Post Kievan Rus’ economy and society


Looking back at post Kievan Rus’ the only thing we can all agree on is that we don’t know enough. The information gathered is mangled and confusing but if looked at in depth it does give us an idea of what society was like.

In chapter seven the economy and society of post Kievan Rus is explored through a few documents. In examine these texts “the reader ought to note what the laws tell us about social differentiation, about the legal standing of women, and about the role of documentation in judicial hearings.” (109). The first is the Novgorod Judicial Charter from the late fifteenth century. Compared to the other texts we have from the Kievan Rus’ the rules seem much more modern and thoughtful. People are expected to pay different amounts as punishment for wrongdoing depending on their wealth. This idea was not present in earlier texts. It seems women were somewhat present in court cases. The charter discusses women kissing the cross in their own home, which insinuates they were not welcome in the official court but a complaint could be filed against them. It is clear that documentation was much more widely used then in previous court dealings. The use of documentation is discussed even more in the second charter. In A Muscovite Judgment Charter tells of a specific court case. In this case the use of documentation is evident and is a large part of the case. The Judge oversaw proceedings but was not the one who made the final decision. He asked questions and guided the case. The importance of “God’s justice” was also an influence.


What was God’s justice and what did it entail? Was it just another was for the Russian Orthodox to control the people of Rus’?


What does the newfound use of documentation tell us about the change the Mongols brought to Rus’?

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.

Culture In Post Kievan-Rus’- The Minstrels

One of the more overlooked aspects of culture of post- Kievan Rus’ was the role of the minstrel.  The minstrel, or skomorokhi, was a musician, actor, and all-around entertainer that operated in a wide variety of venues.  These could range from small villages to large cities such as Novgorod.  The minstrel sub population moved Northeast in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries into the region more known as Russia.

It is very surprising to note that Minstrels often played secular music and preformed secular entertainment.  Despite this, they were not banned from performing for nearly 400 years in Novgorod.

The minstrels, as depicted by manuscripts from 1323, were always dressed in elaborate costumes, some with headdresses.  It is possible that these may have been religious in nature. This is reinforced by the fact that a large majority of the artifacts recording their existence are maintained in the north where their beliefs would be more tolerated.

The influence of Christianity continued to grow in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, thus creating working conditions for minstrels more difficult.  Since the skomorokhi were secular in nature, the church was vehemently against any of their behavior and work.  In 1470, they were banned from all of Muscovy by Iurii Dmitrov.  Maksim Grek continued this opposition into the sixteenth century, stating “the skomorokhi have learned their trade from Satan himself” and by virtue of this are already cursed and damned”.  Despite this, the minstrels continued to be a integral part to Russian Culture. Some were wealthy enough to even be required to pay taxes, but many were peasants or even serfs.

Why were minstrels more accepted in the north versus the south?

What was the gusli and what purpose did it serve to the skomorokhi?

Were the headdresses worn during performances religious?  Was this a reason for their eventual expulsion from Christian regions?


Life in Post- Kievan Rus’

The evidence of the growth of literacy among the population in post- Kievan Rus’ breaks ground for many reasons. First off, it shows an attention to the youth and the next generation- not only so that they could have the ability to utilize these resources, but also as the investment to further generations. The fact that there were young people learning to write shows that society wanted further preservation of it’s culture past the point of the monks and the church. The second point that this evidence makes is about the standard of living for these people. If there was investment in the literacy and writing for the youth then perhaps this shows that the standard of living was increasing so that children could spend time studying in addition to their work with their families. Although seemingly unrelated, this raises questions for me regarding the family structure; such as if more concentration on the academics and quality of life of one child was evidence of smaller households at the time (where maybe there were more investments that could be made for each child). Certainly all of this could be an exaggerated analysis as most likely only the very elite had the ability to teach their children writings, but it simultaneously brings into question at what point the general public reached the standard of living that they would be educated as well.

Power Shifts in Post- Kievan Rus’

In post- Kievan Rus’, the power dynamics shifted significantly because of the changing sources of the power. There were two specific ways that the power in the area shifted: through dispersing power from the prince to other officials in the area, and to give the elite citizens more power. The first type describes a system where officials had to be elected to power, but once in office had authority to limit the prince’s power and to govern the area (mainly found in the northwestern region). The second type mainly took place in the southwest and consisted of the princes power being reduced once again, but this time the authority went to the elite who only placed people in power who would aid their personal goals. Of course, many places saw no change, but in general this era marks a shift from entirely princely rule to a, somewhat, more open system.

Culture in Post-Keivan Rus

Due to several factors, most of which were a result of the Mongol invasion, there is very little evidence detailing the day-to-day culture which existed in Post-Keivan Rus. What we do have, however, does provide interesting clues about literacy, the arts, and entertainment of the day.

One source is a doodle by a boy distracted in the middle of practicing his alphabet. The boy, Onfim, provides a drawing of an unidentified man atop a horse stabbing another unidentified man lying upon the ground. One of the reasons that this is interesting is its implications about education and literacy of the time. It’s likely that this student was being formally educated from the nature of his work. Because literacy was rare amongst the common people we can assume that he was not being taught in a school-like setting, so he may have been working with a tutor of some sort. Onfim’s education may indicate that literacy was more important to the culture than previously believed, if his parents were concerned enough to start his learning at a young age.

A popular but controversial form of entertainment for the common people was the minstrels, or the skomorokhi. The skomorokhi did a variety of things for the entertainment of others, including animal training, acting, juggling, playing music, and dancing. They were easily identifiable by the bright colors of the costumes that they wore. Though loved by the common people, they were not so popular in the church. In a collection of sermons called the Zlatoust they are condemned for “preparing the road to perdition for themselves and their followers”. Even after being put down by the church their popularity rose still in spite of it. It’s interesting that the people seemed to care more about the entertainment the minstrels provided than the opinion of the church on that form of entertainment, judging from  the fact that the people were still listened to the group that the church looked down on. It’s also interesting that the people who made up the skomorokhi held positions all along the social hierarchy, some being  well off, others being poor.

Literacy in Post-Kievan Rus’

The readings, focused on culture during the fourteenth and fifteenth century, shed light on literacy rates and leisure. Birchbark charters show evidence of literacy among children, while artifacts (instruments, masks and manuscript initials) are indicative of traveling minstrels. Despite the information provided, however, the author and compiler speaks of many things we don’t know or have evidence of (possibly due to the Mongol occupation). Art and architecture are almost absent, prior to what Sakharov notes as a ‘cultural renewal.’

The birchbarks were particularly interesting, providing some evidence to the notion that literacy was spreading. The picture, drawn by Onfim, displayed a drawing of a boy (or man) riding a horse and slaying some type of villain. While at first the age of the creator could be drawn into question (how can the age of Onfim be established?), there are several key aspects that point towards what the author suggested. While style can’t really be taken into account (the shaky lettering would suggest someone new at penmanship), the proportions of the drawing seem more child-like. As children grow and develop, their perception changes. The length of the arms and and legs in relation to the torso could support this theory.

While the birchbark charters do display evidence that literacy was increasing, how widespread was it? In previous readings in lectures, it’s been noted that Novgorod was particularly special, due to its relationship and interaction with other nations. What does the author define as ‘formal instruction’?

Daily Life and Culture in Post-Kievan Rus’

Although many aspects of daily life in Post-Kievan Rus’, both during the Mongol invasion and directly after, have been lost in the intervening centuries, scholars have been able to determine several valuable insights into Post-Kievan culture. Literacy was not widespread at all during this time period–even some princes were illiterate. However, “birchbark charters” c. 1220 show us that some non-royal children did learn the alphabet and to write their names. Furthermore, the Mongols, through their violent occupation, destroyed buildings and left little market for artists to sell their goods. However, Andrei Rublev (c. 1370-1430), one of the most famous painters in Russian history, lived during this time and managed not only to create art, but also to develop new strategies and modes of painting. Peasants had few forms of entertainment besides traveling minstrels, who sang, danced, juggled, and tamed animals. The Church managed to destroy most records of these entertainers, but a few of their masks and images of them survive to today.

I found the Novgorod Birchbark Charters particularly interesting. Scholars tend to take them as evidence of children learning to read. However, I wonder how–or even if–scholars are able to determine that the document pictured in our text (p. 129) belonged to a small child versus an adult. To that point, how do they know that the drawing of a man on a horse was Onfim “distracted to depict is how imaginary conquests” (“Evidence for Literary” 128), and not a peasant adult–or even a boyar–drawing a picture of his personal, violent feat? I find it difficult to believe that, in such a largely illiterate society, children would be taught to read and write before adults.

I’d like to know what sort of impact, if any, the Mongols had on literacy in Post-Kievan Rus’. The readings explain how they impacted art and architecture, but what about education? In a broader sense, all of these readings make me wonder if there are still very large gaps in our knowledge of Post-Kievan culture and daily life. What don’t we know?

Law in 15th Century Rus’

The judicial system of 15th century Rus’ was significantly more developed than the old system used during the time of Kievan dominance. While we don’t have much more evidence for the Kievan judicial system, we do know the basics of the system. In contrast, a large amount of evidence remains from the Post-Kievan period that details the workings of the system, and in many cases, individual court cases.

The system used in 15th century Rus’ was probably more developed because of use and years of troubleshooting. The system had a large amount of time to grow by “verbally and mentally recorded case-law”. The judges that were found in the 15th century would have learned how to deal with issues not detailed in the main law codes through years of experience and teaching from former judges.

Despite the amount of development and use for the judicial system, some of the practices remaining are quite contradictory to today’s standard judicial systems. In this instance, we’ll use a land dispute between two parties as an example. A judge would travel to the location of the dispute and mediate the argument between the two parties by determining which party has the stronger evidence. The most important evidence to have is the word of local men (preferably elders) who have good knowledge of the area. Second to this is written evidence, such as a deed or charter. After these evidences, should neither party have them or should no conclusion be reached, judges would often rely on “God’s justice” or divine intervention for the decision to be made. An example of a method used by these judges is having one party kiss a cross and walk the border of the land that they claim. If they are telling the truth, then they will not be punished by God for lying (it’s very similar to what would commonly be used for witch trials). If all of these evidences fail, then the two parties would send a representative to duel with each other.

Despite the significant developments of the judicial system since Kievan times, the system employed by judges in 15th century Rus’ was not perfect. The main problems lie with their categorization of evidence. Judges would take the word of a local elder over any documents that could be presented, but these locals were often biased in their testimonies and would back a party regardless of the truth. So, the “truth” was often found in power, influence, money, or a big family.

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.