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Russia, the largest country in the world, occupies one-tenth of all the land on Earth. Russian Empire, historical empire founded on November 2 (October 22, Old Style), 1721, when the Russian Senate conferred the title of emperor (imperator) of all the Russias upon Peter I. The abdication of Nicholas II on March 15, 1917, marked the end of the empire and its ruling Romanov dynasty.
The earliest human settlements in Russia arose around A.D. 500, as Scandinavians moved south to areas around the upper Volga River. These settlers mixed with Slavs from the west and built a fortress that would eventually become the Ukrainian city of Kiev.
A Silent and Beautiful Country Ukraine
Kiev evolved into an empire that ruled most of European Russia for 200 years, then broke up into Ukraine, Belarus, and Muscovy. Muscovy’s capital, Moscow, remained a small trading post until the 13th century, when Mongol invasions in the south drove people to settle in Moscow.
In the 1550s, Muscovite ruler Ivan IV became Russia’s first tsar after driving the Mongols out of Kiev and unifying the region. In 1682, Peter the Great became tsar at the age of ten and for 42 years worked to make Russia more modern and more European.
In 1917, Russians unhappy with their government overthrew the tsar and formed an elected government. Just a few months later though, a communist group called the Bolsheviks seized power. Their leader, Vladimir Lenin, created the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (U.S.S.R.) from Russia and 11 other countries.
The U.S.S.R. fought on the side of the United States in World War II, but relations between the two powers and their allies became strained soon after the war ended in 1945. These tensions led to the Cold War, which ended in 1991 when the Soviet Union broke up.
Russia has, historically, struggled several times with uniting as a single people due to the incredible ethnic diversity of the region. The first Russian state was developed around 862, when a tribal leader united the various ethnic groups of the region into one confederation, called Kievan Rus’. Rus…Russia…see where this is going?
The Mongol Empire managed to capture Kievan Rus by 1237, incorporating it into the Golden Horde, one of the branches of the empire. During this time, when the Mongol Empire encouraged massive international exchange, new cities grew to immense wealth due to the position they held in negotiating trade between the East and West. One of these cities was Moscow.
The Mongols were officially defeated in 1480, although they remained deeply ingrained in local politics and economics, and the city of Moscow rose to prominence as a de facto leader of the Russian states. In 1462, a new ruler rose in Moscow, named Ivan III. Ivan III had great plans for Moscow and through political maneuvering and a series of wars, he managed to triple the size of Moscow’s territories and consolidate all power in his leadership.
Moscow became powerful enough that Ivan decided to stop paying tributes to the Mongol leaders of the Golden Horde, amassed a huge army from local lords by making them nobles of the Moscow state, and removed Mongol power from Russia once and for all. The rising power of Moscow continued throughout Ivan’s reign, which ended in 1505. At this point, the city had become so powerful that Ivan’s successor, called Ivan IV, was the first ruler to formally take the title ‘tsar.’
Ivan III set Moscow on the path to uniting the Russian states as one kingdom and later, an empire. His vision for the future of Russia came from a monk who told Ivan that Russia would be the Third Rome. This was a powerful idea. Rome had been the central power of the ancient Christian world, the center of Christianity, and home of the pope.
After the Church divided between Catholic and Orthodox factions, Rome lost some political power and Constantinople rose at the center of the Byzantine Empire, the new power in the Western world. According to prophecies, Constantinople would be replaced by an even greater power to rule the Christian world, the Third Rome. In 1453, just before Ivan III rose to power, Constantinople fell to the Islamic Ottoman Empire.
The Christian world was looking for a new central power, and Ivan III decided that the proudly Orthodox Moscow should take that mantle. The vision of Russia as the Third Rome was a major driving force in its rise to power and set in on the path to empire. In fact, the official motto of the Russian Empire
Rise of the Empire
Since the rise of the tsars, Russia essentially behaved like an empire. The problem was that it was not treated like one by the rest of the world. Asian kingdoms didn’t consider Russia to be part of Asia, and European kingdoms didn’t consider it part of Europe, so it was sort of neglected in global political terms. Then, in 1682, a new tsar rose to power, Peter the Great. As you can probably guess from his name, this guy’s important.
Peter’s rise to power came with massive reforms aimed at modernizing Russia along European standards, so that they would earn more respect amongst the European empires. Peter changed Russian politics, military, and economy, and implemented education reforms to make Russians think of themselves as Europeans, rather than a diverse collection of Central Asian and Eastern European ethnic groups. This was not without difficulty. Most of these reforms directly challenged traditional Russian culture, including the shaving of the traditionally long Russian beards, and Peter had to suppress several rebellions.
The area that is today the country of Russia has been inhabited by people for thousands of years. The first modern state in Russia was founded in 862 by King Rurik of the Rus, who was made the ruler of Novgorod. Some years later, the Rus conquered the city of Kiev and started the kingdom of the Kievan Rus.
Over the 10th and 11th century the Kievan Rus became a powerful empire in Europe reaching its peak under Vladimir the Great and Yaroslav I the Wise. During the 13th century the Mongols led by Batu Khan overran the area and wiped out the Kievan Rus. In the 14th century the Grand Duchy of Moscow rose to power. It became the head of the Eastern Roman Empire and Ivan IV the Terrible crowned himself the first Tsar of Russia in 1547.
Tsar was another name for Caesar as the Russians called their empire the “Third Rome”. In 1613, Mikhail Romanov established the Romanov dynasty that would rule Russia for many years. Under the rule of Tsar Peter the Great (1689-1725), the Russian empire continued to expand. It became a major power throughout Europe. Peter the Great moved the capital from Moscow to St. Petersburg. During the 19th century, Russian culture was at its peak. Famous artists and writers such as Dostoyevsky, Tchaikovsky, and Tolstoy became famous throughout the world.
After World War I, in 1917, the people of Russia fought against the leadership of the Tsars. Vladimir Lenin led the Bolshevik Party in revolution overthrowing the Tsar. Civil war broke out in 1918. Linen’s side won and the communist state the Soviet Union was born in 1922. After Lenin died in 1924, Joseph Stalin seized power. Under Stalin, millions of people died in famines and executions. During World War II, Russia initially allied with the Germans. However, the Germans invaded Russia in 1941.
Over 20 million Russians died in World War II including over 2 million Jewish people who were killed as part of the Holocaust. In 1949, the Soviet Union developed nuclear weapons. An arms race developed between Russia and the United States in what was called the Cold War. The Soviet economy suffered under communism and isolationism. In 1991, the Soviet Union collapsed and many of its member nations declared independence. The remaining area became the country of Russia.
Russia, the largest country in the world, occupies one-tenth of all the land on Earth. It spans 11 time zones across two continents (Europe and Asia) and has coasts on three oceans (the Atlantic, Pacific, and Arctic).
The Russian landscape varies from desert to frozen coastline, tall mountains to giant marshes. Much of Russia is made up of rolling, treeless plains called steppes. Siberia, which occupies three-quarters of Russia, is dominated by sprawling pine forests called taigas.
Russia has about 100,000 rivers, including some of the longest and most powerful in the world. It also has many lakes, including Europe’s two largest: Ladoga and Onega. Lake Baikal in Siberia contains more water than any other lake on Earth.
How did the Russains get to Russia?
- The first known people to set foot on Russian territory were called the Cimmerians. They ruled between 1000 and 700 BCE and were followed by the Scythians in 700 BCE.
- The Scythian nomads established a military state and defeated the Persians, but were nonetheless conquered by the Sarmatians in 3 BCE.
- During the Sarmatian reign, Greek settlers colonized the coast of the Black Sea.
- Sarmatians and Greeks maintained friendly trade based relations until the German Goths interfered in 200 A.D.
- The Goths in turn were defeated by the Huns in 370 A.D., which paved the way for Bulgaric and Slavic settlement during the time of the European Migration Period.
- In the 7th century, a new force came to power in Southern Russia: the Khazars. They gave up the nomadic lifestyle, built towns and established trading connections. Everyone living in the Khazar state was allowed to practice whatever religion they believed in without restrictions.
- Finally, the Eastern Slavs appeared — the founders of the modern Russian state. By 900, their economy, society and culture where thriving. Yet it wasn’t until the 16th century that the Eastern Slavs crossed the Urals and began settling in Siberia.
If you have a look at the map, you will notice that Russia is situated both in Europe and in Asia. This country has always represented the bridge between the West and the East, and not only geographically, but also economically, politically, culturally and spiritually. It could be said that its historical mission has always been to connect two great civilizations, that of the East and of the West. This was also the case centuries ago, when there were no actual Russians on the territory now occupied by the Russian state.
At present we know, vaguely, the historical development of southern Russia before the appearance of the Russians and the Kievian state.
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