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Origins of Kievan Rus


The Russian Empire grew out of the Grand Principality of Muscovy, which had come to dominate other Russian principalities due to the success of Moscow grand princes in gathering the fragmented Russian territories into a unified state. Muscovy itself  was once a small north-easterly corner of an earlier entity, the Grand Principality of Kiev, also known as the Kievan Rus, which is believed to have been the first Russian state and the cradle of the three branches of the East Slavs: the Great Russians,  Ukrainians and White Russians (or Belorussians).



The Kievan Rus emerged in the ninth century, and its role in the history of Eastern Europe is comparable to that of the Carolingian Empire in Western Europe. It appeared at the time of the active process of state-building over the vast expanse of northern, central and eastern Europe and, like most other barbarian kingdoms, rose to civilized status by adopting Christianity as its state religion in 988. By that time Christianity had already spread to the territories of the South Slavs and to the Czech and Polish lands inhabited by the West Slavs. Practically at the same time with the Kievan Rus, Christianity was adopted in Hungary, Denmark, Norway and Sweden.

In contrast to central and eastern Europe, however, Kievs official religion was not the Christianity of the Latin world, but of the Greek world of Byzantium. The main reason for the adoption of the eastern form of Christianity, known also as Orthodox Christianity, was that the Kievan Rus maintained close cultural, economic and political links with its powerful southern neighbor, the Byzantine Empire, with its centre in Constantinople. The conversion to Orthodox Christianity and the subsequent adoption of a written language from Bulgaria, based on Greek and Hebrew alphabets, further strengthened Kievs southern orientation and led to a gradual cultural  separation from its West Slavic neighbors.


9th-13th centuries Kievan Rus

13th-15th centuries

Political fragmentation of the Russian lands


Mongol yoke


Muscovite state


Imperial Russia


Soviet Russia


Russian Federation

The Kievan Rus state expanded to a considerable size and was able to establish links with Western Europe to complement its traditional southern orientation. By the end of the twelfth century, however, the Kievan Rus had become fragmented into smaller feudal principalities. In 1237 the Mongols, led by Batu, a grandson of the great Mongol leader Genghis Khan, were able to exploit this fragmentation, invaded the Russian lands and established their lordship over them. This severed Russias links both with Western Europe and the South. Only in 1480 were the Mongols finally expelled from Russia. Their legacy of 240 years was the introduction of a degree of barbarism into Russian life and the separation of Russia from the rest of Europe. This legacy was felt for centuries after 1480.

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Pre-Petrine Russia

Origins of Kievan Rus
Emergence of Muscovy
Imperial Expansion
Key Historical Factors
Environment and Climate
Geopolitical Factor
Religious Factor
Social Organization
"Service State"
Consolidation of Serfdom
Vast Powers of the State
Traditional Society
Political Regime


Tsarist Russia

Pre-Petrine Russia
Peter the Great
Catherine the Great
Alexander I
Nicholas I
Alexander II
The Revolutionary Movement
Appearance of Marxism
The Last Romanovs
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The Revolution of 1905-7
Between Revolutions
The Revolutions of 1917
Interpretations of 1917
The End of an Empire
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