Kievan Rus (also called the Kievan Rus, or Kievan Rus’) was a powerful empire of Eastern Europe during the Middle Ages. It was centered around the city of Kiev, the capital of modern-day Ukraine.
The Kievan Rus had a huge impact on the development of both Europe and Asia. The empire served as a bridge between the two continents and acted as a barrier between the armies situated on its border.
The Kievan Rus lasted from the late 9th century to the middle of the 12th century. The first settlers in the Kievan Rus were Vikings who migrated from Sweden in search of wealth and power. The Viking Oleg was the founder of the Kievan Rus, and originally seized the city of Kiev with a small band of warriors for its military importance.
Over time, he expanded his control of the region, and sowed the seeds for what would become the Empire of Kievan Rus. As the Empire’s first ruler, Oleg established peace with the Byzantine Empire of the era and secured several important trade deals that ensured the wealth of his country.
Following his death, Oleg was succeeded by his son, Igor. In his lifetime, Igor established the Rurik Dynasty of succession, but was regarded as a worse king by his subjects than his father was. The trade deals Igor established were weaker than his father’s and saw less benefit for his subjects.
Igor’s son, Svyatoslav, was the last member of the Rurik Dynasty to uphold Viking tradition – after his death, the line became fully Slavonised (meaning that they converted to the traditions and ways of Eastern Europeans.)
Svyatoslav’s son, Vladimir the First, ascended the throne in 980 A.D. His coronation saw the beginning of the Golden Age of Kiev. Under Vladimir’s rule, the Kievan Rus experienced great development in its culture, economy, and trade. Vladimir the First was also the ruler to popularize Orthodox Christianity in the empire, which became the state religion for his people and remains a popular religion in the region to this day.
The acceptance of Orthodox Christianity led to a rift between Vladimir’s Kievan Rus and the Catholic Church – this rift isolated them from the rest of Western Europe, and led the Empire to become more greatly influenced by the countries to its east.
Free of Roman influence, the Kievan Rus developed its own unique system of art, literature, and architecture, which drew equal inspiration from the Scandinavian countries to the north as it did the Asian countries to the east.
However, the Golden Age of Kiev was not without its problems. It was during this time that a rift first began to appear between the ruler of the Empire and its people. Because the empire was so vast, the people at its farthest reaches felt disconnected from their ruler, which led to higher dissatisfaction with the country’s state of affairs.
The people living furthest from the political capital of Kiev were also free to practice their own faith and traditions – this meant that the territory along its western border was heavily influenced by the spread of Catholicism and Roman philosophy. This internal rift contributed to the eventual collapse of the Kievan Rus.
After Vladimir’s death, there was a struggle for power in Kiev as his sons competed for a spot on the throne. The first to claim it, Svyatopolk the Accursed, killed three of his brothers to seize power, but his reign was short lived.
Another of his siblings, Yaroslav the Wise, combined forces with the people of Kiev and a group of Viking mercenaries to steal the throne from under him. Yaroslav the Wise was the second ruler of the Golden Age of Kiev.
Under Yaroslav’s rule, the first ever eastern European code of law was written up: the Russkaya Pravda. Many books were acquired and translated from both Asia and Europe, and were then distributed among the people of the Kievan Rus so they could learn more about the world. Under his rule, Kiev became a cultural capital of Europe.
Yaroslav also attempted to end any further bloodline struggles by enacting a law that would respect seniority in the bloodline rather than direct succession – however, this law had little impact. Following Yaroslav’s death, another great struggle for power ensued.
This struggle saw no resolution before the invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century, and the consequent collapse of the Kievan Rus. Yaroslav was the last great ruler of the Kievan Rus, and the century left after his death was dominated by the squabbling and fighting of his descendants who sought nothing but the power of the throne.
Following the collapse of the Kievan Rus, the Empire was split into three territories – the modern-day countries of Belarus, Ukraine, and Russia. The reign of the Kievan Rus ended as quickly as it had begun, and saw no resurgence for the remainder of the Middle Ages.
– Vladimir the First.
– Yaroslav the Wise.
– The Russkaya Pravda.
– The Mongols.