Early Kievan Rus

Updated on October 31, 2018
Larry Slawson profile image

Larry Slawson received his Masters Degree at UNC Charlotte. He specializes in Russian and Ukrainian History.

Saint Basil's Cathedral
Saint Basil's Cathedral | Source


Kievan Rus formed during the Ninth Century A.D., following the creation of a federation between Kiev and Novgorod. Both Varangian and Slavic princes helped make Kievan Rus a reality during this time, as a common reliance upon Christianity, language, traditions, and customs all garnered tremendous support from their local populations (MacKenzie and Curran, 24). Historians, however, continue to remain divided over how cohesive and centralized the Kievan state actually was during its early years. Was it comprised of “a loose confederation” of local forces? (MacKenzie and Curran, 24) Or did the “Kievan federation’s institutions [remain] feudal like those of Medieval Europe?” (MacKenzie and Curran, 24).

Early Kievan Rus

Beginning in the Ninth Century A.D., Kievan Rus’ early history revolved around both violence and expansion as Varangian and Slavic princes sought to extend “their control from the Black Sea to the Baltics” (MacKenzie and Curran, 25). According to historians, many of these early conquests of expansion derived from a desire to expand trade with “Constantinople, the Balkans, and Transcaucasia” (MacKenzie and Curran, 25).

In 878 A.D., Oleg the Varangian, abandoned Kievan Rus’ early “imperial designs” and united Kievan Rus through the fusion of Novgorod and Kiev. Through military annexation, Oleg proclaimed Kiev as the “mother of Russian cities,” as its strategic location allowed greater access to the Dnieper River, the Baltics, and the Black Sea (MacKenzie and Curran, 25). This, in turn, provided Oleg with a strategic boost to his economic, political, and military ambitions across the western Eurasian plain.

With the successful takeover of Kiev, Oleg marched his army toward Constantinople in the year 907 A.D.. Using nearly 2,000 ships to support his military campaign, Oleg effectively forced Byzantium to accept his conditions of victory, or face the possibility of complete destruction at his hands. The Russo-Byzantine Treaty of 911 A.D., which followed, “authorized regular and equal trading relations” between Kievan Rus and Byzantium, allowed Rus merchants to enter Constantinople to conduct business and trade, and forced Byzantium to pay “a large indemnity” (MacKenzie and Curran, 25).

Prince Igor
Prince Igor | Source

Prince Igor

Prince Igor, Oleg’s successor, continued many of the former leader’s policies as he fought to maintain both political and economic stability across the kingdom. According to historians, Kiev quickly became the “central core of Rus” during Igor’s reign, as “peripheral Slav tribes paid…tribute in [the form of] furs and money” (MacKenzie and Curran, 25). Each of these tribes and towns were administered by local princes that constituted the Riurik Dynasty. True power, however, continued to remain in the hands of Igore, the grand prince of Kiev.

In an attempt to garner more resources from Byzantium, Igor led two assaults against Byzantine in the years 941 and 944 A.D., respectively. Like Oleg, Igor’s military victories succeeded in establishing greater commercial ties, as well as the introduction of a tribute system in which Byzantine provided regular tributes to Prince Igor. Such gains were short lived, however, as Derevlians, in 944 A.D. killed Igor in response to heavy taxation.

Igor’s wife, Olga, became the first woman ruler of Kievan Rus in 945 A.D. Under her commanding rule, Olga expanded political authority and consolidated Kievan power through the formation of localized districts. Her reign was also significant as she became the first ruler of Rus to convert to Christianity. Although her son, Sviatoslav, continued to remain pagan in his beliefs, he continued many of his father’s expansionist policies, and successfully incorporated both the Viatichians and Volga Bulgars into Kievan-Rus. Sviatoslav also succeeded in destroying the Khazars, and even defeated the Balkan Bulgars before abdicating and leaving control of Kievan Rus to his sons.

Prince Vladimir I
Prince Vladimir I | Source

Prince Vladimir I

Prince Vladimir I took up the throne in 980 A.D. (following the death of Olga), and remained in power until 1015. During his reign, Vladimir continued to assert “Kiev’s authority over the various Slav tribes,” and expanded “Rus to the shores of the Baltic Sea and the eastern frontier” (MacKenzie and Curran, 27). In a manner similar to his grandmother, Olga, Vladimir converted to Christianity in 988 A.D.; forcing his people to undergo conversion in the years and decades that followed. Vladimir’s swift death, however, left Rus in a state of war and conflict as his sons vied for political power for nearly ten years; a conflict that left Iaroslav (later known as Iaroslav the Wise) as grand prince, following intense fighting with his brothers.

Rise and Fall

The rise of Iaroslav proved fundamental for the development of Kievan Rus, as his nearly twenty year reign brought Rus “to the peak of its power” (MacKenzie and Curran, 28). Iaroslav’s ascent brought both peace and stability to Rus, and established the kingdom as an integral part of the European continent. According to David MacKenzie, Iaroslav’s “firm rule” established Kiev as a “center for learning,” Christianity, architecture, and written law (MacKenzie and Curran, 28). His partition of towns into local principalities, however, only led to division and strife following his death in 1054, as Iaroslav’s sons vied for political power in the absence of their father.


In the years that followed, inter-familial conflict resulted in the fragmentation of Kievan Rus. In only a few short years, the once thriving kingdom quickly “became a loose confederation of independent princes with increasingly tenuous family ties and a vague tradition of national unity” (MacKenzie and Curran, 29). As MacKenzie states, “even before the Mongol invasion, Rus had split into a dozen feuding principalities” that dramatically reduced both its strength and power (MacKenzie and Curran, 29). Such deficiencies proved fatal for Rus, as the kingdom was forced to rapidly capitulate to Mongol pressure in the years that followed.

Were you aware of early Kievan Rus and its large number of Princes?

See results

Works Cited:


MacKenzie, David and Michael Curran. A History of Russia, the Soviet Union, and Beyond. 6th Edition. Belmont, California: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2002.


Wikipedia contributors, "Igor Svyatoslavich," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Igor_Svyatoslavich&oldid=855190169 (accessed October 31, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, "Saint Basil's Cathedral," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Saint_Basil%27s_Cathedral&oldid=866096198 (accessed October 31, 2018).

Wikipedia contributors, "Vladimir the Great," Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Vladimir_the_Great&oldid=864323358 (accessed October 31, 2018).

Questions & Answers

    © 2018 Larry Slawson


      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        14 months ago from North Carolina

        Very neat. I would have loved to see that. I had a professor that went to Kiev during the Soviet era. He described it in the same manner.

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        15 months ago from UK

        The buildings were impressive. As it was still in the Soviet Union there were a lot of Lenin posters and statues around at the time.

      • Larry Slawson profile imageAUTHOR

        Larry Slawson 

        15 months ago from North Carolina

        @Eurofile That's really neat! I've always wanted to visit Kiev. Were your impressed by the city?

      • Eurofile profile image

        Liz Westwood 

        15 months ago from UK

        This gives interesting background to a visit I made to Kiev many years ago.


      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, owlcation.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://owlcation.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)