Kievan Rus

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Kievan Rus

(kē`ĕfən), medieval state of the Eastern Slavs. It was the earliest predecessor of modern Ukraine and Russia. Flourishing from the 10th to the 13th cent., it included nearly all of present-day UkraineUkraine
, Ukr. Ukraina, republic (2015 est. pop. 44,658,000), 232,046 sq mi (601,000 sq km), E Europe. It borders on Poland in the northwest; on Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, and Moldova in the southwest; on the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov in the south; on Russia in the
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 and BelarusBelarus
or Byelarus
, officially Republic of Belarus, republic (2015 est. pop. 9,486,000), c.80,150 sq mi (207,600 sq km), E central Europe. It is sometimes called White Russia, and was known as Belorussia under Soviet rule.
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 and part of NW European Russia, extending as far N as Novgorod and Vladimir. According to the Russian Primary Chronicle, a medieval history, the Varangian RurikRurik
, d. 879, semilegendary Varangian warrior, regarded as the founder of the princely dynasty of Kievan Rus. Rurik and his two brothers, at the head of an armed band, apparently seized Novgorod and nearby districts (c.862).
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 established himself at Novgorod c.862 and founded a dynasty. His successor, OlegOleg
or Oleh
, d. c.912, founder of Kievan Rus. Succeeding his kinsman Rurik as leader of the Varangians at Novgorod, Oleg led forth his retainers to seize Kiev (c.879).
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 or Oleh (d. c.912), shifted his attention to the south, seized Kiev (c.879), and established the new Kievan state. The Varangians were also known as Rus or Rhos; it is possible that this name was early extended to the Slavs of the Kievan state, which became known as Kievan Rus. Other theories trace the name Rus to a Slavic origin. Oleg united the Eastern Slavs and freed them from the suzerainty of the KhazarsKhazars
, ancient Turkic people who appeared in Transcaucasia in the 2d cent. A.D. and subsequently settled in the lower Volga region. They emerged as a force in the 7th cent. and rose to great power. The Khazar empire extended (8th–10th cent.
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. His successors were IgorIgor
or Ihor
, d. 945, duke of Kiev (912–45), successor of Oleg as ruler of Kievan Rus. According to the Russian Primary Chronicle, a medieval history, Igor was the son of Rurik, founder of the Russian princely line.
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 or Ihor (reigned 912–45) and Igor's widow, St. Olga or Olha, who was regent until about 962. Under Olga's son, SviatoslavSviatoslav
or Svyatoslav
, d. 972, duke of Kiev (945–72), son of Igor and of St. Olga. His mother acted as regent for him until c.962, when he came of age.
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 or Svyatoslav (d. 972), the Khazars were crushed, and Kievan power was extended to the lower Volga and N Caucasus. Christianity was introduced by Vladimir IVladimir I
, Volodymyr I
, or Saint Vladimir,
d. 1015, first Christian grand duke of Kiev (c.980–1015); son of Sviatoslav. In 970, Vladimir was sent by his father to govern Novgorod.
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 or Volodymyr I (reigned 980–1015), who adopted (c.989) Greek Orthodoxy from the Byzantines. The reign (1019–54) of Vladimir's son, YaroslavYaroslav
(Yaroslav the Wise) , 978–1054, grand duke of Kiev (1019–54); son of Vladimir I. Designated by his father to rule in Novgorod, he became grand duke of Kiev after defeating his older brother Sviatopolk, who succeeded Vladimir I.
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 the Wise, represented the political and cultural apex of Kievan Rus. After his death the state was divided into principalities ruled by his sons; this soon led to civil strife. A last effort for unity was made by Vladimir IIVladimir II
(Vladimir Monomakh) or Volodymyr II,
1053–1125, grand duke of Kiev (1113–25); son of Vsevolod I, prince of Pereyaslavl and grand duke of Kiev (ruled 1078–93).
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 or Volodymyr II (reigned 1113–25), but the perpetual princely strife and the devastating raids of the nomadic CumansCumans
or Kumans
, nomadic East Turkic people, identified with the Kipchaks (or the western branch of the Kipchaks) and known in Russian as Polovtsi. Coming from NW Asian Russia, they conquered S Russia and Walachia in the 11th cent.
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 soon ended the supremacy of Kiev. In the middle of the 12th cent. a number of local centers of power developed: Halych in the west, Novgorod in the north, Vladimir-Suzdal (see VladimirVladimir
, city (1989 pop. 350,000), capital of Vladimir region, W central European Russia, on the Klyazma River. A rail junction, it has industries producing machinery, chemicals, cotton textiles, and plastics. Tourism is also important. Founded in the early 12th cent.
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) in the northwest, and Kiev in the south. In 1169, Kiev was sacked and pillaged by the armies of Andrei Bogolubsky of Suzdal, and the final blow to the Kievan state came with the Mongol invasion (1237–40). The economy of the Kievan state was based on agriculture and on extensive trade with Byzantium, Asia, and Scandinavia. Culture, as well as religion, was drawn from Byzantium; Church SlavonicChurch Slavonic,
language belonging to the South Slavic group of the Slavic subfamily of the Indo-European family of languages (see Slavic languages). Although it is still the liturgical language of most branches of the Orthodox Eastern Church, Church Slavonic is extinct today
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 was the literary and liturgical language of the state. According to some scholars the history of the Kievan state is the common heritage of modern Russians, Ukrainians, and Belarusians, although their existence as separate peoples has been traced as far back as the 12th cent. Ukrainian scholars consider Kievan Rus to be central to the history of Ukraine.


See G. Vernadsky, Kievan Russia (2d ed. 1973); J. L. Evans, The Kievan Russian Principality (1981).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Kievan Rus’


an early feudal state (ninth-early 12th century) that was established in Eastern Europe at the turn of the ninth century as the result of the unification under Kiev’s leadership of Eastern Slavic tribes, whose ancient cultural center was the middle Dnieper area.

One of the largest states in Europe, Kievan Rus’ embraced a vast area—from the Taman’ peninsula in the south and the Dnestr and the upper reaches of the Vistula in the west to the upper reaches of the Severnaia Dvina in the north. The formation of Kievan Rus’ was preceded by a period (sixth-eighth century) during which the preconditions of feudal relations emerged and ripened in the depths of a military democracy. During the period of Kievan Rus’, the Eastern Slavic tribes formed the Old Russian nationality, which subsequently became the basis for the formation of three fraternal nationalities—Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian. The state system of the Eastern Slavs began with Kievan Rus’. Their unification within the single ancient Russian state was conducive to their socioeconomic, political, and cultural development.

The history of Kievan Rus’ is conventionally divided into five stages. The first stage (up to 882) saw the formation of a feudal state with its capital at Kiev. During this period the Kievan state did not yet include all the Eastern Slavs but was limited to the territory of the Polian, Rus’, Severian, Drevlian, and Polochan tribes, as well as that of the Dregovichy and perhaps the Slovenians. The second stage (882–911) was marked by the seizure of power in Kiev by Oleg, who was, in all probability, the commander of a Varangian druzhina (prince’s retinue). In the third stage (911–1054) the early feudal monarchy of Kievan Rus’ flowered as a result of the growth of productive forces, the development of feudal relations, and the successful struggle against the Pecheneg nomads, Byzantium, and the Varangians. Kievan Rus’ united nearly all of the Eastern Slavic tribes during this period.

The first palpable elements of the decline of Kievan Rus’ appeared during the fourth stage of its history (1054–93). At the same time, however, the society’s productive forces grew as a result of the progressive role played by the feudal structure at this time. During the fifth stage (1093–1132) the feudal monarchy was strengthened, inasmuch as the princes were attempting to consolidate their forces in the wake of the onslaught of the Polovtsy at the end of the 11th century. A more or less unified state was once again created, but the development of feudal centers and the growing role of the boyars promoted the striving for independence of the individual parts of the Kievan state. Kievan Rus’ fell apart in 1132, and the period of feudal fragmentation began.

Economy. Written sources about Kievan Rus’ use several terms to designate rural settlements: pogost, svoboda (sloboda), and selo. Archaeological studies of the ancient Russian countryside have made it possible to distinguish various types of settlements and to establish their respective sizes and the basic features of their construction. During the era in which Kievan Rus’ was formed, plowing with cultivating implements pulled by animals or men gradually replaced hoeing throughout Kievan territory. (In the north, this occurred somewhat later.) The three-field system emerged. Wheat, oats, millet, rye, and barley were among the crops raised in Kievan Rus’, and the chronicles refer to both spring and winter grain. In addition, the Kievan population also raised livestock, hunted, fished, and engaged in beekeeping. Rural handicrafts were of secondary importance. Iron-making, which depended on local swamp ore, was the earliest craft to emerge. Metal was obtained by the process of blooming.

The foundation of the social structure was feudal property in land and the gradually increasing enserfment of the free members of peasant communes. As a result of its enslavement, the village was drawn into the feudal economic system, which rested on the corvée and rent in kind. At the same time, certain aspects of the slaveholding system (kholopstvo) persisted.

During the sixth and seventh centuries, the sites of clan or small family settlements (gorodishcha) disappeared in the forest belt and were replaced by unfortified rural selishcha and the fortified homes of feudal lords. The first patrimonial estates were formed, centered on kniazh dvor (prince’s mansion or court), in which the prince lived from time to time. In addition to the princely dvor, the homes of the prince’s servants—the boyar-bodyguards—and the quarters of the smerdy (peasants) and kholopy (slaves) were located on the patrimonial estate. It was managed by the ognishchanin (majordomo), a boyar who was in charge of the prince’s tiuny (stewards). Representatives of the estate administration performed both economic and political functions. On the estate there were craftsmen. As the estate system became more complex, the isolation of the obligated craftsmen on the individual estate gradually ended, and market relations and competition with town craftsmen emerged.

The development of handicrafts and trade in Kievan Rus’ led to the appearance of towns and cities, the oldest of which included Kiev, Chernigov, Pereiaslavl’, Smolensk, Rostov, Ladoga, Pskov, and Polotsk. The center of the city was the marketplace, where handicraft products were sold. Among the many different crafts practiced in the towns were metalworking and blacksmithing, the making of arms and armor, nonferrous metalworking (forging and engraving, stamping and punching silver and gold, filigree work, and granulation), pottery, tanning, and tailoring. Masters’ hallmarks were first used in the second half of the tenth century. The emergence of the complicated production of enamels in the late tenth century was influenced by Byzantium. For visiting merchants (gosti) there were special commercial townhouses called podvor’ia.

The history of trade in Kievan Rus’ is divided into two periods. The first (ninth to mid-11th centuries) was characterized by the increased role of Arab merchants and by strengthened ties with Byzantium and Khazaria. Kievan Rus’ exported furs, wax, honey, flax, linen, and silver articles to Western Europe. Costly fabrics (Byzantine pavoloka [heavy, ornamented brocade], brocade, and Oriental silk), dirhems of silver, tin, lead, copper, spices, perfumes, medicinal plants, dyes, and Byzantine church plates were imported. During the second period (mid-11th-12th centuries) the international situation changed: the Arab caliphate collapsed, the Polovtsy attacked southern Russia, and the First Crusade took place (1096–99). As a result, the trade routes linking many states with Rus’ were disrupted. The penetration of the Black Sea by foreign merchants and the competition of the Genoese and the Venetians paralyzed the trade of Kievan Rus’ in the south, and by the late 12th century, trade had basically shifted to the north—to Novgorod, Smolensk, and Polotsk. The trade route to Iran and the Arab caliphate passed along the Volga through Itil’ and on over the Caspian Sea. The route to Byzantium and Scandinavia (the route “from the Varangians to the Greeks”) had, in addition to its main course (the Dnieper-Lovat’ rivers), another branch over the Zapadnaia Dvina. In the west there was a route from Kiev to Central Europe (Moravia, Bohemia, Poland, and southern Germany) and from Novgorod and Polotsk over the Baltic Sea to Scandinavia and the southern Baltic region.

Sociopolitical system and class struggle. The basic form of the state in Kievan Rus’ was the early feudal monarchy. Power was held by the Kievan prince, who was surrounded by a druzhina (retinue) that was dependent on him and that made its living primarily during his military campaigns. To some degree, the veche (popular town assembly) also played a role at this time. Kievan territory was governed through the tysiatskie and sotskie (military leaders of, literally, a “thousand men” and a “hundred men,” respectively)—that is, by means of a military organization. The prince had various sources of income. During the tenth and early 11th centuries the basic sources were the poliud’e and uroki, tribute obtained annually from the towns.

With the emergence of large-scale landholdings and various forms of feudal rent during the 11th and 12th centuries, the functions of the prince expanded. As the owner of a large domain, he was obliged to maintain a complex economy, to appoint posadniki (vicegerents of towns and their surrounding provinces), volosteli (vicegerents of volosts [small rural districts]), and tiuny, and to manage the entire large administration. The prince of Kievan Rus’ was the military leader of the state, but with the growing complexity of Rus’ he had to organize not simply a druzhina but a feudal militia raised by his vassals, and he was compelled to hire foreign troops as well. Measures aimed at strengthening and protecting the state’s external boundaries became more complicated. Although the prince’s official duties were generally unlimited, they were, nonetheless, controlled and directed by the elite members of the class of feudal lords—the boyars. The role of the veche shrank, and the popular assembly soon found itself completely in the hands of the boyars. The princely court became the center of the administrative bureaucracy, where all the threads of the state administration came together. Court officials who managed various branches of the princely administration emerged.

The towns were headed by urban patriciates, which took shape in the 11th century and consisted of important local landowners—the startsy (elders) and members of the druzhina, who were closely associated with the history of the various towns (for example, the families of Ian Vyshatich, Ratibor, and Chudin in Kiev and Dmitr Zavidich’s family in Novgorod). The merchants enjoyed great influence in the towns. Because they had to protect their goods in transit, the merchants were armed, and they held the top positions in the town militias. The largest component of the town population was made up of artisans, both free and dependent. The clergy, which held a special place in Kievan Rus’, was divided into two categories: the black clergy (monks) and the white clergy (priests and deacons). At the head of the church was the metropolitan, who was usually appointed by the patriarch of Constantinople, to whom the bishops were subordinate. Headed by father superiors, the monasteries of Kievan Rus’ were subject to the jurisdiction of the bishops and the metropolitan.

The rural population of Kievan Rus’ consisted, on the one hand, of peasant members of communes who had not yet fallen under the sway of the feudal lord (a continuously declining group) and, on the other hand, of those who were already enserfed. In addition, there was a group of peasants that was cut off from the commune, lacked the means of production, and therefore constituted a work force on the estate.

The growth of large-scale feudal landownership, the enserfment of free peasants, and the increased exploitation of the serfs resulted in the intensification of the class struggle in the 11th through the 12th century. (This was manifested in uprisings in Suzdal’ in 1024, in Kiev during 1068–69, in Beloozero in about 1071, and in Kiev in 1113.) In most cases, the uprisings were extremely uncoordinated. A role was played in them by the priests of the dying pagan religion—sorcerers who used the discontented peasants in their struggle against the new ideology. Associated with famine and the onslaught of the Polovtsy was a particularly powerful wave of popular insurrections that spread through Kievan Rus’ in the 1060’s and 1070’s. During this epoch the collection The Law of Iaroslav’s Sons was compiled, a number of articles of which stipulated punishment for the murder of administrative servants of a feudal estate.

STRUGGLE AGAINST THE NOMADS. Kievan Rus’ was compelled to wage a constant struggle against the Asian nomadic hordes that lived, one after the other, in the steppes adjoining the Black Sea: the Khazars, Ugry, Pechenegs, Torks, and Polovtsy. In the late ninth century the nomadic encampments of the Pechenegs occupied the steppe from Sarkel on the Don to the Danube. Their raids forced Vladimir Sviatoslavich to fortify the southern borders of Kievan Rus’ (to “establish fortifications”). In 1036 Iaroslav the Wise virtually annihilated the western grouping of the Pechenegs. Subsequently, however, the Torks appeared in the Black Sea steppes. In 1060 they were defeated by the unified forces of the princes of Kievan Rus’. The Polovtsy began to occupy the steppe from the Volga to the Danube in the second half of the 11th century, gaining control over the most important trade routes between Europe and the countries of the East. In 1068 the Polovtsy gained a major victory, but between 1093 and 1096, Kievan Rus’ withstood their onslaught—a feat that demanded the unity of all the Kievan princes. Relations with the Polovtsy improved in 1101. However, in 1103 they violated the peace treaty, touching off a long series of campaigns by Vladimir Monomakh against their winter quarters in the heart of the steppes. In 1117 the campaigns culminated in the migration of the Polovtsy to the south toward the Northern Caucasus and Georgia. Mstislav, the son of Vladimir Monomakh, pushed the Polovtsy beyond the Don, the Volga, and the Iaik.

Political history. The political history of Kievan Rus’ is known through Old Russian chronicles that were compiled in Kiev and Novgorod by monks. According to the information provided by the Primary Chronicle, the first prince of Kievan Rus’ was the legendary Kii. The dating of facts begins in 852. Later, the chronicle added the legend of the calling of the Varangians (862), who were led by the semilegendary Prince Riurik. In the 18th century the legend became the basis of the scientifically unsubstantiated Normanist theory of the establishment of a state in Kievan Rus’ by the Varangians (Normans). According to the same legend, two boyars who were subject to Riurik— Askol’d and Dir—moved over the Dnieper to Tsar’grad, subjugating Kiev on the way. After Riurik’s death power passed to the Varangian prince Oleg (died 912), who supposedly dealt summarily with Askol’d and Dir, seized Kiev (882), subjugated the Drevlians, Severians, and Radimichi between 883 and 885, and waged campaigns against Byzantium in 907 and 911. Oleg’s successor, Igor’, continued to pursue an active foreign policy. In 913 he passed through Itil’ and traversed the entire western shore of the Caspian. He attacked Byzantium twice (941, 944). Inordinate demands for tribute provoked an uprising by the Drevlians and the murder of Igor’ (945). His wife, Ol’ga, who was one of the first people in Rus’ to adopt Christianity, put the local administration in order and established norms for tribute (uroki).

Sviatoslav Igorevich (reigned 964–72), the son of Igor’ and Ol’ga, ensured for Kievan Rus’ the free use of trade routes to the East through the territory of the Volga Bulgars and Khazars and strengthened the country’s international position. Under Sviatoslav, Rus’ established itself on the Black Sea and the Danube (Tmutarakan’, Belogord, and Pereiaslavets on the Danube), but after an unsuccessful war against Byzantium, Sviatoslav was forced to give up his conquests in the Balkans. Killed in battle against the Pechenegs on his return to Rus’, he was succeeded by his son, Iaropolk, who murdered a rival, Oleg of the Drevlians (977), who was also his brother. Iaropolk’s younger brother, Vladimir Sviatoslavich, advanced on Kiev with the aid of the Varangians. Iaropolk was killed, and Vladimir became grand prince (ruled 980–1015).

Spurred by the pressing need to replace the old ideology of the clan and tribal system by the ideology of nascent feudalism, Vladimir introduced Christianity to Rus’ in 988–989 in the form of Byzantine orthodoxy. The social elite were the first to accept the Christian religion. For a long time, however, the masses held ’on to their heathen beliefs. Vladimir’s reign saw the fullest flowering of Kievan’ Rus’, including an extraordinary expansion of its boundaries (from the Baltic and the Carpathians to the Black Sea steppes).

After Vladimir’s death (1015) internecine warfare broke out among his sons, two of whom—Boris and Gleb—were killed in the struggle. Later, they were canonized by the church. Their murderer, Sviatopolk, fled after a struggle against his brother, Iaroslav the Wise, who became prince of Kiev (1019–54). Briachislav of Polotsk (reigned 1001–44) opposed Iaroslav in 1021, but Iaroslav negotiated an alliance with him, conceding key positions on the trade route “from the Varangians to the Greeks”—the Usviatskii portage and Vitebsk. Three years later Iaroslav encountered the opposition of his brother, Mstislav of Tmutarakan’. After the battle of Listven (1024), Kievan Rus’ was divided along the Dnieper: the right bank, with Kiev, went to Iaroslav, while the left bank was taken by Mstislav. The unity of Kievan Rus’ was reestablished after the death of Mstislav in 1036.

Iaroslav the Wise worked energetically to strengthen the state, end the church’s dependence on Byzantium by establishing an independent metropolitan see (1037), and expand the construction of towns. During his reign the political ties between Kievan Rus’ and the Western European states were strengthened and considerably expanded. Kievan Rus’ had dynastic and other political ties with Germany, France, Hungary, and other states, as well as with Byzantium, Poland, and Norway.

Iaroslav was succeeded by his sons, who divided his holdings among them: Iziaslav Iaroslavich received Kiev; Sviatoslav Iaroslavich, Chernigov; and Vsevolod Iaroslavich, Pereiaslavl’ Iuzhnii. Although they attempted at first to preserve the unity of Kievan Rus’ and acted together, Iaroslav’s sons were unable to prevent the feudal disintegration of the Kievan state. The situation was complicated by the onslaught of the Polovtsy, who defeated Iaroslav’s sons in battle. The popular militia demanded weapons to resist the enemy. The rejection of their demand resulted in an uprising in Kiev in 1068, Iziaslav’s flight, and the enthronement in Kiev of Vseslav Briachislavich of Polotsk. In 1069, Vseslav was expelled by the united forces of Iziaslav and Poland. Shortly thereafter, feuds broke out among the three sons of Iaroslav, resulting in the exile of Iziaslav to Poland (1073). He returned to Kiev only after Sviatoslav’s death (1076), but he was soon killed in battle (1078).

Vsevolod Iaroslavich (1078–93), who became prince of Kiev, was unable to check the decline of the unified state. Only under the influence of attacks by the Polovtsy (1093–96 and 1101–03) was a temporary union of princes established around the prince of Kiev for the purpose of warding off the common danger. The largest centers of Rus’ were ruled by Sviatopolk Iziaslavich (Kiev, 1093–1113), Oleg Sviatoslavich (Chernigov) and Vsevolod’s son, Vladimir Vsevolodovich Monomakh (Pereiaslavl’), a subtle politician who tried to convince the princes to unite for the struggle against the Polovtsy. However, the princely congresses convened by Monomakh for this purpose (the Liubech Congress of 1097 and the Dolobskii Congress of 1103) were fruitless.

After Sviatopolk’s death (1113), an urban uprising erupted in Kiev. Invited to become prince of Kiev, Monomakh issued a compromise law alleviating the condition of debtors (a concession to the insurgents) and then strengthened his position, pacifying the inhabitants of Novgorod and installing his sons in Pereiaslavl’, Smolensk, and Novgorod. He had virtually absolute control of all the military forces of Kievan Rus’, which he dispatched not only against the Polovtsy but also against insubordinate vassals and neighbors. As a result, the danger posed by the Polovtsy was temporarily eliminated. Nonetheless, despite Monomakh’s efforts Kievan Rus’ was not unified. Objective historical processes continued to develop, reflected, above all, in the rapid growth of local centers such as Chernigov, Galich, and Smolensk, which hoped for independence. Monomakh’s son Mstislav Vladimirovich (ruled 1125–32) succeeded again in vanquishing the Polovtsy and exiling their princes to Byzantium (1129). After his death in 1132, Kievan Rus’ distintegrated into a number of independent principalities. The period of the feudal fragmentation of Rus’ had begun.

Culture. The culture of Kievan Rus’ had its roots in the heart of the popular culture of the Slavic tribes. During the formation and development of the state this culture had attained a high level and had been enriched by the influence of Byzantine culture. As a result, Kievan Rus’ ranked among the states that were culturally advanced for their time. The town was the focus of feudal culture. A comparatively large number of the Kievan people were literate, as is suggested by beresto writings (letters and documents written on birch bark) and inscriptions on domestic articles such as priaslitsy (part of a spindle), kegs, and vessels. There is evidence that schools—even women’s schools— existed in Rus’ during this period.

Literature. Parchment books written in Kievan Rus’—for example, literature in translation, collections of miscellaneous writings, and prayer books—have been preserved. The oldest of them is Ostromir’s Gospels. The monks were the most educated people in Kievan Rus’. Among the outstanding cultural figures of the period were Ilarion, the metropolitan of Kiev, Luka Zhidiata, the bishop of Novgorod, Feodosii Pecherskii, and the chroniclers Nikon, Nestor, and Sil’vestr. When written Church Slavonic had been mastered by the scholars of Kievan Rus’, the masterpieces of early Christian and Byzantine literature were transferred to Rus’ through the Bulgarians. Thus, Kievan Rus’ gained access to biblical books, works of the church fathers, the lives of the saints, apocryphal works (The Virgin’s Journey Through Hell), historiography (the Chronicle of Ioannis Malala), and works of Bulgarian literature (the Six Days by Ioannis) and Bohemian-Moravian literature (the lives of Saints Viacheslav and Ludmila). Among the works translated from Greek into Church Slavonic in Kievan Rus’ were Byzantine chronicles (Georgios Amartolos and Georgios Syncellus), epics (Acts of the Virgin), the Alexandria, and the History of the Jewish War by Flavius Josephus. Translated from Hebrew was the Book of Esther, and from Syrian, the tale of Akir the Sage. The assimilation of the masterpieces of foreign literature was accompanied by a creative attitude toward translation.

In the second quarter of the 11th century an original literature began to develop in Kievan Rus’, including chronicles, the lives of saints, and homilies. With a rhetorical skill that was not inferior to Byzantine eloquence, Metropolitan Ilarion wrote on the problems of the superiority of Christianity to paganism and the grandeur of Rus’ among nations in his Discourse on Law and Grace. The ideas of state-building permeate the chronicles of Kiev and Novgorod. Chroniclers turned to the poetic traditions of pagan folklore. Nestor, whose Primary Chronicle became important as an outstanding chronicle of the European Middle Ages, arrived at the conclusion that the Eastern Slavs were related to all other Slavs. Saturated with topical political problems, Kievan hagiography made heroes of sainted princes (The Lives of Boris and Gleb) and later, of church zealots (The Life of Feodosii of Pechersk and the Kievo-Pecherskaia Lives of the Fathers). The experiences and feelings of human beings were first portrayed, even if only schematically, in the lives of the saints. Patriotic ideas were expressed in the genre of the pilgrimage (the Passage by Father Superior Daniil). In his Exhortation to his children, Vladimir Monomakh created an image of a just ruler, a zealous proprietor, and an exemplary family man. The literary traditions of Kievan Rus’ and the wealth of oral epics prepared the way for the creation of the Tale of Igor’s Campaign.

Architecture and art. The age-old experience of the Eastern Slavic tribes in wooden architecture and in the construction of fortified settlements, dwellings, and sanctuaries, as well as their highly developed handicrafts and traditions of artistic creativity, were assimilated in the art of Kievan Rus’. With the development of trade and political ties, artistic trends from abroad (Byzantium, the Balkan and Scandinavian countries, Transcaucasia, and the Near East) played an enormous role in the rapid resolution of the complex ideological and artistic tasks that arose during the establishment of feudal relations. In the comparatively brief period during which Kievan Rus’ flowered, Old Russian masters assimilated methods new to them in stone architecture, mosaics, frescoes, icon painting, and book miniatures.

For a long time the types of ordinary settlements and dwellings and the techniques of erecting wooden buildings from horizontally laid beams remained as they had been among the ancient Slavs. By the ninth and early tenth centuries, however, the first large estate owners’ dvors had been built in some villages, and wooden castles had been erected on the princes’ holdings (Liubech). Fortified settlements developed into fortress-towns, with dwellings on the inside and commercial structures adjoining the defensive walls (in Zhitomir Oblast, the fortified towns of Kolodiazhensk and Raikovets, both of which were destroyed in 1241). On the trade routes at the confluence of rivers or at river bends new towns were founded, and others developed out of large Slavic settlements. They consisted of a fortress on a hill (the citadel or kremlin—the prince’s residence and the refuge for the townspeople in the event of attack), with an earthen defensive rampart, a log wall, and a moat. Located outside the town was the posad (merchants’ and artisans’ quarter), which was sometimes fortified.

The streets ran toward the kremlin (Kiev and Pskov) or parallel to the river (Novgorod). There were wooden roads in some places. In treeless areas the roads were lined with cottages of daubed brick (Kiev and Suzdal’), and in forested areas, with log houses made up of one or two frames with canopies (Novgorod and Staraia Ladoga). The dwellings of wealthy townspeople consisted of several interconnected frames of different heights set on a lower story. They had towers (povalushi ) and outside porches and were situated in the middle of courtyards (Novgorod). From the mid-tenth century the palaces in kremlins consisted of two-story stone units, either tower-shaped (Chernigov) or provided with towers on their perimeters or in the middle (Kiev). Sometimes the palaces accommodated halls with an area of more than 200 sq m (Kiev). Common to the towns of Kievan Rus’ was a picturesque silhouette dominated by the kremlin with its colorful palaces and churches, which shone with gilded roofs and crosses. In addition, the skillful use of the local terrain for artistic as well as for strategic ends linked the Kievan towns organically with the surrounding countryside.

From the second half of the ninth century the chronicles refer to wooden Christian churches (Kiev), which became larger and more numerous after the Christianization of Rus’. Judging from conventional representations in manuscripts, they had rectangular, octagonal, or cruciform layouts, steep roofs, and cupolas. Later the churches were crowned with five peaks (the Church of SS. Boris and Gleb in Vyshgorod near Kiev, 1020–26; architect, Mironeg) or even as many as 13 (the wooden Cathedral of St. Sofia in Novgorod, 989). The Desiatinnaia Church (989–996, destroyed in 1240), the first stone church in Kiev, may have had 25 peaks. It was made of alternating series of stone and flat square brick-plinths set in a mortar made with a mixture of crushed brick and lime (grog). The same masonry technique was used in the erection of 11th-century structures such as the stone connecting towers in town fortifications (the Golden Gates in Kiev), stone fortress walls (Pereiaslav-Khmel’nitskii, the Kievo-Pecherskaia Laura, and Staraia Ladoga—all late 11th to early 12th century), and majestic three-aisled churches (the Spaso-Preobrazhenskii Cathedral in Chernigov, begun before 1036) and five-aisled churches (the cathedrals of St. Sofia in Kiev, 1037, Novgorod, 1045–50, and Polotsk, 1044–66), which had choirs along three walls for princes and their parties.

The cruciform domed church—the universal style in Byzantine religious architecture—was interpreted by Old Russian architects in their own way. Among the features that indicate links between the architecture of Kievan Rus’ and that of Byzantium, the Southern Slavs, and Transcaucasia were cupolas set on tall, luminous cylindrical supports, flat niches on the facades (sometimes with frescoes), and brick cruciform or meander designs. At the same time, these churches also display distinctive features— many cupolas (13 in the Cathedral of St. Sofia in Kiev), the stepped arrangement of arches and corresponding series of semicircular blind arches on the facades, and the parvis galleries on three sides of the building. The stepped pyramidal composition, majestic proportions and strained slow rhythm, and the balance of space and mass impart a solemn and completely restrained dynamic to the architecture of these buildings, which attained considerable height. Their interiors, with the contrasting transition from the low shadowed choirs of the side aisles to the spacious, more brightly lit nave under the dome, which led to the main apse, are striking by virtue of their emotional intensity and, with their spatial articulations and fields of view, they evoke a wealth of impressions.

The best-preserved mosaics and frescoes of the Cathedral of St. Sofia in Kiev (mid-11th century) were executed primarily by Byzantine masters. The paintings in the towers are dynamic secular scenes of dancing, the hunt, and rings for gymnastic and equestrian performances. In the depictions of saints and members of the grand prince’s family, movement is indicated only occasionally, the poses are frontal, and the faces are severe. The spirit of the subject is conveyed by means of spare gestures and large, wide-opened eyes whose gaze is fixed directly on the viewer. This imparts extraordinary intensity and a powerful effect to the pictures, which are imbued with lofty spirituality and are organically linked with the architecture of the cathedral by their composition and their monumental quality.

The miniatures of Kievan Rus’ (Ostromir’s Gospels, 1056–57, M. E. Saltykov-Shchedrin Public Library, Leningrad) and the colored initials of manuscript books are distinguished by their wealth of hue and by their delicate execution. They resemble the contemporary partition enamels that adorned the grand princes’ crowns, pendants (kolty), and other jewelry, for which the Kievan masters were renowned. In these articles and in monumental slate reliefs the motifs of Slavic and classical mythology are combined with Christian symbols and iconography, reflecting the typically medieval dual system of belief, which had a hold over the people for a long time.

Icon painting also developed in the 11th century. Broad recognition was enjoyed by the works of the Kievan masters—particularly the icons of Alimpii, which served as models for the icon painters of all the principalities of ancient Rus’ until the Mongol-Tatar invasion. However, no icons that can be unreservedly attributed to the art of Kievan Rus’ have survived.

In the second half of the 11th century the construction of churches was undertaken by the monastic clergy rather than by the princes. The latter built only small churches in their fortresses and on their lands outside of the towns (the Chapel of St. Michael in Oster, 1098, the ruins of which are still standing, and the Church of the Savior on the Berestova in Kiev, between 1113 and 1125). The three-aisled, six-columned monasterial cathedral —more modest in dimensions than the town cathedrals, often lacking galleries, and provided with choirs only along the western wall—became the leading type of religious structure. Its static, enclosed bulk and massive walls divided into narrow sections by flat projecting blades created the impression of Herculean power and almost ascetic simplicity.

Cathedrals in Kiev had one cupola and sometimes no staircase towers (for example, the Uspenskii Cathedral at the Kievo-Pecherskaia Laura, 1073–78, destroyed in 1941). In Novgorod some of the early 12th-century churches were crowned with three cupolas, one of which surmounted a staircase tower (the cathedral of the Monastery of St. Anthony, foundation laid in 1117, and that of the Iur’ev Monastery, begun in 1119). Others, such as the Nikolo-Dvorishche Cathedral (foundation laid in 1113), had five cupolas. The majestic simplicity and power of the architecture of the cathedral at the Iur’ev Monastery (architect Petr) and the organic merging of the towers with the main body of the cathedral—a feature that imparted a special degree of integrity to the building’s composition—distinguished this cathedral as one of the highest achievements of the ancient Russian architecture of the 12th century.

The style of painting also changed perceptibly in the 12th century. In the remarkable mosaics and frescoes of St. Michael’s Zlatoverkhii Monastery in Kiev, which were executed by artists from Byzantium and ancient Rus’, the composition achieves a free quality, and the refined psychologism of the images is reinforced by lively movement and by the individualized characterization of the various saints. (The mosaics of St. Michael’s Monastery were created in around 1108. Although the cathedral has not survived, the mosaics and fragments of the frescoes are exhibited chiefly in the Sofia Museum-Preserve in Kiev.) At the same time, as mosaics gave way to the less expensive and technically less difficult fresco, the role of local masters grew. Increasingly, they departed in their works from the canons of Byzantine art, and, at the same time, flattened the picture and strengthened the principle of contour. In the paintings of the baptistery of the Cathedral of St. Sofia and the cathedral of the St. Kirill Monastery (both in Kiev, 12th century), Slavic features predominate in the types of subjects and their dress. The figures are stocky, linear study has replaced modeling in color, the colors are brighter, half-tints are not used, and the images of the saints come closer to the conceptions of them in folklore.

The artistic culture of Kievan Rus’ developed further during the period of feudal fragmentation in the various principalities of ancient Rus’, depending on the characteristics of economic and political life. A number of local schools emerged (the Vladimir-Suzdal’ and Novgorod schools), all of which retained a genetic likeness to the art of Kievan Rus’ and evolved an artistic style in similar ways. In the local trends of the Dnieper and Western principalities and the northeastern and northwestern lands the ideas of folk poetry made themselves felt more and more strongly. Although the expressive possibilities of art expanded, the enthusiasm for majestic forms weakened. The lofty achievements of the art of Kievan Rus’—a contribution to the world history of culture—became a criterion of artistic taste and a model to which local artistic trends and later, Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian art repeatedly turned for inspiration and works worthy of imitation.

Music. Diverse sources (folk songs, bylinas [epic folk songs], chronicles, literary works of ancient Rus’, and masterpieces of art) testify to the high level of development of music in Kievan Rus’. In addition to the various forms of folk works, military and solemn ceremonial music were important. Trumpeters and performers who played the bubny (percussion instruments similar to the drum or kettledrum) took part in military campaigns. At the princes’ courts and the homes of members of the druzhina aristocracy, singers and instrumentalists—both natives and musicians from Byzantium—gave performances. Singers celebrated the armed feats of their contemporaries and of legendary heroes in songs and tales that they frequently composed themselves and performed to the accompaniment of psalteries. Music was played during official receptions, at festivals, and at banquets held by princes and other distinguished people. The art of the skomorokhi (wandering minstrel-clowns), in which both vocal and instrumental music was performed, held a prominent place in the life of the people. The skomorokhi also performed often in the palaces of princes.

After the adoption and spread of Christianity in Kievan Rus’, church music became widely developed. The earliest written examples of Russian music—manuscript prayer books with conventional ideographic notation of melodies—were associated with church music. Although the principles of the church singing of ancient Rus’ were borrowed from Byzantium, they were gradually changed, leading to the development of an independent, Russian singing style known as znamennyi raspev (illustrious singing), as well as another style—Kondakarnii singing.

The rich and many-sided culture of Kievan Rus’ was the foundation for the subsequent development of the cultures of the Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian peoples.

The period of Kievan Rus’ was important in the history of the Slavic peoples and other peoples of Eastern Europe. Kievan Rus’ played an enormous role in the subsequent history of the Eastern Slavs. In the period of Kievan Rus’ lie the sources of the community and friendship of the Russian, Ukrainian, and Byelorussian peoples. The consciousness of the unity of origin, the historical-cultural and ethnic closeness, the kinship, and the indissoluble link among all parts of the later Russian state originated in Kievan Rus’.


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B. A. RYBAKOV, L. V. ALEKSEEV (historical survey), A. N. ROBINSON (literature), P. N. MAKSIMOV (architecture), G. I. VZDORNOV (art), and IU. V. KELDYSH (music)

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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