Russian history 36: Events in the Northern Rus. Knyaz Alexander Nevsky.

After knyaz Yuri Vsevolodovich, who died during the battle on river Syt', his brother Yaroslav Vsevolodovich becomes the new grand knyaz in 1238. When the Mongols left to the South, he begins restoration of the burned cities. Having no power to oppose the Mongols, he accepted the domination of the Khan and went to the Golden Horde to Batu Khan. From there he had to go to Mongolia to the Great Khan, where he died in 1246. After hes death he was succeeded first by his brother and then by his sons.

The most outstanding of them was Alexander, called Nevsky. When his father was still alive, Alexander was the knyaz in Novgorod, when the Novgorod lands were attacked by Swedes, Germans and Lithuanians. Alexander managed to defeat them all. First, the Swedish prince Birger, who led his army to Finland against the Finnish pagans, decided in 1240 to invade Novgorod. The Swedes were on river Neva, near its confluence with river Izhora, when Alexander attacked them with a small druzhina and forced them to flee. This decisive victory was important as a victory of Orthodoxy over Catholicism. Many legends appeared about the battle. One of them said that saint Boris and Gleb (see chapter 16) came to assist Alexander and that they appeared to a soldier named Pelgus. After this battle, Alexander got his name Nevsky (=of Neva). A year later, Teutonic knights captured Izborsk and Pskov, invaded Vodskya fifth and robbed merchants in 40 kilometres from Novgorod. Alexander was not in Novgorod during these events. When he arrived, he took the occupied cities back and met the main forces of the Germans on the ice of Chudskoye lake on April 5, 1242. The knights were totally defeated in this battle. 50 knights were captured and brought to Pskov. After this battle, the Teutonic knights left Russian lands for a long time. (see April 5 in Russian History for more.) Three more years later, Lithuanians were forced by the Teutonic knights to move eastwards, to the lands of Polotsk and Novgorod. Having lost some battles to Alexander, they had to leave Russia.

When Yaroslav died, Alexander became the grand knyaz of Vladimir. Now, he had to deal with the Mongols. Understanding clearly that his forces are not enough to oppose the Mongols, he asked and even forced the people to pay the tribute. When Russians rebelled, Alexander had to go to the horde and to ask the khan to forgive the rebels. During one such trip, Alexander died in autumn, 1263.

He was succeeded by his brothers, Yaroslav and Vasily, whose power was weaker. Other knyazes refused to comply with their orders and even opposed them. During the next generations of the knyazes, the feuds became commonplace, and the appanage system formed in Suzdal Rus. In this system, all principalities of Suzdal Rus became the private property of the princes who owned them and their families. Principalities were now inherited and split in parts in accordance with the number of the heirs. Even the knyazes who got yarlyk from the Khan and became grand knyazes, ruled Vladimir from their home domains. Nevsky's brothers, Yaroslav and Vasily were the first knyazes to follow this new tradition. They stayed in their towns — Tver and Kostroma correspondingly. For this reason the grand knyazes of this period are usually called by their appanage towns: Yaroslav Tverskoy (of Tver), Vasily Kostromskoy (of Kostroma), Dimitri Pereyaslavsky (of Pereyaslavl), Andrei Gorodetsky (of Gorodets), etc.

The principalities of Suzdal and Vladimir Rus became appanages for three reasons. First, the knyazes of the Suzdal duchy did not have to compete with the veches, their power was strong enough. Since the earliest times, the knyazes used to be the owners of all their land. Second, the more numerous were the knyazes among the successors of Vsevolod the Big Nest, the more difficult it was for the grand knyaz of Vladimir to make them obey. They often united against the grand knyaz to keep their independence. They plotted and even fought against the grand knyaz. Third, the order of succession in Suzdal and Vladimir got some specific features. Whoever became the grand knyaz, all other knyazes retained their domains. Only the grand knyaz adjoined Vladimir to his own lands. As the number of the knyazes grew, families got their own grand knyazes. There were grand knyazes of Tver, Yaroslavl, Nizhny Novgorod, but all of them dreamed of becoming the grand knyaz of Vladimir and, hence, of all Rus.

Since the number of the appanages grew, they became smaller and their lords grew poorer. As the result, they grew more and more eager of getting a piece of their neighbor's land. The tended to view each other as competitors and even enemies. This led to the political disorder and decay of the state. This situation began to change only when the popular movement towards the unification began in Suzdal Rus and a knyazes family strong enough to lead this movement appeared in Moscow.

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