Vladimir-Suzdal Principality

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Vladimir-Suzdal’ Principality


the largest feudal state formation in northeastern Rus’ of the tenth through 13th centuries, in the interfluve of the Oka and Volga rivers. Until the tenth century, almost the entire region was inhabited by the Merians, a Finno-Ugric tribe. The colonization of the area by Novgorod Slavs and Krivichi, which began in the late tenth century, led to the Russification of the Merians and to the formation of the Great Russian nationality here. The Volga connected this region with Bulgaria on the Volga, with the countries of the Orient, with the route “from the Varangians to the Greeks,” with Kievan Rus’, and with Novgorod.

In the tenth and 11th centuries the cities of Rostov, Belozersk, laroslavl’, Murom, and Suzdal’ were formed here. Rostov was the center of the land. Industry reached a high level in the cities, including the working of iron and other metals, ceramics, and construction.

At first the link between the Rostov region and Kievan Rus’ was expressed in the payment of tribute to the grand princes of Kiev. The local men-at-arms participated in Prince Oleg’s campaigns against Kiev (about 882) and Constantinople (907). Later, two sons of the Kievan prince Vladimir Sviatoslavich, Boris and laroslav, ruled Rostov, and another son, Gleb, ruled Murom. The formation of a local landowning elite, the rapid growth of feudal relations, and the reduction of the rural population to bondage led to uprisings of the smerdy (peasants) in 1024 and to other insurrections.

After the division of the Kiev land between laroslav’s sons (1054), the Rostov land went to Vsevolod laroslavich. The rise of Suzdal’ began. After this region passed into his pos-session in 1093, Vladimir Monomakh made his sons, first laropolk and then lurii, princes of Suzdal’. The chronicle also passed from Rostov to Suzdal’. In 1108, Vladimir Monomakh founded a mighty fortress-city, Vladimir, on the Kliazma River. Iurii Dolgorukii strengthened the principality and defended it against the Bulgars. The stubborn struggle between the prince’s authority and the local boyar aristocracy began in his reign. In the course of this struggle, new cities and fortresses were founded by the prince (Ksniatin on the mouth of the NeiT River, 1134; Pereiaslavl’ and Iur’ev, 1152; Dmitrov, 1154; the fortification of Moscow, 1156). The building of white stone churches in the new cities established the beginning, in the 12th century, of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ school of architecture. The new cities, inhabited by military personnel, merchants, and artisans dependent on the prince, became a firm basis of princely power.

After a long military and diplomatic struggle, lurii obtained the Kievan throne (hence his nickname, Dolgorukii, or longarm). His son Andrei Bogoliubskii (1157-74) continued his policy of strengthening princely power and toward the hegemony of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality in the land of Rus’. He considered its center not Kiev but Vladimir, which he made the capital of the principality; he expanded its fortifications and built magnificent white stone buildings. Bogoliubovo Castle, the prince’s residence, was built 10 km from the capital, at the mouth of the Nerl’ River.

Andrei Bogoliubskii’s reign saw the rise of many young retainers loyal to the prince who had received conditional land possessions from him; they were called milostniki, or men living near grace, and dvoriane, or courtiers. The commercial and industrial population increased in the cities, especially in Vladimir. Andrei Bogoliubskii organized a campaign against Kiev and captured it in 1169; he placed his brother Gleb as prince there. His campaign against Novgorod in 1170 forced Novgorod to submit temporarily to his rule and to replace the prince and posadnik (governor of medieval city-state). He also fought a difficult struggle for Vladimir’s preeminance in church affairs, trying to organize a metropolitan see independent of Kiev. The clergy of Vladimir strenuously created local “holy places” and canonized saints and proclaimed a special “protection of the heavens” over the affairs of the autocrat prince and the city dwellers. From the milieu of the milostniki came the Petition of Daniil Zatochnik, a highly artistic work of a lay character. Art and architecture reached a high development.

However, with the feudal fragmentation in Rus’ and the relative weakness of the cities and of the economic ties between the principalities, Andrei Bogoliubskii’s progressive policy could not lead to lasting results: in 1174 he fell victim to a boyar plot. His assassination spurred a large scale anti-feudal popular uprising that lasted five days. The boyar aristocracy, with the support of the Riazan prince Gleb, wanted princes on the Vladimir throne who would obey them; but Andrei Bogoliubskii’s brothers, Mikhailka (died 1176) and his successor Vsevolod Bol’shoe Gnezdo (1176-1212), gained the upper hand. A subtle diplomat and a skillful politician, Vsevolod continued the policies of his father and brother, successfully combating the separatism of the local aristocracy. As a result of the campaigns of 1177, 1180, 1187, and 1207, Riazan’s resistance was broken. Vsevolod strengthened his influence in southern Rus’ through diplomatic intrigue, meddling in the internal affairs of the princes, and created discord among them, which led to a new rout of Kiev in 1203. Vsevolod’s prestige in all Rus’ is reflected in The Tale of Igor’s Campaign. The chroniclers called him “great,” and the princes addressed him as “our lord”; even the metropolitan of Kiev carried out his will.

In 1211, Vsevolod called a conference of representatives from all the cities of the principality, which confirmed the transfer of the throne to his son lurii. But after Vsevolod’s death in 1212, the Rostov boyars and the Kiev prince Mstislav Udaloi placed lurii’s elder brother Konstantin on the throne of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ principality. Konstantin divided the Vladimir-Suzdal’ principality among his brothers; thus were formed the principalities of Rostov, laroslavl’, and Pereiaslavl’. After Konstantin’s death in 1218, lurii returned to the throne and restored his dominant position and the authority of the Vladimir-Suzdal’ principality. He inflicted a major defeat on the Bulgars in 1220 and founded Nizhnii Novgorod on the mouth of the Oka River in 1221. The influence of Vladimir was also restored in Novgorod Velikii, where lurii’s brother laroslav conducted a vigorous defense of northwestern Rus’ against the growing pressure of the Teutonic knights and Lithuanian feudal lords.

The Vladimir-Suzdal’ principality holds an important place in the history of the Russian people. The transfer of the political center of Rus’ to Vladimir played a great role in the subsequent formation of the Great Russian nationality and the Russian nation. In northeastern Rus’ the struggle for the unification of Rus’ began under the Vladimir princes.

In 1238, Batyi’s hordes destroyed the Vladimir-Suzdal’ principality, devastating and burning its cities. But the Mongol-Tatar yoke could not destroy the high cultural and political traditions of Vladimir land. These traditions were preserved and developed when Moscow “gathered Rus’ ” in the 14th and 15th centuries.


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Istoriia SSSR s drevneishikh vremen do nashikh dnei, vol. 1. Moscow, 1966. Pages 614-27.


Nasonov, A. N. “Russkaia zemlia” i obrazovanie territorii drevnerusskogo gosudarstva. Moscow, 1951. Pages 173-96.
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Tikhomirov, M. N. Krest’ianskie i gorodskie vosstaniia na Rusi, XI-XIII vv. Moscow, 1955.
Voronin, N. N. Vladimir, Bogoliubovo, Suzdal’, Iur’ev-Pol’skoi, 3rd ed. Moscow, 1967.


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