The Economy of Kievan Rus’

Much of early Russian history has been contested and debated by historians for years. Unfortunately, the information historians can glean about this civilization is confined to the sources and artifacts available. Learning about the Kievan economy is no exception to these limitations. However, a lot of information about this group can be derived from both primary sources and archeological information.

At the base of the Kievan economy was the idea of tribute. This was the driving force behind the exchanging of goods from all over the area.  A narrative written by Constantine Porphyrogenitus, a Byzantine emperor and scholar, describes how Kievan princes and their retainers would go on a tour throughout the land, collecting tribute. This process arguably formed the primitive basis for trading, as it enabled the entire population of Kievan Russia to be linked together through the goods that they exchanged. From this, the development of a North-South trade route that stretched “from the Varangians to the Greeks” (41) was established and became crucial to the survival of the Kievan state. How historians have learned this information is through the use of primary sources as well as artifacts. For example, historians know that trade was essential to the Kievan economy because many treaties that were created during this time, specifically the Russo-Byzantine treaties, had provisions dealing specifically with trade. By observing the meticulous, highly developed manner of these treaties, we can learn what was deemed important to these peoples. In addition, through studying the presence of amber in Novgorod, historians have learned that amber was brought to the city and used to create a wide array of items. There were references to the amber trade as well. For instance, in a book titled Natural History of Minerals, the author specifically mentions a testament made by one Philemon, who describes where amber was gathered in Scythia.

However, trade was not the only driving force behind the Kievan economy. Agriculture was also extremely prevalent in Kievan Russia. Similar to learning about trade, understanding the role of agriculture in this society can be done through the lens of archeology primarily, as well as through observing images, and other primary sources. For instance, historians know that agriculture was commonplace through archeology. In numerous digs, archeologists have discovered primitive plows that were used to till the land. Through the discovery of these tools, we know that agriculture was fairly sophisticated. The variety of tools discovered reveals the ability of these peoples to adapt to the various challenges they encountered, for instance with the evolvement of the Slash-and-Burn technique to light plowing. In addition, through an account depicted in a juridical document, we learn of raiders who stole plows, axes, etc. from peasants. The fact that this was mentioned specifically demonstrates the importance and commonality of these tools, and subsequently agriculture, to the Kievan economy and society.