Fall of the Kievan Rus’, and its Aftermath

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?

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.

Familial Relations in post-Kievan Russia

Looking at The Second Testament of Moscow Grand Prince Dmitrii Donskoi allows the reader to gain a better understanding of the post-Kievan society. Specifically, one can learn through this primary source about the practice of “partible inheritance”. This term refers to the system of bequeathing one’s holdings among members of the next generation. While this certainly included the sons of Dimitrii, the prince’s wife, referred to as “my princess” throughout the text, would receive considerable rights in this will. Dmitrii Donskoi was a post-Kievan era prince who ruled from 1359 until his death in 1389. Now a Saint in the Russian Orthodox Church, Dimitrii was a hero of the early Muscovite history. His reign was significant; he was credited with forcing the Mongol army into a draw, and subsequently promising the eventual defeat of these peoples. In his last will and testament, Dimitrii divides his holdings among all his children, and gives specific consideration to his wife throughout the document.

What I found to be the most intriguing aspect of this primary source was how one could derive from the source certain family values that were beginning to develop during this age. For example, there are many references to the prince’s widow (the princess) throughout the piece. The prince notes countless times where his wife receives a share along with all of their sons. In addition, he emphasizes the importance of respecting and obeying their mother, saying “And I have committed my children to my princess. And you, my children, heed your mother in all things, and do not go against her will in anything. And if any of my sons does not heed his mother and goes against her will, my blessing shall not be upon him” (90). This line could imply that within the family unit, there was a hierarchy, with both parents demanding respect from their children. The fact that the sons were expected to not only take notice of their mother’s wishes, but also not go against her implies perhaps that mothers were held in high regard and respected. I found this to be intriguing, because in other cultures, women and mothers were simply seen through their role of childbearing, with little else to offer of importance. I found it interesting that the princess was not only guaranteed rights through this document, but was also ensured respect by her children.