Why and How Did Muscovy Emerge and Was Transformed into the Russian Empire?


When the Mongols from the East invaded the Kievan Rus lands, Moscow was a vital trade and commercial outpost in the Vladimir- Suzdal principality. More importantly to the Moscow growth and developments is what later became to be known as the Muscovy territorial, the rule was by a number of princes who were ambitious, lucky and determined. Outward extension of Muscovy and internal consolidation and reorganization of the empire occurred during this historical period. In the 15th century, the Muscovy rulers viewed the whole Russian territory as their collective and combined possession, although some semi- autonomous territories and princes were still considered as independent.

The Rise of Muscovy

A lot of the growth and developments of the state of Russia can be effectively traced from the era of Vladimir- Suzdal through Muscovy and later to the Russian empire over a period of several centuries. Muscovy, as one of the development sate of Russian State gathered together wealth, resources and people to the northwestern margin of Kievan Rus’ and effectively launched direct commercial and trade links to the White Sea, Baltic Sea Caspian Sea And all the way to Siberia. This effectively established a greatly centralized and autocratic economic and political system. The political, economic and cultural traditions of the Muscovy applied massive influence and impact to the past and modern Russian society.

When the Mongols from the East invaded the Kievan Rus lands, Moscow was a vital trade and commercial outpost in the Vladimir- Suzdal principality. Although the Mongols destroyed and burned down the town of Moscow in 1238, the forested and remote location provided some sense of security to the natives against the Mongol attacks and conquers. Several rivers offered the much needed access to the Black and Baltic seas as well as the Caucasus territories.  

More importantly to the Moscow growth and developments is what later became to be known as the Muscovy territorial, the rule was by a number of princes who were ambitious, lucky and determined. The initial ruler of the Muscovy principality was Daniil Aleksandrovich who secured the Muscovy principality for his section of the Rurik Dynasty. His son Ivan Karlita, popularly called Ivan I worked closely with the Mongols and on their behalf gathered tax and tribute from other Russian municipalities. From the association, Ivan was able to ascend to the regional supremacy, especially over Muscovy principal rival, the northern city of Tver. His prestige was further boosted in 1327, when the Orthodox metropolis moved him to Moscow from Vladimir in the latest principality. 

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In the 14th century, the Muscovy grand princes started to collect together the Russian fields to increase the wealth and population under their jurisdiction. Ivan the Great (Ivan III), in 1478 subjugated Novgorod and conquered Tver’ in 1485. In 1480, Muscovy enjoyed complete sovereignty over the entire ethnically Russian lands when the over lordship of the Mongols officially came to the end. By the 16th century virtually all the lands were consolidated. Ivan was able to get part of the Ryazan province through inheritance and the princes of Yaroslavl and Rostov willingly subordinated to him. Poskov city in the northwestern stayed independent throughout this period, but Vasilily III, Ivan’s son later subdued it.

Ivan III became the first ruler of Muscovite to adopt the title of Tsar or the “Ruler of All Rus”. He challenged the mighty ruler of northwestern Lithuania over the running of the semi- autonomous principalities of former Kievan Rus` in the Donets River and upper Dnepr basins. Under Ivan III rule, Muscovy greatly reduced in size due border skirmishes, defection of several princes, extended and inconclusive fighting with Lithuania that effectively came to a close in 1503.   

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Development of the Russian Aristocracy

Outward extension of Muscovy and internal consolidation and reorganization of the empire occurred during this historical period. In the 15th century, the Muscovy rulers viewed the whole Russian territory as their collective and combined possession, although some semi- autonomous territories and princes were still considered as independent. Ivan III compelled the minor princes to recognize him as the Grand Prince and his successors as unquestioned leaders with overall control of judicial, military and foreign affairs.

Progressively, the muscovite ruler came out as influential, autocratic ruler; a tsar. By taking up the title; tsar, the muscovite prince underlined that he remained the emperor and major ruler at equality with Mongol khan of the emperor of the Byzantine Empire. Upon marrying the Sophia, the niece to the last emperor of the Byzantine Empire, the court took on rituals, emblems, and terms of the Byzantine Empire as the state symbols.

In the late 16th century, Ivan came up with a controversial plan against the wishes of his government chief advisors to subdivide Muscovy into two main divisions; private domain and public domain. He later dismantled the political and economic might of the boyar families thus effectively destroying the wellbeing of those who had initially built up the empire of Muscovy. This created further problems as the peasants faced with increased burden and threats of clashes and violence as well as reduced trade, began to get out of Muscovy. Efforts to stop the excessive peasant mobility brought the empire further to “legal” selfdom. This eventually compelled Ivan to halt his contentious practices in 1572.

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Lucky with the Muscovy empire, the major foes were Sweden and Poland were deeply engaged in armed clash with each other, which offered a perfect opportunity  for Muscovy to draft peace agreement with Sweden in 1617 and with Poland two years later.              

Muscovy was transformed from an isolated or somehow static state in to a partially westernized, dynamic and a rather secularized empire in the eighth century. This revolution represents in small measure the zeal, determination, energy and vision of peter the Great. Historians clearly concur on the contribution of Peter the Great in the transformation of Muscovy into Russian empire. He is believed to have erected the necessary foundation for building the empire over the following two eras and centuries. This clearly pointed the emergence of Russia as a major world superpower. However this move was greatly pulled down by the retention of the economic system of serfdom which promoted slavery and hindered economic progress. In the mid and late eighth century, economies of most western nations grew dramatically as a result of the Industrial Revolution; however this was not the case with Russia thus raising more problems for the Russian empire.

The tsar’s efforts to expand the territory in northwest in the direction of Baltic Sea were faced with great hurdles. Ivan invaded Livonia in 1558, thus instigating a 25 year armed conflict with Denmark, Sweden, Poland and Lithuania. Although he was able to realize slight success, Ivan’s army was greatly defeated and thus effectively unable to secure the highly treasured Baltic Sea position. Ivan’s political position on both foreign and domestic policies had far reaching negative effects on the general welfare of Muscovy both during the civil war and social struggle times.   

Muscovy was yet embroiled in a continuous period of internal discontent and chaos which was marked by civil war and the political struggle over the throne. This was further complicated by interference by foreign regional powers such as Sweden and Poland. Despite all this the institution of autocracy was left intact. During the era, the political goal was to access from the sitting autocratic power thus attempting to have their own on the throne.

Muscovy continued with the long time ambitions of territorial expansion throughout the 17th century. It conquered Ukraine in the southwest which was previously under the polish jurisdiction. Instead of the Polish rule, Bogdan Khmelnitsky favored the muscovite tsar. This initiated the war between Muscovy and Poland. In the eastern direction, Muscovy went ahead to, to acquire the western Siberia in the 16th century. From the position, the explorers, merchants and traders had a chance to advance eastward to Yenisey River. In 1989, Muscovy entered into a peace agreement with China, bounded in the Treaty of Nerchinsk and in which Muscovy was required to secede a section of the Amir Valley and effectively get access to Lake Baikal and thus the commercial and trade route to Beijing.

The southern expansion of Muscovy especially with the inclusion of Ukraine had unexpected cost and consequences. Majority of the Ukrainians are Orthodox, however their close interaction with the Roman Catholics paved way for western intellectual Currents and influences. Basically the church grew and developed from being assumed as the hub of an all-Rus patriarchate of Constantinople metropolitanate to a sense of pan-orthodox obligations. Beginning in 1470s the enlargement and renovation of the major churches, Kremlin and palaces improved the worthiness and pretension of Muscovy.

Economic wise, Muscovy relied mostly on agriculture, cloth, forest products, salt production, and making of simple metal products. However with the opening of direct link with the Dutch and English trade routes, stimulated the art of import and export to and fro the foreign overland.              

In understanding the emergence of Muscovy, it is vital to link it with the life of Peter the Great. As child and having hailed from a second marriage, peter was literally put aside from the Russian politics as various judicial splinter groups muscled out to gain control of Russian politics. The immediate former Tsar Aleksey had earlier died and2 thus automatically the son from his first marriage took over the leadership. However, the ailing boy Fodor III did not survive for long, he died in almost immediately in 1682. At this juncture his half brother took over the thrown together with co- tsar Ivan V although the real political power was with Sofia, their half sister.

Peter was highly influenced by the western way of life especially on military technology and practice, chiefly artillery, navigation, military engineering and ship building. Having had a lot of childhood war games, he frequently employed them in training his troops in 1689, and having thwarted a plan to have the half sister Sofia crowned and the death of Ivan V in 1696, Peter favorably assumed total leadership of the empire as the lone Muscovy tsar.

Much of his reign was dominated by territorial wars, especially his efforts to depolarize the southern borders against the Ottoman Turks and Tatars. For instance his initial effort to capture a fort in the Azov sea failed miserably, but after reinforcing the first navy of Russia he went ahead to redeem his glory effectively in 1696. In order to defeat the Ottoman Empire, peter became the first tsar to pay visit to the western nations when he visited Holland, England and the Holy Roman Empire in the popular grand Embassy. The trip was cut short when he was informed of the attempt back at home to be throne Sofia as the Tsar. However from this visit he was able to get hundreds of military technical staff from these western European nations. Upon getting back, Peter embarked on a campaign of brutally torturing, maiming and sometimes killing the plotters and other participants of the revolt. To discourage anyone with similar motive, Peter displayed the bodies of the slain revolters in public.

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Peter was quite effective in creating coalition with the European states against the Ottoman Empire, but in the process of the grand Embassy tours he found interest in stating war with Sweden a crucial section of northern Europe. To his understanding he desperately needed to access the Baltic Sea and Sweden was all that stood in between. In order to secure the southern borders, Peter first made a peace deal with the Ottoman Empire and then proceeded to attack Swedes in the Gulf of Finland and port of Narva. To his disappointment, Peter army was brutally crushed by the Swedish Charles XII military expertise. To his surprise, Charles did not follow up the war with counteroffensive thus giving Peter ample time to reorganize his army while at the same time incorporating the adopted Western Warfare techniques. When the two leaders engaged in 1709 in Poltava town, Charles army was brutally humiliated by Peter’s well horned military might. Charles was eventually forced to seek exile in the Ottoman Empire. This made Russia to find a reason to initiate military action against the Ottoman territory and Muscovy was permitted by the Treaty of Nystad to retain the conquered territory adjacent to the Baltic Sea; Estonia, Ingria and Livonia. Effectively, this meant that Peter had gained direct access with the Western Europe. As part of the cerebration, Peter took up the title of Emperor on top of Tsar and officially Muscovy became in 1721 a Russian Empire.

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Peter was able to attain the Muscovy’s expansion into the European territory through a number of massive initiatives. He created one of the biggest naval forces; the Russian Navy, which was regrouped according to the then latest European structure and models; he was able to streamline government operations and thus effectively mobilized and devolved the central governments human and financial resources.

Peter tripled the taxes and revenues collected by the state treasury though the institution of a number of taxes such as taxes on capitalization and investment, poll tax and indirect taxes on salt, alcohol and on all males except the nobles and clergymen.



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