Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The History of Russia (Diana C.)

Kievan Rus and Muscovy

The name of Rus was given to the land of the Eastern Slavs in the ninth century. According to early Russian chronicles, when Oleg the Prophetic sat on the throne of Kiev, he declared:”This will be the mother of the cities of Rus.” He fortified Kiev and made it into his capital.
Kiev was well placed on the principal waterway between the Gulf of Finland and the Bosphorus. Every year the merchants loaded up their boats with furs, wax, honey, amber and traveled downstream to Constantinople. Besides Kiev, other towns such as Novgorod, Rostov, Suzdal and Pskov grew up.
In 998 Prince Vladimir of Kiev (978-1015) proclaimed Christianity as the official religion and the whole population of Kiev was baptized in the waters of the River Dnieper. An important consequence of this event was the adoption of a literary language, Church Slavonic. This language used a script based on Greek with extra letters for Russian sounds, devised by Byzantine missionaries Kyril and Mephody.
This paved the way for the flowering of Kievan culture that came under Yaroslav the Wise (1019-1054).this was also the age of intensive church building that produced the great cathedrals of St Sophia (1037-1039) in Kiev and St Demetrius(1194) in Vladimir. In the monasteries, especially in the famous Pecherskaya Lavra, learned monks translated Greek and transcribed old Slavonic books.
Under Yaroslav the Wise, the first written code of Russian laws called Russkaya Pravda was issued.
After Yaroslavl’s death in 1054 the tendency to disintegration became more evident. Grand Prince Vladimir Monomakh briefly reunited the land early in the 12th century, but it split apart again.
In 1169 Kiev was sacked by a group of twelve Slav princes led by Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky, who established Vladimir as his new capital in the North-East and took the title of Grand Prince.
By the 13th century the ancient Russia state had fallen apart into many small principalities.
In 1237-1240 the Mongols headed by Batu Khan conquered Rus, and its towns and principalities lost their independence.
The first mention of Moscow appears in the chronicles for 1147, nearly a century before the Mongol-Tatar invasion in those times Moscow belonged to Yuri Dolgoruky, Prince of Vladimir. It was a small settlement on the banks of the Moskva River. At the prince’s order a wooden fortress (a Kremlin) was erected on a high hill above the river. In the 13th century Moscow became the centre of a principality. Moscow expanded its territory until it reached supremacy over all the other Russian principalities, though still a Tatar vassal state. In 1320s the Orthodox church moved its administration from Vladimir to Moscow and that rose its prestige.
Prince Ivan I Kalita (1325-1341) was the first Moscow prince to be granted the right to collect the tribute money from the other Russian principalities. His grandson, Prince Dmitry Donskoi, was the victor of the battle of Kulikovo over Mongols in 1380.
Prince Ivan III who had earned himself the title Ivan the Great expanded Muscovy northwards. He subjugated Novgorod in 1487.
In 1472 Ivan the Great strengthened his position on marrying Sophia Paleologus as his second wife. She was a niece of the last Byzantine emperor. Since then Ivan had adopted the prestigious Byzantine emblem of the double-headed eagle.
Already Ivan III saw Muscovy as an imperial power. Texts were propagated in order to give the dynasty a Roman pedigree and Byzantine regalia. To transform Moscow into a capital, a huge building programme was undertaken, involving the reconstruction of the Kremlin. The results were impressive. After the fall of Constantinople a monk from Pskov, writing to Ivan’s son Vassily III, referred to Moscow as the third Rome:” Two Romes have already fallen, but the third remains standing, and the fourth there will not be.”
When Ivan III died in 1505, his power if Muscovy was consolidated by his successor Vassily III, who annexed the principalities of Pskov (1510), Smolensk(1514), and Ryazan(1521).

Ivan the Terrible and the Time of Troubles

In 1547 Vassily’s son, Ivan IV (known as Ivan the Terrible) was the first Russian ruler crowned as “Tsar and Autocrat of All the Russians” in the Cathedral of the Assumption in the Moscow Kremlin.
Ivan expanded Muscovy far south till the Caspian Sea by the conquest of the Tatar Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan. The victory at Kazan in 1552 was celebrated by the construction of St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.
Russia had gained control of the whole of the Volga region and Bashkiria. The conquest of the Kazan, followed by that of Astrakhan in 1556, also found an open way along the Kama River to Siberia, with its enormous wealth of furs and mineral resources. The military advance into Siberia began with the campaign of Yermak, who was a hetman (‘headman’) of the Cossacks.
Yermak with eight hundred Cossacks advanced over the Ural mountains into the Ob River basin of Western Siberia and defeated the last Tatar defences. As a result of Yermak’s campaign, Russians gained control of the entire region of Western Siberia. They set up defences along the river banks in the form of wooden forts (ostrogi), around which villages and later towns grew up. Tyumen, “the mother of Siberian cities”, was found in 1586, followed in 1632 by Yakutsk, and in 1661 by Irkutsk on the River Angara.
Ivan’s reign, which had started with military victories and territorial gains, ended in tragedy.
In the year of his first wife’s death (1560), Ivan threatened abdication, moving to the Alexandrovsky monastery, but the Moscow populace followed him and asked him to return on the throne. When Ivan returned to Moscow, he began to strengthen the autocracy. He divided the country into two parts- the oprichnina under his personal rule, and the zemchina under the rule of the Council of the Boyars. When Ivan destroyed the economic power of the boyars, 4000 of which were killed, the oprichnina was abolished in 1572.
In 1582, during a quarrel, Ivan murdered his eldest son by a blow from his staff.
After Ivan’s death in 1584, his weak-minded second son Feodor was unfit to govern. The regent and the real ruler of the country was his brother-in-law, Boris Godunov. His reign, lasting until 1605, was followed by the chaotic epoch of Russian history known as the “Time of Troubles”.
Godunov, continuing the policies of Ivan the Terrible, had to suppress several rebellions and raced outside treats of the country’s stability.
In 1605 the Poles raised an army and marched on Moscow, intending to overthrow Boris and place on the throne a young man who claimed to be Dmitry, the last son of Ivan the Terrible.
The so-called False Dmitry I reigned less then a year before he was overthrown by the boyar Vassily Shuisky in May 1606. Shuisky, who had been proclaimed tsar, was faced by several uprisings. One of them was led by another pretender, the False Dmitry II, who again used Polish military support.
Shuisky was obliged to ask for help from Charles IX of Sweden, an act which led King Sigismund III of Poland to declare war on Russia.
In 1610 Shuisky was deposed by a Moscow assembly, and the Poles entered the capital, proclaiming Wladislaw, King Sigismund’s son, as Tsar. A national upraising soon followed, led by Kuzma Minin, a meat merchant, and prince Pozharsky. For twenty-two months the Kremlin was in a state of siege. The Poles were forced by starvation to submit.
In 1613 the new-elected Zemsky sobor chose sixteen-year-old Mikhail Romanov, a relative of Ivan the Terrible’s first wife, Anastasia. The problem of a ruler was solved. Finally, the “Time of Troubles” had come to an end.

Peter the Great

Peter the Great went down in Russian history for having rejected the Muscovite past. He enthusiastically made Russia closer to West. He was a giant among his contemporaries and a man of genius.
Peter intended to modernize his country and raise it to the first rank of European powers. He engaged skilled foreigners from Prussia, Holland, Great Britain to bring the latest western technology to Russia.
Peter had a passion for navigation. As a founder of the Russian navy, Peter first started to develop the Russia fleet in 1695. He wanted to capture from Turkey the fortress town of Azov and gain access to the Black Sea.
His greatest wish was also to win a seaport on the Baltic Sea and access to western trade. The Great Northern War against Sweden was declared in 1700 and lasted for more than twenty years.
In 1703 Peter captured the Swedish fortress of Nyenschanz on the River Neva, and on an island nearby he ordered to construct the Peter and Paul Fortress, the first building of the future city of St Petersburg.
King Charles XII of Sweden fought against Peter I, but suffered a heavy defeat at Poltava in 1709; this event was the turning point of the war. Finally in 1721 the Treaty was signed in Nystadt, by which Russia acquired a large part of the Baltic coast, including Ingria, Karelia, Livonia, Estonia and a part of Finland.
In order to maintain the huge armed forces of Russia, Peter I had to reform many of the traditional administrative, social and fiscal structures of the country. One of the first major steps was to introduce compulsory military service. Another action was to replace the traditional Muscovite hierarchy of titles of the nobility with the Table of Ranks, a system closer to western models. In the three branches of state service (armed forces, civil service and Court) he listed fourteen categories for each, corresponding to different functions and offices.
The Tsar’s reforms extended to many different fields: law, police, military discipline, the navy, commerce, the sciences, the fine arts and education. He introduced a simplified new Russian alphabet. He devoted his whole mind and energy to his mission in life: to add to his empire and to hack a window open on Europe.
The city of St Petersburg was founded by Peter the Great in 1703 as a harbour for the Russian fleet. It was built as a fortress from which Russia could threaten the Swedes, and as spiritual centre of the new European Russia. The construction of St Petersburg was undertaken at a great speed. Forty thousand peasand were engaged in the building of Russia’s new capital. Many of them suffered of disease and malnutrition and met their end in the marshlands.
Peter the Great’s rule had been harsh and his reign was full of radical changes. He died in 1725 at the age of fifty-two. Long after his death, he remained a dominant figure in the minds of the people. Catherine the Great commissioned the most famous monument to him, the Bronze Horseman. The monument was designed by the French sculptor Falconet. It was unveiled in St Petersburg in 1782 with great pomp and ceremony.

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