Russian History

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Astronuc

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The vast expanse of Russia means and proximity to so many cultures has meant a fascinating and dynamic history. Various tribes have crossed those lands over the last several millenia.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Russia#History (a quick summary)
The vast lands of present Russia were home to disunited tribes who were variously overwhelmed by invading Goths, Huns, and Turkish Avars between the third and sixth centuries C.E. The Iranian Scythians populated the southern steppes, and a Turkic people, the Khazars, ruled the western portion of these lands through the 8th century. They in turn were displaced by a group of Scandinavians, the Varangians, who established a capital at the Slavic city of Novgorod and gradually merged with Slavic ruling classes. The Slavs constituted the bulk of the population from the 8th century onwards and slowly assimilated both the Scandinavians as well as native Finno-Ugric tribes, such as the Merya, the Muromians and the Meshchera.

The Varangian dynasty lasted several centuries, during which they affiliated with the Byzantine, or Orthodox church and moved the capital to Kiev in 1169 A.D. In this era the term "Rhos", or "Russ", first came to be applied to the Varangians and later also to the Slavs who peopled the region. In the 10th to 11th centuries this state of Kievan Rus became the largest in Europe and was quite prosperous, due to diversified trade with both Europe and Asia.

In the 13th century the area suffered from internal disputes and was overrun by eastern invaders, the Golden Horde of the pagan Mongols and Muslim Turkic-speaking nomads who pillaged the Russian principalities for over three centuries. Also known as the Tatars, they ruled the southern and central expanses of present-day Russia, while its western zone was largely incorporated into the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Poland. The political dissolution of Kievan Rus divided the Russian people in the north from the Belarusians and Ukrainians in the west.

The northern part of Russia together with Novgorod retained some degree of autonomy during the time of the Mongol yoke and was largely spared the atrocities that affected the rest of the country. Nevertheless it had to fight the Germanic crusaders who attempted to colonize the region.

Like in the Balkans and Asia Minor long-lasting nomadic rule retarded the country's economic and social development. Asian autocratic influences degraded many of the country's democratic institutions and affected its culture and economy in a very negative way.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_Russia

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Varangians - interesting group of people
 
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Adding on to what Astronuc said, here are a few more resources about early Russia, in particular Kievan Rus and Yaroslav the Wise..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kievan_Rus'
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Yaroslav_the_Wise

Also, there is an interesting, persisting question with regard to Russia's status with the rest of the world. Was it part of Western Europe? or Asia?

Ever since the Tatar invasions of 1237-1240 and the Tatar yoke until roughly around 1480 (when http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_the_Great" [Broken] managed to drive the Tatars away), Russia has been politically backward as a result of the Tatar domination.

However, efforts have been made to modernize and bring Russia closer to the rest of Western Europe.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Peter_the_Great" [Broken] was one of the first modernizers. Under his rule, he moved the capitol to St. Petersburg, and made the French language fashionable to the landed gentry. The result of this is rather disputable.

It seems like it only served to isolate the majority of Russians from the gentry, as the gentry acted very european and spoke French, and the other 90% of the Russian muzhiks still sported beards, despite Peter's attempt to have everyone clean-shaven.

The Westernizing attempt created a split within Russian society in the 19th century, with some in the intelligentsia wanting to merge with the rest of Western Europe, and the others (known as the http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Slavophile" [Broken]) thought that Russia's destiny was not with Western Europe, but rather with their own unique path. This is reflected in the works of Chadayyev, Khomyakov, and others in a collective thought known as the "Russian Idea".

Slavophilism is also reflected in the Russian Orthodox Church, which held that there are three "Romes" and that the future of Christianity is dependant on the Church's success. The first Rome (which was Rome) fell, the second Rome (Constantinople) also fell, and so that leaves the third Rome (Moscow) which must not fall. This viewpoint was brought together by the intellectual Slavophiles, and also in other areas of the religious realm as well.

The principle of Sobornost (I can't find any decent links online that are in English) is another viewpoint of the Slavophiles. Sobornost basically points out that Roman Catholicism has no freedom, but is united. On the same level, Protestantism is not united at all, but has freedom. Sobornost was an attempt to bring both elements together in order to create a new path for Russia.

The answer to the question "Is Russia really part of the East or the West" is still being debated, but the above was a general overview of one of the key questions about Russian history.
 
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