Posts Tagged ‘Feudali8sm’

Book on Medieval Russian State of Kiev

March 14, 2022

George Vernadsky, Kievan Russia (New Haven: Yale University Press 1948).

I picked this book up when I was at College in the mid-80s. I did medieval history at ‘A’ Level and Russian at school, and although that’s long ago, I still have an interest in eastern European history, culture and politics. One of atrocities of this war among so many is the Russian assault on Ukraine’s capital, Kyiv. President Zelenskyy has said that he’s afraid that his country, its history and culture will be wiped out. Kyiv is one of the great historic cities of Europe. Great Russian authors such as Mikhail Bulgakov have set their novels in the city, and in music its been celebrated by the great Russian musician and composer, Mussorgsky in his ‘The Great Gates of Kiev’. But from c. 10th to the early 13th century Kyiv, or Kiev as it is known in Russian, was the centre of a great medieval Russian empire.

This book is a comprehensive history of Kievan Russia, looking not just at the reigns of its great tsars, but also the church and religion, its literature and culture, everyday life, relations with the other states and the position of national minorities. It has the following chapters, broken down thus into sections.

  1. Kievan Russia’s Place in History
  1. Is Russia Europe?
  2. Russia’s place in the medieval world.
  3. Divergent and parallel trends in Russian and European history.
  4. The notion of east European history.
  5. The challenge of geopolitics.
  6. The significance of the Kievan period in Russian history.

II. The imperial plan and its failure, 878-972

  1. The imperial plan: dreams and realities
  2. First successes – Oleg
  3. First setback – Igor
  4. A breathing spell – Olga
  5. The great adventure – Sviatoslav

III. Conversion to Christianity

  1. The Russian paganism
  2. Vladimir the Saint before his conversion (972-87)
  3. The story of Vladimir’s conversion
  4. Laying the foundations of the Russian church (990-1037)
  5. The significance of conversion: An early appraisal.

IV. The Kievan Realm, 990-1139

  1. Vladimir as Christian ruler (990-1015)
  2. The struggle between Vladimir’s sons (1015-36)
  3. The age of Iaroslav the Wise (1036-54)
  4. The triumvirate (1054-93)
  5. The reign of Sviatopolk II (1093-1113)
  6. A social legislator: Vladimir Monomach
  7. The first two monomashichi (1125-39)

V. Economic Foundations of Kievan Russia

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. Natural resources and population
  3. Hunting, agriculture and fishing
  4. Agriculture and cattle breeding
  5. Metallurgy
  6. Building industries
  7. Textile arts, furriery, tanning, ceramics
  8. Commerce
  9. Money and credit
  10. Capital and labor
  11. National income
  12. Prosperity and depression

VI. Social organisation

  1. The basic social units
  2. Social stratification
  3. The upper classes
  4. The middle classes
  5. The lower classes
  6. The half-free
  7. The slaves
  8. The church people
  9. Woman
  10. The steppe frontiersmen
  11. National minorities
  12. Concluding queries: on “economic and social feudalism” in Kievan Russia

VII. Government and Administration

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. The lands and the principalities
  3. The three elements of government
  4. The princely administration
  5. Branches of administration
  6. The city-state
  7. The local commune
  8. The manor
  9. The church
  10. The judiciary
  11. Concluding queries: on “political feudalism” in Kievan Russia

VIII. The Russian Federation, 1139-1237

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. The struggle for Kiev (1139-69)
  3. Keeping the balance between east Russia and west Russia
  4. Defense of the frontier
  5. The first appearance of the Mongols: the Battle of the Kalka (1223)
  6. Time runs short (1223-37)

IX. Russian Civilisation in the Kievan Period

  1. Introductory remarks
  2. Language and script
  3. Folklore
  4. Music
  5. Theater
  6. Fine arts
  7. Religion
  8. Literature
  9. Education
  10. The humanities
  11. Sciences and technlogy

X. The Way of Life

  1. City and country life
  2. Dwellings and furniture
  3. Dress
  4. Food
  5. Health and hygiene
  6. The cycle of life
  7. Public calamities

XI. Russia and the Outside World in the Kievan Period

  1. Preliminary remarks
  2. Russia and the Slavs
  3. Russia and Scandinavia
  4. Russia and the west
  5. Russia and Byzantium
  6. Russia and the Caucasus
  7. Russia and the east

It also has a map of Russia in the Kievan period as well as a list of sources, bibliography and index.

I’ve no doubt that some of the material in the book has become out of date in the nearly 80 years since it was first published. For example, the book describes the veche, a popular assembly, as a democratic institution. But others have said that it met too infrequently really to have been an instrument of popular, democratic government. Although you do wonder what history might have been like if it had been. Would we now be looking at the Ukraine as one of the major foundations of European democracy alongside the British parliament, the Swiss cantons and the Icelandic althing?

Despite its inaccuracies, I think that the book is nevertheless an excellent history of this most ancient Russian state and its people.

And I hope it is not too long before peace and justice is restored to this part of eastern Europe.