Story of Russia - R. Van Bergen

A Russian Republic

Sviatopolk reigned from 1093 to 1113. It was at this time that Russia was disturbed by two civil wars. At the instance of Vladimir Monomachus a congress of dukes met in 1097, at Loubetch on the Dnieper to discuss the folly of civil wars which placed the country at the mercy of its enemies. An agreement was concluded, wherein the dukes swore upon the Cross that "henceforth the Russian land shall be considered the country of us all, and whoso shall dare arm himself against his brother, shall be our common enemy."

Soon after this a quarrel broke out about the succession of Volhynia, and again the country was plunged into civil strife, which lasted two years. In 1100 another congress was held at Vititchevo, on the left bank of the Dnieper, where the dispute was settled, and it was resolved to unite in a war with a powerful nomad people. The Russians under Vladimir Monomachus gained a brilliant victory; the nomads had seventeen khans killed on the battlefield.

When Sviatopolk died, the people of Kief declared that they would have no grand duke except Vladimir. He declined saving that there were elder heirs entitled to the succession; but when troubles broke out in the city, he gave his consent. During his reign of twelve years, from 1113 to 1125, Kief reached the height of prosperity and power. He reduced Souzdal, in the north, to submission, and made many improvements. His memory is cherished in Russia. He compiled a set of instructions for his sons, from which we may judge of his character. Among other remarks, he says: "It is neither by fasting, nor solitude, nor the life in a cloister that will procure for you the life eternal,—it is doing good. Do not forget the poor but feed them. Do not bury your wealth in the bosom of the earth, for that is contrary to the precepts of Christianity. Be a father to orphans, judge the cause of widows yourself." "Put to death no one be he innocent or guilty, for nothing is more precious than the soul of a Christian." "When you have learned anything useful, try to preserve it in your memory, and strive ceaselessly to acquire knowledge. Without ever leaving his palace, my father spoke five languages, a thing that foreigners admire in us."

There are in the museum at Moscow, a throne and crown, supposed to have belonged to this noble and patriotic duke; unfortunately it has been shown that they were never in his possession.

In his will, Vladimir gave the dukedom of Souzdal to his son George Dolgorouki, and another son, Mstislaf, succeeded as grand duke at Kief. When the latter died in 1146, leaving the grand dukedom to his son Isiaslaf, George Dolgorouki claimed the succession as the eldest of the family. Both sides were supported by their friends, and some fierce battles were fought, but Isiaslaf maintained himself until his death in 1157, After his reign, Kief's importance began to decrease. Twelve years later, in 1169, it was captured by the Russians of the north. A native historian says of this event: "This mother of Russian cities had been many times besieged and oppressed. She had often opened her Golden Gate to her enemies, but none had ever yet entered by force. To their eternal shame, the victors forgot that they, too, were Russians! During three days not only the houses, but the cloisters, churches, and even the temples of St. Sophia and the Dime, were given over to pillage. The precious images, the sacerdotal ornaments, the books, and the bells,—all were carried off."

With the fall of Kief, the scene of Russian activity shifts to the north. There, in the dukedom of Souzdal, George Dolgorouki laid, in 1147, the foundation of a town, Moscow, on a height overlooking the Moscowa. For many years it remained an obscure village, and gave no sign of its future greatness.

The chief interest at this time centers about the Russian republics, Novgorod, Pskof, and Viatka. Although Novgorod did not possess the advantages of Kief, since its soil was sandy, marshy, and unproductive, the enterprise of its people made it the wealthiest and most populous city of Russia. It is recorded that it counted 100,000 inhabitants, when Rurik arrived in Russia. He and his immediate successors were satisfied with the position of Defender, which suited their warlike and blunt character, and with the revenues assigned to them, which with the spoils taken from the enemy, were ample for their wants. These republics were administered by a vetché or municipal council, with a possadnik or burgomaster, whose duty it was to see that the city's privileges were preserved, and who distributed the taxes. He shared with the duke in the administration of justice. There was a militia for the defense of the people's rights, commanded by a tysatski. Every ward of the city had a starost, charged with preserving the peace. It is said that a written constitution, partaking of the nature of the Magna Charta, was granted to Novgorod by Iaroslaf the Great. The duke's rights and privileges, his duties and his revenues, were carefully set down. He was entitled to the tribute of some of the volosts,—cantons or counties,—and to certain fines; he could gather in his harvests at stated times, and was not permitted to hunt in the forest except in the autumn. He could neither execute nor annul a judgment without the approval of the possadnik, and he was expressly forbidden to carry a lawsuit beyond Novgorod. Every duke, before he entered upon his office, was compelled to take an oath to this constitution.

The members of the vetché were elected by a unanimous vote, instead of by a majority. This gave rise to frequent, and sometimes very serious disorder, because if a minority did not approve of the candidate, they were apt to be ill-treated. There were occasions when two rival vetchés were elected, and when this happened in the two parts of the city divided by the river Volkhof, the bridge between them was often the scene of a free fight. Owing to the extensive trade connections, the merchants trading with western Europe by way of the Baltic sought to promote friendly relations with the dukes of the west, who had it in their power to promote or obstruct their trade; but the merchants dealing with Asia, and those who connected with Constantinople had other interests to consider and to guard. Thus there were often three parties, each concerned with its own interests, and forgetting that their prosperity was first and chiefly dependent upon the power of the republic, they rendered it an easy prey for an ambitious duke. The people, however, boasted of their patriotism, and during the early period they were strong enough to defy the duke. On some occasions, he and his drujina were expelled, or, as they expressed it, "the people made him a reverence, and showed him a way to leave." Sometimes, too, it happened that the duke was made a prisoner, and confined in the Archbishop's palace. When Sviatopolk was Grand Duke of Fief (1093-1113), he wished to force one of his sons upon the people of Novgorod. "Send him along," said they, "if he has a head to spare!" Usually the duke was glad to leave Novgorod, if he could secure another dukedom. In 1132, Vsevolod Gabriel left Novgorod to become Duke of Peréiaslaf, hoping to succeed as Grand Duke of Kief. Seeing no way to attain the coveted dignity, he signified his wish to return to the people of Novgorod. "You have forgotten your oath to die with us," they replied; "you have sought another dukedom; now you may go where you please. In this case, however, the people changed their mind, and did take him back; but four years afterwards they expelled him, declaring that "he took no care of the poor people; he desired to establish himself at Peréiaslaf; at the battle of Mount Idanof against the men of Souzdal, he and his drujina were the first to leave the battle-field; he was fickle in the quarrels of the dukes, sometimes joining one party and sometimes the other."

So long as the descendants of Rurik remained satisfied with their position, Novgorod had enough men and resources to maintain its independence; but more than that was required after the dukes had tasted of the sweets of unlimited power.

George Dolgorouki had established colonies in Souzdal. The land was his, the colonists were his subjects. He was no longer merely the defender, he was the owner, not the duke, but the prince. There was no vetché or popular assembly in his possessions. His son, Andrew Bogolioubski, was brought up and educated amid these conditions, more in conformity with those prevailing in Greece and other parts of Europe, where the people were supposed to exist for the sole benefit of their prince. It was he who ruined Kief, and the fall of that city foretold the doom of Novgorod. "The fall of Kief," says a Russian author, "seemed to foreshadow the loss of Novgorod liberty; it was the same army, and it was the same prince who commanded it. But the people of Kief, accustomed to change their masters,—to sacrifice the vanquished to the victors,— only fought for the honor of their dukes, while those of Novgorod were to shed their blood for the defense of the laws and institutions established by their ancestors."

During his father's life, Andrew left his castle on the Dnieper, and moved northward to Vladimir which town he enlarged, and where he founded a quarter named Bogolioubovo, whence his name of Bogolioubski. After the death of George Dolgorouki, Andrew first made a successful campaign against the Bulgarians, and then, after sacking Kief, he turned his attention toward Novgorod, where he had established one of his nephews. The cause of the quarrel is not known, but Andrew began by compelling the neighboring dukes to join him, and over-ran the territory of the republic with fire and sword. The people of Novgorod, remembering the fate of Kief, were prepared to die in the defense of the city. The siege commenced. One day the Archbishop took the eikon—image—of the Virgin, which was carried around in solemn procession. It was struck by an arrow shot by a Souzdalian soldier, when miraculous tears appeared upon its face. The besiegers were struck by a panic, and the people of Novgorod sallied out, killed a number of the enemy, and took so many prisoners that "you could get six Souzdalians for a grivna." Whatever may have been the value of that coin, the market was evidently overstocked with Souzdalians.

Foiled in this attempt, Andrew tried other means. He prohibited the sale of grain to the people of Novgorod, who were thereby compelled to make peace. They did not surrender any of their privileges but accepted as their duke the prince selected by Andrew.

His next war was with Mstislaf the Brave, Duke of Smolensk, who, aided by his brothers, had taken Kief. Andrew sent a herald to him demanding the evacuation of Kief, and imposing a fine upon each brother. Mstislaf who, the Russians say, "feared none but God," gave orders to have the herald's head and beard shaved,—a gross insult at that time,—and then dismissed him, saying: "Go and repeat these words unto your master; 'Up to this time we have respected you like a father, but since you do not blush to treat us as your vassals and common people, since you have forgotten that you speak to princes, we laugh at your threats. Execute them!—we appeal to the judgment of God.'" The challenge was accepted, and Andrew was defeated.

The Duke of Souzdal did not relax in his attempts to established absolute government. It was with this purpose in view that he expelled his three brothers, and made friends of the priests. Kief was still the residence of the Metropolitan or head of the Greek Church in Russia, and Andrew was anxious that he should transfer his residence to Vladimir so as to make that city the religious center of Russia. His wish was not gratified. He failed in everything, except in making enemies by his disregard of law. He was murdered in 1174 in his favorite palace at Bogolioubovo, by his own boyards or nobles.