Russian Royalty: The Ruricks


Figure 1.--The Ruricks ruled Russiafor seven centuries. This imaginative painting of the last Rurik, the Tsarevich Dmitry, ws painted by M.V. Nestorov in 1899.

Oleh/Oleg during the mid-8th century became the first prince of Kiev and founded the Rurick Dynasty. Oleh employed mercenary troops to unite the Eastern Slavs for the first time. He introduced a complex system combining tribute and military democracy. Oleh also led impressive military operations against Khozzars, a nation of Jewish origin residing on Volga. Oleh led and even larger army against Byzantium and assaulted Constantinople. This was the first Western introduction to a Slavic power in the East--the Kievian Rus. After Oleh's death, his relative Ihor became the Great Prince of Kiev. Thor's greed and cruelty led to his downfall. His wife, Olga, replaced him as the Great Princess. She accepted Christianity and this becan the Christianization of the Eastern Slavs. Olga also sought to establish more cooperative relations with Byzantium. Olga's son Svyatoslav, was a superb military leader. He fought predatory nomadic tribes like Pechenigy and conquered Bulgaria. SvyatoslavHe was killed by a group of Pechenigy after his victory over Byzantium. Kiev declined as a result of a debilatating feud among his sons. This period of instability was finally ended when Vladimir the Red Sun, seized Kiev and became the fifth Great Prince. He baptised the Rus' into Christianity (988) and repulsed a Byzantine army. His son, Yaroslav the Wise, enacted the first legal code which made up the first set of laws in Russia, came to be known as Rus's Truths. An internl power stuggle and an invasion by the Cumans followed.

The Vikings: Eastern Migrations

The history of Russia begins in the 9th century AD as part of the outburst of the Norsemen from Scandanavia that so affected England and Western Europe. Norsemen also moved east. While Danish and Norwegian Vikings struck west and south, Swedish Vikings moved east and played a major role in the development of Russia. These Vikings are know as the Rus and it is from this name that the name of Russia has been derived. Actually the Rus were Swedish Vikings meaning the northern Germanic tribes which setteled in Sweden. The Term Rus was not what they called themselves, but the name given them by the Finns. The Varangians from modern Sweden crossed the Baltic Sea and landed in Eastern Europe. The Varangians leader was the warrior Rurik. He was an actual historical figure, although most of what we know about him comes from legend. He led a band of Varangians to Novgorod on the Volkhov River (862). He became the ruler of the city, although we are not sure he actually conquered the city. Legend suggests that the Sebs invited him. That may or may not be true. It rather sounds like Rurik's descendents legitimizing the dynasty. Based on the Western experience, the Vikings were not the sort of people one invited nor did they require invitations.

Individual Monarchs

Rurick was the first leader of Russia. He was a war leader who led a band of Varangians (Rus) and took control of Novogorad later sending a mission to Kiev. His son Oleg/Oleh was more of a modern prince who founded the dynasty that ruled Russia for over 700 years. Vladimir the Red Sun, seized Kiev and became the fifth Great Prince. He baptised the Rus' into Christianity (988) and repulsed a Byzantine army. Ivan the Great significantly expabded the territory of Russia. The best known Rurik is Ivan the Terrible. The Tsarevich Dmitry was the last Rurick.

Rurick (862-879)

The Varangians from modern Sweden crossed the Baltic Sea and landed in Eastern Europe. The Varangians leader was the warrior Rurik. He was an actual historical figure, although most of what we know about him comes from legend. He led a band of Varangians to Novgorod on the Volkhov River (862). He became the ruler of the city, although we are not sure he actually conquered the city. Legend suggests that the Sebs invited him. That may or may not be true. It rather sounds like Rurik's descendents legitimizing the dynasty. Based on the Western experience, the Vikings were not the sort of people one invited nor did they require invitations. Much of what we know about this period of Russian history is more legend than history, but we do know that Rurik was an actual historical figure although his accomplishments are semi-legendary. .

Oleh/Oleg (879-912)

Oleh during the mid-8th century became the first prince of Kiev. He was the son of Rurik and like his father is semi-legindary. His far was essentially a war leader. Oleh was more of a nodern prince thus some historians claim that he actually founded the Rurick Dynasty. Oleh employed mercenary troops to unite the Eastern Slavs for the first time. He introduced a complex system combining tribute and military democracy. Oleh also led impressive military operations against Khazzars, a nation that had afopted the Jewish faith residing on Volga. He helped seize Kiev from the Khazzars (882). Oleh led and even larger army against Byzantium and assaulted Constantinople. This was the first Western introduction to a Slavic power in the East--the Kievian Rus.

Thor

After Oleh's death, his relative Ihor became the Great Prince of Kiev. Thor's greed and cruelty led to his downfall.

Olga

His wife, Olga, replaced him as the Great Princess. She accepted Christianity and this becan the Christianization of the Eastern Slavs. Olga also sought to establish more cooperative relations with Byzantium.

Svyatoslav

Olga's son Svyatoslav, was a superb military leader. He fought predatory nomadic tribes like Pechenigy and conquered Bulgaria. SvyatoslavHe was killed by a group of Pechenigy after his victory over Byzantium. Kiev declined as a result of a debilatating feud among his sons.

Vladimir

This period of instability was finally ended when Vladimir the Red Sun, seized Kiev and became the fifth Great Prince. He baptised the Rus' into Christianity (988) and repulsed a Byzantine army.

Yaroslav

His son, Yaroslav the Wise, enacted the first legal code which came to be known made up the first set of laws in Russia, came to be known as Rus's Truths. An internl power stuggle and an invasion by the Cumans followed.

Ivan I (1325-1341)

Ivan I established Moscow as the preminent city of Russia. He ruled as the Grand Prince Ivan I of Vladimir (1325-1341). He was also known as Ivan Kalita, or moneybags, because he collected the tribute for the Mongols from neighboring princes. Ivan was the second ruler of Moscow to serve as Grand Prince of Vladimir Suzdal. After Tver defected to to Lithuania the Khan of the Mongol (Tartar) Golden Horde began to use Ivan as his preeminent Russian vassal and to collect the annual tribute. Ivan's role as the primary Monngol tax collector helped to to enrich the growing trading city of Moscow. Ivan expanded the influence of Moscow by extending loans to neigboring princes. The resulting endebteness eased the way for Ivan's successors to annex them. Ivan also convinced the Mongol Khan in Sarai that his son should should inherit the title of Grand Prince of Vladimir, a title that was to become hereditary.

Ivan II (1353-59)

Ivan II was known as Ivan the Meek.

Dimitry Donskoy (1359/6189)

Dimitry Ivanovich was the son of Ivan II. He ruled as Prince of Moscow, or Muscovy (135989), and grand prince of Vladimir (136289). His father died when Dimitry was only 9 years old making the boy ruler of Muscovy (1359). I do not have details at this time concerning his childhood and events concering his earlier reign when he was still a boy. He was advised and influenced by Saint Sergey Radonezhsky who despite his early years as a hermit was an ardent Russian nationalist hating the Tartats (Mongols). Sergey urged Prince Dimitry to confront the Tartars. This was the last era of Mongol domination over Russia. The Mongol remnant state was the Golden Horde which was experiencing civil war and dynastic rivalries. Muscovy still collected and paid tribute. Prince Dimitry refused to pay when the Tartars demanded an increased tribute. Moscow was by this time the dominant principality in northeastern Russia. Prince Dimitry commanded the Moscovite forces which defeated the Tatars at the Battke of Kulikovo (1380). This in effect established the independence of Muscovy. This was the first significant Russian victory over the Tartars. The battle site was near the Don River. As a result, Prince Dimitry was given the honorific Donskoy after this battle. The Prince is also known as the first Muscovy rukler to order that the defenses of the city be strengthened with a stone wall.

Ivan III (1462-1505)

Ivan III Vasilevich (1440-1505) is known to history as Ivan the Great. Ivan signifucantly expanded the territory of Muscovy. He annexed Tver and Novogorod which dominated th important northern fur trade. Ivan defeated Lithuania, at the time an important power and threat to Russia. Ivan also established Rusia's independnce from the Mongols (Tartars). Khan Akmad demanded a greater tribute and moved his army toward Moscow. The two opposing armies met at the Ugra River, but surprisingly there was no battle. Neither Ivan nor Akmad were anxious to risk all. Khan Akmad retired meaning in effect that Russia was now free of the Mongol yoke. Ivan thus became the Russia's first great modern ruler. A few years before Ivan became Grand Prince, Constantinople fell to the Ottoman Turks. Ivan married Sophia, niece of the last Byzantine Emperor, Constantine XI--establishing link with the Roman emperors. Ivan and Sophia adopted the principle that Moscow was the continuation of Rome and Constantinople--in effect a Third Rome. Sophia introduced some of the ritual of the Byzantine court. The title Tsar became used. It was the Russian term for Ceasar and Ivan now claimed a family tree back to Ceasar. Ivan claimed the Byzantine double eagle as the symbol for the holy Russian Empire. Architects from Itly to turn Moscow's Kremlin into a great national and Christian center. They built palaces, armories, and churches.

Ivan the Terrible (1533-84)

Ivan IV (1530-84) is known to history as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan came to the throne when he was 3 years old. A struggle for power swirlded around the young Tsareviych. Ivan came to hate the Boyars or nobels. He was croned at age 16 (1547). At first Ivan ruled with moderation and limited inovation. Ivan brought the first printing press from the West. He revised the legal code, and created Russia's first standing army. Ivan created the Zemsky Sobor, a council of the nobles. Like Western rulers, Ivan subordinated the Church to the state. Moscow had been built on trade. Ivan as Tsar helped Russia form new trading connections with the West. Here the principle difficulty was trade routes. Roads west were primitive and blocked by Poland. The Baltic was controlled by Sweden. Ivan opened the White Sea port of Archangel to English merchants. While ice-bound during the Winter, it did orovide an outlet to the West. Ivan also defeated the Tartars and annexed Kazan Astrakhan Khanates to the east and south. This gave Ivan control of the Volga, an essential trading route. He ordered the construction of Miscow's famed St. Basil's Cathedral and dedicated it to victory over Kazan. A legend claims that Ivn was so struck ith the beauty of the Cathedral that he ordered the architects blinded, so that they would never be able to build anything as beautiful. Ivan also began the process of turning serfdom in a status near slavery. Until Ivan, serfs had a freedom of movement. If they were unfairly treated by one landlord, they could move. Ivan restricted this movement only to winter after the harvest. Of course in Russia's severe winter this greatly restructed such movement. Ivan also created the Oprichina (1564). The Oprichina was part of Russia directly ruled by Ivan. It was policed by his personal secret service, the Oprichniki. Ivan became involved with wars s part of a drive west. He wared with Swedes, Lithuanians, Poles, and the German Teutonic Knights. Ivan waged war for 22 years at emense cost, destabilizing the Russian economy. Ivan also suffreded personal tragedy. Hi cloest friend defected to he Poles. His beloved wife died. There were rumors that the Boyars were responible. Ivan himself fell sick. Ivan had never been a gentle ruler. It is at this time he becomes extrodinarily violent. His Oprichniki turn into murderous thugs and Ivan makes no effort to restrain thm. Important areas are depopulated. Novgorod is virtually obliterated. People ar no only killed, but often cruely tortured. Ivan in a rage beats his pregnant daughter-in-law causing her to miscarry. He then bears his son to death--his only son of any real capacity. The dimitted Feodor inherits the throne, bringing on a time of instability during which Russia is invaded by the Swedes and Poles. Ivan's life was depicted in a never completd series of film clsics by Sergei Eisenstein. It was never completed because Stalin, seeing the similarities, disliked the films.

Tsarevich Dmitry

The Tsarina's Palace stands in the Kremlin at Uglich. Maria Nagaya, from a Boyar family lived at Uglich. She was the seventh wife of Ivan the Terrible. The Tsarevich Dmitry died in her palace garden (1591). The Tsarevich was a sickly boy and the last of the Rurik dynasty. No one knows the details of his death, but there are endless rumors. Some believed he stabbed himself during an epileptic fit. Others believe that Boris Godunov ordered him killed. One of Gudunov's retainers may have killed the Tsarevich. A a small chapel ws built where the Tsarevich bled to death.







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Created: October 3, 2003
Last updated: 2:52 PM 3/20/2009