Honors European History
February 24, 2014
The Rise of Muscovite Russia to the End of Serfdom
The Greek myth of Niobe is characterized by an undying hubris towards the gods, a hubris
instilled into the House of Atreus for generations to assure a rise to power. Niobe, with her ethereal beauty, royal blood, and prodigious children, saw herself to be more beautiful than Aphrodite, more royal than Zeus, and her children more awe-inspiring than any of the Olympians. This everlasting hubris drove
Niobe to her vast wealth, power, and dominance, only to precede an infamous downfall. The Russians, like Niobe, embodied a hubris towards the rest of Europe and asserted themselves as a world superpower, but at the cost of a bloody downfall and revolution. Like a beacon of light, Peter the Great of Russia embarked on a tradition of domination and vast expansion: a tradition to be instilled into Russian culture, catalyzed by unquenchable thirst for eternal glory. Oblivious of what was to come, larger than life tsars paved the way towards a Romanesque empire. From Peter the Great to Alexander II, this unquenchable thirst prompted Russia to its worldly dominance politically, economically, and militarily.
The foundation of Russia was brought about by a desire for independence from the ruthless overlordship of the Mongols, also known as the Tatars. (William, Rise of Muscovy) From the 1100’s to the mid 1200’s, early semi-nomadic peoples seeking protection and security settled into a small fort around what is now modern-day Moscow. (Ibid.) From the booming fur trade industry, the small fort grew into the capital of a powerful principality called Muscovy in the region know as Kievan Rus. To the East, the
Mongols secured a vast empire comprised of all Asia. Still unsatisfied, Temuchin, the founder of the
Mongol empire, invaded Byzantium and forced annual tribute or threatened absolute destruction of the whole city. Desiring even more land, Temuchin expanded into Western Muscovy, but died on the expedition. In the year 1240, Ugedey, Temuchin’s son, captured Kievan Rus without any resistance.
(Ascher 16) The Mongols seized control and subjugated the early Kievan people. At this time, the early
Russian people were not united culturally, economically, or religiously and lacked a strong leader. (Ibid.)
After the Mongols invaded, the overlords completely barred the booming trade industry in early Muscovy, which did not recover until the mid 1300’s. (William, Rise of Muscovy) The Tatars, weakened by revolts
Hatton !2 in East Asia, made a treaty with the Muscovite people allowing trade to continue on the condition of paying tribute. (Ibid.) The Kievan people agreed, but grew to hate the Tatars more than ever after they increased the tribute as a result of the booming trade industry.
Provoked by the oppression of his people by the feared Mongols, Dimitrii Donskoi assumed the title of Grand Prince in 1359. (Ascher 24) After successfully leading several military campaigns in
Lithuania, Dimitrii, like Niobe, refused to pay the annual tribute and challenged Mongol rule by declaring himself ruler of Kievan Rus. Enraged by such blasphemy, the Tatars made a treaty with Lithuania and rose an army of 30,000 led by the unyielding cavalry. (Ascher 26) Dmitrii, still confident, met the
Mongols near the Don River and told 15,000 of his best troops to hide in a nearby forest and await his call. The Mongols completely slaughtered the Muscovites until Dmitrii’s reserves joined, demoralizing the Golden Horde. The battle continued and the tide turned in favor of the Russians. Dmitrii continued to press on unceasingly and finally captured the Mongol camp. For the first time in Muscovite history,
Mongol rule was challenged by the routing of the Golden Horde. The Russians returned to Moscow only to be welcomed by a siege of 120,000 Mongols who had already murdered over 10,000 residents. (Ascher
27) Dmitrii and all of his soldiers were