The Rise of the Russian Nation

by Benjamin McMillan


Russia has a history that extends further back in history than many nations. The majority of scholars today seldom refer to any event prior to the Romanov Dynasty when referring to Russian “history”. The beginnings of this huge country, however, have their roots in the early ninth century with a congregation of tribes. The most notable was a tribe of Scandinavian peoples known as the Vikings, or as the Russians later referred to them, the Varangians. This band of warriors crossed the Baltic, settling on the shores of modern day Eastern Europe. (Britannica)




The leader of the Varangians was a warrior known as Rurik, a famously powerful ruler in Viking history. He led a conquest to the city of Novgorod where the Varangians settled. After Rurik’s demise, another warrior named Oleg succeeded him. Oleg was credited with extending the control of the Varangians far to the South (Bucknell). By the close of the ninth century, Oleg had greatly increased the land of the Varangian tribe and had brought the city of Kiev under its control. The Varangians flourished in this city, and it quickly rose to become the major focus of the trading route between Constantinople and Scandinavia. By now the tribe of Varangians had grown to be known as the empire of the Kiev Rus’ (Bucknell).


Oleg’s great-grandson, Vladmir I, took the throne in 989 and ruled a kingdom that now stretched as far South as the Black Sea. Vladimir I became a revered figure in Russian history, being credited with the introduction of Christianity into the Kievan Rus’ empire, later diffusing into the Russian nation. This establishment of Christianity led to the alliance of his empire with Constantinople (Britannica).




Vladimir I was succeeded by Yaroslav the Wise. Yaroslav’s reign over the Kiev Rus’ marked the pinnacle of that empire’s existence. Yaroslav was responsible for codifying laws, engaging in numerous strategic alliances and encouraging an appreciation for the arts (Bucknell). At the end of his reign, however, Yaroslav divided his kingdom among his children provided that they agree to always cooperate and flourish as one. This was not the case and Kiev Rus’ soon became rife with internal tensions and had broken up into regional power structures soon after the death of Yaroslav. Matters were made worse by the fact that a rival tribe known as the Kipchaks had grown in influence along the Kiev Rus’ border (Bucknell).






It was during this time in the 12th century that the word “Moscow” was said to have been used for the first time. One of the regional princes, held a feast at his hunting lodge atop a hill overlooking the convergence of the Moskva and Neglina Rivers, marking the site that would eventually become the most eminent city in the Russian empire (Bucknell).


The Kingdom of Kievan Rus’ fought viciously against many attackers and remained victorious for many years. This changed, however, when a ferocious new tribe of invaders completely defeated the Kiev Rus’. These warriors were called the Mongols. In 1237 Batu Khan of the Genghis Khan lineage, launched an invasion into Kievan Rus’ from his capital on the lower Volga. Over the next three years the Mongols destroyed all of the major cities of Kievan Rus’ with the exceptions of Novgorod and Pskov (History prior to 1800). For roughly one hundred years Russia faced oppressive taxes from the Mongols which left little money for rebuilding an empire. Those cities to the Northeast were the only ones growing in power because of their distance from the center of the Mongolian empire. Towards the turn of the fourteenth century a city named Moscow began to gain considerable influence in the Russian empire (Bucknell).


Soon, Moscow had grown strong enough to challenge the Mongols directly. In 1380, a prince named Dimitri Donsky attacked and defeated the Mongols in a legendary battle. Two years later, however, the Mongols struck back and regained control of Moscow for another century until 1480 when Moscow was powerful enough to defeat Mongolian rule for good (Bucknell).


The ruler of Moscow at that time was Ivan III, otherwise known as Ivan the Great. Ivan began quickly subjugating all of Moscow’s rival cities until he had effective control over the entire country. There still remained internal tensions, however, until the reign of Ivan the Great’s grandson, Ivan IV. Ivan IV, or Ivan the Terrible, succeeded in unifying the nation of Russia into a single formidable entity (1800). Ivan the Terrible’s father Vasily III was the Grand Duke of Moscow-a title that Ivan himself assumed at the age of three when his father died. His mother died when he was eight leaving him to become tsar at the age of 17 upon which he promptly began consolidating his power and preparing the Russian armies to take revenge on the Mongols (Bucknell). In the year 1552, Ivan the Terrible, conquered Kazan and 4 years later he subjugated Astrakhan, the last of the Mongolian empire. This campaign greatly increased Russia’s empire making it one the mightiest in existence at the time. Ivan the Terrible was also responsible for the colonization of the outer reaches of the Russian empire such as Siberia (Bucknell).


van was said to have been quite even tempered in the beginning. However, as he grew older his temper worsened, and by the 1560s he carried out a pretty horrific campaign against the boyars, confiscating their land and executing or exiling those who displeased him (Britannica). Scholars now believe that this erratic behavior was the result of a mental instability that drove him insane. In 1581, in a rage, he struck his son and heir Ivan with an iron rod, killing him. When Ivan the Terrible died in 1584, his son succeeded him but yielded most of the power to his brother-in-law named Godunov. When Fyodor died in the 16th century, Godunov was named tzar but died only a few years later. After a period of political upheaval, Mikael Romonov was declared Tzar of Russia thus ushering in the period of Russian history that is most often the focus of study. (Bucknell).



Online Resources:

1.       www.Britannica.com

2.       Russian history prior to 1800

www .dur.ac .ukidm1Owww/Russhist.HTML

3.       Chronology of Russian History

www.departrnents.bucknell.edu/russian/chrono 1 .htrnl

4.       Bucknell University Russian History Department Page



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