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Abolition of Serfdom
April 3, 2006 14:25


By the middle of the 11th century, the role of Kiev as a strong state center started to decline. Before his death, Yaroslav the Wise (1019-1054) divided the state among his 5 sons and a nephew, which inevitably led to conflicts. The situation became even more complicated because of the Pechenegs and Polovtsys - nomadic tribes that constantly raided into territories of Rus in X-XII centuries. Besides, there were also local princes who wanted to have absolute power over their lands. Internecine strife and feudal wars started. The ancient state of Rus finally disintegrated into separate independent feudal states. The attempts to oppose the feudal disintegration were undertaken by Vladimir Monomakh of Kiev (1113-1125) and his son Mstislav (1125-1132) but they all failed. For a long time Novgorod struggled for its independence and succeeded in 1136-1137 finally becoming an independent Novgorod republic. Now the supreme authority there belonged to the veche (assembly). For the first time in the Russian history citizens of Novgorod implemented a principle of free election of a ruler. Sometimes, historians compare its political system to that of Venice. Anyway, the situation was unique, since Novgorod represented a republic inside the medieval Russian state.

The Mongol Invasion and the Yoke

The XIII century opened the era of the long-lasted Mongol invasion. Russian princes were entangled in intrigues, and individual ambitions did not let them unite even in fight against the mutual enemy. In 1240 Kiev was conquered and the Tatar-Mongol yoke was enforced that lasted till 1480. The Mongols destroyed main cities, burnt everything on their way, and drove away people. Simultaneously, Russia had to repulse the attacks from the west undertaken by Germans, Swedes and Danes. During 240 years arts, crafts and economy progressed very slowly because all the money was paid as a tribute to the Mongols. The invasion seriously influenced the genotype of Russian people. Since that time a big part of Russians had eyes of dark brown color instead of traditional grey, blue and green.

It was during these two centuries, when the role of Moscow began to grow and Russian lands united around this new center of Russia. Being located on the crossroads of overland routs and waterways, the city enjoyed a very favorable geographical position. Grand Prince of Moscow, Dmitry, defeated the Tatars-Mongolians on the Kulikovo field in 1380. This victory filled Russian people with enthusiasm and hope that a decisive victory was only a question of time. However, it was not before 1480 that Russia became strong enough to refuse the tribute to the invaders. The Mongols were finally defeated by the Russians under the leadership of Ivan III (Ivan the Great), prince of Moscow.

Ivan the Terrible

The 16th century was marked by the autocratic rule of Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible, 1547-1584). He was crowned as a "Tsar of all Russia" and after him until the Great October Revolution all the Russian rulers were called Tsars or Emperors. All his life Ivan IV struggled to limit the power of boyars and to destroy the opposition to autocracy. This led towards bloody terror campaigns against nobility, which accounts for the "Terrible" byname of Ivan IV. In his soul unheard cruelty coexisted with fanatical faith in God and asceticism. He was apparently obsessed by mania of pursuit. Periods of rage were followed by periods of belated sincere repentance. Later in 1581 he killed his son and potential successor Ivan with his own hands in a paroxysm of rage.

Whatever the personality of Ivan the Terrible was, he managed to strengthen the state and his external policy was quite successful. During his reign the Russians conquered Kazan, Astrakhan, captured Bashkiria, Middle and Lower Volga region and started colonization of West Siberia. Ivan IV left no strong successor to the thrown. His son, Fyodor I (1584-1598), was a feeble-minded person and had no inclination for ruling the country. His brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, managed the state instead of him. Fyodors brother Dmitri was murdered in 1591 presumably by order of Boris Godunov. After Fyodor died in 1598 leaving no children, Boris Godunov (1598-1605) became the tsar and so the rule of the Rurik dynasty after 736 years was over. After Godunovs death, the "Time of Troubles" started in Russia. The period was characterized by anarchy, chaos and the Polish-Swedish invasion, when two False Dmitries, each pretending to be a miraculously survived son of Ivan IV, came in turn to rule the country.


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