The Economy of Kievan Rus’ from the 10th to the 13th century

The period between the 10th and the 13th century was a period of economic prosperity for the Rus’. This can be proven by the study of the remains of both agricultural tools and proofs of an extensive trade of Amber. The location of Rus’ was, of course, propitious to the development of the economy: the Dniepr for example offered the Rus’ a perfect trade route.

The remains of agricultural tools prove that the Rus’ had a capacity to adapt to their environment but also that they also were able to optimize their work, as seen in the North by the evolution of the technique from Slash-and-Burn to a technique based on light plowing. This uniformity could be an indication that some communication between the North and the South subsisted since it is believed that the light plow originated in the North. The augmentation of livestock-raising in the North is also believed to have played a role in the evolution of the North’s agricultural techniques. This made me wonder: Can the increase of livestock-raising be explained by farmers from the North learning this technique from the South, or is it somehow linked to the trade of Fur which we know the North practiced?

The trade of amber was also extensive in Rus’, the fact that all the amber was being processed in Novgorod could show that Novgorod was in fact the most important city in Rus’. The North, and therefore Novgorod, was naturally more protected of nomadic invasions than Kiev, which we know has been sacked numerous times. We also know that the light plow has originated in the North, which might demonstrate that the North was superior to the South in agricultural ingenuity and craftsmanship: Since finished and unfinished amber were found in Novgorod, we can assume that the amber was processed there. Finally the drop in production of amber in the 13th century might show the end of the golden age of the Kievan Rus’ since we know that this century was marked by the invasion of the Teutonic Order and more importantly the Mongols.

I remember reading in the last few years that the reason Russia was so far behind Western Europe in subsequent century was due to the Mongol invasions which had not allowed Russia to develop as freely as Western Europe did. Upon reading about the Rus’ economy I am beginning to wonder if this is not the case. Prior to the Mongol invasion, the Rus’ had everything to become a strong power in Europe, a sound economy revolving around trade, which was greatly helped by its location, military victories – which proves that the Rus’ could fight and win – and one of the biggest territories of Europe. Feel free to share your thoughts on the matter.