The Kievan Rus' began as a group of Scandinavian merchants who traveled south to Byzantine through Russian territory. Trade flourished, and luxury items from Constantinople (and the East thanks to the Silk Roads) were exchanged for northern goods like furs. In order to make trade easier, the Scandinavian traders set...
The Kievan Rus' began as a group of Scandinavian merchants who traveled south to Byzantine through Russian territory. Trade flourished, and luxury items from Constantinople (and the East thanks to the Silk Roads) were exchanged for northern goods like furs. In order to make trade easier, the Scandinavian traders set up communities on their trade routes, the biggest in Kiev. A monarchy formed in Kiev, and the Kievan Rus came into being. This is also when "Russia" was coined as a term for this region.
As trade was the foundational basis for the Kievan Rus', it also allowed the Kievan Rus' to thrive. Contact and trade between Kiev and Constantinople increased. Kiev became a major trading hub in eastern Europe, and other than tangible goods, religion from the Byzantine Empire found its way into Kiev. Soon enough, leaders like Vladimir I brought baptisms, Byzantine church leaders, and conversion to the Kievan Rus'. This is how Russian Orthodoxy was formed.
The last of the great Kievan princes, Yaroslav, contributed to the Kievan Rus' splendor by adapting the Byzantine legal code (which Justinian adapted from the Roman Republic's Twelve Tables, which Rome adapted from Hammurabi's Code!), issuing Byzantine Greek texts into the vernacular Slavic, and building Orthodox churches. This greatly increased Kievan Rus' culture.
Ultimately, Kiev declined due to weak leaders, succession problems, Mongol (Tatar) invaders, and the decline of their trading and cultural partner, Byzantium. Russian trade and wealth reduced because of the Kievan Rus' reliance on Byzantium, so now that Byzantium declined, Kievan Rus' was falling as well.
While Kievan Rus lost a significant amount of culture, they were not completely lost. When Constantinople fell to the Seljuk Turks in 1453, the Russians were just on the fringe of gaining independence from the Tatars. Filofei the monk wrote that now heresy had destroyed the first Roman Empire and the Turks had cut down the second, Byzantium, a new
"third, new Rome... under the king's mighty rule...sends out the Orthodox Christian faith to the ends of the Earth and shines more brightly than the sun...Two Romes have fallen, but the third stands, and there will be no fourth."
So, to recap,
- Traders from Scandinavia set up Kiev as a trading hub, and the Kievan Rus' settled in Slavic lands.
- These early Russians relied on trade with Byzantium for a strong economy and culture. While the Kievan Rus' had their own monarchy, independent of the Byzantine government, their growth came from interactions with Byzantium.
- Leaders like Vladimir I and Yaroslav brought Byzantine religion to Kiev, which became the basis for future Russian religion, art, and culture.
- As Constantinople and Byzantium fell, Kievan Rus' suffered.
- Russians gained their land back from the Tatars, and their culture grew into the early Russia we know today