School in a Book: History of Russia

BASIC HISTORY OF RUSSIA

Ancient Times (3000 BCE to 500 CE)

East Slavs:The earliest known settlers of modern-day Russia. They were independent, nomadic clans with no known agriculture or writing who spoke various Slavic languages.

The Vikings: The various tribes from Scandanavia who, during the Middle Ages, joined the East Slavs in modern-day Russia

The Rus: The tribe (likely Viking) that eventually united the various Viking and Slavic tribes into the single nation of Russia, and the tribe that gave Russia its name

Rurik: The leader of the Rus tribe and the first Russian ruler mentioned in Islamic and Western literature

Kievic Rus: The first Russian state, with Kiev at its center. It was a loose federation of various Rus and Slavic tribes and the center of Varangian wealth and culture

The Varangians: The new name given to the various combined Rus and Slav peoples as they expanded south to Baghdad and Constantinople and along the river routes connecting the Baltic to the Black Sea. After their failure to defeat the well-defended city of Constantinople, they elected to create an ally of it instead by sending gifts of soldiers and more. This effective strategy meant that by 1000, the Varangians were in complete control of the region. However, there was no central government. Varangian clans (each with a prince) ruled local areas along these important (but sparsely populated) trade routes. 

Prince Vladimir: The Rus prince of Kiev who, in the 1000s, greatly expanded Russian territory but failed to fully unify Russia. He adopted Christianity, which started a significant political and cultural shift in Russia that eventually led to the creation of a Russian national identity. He allowed Constantinople to set up an Episcopal see there, beginning the blending of Slavic and Byzantine cultures.

Mongol invasions: The event of the 1200s that contributed to the decline of Kiev and of the Russian state as a whole. This occurred during the last part of the Middle Ages. It halved the population of Rus.

Tartars/Golden Horde: The combined group of Mongol and Turkic invaders that controlled Russia during the 1200s and 1300s. They helped Russia advance in military tactics and transportation while allowing local princes to continue ruling as before. During this time, Russia also developed its postal road network, a census, a fiscal system and its military organization. Soon after the Mongolian Empire broke up, they lost power in Russia.

Moscow: The Russian city that grew in prominence during the Tartar reign by cooperating with it. It became the center of the Russian Orthodox Church, then, under Ivan the Great, the capital of Russia.

Boyars: The Rus princes and upper class government administrators that reclaimed control of Rus from the Mongols. They did not attempt to unify the area under one rule and interfered minimally with the local clan rule. They collected taxes and performed other basic functions. There was only a rudimentary written law code. During this time, cultural and political distinctions formed from one Slavic territory to the next–distinctions that remain to this day.

The Middle Ages (500 CE to 1500 CE)

Ivan the Great (Ivan III): The leader of Moscow who, in the mid-1400s, united Russia. He extravagantly renovated the Kremlin, reformed military service and more.

The Kremlin: The Russian fortress at the center of Moscow that is now the center of Russian government.

Early Modern Times (1500 CE to 1900 CE)

Third Rome: The name given to Moscow after the fall of Constantinople to show that it had taken its place as the third Rome, after Rome and Constantinople

Ivan the Terrible: The ruthless, murderous Russian leader that ruled during the 1500s following Ivan the Great. He took the title of tsar, the Russian word for Caesar. He established the secret police, which terrorized Russia; however, he also established the first feudal representative government–an improvement on the previous feudal system

The Time of Troubles: A period of crop failure and famine in the late 1500s and early 1600s during which Russia lost territory to outsiders. During this time, there was no heir to the throne (Ivan the Terrible had murdered his son), so the other government leaders held the state together until appointing a new dynasty

Romanov dynasty: The dynasty that followed Ivan the Great’s, which ruled from the 1600s till 1917. During this time, the population increased significantly even though the peasants were burdened by high taxes

Peter the Great: The Romanov ruler who, in the 1700s, modernized Russia, which till then functioned under a primitive feudal system. Peter, a great admirer of Western culture, encouraged the arts; spent money carefully; abolished the boyar ruling class; moved the capital to St. Petersburg; gained territory; centralized the government; put the Orthodox Church under state control; hired Western teachers for Russians; created a civil service; improved and expanded infrastructure systems like roads and canals; introduced new industries; and more. Many of his improvements were inspired by his extensive travels to the West, which he undertook while disguised as an ordinary citizen.

The Crimean War: The war between Russia and Turkey over some Black Sea lands, which France and Britain entered on the side of Turkey to check Russia’s growing power. It included the failed Charge of the Light Brigade by the British and was the first war that was covered by newspapers with photographers.

Catherine the Great: The ruler that followed Peter the Great who extended his advances; expanded Russian territory; established social services like education and health care; and established free trade in Russia. Like Peter, she was an admirer of Western culture, and, like Peter, she did not abolish serfdom.

The Modern Era (1900 CE to the Present)

Russian Revolution: The 1905 worker riots and strikes following Bloody Sunday, when defenseless demonstrators in St. Petersburg were fired on by government troops.

October Manifesto: Russia’s promise of civil rights and representative government following the Revolution. These promises were broken, however, leading to another revolt that ended the Romanov dynasty and instituted a liberal government in its place.

Bolsheviks: The socialist political party led by Lenin that took control of the new liberal government. The Bolshevik Red Army defeated the anti-Bolshevik White Army, then executed their enemies en masse. The Bolshevik party later became the Communist Party.

Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR/Soviet Union for short): The nation created by a treaty between Russia, Ukraine and two other nation-states. It was led by the Communist Party under Lenin.

Vladimir Lenin: The leader of the Bolshevik party who founded the Communist Party in Russia and was the first leader of the Soviet Union. Following his communist ideals, he gave the land to the peasants and the factories to the workers and promised an end to poverty.

Marxism: Communism, as expressed by Karl Marx in The Communist Manifesto. Lenin was a follower of Marxism.

Josef Stalin: The communist leader that took over in 1924 after Lenin died (after fighting for power with Leon Trotsky). He served as dictator of the Soviet Union until his death in 1953.

Berlin Wall: The wall built between East and West Berlin in the 1960s to prevent people from the communist east to flee to the democratic west

The Iron Curtain: The metaphor used to describe the separation between the communist and democratic countries of Eastern Europe throughout the Cold War

The Cold War: The hostilities and threat of war between Russia and western countries that began after Russia obtained nuclear bomb technology (in the 1940s) till 1989, when Gorbachev allowed Eastern Europe to elect democratic governments

Sputnik: The first artificial satellite to orbit Earth, launched by the Soviet Union in 1957 and beginning the Space Age

The Cuban Missile Crisis: The threat to U.S. that occurred during the 1960s after the Soviet Union built missile bases in Cuba, aiming the missiles at the US. It came to an end after the U.S. blocked trade with the Soviet Union and the Soviets responded by destroying the launch sites.

The fall of the Soviet Union: The end of the communist government of the Soviet Union, after which it was re-named Russia. This event led to various revolutions in Eastern Europe as these countries fought to gain independence.

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