rivers ran from north to south, linking the Russians early on to the advanced Byzantine world in the south.


 Growth of Kiev
  • During Roman times, the Slavs expanded into southern Russia. Like the Germanic peoples who pushed into Western Europe, the Slavs had a simple political organization and were organized into clans. They lived in small villages, farmed, and traded along the rivers that ran between the Baltic and the Black seas.


Growth of Kiev
  • In the 700s and 800s, the Vikings steered their long ships out of Scandinavia. These expert sailors were as much at home on Russian rivers as on the stormy Atlantic. The Vikings, called Varangians by later Russians, worked their way south along the rivers, trading with and collecting tribute from the Slavs. They also conducted a thriving trade with Constantinople. 
  • Located at the heart of this vital trade network was the city of Kiev. In time, it would become the center of the first Russian state. Within a few generations, the Varangians who had settled among the Slavs were absorbed into the local culture. Viking names like Helga and Waldemar became the Slavic names Olga and Vladimir.


   Growth of Kiev
  • Early on, trade had brought Kiev into the Byzantine orbit. Constantinople later sent Christian missionaries to convert the Slavs. About 863, two Greek monks, Cyril and Methodius, adapted the Greek alphabet so they could translate the Bible into Slavic languages. This Cyrillic alphabet became the written script used in Russia and Ukraine to the present.
  • In 957, Princess Olga of Kiev converted to Byzantine Christianity. But it was not until the reign of her grandson Vladimir that the new religion spread widely. After his own conversion, Vladimir married the sister of a Byzantine emperor. Soon, Greek priests arrived in Kiev to preside over the mass baptisms organized by the prince.


Growth of Kiev
  • As Byzantine Christianity gained strength in Russia, princes began to see themselves as heirs to many cultural and political aspects of the Byzantine empire. The Russians acquired a written language, and a class of educated Russian priests emerged. Russians adapted Byzantine religious art, music, and architecture. Byzantine domes capped with colorful, carved "helmets" became the onion domes of Russian churches.
  • Byzantine Christianity set the pattern for close ties between Church and state. Russian rulers, like the Byzantine emperor, eventually controlled the Church, making it dependent on them for support. The Russian Orthodox Church would long remain a pillar of state power.


Growth of Kiev
  • Kiev enjoyed a golden age under Yaroslav the Wise, who ruled from 1019 to 1054. Like Justinian, he issued a written law code to improve justice. A scholar, he translated Greek works into his language. Yaroslav arranged marriages between his children and some of the royal families of Western Europe.
  • Kiev declined in the 1100s as rival families battled for the throne. Also, Russian trading cities were hurt because Byzantine prosperity faded. As Russian princes squabbled among themselves, Mongol invaders from central Asia struck the final blow.


Mongol Conquest
  • In the early 1200s, a young leader united the nomadic Mongols of central Asia. As his mounted bowmen overran lands from China to Eastern Europe, he took the title Genghis Khan, "World Emperor."


Mongol Conquest
  • Between 1236 and 1241, Batu, the grandson of Genghiz, led Mongol armies into Russia. Known as the Golden Horde, from the color of their tents, they looted and burned Kiev and other Russian towns. So many inhabitants were killed, declared a Russian historian, that "no eye remained to weep for the dead." From their capital on the Volga, the Golden Horde ruled Russia for the next 240 years. 
  • The Mongols, although fierce conquerors, were generally tolerant rulers. They demanded regular payments of heavy tribute, and Russian princes had to acknowledge the Mongols as their overlords. But as long as the tribute was paid, the Mongols left Russian princes to rule without much interference.


 Mongol Conquest
  • Historians have long debated how Mongol rule affected Russia. Peasants felt the burden of heavy taxes. Some fled to remote regions, and others sought protection from Mongol raids by becoming serfs of Russian nobles. Even though the Golden Horde converted to Islam, the Mongols tolerated the Russian Orthodox Church, which grew more powerful during this period. The Mongol conquest brought peace to the huge swath of land between China and Eastern Europe, and Russian merchants benefited from new trade routes across this region.


Mongol Conquest
  • During the period of Mongol rule, Russians adopted the practice of isolating upper-class women in separate quarters. Beginning in the 1200s, women became totally subject to male authority in the household. Husbands could even sell their wives into slavery to pay family debts. 
  • The absolute power of the Mongols served as a model for later Russian rulers. Russian princes developed a strong desire to centralize their own power without interference from nobles, the clergy, or wealthy merchants. Perhaps most important, Mongol rule cut Russia off from contacts with Western Europe at a time when Europeans were making rapid advances in the arts and sciences.


   Moscow takes the lead
  • During the Mongol period, the princes of Moscow steadily increased their power. Their success was due in part to the city's location near important river trade routes. They also used their positions as tribute collectors for the Mongols to subdue neighboring towns. When the head of the Russian Orthodox Church made Moscow his capital, the city became not just Russia's political center, but its spiritual center as well. 
  • As Mongol power declined, the princes of Moscow took on a new role as patriotic defenders of Russia against foreign rule. In 1380, they rallied other Russians and defeated the Golden Horde at the battle of Kulikovo. Although the Mongols continued their terrifying raids, their strength was much reduced.


  Moscow takes the lead

  • A driving force behind Moscow's successes was Ivan III, known as Ivan the Great. Between 1462 and 1505, he brought much of northern Russia under his rule. He also recovered Russian territories that had fallen into the hands of neighboring Slavic states.
  • Ivan built the framework for absolute rule. He tried to limit the power of the boyars, or great landowning nobles. After he married Sophia-Zo Paleologus, niece of the last Byzantine emperor, he adopted Byzantine court rituals to emphasize Russia's role as the heir to Byzantine power. Like the Byzantine emperors, he used a double-headed eagle as his symbol. Ivan and his successors took the title czar, the Russian word for Caesar. "The czar," claimed Ivan, "is in nature like all men, but in authority he is like the highest God."

 


Moscow takes the lead
  • Ivan IV, grandson of Ivan the Great, further centralized royal power. He limited the privileges of the old boyar families and granted land to nobles in exchange for military or other service. At a time when the manor system was fading in Western Europe, Ivan IV introduced new laws that tied Russian serfs to the land.


Moscow takes the lead
  • About 1560, Ivan IV became increasingly unstable. He trusted no one and became subject to violent fits of rage. In a moment of madness, he even killed his own son. He organized the oprichnik, agents of terror who enforced the czar's will. Dressed in black robes and mounted on black horses, they slaughtered rebellious boyars and sacked towns where people were suspected of disloyalty. Their saddles were decorated with a dog's head and a broom, symbols of their constant watchfulness to sweep away their master's enemies.
  • The czar's awesome power, and the ways he used it, earned him the title "Ivan the Terrible." When he died in 1584, he left a land seething with rebellion. But he had introduced Russia to a tradition of extreme absolute power.


Moscow takes the lead
  • About 1560, Ivan IV became increasingly unstable. He trusted no one and became subject to violent fits of rage. In a moment of madness, he even killed his own son. He organized the oprichnik, agents of terror who enforced the czar's will. Dressed in black robes and mounted on black horses, they slaughtered rebellious boyars and sacked towns where people were suspected of disloyalty. Their saddles were decorated with a dog's head and a broom, symbols of their constant watchfulness to sweep away their master's enemies.
  • The czar's awesome power, and the ways he used it, earned him the title "Ivan the Terrible." When he died in 1584, he left a land seething with rebellion. But he had introduced Russia to a tradition of extreme absolute power.


Looking Ahead
  • Disputes over succession, peasant uprisings, and foreign invasions soon plunged Russia into a period of disorder. This "Time of Troubles" lasted from 1604 to 1613. Finally, the zemsky sobor, an assembly of clergy, nobles, and townsmen, chose a new czar, 17-year-old Michael Romanov. His reign established the Romanov dynasty, which would rule Russia until 1917. 
  • In the 1600s, Russia was an emerging power. Like monarchs in France or Spain, the czars expanded national borders and centralized royal control. But Russia developed along far different lines. Byzantine influences had helped establish a strong tradition of autocratic rule. Later Russian rulers were generally more autocratic than western kings and queens. Authoritarian leaders, from Peter the Great and Catherine the Great to Joseph Stalin, would shape Russian history down to this century.