The Kievan Rus’ were once a formidable power, but that strength shifted away from Kiev in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. The reasons for this shift were numerous, and the power structures which came in Kiev’s place were also varied.
Indeed, according to A History of Russia to 1855, “there is considerable controversy about the precise nature of these factors [related to the decline and fall of Kiev] and no consensus concerning their relative weight” (Riasanovsky and Steinberg 36). Instead of determining the precise nature of Kiev’s decline and fall, the authors mentioned a number of issues that could’ve led to this event: social conflicts, a collapse of previously important trade routes, political problems, and other foreign pressures, among other things (36-37). All of these factors seem plausible, but there is room for further research on the issue of Kiev’s decline and fall.
Hierarchies in the post-Kievan Rus’ world were also varied. In Novgrood, its prince had restrictions on when he could travel, what land he could give out, and when/where he could hunt (Kaiser and Marker 84). The princes in the Southwest Rus’ were also weak, as various boyars (which were described in the Kaiser-Marker book as “local elites”) were jockeying for power (85). In fact, only the Northeast Rus’ seemed to have a grand prince (Dimitrii Donskoi) who held power significant enough to control land and decide for himself which people got what lands (87-90).
While people might be tempted to come up with a singular explanation for the fall of the Kievan Rus’, as well as a singular explanation for what happened after the fall of Kiev, those who study Russian history should resist that temptation. By doing this, people can understand everything from the weakness of Iaroslav Iaroslavich to the strength of Dimitrii Donskoi.
1. How scant (or extensive) is the evidence for the mentioned causes (example: trade problems) of the fall of the Kievan Rus’?
2. Did any of these regional differences in power structure exist before the fall of the Kievan Rus’? If so, what evidence is there for these power structure differences?
3. What factors led the Muscovite princes (particularly Dimitrii Donskoi) to become more powerful than their Northwest and Southwest Rus’ counterparts?
Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.
Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. and Mark D. Steinberg. A History of Russia to 1855. 7th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.