Late Medieval Russia - European History
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Late Medieval Russia

Yuriev-Polsky
Church of Yuriev-Polsky (1200s)

But in the 1200s Russia was weak from civil wars, and the Mongols attacked Russia and forced the eastern part into the Mongol empire. The Mongol empire made it even easier to trade across Asia, and the Russians continued to get rich from this trade. But in the early 1300s, the trade brought plague germs to Russia too, and the Black Death killed many people, and also spread to Europe. In addition, the Little Ice Age made Central Asia even colder than usual, and it was harder to grow food. This weakened the Mongol Empire so that it collapsed, and the Russians gradually got free again.

Bell tower of Ivan the Great
Bell Tower of Ivan the Great (1505)

In the late 1300s AD, the rapidly growing Polish-Lithuanian Empire of Jadwiga and Wladyslaw II conquered most of Belarus and Ukraine.

In 1462 AD Ivan the Great became the Grand Duke of Russia. Ivan fought the Mongols and made Russia completely free of Mongol rule. By 1478, Ivan had also conquered the neighboring kingdom of Novgorod, and soon after that he conquered several other small kingdoms near Russia.

A few years earlier, in 1453 AD, the Ottomans had conquered Constantinople. The Ottoman sultans now considered themselves to be the Roman Emperors, but the Russian bishops thought it was wrong for the Roman Emperor to be a Muslim. So Ivan decided he would be the new Christian Roman emperor. He married a Byzantine princess, Sophia Paleologue, who brought Constantinople's traditions to Moscow. Ivan began to call himself Caesar, like the Roman Emperors. In Russian, Caesar came out as Czar or Tzar. To show his connections to Italy and Rome, Ivan brought an Italian architect to Moscow to build a bell tower and churches for him.

As Czar, Ivan thought he should have more power than just a Duke. He stopped paying attention to his boyars, or lords, and he wrote a new law code. Ivan also began to make friends with the rulers of Hungary, the Holy Roman Empire, the Ottoman sultans, and other neighbors. After Duke Casimir of Lithuania died in 1492, Ivan also got control of most of Lithuania before he died in 1505.

Russia after 1500 AD

Bibliography and further reading about medieval Russia:

Russia after 1500 AD
Polish history
Central Asian History
Medieval Europe
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Karen Carr is Associate Professor Emerita, Department of History, Portland State University. She holds a doctorate in Classical Art and Archaeology from the University of Michigan. Follow her on Instagram or Twitter, or buy her book, Vandals to Visigoths.
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