X century burial in Kiev

Kyiv Post newspaper reports of a burial site discovered in Kiev during the construction works:
A burial ground dating back to the 10th century was found on the construction site of a new office center alongside the Dnipro River in Kyiv’s Podil district. City officials backed the construction company’s right to continue building at the location, while the developer has pledged Hr 300,000 ($60,000) to help investigate the site thought to be an early Christian cemetery near the Poshtova Ploshcha metro station. Archeologists uncovered 12 distinct burials in the last month. The cemetery “possesses significant Christian characteristics,” according to Mykhaylo Sahaydak, head of the Podil archeological expedition.


Birch bark collection grows

The collection of the birch bark writings found in Novgorod and around, keeps growing. On July 5, yet another writing was found in Staraya Russa. The linguists have concluded that the text is about salt manufacturing. This bark became the 1000th inscription found in the Novgorod region — a good reason for a celebration :). Hopefully, the text will soon appear at Gramoty.ru (their collection counts 956 images from Novgorod, 40 from Staraya Russa and more than 50 from other areas). The text contains the word размера (size), in the feminine form which is absent in modern Russian. The linguists think that this word might denote a unit of the volume measurement.


Russian history 35: Germans and Lithuania

At about the same time when the Tatars began their conquest of Russia, Swedes, Danes and Germans began to colonize the eastern banks of the Baltic Sea and subjugate the local Finnish and Lithuanian tribes. Swedes occupied Finland and were forcing the Finns to accept Christianity, Danes took Estland and built a strong fortress in Revel (Taani Linn, The Danish Town in Estonian, later Tallin), Germans colonized the mouths of the Western Dvina (Daugava) and Niemen. While moving eastwards, the Swedes and Germans in the XIII century entered a direct conflict with the Russians when they tried to capture Russian cities. So, Rus had to withstand the enemies both in the East and in the West. The Swedish attacks were repelled soon (see chapter 36) and the war against the Germans was much longer and complicated.

The Germans came to the mouth of the Western Dvina in the middle of XII century. The German merchants traded with the local tribes. The merchants were followed by missionaries. The attempts to christianize Livs and Lithuanians were unsuccessful — the baptised aborigenes went to Dvina and bathed to "wash away" the baptisement and to send it back to the Germans with the river waters. Then the Pope sent the crusaiders to assist the clerics. The newly appointed bishop of Livonia Albert came with an army, founded Riga in 1200 and began the occupation of the country. He copied the knights orders of Palestine and founded the order of the brothers of the sword (gladiferi), who carried a red cross on their cloaks and the sign of the sword on their shoulders. The order copied the statute of the Order of the temple.

Later, in 1225-1230, a new order appeared — the Teutonic order. The order was founded in Palestine but was driven out by the Muslims. One of the Polish kings, Konrad Mazovecky, asked the knights to arrive to his lands to protect them from the raids of a Lithuanian tribe, Prussians. In 50 years, the knights subjugated the Prussians. The land became a part of the German empire. So, by the XIII century a strong German army supported by the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire and the Pope appeared on the eastern banks of the Baltic Sea.

The coming of the Germans had two effects for the western Russian lands: Novgorod, Pskov, Polotsk and Volyn. First, having occupied the lands of the Lithuanian tribes, the Germans attacked and captured the towns belonging to the knyaz of Polotsk on river Western Dvina. They approached Novgorod and Pskov, took Russian city Yuryev (also known as Derpt or Dorpat in German), captured Izborsk and even Pskov, from which they were soon expelled by Alexander Nevsky. Second, their advancement forced the Lithuanian tribes to unite. Sometimes they withstood the Germans and sometimes they attacked Rus. They took many lands controlled by Polotsk and later the lands of Kiev and Volyn'. Effectively, the arrival of Germans brought two enemies to Rus — the Germans themselves and the Lithuanians.


Russian history 34: Tatars' rule in Rus

After the foundation of the Golden Horde, Russia fell under the rule of Tatars. Being nomads, Tatars preferred southern steppes to the forests of Rus. Rus was controlled by special officials called baskaks and military detachments. Tatar scribes calculated the population of Rus and the tribute Russians had to pay. The collection of the tribute was observed by other officials in the Golden Horde, daruks or dorogs. They sent emissaries to Russia who actually collected the tribute. In Rus, knyazes could only communicate with these lower emissaries. When knyazes received orders, they had to arrive to the Horde. As long as the Horde remained dependent from the central government in Mongolia, knyazes also had to visit Mongolia from time to time to express their obedience.

In many cities, like Novgorod, Rostov, Suzdal, Vladimir, the people rebelled, killed the Tatar emissaries and refused to pay the tribute. The knyazes did their best to save the cities from the revenge of Mongols. The situation changed for the better when knyazes were allowed to collect the tribute and bring it to the Horde (see chapter 43). The decrease of direct contacts with the Mongols made the humiliation slightly less painful.

Rus became an ulus (a district controlled by Tatars), but its political structure in the first decades of the Tatars rule remained the same. Tatars respected Russian religion and clergy (like in other occupied countries). The metropolitan of Rus and the church as a whole did not pay tribute. The clerics received special documents (yarlyks) as the confirmation of their privileges. Similar yarlyks were granted to the knyazes. The order of succession also remained the same. The Tatars only approved the succession of new knyazes. Only when a feud began between the heirs of a knyaz, they asked the Tatars to decide who was to become the knyaz. The Tatar khans gave them yarlyks and severely punished those who refused to accept their ruling. Some knyazes were killed during the visit to the Horde because they refused to comply with the Tatar traditions. So, knyaz Mikhail Vsevolodovich of Chernigov was killed in the Horde and was later sanctified by the Russian church as a martyr. However, such cases were rare and the general rule was that the traditional power of the knyazes remained strong. This gave Russians a chance to gather forces to get rid of the rule of the Tatars.

Some things had changed, though. The Tatars rule was especially strong in Suzdal-Rostov Rus whose links with Novgorod Rus and the south-western lands became significanly weaker. The Western influence was much stronger in these distant lands: the Germans were strong in Novgorod and the Poles in the south-west. So, unlike Novgorod and the southern lands, Suzdal and Ryazan Russians were forced to borrow some Tatar customs and administrative principles. This is why the Russian east shows the signs of stagnation in the XIII-XIV centuries compared to the other parts of the country. Anyway, such influence should not be overestimated. In the first centuries of occupation Russians hated the occupiers and would not copy their customs voluntarily. Only since the XV century, when Tatars began to come to Rus to serve the Russian knyazes, became merchants and land-owners, Russians began to see them as neighbors. Then the Tatars became a part of the Russian society, their traditions were accepted by the Russians and mixed families became common.