The Diminishing Unity of “Russian Land”

The Kievan Empire can be characterized by its strong sense of unity in religion, language, and culture.  The State is very much governed by the Church which contributes to this concept of “Russian Land.”  This very concept provides Russians with the unity and strength that will be tested for the next hundred years because of decentralization and conquest.

Prior to the Mongol attack on the Kievan State, Russian Appanage weakened the great strength of Russian state and cultural capitals.  Appanage is the passing down of land from one ruler to many.  Usually this was done in the form of a ruler handing down his land to his many sons, known as princes.  We see evidence of this in the Second Testament of Moscow Gran Prince Dmitrii Donskoi in 1389.  In this testament that starts off with a prayer, Donskoi appropriates which of his sons will get parts of his estate.  It is important to note that Donskoi promises land and power to his daughter.  In fact Donskoi writes that if one of his sons is to pass away, “then my princess shall divide his patrimonial principality among my sons” (Kaiser and Marker, 89).  This type of appanage is common in Russia and results in smaller and smaller political entities, which decentralizes power in many Russian states, allowing for easier conquest of those smaller entities.

Contrary to the family appanages of land, the readings reveal that different regions of Russia experienced decentralization of power in more republican approaches.  For example, in Novgorod, during the rule of Grand Prince Iaroslav Iaroslavich, the people of Novgorod wrote a treaty to the prince.  In this treaty, the people of Novgorod define what the prince’s role is in their government.  Common themes include the prince being religious but also following previous actions of the father, or predecessor.  Prior to this treaty, in 1136, the people of Novgorod actually revolted and dethroned their ruler.  What resulted was this treaty in 1264 that reflects a very civic approach to the state in Novgorod.  Even though this document seems very democratic in nature, we must be aware of the very possible and strong elite influence of this revolution.  We see a boyar takeover in Southwest Rus’ in 1240 with the overthrow of the ruler only to replace with Danilo, a boyar.  This takeover was strictly one fueled by the elite attempting to take power away from the throne, resulting in separate boyar power, stronger than the state’s power.

This internal weakening of the Russian state contributed to its defeat by many other empires, including the Mongols.  The decentralization and conquest also contributed to what many scholars call the parochialism of the previous rich state of Kiev.  It won’t be until the successful Muscovite “gathering of Russia” that marked the end of appanage.

With all this in mind:

Why would the larger population of Novgorod be willing to participate in a revolt against the throne as opposed to other regions of Russia?

Why is there more of a focus on European Russia?

How is the Church influencing continued unity during this time?  Is there any evidence of this in the documents we have read?

Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H. and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860s. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.