Rusian history 30: Suzdal province: nature and life of the settlers

The nature of Suzdal province was not like that of Kiev or Novgorod. Instead of the black earth of Dnieper, the soil contained a large share of clay and sand. It was not as fertile as in Kiev, but it was much better that around Novgorod. So, the population of Suzdal could produce grain, but since the harvests were insufficient, they also had to use other sources of food, primarily in the abundant forests — beekeeping, production of resin and tar, hunting. Both agriculture and forest industries led to the more even distribution of population and people lived in small villages, around a dozen of houses each. Widespread river network provided a perfect transportation system. The largest of the rivers, Volga and Oka, surrounded the territory of the province and their tributaries allowed to visit the most distant corners. New settlers moved along these rivers and stayed on their banks. In Kiev, a typical administrative unit was a town with adjacent territories, but here, in Suzdal such a unit was a river valley with villages scattered on its banks and along the tributaries. Towns existed, too, but they functioned rather as fortifications than as trade and industrial centres.

So, the nature itself shaped this country as a peasants' land. Vladimir Monomakh and his sons became knyazes when the immigration was relatively weak, and they had to encourage the settlers and to provide protection. They organized construction of roads, bridges, fortifications. So, the power of the knyazes was very strong from the very beginning: when a new immigrant came to these lands, he found them to be a property of a powerful lord. The settlers had to agree on the conditions set by the knyaz, they had to pay tribute to the land-owner and asked for protection in case of an emergency. When the number of new settlers had grown, the knyazes were already among the richest rulers in Rus. Under these conditions, the veche principles could not become the dominant form of ruling in Suzdal. New cities were built by knyazes and had to subjugate themselves to the rulers, and the older cities, like Suzdal and Rostov, were not strong enough to oppose the power of the knyazes.

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