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.