The Variant State and the Russia of Kiev
The establishment of the first state formation of the Eastern Slavs, that is of the Russia of Kiev, represents the starting point of all Russian history. The Scandinavian warriors (Viking and Norman) that overcame the Baltic and from Scandinavia moved toward S exploiting the network of fluvial communications to achieve the Byzantine Orient lands (called Varangians, but also Rus ‘, from which the name Russia), in course of the 9th century. they constituted the ruling class within the pre-existing Slavic communities, tightened around Rjurik and his legendary brothers (➔ Rjurikidi). Around 878 the first successor of Rjurik, Oleg the Wise or the Saint, from Novgorod he headed towards the S, occupied Kiev and extended his dominion over the whole of the southern Russia Later, having united the Russian lands under his scepter, Vladimir I (981) moved towards Galicia and took Przemyśl and Červen; in 983 it turned towards the Baltic fighting against Lithuanians and Jatvingi; his conversion to Christianity in 988 paved the way for that of his people. The unity of the kingdom of Kiev began to be lost with the successors of Vladimir I, both for the custom of dividing the domains among all the children and for the pressure of other peoples (Poles, Lithuanians, Estonians and Latvians) at the borders; on the death of Jaropolk (1125-39) the state was divided into various principalities. In 1237 the Mongols appeared on the plain of the East who, having conquered the Volga region, reached Kiev in 1240 and occupied the whole of the southern Russia
Mongol rule and the rise of Moscow
In the 14th century. the Russian lands fell under a twofold influence ( fig. 2 ). The principalities of Greater Russia, among which that of Moscow emerged, recognized Tatar sovereignty; the western territories, on the other hand, entered the orbit of the Lithuanian Grand Duchy of Gediminas and his successors, who took over Kiev (1362) and, temporarily, Smolensk. A vast supranational state was created that touched the Baltic and the Black Sea, from 1385 close to the Polish crown in personal union. In the territories of Great Russia after the Mongol invasion, the center of gravity shifted to the upper Volga, where the principality of Vladimir had by now prevailed over Suzdal´, while the small principalities in which the original principality of Černigov had fragmented they paralyzed and canceled all political functions.
From Ivan III to the Romanovs
Only in 1480 Ivan III (1462-1505), absorbed by kinship the principality of Ryazan ‘, annexed Novgorod with its territorial possessions and the principality of Tver’, definitively freed himself from Tatar dominion, continuing to face the hostility of Poland- Lithuania. After his marriage to Sofia Palaeologus (1472), nephew of the last Byzantine emperor, Ivan began to use the title of tsar and to assume imperial emblems and predicates, thus helping to create the myth of Moscow as the ‘third Rome ‘. In the same period the Church came to assume the character of a national Church. The process of territorial unification and the overall strengthening of central power also led to an increase in the Tsar’s authority over the nobles, the boyars. With Ivan IV the Terrible (1547-84) the Russia extended towards the S and towards the E (conquest of Siberia), while bitter struggles for the possession of Livonia and the Baltic coast pitted it against Sweden and Poland. After reorganizing the military system and the ecclesiastical administration, Ivan IV opposed the power of the boyars through the institution of the opričnina, which involved the concession of a large part of the lands, already requisitioned to boyars, to be administered to the military or other close collaborators of the tsar, giving life to a small nobility strictly dependent on the tsar.
● When Ivan IV died, with the reign of Boris Godunov (1598-1605), a long struggle of factions broke out; the renewed conflict between the Tsar and the boyars and the economic weakening of the countryside plunged the Russia into full crisis. In 1613 Tsar Michael I (1613-45), founder of the Romanov dynasty, came to power. With him and with his successors Alessio (1645-76) and Teodoro (1676-82) the enslavement of the peasants and the Russian territorial expansion continued ( fig. 3 ).
From Peter the Great to the war against Napoleon
During the reign of Peter I the Great (1689-1725) the Russia experienced a renewal of the military and civil organization of the state, alongside the first signs of economic development and the resumption of an expansionist policy: this set of factors laid the foundations for the transformation of the Russia (from 1721, Russian Empire) into one of the main European powers. The development of the first industries was accompanied by the creation of a standing army and a navy. Foreign policy developed, according to the traditional orientation, to the NW, for control of the Baltic Sea, and to the SW, against the Ottoman Empire. With the Second Northern War (1700-21) the Russia imposed its hegemony in the Baltic region and with the Peace of Nystad (1721) it obtained from Sweden: Karelia, Ingria, Estonia and Livonia. The acquisition of numerous ports on the Baltic Sea (in addition to St. Petersburg, founded in 1703 and became the Russian capital in 1712) allowed for an increase in trade. Internally, Peter I concentrated his work on strengthening state power in a centralistic and autocratic sense. The condition of the peasants worsened further (introduction of the testatico, 1708), the nobility was subjected to the obligation of state service; also the Orthodox Church it was strictly subordinate to the state.
● The provisions of Peter I were partly downsized by his successors (Catherine I, 1725-27; Peter II, 1727-30; Anna Ivanovna, 1730-40; Elizabeth, 1741-61, Peter III, 1762). In particular, in 1730 the compulsory state service for the nobles was limited, then abrogated in 1761. On the international level, the weakening of Poland opened a new expansionist direction: after participation in the War of the Polish Succession and the War of the Seven years, the Russian intervention progressively increased; in the three successive Polish divisions (1772-97) the Russia obtained western Ukraine, Belarus and Courland. In the area of conflict with the Ottoman Empire, the peace of Küciük Qainarge (1774) sanctioned the independence of Crimea (annexed to the Russia in 1783) and assigned to Moscow the territory between the Bug and the Dnieper, as well as some strategic fortifications on the Black Sea, in the Kuban´ and in the northern Caucasus; under the same treaty, Moscow also received a generic right to protect the sultan’s orthodox subjects. During the eighteenth century the expansion beyond the Urals also continued, while in the north the Empire extended as far as Alaska (1799), ceded in 1867 to the United States.
● During the reign of Catherine II (1762-96) the administrative reform already initiated by Peter I (increase in the number of governorates) was resumed, also in response to the crisis produced, between 1773 and 1775, by the peasant revolt led by the Cossack And the Pugachev, the latest in a long series of uprisings that had marked the century. With the publication in 1785 of the Charter of the nobility, the expansion of the noble privileges of the previous decades was also sanctioned. His successor Paul I (1796-1801) attempted to strengthen the subordination of the nobles to the state, but was overthrown by a palace conspiracy, which placed his son Alexander I (1801-25) on the throne. The partial realization of the reform elaborated by MM Speranskij involved the reorganization of the ministries and the creation of a Committee of Ministers (1802), with the task of supervising the administrative apparatus. In 1810, a Council of State was establishedwith consultative powers, while the Senate increasingly assumed the functions of the highest judicial body. With Paul I and then with Alexander I, the Russia, together with Great Britain, was the main opponent of Napoleon, on whom, after various vicissitudes, he inflicted a very heavy defeat in 1812, contributing decisively to the end of his empire.
The tsarist empire in the nineteenth century
After the fall of Napoleon, the Russia was one of the protagonists of European politics. He played an important role in the Congress of Vienna (1814-15), gaining Poland among other things. Together with Prussia and Austria, moreover, he gave birth to the Holy Alliance, which played an essential role in overseeing the international order of the Restoration. A strongly autocratic state, the Russia remained extraneous to the uprisings and revolutions that swept Europe in the first half of the nineteenth century. The only exception was the movement of the Decembrists of 1825, repressed in blood by Tsar Nicholas I (1825-55) as soon as he took office. For the rest, on the occasion of both the Polish revolt of 1830-31 and the revolutions of 1848-49 in central Europe, the Russia played the role of guardian of the reaction. An important turning point was the Crimean War (1853-56) against the Turks, Great Britain, France and the Kingdom of Sardinia. In this conflict, in fact, Russia showed all her weakness and, defeated, withdrew on herself. A wide debate then opened up between ‘Westernists’ and ‘Slavophiles’, that is, between the proponents of Western-style reforms and those who opposed this perspective in the name of the peculiarities of Russian civilization. The same leaders of the Tsarist power, starting with Tsar Alexander II (1855-81), became aware of the need to start a process of modernization that would allow the overcoming of the structural backwardness of the Empire. The main result of this turning point was, in 1861, the abolition of serfdom. However, it was an insufficient measure, which failed to solve the problems of the peasants and therefore to trigger the development of a modern economy.