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Christianization of the Rus' Khaganate

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Christians and Pagans, a painting by Sergei Ivanov.
Christians and Pagans, a painting by Sergei Ivanov.

The Christianization of the Rus' people is supposed to have begun in the 860s and was the first stage in the process of Christianization of the East Slavs which continued well into the 11th century. Despite its historical and cultural significance, records detailing the event are hard to come by, and it seems to have been forgotten by the time of Vladimir's Baptism of Kiev in the 980s.

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  • ✪ Russia, the Kievan Rus, and the Mongols: Crash Course World History #20
  • ✪ Tatars
  • ✪ Basil II


Hi, I’m John Green, this is Crash Course: World History and today we’re going to talk about Russia, which means we get to talk about this guy again! We haven’t talked about Russia much so far because 1. It’s complicated, and 2. Ya actually gavarou pa russki a little bit, because I had some Russian in college and that makes it difficult to mispronounce things, which is my thing! Mr. Green, Mr. Green! Why’d you take Russian? Well, because I had this big crush on a Russian major. But, anyway, I’m sure I’ll still mispronounce everything. [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] [music intro] So, today we’re going to talk about persistent stereotypes about Russia, and how Russia came to take its current shape, a turn of events we owe largely to the Mongols. [Savage, brassy swarm of Mongol-tage doom calls…] But before we discuss the Mongol conquest of Russia, let’s discuss exactly what got conquered. So before there was a Russian empire, or even a Russian kingdom, there was the Kievan Rus. We know Kiev was a powerful city-state, but who exactly founded it is a subject of debate. Most historians now believe that the settlers of Kiev were Slavic people who migrated from around the Black Sea. But there’s an older theory that the settlers of Kiev were actually, like, Vikings. That theory goes that Vikings came down to Kiev from rivers like the Dnieper and founded a trading outpost similar to ones they’d founded in Iceland and Greenland. Which is an awesome idea and everything, but Russian, the language that developed from what the Rus spoke, sounds a lot more Slavic than it sounds, you know, Swedish. To illustrate, here is a Swede fighting with a Russian over who founded Kiev. [Russian: Kiev was founded by the slavic ancestors of the Rus.] [Swede: No. Clearly Kiev was founded by Swedes.] Right, okay, so trade was hugely important to Kiev. Almost all of their wars ended with trade concession treaties, and their law codes were unusually devoted to the subject of commerce. The Rus traded raw materials like fur, wax, and also slaves— We’re not gonna venture into the astonishingly intense etymological debate over whether the word slav derives from the Latin word for slave because there's nothing more terrifying and verbose than an etymologist flame war. But, yeah, the Rus traded slaves. They also relied on agriculture— and your relationships to the land determined both your social status and your tax burden. And if you fell into tax debt, which a lot of peasants did, then you became bonded to the land you farmed for the rest of your life, I guess that slave-like dynamic is okay as a model for social organization, but if you step on the proletariat for too long, you might end up with a Communist revolution. But I’m getting way ahead of myself. Couple more things about Kiev: First, the ruler of Kiev was called the Grand Prince, and he became the model for future Russian Kings. Also, the early grand princes made a fateful decision: They became Byzantine Christians. According to legend, prince Vladimir chose to convert the Rus to Byzantine Christianity in the 11th century. He purportedly chose Christianity over Islam because of Islam’s prohibition on alcohol saying: “Drink is the joy of the Russian.” Anyway, the Kievan Rus eventually fell in 1240 when these guys [Mongol-tage horns horn it up] showed up and replaced them. By that time the Rus had been at war with pastoral nomads for centuries; from the Khazars to the Pechengs to the Cumans, and they were tired. Which made them easy targets. The period of Mongol “rule” over Russia is also known as Appanage Russia. An Appanage is princedom, and this period basically featured a bunch of Russian princes vying for control over territory, which is not a recipe for political stability or economic growth, another theme that will re-emerge in Russian history. By the way, I’m describing all of this as Russia even though if you did that in the 13th century, people would look at you funny. They’d be like, “What do you mean, Russia? Also, where’d you get those pants? And all those teeth?” “MMMM...YOU SMELL PRETTY.” Right. So, to discuss how important the Mongols were to Russia, let’s go to the Thought Bubble. The Mongols did set up the Khanate o f the Golden Horde in Russia, but it didn’t leave much lasting impact on the institutions of the region, which had already been set up by the Kievans. But they did bring about a population shift— away from the South, where Kiev was, toward the Northeast. This was partly to get away from the Mongols and their massacring, but that noted, the Mongols were comparatively light rulers: They were happy to live in their yurts and collect tribute from the ever-bickering Russian princes. And all the princes had to do in exchange for their relative freedom was recognize the Mongol khans as their rulers and allow the Mongols to pick the Grand Prince from among the Russians. Perhaps most importantly, Mongol rule cut the Russians off from the Byzantines and further isolated them from Europe, leaving Russia not Byzantine, not European, and not really Mongol either, since they hated the Mongols and generally believed the Mongols were a scourge sent from God to punish them for their sinfulness and everything. But the Mongols did help propel Moscow to prominence and in doing so, created the idea that this was Russia. And as an aside, they also did what Napoleon, Hitler, and many others couldn’t: The Mongols successfully conquered Russia in the winter. Thanks, Thought Bubble. So how did the Mongols help catapult Moscow and its princes to prominence? Well, first, they named Muscovite princes The Grand Prince on more than one occasion. More importantly, the Muscovite princes won— that is to say purchased— the right to collect tribute on behalf of the Khan from other princes. That’s a good gig because it’s easy to skim a little bit off the top before you send it down the line to [Mongol-taging a bit more for good measure] the Mongols. Which is precisely what the Muscovites did to enrich themselves— in fact, one prince who was particularly good at this was known as Ivan Kalita. Using my Russian, I can tell you that that translates to “Johnny Moneybags.” As my Russian professor would tell you, I’m a “creative” translator. All this extra loot helped Moscow expand their influence and buy principalities. The Mongols also helped them more directly by attacking their enemies. Plus Moscow was at the headwaters of four rivers which made it well-positioned for trade. And because they were kind of the allies of the Mongols- the Mongols rarely attacked them- which meant that lots of people went to Moscow because it was relatively safe. Including “churchy” people. In fact, Moscow also became the seat of the Eastern Orthodox church in 1325, when the Metropolitan Peter moved there. So you might think that the Muscovites would be grateful for all this help from the Mongols, but you would be wrong. As the Mongols’ position weakened in Russia in the latter half of the 14th century, one of Moscow’s princes Dmitrii Donskoi made war on them and inflicted the first major defeat of Mongols in Russia at battle of Kulikovo Field. This showed that the Mongols weren’t invincible, which is always really bad for an imperial force. Plus it made Moscow look like the hero of the Russians. And that helped strengthen the idea of a unified Russia, just as you’ll remember the Persians helped unify the Greeks a long time ago. Aiding this growth was stability, which Moscow owed largely to luck: Muscovite princes usually had sons which allowed them to have successors. In fact, there was only one major succession struggle and it was between two blind guys named Basil. That’s not a joke by the way. Oh, it’s time for the Open Letter? [Swoodilyscoots by globey to get his fireside chat on] An Open Letter to Basil and Basil: But first, let’s see in the Secret Compartment. Oh, it’s Grizzlor! Yeah, I guess that is kind of how the Russians saw the Mongols. Dear Basils, The 15th century Muscovite civil war was insanely complicated, but it culminated with you guys essentially blinding each other. First, Basil II, the eventual winner of the civil war, had Basil the cross-eyed blinded. Because being cross-eyed wan’t bad enough. And that was seen as the end of the political career of Basil the Cross-Eyed. But then Basil the Cross-Eyed’s brother tracked down Basil II and he was like “I’ma blind you back!” And of course, everybody thought that would end Basil II’s political career, but they were wrong. It turns out you can rule Russia like a Boss even if you’re blind. Best Wishes, Johnny Bookwriter After Basil the Blind came the real man who expanded Moscow’s power, Ivan III, later known as Ivan the Great. First, he asserted Russian independence from the Mongols and stopped paying tribute to the khan-- after the khan had named him Grand Prince, of course. Then, Ivan purchased, negotiated for or conquered multiple appanages, thus expanding Muscovite power even more. Ivan later declared himself sovereign of all Russians and then married the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, thus giving him even more legitimacy. And he took titles autocrat and tsar, which means Caesar. Basically, Ivan created the first centralized Russian state and for doing that he probably deserves title “the Great.” And that would be a good place to stop, except then we won’t see the type of absolute rule that characterized Russia for most of the rest of its history, even unto Putin. OH GOD. JUST KIDDING PUTIN! YOU’D NEVER RIG AN ELECTION.. N-NO...PLEASE DON’T PUT ME IN JAIL! While Ivan III consolidated Muscovite power, the undeniable brutal streak in Russian governance comes not from the Mogols, but from Ivan IV. Better known as Ivan the Terrible. Ivan IV ruled from 1533 to 1584, taking the throne at age 16, yet more evidence that adolescents should not be trusted with emerging empires. Ivan the Terrible’s reign represents the end of princely power and the beginning of the autocracy that Russia is famous for. But in the beginning, he was really an innovative leader. As a young king, he worked with a group of advisers called the Chosen Council, which certainly sounds like a good thing. He also called the very first meeting of the zemskii sobor, a grand council of representatives similar to the estates general that would become so important in France two hundred years later. And also reformed the army, emphasizing the new technology of muskets. But in the second part of his reign, Ivan earned his nickname, the Terrible— which can mean either bad or just awe-inspiring, depending on your perspective. Psychological historians will point out that things started go terribly wrong with Ivan after the death of his beloved wife, Anastasia Romanov. Or they might point to the fact that he enjoyed torturing animals when he was a kid. Regardless, Ivan set out to break the power of the nobility-- the former princes and landowners called the boyars. They were the last link to princely rule. And after an odd episode that saw him briefly “abdicate,” Ivan returned to Moscow and declared he had the right to punish all traitors and evildoers. To help him in this effort, Ivan created the oprichnikii a corps of secret police who rode around on black horses, wearing all black, whose job it was to hunt down and destroy any enemies of the tsar. See also: Nazgul and Dementors. So this was the first of Russia’s purges. And over the latter half of Ivan’s reign, whole towns were destroyed. It was, in effect, a civil war, except with no resistance. One historian called it a civil massacre. In the end, Ivan IV established absolute control of the tsar over all the Russian people, but he also set the precedent of accomplishing this through terror, secret police, and the suspension of law. And that would echo through the ages of Russian history… I mean, until Vladimir Putin heroically put an end to it. His little eyes. They’re scary... So, hence the stereotype of Russian brutality and barbarism, but here’s the truth; the rest of Europe also knew a lot about brutality and secret police forces. But for centuries, Russia was seen by western Europe as both European and not, an “Other” that was to be doubly feared because it was not fully Other. And when we think of all these historical stereotypes about Russia, it’s worth remembering that what you see as barbaric about others is often what they see as barbaric about you. Thanks for watching, and I’ll see you next week. Crash Course is produced and directed by Stan Muller, our script supervisor is Danica Johnson. The show is written by my high school history teacher Raoul Meyer and myself. Our graphics team is ThoughtBubble, Last week’s Phrase of the Week was: "Nobody's business but the Turks" If you want to suggest future phrases of the week or guess at this week’s you can do so in comments where you can also ask questions related to today's video that will be answered by our team of historians. Thanks for watching. and as we say in my hometown, don’t forget A truly wise man never plays leapfrog with a Unicorn.


Byzantine sources

The most authoritative source on the first Christianization of the Rus' is an encyclical letter of Patriarch Photius, datable to early 867. Referencing the Rus'-Byzantine War of 860, Photius informs the Oriental patriarchs and bishops that, after the Bulgars turned to Christ in 863,[1] the Rus' followed suit so zealously that he found it prudent to send to their land a bishop.[2]

Byzantine historians, starting with the continuation of Theophanes the Confessor, assumed that the Rus' raid against Constantinople in 860 was a Byzantine success and attributed the presumed victory to the Intercession of the Theotokos. This conviction dictated the following interpretation: awed by the miracles they witnessed under the walls of the imperial capital and grief-stricken at the disaster that befell them, the Rus' sent envoys to Photius and asked him to send a bishop to their land.[3]

According to Constantine VII, who authored a biography of his grandfather, Basil the Macedonian, it was his ancestor who persuaded the Rus' to abandon their pagan ways. Constantine attributes the conversion to Basil and to Patriarch Ignatius, rather than to their predecessors, Michael III and Photius. He narrates how the Byzantines galvanized the Rus' into conversion by their persuasive words and rich presents, including gold, silver, and precious tissues. He also repeats a traditional story that the pagans were particularly impressed by a miracle: a gospel book thrown by the archbishop (sic) into an oven was not damaged by fire.[4]

Constantine's account precipitated a long-term dispute over whether the 9th-century Christianization of the Rus' went through two stages. One school of thought postulates that there was only one Christianization: wishing to glorify his ancestor, Constantine simply ascribed to Basil the missionary triumphs of his predecessor, Michael III.[5]

On the other hand, Constantine Zuckerman argues that, in response to the initial request of the Rus', Photius (and Michael III) sent to the Rus' Khaganate a simple bishop. The pagans felt slighted at the low rank of the prelate and their Christian zeal evaporated. In September 867, Michael was assassinated by Basil, who (together with a new patriarch, Ignatius) sent to the Rus' an archbishop who propped up the religious fervor of the local leaders with rich presents. Parenthetically, the contemporaneous Christianization of Bulgaria was likewise effected in two stages: the Bulgars were offended when a simple bishop arrived to their capital from Constantinople and requested Pope Nicholas I to send them a higher-ranking church official. Such considerations were an important matter of political prestige.[6] This pattern has parallels with the stories of Frankish historians about the multiple "baptisms" of the Norsemen, whose true intention was to get hold of the rich gifts accompanying the Christianization rituals.[7]

The date and rationale for the Christianization are also shrouded in controversy.[8] Grigory Litavrin views the event as "a formal and diplomatic act making it easier to obtain advantageous agreements with the ruler of the Christian state."[9] Zuckerman argues that Ignatius sent his archbishop to Rus' in about 870, while Dmitry Obolensky inclines to accept 874 as the date of the definitive Christianization.[10] Zuckerman further reasons that the Christianization of both Bulgaria and Rus' was triggered by the adoption of Judaism by their chief enemy, Khazaria, in the late 8th or early 9th century.[11]

Other primary sources

Although Byzantine sources provide the most detailed account of the 9th-century Christianization of the Rus', the contemporary Muslim authors seem to corroborate their evidence. Ibn Khordadbeh, when describing the Rus' in the 880s, notes that "they style themselves as Christians". The phrasing suggests that he did not take these claims seriously. Al-Marwazi (died after 869) reports that the Rus' abandoned their wild pagan ways and raids, settling into Christianity in 912 AD.[12]

The Primary Chronicle posits Olga of Kiev (died 969) as the first Christian in Rus'.[13] However, the Rus'-Byzantine Treaty (945), concluded during the reign of Olga's predecessor Igor and extensively quoted in the Primary Chronicle, mentions that some of the Rus' envoys who signed the treaty were Christians. Furthermore, the chronicle admits that the collegiate church of Saint Elijah[14] existed in Kiev as early as 944, "for many Varangians and Khazars were Christians". It is not clear why the authors of the Primary Chronicle, who faithfully followed George Hamartolus in other details, chose to omit the very mention of Photius's efforts at Christianizing the country. In order to explain this conspicuous silence, Boris Rybakov constructed an intricate conspiracy theory, suggesting that Mstislav the Great (Grand Prince of Kiev (ruled 1125–1132) and supposedly a pro-Scandinavian and anti-Byzantine ruler) deliberately ordered the removal of the account of Askold's Christianization.

Late medieval Russian sources (such as the Nikon Chronicle of the 16th century) knew of the Byzantine account of the 9th-century Christianization and attempted to reconcile it with the traditional version of Vladimir's conversion of Kiev in 992. In the ensuing confusion, Vladimir and Photius were sometimes represented as contemporaries. The name of the first "metropolitan" of Rus' was given as either Michael or Leon. These sources connect the first Christianization with the name of Askold, a Kievan ruler whose assassination Oleg orchestrated in 882.

Since the Byzantines believed that the Rus' had been converted in the 9th century, they treated them as a Christian nation and failed to record the second Christianization of the country under Vladimir in 988. (Parenthetically, no foreign source, barring Yahya of Antioch (died ca. 1066), mentions Vladimir's conversion in the 980s.) In the inventory of Orthodox bishoprics compiled under Leo VI (reigned 886 to 912), the see of Rus' ranks sixty-first. In the list compiled during Constantine VII's reign (913-959), the see of Rus' holds the 60th position. The Life of Saint Cyril (Vita Cyrilli) reports that, when passing through Crimea on his way to Khazaria, the Apostle of the Slavs found in Chersonesos a Bible written in the Rus' language, possibly indicating the existence of a vernacular written tradition as early as the 9th century.[15]

The outcome

A scene from the 860s tribal war, by Nicholas Roerich (1897)
A scene from the 860s tribal war, by Nicholas Roerich (1897)

No primary source specifies what happened to the Rus' converts of the 9th century. The scope and importance of this first conversion is also disputed.[citation needed] The authors of the imperial period, starting with August Ludwig von Schlozer, assumed that only a fraction of the Rus' society adopted Christianity at the time of Photius.[citation needed] Dmitry Ilovaisky, for instance, speculated that Photius had referred to the Christianization of the so-called Tmutarakan (or Pontic) Rus', while the Novgorod (or Northern) Rus' remained pagan for another century.

Most Soviet historians (Boris Grekov, Vladimir Pashuto, Rybakov) agree that Christianity was adopted in the 9th century only by the Varangian elite of the Rus' Khaganate. That the fact of the first Christianization was obliterated so rapidly is explained by the 882 coup d'état that led to the downfall of the supposedly Christian Askold and the usurpation of power by the pagan Oleg. The first proponent of this theory was Vasily Tatischev who concluded that Askold and Dir had been murdered on account of their Christian views. He went so far as to style Askold "the first Russian martyr".

Constantine Zuckerman rejects Rybakov's view that Photius converted the Kievan Rus'. He ranks among those authors who believe that the centre of the Rus' Khaganate was Novgorod. According to him, the Christianized Varangians were expelled from the country during the anti-Varangian movement of the 860s or 870s.[citation needed] This movement, associated in the Novgorodian tradition with the name of Vadim the Bold, may have been triggered by the Varangians' attempts to Christianize the pagan populace. Their failure to convert the Ilmen Slavs supposedly resulted in the collapse of the Rus' Khaganate.[citation needed]

See also

Notes and references

  1. ^ History of the Bulgarians from Antiquity to the 16th Century by Georgi Bakalov (2003) ISBN 954-528-289-4
  2. ^ Photii Patriarchae Constantinopolitani Epistulae et Amphilochia. Ed. B. Laourdas, L.G. Westerinck. T.1. Leipzig, 1983. P. 49.
  3. ^ Theophanes Continuatus, Ioannes Cameniata, Symeon Magister, Georgius Monachus. Ed. I. Becker. Bonnae, 1838 (CSHB), p. 196.
  4. ^ heophanes Continuatus, Ioannes Cameniata, Symeon Magister, Georgius Monachus. Ed. I. Becker. Bonnae, 1838 (CSHB), pp. 342-343.
  5. ^ A. Avenarius. Christianity in 9th-century Rus. // Beitruge zur byzantinischen Geschichte im 9.-11. Jahrhundert. Prague: V. Vavrinek, 1978. Pp. 301-315.
  6. ^ Zuckerman, Constantine. Deux etapes de la formation de l’ancien etat russe, dans Les centres proto-urbains russes entre Scandinavie, Byzance et Orient. Actes du Colloque International tenu au College de France en octobre 1997, ed. M. Kazanski, A. Nersessian et C. Zuckerman (Réalités byzantines 7), Paris 2000, p. 95-120.
  7. ^ Петрухин В.Я. Начало этнокультурной истории Руси IX-XI вв. Moscow: Gnozis, 1995. P. 220.
  8. ^ There is a 15th-century source dating the event to 881 or 882, but this report does not appear to be reliable.
  9. ^ Florja B.N., Litavrin G.G. Christianization of the Nations of Central and South-East Europe and the Conversion of Old Rus. // Byzantinoslavica. 1988. 49. P. 186.
  10. ^ D. Obolensky. Byzantium and the Slavs: Collected Studies. London, 1971. V.4.
  11. ^ At about the same period Sts. Cyril and Methodius embarked on their mission in Moravia.
  12. ^ That is, in 912 AD. The Primary Chronicle dates the death of Oleg to this year.
  13. ^ According to De Ceremoniis produced in the 950s and 960s, Olga arrived to be baptised at the court of Constantinople in the company of a Rus' priest named Gregory. Alexander Nazarenko theorizes that she might have been baptised in Kiev, prior to her arrival in the Byzantine capital.
  14. ^ A saint whose cult was associated in Slavic countries with that of Perun.
  15. ^ This may also explain why Cyril and Methodius did not undertake any missionary activities in Rus'. Most commentators suspect some mistake in the text and declare that the passage in fact refers to a book in the Syriac language.
This page was last edited on 9 April 2019, at 07:58
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