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OCTOBER 19
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Russia Travel Guide

Russia History

Viking Rurik Viking Rurik came to Russia in 862 and founded the first Russian dynasty in Novgorod. The fact is that in the course of the 9th century, Viking tribes from Scandinavia moved southward into European Russia, tracing a path along the main waterway connecting the Baltic and Black Seas. The various tribes were united by the spread of Christianity in the 10th and 11th centuries. During the 11th century, the grand dukes of Kiev held such centralizing power as existed. The next two centuries saw the rise of Moscow as a provincial capital and centre of the Christian Orthodox Church.

Under Ivan III (1462–1505) and his successor, Vasily III (1505–33), the Muscovite state expanded, and its rulers became more absolute. The principality of Yaroslavl was annexed in 1463 and Rostov-Suzdal in 1474; Novgorod was conquered in 1478, Tver in 1485, Pskov in 1510, and Ryazan in 1521. Ivan ceased to pay tribute to the Tatars, and in 1497 he adopted the first code of laws. Having married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, Ivan considered Moscow the “third Rome” and himself heir to the tradition of the Byzantine Empire.

In 1547, at the age of 17, Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible; reigned 1533–84) was crowned czar of all Russia. He conquered the Tatar khanates of Kazan (1552) and Astrakhan (1556), establishing Russian rule over the huge area of the middle and lower Volga. The conquered border territories were colonized by Russian settlers and defended by the Cossacks. After the reign of the sickly Feodor I (1584–98), state power passed to Boris Godunov (reigned 1598–1605), who was elected czar by a Zemsky Sobor (national cuncil).

With the death of Boris in 1605 began the “Time of Troubles" that intervened between the death of Ivan the Terrible in 1584 and the establishment of the Romanov dynasty in 1613. During the reign (1689–1725) of Peter I (Peter the Great) Russian politics, administration, and culture were altered considerably. He created a regular conscript army and navy. He abolished the patriarchate of Moscow and created (1721) the Holy Synod, directly subordinate to the emperor, thus depriving the church of the last vestiges of independence. He recast the administrative and fiscal systems, creating new organs of central government, reforming local administration, and he also founded the first modern industries and made an attempt to introduce elements of Western education.

Seeking to make Russia a maritime power, Peter acquired Livonia, Ingermanland (Ingria), Estonia, and parts of Karelia and Finland as a result of the Northern War (1700–1721), thus securing a foothold on the Baltic Sea. As a symbol of the new conquests he founded (1703) Saint Petersburg on the Gulf of Finland and transferred (1712) his capital there. Russia was rapidly becoming a European power. Peter also began the Russian push to the Black Sea, taking Azov in 1696, but his war with Turkey from 1711 to 1713 ended in failure and the loss of Azov.

Russia also took an increasing part in European affairs. The immediate successors of Peter the Great were Catherine I (reigned 1725–27), Peter II (reigned 1727–30), Anna (reigned 1730–40), and Ivan VI (reigned 1740–41). Empress Elizabeth (reigned 1741–62) successfully sided against Prussia in the Seven Years War, but her successor, Peter III, took Russia out of the war.

Peter's wife successfully seized power from him (1762), and when he was murdered shortly thereafter she became empress as Catherine II (Catherine the Great; 1762–96). Under her rule Russia became the chief power of continental Europe. She continued Peter I's policies of absolute rule at home and of territorial expansion at the expense of neighboring states. Catherine's administrative reforms further centralized power. However, under her “enlightened despotism,” Russian writers, scientists, and artists began the great creative efforts that culminated in the late 19th and early 20th cent.

Alexander I (1801–25), joined the third coalition against Napoleon, but made peace with France at Tilsit (1807) and annexed Finland from Sweden. In wars with Turkey and Persia, Alexander gained Bessarabia by the Treaty of Bucharest and Caucasian territories by the Treaty of Gulistan. In 1812, Napoleon began his great onslaught on Russia and took Moscow, but his army was repulsed and nearly annihilated in the winter of that year. Napoleon's downfall and the peace settlement made Russia and Austria the leading powers on the Continent at the head of the Holy Alliance.

Russia History Part II  »
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