Russian History--Beginnings

For a rich Russian history site, visit
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The early era of Russian history, dominated by Kiev--the "mother of Russian cities"--lasted from the 9th to the 13th century, ending with the Mongol-Tartar conquest by the descendants of Genghis and Kublai Khan. The three most important events of that period include the formation of the first political state by the House of Rurik, Vladimir I's conversion to Christianity, and Yaroslav the Wise's promulgation of Russia's first law code, the Russkaia Pravda. Shrouded in mythology and mystery, the origins of Kievan Russia remain controversial even in the 21st century. "Normanists" claim that 9th century viking marauders laid the foundations of Kievan Russia while "Anti-Normanists" attribute its emergence to Slavic settlers who formed a network of agricultural and commercial villages to trade with Byzantium/Constantinople on "the Route from the Varangians to the Greeks."
For an interesting and useful family tree of the House of Rurik, which ruled Russia from its legendary beginnings through the demise of the dynasty 1598, visit < >
The BBC produced a series, The Wild East, with 15 minute audio segments highlighting turning points in Russian History; this episode tells the story of Rurik (advance about 1:30 into clip)
< > alas, site removed!


The key event in the era of Kiev lay in Vladimir I's conversion to Christianity in the 10th century and his subsequent mass baptism of his subjects in the Dnieper River shortly after. The 19th century Russian artist, Victor Vasnetsov commemmorated Vladimir's act in the 1895 painting to your right entitled "The Baptism of Rus."

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Many Russian cities honor Vladimir; the monument to your left is in Novgorod, Kievan Russia's "2nd city."

image source from Wikipedia Commons (in public domain)

For an account of Vladimir's choice of Christianity instead of either Islam or Judaism, visit:

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A veritable barrage of preachers, teachers, architects, artisans and the like flocked to Kiev to build churches and spread the faith. These beautiful and tender "Mother of God" icons attest to the success of the missionaries and the depth of faith that came to characterize Kiev, and later, Russia. Early Russia's most famous iconographer, Andrei Rublev, painted the famous Our Lady of Vladimir (near right)

Rublev's "Old Testament Trinity" (left); Oksana's site, that contained many links on iconography, Russian Christianity, and Russian's medieval culture has, alas, flown away into cyberspace. Rublev, trained in the Byzantine school of icon painting, gave "a mystical, spiritual sense of not being of this world. Rublev's deep, rich colors, gentle lines and faces which seem to gaze, lovingly, at us from heaven itself are what sets him apart from all other iconographers."
(Linda Delaine, flown away, alas)

For more icons, visit:


To see the variety and continuity of Novgorodian iconography from 13th century beginnings into the 20th century,
visit (this site contains pictures only, but you can access description of Novgorodian iconography by following link:

The monastic complex at Kiev comprises one of the holiest sites in Russian Orthodoxy; the "cave" (pechersk) monastery (lavra) still resonates in Ukrainian and Russian history, visited yearly by devout Orthodox worshippers as well as tourists.
The site above shows other buildings in the complex.Now, go on a tour:

The Cathedral of the Assumption, constructed in the 10th century, later destroyed and partially reconstructed, was one of the early wooden churches of the Kievan period.
It is hard to exaggerate the significance of Russia's adoption of Christianity in the 10th century, especially in its Byzantine or Orthodox version--even though the Great Schism did not occur until the 11th century. Vladimir, later St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kiev, converted and marched his subjects into the Dnieper for a mass baptism, an epochal event in Russian history. Orthodoxy came to be a major force in Russian history: it united the diverse peoples, contributed to an elevated conception of monarchy in the later periods, and provided an explanation for the travails of the Russian people throughout their history; Orthodoxy shaped Russian patriotism and love of the land; it even played a role in Russia's long estrangement from the West. For more detail on Orthodoxy and Vladimir's conversion, visit site/link below:
darn! this site has flown away

Yaroslav the Wise became Grand Prince, after a struggle for power with his brothers. His reign marks an apogee for Kiev; he introduced and enforced Russia's first law code, the Russkaia Pravda in the 11th century. The graphics to your right are not contemporary

images of Yaroslav from Wikipedia Commons (in public domain)

Visit the site below for a look at Russkaia Pravda
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The "second city" of Kievan Russia, and occasional rival to Kiev's pre-eminence, Lord Novgorod the Great, provided the entrance to the "Route from the Varangians to the Greeks" and was periodically threatened by and tempted by the Baltic trade. For more on Novgorod, visit (and some of the links as well)

It is worth noting in passing how little of Russian history is addressed or analyzed in standard European history textbooks, even those designed for Advanced Placement students. Two of the standard AP Euro texts (Palmer, et al., Kagan, et al.) make no mention of Kiev at all. The Hunt, et al. text devotes a full page (!) to the story of Kiev's founding up to and including the death of Yaroslav, offering some thoughtful explanations of the significance of Vladimir's conversion to the Byzantine version of Christianity. Spielvogel lumps the Russian experience into Slavic migrations and refers to Vladimir as a "cruel and vicious man" (231,) adding a post-script that Russia remained essentially isolated from the West, an isolation exacerbated by the Mongol-Tartar conquest. The McKay, et al. text (the preferred text by many AP Euro teaachers) has two pages on medieval Russia, from the Slavic and Viking migrations to the founding of Kiev, and including the contributions of both Vladimir and Yaroslav (265-266)



Hunt, Lynn, et al.The Challenge of the West. Lexington and Toronto: D. C. Heath and Co.,1995.

Kagan, Donald, et al. The Western Heritage, 9th ed. Upper Saddle River: Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007.

McKay, John, et al. A History of Western Society, 6th ed. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Co., 1999.

Mitrevski, George. "Russian Art." Auburn University, 1999. Online available.

Moynahan. Bryan. The Russian Century. New York: Random House, 1994.

Palmer, R. R, et al. A History of the Modern World, 9th ed. Boston, et al.: McGraw Hill, 2002.

Ratzleff, Ken. "Our Tour--Ukraine Trip, 1999." University of Kansas, 1999.

Spielvogel, Jackson. Western Civilization, 4th ed. Belmont, et al.: Wadsworth/Thomson Learning, 2000.

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