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Kievan Rus establishment
During the era of medieval Russia, the Kievan Rus emerged as one of the powerful empires established and centered on the city of Kiev. This unique empire in Russia played a great role in the development of various aspects in the country, including the foundation and establishment of Russia and Ukraine (Dmytryshyn, 2000). Initially, before the establishment of the Kievan Rus, the people of Rus were originally Vikings, who had come from Sweden, and moved to Eastern Europe during the 800s century. Immediately the migrated to Eastern Europe, these Rus people went ahead and established a small kingdom under the rule of King Rurik. This would saw the Rurik dynasty rule the Rus people for the next 900 years (Pritsak, 1980). However, back in 1880, a new king known as King Oleg shifted the capital of the Rus from Novgorod to Kiev. This marked the beginning of a new era; the era of Kievan Rus.
Oleg’s military conquest and dominance of Kievan Rus
With this new beginning, the Kievan Rus became an empire which was more territorially extensive, given the fact that as the first king, King Oleg initiated and run very vigorous attacks against the Kiev Empire’s close neighbors which included raiding of nearest territories like Byzantium and Constantinople (Pritsak, 1980). By victories of these enemies, King Oleg; the first Kiev Rus leader, managed to consolidate the Kiev Empire, as he was able to defeat and subjugate various key territories including the Poliane, Severiane, Vyatichi, and Radimichs; instructing them not to obey or pay any tribute to his enemy the Khazars. With such battles, the Kiev Rus expanded its territorial boundaries, but at the same time remained the more thinly populated empire in Europe (Hanak, 2014). Immediately the Kievan Rus was established, it is identified that all the successive Rus (Kings) who controlled the military and the administration of the empire adopted a policy of ruling their empire as a confederacy of small principalities.
Kievan Rus early economic growth
With such supremacy and dominance, Oleg focused on developing the Kievan Rus Empire; as he focused on the development and expansion of a system of Rus forts in Slav lands (Maus, 2003). Under Oleg leadership, the new Kievan Rus state economically developed, as the peace and stability brought about by the firm leadership of Oleg allowed the citizens to have a serene environment for the production of furs, honey, beeswax, and slaves for exports. Through Oleg military conquest, the Kievan Rus Empire was also able to capture, and control three man trade routes in Kiev routes that were mainly the way to Eastern Europe market (Hanak, 2014). Kievan Rus Empire became a strategic territorial location, as it served as the principal base along the Dnieper route in Central Europe. With such strategic commercial links, the Kievan Rus Empire was able to economically grow and flourish, as the Rus merchants were able to easily get commercial connections that allowed them to sell the empire’s products like furs, honey, beeswax, and slaves to neighboring markets in Central Europe (Maus, 2003). This way, the Kievan Empire was able to not only enrich its merchants, but also generate revenue that was able to be used in funding its military forces, as well as for the construction of churches, towns, and palaces.
Kievan Rus early foreign relations
Immediately the Kievan Rus Empire was established, the Kievan leaders maintained volatile relations with their neighbor’s. This led to volatile steppe politics, and the volatile Rus’–Byzantine relations (Martin, 2004). The Oleg’s conquest of Kievan Rus empire enemies led to the expansion of the Rus territory to the south; a move that created a huge conflict and brought about volatile relations with the neighboring territories and empires including the Khazars.
During the 8th century, the Khazars had established themselves as the dominant kingdom in the Black Sea Steppe, and they traded with their neighboring friends including the Byzantine Empire (Maus, 2003). However, the rapid expansion of the Kievan Empire started to put military and economic stress on the Khazars, denying them of the trade, rivers and territorial advantages they had been enjoying for decades (Hanak, 2014). Oleg initiated a war with the Khazars, and by the 10th century, the Khazars were weakened and lost the dominance they used to exhibit in the region before the establishment of Kievan Empire. The weakening of Khazars, gave the Kievan Rus Empire an opportunity to dominate in all fields, including culturally, commercially and in terms of military (Martin, 2004). This way, Kievan Rus was able to consolidate its operations and activities, to control all key trade routes.
In addition, when Oleg became the Kiev’s leader, the Kievan Rus relations with Byzantines worsened. By then, Rus wealth and income largely depended on the trade with the Byzantium (Dmytryshyn, 2000). However, given this close trade relation, and its importance to the Kiev’s leaders, it is stated the Oleg always used to initiate military attacks to the Byzantine, so as to ensure he retained control of trade routes that his empire shared with the Byzantines.
A golden age in Kiev: Reign of Vladimir and Christianization
The Kievan Empire had been under the rule of various leaders including Oleg, whose work was largely to lay the foundation for the empire. These early leaders, as discussed earlier, engaged in various military wars with their neighbors including the Khazars, as well as the Byzantines (Martin, 2004). These early efforts were made by the Kievan Rus leaders, as they attempted to control trade routes and businesses that were known to generate revenues in Eastern Europe. However, in 980, most of the wars between the Kievan Rus Empire and its neighbor’s had ceased, and this marked the beginning of peace and stability in the empire (Maus, 2003). At this time, a new leader, under a new titles the Grand Prince. In the early stages, the Kievan Rus Empire was run by the prince, but by the end of 980, the main leader overseeing the operations of the entire kingdom was known as the Grand Prince (Pritsak, 1980). This title change came as a result of the empire expansion.
As the Kievan Rus Empire expanded, the different prince was selected to rule in various regions, and thus the need for a Grand Prince, who would then oversee the work of all other princes in the empire (Hanak, 2014). So, by 980 when Vladimir the Great was coming into power, he came in the capacity of the Grand Prince. By then, the Kievan Rus Empire had stabilized, as wars had ended and peace had prevailed (Hanak, 2014). Upon taking over the leadership, as the grand prince, Vladimir the Great guided the empire through a period of prosperity, economic and growth. This period, resulted to great change and transformation in the empire, as trade flourished, economic activities ballooned as people engaged in diver5se economic activities including trade, bee farming, as well as mineral trade (Dmytryshyn, 2000). Vladimir the Great, a grand prince who ruled the Kievan Rus from 980 to 1015, undertook various initiatives, including the expansion of Kievan Rus, as well as uniting the then existing number of Slavic states under a single rule.
In his reign, Vladimir the Great succeeded in converting the Kievan Rus Empire citizenry to Christianity. This is termed as one of the main paces of accomplishment that Vladimir the Great achieved in his leadership as the grand prince. The Christianization process by this grand prince started back in 988, as he accepted a new devotion thus abandoning the outdated idol-devotion popularly known as “paganism of the Slavs” (Hanak, 2014). Before settling on Christianity, Vladimir the Great had enquired about new other religions including the Islam, which he rejected due to the fact that it banned the drinking of alcohol, as well as Judaism, simply for the reason that the gods of Jews had allowed his special people to be dispossessed of their republic.
The move by Vladimir the Great to convert Rus to be a Christian empire had a huge positive impact on the entire Kievan Rus territory (Dmytryshyn, 2000). The Christianization allowed for comprehensive strengthening of Kievan Rus ties to Constantinople, and the leadership of the Eastern Orthodox Church. This way, the Kievan Rus Empire was opened to civilization, and also helped the empire to establish close ties with Greece, thus allowing the Kievan Rus merchants to expand their trade scope as they started doing business with contemporary business Greek people (Pritsak, 1980). This way, the Kievan Empire, benefited socially, and economically from such a process.
Fragmentation and decline of Kievan Rus
After the death Vladimir the Great passed away, his son Yaroslav the Wise rose to the leadership, and became the new king. During the period in office of Yaroslav the Wise son Yaroslav, the Kievan Rus Empire growth reached its peak (Hanak, 2014). Yaroslav wedded his offspring to neighboring countries as a strategy to ensure the empire retained peace and cordial trade relations. The new leader also went ahead to establish a written code of laws, constructed a library in Kiev, and supported education among his people (Maus, 2003). However, Yaroslav the Wise later died, and this marked the beginning of the fall of the empire.
The gradual decline and collapse of the Kievan Rus empire started back in 1100, when then former grand prince Yaroslavl the wise died. By then, there was a rapid rise in regional clans across the Kievan Rus, and this weakened the grand prince position in the empire (Pritsak, 1980). This way, a room for the establishment of unconventional power succession system started to be established (the Rota system); a system which allowed the transfer of power to the oldest colleague of the ruling line, instead of the traditionally accepted move of transferring power from father to son. After the death of Yaroslav the Wise, three of his sons were left fighting, as each of them wanted to rise to power (Martin, 2004). This greatly destabilized the empire, thus leading to its decline.
Dmytryshyn, B. (2000). Medieval Russia: A source book, 850-1700. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press.
Hanak, W. K. (2014). The nature and the image of princely power in Kievan Rus’, 980-1054: A study of sources. Leiden: Brill.
Martin, J. (2004). Treasure of the Land of Darkness: The Fur Trade and its Significance for Medieval Russia. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Maus, D. C. (2003). Russia. San Diego, CA: Greenhaven Press.
Pritsak, O. (1980). On the writing of history in Kievan Rus?. Cambridge, MA: Ukrainian Studies Fund, Harvard University.