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Last updated on February 29th, 2024 at 07:40 am

History of Russia, from ancient times to modern times

History of Russia- Ancient To Modern

Russian history initial pages of Russian history are connected with the tribes of the Eastern Slavs, who settled the East European Plain in the 6th-7th centuries. The ancestors of these tribes inhabited Central and Eastern Europe, ancient and Byzantine sources of the 1st-5th centuries. they called them differently: Wends, Antes, Sklavins.

The source of food for the Slavic tribes was agriculture, cattle breeding, and crafts: hunting, fishing, and gathering. The tribes of the Eastern Slavs united in tribal unions. The largest of them were: glades, Drevlyans, Krivichi, Vyatichi, and Ilmen Slavs. The oldest Russian chronicle, The Tale of Bygone Years, names about ten such associations.

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Historians have been arguing for a long time, from what point does the history of Russia as a state begin? The first dynasty, which ruled the Russian state from the 9th to the end of the 16th century, dates back to 862, when, according to the same Tale of Bygone Years, the Ilmen Slavs called the Varangian prince Rurik and his retinue to rule Novgorod.

The State of Rusia in the 9th – early 10th centuries

The emergence of a new state, Kievan Rus, is associated with another chronicle legend. By the 9th century, on the lands inhabited by Slavic tribes, several political centers had formed with their princes at the head. There were constant clashes between them.

In addition, the Slavic tribes were subjected to external pressure: they were forced to pay tribute to the neighboring state, the Khazar Khaganate. To stop internal strife and get rid of the Khazar threat, the Novgorodians called on the Varangians, led by Rurik, which was a common practice in the early Middle Ages.

After gaining a foothold in Staraya Ladoga and Novgorod, Rurik sent two of his combatants, Askold and Dir, to Byzantium. The latter, having reached Kyiv, subjugated the tribes of the glades and began to reign. Around 879, Prince Rurik died, and after him, his young son Igor remained, while the boy was growing up, Oleg became the prince and his guardian. In 882, he went on a campaign against Kyiv, killed Askold and Dir, and united under his rule the two largest urban centers of the Eastern Slavs. It is this date that is today considered the date of the emergence of the Old Russian state.

Kievan Rus during the reign of the Rurik dynasty.

Oleg’s successor was Igor, the son of Rurik, who subjugated the Slavic tribes that lived between the Dniester and the Danube and fought with Constantinople, the Pechenegs. Igor was killed by the Drevlyans in 945 when he tried to collect tribute from them for the second time.

After the death of Igor, Olga, the wife of the prince, became the head of state, she ruled until the age of her son Svyatoslav and was the first among the rulers of Rus’ to adopt Christianity. Svyatoslav’s successor Vladimir became famous for the conversion of all Rus to Christianity, which strengthened the princely power and raised the international status of the Old Russian state.

Kievan Rus reached its peak under Yaroslav the Wise, who ruled from 1016 to 1054. Under him, the first written code of laws, Russkaya Pravda, was created. Thanks to inter-dynastic marriages, it was possible to strengthen ties with neighboring powers.

After the death of Yaroslav, internecine wars began. The last prince who managed to maintain the integrity of the Old Russian state was Vladimir Monomakh. Contemporaries called him an exemplary prince. He left his children a kind of political testament “Instruction”, but they did not heed their father. The internecine struggle flared up with renewed vigor and by the middle of the 12th century, the state was split into independent principalities.

Mongol-Tatar yoke

The Mongols, who inhabited the lands of Central Asia, were engaged in cattle breeding, led a nomadic way of life, and raided neighboring states to expand pasture territories. In 1206, they had a state: at the congress of the nobility, Temujin was proclaimed the ruler of all the Mongols and received the name, Genghis Khan.

Having devastated Asia and Transcaucasia, at the beginning of the 13th century, nomadic troops moved in the direction of Rus’. In 1223, on the Kalka River, an army led by the associates of Genghis Khan defeated the army of the Kyiv prince Mstislav together with his allies – the Polovtsians. Having won, the horde returned to the steppes.

In 1237, the grandson of Genghis Khan, Batu Khan, set off on a campaign against Rus’, who managed to capture Ryazan, Kolomna, Moscow, and by 1240 Chernihiv and Kyiv. The Mongol-Tatar army returned to the Volga territories, where the power of the Golden Horde was founded. Russian cities annually paid tribute to the Horde khans and sent builders and artisans to build and maintain the Golden Horde cities. Rus’ was under the yoke of nomads until 1480 and during this time it lagged far behind European states in economic and cultural development.

Alexander Nevsky and the Livonian Order

Rus’, weakened by the Tatar-Mongol invasion, was attacked by its western neighbors. The Swedes and the knights of the Livonian Order attacked almost simultaneously, threatening to capture Novgorod. The attack of the Swedish fleet on the Neva in 1240 was repulsed by Russian troops led by Prince Alexander Yaroslavovich, later named Nevsky.

In 1242, the Battle of the Ice took place on Lake Peipsi, in which the knights also suffered a complete defeat. After several subsequent victories of Russian arms, the Western invaders abandoned their claims to the Russian lands.


In the XIV century, the Russian lands began to unite again, with Moscow becoming the center of the union. The growth and prosperity of Moscow are primarily associated with the development of water and land trade routes, as well as with the competent policy of local princes. In 1301, Pereyaslavl-Ryazansky, and Kolomna were added to the Moscow principality, and a year later – Mozhaisk.

During the reign of Alexander Nevsky’s grandson Ivan Kalita, Moscow became the economic and cultural center of north-eastern Russia. Its competitor was the Tver Principality. An important step in this rivalry was the transfer of the Metropolitan’s residence from Vladimir to Moscow.

No less important was the desire of the Moscow princes to cooperate with the Horde khans, which led to a weakening of the oppression from the Horde. Crafts and trade developed rapidly in the principality, and people from all other regions of Russia came to the Moscow lands.

In 1380, Dmitry Donskoy, grandson of Ivan Kalita, defeated the Mongol-Tatar army on the Kulikovo field. During the reign of Ivan III, Moscow stopped paying tribute to the Horde, and the final victory over the invaders was won in 1480. He also captured Novgorod, one of the largest political centers at that time in Moscow.

The completion of the unification of Russian lands is associated with the name of Vasily III, under him, Pskov and Ryazan became part of the Muscovite state.

Ivan the Terrible, Time of Troubles, Power of the Romanov Dynasty

Vasily III was succeeded in 1533 by his 3-year-old son, Ivan IV. Until the boy came of age, his mother, Elena Glinskaya, became regent, who carried out several reforms before she died in 1538. Real power passed into the hands of the boyar clans, close to the grand ducal court. Only in 1547, Ivan IV was crowned king, and power returned to the hands of the Ruriks. Under him, many reforms were carried out in the fields of the military, judicial system, and public administration.

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The following were added to the Russian state: Astrakhan, the Kazan Khanate, Western Siberia, Bashkiria, the territories of the Nogai Horde, and serfdom began to emerge. However, they did not begin to call Ivan IV the Terrible for reforms. During his reign, the protracted Livonian War was lost and the Oprichnina was introduced. The king was particularly cruel to dissidents. Fearing claims to power, the king cracked down on his relatives – specifically princes.

The last king of the Rurik dynasty was Fedor, son of Ivan, who was a sick man unable to rule the state. After his death, the boyar Boris Godunov took the throne. Troubled times – cholera epidemics, conflicts with Poles and Swedes, crop failures, and popular uprisings – weakened the position of state power, which was used by the impostor, who pretended to be the son of Ivan the Terrible Dmitry and gave He promised the Poles part of the Russian land, for which he helped them capture Moscow. But False Dmitry failed to stay in the capital for a long time, and Vasily Shuisky took his place.

Soon another impostor appeared, False Dmitry II. The Swedes and Poles took advantage of the internal strife and captured many Russian territories. The decisive role at this critical moment was played by the Russian people. Having gathered a militia under the leadership of Prince Dmitry Pozharsky and Kuzma Minin, they managed to expel the impostor and foreign invaders. The Troubles ended in 1613 with the election of Mikhail Romanov to the throne.

Russian Empire.

“Trouble” gave Russia a significant lag behind the countries of Europe. The lack of access to the non-freezing sea hindered the development of trade, necessitating changes in the system of the army and government. Peter, I was an outstanding reformer who managed to radically change the structure of the state. He was proclaimed tsar at the age of 10, but until the age of 17, he shared the throne with his brother Ivan under the regency of his older sister, Princess Sophia.

Under Peter I, the nobility was finally formed. St. Petersburg was founded, which became the new capital of the state. The system of orders was replaced by colleges, which served as prototypes of modern ministries, making the Church dependent on the state. The court, military, and civilian ranks were divided into 14 ranks.

 Schools of the first stage, vocational schools appeared in the country, the Academy of Sciences was opened, and a network of printing houses appeared. The victory in the Northern War, which lasted almost 20 years, allowed Russia not only to return the territories occupied by the Swedes, to gain access to the Baltic Sea but also to significantly increase its international status. Subsequently, in 1721, the Russian state was proclaimed an empire, and Peter I himself began to be called Emperor and Autocrat of All of Russia.

After the death of the emperor, the era of palace coups began, which lasted about forty years.

In 1762, Catherine II ascended the throne and ruled the state for 30 years. The empress patronized the development of science and the arts, but at the same time contributed to the strengthening of serfdom. The exploitation of peasants and the significant restriction of their rights led to mass uprisings of peasants, workers, and Kazakhs.

The most large-scale event is the Peasant War, which was led by the Cossack Emelyan Pugachev. The spontaneity of the war, disorganization, and the betrayal of the ataman by wealthy allies suppressed the rebellion, and Pugachev himself was executed in Moscow.

   Catherine II managed to annex Crimea, Kuban, and Georgia to Russia to gain access to the Black Sea from Turkey. After the collapse of the Commonwealth, the lands of present-day Ukraine and Belarus, Lithuania, and Courland (the western part of Latvia) went to Russia.

War with Napoleon

After the death of Catherine, her son Paul I began to rule the state, he freed the prisoners deprived of freedom by his mother and tried to limit corvee for serfs to three days a week. In 1799, armies under the command of Alexander Suvorov crossed the Alps and liberated Italian Lombardy from the French. Paul’s inconstancy and temperament, his attempts to limit the rights of the nobility, and the rupture of relations with England led to a conspiracy against the emperor. He was assassinated on March 11, 1801.

Paul’s successor, Alexander I, partly shared his grandmother’s views. He lifted the ban on trade relations with the British and granted amnesty to prisoners who did not like Paul. The emperor adopted the Decree on Free Tenants, which made it possible for laborers to move and buy land for free.

In foreign policy, Alexander hesitated in choosing an ally between England and France. After losing the Battle of Austerlitz (Austria) in 1805, the ruler signed a peace treaty with the French two years later.

However, war could not be avoided. In 1812 Napoleon’s troops invaded Russia. Russian forces had to retreat to the east, in August the Russian forces managed to unite near Smolensk but continued to retreat. The fate of Moscow was decided in the Battle of Borodino. Despite the heavy losses of the French army, Moscow still had to surrender to the enemy. But fires, famine, and looting in Moscow forced the invaders to leave the city.

After the defeat of the French near Maloyaroslavets, he only had to flee to Russia. The withdrawal along the ruined road and the attacks of the partisans completely bled Napoleon’s army. Napoleon’s troops were finally defeated in a battle near the Berezina River. Following the French, the Russian army passed through Eastern and Central Europe and reached Paris in 1814.

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Decembrists and the struggle against the autocracy

During a foreign campaign, many Russian noble officers were carried away by revolutionary ideas. Returning to their homeland, they began to unite to contribute to their implementation. The first secret society appeared in 1816 and was called the Union of Salvation. Its participants, the future Decembrists, advocated the adoption of a constitution and the abolition of slavery. The organization was small and soon disintegrated.

In 1821, the “Northern Society” was formed in Russia (founders – Nikita Muravyov, and Nikolai Turgenev), and the “Southern Society” – was on the territory of Ukraine (led by Pavel Pestel). The societies developed the constitutional drafts “Constitution” and “Russian Truth”. Both documents announced the overthrow of the autocracy and the abolition of slavery.

On December 14, 1825, the “Northern Society”, taking advantage of the unexpected death of Alexander I and the abdication of power by his brother, Konstantin, staged an uprising in St. Petersburg. On 29 December, the Chernihiv Regiment mutinied in the south. Both rebellions were brutally suppressed, the leaders of the rebellion were executed, and most of the Decembrists were exiled to Siberia.

The second half of the 19th century

The defeat in the Crimean War of 1853–1856 showed Russia’s backwardness and weakened the country’s authority on the world stage. There was a need for change in the state. Emperor Alexander II carried out several important reforms during his reign: in 1861 he abolished serfdom, created local governments – zemstvos, expanded the powers of city officials, introduced jury trials, and reformed the education system and military affairs.

However, the peasants still paid taxes and were subject to recruitment fees. Discontent increased in society, and revolutionary sentiments intensified. Alexander II was assassinated on March 1, 1881.

Early 20th century

In January 1905, a workers’ uprising broke out in St. Petersburg, its participants were shot. This, combined with failures during the Russo-Japanese War, led to the start of the Revolutions of 1905–1906.

In the future, the country’s position worsened due to participation in the First World War, in which Russia suffered heavy losses. As a result of the February Revolution of 1917, Tsar Nicholas II abdicated the throne, and in the fall the Bolsheviks came to power. In 1918-1922, a civil war broke out on the territory of the state between the Bolsheviks, supporters of the Provisional Government, and gangs of anarchists.

Gradually, the Bolsheviks managed to establish their power over most of the territory of the former Russian Empire. In 1922 the USSR was formed. The 1920s saw a return to elements of a market economy and cooperation with European states, known as the New Economic Policy. In the late 1920s, state policy in the pre-war years was directed towards the collectivization of agriculture and industrialization.

Great Patriotic and Soviet-Japanese War

On June 22, 1941, German troops invaded the Soviet Union. Despite the heroic resistance of Soviet troops, almost the entire Baltic, Belarus, and most of Ukraine, Moldova had to be abandoned during the first month of the war. The two-month Battle of Smolensk delayed the enemy’s advance and violated the USSR’s plan for a lightning defeat. The situation became more and more difficult, in August Leningrad was under siege. 

 By the beginning of December 1941, fascist positions were located on the closest approaches to Moscow. On December 5-6, thanks to the heroic persistence of Soviet troops, it was possible to launch a counteroffensive from Kalinin (Tver) to Yelets. This was the first major defeat of the Nazi troops after 1939. The war assumed a protracted character.

The heroism shown by Soviet soldiers in the battles of 1942-1943 made it possible to make radical changes in the course of the war. The Battle of Stalingrad, the Kursk Bulge, the liberation of the Caucasus: despite heavy losses, the Red Army continued to defend the freedom of its homeland. Partisan detachments operating in the occupied territories also made a huge contribution to the victory over the enemy.

In January 1944, the blockade of Leningrad was lifted, and in the summer it became possible to liberate the territory of Belarus. On November 7, the last German troops left the USSR and the liberation campaign of Soviet troops in Eastern and Central Europe began. On May 9, 1945, at 0:43 Moscow time, the Act of Surrender of Germany was signed, which put an end to the Great Patriotic War.

In August 1945, fulfilling allied obligations, the USSR entered the war with Japan, which supported Hitler. World War II ended with the surrender of Japan on September 2, 1945.

Era of stagnation

After the victory over fascism, Poland, Czechoslovakia, the GDR, Hungary, Romania, and Bulgaria came under the sphere of influence of the USSR. Relations with Western Europe and the United States, after brief warmth, again became strained. The confrontation with the United States was especially strong.

The confrontation between the socialist and capitalist camps reached its peak in the early 1960s and almost reached open conflict in the autumn of 1962. By the 1970s, relations with the West had normalized. In the late 70s, the Soviet Union was at first glance a prosperous stable power, but it lagged far behind capitalist countries in its development.

The collapse of the soviet union

In 1985, Mikhail Gorbachev was elected General Secretary of the Central Committee of the CPSU and announced a course for “perestroika” – acceleration of economic development, and the establishment of freedom of speech. Market reforms were not accepted by the Soviet population, people’s financial situation deteriorated, inflation ran high and food and manufactured goods became scarce.

Gorbachev’s inconsistent policy eventually led to the collapse of the USSR in 1991. Russia, along with other union republics, became part of the Commonwealth of Independent States. The Constitution of the Russian Federation was adopted in 1993.

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