Sample: Russia, 8th Ed.
Sampled below is the Preface and Chapter One from Russia: A Historical Introduction from Kievan Rus’ to the Present, Eighth Edition, by John M. Thompson and Christopher J. Ward.
This text is copyright © 2018 by WESTVIEW PRESS
Please be aware that this is not the final manuscript—some typos and grammatical errors may be present—but we hope that this advance look will help you determine whether the content and writing style will appeal to you and your students.
Table of Contents
The Geography of Russia and the Former Soviet Union
The Peoples of Russia and the Former Soviet Union
The Formation of Kievan Rus’
How Did the Peoples of Kievan Rus’ Make a Living?
The Societies of Kievan Rus’
Religion and Culture in Kievan Rus’
Power and Politics in Kievan Rus’
Chapter 2. Kievan Rus’ in Crisis and the Mongol Contact, 1054–1462
Kievan Rus’ and Its Rivals
The Arrival of the Mongols
The Impact of the Mongols
The Decline of Mongol Power
Chapter 3. The Rise of Moscow, 1328–1533
The Odds Against Moscow
Moscow’s Ascent, 1328–1533
Chapter 4. Ivan the Terrible and the Time of Troubles, 1533–1618
The Personality and Character of Ivan the Terrible
The Reforms of Ivan IV
Ivan Versus the Aristocracy
The Time of Troubles, 1598–1613
Chapter 5. The Molding of Imperial Russian Society, 1613–1689
The Orthodox Church
The Expansion of the Russian Imperial State
Relations with the West
Chapter 6. Peter the Great and the Conundrum of Westernization, 1689–1725
Peter’s Coming of Age
Peter’s Personality and Character
Peter in War and Diplomacy
Resistance to Peter
Chapter 7. Change and Continuity, 1725–1801
Peter’s Successors, 1725–1762
Catherine the Great, 1762–1796
Russian Imperial Expansion and Colonization
Economic and Social Development
The Changing Role of the Nobility
Education and Culture
The Reign of Paul I, 1796–1801
Chapter 8. Autocracy, Dissent, and Ferment, 1801–1855
The Serf Economy
The Dilemma of Reform
Creativity and Dissent
The Russian Empire: Arbiter of Europe, Colonizer of Asia and America
Chapter 9. Reform, Reaction, and Modernization, 1855–1904
The Era of the Great Reforms, 1855–1881
Terror and Reaction
Economic and Social Modernization, 1861–1905
Chapter 10. Revolution, Reform, and War, 1904–1917
The Revolution of 1905
The Duma Period, 1906–1914
The Silver Age: Russian Imperial Culture, 1890–1917
The Russian Empire in World War I, 1914–1917
Chapter 11. Revolution, Civil War, and the Founding of the Soviet State, 1917–1928
The February Revolution: The Collapse of Autocracy
The October Revolution: The Bolsheviks Come to Power
Civil War and Foreign Intervention, 1918–1921
The New Economic Policy and Coexistence, 1921–1928
The Struggle for Power
Chapter 12. The Stalin Revolution and World War II, 1928–1946
Stalinism: Industrialization and Collectivization
Stalinism: Societal Change and Repression
Soviet Culture, 1917–1953
The Soviet Union Before and During the Second World War, 1928–1946
Chapter 13. The Soviet Union During the Cold War: Superpower, Stability, and Stagnation, 1946–1984
After the War: Reconstruction and Repression
The Cold War
The Final Years of Stalinism
Khrushchev and De-Stalinization
Peaceful Coexistence and Troubles in Eastern Europe
The Sino-Soviet Split
Soviet Relations with the West
Khrushchev: Reformer or Repairman?
Stability and Stagnation: The Brezhnev Years
Détente and Renewed Cold War
Soviet Society in Flux
Chapter 14. Gorbachev and the Collapse of the Soviet Union, 1985–1991
The Origins of the Gorbachev Reforms
Perestroika and Economic Reforms
New Attitudes in Soviet Foreign Policy
Gorbachev’s Later Reforms and Faltering Control
The Attempted Coup of August 1991
Chapter 15. Russia in a Post-Soviet World, 1991–2000
Boris Yeltsin and the New Russian Federation
On the Road to Capitalism
Setbacks and Problems
Challenges of Life in Post-Soviet Russia
Changing Cultural Attitudes
Incomplete Democracy in the Yeltsin Era
Terrorism and War in the Caucasus
Post-Soviet Russian Foreign Policy
Chapter 16. The Putin Era: Russia in the Twenty-First Century
The Rise of Vladimir Putin
Economic Growth and Contraction
The Putin-Medvedev Administration
New Challenges in the Caucasus
Russian Foreign Policy in the Twenty-First Century
I would like to recognize a number of individuals and institutions for their assistance to me over the years and during my involvement with this project.
My first thanks go to Professor Martha Cooley of Guilford College, who was my undergraduate Russian history instructor and who encouraged me to pursue my studies at the graduate level.
Second, I wish to acknowledge my first graduate-level Russian history professor, the late David MacKenzie of the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. As the author of several important works on Russian and Balkan history as well in his mentorship of me, Dr. MacKenzie provided essential training and encouragement that has benefitted me throughout my career.
Of all the influences in my professional life, Professor Donald Raleigh of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill deserves my deepest appreciation. As my advisor at UNC, Dr. Raleigh played the leading role in the development of my scholarship and training as an educator. Since I met Don over twenty-five years ago, he has given me his unyielding support both as a graduate student and as a colleague. I am indebted to him for his tireless advocacy of me.
I am also grateful to Clayton State University, Koninklijke Brill, and the staff at Westview Press and Perseus Books, in particular Holly Birchfield and Katharine Moore, for their assistance.
In addition, I am profoundly honored that the late Professor Thompson agreed to allow me to serve as coauthor of this new edition of his textbook, which I have relied on many times in the past in my own teaching and with which I am now proud to be involved.
Finally, I am most thankful for the support and encouragement provided by my wife, Heidi, my son, Neil, and my parents, Jim and Carol, throughout my career.
My thanks to you all.
Christopher J. Ward
Atlanta, April 2017
After Putin’s brazen annexation of Crimea and his fomenting of anti-Ukraine separatism in eastern Ukraine, it became clear that a new edition of this short history was needed. Fortunately, Christopher J. Ward, an experienced and able colleague, agreed to undertake the bulk of the revision. He greatly improved earlier chapters, thoroughly updated the suggested readings, and wrote an excellent and objective last chapter on the Putin era. The first impetus for a revised edition came from Katharine Moore at Westview Press, and she has been a constant guide and valuable resource throughout. Once again I hope that this account of Russia’s past will provide students and general readers with a clear and balanced look at the struggles and triumphs of the Russian people, who have endured a great deal, contributed much to world culture, and surely deserve a secure and fruitful future.
JOHN M. THOMPSON
PREFACE TO THE FIRST EDITION
This book grew out of dissatisfaction my students and I experienced with longer, more detailed histories of Russia at the University of Hawaii in spring 1983, when I taught a survey course treating the entire history of Russia in one semester. Such a course, difficult under the best of circumstances, becomes almost impossible for both instructor and students when the latter must try to master in fourteen weeks the complex material of a six-hundred-page textbook designed for a two-semester course. In my view, there is no up-to-date, clear, short history of Russia that gives approximately equal attention to earlier Russian history and to the modern period since 1801. I hope this book will fill a need for teachers and students at the upper secondary and college levels.
At the same time, I have become aware of the interest in Russia and its past on the part of many individuals not enrolled in courses in Russian history, those in other fields or with a general curiosity about foreign cultures or international affairs. Friends of my children, acquaintances, audience members at public lectures I give, and others frequently ask me, “I would like to learn something about Russia and its history. Is there a good short book I can start with?” Unfortunately, I cannot recommend any single book as an introduction to the subject. Consequently, although I have written this volume primarily for students, I have also had in mind general readers, with the goal that this brief account might both provide them basic information and whet their appetites for further reading and study of Russian history.
To some extent, this book is also the outgrowth of my career as a student and teacher of Russian history for almost forty years. The story of the Russian people—their tribulations and courage, their tragedies and triumphs, and their remarkable contribution to world culture—remains just as fascinating to me today as when I first encountered it in 1946 in the undergraduate classroom of Professor E. Dwight Salmon of Amherst College. I hope that readers can glimpse the personalities, excitement, and drama of Russian history even in this introductory account.
A work of this circumscribed compass has obvious limitations. In this preface and throughout the book, I occasionally use the terms “Russia” or “Russian” to refer to the whole territory and collection of peoples in the tsarist empire or the Soviet Union. The reader needs to keep in mind that this terminology is for brevity and convenience, that, in fact, Russia is only part of a much larger state and Russians comprise barely half the population of the Soviet Union. Although the book tries to make clear that the tsarist empire was multinational from at least the 1600s and that non-Russians made important contributions to Russian and Soviet history, a longer volume would be needed to give adequate treatment to the non-Russian aspects of this story.
Similarly, I could deal only cursorily with a number of significant topics, such as religious history, and no subject could receive full and definitive treatment. Moreover, many questions in Russian history are still matters of lively historiographic debate. Although I have tried to note the most significant of these disputes, lack of space made it infeasible to present contending positions in detail or to take account of the Marxist views of Soviet historians as fully as is probably warranted.
The book is designed for the introductory survey course that treats Russian history from Kiev to the present in one semester. Since the chapters are short, averaging about twenty-five pages, the instructor can require corollary reading as well. The book can also be used in two-semester survey courses in which the instructor wants students to acquire a basic chronological structure and framework of information from a textbook but also seeks to expand their acquaintance with Russian history and culture by asking them to read primary sources, selected articles, contemporary documents, or fiction (poetry, short stories, novels, plays). To assist both students and general readers who wish to delve more deeply into a topic that interests them, a brief list of recommended readings in English follows each chapter. Maps and illustrations have been chosen to relate directly to the text.
This history is predominantly a straightforward narrative. It aims to give the reader a logically organized, lucid, unembellished account of the main events and developments in the history of Russia from its origins to today. No particular theory about the evolution of Russia is espoused; no special or novel interpretations are advanced. Within the limits of space, the chapters analyze why important events happened, and readers are challenged to think through their own answers to certain questions. Whenever a conclusion is put forward that is not widely accepted among Western scholars or that represents a new point of view, I have noted it as my own.
DATES AND NAMES
Beginning in 1700 and continuing until February 1918, dates in Russia were calculated according to the Julian calendar, or in the Old Style. In the eighteenth century, that calendar was eleven days behind the Gregorian calendar (New Style) used in the West; in the nineteenth century, it was twelve days behind; and in the twentieth century, thirteen days. Because students are familiar with Western dates, we have given all dates in the New Style, or according to the Gregorian calendar.
Since some Russian names are familiar to Western readers (e.g., Nicholas for the last tsar, Leo Tolstoy for the novelist), transliterating all names according to strictly followed rules would create confusion. We have tried to use common sense, seeking clarity while at the same time avoiding excessive anglicization.
I am indebted to my first graduate-level teachers of Russian history, Professors Philip E. Mosely and Geroid T. Robinson, for providing the enthusiasm and insights on which I began to build my own understanding of Russia and the Soviet Union. My students at the University of Hawaii and my colleagues there, Professors Don Raleigh and Rex Wade, empathized with my complaints about the difficulty of the course I was teaching and the lack of suitable text material for it, and all of them strongly encouraged me when I was seized by a determination to try to write the book I needed. My employer, the Universities Field Staff International, generously released me half-time between May and September 1984 so that I could begin this book. My first editor, Alex Holzman, reacted enthusiastically when I first suggested this volume and assisted me with heartening support in the initial stages of planning and writing it.
Invaluable help was furnished by Professor John T. Alexander of the University of Kansas, a distinguished scholar of seventeenth- and eighteenth-century Russia, who acted as my consultant and meticulous first reader. He not only caught many errors and awkward expressions but was willing to discuss with me points of befuddlement and interpretation. I am most grateful for his cheerful assistance. Needless to say, he is in no way responsible for whatever mistakes and infelicities remain.
This book was written at home, and I thank my wife warmly for her constant support and understanding.
J. M. T.
Introduction: Ancient Russia and Kievan Rus’
The Geography of Russia and the Former Soviet UnionMost Westerners find it difficult to comprehend the vast expanse of territory encompassed by Russia and the other fourteen states of the former Soviet Union, which existed as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) from 1917 to 1991. In order to comprehend the enormity of this space, we should be aware of a couple of impressive facts: that this gigantic region covers one-sixth of the land surface of the entire earth, across Eurasia from the Pacific Ocean in the east to the Baltic Sea (an arm of the Atlantic Ocean) in the west (see Map 1.1). But it requires a specific experience to make concrete the great sweep of the Russian and neighboring lands.
For John M. Thompson, the coauthor of this book, this realization came one evening in the 1960s, when he boarded a train to travel from Kiev, the capital of what was then the Soviet republic of Ukraine, to Moscow, the capital of the Soviet Union and now of Russia. Thompson found himself occupying a compartment with his fellow passengers and what seemed like a hundred suitcases, bundles, packages, and even a small trunk. A conversation between Thompson and one female passenger soon revealed that her husband was a colonel in the Soviet Air Force stationed in Vladivostok, a main port and base on the Pacific Ocean. She had been home visiting relatives in Ukraine and had stocked up on a few supplies to make her life on the distant frontier of the Soviet Far East a bit more comfortable. As he tried to wedge himself in among the boxes and bags, Thompson asked her how long a trip she would have. When she replied “eight nights and seven days,” his jaw dropped. Seeing his surprise, she admonished Professor Thompson: “Yes, it is a big country, much bigger than yours.” In fact, the former USSR was larger than the United States and Canada combined. Today, the contemporary Russian Federation is the largest nation in the world and occupies nearly 11 percent of the total land area of our planet.
For Christopher J. Ward, the other coauthor, who traveled along the Trans-Siberian Railway between Moscow and the Siberian city of Irkutsk in 2000 and again in 2010, the enormity of Russia was also striking as he passed from European Russia east into Siberia and the Russian Far East. While conducting research for his dissertation and later his first book, Ward witnessed firsthand the great expanses of the Russian countryside as well as the dynamism of Russia’s two largest cities, the “Northern Capital” and former imperial capital of St. Petersburg (known from 1924 to 1991 as Leningrad) and Moscow, which is one of the world’s largest cities with a population of over sixteen million people. While the Russian Federation experienced by Ward had changed greatly from the Soviet state visited by Thompson, the profound size and impact of the Russian and post-Soviet lands remained.
Six thousand miles and eleven time zones from east to west, three thousand miles from north to south, with the world’s longest coastline (much of it along the Arctic Ocean), the expanse of the Russian Empire, the former Soviet Union, and the fifteen post-Soviet states contains every sort of terrain: deserts, semitropical beaches and fruit groves, inland seas, sweeping semiarid plains, rugged mountains, treeless grasslands known as steppe, thick forests, long rivers, and the icebound tundra of the far north.
The size of Russia and the other states of the former Soviet Union creates special challenges for the people living there. How can such a huge territory be managed and its riches extracted and used efficiently? How can its inhabitants stay in touch with one another and develop a sense of common identity and purpose? How can power be exercised and the state administered over such vast distances? What should be the balance between control from the center and local decision making? Should new industry be developed where a majority of the people live but where there are few resources, or where there exist large quantities of raw materials but few inhabitants?
In addition, the great extent of the region’s landmass produced important strategic consequences over the centuries. Paradoxically, the area was both hard to conquer and hard to defend. The peoples living in the region at various times have coped with enemies on three, four, and occasionally even five fronts. Thus, the governments of the area have had to allocate much of their effort and resources to defending large territories. However, the opponents of Russia and neighboring lands often had trouble invading and occupying the region. Although the Mongols succeeded in conquering and ruling much of what is now Russia and the other post-Soviet states from the 1200s to the 1400s, the Poles, the Swedes, the Turks, the French under Napoleon, and the Germans twice in the twentieth century had less luck, turned back in part by the enormous distances to be traversed.
In assessing the influence of the region’s natural environment on its history, we find that its location is as important as its size. For example, if you lived in Washington, DC, and were suddenly transported by magic to a city in the former Soviet Union with a comparable latitude, where do you think you would end up? In Moscow? Kiev? Not at all. You would miss the area entirely because it lies within latitudes parallel to those of Canada and Alaska. St. Petersburg, for example, is just a bit farther north than Juneau, Alaska.
This northerly position on the earth’s surface causes recurring hardships for the citizens of Russia and many of the other post-Soviet states. In many areas, winters are long and cold, and the growing season for food is short. Also, much of the land is so far north that it cannot be farmed, and living there is difficult. Consequently, imperial Russia and the Soviet Union were never rich agriculturally, despite their huge size.
Although situated in the northern part of the great Eurasian landmass, the Russian Empire and the former Soviet Union stretched south, east, and west so that they touched most of continental Asia, the Middle East, and Europe (see Map 1.1). As a result, the region has always been a crossroads of cultures and ideas. Russia and many of the other post-Soviet states were affected by European, Asian, and Islamic civilizations and absorbed aspects of all of them. In turn, and increasingly in the past two centuries, the Russian Empire, the former Soviet Union, and today’s Russia and other post-Soviet states have influenced (and on occasion dominated) their neighbors.
In particular, Russia’s central location in Eurasia has contributed strongly to its mix of cultures and values today and to its important role in contemporary world affairs. Although linked to both Asia and the West, Russian and neighboring societies have evolved in distinct and complex ways. They need not be characterized as exotic, Asian, or merely offshoots of Western civilization. Their unique history has produced modern societies unlike any others. As such, the region must be understood on its own terms.
Partly because of its northerly location and partly because it is situated far from the major oceans, Russia has a forbidding climate in most regions: very hot and dry in the summer, bitterly cold in the winter, with a spring marked by deep mud that makes travel on unpaved roads almost impossible. Since most of the rain comes across Europe from the Atlantic Ocean, it peters out as it moves over the Russian agricultural plain from west to east. Some of the best soil receives insufficient rainfall, and almost all the farming in central Asia requires irrigation. As a result, less than 15 percent of Russia’s land is used for growing food, another feature that limits the country’s agricultural potential and strength.
In some ways, the Russian Empire and Soviet Union in particular were well protected, especially by the frozen expanse of the Arctic Ocean to the north and by some of the highest mountains in the world to the southeast (see Map 1.1). Yet along their borders in the east, the southwest, and the west, Russia and neighboring states had virtually no natural defenses and at different times suffered invasions from all these points of the compass.
Moreover, the heart of the Russian Empire and Soviet Union was one vast plain, broken only by the Ural Mountains, which are not very high and, in any case, do not reach all the way to the Caspian Sea. The impact of this plain on the area’s development was double-edged. Russia and adjacent lands often lay open to attack across this terrain, but the extent of the plain made it easy for the Russian state to expand and bring surrounding nationalities under its rule. One can easily visualize horsemen, traders, and modern armies moving back and forth across these flat expanses.
But Russians and other peoples who lived in the region traveled as much by water as by land. Although the Russian Empire was largely landlocked and had limited access to the sea—the Arctic shore opens primarily on ice, and the Baltic and Black Seas and the Sea of Japan in the far east lead to the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans only through narrow straits—much of Russia and neighboring lands possesses a widespread system of interconnecting rivers, “the roads that run,” as folk wisdom puts it. Until about one hundred and fifty years ago, when railroads, motor vehicles, and planes appeared, Russians and other peoples moved extensively by boat, up and down the rivers, which generally flow in a north-south or south-north direction, or on the tributaries that touch each other along an east-west axis. Thus, the earliest inhabitants, using river routes, traveled to and traded with Europeans and Vikings to the northwest, Byzantine Greek Christians to the southwest, and Asian merchants and artisans to the south. Later, the Russian Empire’s expansion across Siberia, led by fur trappers and traders, was carried out primarily by water. Even in modern times, river transport plays an important role in moving goods and people throughout the region (see Figure 1.1).
Modern Russia and the former Soviet Union possess rich natural resources, but much of this wealth, such as oil, natural gas, and other abundant minerals, was exploited only recently. For most of its history, the peoples of Russia and surrounding areas were quite poor, and they struggled to survive and improve their way of life while supporting, with limited resources, a government-organized defense against recurrent enemies. Unfortunately, carrying the burden of the state and the army often meant that people lived in harsh poverty. Since World War II, there has been progress in raising the quality of life, and the resources exist for citizens of the region to live more comfortably in the future.
THE PEOPLES OF RUSSIA AND THE FORMER SOVIET UNION
The most striking fact about the population of the states of the former Soviet Union is their great diversity: some 125 national groups, of which over 20 included more than one million people, inhabit the area. During the Soviet period, school textbooks were printed in over fifty languages, and today a wide variety of religions and cultures coexist within the borders of Russia and the other post-Soviet states. Jews generally spoke Russian and intermixed with the rest of the population throughout European Russia (the modern states of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus). The other large, non-Slavic nationalities spoke their own languages, lived in geographically separate regions, had their own republics within the federal state of the USSR, and formed independent states after 1991. In the twentieth century, non-Russian groups developed a sense of ethnic identity and growing nationalist aspirations, which created the pressures that contributed to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the birth of fifteen postSoviet states.[Figure 1.2 (not included in sample). A typical non-Russian citizen of the former Soviet Union: Kazakh visitor from Central Asia in Red Square in front of the Kremlin. (UN Photo / Marvin Bolotsky)]
Of the approximately 290 million people living in the fifteen states of the former Soviet Union today, the largest ethnic groups have the following characteristics:
Russians: 131 million
81 percent of the population in Russia
27 percent of the population in Latvia
25 percent of the population in Estonia
24 percent of the population in Kazakhstan
17 percent of the population in Ukraine
8 percent of the population in Belarus
Turkic and Tatar peoples: 89 million
Azerbaijanis: 32 million (92 percent of the population in Azerbaijan)
Bashkirs: 2 million
Kazakhs: 15 million (64 percent of the population in Kazakhstan)
Tatars: 8 million
Turkmens: 6 million (85 percent of the population in Turkmenistan)
Uzbeks: 26 million (81 percent of the population in Uzbekistan)
Ukrainians:2 45 million (78 percent of the population in Ukraine)
Belarusians:2 10 million (88 percent of the population in Belarus)
Caucasian peoples: 10 million
Armenians: 5 million (98 percent of the population in Armenia)
Georgians: 4 million (87 percent of the population in Georgia)
Baltic peoples: 6 million
Latvians: 1.3 million (62 percent of the population in Latvia)
Lithuanians: 2.6 million (87 percent of the population in Lithuania)
Finno-Ugric peoples: 1.1 million
Estonians: 910,000 (69 percent of the population in Estonia)
Jews: 1.7 million
As this short overview indicates, geographic and demographic factors influenced the development of society in Russia and the former Soviet Union. A word of caution is in order, however. History is made by individuals in a society interacting with each other and their neighbors. Thus, it would be a misleading oversimplification to conclude that primarily Russian institutions, such as a centralized authoritarian government, or traditional Russian values, such as
a concern for the group rather than the individual, resulted primarily from the harsh conditions of the region’s natural environment.
The Formation of Kievan Rus’
Kievan Rus’ emerged in the late 800s or early 900s. Briefly centered in the city of Novgorod in what is now northern Russia and then for several hundred years in the city Kiev on the Dnieper River in what is now the state of Ukraine, Kievan Rus’ was a loose confederation whose origin remains unclear. During the late 700s and 800s, traders and warriors known as Rus’ (the term from which the word “Russia” derives) participated in commercial activity in northern Russia and along the upper Volga River. Most likely, the Rus’ were Swedish Vikings, but they intermingled and interacted with local groups of Finns, Balts, Volga Bulgars, and Slavs. They sought silver and luxury goods from the east, for which they traded furs and even slaves. In 860, an expedition of Rus’ reached Constantinople, but regular contact with the Byzantine Greek civilization based in that city developed only later.[Figure 1.3 (not included in sample). Scythian jewelers crafted a dynamic gold stag. (Courtesy of Dr. Daniel Wood)]
The most detailed historical source, The Primary Chronicle, compiled by monks in the eleventh century, recounts that since there was no order among the Slavic tribes in the 800s, they invited a Varangian (a term for Swedish Viking) named Riurik and his two brothers to come and rule over them. But this chronicle was written several hundred years later, partly for the purpose of legitimizing Riurik’s alleged descendants’ claims to power, making the story suspect in itself. In addition, a growing body of archeological and other evidence suggests that the role of the Varangians in Russia was a good deal more complex than the picture The Primary Chronicle paints.
As long-distance traders, the Varangians were well acquainted with the trading routes from Scandinavia to the east and to the Byzantine capital at Constantinople that passed through today’s Russia and Ukraine, primarily down the Dnieper River and across the Black Sea. Thus, the Varangians, though occasionally plundering and conquering as they did in Western Europe a short time later, entered the region primarily as traders and mercenaries. It seems logical to assume that in these roles they worked closely with local Slavic leaders to increase order and security, to protect trade routes, and to encourage regular payment of tribute by rural peoples to the commercial and military leaders of the towns in the area. Thus, although in certain times and places Slavs and Varangians undoubtedly clashed, and on occasion the Varangians may even have attempted to assert political control over Slavic groups, the Varangians and local leaders probably cooperated much more often in pursuit of common objectives. The most sensible conclusion is that the Varangians worked with Slavic chieftains to create a loose confederation of local states known as Kievan Rus’.
This first civilization is important to an understanding of Russian civilization for several reasons. In Kievan Rus’, the fundamental characteristics of Russian culture and religion took root. Kievan Rus’ also introduced basic and lasting political ideas and social institutions. Finally, it created the tradition of the region as a force in international affairs and as a linkage point between Europe and Asia.
How Did the Peoples of Kievan Rus’ Make a Living?
Kievan Rus’ lasted from the late 800s to the early 1200s. At its largest, the Kievan confederation was long and skinny. In the eleventh century, it stretched for thousands of miles from the Baltic Sea in the north to the Black Sea in the south, including a band of territory of varying width both east and west of its main axis on the Dnieper River (see Map 1.2). Educated guesses put its maximum population at about seven or eight million, of whom fewer than a million lived in towns and cities. The largest cities, like Kiev, probably contained tens of thousands of people, but in most of the over two hundred fortified centers that have been identified, the population was undoubtedly less than five thousand.
Over 85 percent of the people lived on the land as farmers, hunters and trappers, beekeepers, and herdsmen. Most of the farming was small in scale and used primitive implements, such as wooden plows and harrows, though some iron plows existed. Most of what people produced, they ate. But some of the output was delivered or seized as tribute or taxes to political and military leaders, first representing clans or tribes and later based in towns within Kievan Rus’. Besides crops used to feed soldiers and townspeople, the goods included furs, honey, hides, and wax, all of which could then be traded to outsiders, primarily the Byzantine Empire. Since there were frequent military campaigns to collect tribute and recurring wars with outsiders, captives were taken and often sold or traded as slaves, a convenient commodity since they could walk to market.
Because individual farmers, or even farming families, of the sort that existed later could not muster sufficient labor power to grow crops in the difficult conditions and with the poor methods of that era, most rural people in Kievan Rus’ banded together in communes. A farming commune, known in Russian as obshchina (pronounced “ohbshcheena”), usually consisted of several extended families, although some apparently included individuals who were not near relatives. Members of both the collective farm and the obshchina pooled labor and tools to accomplish heavy agricultural tasks. They shared not only the work but the products of their labor. Throughout much of the area’s history, these institutions, dominated by patriarchal elders, embodied joint responsibility for taxes and military recruits. They also fostered attitudes of egalitarianism and collectivism that influenced society.
Feudalism has sparked historiographic controversy about Kievan Rus’, so it is useful to note several aspects of Kievan Rus’ society related to feudalism that had an impact on later history. In the first place, the system of tribute (and later taxes) led to continuing obligations on the part of peasant farmers to various sorts of social, religious, and political overlords. Although in the Kievan Rus’ period these obligations were neither usually in the form of labor nor tied to land ownership (obshchinas generally possessed their own land), they later took the form of service to a particular lord in return for certain use rights to land. Thus, in Kievan Rus’ a pattern of obligation developed that in later centuries and under different economic and political conditions would help turn essentially free peasants into serfs.
Second, Kievan Rus’ incorporated concepts of service that resembled some aspects of the relationship between lord and vassal in Western Europe. In particular, fighting men in Kiev, who came to be known as boyars, served particular princes, although the terms and duties of such service are rather unclear. This service concept later reappeared as a major principle at the time of the development of the Muscovite state, commonly known as Muscovy.
Finally, a key ingredient of European feudalism was largely lacking in Kievan society: the idea of mutuality. In the European relationship between lord and vassal, the lord had definite responsibilities to his subordinate vassals; in return, the vassals had obligations to the lord. Some writers have argued that this sense of a contract, of a mutual responsibility, is a crucial element in the development of representative government and civil rights in Western civilization. Whether they are right or not, the principle of mutual obligation hardly existed in Kievan Rus’, and this may have contributed later to the ease with which the tsars of the Russian Empire asserted unlimited authority over all the people, lords and peasants alike.
Historians have also argued whether agriculture or trade predominated in the Kievan Rus’ economy. The most likely answer is that, although most of the people farmed, producing agricultural and forest goods, trade and commercial activity also played an important role, especially in the life of the towns. Their location favored the peoples of Kievan Rus’ in this regard. Situated between northern Europe and Constantinople and midway between central Europe and Asia, they could carry on a lively commerce in several directions.
There were, of course, risks. Small nomadic groups, such as the Cumans and Pechenegs, often attacked trading parties, particularly at rapids, where boats and goods had to be portaged. Terms of trade with the Byzantine Empire were not always favorable, and Kievan Rus’ sent several military expeditions against Constantinople to compel the opening of better trading opportunities and contracts. Thus, military activity, including the collection of tribute, and trade went hand in hand. As a result, warriors and merchants (often the same persons) ranked high on the Kievan Rus’ social scale.
The importance of trade to Kievan Rus’ society was not only due to its economic benefits. Because the Kievan Rus’ traded with neighbors on all sides, in Constantinople and in Asia, they were exposed to a wide range of ideas, technologies, and cultural influences. Kievan Rus’ was not a “closed” society in any way but interacted effectively with Christian Europe, with the Hellenic empire of Byzantium, and with the Islamic civilization of the Arabs.
The Societies of Kievan Rus’
No evidence exists to tell us when class differentiation began in Kievan Rus’, but by the time of the first law codes, compiled in the eleventh and twelfth centuries, the lines were sharply drawn. Depending on how one defines a distinct class, there were as many as eleven classes stipulated by Kievan Rus’ law. But these can be allocated among seven main categories: princes, boyars (nobles), merchants, artisans, smerdy (peasants), semifree persons, and slaves. At the top of the ladder were the princely families. Allegedly descendants of Riurik and his brothers, they exercised military, judicial, and administrative power over most Kievan Rus’ towns and territories. Relations among the princes were complicated, and their struggles for political preeminence led to civil war and greatly weakened the Kievan Rus’ confederation.
At first, each prince had his own band of military servitors, of whom many in the beginning were probably Vikings. But soon they merged with already existing groups of Slavic warriors, and by the 1000s, a Slavicized upper class of lords, the boyars, had formed. Their numbers were always small, but their role was crucial since they carried out military service on behalf of prince, town, and state and also assumed administrative and governing responsibilities. Some of them certainly engaged in commerce as well.
In this role, they blended with a separate merchant class, the origins of which undoubtedly predate the formation of Kievan Rus’. The merchants, though of lower rank than that of the princely families and boyars, had considerable influence because of their importance to the economy of Kievan Rus’ and because, in some towns, they also exercised political power. The merchants were among the chief consumers of the goods they imported from Asia and Byzantium: silks, spices, wines, fruits, metals, and jewelry.
Most people in towns fell into a broad group of artisans and workers. Their equivalent in the countryside, the peasants, bore the colorful designation smerdy (“the stinkers”). Some were dependent on princes or boyars, but apparently most were free. Through debt or other circumstances, both artisans and peasants could fall into the semifree class comprising people who were bound to another through some sort of obligation.
At the bottom of the social ladder were slaves. How important they were to the Kievan Rus’ economy is not clear. Some may have been semifree individuals who fell into complete bondage, but a majority were apparently captured in war, and many were therefore not Slavic. In the earlier years of Kievan Rus’ rule, slaves formed an important trade commodity.
Religion and Culture in Kievan Rus’
The single most important event in the history of Kievan Rus’ was its official adoption of Christianity in 988. Although pagan beliefs and practices as well as earlier cultural attributes of Kievan Rus’ society persisted long afterward, the acceptance of Christian religion fundamentally altered Russian civilization. Adopting Christianity affected not just religious beliefs and practices but also law, education, literature, the arts, attitudes and feelings, and even the political system.
An extremely significant aspect of Kievan Rus’ conversion was that Christianity came to the area from the Byzantine Empire, which practiced what is today called Eastern, or Orthodox, Christianity. When the Kievan Rus’ were converted, the Christian church was still united, although there were already considerable differences between its western wing based in Rome and its eastern wing centered in Constantinople. A short time later, in 1054, these divisions became irreconcilable, and the church split in two, forming the Latin (Roman Catholic) Church, which dominated in Western Europe, and the Greek (Eastern Orthodox) Church, which was prevalent in the Balkans, the Middle East, and the Eastern Slavic lands, including much of contemporary Belarus, Russia, and Ukraine.
This separation had three important consequences. First, the development of Christianity took quite a different form in the Eastern Slavic lands from that in Western Europe. Second, as the hostility between the two main branches of Christianity heightened, Kievan Rus’ was put at odds with its nearest neighbors to the west: Poles, Lithuanians, and later German settlers along the shores of the Baltic Sea, all of whom were Roman Catholic. Finally, the region’s intellectual and cultural contacts with Western European societies were curtailed for five or six hundred years, almost into modern times, when religious differences became much less important. It is true that the Mongol conquest of the area in the 1200s also acted to sever its ties with central and Western Europe, but religious difference was a formidable barrier and a source of suspicion and hostility.
In the year 955, the first woman ruler of Kievan Rus’, Olga (one of the few women who appears in the sources from this period), chose Christianity for herself, but another three decades elapsed before Vladimir, one of Kievan Rus’ ablest princes, decided to adopt Christianity as the official religion for the whole state and all its subjects. To make sure everyone got the message, he had the pagan idols smashed and arranged a mass baptism in the Dnieper River for all the inhabitants of the city of Kiev, at least according to The Primary Chronicle.
We do not know Vladimir’s reasons for choosing Eastern Christianity, but can surmise fairly safely that the close commercial and political ties that Kievan Rus’ had developed with Constantinople over the preceding hundred years were an important factor. Vladimir, who was later made a saint in recognition of his decision, was likely influenced by the fact that two Christian monks, Saints Cyril and Methodius, had developed a written language that, though based on Greek, transcribed the spoken Slavic language quite well. This new literary language meant that people did not need to learn Greek or Latin to become Christians, and the average person could understand the Mass and other church services. Today, Belarusian, Russian, Ukrainian, and other languages are written in the Cyrillic alphabet, named in honor of Saint Cyril.
Finally, geographic and political factors undoubtedly weighed heavily in Vladimir’s choice. If he selected Judaism, its nearest adherents, the Khazars, were some distance away to the southeast, and their power was already in decline. If he chose Islam, the Arabs were even farther away, and he would be drawn into wars against their continuing enemy, the Byzantine Empire. Latin Christianity had spread only recently to northern Europe and must have seemed quite insignificant to Vladimir in comparison to the nearby might and magnificence of Orthodox Christianity, with its seat at Constantinople.
The Christianity Vladimir adopted had several important characteristics that were reinforced by local conditions and later differentiated it sharply from Western Christianity, particularly after the Latin Church split in the 1500s into Protestant and Catholic branches. One was the almost mystical concern in Orthodox Christianity with the collective spirit of the whole congregation. In the religious service itself and in the spiritual outlook of the faithful, the focus is on the group of believers rather than on individual souls and their salvation. This attitude, called sobornost’, meaning “spirit of the congregation,” fit well with the collective sense of the community that had already been developed among the Eastern Slavs through the peasant institution of the obshchina.
Orthodox Christianity also strongly emphasized outward forms of religion: the church buildings and decorations, the icons (paintings on wood of holy figures and saints), and the structure and ritual of the Mass itself. To stress these visible signs of devotion made it easier to wean the Eastern Slavs away from pagan idols and customs and to convert an illiterate population; together with the concept of sobornost’, however, it encouraged a rather routine and passive practice of the new religion rather than engaging individuals directly in the process and stimulating personal commitments of faith and belief. Later, in Western Christianity, particularly after the Protestant Reformation, individualism in religion (and later in other matters) gained ground, while collectivism continued to predominate in Russian Orthodox Christianity.
Finally, Byzantine Christianity was quite otherworldly, stressing asceticism, the importance of a communal monastic life, and the rewards of the hereafter. Again, this tendency was strengthened in its transplantation to Kievan Rus’, and later it worked against the Orthodox Church’s taking an active role in everyday life as a force for social betterment.
For a long time, Christianity was only thinly superimposed on the basic animistic beliefs and customs of the Slavic population of Kievan Rus’. Many old pagan rites and practices were continued or even adapted to the new religion. As a result, some historians say, many peoples of Kievan Rus’ never fully understood the new faith and accepted it only superficially. Only the educated few in the upper classes of society were fully committed to Christianity.
At the same time, there is no doubt that the introduction of Christianity raised the general level of culture, learning, and artistic expression in Kievan Rus’. Well-educated monks and priests entered the area, monasteries were established, churches were built, and artisans were trained. By the middle of the eleventh century, Kievan Rus’ civilization, though modeled on Byzantine achievements in most fields, had reached a height of cultural and artistic splendor that was not to be equaled in the area again until some five hundred years later.
The introduction of a written language, Old Church Slavonic, meant that books were produced and circulated. To be sure, only a tiny fraction of the population was literate, but this upper crust was quite sophisticated, aware of intellectual currents and developments in both Byzantium and Europe. In addition, Constantinople masters taught Kievan Rus’ the art of painting icons and introduced them to church music. A magnificent cathedral in Byzantine style, Saint Sophia, named after the main church in Constantinople (also known as Hagia Sophia), was built in Kiev and decorated by local craftsmen. Kievan Rus’ artisans, who had developed great skill in working with indigenous materials, particularly wood, modified Byzantine forms into a distinctive and charming style. Unfortunately, because almost all the buildings they erected were made of wood and were subsequently destroyed in the frequent fires that plagued Kievan Rus’ towns, we have only a few descriptions or examples of these striking architectural achievements.
Education, scholarship, art, architecture, and music were all predominantly religious in motivation and theme. Naturally, all these aspects of cultural life followed Byzantine precepts and models. But Kievan Rus’ artists soon introduced local subjects and techniques, and before long, they had surpassed their Byzantine masters in icon painting, creating some of the most moving and beautiful religious paintings in the world.
Nonreligious, primarily folk art also developed, particularly in songs and stories. The first secular piece of literature, The Tale of the Host of Igor, is a stirring pagan saga of the adventures of a Kievan Rus’ prince and his followers in fighting an array of enemies to defend their homeland. In the words of the tale:
Igor leads his warriors to the Don.
The birds in oak trees portend his misfortunes
The wolves howl of the menace in the ravines
The eagles with their clatter summon beasts to a bony feast
The foxes yelp at the crimson shield.
O Russian land! You are so far behind the mountains. . . .
With their shields the Russians have divided the great field
Seeking honor for themselves and glory for their prince.
Considered as a whole, Kievan Rus’ culture and civilization in the 1000s and 1100s was probably at a higher level than Western European civilization at the same time. Moreover, the upper classes in Kievan Rus’ society interacted with the elite of central and Western Europe. In addition to the contacts between and travels of Kievan Rus’ and European merchants, the princely families in Kievan Rus’ intermarried with noble and royal families in the German states and Scandinavia.
Power and Politics in Kievan Rus’
The impact of Byzantine civilization was felt not only in religion and culture, but also in thought, values, and attitudes. These influences were made tangible in the Kievan Rus’ law codes of the eleventh and twelfth centuries and the political order. Yet in politics, Byzantine ideas could never quite overcome more traditional concepts and institutions; they had their greatest impact later during the Muscovite period.
For example, the Byzantine state was a clearly defined geographic area over which the emperor and his administration exercised control. But the concept of state and sovereignty in the Kievan Rus’ system was much less clear. Authority derived originally from the person of the prince, and his jurisdiction ran along trade routes, over scattered areas that paid him tribute, and in certain fortified centers rather than over a specific contiguous territory.
Moreover, although eventually it was recognized that the prince at Kiev was the senior prince and therefore head of the confederation, princes in other towns had rights of their own. They also felt free to contest for leadership with the Kievan prince. Certain towns, particularly the important northern trading and administrative center of Novgorod, also had autonomous rights. The princes at Kiev possessed little centralized authority or direct administrative and political control, but rather led a fluid confederation of towns and tribes.
In the middle of the Kievan Rus’ period, Iaroslav (1019–1054), one of the ablest princes, tried to set up a system of rotating rulership under which younger brothers to the prince of Kiev held power in towns designated according to their seniority. When the ruler at Kiev died, everyone moved up one notch. This system was designed to avert the bitter and bloody struggles for succession that had plagued the politics of Kievan Rus’ over the preceding hundred years. But such a complicated system, requiring great self-restraint by all the players, soon broke down in practice, and the succession to the princedom at Kiev continued to be settled on most occasions by force and strife.
This meant that Kievan Rus’ princes had to spend a good part of their reigns fighting off rival claimants to the throne. In addition, princes had to defend the confederation from external enemies on all sides and, particularly, to protect the trade routes to Byzantium from nomadic attacks originating in the southeast. A further major military obligation was to keep sufficient pressure on the Byzantine emperors so that they would grant political concessions and favorable commercial privileges to the prince, his warriors, and his merchants. As if all this were not enough, the prince was frequently called upon to wage military campaigns against recalcitrant subjects or neighboring tribes who refused to pay taxes or deliver tribute.
It is little wonder that a good part of a prince’s life was spent in warfare. One of the most successful military leaders of Kievan Rus’, Sviatoslav, who ruled from 962 to 972, is described in The Primary Chronicle as follows:
Stepping light as a leopard, he undertook many campaigns. Upon his expeditions he carried with him neither wagons nor kettles, and boiled no meat, but cut off small strips of horseflesh, game, or beef, and ate it after roasting it on the coals. Nor did he have a tent, but he spread out a horse blanket under him, and set his saddle under his head; and all his retinue did likewise.
When the princes were at home, they faced other obstacles to their rule. Two political-administrative institutions existed in Kievan Rus’ to represent the interests of the upper classes: the boyar duma and the veche. The duma was a body of the highest-ranking nobles who in theory advised the prince, though it remains unclear how much power it had or how regularly princes consulted it. Before major military campaigns and during succession struggles over title to the head principality at Kiev, it behooved the prince to garner as much support from the boyars as possible, and he probably used the duma for that purpose.
The veche, a town council dominated by merchants, had considerable influence, particularly in towns in the north, where it had a stronger and longer tradition. In a few places, such as Novgorod, the veche on occasion exercised full political authority and administered the town and surrounding territory. But in other towns, it had only a minor advisory role.
As with any series of rulers, the princes of Kievan Rus’ varied greatly in ability, persistence, and success. The first few were Vikings, though they were quite Slavicized; all the rest for over two hundred years were ethnic Slavs. Although the legendary credit goes to Riurik, Prince Oleg was the actual founder of Kievan Rus’. A Varangian from Novgorod, he saw the advantages of linking as many towns as possible along the main trade route from the Baltic to the Black Seas, and he united Novgorod and Kiev by force. Moving his base to Kiev around 880, he established the primacy of that city, “the mother of Rus’ towns,” which lasted until 1132. In 907, Oleg attacked Constantinople. As a result of his victories, he was able to negotiate an effective commercial treaty with Byzantium in 911. Oleg also merged his Viking and Slavic warriors into a single upper class and established greater control over the Slavic tribes along both sides of the Dnieper River.
Almost a hundred years after Oleg had established and begun to consolidate the state, Vladimir, who ruled from 980 to 1015, made remarkable strides in extending its authority east, south, and west and in raising the Kievan Rus’ level of culture and sophistication, in part by adopting Christianity as the official religion.
Yet Vladimir’s sons fought over the succession, and civil war weakened the confederation for two decades. Strong leadership was restored under Iaroslav the Wise, who reigned from 1036 to 1054. He extended Kievan authority over new areas and was able to put an end for some time to the constant, harassing attacks of the Pechenegs in the east. He also supervised the compilation of the first law code and encouraged the building of Saint Sophia and other important churches. Within a few decades of his death, however, inter-princely fighting had again become widespread, and except for a brief resurgence in the first quarter of the twelfth century, Kievan Rus’ power and cohesion declined steadily over the next hundred and fifty years.
Various reasons have been advanced for the Kievan Rus’ decline. As is so often true in explaining major events in history, not one cause but many produced the collapse of the Kievan confederation. Perhaps the most important was its political weakness. Neither effectively centralized nor cohesive, by the late 1100s, under weaker princes, Kievan Rus’ increasingly disintegrated into rival princedoms and towns that spent more time fighting each other than their common external enemies. No institutionalized central government existed, and the struggle to become grand prince became increasingly divisive. For example, between 1139 and 1169, the throne changed hands seventeen times. The loose confederation gradually fractured into its component parts.
A second major factor in the Kievan Rus’ decline was its loss of economic strength. The goods it traded became less valuable, and at about the same time, Europeans established new trade routes to the Near East and Asia, while the position of the Byzantine Empire weakened. As a result, the trade routes across the region became less important, and the Kievan Rus’ economy declined.
However important political, economic, and commercial causes were to the Kievan Rus’ demise, in the end, external factors played the decisive role. Throughout its history, Kievan Rus’ had struggled, with limited resources, against foreign foes, particularly various nomads from Asia who constantly attacked the state from the southeast. In the 1100s, this effort increasingly became a losing fight, and Kievan Rus’ was weakened by recurring battles against the Cumans. These latest nomadic invaders succeeded on various occasions in cutting the trade route to the Black Sea and caused much damage as well as loss of life. In 1169, Andrei Bogoliubskii, prince of Vladimir-Suzdal, an area in the northeast, sacked Kiev and then chose to reign as grand prince at Vladimir instead of Kiev. In the thirteenth century, the Mongols arrived to administer the coup de grâce to the remnants of Kievan Rus’.
Although Kievan Rus’ was overrun and conquered, the civilization it created was not. Kievan Rus’ left a powerful legacy on which much of the subsequent Russian and Ukrainian civilizations were built. Kievan Rus’ had succeeded in drawing together and blending four elements: the ancient indigenous population, the imprint of successive steppe empires, the influence of the Varangians and Vikings, and the powerful impact of Byzantium.
The most significant gift Kievan Rus’ bestowed on subsequent generations was Orthodox Christianity. The Orthodox Church and faith played quite a different role in the region than Christianity did in Western history, but its importance in the development of society cannot be denied. After the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917, the Soviet government attempted to eliminate religion, but it failed. More than fifty million Christians were practicing their faith in 1991 when the Soviet Union collapsed. Today, the Orthodox Church plays a major political, social, and religious role in Belarus, Russia, and much of Ukraine.
With Orthodox Christianity came Byzantine culture, learning, and law. Consequently, Kievan Rus’ produced from the very beginning a compound of indigenous Slavic values and forms and Byzantine borrowings. The result was quite distinct from Western European civilization. A foundation had been laid, but it was only a beginning. Much more, and much of it traumatic, was to happen to the successors of Kievan Rus’ as they struggled to build a unique civilization and future.
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 In addition to Russia, the other post-Soviet states are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Estonia, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.
 Slavic peoples. The term “Slavic” is linguistic and refers to a group of people, Slavs, who speak one or more related languages. The word “Slav” probably comes from the term slovo, meaning “word,” suggesting that the Slavs at one time spoke a common language. Today, more than twenty Slavic languages are spoken in the Balkans, Central and Eastern Europe, and many of the post-Soviet states. By about the year 600, references by Gothic, Byzantine, and Arab authors make it clear that Slavic tribes formed a considerable part of the population north of the Black Sea. Putting the written and archeological evidence together, we know that these early Slavs had well-developed agriculture, raised cattle and bees, fished and hunted, and knew how to weave and make pottery.
 Basil Dmytryshyn, Medieval Russia: A Source Book, 850–1700, 3rd ed. (Fort Worth, TX: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1991), 74.
 Samuel H. Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzer, trans. and eds., The Russian Primary Chronicle (Cambridge, MA: Medieval Academy of America, 2012), 84.