The Decentralization and Gradual Decline of Kievan Rus’

The once powerful principality known as Kievan Rus’ experienced a gradual but steady decline in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. It is difficult to pinpoint the exact factors that led to the collapse, but it can partially be attributed to political decentralization and foreign invasions. Prior to the fall, Kievan society was characterized by uniform religion, a common language, and a common culture which kept the diverse state somewhat unified. The declining period, known as “appanage Russia”, was typified by a spreading out of political power and territories. This decentralization was caused by the custom of a ruler to divide his holdings up between his various family members following his death. As each generation brought a plethora of new, smaller principalities each micro locality became weaker and more isolated from the rest of Russia, making them easy targets for foreign invaders. The mongols took advantage of this situation and held at least some form of power over Russia from 1240 until 1480 when the Muscovite “gathering of Russia” broke away from Mongol rule. The summation of appanage Russia is a period of isolation and regression. The weakened principalities within Russia were isolated from one another and the nation as a whole was isolated from Western European nations; causing Russia to miss out on innovations and progressions and to regress culturally.

The overall decentralization of power and weakening of princely status throughout Kievan Rus was not consistent among all the principalities. The fate of princes in separate regions differed greatly. In the southwest and northwest, princes lost significant amounts of power as local elites took control over society by hand picking their own princes. This deviates from the tendencies in the prominent principality of Novgorod, a “merchant republic”, where the public imposed restrictions on the prince’s power to protect the interests of the populace and avoid tyrannical rule. The northwestern region deviated from the other portions of the nation as their princes retained unrestricted power. One of the more famous princes from this region was Dmitrii Donskoi, whose will divided  his assets up between his sons and his wife. Donskoi’s will is a clear example of the divvying up of holdings characteristic of Appanage Russia.


Was Donskoi’s leaving of land to his wife an anomaly or an indication of a more widespread tendency of giving widowed women assets?

Why did the regions differ so greatly in regard to the decline, or lack thereof, of princely power?

Works Cited

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.

The Rise of the Individual States in Rus’

As Kievan Rus’ became less and less centralized, individual principalities rose in its place as the chief governing bodies in the land.  These were much more independent of one another, and largely stayed more personal.  While this movement was occurring on the own accord of the princes, the pace was changed drastically as the hordes of Mongols began to go West.  While making it difficult for princes to stay sovereign, a large proportion of inhabitant of Rus’ felt the inclusion of Rus’ into the Mongol Yoke certainly had some benefits.

One of the greater success stories of the decentralization was Novgorod.  Novgorod, even after the Mongols had entered the region, became even more prosperous and powerful.  This is in large part due to the creation of a number of political institutions that was controlled by a “merchant republic”.  One of the larger treaties between the city of Novgorod and the local princes was the First Treaty of Novgorod with Tver’ Grand Prince Iaroslav Iaroslavich.  This document provided the ground work for the city and prince’s relationship.  Many of the statutes within the document inhibit Iaroslav from a number of powers a prince would typically have.  The ability of Novgorod to create such a document, in which Iaroslav agreed too exemplifies how beneficial the decentralization of the Kievan Rus’ region was larger cities and the merchants in them.

Similarly, in Southwest Rus’ the princes were also losing power, as power was at an even smaller level.  Boyars held the most power within their lands, thus the state was losing even more control.  In the Extracts from the Galician-Volhyniam Chronicle, in 1231, a boyar set out against a prince with only 18 men.  However, as he marched, more and more individuals joined his cause.  This shows that boyars had a large proportion of the popular support of the lower class individuals in the region.

Moscow was yet another region that was becoming decentralized.  Within The Second Testament of Moscow Grand Prince Dmitrii Domskoi, he separates Moscow between his four sons.  Dmitrii Domskoi goes into incredible detail on what each prince should recieve, such as Prince Vasilli receiving “the beekeepers in the city districts, and the horse and the falconers and the huntsmen” (88).  This separation of a single city/ region into four separate areas adds to the decentralization of the Kievan Rus’ state.