III. The Postclassical Period, 500–1500 > F. Europe, 461–1500 > 7. Eastern Europe, 1300–1500 > c. Russia
  The Encyclopedia of World History.  2001.
(See 1263)
c. Russia
The period following the death of Alexander Nevski (1263) was marked by the continued and repeated disruption of the Russian lands, due to the complicated and unfortunate system of succession in the princely family. Russia was under the suzerainty of the Tatars (Mongols), who played off one candidate against another, thus increasing the confusion and perpetuating the weakness of the country. The gradual rise of Moscow to prominence among the Russian principalities resulted, among other things, from a skillful policy of colonization and of loyalty to the Tatars. The Tatars often responded by supporting the Muscovite rulers against their neighbors, while nobles and peasants from the other Russian principalities were attracted by the abundance of land in a sparsely populated region. The princes of Moscow provided the nobles with land and peasants in exchange for military and administrative services, but the bulk of the peasants remained on state land (land owned directly by the prince). Moreover, the peasants were organized in village communes, and they redistributed their holdings periodically among themselves, while the nobles, unlike their counterparts in western Europe, did not have alodial estates into which to consolidate their tenures. Thus the princes of Moscow were able to restrict ever more successfully the influence of the nobility, despite some violent reactions to that policy.  1
IVAN I KALITA (Moneybag), grand prince of Moscow. His was the first of a series of noteworthy reigns. Extremely cautious and parsimonious, Ivan bought immunity from Tatar interference and was ultimately entrusted by the Tatars with the collection of tribute from the other princes.  2
Simeon I continued the policy of his predecessor and was placed, by the Tatar overlord, above all the other princes.  3
The second cycle of plague epidemics spread to Russia.  4
DMITRI DONSKOI (of the Don), who ascended to the princely throne at the age of nine. His reign was filled with a struggle against Michael of Tver, his chief rival, who was supported by Algirdas of Lithuania. At the same time, he began the conflict with the Tatars, whose power was fading but who also enjoyed the support of Lithuania.  5
1380, Sept. 8
The Battle of Kulikovo. Dmitri completely defeated the Tatar armies before the Lithuanians arrived. The victory was in no sense decisive, for the Tatars on several occasions thereafter advanced to the very gates of Moscow. But Kulikovo broke the prestige of the Tatar arms.  6
Basil I (Vasili). He annexed Nizhni-Novgorod and continued the struggle with the Tatars and the Lithuanians, without forcing a decision.  7
Basil II, whose reign was distinguished by a relapse into anarchy. A long civil war with his rivals, Yuri and Shemyaka, was followed by Tatar invasion (1451, the Tatars beaten back from Moscow). Nevertheless the Moscow principality managed to maintain itself. In 1439 Basil refused to accept the union of the eastern and western churches, arranged for at the council of Florence. Thenceforth the Russian metropolitan, who had moved to Moscow in the time of Ivan Kalita, became more and more the head of an independent Russian Church.  8
IVAN III (the Great). Through a cautious but persistent policy, he annexed most of the rival principalities and, after a series of wars, subjected Novgorod, where the patrician elements tended to side with Lithuania. In 1471 Novgorod was obliged to renounce the alliance of Lithuania and to pay tribute. After a second war, in 1478, Novgorod's independence was ended and the troublesome upper classes were deported to central Russia. In 1494 Ivan drove out the German merchants and closed the Hanseatic trading station. Thus he acquired the huge territory of Novgorod, extending eastward to the Urals. The annexation of Tver (1485) put an end to the most formidable rival of Moscow.  9
Marriage of Ivan with Zoë (Sophia), niece of the last Greek emperor of Constantinople. This was arranged by the pope, in the hope of bringing the Russians into the Roman Church, but all efforts in that direction failed. It also served to introduce into Moscow the Byzantine conception of the autocrat (Ivan took the title of tsar—i.e., caesar) and the practice of Byzantine court ceremonial.  10
Ivan threw off the Tatar yoke after a last Tatar advance on Moscow. Ivan avoided open warfare but took advantage of the Tatars' disunion. Mengli Girai, the khan of the Crimea, joined him against the Lithuanians.  11
Rebuilding of the Kremlin (Russian for “citadel”), including the present wall, 7,200 feet (2,195 meters) long, and the Uspenski (Assumption) Cathedral, which was the work of the Italian architect Aristotele Fioravanti. The Kremlin was to be the residence of Russia's monarchs until the 18th century. The Granovitaya Palace (Hall of Facets), also built in the 15th century, served as an audience chamber.  12
The Encyclopedia of World History, Sixth edition. Peter N. Stearns, general editor. Copyright © 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Maps by Mary Reilly, copyright 2001 by Houghton Mifflin Company. Published by Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.