Russia from Conversion to Christianity to the Invasion of the Tatars

The sudden shift of all the centers of activity of Russia, in the century. XII, from the Kiev region towards the north-east, in the Suzdal region, can be considered as the beginning of a new period in Russian history: at first sight it is rather difficult to explain this change of scene, to trace the links that exist between the two eras. This emigration of massive Russian masses towards the north-east can only be interpreted by the serious social crisis that troubled the still thriving region of southern Russia and the continuous incursions of the Polovcy (Polovzi). The fact that Kiev was a very important commercial center, had brought together great wealth throughout the district, had given a dynamic and lively tone to the whole life: in the main urban centers boyars and traders lived in the opulence. Foreign artists flocked: as buildings, churches and mosaics show, civilization had reached a high level, even if limited to very restricted sections of the population.

The clergy had become more and more influential, alongside the boyars (landowners) and wealthy merchants. However, the economic well-being of the privileged strata of Kiev’s Russia rested to a considerable degree on the slave trade to the Black Sea and the East. Alongside the commercial activity, the large estates gradually formed and strengthened: historians are more or less in agreement in explaining this fact with the overabundance of slaves, enormously increased in the course of successful military expeditions. The wealthy city owners thought of making use of the surplus manpower by turning their attention to agriculture. The latifundium therefore rests, since its inception, on slave labor. “The land is mine, because my slaves work it”: in this concept Klychevsky summarizes the rise of large agrarian property in Kiev’s Russia. This agrarian development had the consequence of an increase in the price of slaves: a particularly ruthless legislation was to prevent any evasion or attempt at rebellion. Practically the situation of thezakupy, peasants who from a strictly juridical point of view could be considered almost free, were increasingly identifying with that of real slaves (cholopy). State power belonged to the duke as well as to the ve è e, assembly of “free men”: therefore, alongside the duke, a kind of democracy existed, which rigidly excluded the large popular mass of zakupy and cholopy. Next to the duke was the dru ž ina, that is a group of men who assisted him during the war activity, or took care of his financial interests.

The noble conception of land tenure in Kiev Russia had the consequence that upon the death of a duke the territory he owned was divided among his successors, however they were designated. But in spite of this accentuated division, for a certain time the state of Kiev had a pre-eminent position among the other duchies and its “grand duke” had an indisputable primacy over the dukes; the I ‘s and then had always also liaise in matters directly related to the rulers.

Over time, however, the discords between the dukes intensified. The savage tribe of Polovcy squeezed Kiev ever more closely: the dukes themselves, in the discords that divided them, called to their aid now this now that among the khān of the Polovcy, thus accelerating the general decomposition. This explains the mass emigration of the Russian populations to less fertile regions, but which could with good reason appear calmer. When Andrew Bogolyubsky (1169) took possession of Kiev, he did not want to settle there and decided to remain in the Suzdal ′ ancestry.

The wooded region of Suzdal ′ thus rapidly became populated. But we are not only faced with a change in geographical scenario (from the southern steppe to the northern forests): instead of the ve è e, through which the privileged classes exercised decisive control over the sovereign, in the lands of Suzdal ′ already juridically and materially in the possession of the Grand Duke, the newcomers must accept the factual situation they find on their arrival, that is, a regime in which the Grand Duke is absolute sovereign.

The Grand Duke of Suzdal ′ from the city of Vladimir (v.) tries to become over time more and more a kind of “autocrat” to whom the dukes must bow. But Vladimir was unable to exert the moral appeal that Kiev could have on other regions of Russia. While Poles and Hungarians are adopted more and more in Volhynia and Galicia, the important city of Novgorod (v.) – where in there is and the local aristocracy, at the same time landowner and banking, had a very strong position – jealous of its autonomy already at the time of Kiev’s dominance, it feels even more strongly its desire for independence in the face of the Suzdal ′ autocracy. Analogous phenomena occur almost everywhere.

In Galicia and Volhynia a branch of the Rjurikoviči had remained in power: the proximity of Hungary and Poland had resulted not only in Hungarian and Polish military occupations, but also in the establishment, gradually, of the dru ž ina in real feudal class.

The Polovcy meanwhile continue their forays into southern Russia, pillaging and devastating everything in their path. But with the beginning of the century. XIII the Tatars – Mongolian population – appear on the scene led by the famous Genghiz khān: these, after having conquered and devastated vast regions of the East, were now beginning to overthrow Europe with a vehemence and with an organizational capacity certainly superior to the concrete aggressive possibilities. of the previous Asian hordes. The Polovcy themselves now asked the various heads of the Russian duchies for friendship and alliance against the new, common enemy. Faced with the impending danger, Russi and Polovcy, oblivious to the bloody struggles that had hitherto confronted them, allied themselves against the terrible and powerful invaders: nevertheless they were defeated in 1223 in a battle near the Kalka River. In 1237 the Tatar invasion of Russia already begins in full: the individual dukes try to prevent the advance of the enemy, but the Tatars have with relative ease the upper hand over these dukes who fight separately, more or less in dissent between they.

Russia, set on fire and devastated far and wide, now becomes a vassal state of the famous khānate of the Golden Horde. The Tatars left the various Russian princes and princes to power, but as vassals they had to pay regular tributes to the khān. The sovereigns of the Russian states had nothing to do but try to avoid worse troubles for themselves and their territories, obeying all the requests of the khān, accepting humiliations and giving proof of zeal on every occasion; Alexander Nevsky, ruler of Suzdal ′, proved particularly skilled in navigating towards the Tatars.

Prince Daniel of Galicia (1201-1264), a man of sentimental and dynamic temperament, wanted to rebel against the Tatars, but in vain. He had propitiated the Holy See, converting to Catholicism, had forced his sons to marry the daughters of the king of Hungary and the duke of Lithuania; but when the Tatars confronted him and ravaged his lands, none of his alleged allies moved to his defense.

While the Tatar wave rushed to Russia from the East, to the west of Russia, under its leaders Mindaugas and Ghediminas, Lithuania had become a great power and had expanded greatly eastward. However, the vastness of the Russian territories occupied by the Lithuanians made any denationalization impossible: indeed the Russian language became the court language in the Lithuanian state.

In this period the duchy of Moscow begins to occupy one more and more notable place in the history of Russia. Moscow was in a central position, at the crossroads of very important trade routes: the duke thus had the possibility of enriching himself with various duties and taxes that he could request from shopkeepers, forced to pass through his state. The central position with respect to the various parts of the country had also resulted in a notable densification of the population, which felt safer from foreign invasions. Furthermore, the dukes of Moscow, narrow-minded and avaricious, were careful not to embark on dangerous adventures, trying instead to gradually develop their dominions, to accumulate ever greater wealth. They were able to win the trust of the Tatar khān, rulers of the country, who by now had every interest in that peace would reign and that the taxes of the vanquished could be regularly collected. In 1329 the duchy was transformed into a grand duchy. In addition, the rulers of Moscow were commissioned by the khān to collect all the tributes of Russia for him, which meant an almost complete guarantee against raids by Tatar marauders, as well as a fair possibility of enriching – more or less legally – in the margins of these tributes. Under Ivan Kalita, the characteristic “collector”, the power of Moscow increases greatly. task of collecting for him all the taxes of Russia, which meant an almost complete guarantee against raids by Tatar raiders, as well as a fair possibility of enriching – more or less legally – on the margin of these taxes. Under Ivan Kalita, the characteristic “collector”, the power of Moscow increases greatly. task of collecting for him all the taxes of Russia, which meant an almost complete guarantee against raids by Tatar raiders, as well as a fair possibility of enriching – more or less legally – on the margin of these taxes. Under Ivan Kalita, the characteristic “collector”, the power of Moscow increases greatly.

A great prestige also came to Moscow from the ever more decisive support of the clergy. The “metropolitans” will become, alongside the aristocracy, one of the fundamental supports of the state: indeed, they will manifest a real fanaticism in supporting the “orthodox” Moscow state, prospering under the protection of the Tatar khān. This is explained by the fact that the living conditions of the territory subjected to Moscow were exceptionally quiet and safe for such stormy times. The Russian church by now possessed large estates in all parts of the country: the more a solid and organized power was able to replace princelings continually fighting, to guarantee, with its prudence, a “peaceful” domination of the khān, the more the church could be quiet.

Under the reign of Dimitrij (1362-89) the power of Moscow was already very considerable. A particular prestige derived from the victories over Mamaj, khān of the Golden Horde, and especially from the great victory over the Tatars in Kulikovo (1380). It is true that the Tatars soon recovered from the defeat, imposing the traditional tribute, but the new fact consisted in dispelling the legend of the invincibility of the Tatars. In short, it is a period in which Tatar power begins to decline and in which Moscow, even though it cannot yet develop the effects of the first victories, raises its head more and more.

With the successors of the victor of Kulikovo, the state of Moscow identifies itself more and more with the ethnographic limits of the Great Russian territories. In its struggles against the Tatars on the one hand, against the Lithuanians on the other, the Muscovite state has become more and more transformed into a great power, becoming more and more equal with the concept of Russia. It is precisely at this time that one can begin to speak of a real Russian nationality, identifying oneself with a language, a religion, in a certain way also with a central power.

Russia from Conversion to Christianity

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