Economics in Kievan Russia

Both trade and agriculture were vital parts of the economy of Kievan Rus. We know this based off of materials found in archaeological excavations as well as evidence in written works, such as chronologies and law documents.

Plow agriculture was the basis of the economy from the tenth through the thirteenth centuries in Kievan Rus. We know that this form of agriculture has ancient roots in Southern Rus because  of the depiction of a light plow on a coin from second century BC. Also, excavations produced iron shares, plow blades, and moldboards (all used in plow agriculture) dated between the tenth and thirteenth centuries. We even know the Russian light plow originated in the North due to a sixteenth-century miniature from the life of St. Sergei, in which a light plow is depicted, as well as in juridicial materials which describe plowshares being stolen from peasants in the Iur’ev district. Further evidence of the centrality of agriculture is seen in the heavy penalties for moving field boundaries, which are outlined in the Russian Justice, along with references to the “plough” as a basic unit in tributes and taxes.

Trade was also the basis of the Kievan economy, as evidenced by Viking activity, and amber was a widely-traded item, which we know from  archaeological digs in Novgorod. These Novgorod excavations also indicate that amber came only from the Dnieper region in the tenth through early thirteenth centuries, as do coincidences between graphs of amber with graphs of other objects which reached Novgorod through the Dneiper River trade route. The high value of amber is seen in the Teutonic Order’s establishment of an “amber monopoly” of sorts, in which they declared the exclusive right to amber income and trade. In an order from one of these new rulers, any person caught collecting amber without permission was ordered to be executed. As further evidence of Kievan trade, a Byzantine narrative written by Constantine Porphyrogenitus describes the Kievan princes’ annual collection of tribute down the Dnieper toward the Black Sea and Constantinople, which formed the foundation of future trade routes.