Vladimir I wanted to rule all of Russia, and to do that he knew he needed a way to unite the vast population of his future territory. He chose to unify his people through religion, and, after coming in contact with the Byzantine Empire and their Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Vladimir chose this religion not only for himself, but for all of his people. However when Vladimir died, he had not chosen a successor leaving his three sons to fight for the throne.
Of Vladimir’s sons, Sviatopolk was the most interested in gaining power and taking over his father’s throne. However, he feared that his brothers, Boris and Gleb, would attempt to steal his throne. Sviatopolk had both of his brothers assassinated to preserve his authority, but this plan essentially backfired on him in that Boris and Gleb became martyrs and the first two saints of the Russian church and Sviatopolk himself was exiled. War ensued over who would take the throne.
In 1237 the Mongols, the Golden Horde of more than 10,000 men invaded Russia. The Mongols were eastern Turks, known to the Rus as Tatars. Mongol forces managed to subdue the enormous territory of Russia in only 3 years; never again would anyone succeed in taking control of the country so quickly and completely. In 1240, Batu Khan, grandson of Chinggis Khan, laid siege to the city of Kiev. He offered to forgive and spare the lives of the people of Kiev if they surrendered, and warned that all would suffer if they did not. Kiev refused to surrender, and true to his word, Batu burned the city to the ground.
Over the next two and a half centuries, the Mongols ruled Russia. They didn’t particularly care about having political power, so long as they had wealth, so the Mongols required tribute from the various princes of Russia. To help ensure that the Russians not only would not but could not rebel, the Mongols pitted prince against prince in competition to earn the title “Prince of Vladimir”, or “Prince of Princes”, the one favored prince of the Mongols. The princes could attain this position by offering the most tribute, and in forcing the princes into this competition the Mongols ensured that the Russians would be too busy fighting each other to revolt.
This worked well for the Mongols until the 1300s when Moscow, a new but thriving city of Russia, held the position of Prince of Vladimir for year after year and grew more powerful. In 1325 Ivan the 1st, the ruler of Moscow, struck a deal with the Mongols that he would collect tribute from the other cities. Over time Moscow continued to gain power and built up their own army. In 1380, Dimitri, another leader of Moscow, led all of Russia into a battle for freedom from the Tatars. Tens of thousands of men died, but in the end Russia won the war. However, this was just the beginning of Russia’s century long struggle for complete freedom from the Mongols.
In the late 15th century Ivan the 3rd ruled Moscow and the city was incredibly rich. Ivan the 3rd cut off the tribute system the Mongols had put in place so that they were receiving no tribute from Russia at all. Eventually the Tatars were no longer able to dominate the country and deferred to Ivan the 3rd who began the Holy Russian Empire and was the first Russian leader to take the title czar, the Russian word for Caesar. As this title would suggest, Russia became an extension of the Roman legacy that had carried through the Byzantine Empire. Ivan the 3rd modeled Moscow after Rome, even bringing in an Italian architect. However Ivan also restricted the rights of peasants to roam throughout Russia to find the best farmland, beginning their