Brief history of Russia summarized
Land of tsars and vodka, we delve into the exciting history of Russia.
Russia in the Middle Ages
At the beginning of the 9th century, Russia was inhabited by Slavic tribes. In the late 9th century the Vikings forged them into a nation centered on kyiv (the Vikings first captured Novgorod in 862 and kyiv in 882).
The new nation was called Rus, and over time its Viking rulers adopted native customs and language. They were assimilated into Russian society. Kievan Rus’ was a powerful nation and traded with the Byzantine Empire. The Russians exported slaves, honey, and furs.
However, after the ruler Yaroslav the Wise (lived 978-1054 and reigned 1019-1054) died, Rus was divided into a federation of principalities. In addition, the economic importance of Rus has decreased. Beginning in the 12th century, the center of European trade shifted to Germany and Italy.
Meanwhile, in the year 988, Prince Vladimir converted to Greek Orthodox Christianity. His people followed him. Then, in 1169, kyiv was captured by Andrew Bogolyubsky, a prince from the northeast. However, he was assassinated in 1074 and the Russians continued to argue among themselves.
Then, in the middle of the 13th century, the Mongols invaded Eastern Europe. In 1237 Khan Batu, the grandson of Genghis Khan invaded Russia. He captured and destroyed Ryazan and Moscow and then Vladimir. The Mongols or Tatars then marched towards Novgorod, but were stopped by the thaw in the spring of 1238.
So they turned south. In 1240 they destroyed kyiv. In 1242 Batu established himself as the ruler of much of Eastern Europe, including Russia. His kingdom was called the Khanate of the Golden Horde. His capital was at Sarai.
Although the Tatars at first destroyed towns and villages and massacred their inhabitants, they later left the Russian principalities to fend for themselves (although they were forced to pay tribute to the Tatars and supply soldiers for their army). Also, the Tatars did not invade the Principality of Novgorod. The ruler Alexander Nevsky volunteered.
In 1240 he defeated the Swedes on the Neva and in 1242 crushed the Teutonic Knights at the Battle of the Ice (on the frozen Lake Peipus). However, he wisely decided to submit to the Tartars. In 1263 his son Daniel became Prince of Moscow. Daniel annexed large amounts of surrounding territory before his death in 1303.
His policy of annexation of territory was continued by his successors. Huge amounts were taken during the reigns of Dmitry Donoskoy (1359-1389) and Vasily (1389-1425). Moscow became more and more important. In 1326 the Metropolitan moved to Moscow.
In 1368 and 1372 the Lithuanians attacked Moscow, but did not capture it. Then, in 1380, Prince Dmitry defeated the Tatars at Kulikovo. However, in 1382 the Tatars captured Moscow and burned it, although Dmitry was allowed to remain their prince. However, the Tartar yoke was slowly thrown off as the Golden Khanate was broken.
In 1438-39 the Greek Orthodox Church was temporarily united with the Catholic Church. The Russians were very offended. The union was rejected in Russia. Also, in 1449 the Russian Church split from the Greek Orthodox Church.
Tatar rule in Russia finally died out in 1480. A Tatar army entered Russia to exact tribute that had not been paid for four years. However, they hesitated when their Polish allies did not show up. Eventually the Tartars withdrew and renounced all claims to tribute.
At that time, Russia was ruled by Ivan III (1462-1505). He greatly increased the territory of Russia. In 1471-78 he gradually conquered Novgorod and eventually became the ruler of the majority of the Russian people. The last independent parts of Russia were taken over by his son Vasili III.
Russia in the 16th century
In the 16th century, Russia had much more contact with Western Europe. Many European craftsmen came to work in Russia. In 1553 the English reached northwestern Russia by sea and began to trade. In 1563 the first printing press was introduced in Russia. Meanwhile, in 1533, Ivan IV, also known as Ivan the Terrible, inherited the Russian throne.
However, he was only 3 years old and did not obtain power until 1547. He was crowned tsar, a word derived from the Roman Caesar. Ivan expanded the Russian territory. The Golden Horde had disbanded, but Ivan fought against one of his successors, the Kazan Khanate. He defeated Kazan in 1552 and subsequently conquered it. In 1554-56 Ivan conquered Astrakhan.
However, in 1571 the Crimean Khan captured and burned Moscow, but the following year he was decisively defeated by the Russians. In 1582 Ivan conquered the Khanate of Sibir (which gave its name to Siberia).
Meanwhile, Ivan degenerated into a tyrant. In 1565 he raised a private army called the Oprichnina. They were completely loyal to him and killed anyone suspected of being an enemy of the Tsar. In 1570 the Oprichniki sacked Novgorod because Ivan believed that the Novgorodians were collaborating with their enemies the Poles.
The Oprichniki massacred the inhabitants, killing thousands. The Metropolitan of Moscow denounced Ivan’s cruelty and as a result he was strangled. Ivan also devised horrible methods to torture and kill anyone who suspected him of being an enemy. Ivan even killed his own son and heir by beating him with an iron-tipped cane. Ivan finally died in 1584.
Ivan’s son Theodore was a weak ruler. He died in 1598 without leaving an heir. However, he turned peasants into serfs by taking away their right to leave their masters.
Russia in the 17th century
His brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, was persuaded to take the Russian throne. Unfortunately, Russia suffered from a famine in 1601-1603. Worse yet, when Boris died in 1605, Russia entered a period of turmoil. In 1603 a man appeared in Poland claiming to be the youngest son of Ivan the Terrible, Dmitry. Actually, Dmitry had his throat cut in 1591.
However, the pretender, known as False Dmitri, raised an army of rebellious Poles and Russians and advanced on Moscow in 1605. Boris was conveniently killed and Dmitri captured Moscow where he became Tsar.
However, his reign was short-lived. He was replaced by Prince Vasily Shuisky in 1606. Russia then descended into anarchy. There were several uprisings, and order was not restored until 1613, when a man named Michael Romanov was made Tsar of Russia.
In 1645 he was succeeded by his son Alexis, known as “the most gentle”. During his reign, the Ukrainians, who were ruled by the Poles, sought protection from Russia. In 1654 they formed a union with Russia. The Poles went to war against Russia, but were defeated.
In 1667 Russia gained all of the Ukraine east of the Dnieper and Kiev and Smolensk. Meanwhile, Russian settlers moved into Siberia. The Bering Strait was discovered in 1648 and in the late 17th century many Russians moved to the area. In 1689 the Russians signed a treaty with the Chinese that fixed the border between them.
Meanwhile Alexis also made a new code of laws in 1649. The peasants lost the vestiges of freedom. However, in 1670-71 a Cossack named Stepan Razin led a rebellion against Russian landowners. However, his rebellion was crushed and he was executed.
In the 17th century, Russia was also torn apart by schism. Patriarch Nikon (1652-1666) decided to “update” the books used by the Russian church by ensuring that they were correctly translated from the Greek originals. He hoped to eliminate any mistakes that had been made over the years.
He also made some changes in the rites of the church. However, some Russians refused to accept the changes. They were called Old Believers, and they were mercilessly persecuted. Alexis was followed by his son Fyodor III (1676-1682) who in turn was followed by the great Tsar Peter.
However, at first it seemed as if Fyodor’s 15-year-old brother Ivan might claim the throne, but he had little intelligence. So the patriarch called a meeting of powerful Russians and proclaimed Ivan’s half-brother Peter the Tsar, even though he was only 9 years old.
Shortly after, however, Ivan’s sister, Sofia, staged a coup, although Pedro was not completely expelled. Instead, Ivan was made a Co-Tsar alongside him. Since both children were minors, Sophia was appointed regent.
In 1689, Sofia conspired to take the throne, but Pedro’s supporters staged a coup and sent her to a convent. Pedro’s mother was appointed regent.
Peter did not gain power in Russia until 1694. When he did, he was determined to bring Russia up to date. In 1696-97 he traveled west. While he was gone, Sophia’s supporters staged a rebellion. However, the rebellion was crushed and when Pedro returned, he executed more than 1,000 people.
Meanwhile, Peter embarked on his plan to modernize Russia. He built a navy and in 1696 captured Azov from the Turks. Pedro also encouraged foreign trade. He also encouraged the translation of foreign books into Russian. He promoted the construction of factories (peasants were recruited to work in them).
Peter also introduced the Julian calendar and reformed the government and administration of Russia. Peter also introduced western dress and forbade Russian nobles (boyars) to wear beards. When the patriarch died in 1700, Pedro refused to replace him. Instead, he formed a body called the Holy Synod to lead the Russian Orthodox Church.
The church became subordinate to the Tsar and was destined to serve him. Peter (Peter) also founded a port in northwestern Russia called St. Petersburg. The new city was built in the years 1703-1712. Large numbers of peasants were recruited to do the work and many thousands of them died from the harsh conditions. Peter also imposed heavy taxes on his people.
Russia in the 18th century
In 1700 Peter the Great went to war with Sweden in what became known as the Great Northern War. (Poland and Denmark were his allies). In 1700 the Russians were defeated on the Neva. However, in 1709 the Swedes invaded the Ukraine and were crushed at the Battle of Poltava.
In 1721 the Russians and Swedes made peace. Russia obtained Estonia and landed around the Gulf of Finland. However, Peter was less successful against the Turks. In 1710 he went to war with them, but in 1711 his army was defeated and he was forced to make peace. Russia was forced to return Azov.
However, Peter prevailed in a war against Persia in 1722-23. Peter the Great also founded the Russian Academy of Sciences in 1724. However, he died in 1725.
Catherine I succeeded her. She was followed by Peter II in 1727. Then, in 1730, Anna became Empress of Russia. When she died in 1740, a little boy named Ivan VI became Tsar, but he died in 1741. Empress Elizabeth replaced him. She took the throne with the help of the palace guards and ruled until her death in 1762.
During his reign, Russia waged a successful war with the Turks in the years 1736-39. As a result, the Russians recaptured Azov. Meanwhile, Russia’s first university was founded in Moscow in 1755. Peter III became Tsar in 1762, but reigned only for a few months. He was forced to abdicate and was succeeded by his wife. She became known as Catherine the Great.
Although she liked to be seen as an enlightened despot and corresponded with Voltaire and Diderot, many of Catherine’s subjects were poor and downtrodden. In 1773 a man named Yemelyan Pugachev led a rebellion. The rebellion met with considerable success, but was finally crushed in 1774. Pugachev was brought to Moscow in an iron cage.
He was beheaded and his body was cut into quarters. Later, in 1775, Catherine reformed the local government. In 1785 she gave the nobility (rich landowners) a charter (a document granting or confirming certain rights).
Meanwhile, Russia continued to expand in the 18th century. Russia waged a successful war with the Turks in 1768-1774. As a result, the Russians gained land on the Black Sea. In 1783 Russia took the Crimea. The Turks lost even more territory after a war in 1787-1791. Meanwhile, Russia seized parts of Poland.
In 1772 Russia, Prussia and Austria helped themselves with a piece of Polish territory each. Russia and Prussia helped themselves to more Polish territory in 1793. Finally, in 1795, Russia, Prussia, and Austria carved up what was left of Poland among themselves.
During the 18th century, the territory and population of Russia increased considerably. The new territory of Russia in the south was called New Russia and many people migrated there. Meanwhile, the Russians settled in the east. Russian industry also grew at this time, and foreign trade expanded rapidly.
When Catherine died in 1796, Russia was very powerful. Catherine was succeeded by her son Paul I. In 1797 she passed a law that in the future the eldest son should inherit the throne of Russia. He joined the war against France in 1798 but withdrew in 1800. Paul was assassinated in 1801.
Russia in the 19th century
Paul was followed by his son Alexander I (1801-1825). Alexander reformed the government. He also created new schools and 5 new universities in Russia. In 1805 Alexander joined the fight against Napoleon. However, the Russians were defeated and in 1807 the Tsar made peace.
The war with France started again in 1812. This time Napoleon invaded Russia with a vast army. The Russians withdrew although they held their ground at the Battle of Borodino in September. In October 1812 the French captured Moscow, which burned (it is not known who started the fire).
In November Napoleon withdrew, but most of his army died of hunger, cold and disease. In 1813 Prussia and Austria joined the fight against Napoleon. In October 1813 the French were defeated at Leipzig and in 1814 the Allies entered Paris.
Alexander died in 1825 and after his death a rebellion took place. Some Russian officers were influenced by the ideas of the French revolution and formed a secret society.
In December 1825 the Decemberists (as they were called) attempted a coup. They met in the Senate square of the capital, but troops loyal to the tsar opened fire and dispersed them. Later 5 rebels were hanged. However, the attempted uprising was a foretaste of things to come in Russia.
After the events of December 1825, the new Tsar Nicholas I (1825-1855) was determined to eradicate any revolutionary movement. He formed a police force to detect the revolutionaries. All his writings were rigorously censored.
In 1853 came the Crimean War. During the 19th century the Ottoman Empire, which included the Balkans, was in decline. The Russian tsar was eager to take advantage of the decline of the Turks. However, the British were alarmed, fearing that if Russia expanded into South Asia it might threaten British influence over India.
The French got involved because of an argument over who should control the holy places in Palestine (present-day Israel), the French Catholics or the Orthodox Christians. The French ruler, Napoleon III, was eager to wage a successful war, as he believed that he would increase support for him in France and was using the situation to create a war.
In July 1853 the Russians occupied what is now Romania (then part of the Ottoman Empire). In addition, the Russian navy sank several Turkish ships in the Black Sea. Turkey declared war on Russia on October 16, 1853.
On March 28, 1854, Britain and France went to war with Russia. The war became known as the Crimean War because most of the fighting took place there. The Russians were soon forced to withdraw from what is now Romania.
However, Napoleon III persuaded the British to help him try to capture the Russian fort at Sevastopol, arguing that it was a threat to the security of the entire region. The British Army was led by Lord Raglan. The French were led by Marshal Saint-Arnaud, while the Turks were led by Omar Pasha.
The British and French landed in the Crimea on September 14, 1854. They won a victory at the Alma River on September 20, 1854, but failed to take Sevastopol.
On October 25, 1854, the Russians attacked at the Battle of Balaklava, but were repelled. They tried again on November 5, 1854, at Inkerman, but were again repulsed. The allies who were entrenched during a long siege. However, the British Army was unprepared and suffered terribly during the Russian winter.
On January 26, 1855, the kingdom of Piedmont-Sardinia declared war on Russia. At the beginning of 1855, the Tsar died. In June 1855 Lord Raglan also died. He was replaced by General James Simpson.
Alexander II was a reforming tsar. His great achievement was to abolish serfdom in 1861. The peasants received some land from the landlords. However, the landowners were compensated for their losses and the peasants were forced to pay in installments. So the peasants were burdened with large payments for many years.
Also, in 1864, Alexander established the local elected councils called zemstvos. Also in 1864 the judiciary became independent. However, Alexander’s reforms did not prevent the revolutionary movements from gaining strength. In 1866 an attempt was made to assassinate the Tsar. Another was made in 1867.
In 1879 the imperial train was derailed in another attempt to kill him. Alexander was finally killed in March 1881 when a man named Ignacio Grinevitsky threw a grenade at him.
Alexander II was replaced by Alexander III. The new tsar was determined to clamp down on all dissidents. However, revolutionary movements continued to grow during his reign (1881-1894).
Meanwhile, at the end of the 19th century, the industrial revolution came to Russia. In the 1880s, Russia was still an agricultural society. It was behind compared to many European countries.
However, from 1890, Russia began to rapidly become an industrial country, and the construction of the Trans-Siberian railway from Moscow to Vladivostok began in 1891. It was completed in 1905. Alexander III was succeeded by Nicholas II. He was a weak ruler who led Russia into a disastrous war with Japan.
Russia in the 20th century
In the late 19th century, Russia increased its influence in the Pacific region. However, Japan was an emerging power in the area. In 1898 Russia leased bases in Manchuria. Other powers demanded that Russia leave, but she ignored their wishes. Finally, on February 9, 1904, the Japanese attacked the Russian base at Port Arthur.
The Japanese won victories on land and at sea. Port Arthur surrendered on January 2, 1905. In February-March 1905 the Japanese won a battle at Mukden. Then, in May 1905, the Japanese navy won a resounding victory at Tsushima. In 1905 the Russians were forced to make a humiliating peace, the Treaty of Portsmouth.
The 1905 revolution in Russia began when Father George Gapon led a peaceful march on Sunday, January 22, 1905. The protesters wanted higher pay and a 10-hour workday.
They marched through St. Petersburg to the Winter Palace. However, the palace guard opened fire killing hundreds of people. After ‘Bloody Sunday’ there were riots by the peasants and Russia was hit by a wave of strikes. There were also mutinies in the army and navy.
Finally, in October 1905, Russia was paralyzed by a general strike. Nicholas II was forced to give in and agreed to form a representative assembly called the Duma.
However, Nicholas had no intention of relinquishing his position as autocrat (sole ruler). Four dumas were held, but each had less power than the last. By 1917 the Russian people were disillusioned and ready to support another revolution.
A sinister event was the rise of Marxism in Russia. A Marxist party was formed in Russia in 1898. At a meeting in 1903 it split into two groups.
The Bolsheviks (from the Russian word for majority) and the Mensheviks (from the word for minority). However, the Bolsheviks were not the majority within the party, but only the majority at a particular meeting.
Then, in 1914, came the First World War. In September 1914 the Russian army was severely defeated at Tannenberg. Russia never really recovered. In March 1915 the Tsar took command of the Russian army (therefore he could be held personally responsible for its failures).
Russia continued to suffer terrible losses and the country bled to death. The tsarist regime was also discredited by its association with Georgi Rasputin around 1872-1916. He was supposedly a holy man who came to Saint Petersburg in 1903. People believed that Rasputin had the power to cure diseases.
From 1905 the Tsar’s wife, Alexandra, came under his influence. She believed that he could cure her son Alexi, who had a hemophilia. (Rasputin may have used hypnosis to calm the boy down and stop him from bleeding.)
However, Rasputin was a scandalous figure, known for his alcohol consumption and scandalous behavior. He was finally assassinated in December 1916. Meanwhile, there was a serious shortage on the home front. In March 1917, a bread shortage in Petrograd (as Saint Petersburg had been renamed) led to riots.
This time the city soldiers joined the rioters. The tsarist regime quickly collapsed. Nicholas abdicated. A provisional government made up of Duma deputies then governed Russia. A moderate socialist named Alexander Kerensky became prime minister.
However, in April 1917, the Germans helped Bolshevik leader Lenin (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov 1870-1924) return from exile. In July, some Bolsheviks led a premature rise called “The July Days.”
The provisional government claimed that Lenin was a German agent and released documents that were supposed to prove it. The rise fades and Lenin flees to Finland. However, he soon returned to Russia having easily refuted the government’s claims.
The provisional government lost support for failing to end the war, which had cost so many lives, and for failing to enact social reforms. Many Russians were impatient for peace and radical reforms. Lenin addressed them with his slogan Peace! Bread! Land!
The Bolsheviks had a lot of support among the Petrograd soldiers. On November 6, 1917, the Bolsheviks led them into a revolt in Petrograd. They confiscated key buildings. On November 7, 1917 they took the winter palace and arrested most of the provisional government (Kerensky escaped and fled abroad).
The Bolsheviks quickly took over central Russia. Before its fall, the provisional government had organized elections for a representative assembly. The Bolsheviks let the elections go ahead.
However, they only won 168 seats out of a total of 703 in the assembly. When it was clear that the new assembly did not support them, the Bolsheviks forcibly closed it down. In addition, the communists had to fight a long civil war before they controlled all of Russia.
The war between the “reds” and the “whites” lasted until 1921 and devastated Russia. Worse yet, Russia suffered a severe famine in 1921-1922 in which many people died. Meanwhile, the Tsar and his family were assassinated in 1918. They were not the only ones. The communist secret police, the Cheka, killed tens of thousands of people.
During the civil war, the communists simply forcibly took food away from peasants when they needed it. The harsh policies of the communists caused riots. In 1921 there were strikes in Petrograd and riots at the Kronstadt naval base, which was crushed by force. However, Lenin made a strategic retreat.
He announced his “new economic policy.” Peasants were allowed to grow food and sell it for profit. Free enterprise was allowed in the cities. The communists only retained control of the ‘commanding heights’ of industry (the most important ones). The new economic policy helped Russia recover from the devastation caused by the civil war.
However, time was running out for Lenin. In 1922 he suffered the first of a series of revivals and died in January 1924. After Lenin’s death, the cunning and crooked Stalin (Joseph Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili 1879-1953) seized power.
By 1928 he had become a dictator. His main enemy Leon Trotsky (Lev Davidovich Bronstein 1879-1940) was exiled in 1929. In 1940 he was assassinated in Mexico. Stalin soon proved to be an evil tyrant who murdered millions of people.
In 1929 he ended the new economic policy and replaced it with a series of five-year plans. Heavy industry was to expand considerably. In the countryside, peasants were forced to unite in collective farms. Many peasants bitterly resisted this policy.
So the OGPU (the new name of the secret police after 1923) and the red army were used to force them. Stalin was determined to crush the Ukrainian peasants and caused a terrible famine in 1932-33 that claimed the lives of millions of innocent people.
In 1932, the collective farms were assigned completely unrealistic quotas. Soviet law decreed that peasants would not be allowed to keep any grain until they met their quotas. They could not, of course, meet them, so the Soviet officers simply confiscated all the grain they wanted leaving the peasants hungry.
It is not known for sure how many people died in this man-made famine, but it was probably about 7 million. In 1934 Stalin began a series of “purges” in which millions of people died. The purges are known as the Great Terror. They started when Sergei Kirov was assassinated. He was probably assassinated on Stalin’s orders.
However, Stalin used it as an excuse to eliminate his enemies (or anyone he thought might be an enemy). Many prominent communists were put on trial and executed. Millions of ordinary people were sent to labor camps and forced to work in appalling conditions.
In 1937-38 Stalin “purged” the Red Army officers. Approximately 80% of the generals and 50% of the colonels were executed. So the red army was weakened just as Russia faced a threat from Nazi Germany.
Also, in the 1930s, under Stalin, the churches were persecuted. Thousands of clerics were arrested and propaganda for atheism was widespread. Despite Stalin’s terrible crimes, Russian industry grew rapidly in the years 1929-1941.
In 1939 Stalin made a non-aggression pact with Hitler. In 1939 the two men divided Polan