Story of Russia - R. Van Bergen

Troublous Times

The death of Andrew was a welcome relief for the people of Novgorod. They celebrated it by attacking the houses of the rich, and committed so many excesses that the priests made a procession with the eikons. In Souzdal there was trouble about the succession. Two of Andrew's brothers returned from exile, and claimed the dukedom, and the city of Vladimir gave them its support. That was enough for Souzdal and Rostof to recognize another claimant, one of Andrew's nephews. Vladimir was victorious in the contest, and Andrew's brother, Michael, became Grand Duke of Souzdal. He died two years afterwards, and the people of Souzdal once more refused to recognize Vladimir's candidate, Andrew's other brother Vsevolod, surnamed the Big Nest on account of his numerous family. Vladimir defeated Souzdal and Vsevolod was its grand duke from 1176 to 1212. The people of Novgorod thought best to pacify him. They sent a deputation to Vladimir, to tell Vsevolod, "Lord and Grand Duke, our country is your patrimony; we entreat you to send us the grandson of George Dolgorouki, the great-grandson of Monomachus, to govern us." The request was granted, and Vsevolod's eldest son Constantine came to Novgorod. The grand duke, however, was soon displeased with him and displaced him by a younger son, Iaroslaf. Soon there were quarrels between him and the people, whereupon Iaroslaf moved to Torjok, a town within Novgorod territory, and from there stopped all supplies. Famine appeared in the city, and at last envoys were sent to the duke, who had them arrested. Nothing except absolute submission would satisfy him. In this dire need help came from an unexpected quarter. Mstislaf the Bold, son of Mstislaf the Brave, Duke of Smolensk, heard of Novgorod's plight and sent word to the city, "Torjok shall not hold itself higher than Novgorod. I will deliver your lands and citizens, or leave my bones among you." He was as good as his word. There was a great war between Souzdal and Smolensk; no quarter was asked or given. In 1216, Vsevolod's sons were attacked at Lipetsk by the troops of Novgorod and Smolensk, with such fury that they were routed, and 9,000 were killed whereas only 60 were taken prisoners. Iaroslaf renounced Novgorod and released the citizens arrested by him.

Constantine succeeded his father Vsevolod, but died in 1217, and another brother, George, became Grand Duke of Souzdal. This prince made an expedition down the Volga, levying tribute as he proceeded. In 1220, he laid the foundation of Nishni Novgorod, and of several villages in what was then Mordvian territory.

Meanwhile Mstislaf the Bold resigned as Grand Duke of Novgorod in an assembly of the people, saying, "I salute St. Sophia, the tomb of my father, and you. People of Novgorod, I am going to reconquer Galitch from the strangers, but I shall never forget you. I hope I may lie by the tomb of my father in St. Sophia." The people implored him to remain; but he had made up his mind, and in 1218 he left for the southwest, where he did succeed in conquering Galitch, that is the name given to southwestern Russia at that time.

After his departure the people of Novgorod called his nephew Sviatoslaf as their grand duke, but soon there was a quarrel. The possadnik Tferdislaf caused the arrest of one of the wealthy citizens, whose friends rose to set him free. Then the burgomaster's friends came and there was a fight in which ten men were killed. The grand duke then demanded the dismissal of the burgomaster, and the vetché assembled to hear both sides. The grand duke was asked what crime the possadnik had committed.

"None," he replied, "but it is my will that he be dismissed."

The burgomaster then said: "I am satisfied, because I am not accused of any fault; as for you, my brothers, you can dismiss alike possadniks and dukes."

The vetché consulted, and announced its decision:

"Prince, since you do not accuse the possadnik of any fault, remember that you have sworn to depose no magistrate without trial. Tferdislaf will remain our possadnik,—we will not deliver him to you."

Sviatoslaf was very much displeased and resigned, and one of his brothers, Vsevolod, was appointed in his place. This was in 1219; two years later, in 1221, Vsevolod was expelled, and the people called back that same Iaroslaf from whom they had been rescued by Mstislaf the Bold. Soon there was another dispute and he  was sent about his business. Vsevolod of Smolensk was again made duke, but the people soon grew tired of him. At this time the Grand Duke of Souzdal interfered; he made Novgorod pay him tribute, and appointed a prince of Tchernigof as its duke; but he did not like the place and resigned. Then the city suffered from a famine, when 42,000 citizens perished and a fire destroyed a whole quarter of the city. Iaroslaf was made duke for the fourth time; the spirit of the people was broken, and he was permitted to rule over them as he pleased. He succeeded as grand duke in 1236, when he left his son Alexander Nevski as duke in Novgorod.

The east coast of the Baltic was considered tributary to Novgorod. Several colonies had been established on the Düna and south of that river, but in the 12th and 13th centuries missionaries and merchants from Germany appeared and gradually penetrated as far as the Düna where Bishop Meinhard, in 1187, built a Roman Catholic Church and a fortress. The Livonians were converted much as St. Vladimir had made Christians of the people of Kief; but in this case, the people of Livonia revolted; in 1198 the second bishop was killed in battle, and the natives returned to the heathen gods. Pope Innocent III ordered a crusade against them. Another bishop sailed up the Düna with a fleet of twenty-three ships, and in 1200 founded Riga. The year after a religious society, the Sword-bearers, resembling the Templars, was installed in Livonia, and the natives appealed to the Duke of Polotsk for help. They marched upon Riga and were defeated in 1206.

German colonization proceeded actively under the Sword-bearers. Several cities were founded, and the country was divided into fiefs, according to the feudal system of Western Europe. The towns were modeled after Hamburg, Bremen, and Lübeck. Riga grew into a large and powerful city.

In 1225, another religious brotherhood, the Teutonic Order, entered into Lithuania, and twelve years later the two orders united. The introduction of the Roman Catholic religion carried with it the elements of Roman civilization, and did much toward estranging the natives of the Baltic provinces from the Russians of the east.

Southwestern Russia, or Galitch, had, more than any other section, preserved the old Slav character. "The duke was a prince of the old Slavonic type. He was elected by a popular assembly, and kept his seat by its consent." The assembly was composed of boyards or nobles, and sometimes disputes occurred between them and the duke, which ended in more or less serious disorders. In 1188, the position was offered to Roman, Duke of Volhynia. He accepted, but before he could enter the capital, a duke who had been expelled was reinstalled. After his death, Roman entered the territory of Galitch, not as an elected duke, but as a conqueror at the head of an army, and treated the dukedom as a conquest. He was especially cruel to the boyards, treating their rights and privileges with scorn. Russian authors praise him; one of them says that he "walked in the ways of God, exterminated the heathen, flung himself like a lion upon the infidels, was savage as a wild cat, deadly as a crocodile, swooped down on his prey like an eagle," which seem strange qualities for praise. Roman died in battle, in 1205. Mstislaf the Bold conquered Galitch and at his death, in 1228, his son-in-law Daniel became duke.

We have seen that, in the 13th century, Russia was divided into a number of small states, most of them under a duke, but all possessing some degree of liberty, except in the north where the duke was being changed into an hereditary monarch. We have also seen that Russia was part of Europe, and that commercial relations were maintained. At the same time, just as there had been an invisible but none the less real dividing line between the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire and the west of Europe, so with the adoption of the Greek Church, Russia inherited the oriental type and principles which separated that form of Christianity from that of Rome. Thus the slight split grew gradually into a schism, as Western Europe progressed with every evolution of the Roman Church, whereas Russia remained stationary.

Byzantium or Constantinople, situated at the eastern-most edge of Europe, owing to its intimate association with the Persians who, at the time represented the Oriental character, was more of an oriental than a western city; its sympathies were also with its neighbors of the east. There was thus an oriental tendency in Russia as well as in the Byzantine Empire, and this vague sentiment enabled Russia to bend before a blast, which would have withered any nation of a more pronounced occidental character.