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Soviet Union

The Rise of Regional Centers

Kievan Rus' was not able to maintain its position as a powerful and prosperous state. Many factors contributed to its decline, among them its being an amalgamation of disparate lands held together by a ruling clan. As the descendants of Rurik multiplied, they identified themselves with regional interests rather than with a larger patrimony. The princes fought among themselves, frequently forming alliances with Polovtsians, Poles, Hungarians, and others. The decline of Kievan Rus' was further accelerated by a shift in European trade routes resulting from the Crusades. The sacking of Constantinople in 1204 by the Crusaders made the Dnepr trade route marginal. As it declined, Kievan Rus' splintered into many principalities and several large regional centers. The people inhabiting the regional centers evolved into several nationalities: Ukrainians in the southeast and southwest, Belorussians in the northwest, and Russians in the north and northeast.

In the north, Novgorod prospered because it controlled trade routes from the Volga River to the Baltic Sea. As Kievan Rus' declined, Novgorod became more independent. It was ruled by a town oligarchy, and major decisions, including the election or dismissal of a prince, were made at town meetings. In the twelfth century, Novgorod acquired its own archbishop--a sign of its importance and its political independence. In its political structure and mercantile activities, Novgorod, which became a republic in 1136, resembled the north European towns of the Hanseatic League more than the other principalities of Kievan Rus'.

In the northeast, the territory that eventually became Muscovy was colonized by East Slavs who intermingled with the Finno-Ugric tribes of the area. The city of Rostov was the oldest center of the northeast but was supplanted first by the city of Suzdal' and then by the city of Vladimir. By the twelfth century, the combined principality of Vladimir-Suzdal' had become a major power in Kievan Rus'. In 1169 Prince Andrei Bogoliubskii of Vladimir-Suzdal' dealt a severe blow to the waning power of the Kievan Rus' capital of Kiev when his armies sacked the city. Prince Andrei installed his younger brother in Kiev and continued to rule his realm from the city of Suzdal'. Political power had shifted to the northeast. In 1299, in the wake of a Mongol invasion, the head of the Orthodox Church in Kievan Rus'--the metropolitan--moved to the city of Vladimir. Thus Vladimir-Suzdal', with its increased political power and with the metropolitan in residence, acted as a continuator of Kievan Rus'.

The principality of Galicia-Volhynia, which had highly developed trade relations with its Polish, Hungarian, and Lithuanian neighbors, emerged as another successor to Kievan Rus' in the southwest. In the early thirteenth century, Prince Roman Mstislavich united the two previously separate principalities, conquered Kiev, and assumed the title of grand prince of Keivan Kievan Rus'. His son, Prince Daniil (1230-64), was the first ruler of Kievan Rus' to accept a crown from the Roman papacy, apparently without breaking with Orthodoxy. Early in the fourteenth century, the patriarch of the Orthodox Church in Constantinople granted the rulers of Galicia-Volhynia a metropolitan to compensate for the Kievan metropolitan's move to Vladimir.

A long and losing struggle against the Mongols, however, as well as internal opposition to the prince and foreign intervention, weakened Galicia-Volhynia. With the end of the Mstislavich Dynasty in the mid-fourteenth century, Galicia-Volhynia ceased to exist: Lithuania took Volhynia, and Poland annexed Galicia.

Data as of May 1989