The Early Russian State


The Invitation of the Varangians by Viktor Vasnetsov: Rurik and his brothers Sineus and Truvor arrive in the lands of Ilmen Slavs.


(Ancient Chernigow, reconstruction)
Mstislav had many allies at steppes, at Caucasus and at Byzantium (he helped the Empire at Crimea and at Rus’). His troops ravaged Derbent.
The Russian metropolitan lived in Chernigow. Theopempt, the metropolitan from 1035, bring to Mstislav not only the wife, but also the crown from the Empire and the title of “king”. Also, near 1036 Theopempt founded bishoprics in main cities of the kingdom: Pereyslavl, Smolensk, Murom and, probably, Kursk (Tmutarakan, probably, had a bishop already).
The great church of Sophia was built at Chernigow.

The early Russian state emerged between A.D. 750 and 1000, the result of a complex development process. Among the most important factors in this process were the growth of an economy based on craft production and long-distance trade and the rise of urban centers to facilitate the specialized economy and the administration of the nascent state. These factors, in turn, were related closely to connections and interrelationships among peoples living in Russia, the Baltic Sea area, and the east during the eighth through tenth centuries.

Primary historical evidence regarding the origin of the Russian state is scarce, consisting mainly of a single record, the Russian Primary Chronicle. It is thought that the chronicle was compiled in the Monastery of the Caves near Kiev in about A.D. 1110. According to the chronicle account, in the early ninth century northern Russia was divided politically into diverse tribal principalities, all of which owed tribute to the Varangians (Scandinavians). In 859 these principalities rose together against the Varangians and drove them out of Russia. Without a central power, the Russian peoples began to fight among themselves and eventually resolved to invite the Varangians to return and rule over them. Three Varangian brothers accepted the invitation. They moved to northern Russia with their kin and founded cities from which to rule the area. The oldest brother was Rurik, who located himself in Novgorod or Staraya Ladoga (depending on the particular codex consulted). The two younger brothers also each established a city but died within a few years, leaving Rurik the sole authority over northern Russia. In later years Rurik’s successors expanded and consolidated Russian rule. In 882 Oleg, a descendant of Rurik, established himself in Kiev and declared that city the capital of Russia, which it remained until the eleventh century.

Although the Russian Primary Chronicle account has a legendary feel to it, clearly serving to legitimize the rule of the Kievan dynasty over early Russia, it does provides insight into how the early state was formed. The document identifies several key factors in the formation of the early Russian state: early towns, the diversity of peoples who inhabited them, and their economic interrelationships. Archaeological research on the formation of the early Russian state has investigated these key factors, providing a great deal of information about the development of early towns as economic and administrative centers and about the role of the Varangians and other early peoples in the area. Most archaeologists currently believe that the establishment of the early Russian state was a process, not an event, as the Russian Primary Chronicle presents it. The process of state formation, as revealed in the archaeological record, included the growth of a specialized economy, urbanization, and increasing social stratification. State development took place between A.D. 750 and 1000 in two primary phases. In the first phase, between about A.D. 750 and 900, appeared such early towns as Staraya Ladoga and Rurik Gorodishche, whose primary function was to facilitate a long-distance economy. The focus of these early towns was on trade and craft production. They had a multiethnic population, which only in later years was controlled by a central administration. In the second phase, from about A.D. 900 to 1000, rose such towns as Novgorod and Kiev, whose primary function was administration. These later towns showed evidence of urban planning, the presence of a ruling elite and a military, and a continuing interest in craft production and trade.

A.D. 750–900

The peoples who settled in northwest Russia before the period of state formation belonged to Baltic and Finno-Ugric ethnic groups. During the eighth century, Slavic peoples were expanding north and settling along the southern coast of the Baltic Sea, while at the same time Scandinavians were moving south into that area. Organized into small tribal principalities, these peoples coexisted in northern Russia. They lived in small villages scattered across the landscape. Their economy was primarily agrarian, with local exchange.

Between A.D. 750 and 900 the characteristic settlement pattern and economy of northern Russia changed rapidly. A number of towns appeared, including Staraya Ladoga, Rurik Gorodishche, and Gnezdovo. These early towns were located at strategic points for facilitating and controlling the growing trade across the Baltic and through Russia to the Far East. The first towns in northern Russia were different from earlier settlements in two significant ways: their population was more concentrated, and they had a specialized economy focused on craft production rather than agriculture and on long-distance rather than local trade. They also were notable for having a multiethnic population, with individuals from several cultures living side by side and engaging in the same economic activities.

A.D. 900–1000

By A.D. 900, many towns existed in Russia, including Staraya Ladoga and Rurik Gorodishche. These early towns encouraged the development of a novel specialized economy based on crafts and trade, fostered the interaction of numerous ethnic groups, and depended upon a limited amount of urban administration. Between A.D. 900 and 1000, a new kind of town arose in Russia, which was associated closely with the development of an elite class and a central government. As ethnic differences became less pronounced in urban populations, social stratification became more prominent. Tenth-century towns, such as Novgorod, increasingly served as administrative and economic centers for their territories, encouraging interdependence among the urban and rural settlements. The rise of Kiev in the late tenth century unified Russian towns and their territories under one central administration and further increased the social, political, and settlement hierarchy of early Russia. By A.D. 1000 Kiev effectively served as capital of the early Russian state.


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