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Ancient Russia

Peoples exist in historical time and in geographical localization, they are formed in the certain territory in some chronological period; areas of distribution of peoples and borders of the states vary. Both ethnoses and the states are not eternal: they are born and perish, develop and transform in new social communities. So, Russian, Ukrainian and Byelorussian peoples were formed on the basis of east Slavonic superethnos.

Formation of peoples (process of ethnogeny) and formation of states have economic base closely connected with inhabitancy of people and determining way of life, that in its turn influences cultural and community features of ethnoses.

Natural cradle of east Slavonic peoples of the Russian statehood was East European plain. Its open spaces, landscapes, soil and climatic conditions, river pools determined not only the formation of dominant economic and cultural complexes and settling of the population in connection with them, but also formation of ethnic and state frontiers in connection with results of military political conflicts and colonization processes.

To the middle of the first millenium AD, in wood, forest-steppe and steppe zones of Eurasia there were steady economic and cultural complexes, and process of ethnogeny developed actively. To VI - VII centuries the closing stage of allocation of east slavs from common pro-Slavonic unity concerns.

The beginning of transformation of east Slavic cultural and ethnic community into local independent civilization was connected to the adoption of Christianity by prince Vladimir in 988 year.

Adoption of Christianity entered east Slavs into Orthodox Church and had as consequence its synthesis with the Russian statehood. Transformation of Kiev into the political, cultural and church centre of east Slavonic state resulted in gradual strengthening of cultural delimitation of the Kiev Russia with the west slavic neighbours who adopted Christianity from Rome and at the same time including in the Latin-speaking West-European culture. Time of the Kiev Russia is the period of mainly southern orientation of east Slavic life. Russia was close to Byzantium because of church and trading communications, to Bulgaria - because of common writing.

The form of government of the Ancient Russian state included three components - veche as a special form of national assembly, common decision of questions having basic value; princely authority with administrative powers, right of court and decision of military questions; princely council, representing, probably, assembly of representatives of the supreme administration.

The state was multinational from the very beginning. In the territory of Ancient Russia Finno-Ugric peoples - Karelians, Veps, Saams lived, except for Russian. The Perm land occupied by Komi, was joined in the end of XV century.

Slavs' Occupation and their Social Organization

Ploughed field farming constituted the base of the Eastern Slavs' economy. The peculiarities of its running in different regions of the Eastern European plain were defined by specific climatic conditions. Thus in southern (steppe and forest-steppe) regions, rich in fertile soil, fallow system of farming was widely used. With this system a plot of virgin land was being ploughed up, used for a long period of time and then it was thrown up till the renewal of soil fertility.

In northern regions covered with perennial forests hewing system of farming was used. That system required the preliminary hewing of a certain plot of a forest and subsequent scorching of it. As a result the soil fertilized with ashes for some years yielding greatly. When the plot became exhausted clearing of new lands was done. The Eastern Slavs used arable tools having running parts of iron - 'ralo' (in the South) and a plough (in the North). Wheat and some rye prevailed among corn; millet, buckwheat and barley were also known. Cattle-breeding, hunting (including fur-trade), fishing and wild-honey farming (carrying honey of wild bees) played a subordinate part in the economy of the Eastern Slavs.

A small family was a unit of economy. And the neighbours' community (a territorial one) - 'the verv' - was the lowest unit of social organization of direct producers and it united the economy of individual families. The transition from a clan commune and patriarchal clan to the neighbours' community and a small family took place in the process of the Slavs' settling in the 6th - 7th centuries. The members of the 'the verv' (the neighbours' community) owned hayfields' areas, forests and the waters jointly. As for ploughed fields they were divided among individual farms that belonged to the families - members of the neighbours' community. They united into tribal principalities and the latter - into the unions of tribal principalities.

In the course of Eastern Slavs' economic activity the process of standing apart of crafts and farming and singling out of craftsmen as a special social group (originally potters and smiths) took place.

Universal spreading of ploughed field farming with the use of iron tools gave the possibility of getting a surplus product sufficient for maintaining the ruling social stratum. Singling out of such a stratum was the result of disintegration of clan and tribal relations and increased the settling of the Slavs. The base of it was the military and service aristocracy, which appeared in the epoch of settling.

The unions of tribal principalities constituted a very complicated social organism, the center of which was a fortified town (some towns gradually turned into cities). In the fortified central part of the town there were courts of kings and the nobility. A trading quarter inhabited by craftsmen and merchants was next to it. The most important problems were solved at the assemblies of the members of communities (veche) held in the towns. But gradually all the leading positions were taken by professional fighters and members of prince's armed force with prince at head. The first mentioning of prince's armed force refers to the 6th - 7th centuries according to Byzantine data. By the 9th century the members of prince's armed force became a privileged social group. In their hands princes concentrated the real power in the unions of tribes (thanks to the military forces and the wealth, piled up). All this gives objective premises for the formation of state organization in Slavs' social development.

The Settling of the Slavs

The problem of the Slavs' origin is the point at issue in historical science of our country. The Slavs' ancestors are the indigenous population of Central and Eastern Europe. The Slavs belong to the Indo-European group of languages, comprising also Germanic, Baltic, Romance languages and those of many Central Eastern peoples and India. At the turn of the 4th - 3rd millenniums BC, the ancient Indo-European peoples were settling gradually over the most territory of Eurasia, reaching the Baltic Sea and Scandinavia in the north of the continent, the Atlantic Ocean in the west, territories of Iran and India in the east and the Mediterranean Sea in the south of the continent. According to different concepts the native land of the Slavs was placed either into the territory of the Central areas of the Danube, or between the Oder and the Vistula, the Dnieper and the Oder. The question of the Slavs' ethnogeny and their singling out as the ethnic Slavs dates back to the 3rd millennium BC - the 1st century AD. The problem is that under the name ' Slovene' ethnic Slavs appeared only in the historical sources of the 6th century AD.

According to the version, introduced by archaeologists, it is evident that the ancient Slavonic tribes had been living on the territory of the Eastern Europe since the middle of the 1st millennium BC. By the end of the 2nd century BC on the territory of the southern and central regions of Modern Poland and on the west the Pshevor culture was spread. The people belonging to that culture (especially of its eastern part) are considered to be the ancient Slavs. As a result there was a gradual expansion of the Pshevor culture monuments to the areas of the Dniester and the Dnieper. In the 2nd century a new Chernyakhov archaeological culture was being formed, which according to modern investigators also belong to ancient Slavs. It covered the most territory of the forest-steppe and steppe zones starting from the left bank of the river Dnieper up to the lower reaches of the Danube. Evidently, along with the elements of the ancient Slavs culture, the Chernyakhov culture also contained some elements of the Iranian-speaking people living on the same territory. The Sarmat tribes, which at the turn of a new era replaced the Scythians in northern areas of the Black Sea, could also be attached to the Iranian-speaking people. In the course of time they yielded the inhabited territory to the other tribes and moved to the Northern Caucasus, and the modern Ossets became their descendants. At the end of the 2nd century AD the Germanic tribes of the Goths and the Gepids moved from lower reachers of the river Vistula to the northern banks of the Black Sea.

Since the end of the 4th century AD the tribes of the Eastern Europe were involved into a gigantic process of displacement, migration and mixing, which radically changed both ethnic and political maps of the continent through the 4th - 8th centuries. This process is known as the Great migration of peoples. At the end of the 4th century Turkic speaking nomads and Huns from the Central Asia invaded the steppes in the areas of the Black Sea. It was they who started the real stirring up of the migration process. After defeating the Goths, the Huns made them leave for the Balkans and then for the Central and Western Europe (in the limits of the Roman Empire). Having conquered the northern areas of the Black Sea the Huns, roaming between the Volga and the Danube, established a great warlike state in which numerous tribes were united. Hun leader Atilla by name gained the great popularity in the middle of the 5th century, who took devastated marches from Konstantinopol to Galiya and Northern Italy. After the year of 453 the power of the Hun Union declined rapidly as a result of intestine wars and the risings of the conquered people. A new Turkic-speaking Avar tribe that came to the steppes in the areas of the Black Sea from Asia in the 6th century replaced the Huns. They preserved their might in the areas of the Black Sea and on the plains of Modern Hungary up to the 8th century. Simultaneously according to archaeological data the true Slavonic archaeological cultures - the Prague - Korchak and the Penkov one were clearly defined. It was from the second half of the 6th century, when the Slavs began to play the leading part in the Great migration of peoples. Since the 6th - the 7th centuries in historical literature the process is known as the settling of the Slavs.

In the second half of the 1st millennium the settling of the Slavs on the European continent was developed in three directions: to the south - the Balkan Peninsula, including Peloponess, to the east and north - along the Eastern European plain, to the west - in the central areas of the Danube river and in the country between the Oder and the Elbe rivers. The bearers of the both Prague - Korchak and the Penkov archaeological cultures took part in all the migration processes. As a result of the Slavonic settling, they inhabited the vast territory of the Eastern, Central and South-Eastern Europe. In the process of settling through the Eastern European plain the Slavonic tribes were contiguous to the Baltic-speaking tribes, which lived to the north of the Pripyat and Desna rivers and in the up-stream of the Oka.

The Finno-Ugric tribes (the ancestors of the modern Estonians, the Finns, the Karelians, the Mari, the Mordovians, the Veps, etc.) inhabited the country between the Volga and the Oka rivers and on the north and north-west. The penetration of the Slavonic tribes into the northern parts of the Eastern European plain had mainly a peaceful and gradual character. Peaceful coexistence of the Slavs with the Balts and Finno-Ugric tribes led to their assimilation.

In the process of migration and settling (the 6th - 8th centuries) there was a gradual cracking of the relations within the Slavs' tribes and clans as well as the Germanic. At the same time the settling all around Europe served as a powerful spur to the active differentiation of the Slavs. According to the linguistic data, at the turn of the 7th - 8th centuries the disintegration of linguistic unity of the ancient Slavs took place and the formation of their own languages began. As a result of subdivision and mixing of the tribes new communities, which by that time had exclusively territorial - political character, were formed. They had their names based on the names of the territory they inhabited, on the peculiarities of the landscape, or on the name of the river (e.g.: the Polyane - people living in the field (from the Common Slavonic word 'pole', meaning - field); the Drevlyane - people living in the wood (from the Common Slavonic word 'dervo', meaning - tree); the Buzhane - from the name of the river Bug; the Moravians - from the name of the river Morava). The structure of those communities was of two stages: several relatively small formalities, which could be defined as 'tribal principalities' composed as a rule, a bigger community, known as 'the union of tribal principalities'.

The three directions of the settling of the Slavs predetermined their gradual division into three main branches: Eastern, Western and Southern. In accordance with the chronicals by the 8th - 9th centuries the twelve Slavonic Unions of tribal principalities were formed on the territory of the Eastern European plain. On the left bank of the Dnieper in the basins of the rivers Desna and Seym there was the union of tribal principalities, known by name 'The North'. The most northern Slavonic community settled in the areas of the lake Ilmen and the rivers Volkhov and Msta up to the Gulf of Finland, was known under the name Slovene, which coincided with the common Slavonic name.

Culture of the Eastern Slavs

Little is known about the level of culture of the Eastern Slavs. The general image may be given by analyzing some archaic features of their folklore preserved in the language in the form of ritual songs, funeral weeping, riddles and folk-tales. A number of relic, cultural phenomena of that time are reflected in children's games, which developed adroitness, strength and courage. Some archaeological fragments of the 6th - 7th centuries are the evidence of originality and self-independency of applied art.

Old Russian state appeared as a result of the centuries-old history development of the Eastern Slavs. Evidently, the tribal union of the Polyane was its basis. There were deep historical premises for that time. First of all, more developed, than in other Slavs' lands, complex economy, based on ploughed field farming and domestic cattle breeding, the presence of some fortified settlements with developed crafts and the tribal union, existing for centuries, where one could observe the processes of uniting individual tribes, the formation of the common language, culture, property and social differentiation, the singling out of the primitive communal system the feudal class of the members of prince's armed force (men-at-arms) and the formation of the machinery of power.

One cannot but take into account advantageous geographical situation of Kiev as the center of the Polyans' living on the Dnieper. There was also an external factor - a constant threat from nomads, settled in the steppes. All that led to the formation of a single Old Russian state with its center in Kiev.

Archaeological fragments help to observe the whole process of the feudal class and prince's power forming of Kiev Russia, but it did not stop with the beginning of the state. The prince's armed force barrows in the territories of Smolensk, Chernigov, near Yaroslavl and Kiev date from the 9th - 11th centuries. Alongside with the representatives of the feudal class - members of the prince's armed force - some merchants there were also buried. The prince's armed force barrows were set in the bottleneck of the trade routes, in so-called portage.

Gnezdov barrows near Smolensk were situated at the place of adjoining of the Western Dvina with Dnieper on the route 'from the Varangians to the Greeks'. There was the portage from the Dnieper into the river Lovat. Judging by the coins discovered the route appeared at the beginning of the 10th century. In Gnezdov there was the settlement by the portage, where carpenters, craftsmen, farmers and merchants lived. The burial ground is a vast field of about three thousand barrows. Most of the barrows are not so high, about one meter. But among them there is one, which is of ten meters high. Under it the remnants of the bonfire were discovered, where possibly prince and a few women, perhaps bondwomen were burnt. Some iron plates, swords and a helmet were found safe. Close by it, in a special barrow, a horse was buried. In 700 Gnezdov barrows excavated one and the same ceremony of burial-burning was found. That ceremony was carried out either just on the place of putting up the barrow or somewhere aside. However, there were no things at all in a large number of barrows even the traces of burial. Those barrows were put up in the honour of fighters and travelers, perished in a foreign land.

Fragments of Gnezdov barrows are the evidence of wide trade ties of Russia with Scandinavia, Volga Bulgaria, Iran and Trans-Caucasia. In one of the barrows there were found scales, iron weights and a little bronze lock in the form of a butterfly from Volga Bulgaria. In another one - a beautiful Iranian bronze lamp in the form of a woman's head. Central Asian Dirhem found in barrows and buried treasures were widely used as money in the 9th - 10th centuries. It is interesting to note that in circulation there were whole coins as well as parts of them served as a change.

The description of a Russian merchant's funeral in the town of Bulgar made by an Arab diplomat Ibn-Fadlan was also kept safe. The merchant's dust, according to the description, was put into a boat and then into a bonfire. His things and weapon were put beside him. While burying a horse, a cock and a bull were killed. The loving bondwoman of the late was also killed. All this was burnt and then a huge hill was made over the remnants of the bonfire with a post signed. The description of the funeral coincides with the data of excavation.

Prince's armed force barrows give the supporters of the so-called Norman theory the material to claim that the Varangians and the Scandinavians founded the state in Russia. Actually in the period described there was a trade-route 'from the Varangians to the Greeks' and on the territory of the Eastern Slavs one could find the Norman burials in the barrows of the 8th - 10th centuries, including the prince's armed force barrows as well. However there are no grounds to affirm that the Scandinavians (Varangians) constituted the majority in the ruling class of the Ancient Russia.

The set of things found in various prince's armed force barrows characterize the level of the development of culture, crafts, economic ties and military training. Russian members of the prince's armed force used swords up to a meter in length with a wide edge, a straight cross over in the form of a bar. Those swords were intended for fighting. Along the edge of the sword (in the middle) there was a shallow as a rule. The cross over and the top of the sword were decorated with a silver pattern. But one cannot call those swords the Scandinavian ones. Such kinds of swords were widely spread in Europe including Russia.

The beginning of the written language refers to the epoch of forming a class society. In this connection the finding of the first Old Russian legend is of great value. On the surface of one of the Gnezdov vessels and on an earthenware pot only one word was scratched. Some scientists believe there was mustard in the vessel, others - oil for kindling a funeral fire. The Gnezdov legend proves philologists' conclusion that the Old Russian written language exists since the 10th century. Some ordinary for the 10th century coins and a sword were also found in the same barrow. Probably in that vessel a merchant brought some mustard from the south.

Besides, adornments of bronze and silver for women are also a valuable source of excavation. In various parts of Russia they were different and testify the fact that with the beginning of feudal relations and destroying of old tribal borders the differences in traditional culture went on existing. Russian peasants' head - dress was decorated with metal tabs, temple rings, finger rings and bracelets on the hands. They wore beads of rock crystal and cornelian on the breast.

Farmers constituted the main part of Russian population. However, peasants' settlements are not very well investigated yet, as they did not have the fortifications and many of them were destroyed by later settlements. As a rule, they were situated on the high banks of small rivers on the flood-lands of which there were ploughed fields and meadows. Country settlements were also springing up in watersheds where plots of forest were cultivated. Arable farming was the main occupation of the population. They sowed wheat, rye, oats, barley, peas, lentil and millet. As for industrial crops they cultivated flax, hemp, also cabbage and other vegetables. By fragments of animals' bones it became clear that in the 9th - 12th centuries they bred cows, sheep, pigs and horses. As for birds - hens, ducks and geese were known. A great number of Old Russian sickles, short scythes, corn-crushers, iron tips and tips for soil cultivating tools. The development of agriculture and its technical equipment were closely connected with the development of crafts and exchange of goods.

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