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Of Kyivan Rus

By its political structure, Kyivan Rus was one of the early feudal States of medieval Europe. In the 9th and the 10th centuries, it was keeping almost all of the Eastern Slavonic tri­bes and quite a few non-Slavonic tribes under the suzerainty of the Grand Duke. As the territory of the State expanded, then Grand Duke's power was strengthened. The traditional veche (popular assembly) degenerated: it met on no more than extraordinary occasions. Major affairs of the State were settled by a boyar rada made up of feudal lords who were the Grand Duke's close associates.

The Grand Duke had some other princes of smaller calibre and boyars in vassal dependence. His escort was his standing army and his machinery of government. Whenever necessary, the Grand Duke called scores of thousands of fighting men under his colours, mostly from among free peasants. The army consisted of infantry and cavalry. It used river- and sea-going warships in its campaigns. The warriors were armed with swords, sabres, knives, spears, battle-axes.

The Prince's armed forces played the role of the state elite in Kyiv Rus until the early 11th century. Elder men at arms served as the Prince's advisers in the most important state affairs, occupied all administrative, and court posts. Under the reign of Yaroslav Mudriy (or Yaroslav the Wise), they performed only military functions, while administrative and legislative staffs were subject to boyars (old tribal aristocrats by birth).

Land cultivation, using a wide variety of implements was basic to Kyivan Rus agriculture. Recent archaeological excavations have demonstrated that iron ploughshares were in use in Ukraine by the 10th century and that the relatively advanced two or three–field crop rotation system (leaving one–half to one–third of the land fallow) was also used. Wheat, oats, rye and barley were the favored crops. Livestock breeding was also widespread among the peasants of Rus, providing them not only with meat and milk, but also with leather for closing and shoes. So too was the raising of horses, swine, sheep, geese, chickens and pigeons. Oxen made cultivation possible on a large scale. Although peasants often owned the implements necessary for farming the land on their own, they usually banded together in communes, or “obshchyny” (which consisted of blood relatives from several generations led by a patriarch).

Handicrafts made notable headway. The range of iron articles alone comprised about 150 items. Iron was produced, as a rule, from bog ore by smelting in bloomeries. Scores of them have been discovered in some localities, for instance, on the site of the ancient Russian city of Gorodsk on the Teterev River.

The craftsmanship of Rus goldsmiths was amazing, as one can judge from the fine articles they made of gold, silver and murate enamel. Pottery trade and glass blowing attained a high level of achievement. Glazing pottery was widely used to decorate temples and palaces in Kiev, Novgorod, Smolensk and other cities. All kinds of bracelets, finger-rings, beads, cups of glass, made in hearths or crucibles, were widespread in everyday life. Wood was used to build homes and fortifications as well as household utensils, furniture and private vehicles like carts, sledges, boats.

Trade was instrumental in promoting a close relationship between lands. Articles made by Kyiv handicraftsmen, for instance, reached the markets in Novgorod whence a wide variety of furs came to the Dnieper country. The Halych land supplied salt not only for the local population but also for that of distant Russian lands. The external economic links of the ancient Russian State were being strengthened. These were maintained mostly through the Greek (Scandinavia – Rus – Byzantine Empire), Solyanoi (the Dnieper Country – the Halych Land) and Zalozny (the Dniester Country – the Azov Country – and the Caucasus) trade routes. Various goods (furs, honey, wax, hides, and products of handicraft industry) went from Rus to the markets of Poland, Czechia, Moravia and countries of Western Europe. Rus was, in her turn, importing articles of gold, expensive fabrics, wine and vegetables from Byzantium, plates and dishes from the Arab world, copper, lead, arms, and all kinds of recreational and household objects from Western Europe.

Forward-looking processes in the economy of Rus (division of labour and development of handicrafts and commerce), made for the emergence of cities as centres of handicrafts and trade as well as administrative, defense, cultural and religious centres. Kyiv was one of the oldest cities of Rus. It was founded late in the 5th century – 1500 years ago. First, it was the political centre of the federation of Polyan tribes but from the 9th century on, it became known as the "capital city" of the integrated ancient Russian State. Little by little, other cities sprang up in Kyivan Rus, as Chernigov, Pereyaslav, Novgorod, Smolensk, Minsk, Polotsk, Vladimir, Novgorod-Seversky.

Artisans, like iron forgers, potters, glass blowers, goldsmiths, tailors and dress-makers (altogether about 60 trades) who joined together in communes – corporations (for instance, of potters and tanners in Kiev), were the largest category of the urban population. Big markets were held in cities where most of the population engaged in commerce. Tradesmen used to come down there even from out-of-the-way places.

Most of the urban dwellers remained personally free. Only servants and estate artisans were feudatory to boyars and merchants. The urban low classes paid no end of taxes to princes and feudal lords, performed heavy duties, built and repaired fortifications and maintained the clergymen. All that had the effect of exacerbating class contradictions and precipitating rebellions in cities.

Little by little, a system of vassal and hierarchical relations shaped up in Rus. It was presided over by the "Grand Duke of Russia", the owner of the land whose authority was identified with that of the State, to all intents and purposes. "Noble princes" and boyars, who owned dukedoms, lands, and big cities, were vassals dependent on him. Smaller towns or villages belonged to small-time feudal lords – vassals of princes. The Orthodox Church and monasteries owned vast tracts of land. That feudal pyramid was quite a heavy burden lying on the shoulders of peasants, the actual makers of the material values of ancient Russian society.

Feudal corvee and tribute in money were introduced in Rus more and more often from the 10th century on. The peasants, the main category of the dependent population, were required to pay tribute in kind (in furs, honey, or wax). Those very peasants, even though they had their own plots of land to farm, still were under obligation to work a specified number of days on feudal estates.


Historians divide the political history of Kyivan Rus into 3 phases:

I. The origin and formation of Kyivan Rus (late IX — late X cen.)

II. The height of Kyivan Rus political power and stability, economic prosperity and cultural achievement (late X — mid XI cen.)

III. Feudal fragmentation of Kyivan Rus (second half of XI — mid XIII).

The total destruction inflicted on the city by the Mongols in 1240 marked the tragic conclusion to the Kyivan period in Ukrainian history.


Date: 2015-01-02; view: 1303

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