The Earliest Beginnings of a Modern Russia

In modern times, Russia is the largest country in the world with over six million square miles of land. It is the ninth most populous nation in the world today with 142 million people, shares borders with more countries than any other existing in the world and has the world's largest reserves of mineral/energy and forest resources. Over its centuries of history, the boundaries of land and the people that we call Russian today have changed a great deal. This paper will discuss who the earliest known inhabitants were of this land was well as migration and the areas they settled in which include the modern cities of Novgorod and Kiev.

The focal point of the earliest Russian culture was centered around Slavic tribal kingdoms that populated several areas (along with a few other groups of people that were assimilated into the Slavic tribes) in and around the areas of Novgorod and Kiev. One source describes how goods would be brought by boat west towards Russia through the Caspian Sea and up the Volga river to the place where Novgorod was built and stands today. These lands were populated by the formerly discussed groups whose earliest members formed tribes and then cities- joining together into a unique state which is known as Kievan Rus... and is the starting point for three current Slavic nations- Russia, Ukraine and Belarus In the state of Kievan Rus, many individuals settled in the areas they called Novgorod and Kiev and then continued to spread out to other surrounding areas. (These two cities retain these names today) Both cities existed before the formation of the state Kievan Rus was officially formed in 880 by Prince Oleg who chose the city of Kiev as his capital city. In fact the city of Kiev 'celebrated' its 1500th anniversary in 1982- that must be a pretty interesting place to see the many layers of history in its many streets and buildings.

One attraction to the city of Kiev is its location. The many nearby rivers and waterways made Kiev an excellent place for travel and trade and this town was able to become the center of a trade route between Constantinople and Scandinavia. The Dnieper River runs right through the town and within the modern limits of the city of Kiev, there are over 400 bodies of open water including rivers, tributaries, lakes, etc... Novgorod also had excellent access to the Oka and Volga rivers. Once described as the bridge between the European lands and the Asian lands which probably also helped it prosper as a trading partner or trade route. Novgorod also has the distinction of being able to reach several large bodies of water such as seas for trading with other nations- these are the Baltic, Black, Caspian and White Sea as well as the Sea of Azov. Both places have a short window/climate for growing crops and other forms of agriculture... and both places had large resources of forests for wood which would have helped with boat building, buildings and even material for trade... such as for food! It certainly is a testament to the longevity and the resources surrounding these cities that they are still there and are habitable (still growing today!)- even when they were destroyed in time of war they were rebuilt right over the destroyed city.

There were many excellent reasons for migration early in Russia's history. The land itself is located in the northern most reaches of the globe and reaches across several time zones. Winters are generally longer than in other countries with a more southern base and summers are equally short. The land or geography of Russia is generally flat with few mountains so expansion was easy... add the waterways and travel/migration was even easier. Both the cities of Kiev and Novgorod were probably built by their first inhabitants because they did have more options for trade, living, travel, etc... than some of the surrounding areas. These areas, because of the great capacity for moving people and goods quickly, would have been very powerful cities- commercially strong and politically sensitive and valuable. Having control of the land around these rivers as well as the waterway itself would shape much of Russia's history over the last several centuries. These areas also had large resources of building materials with the huge forests which could also have been used to build tools, boats or ships, houses or even heat. Other resources that were available were plenty of 'fur' animals, and access to warm water ports (a few mentioned above). I suspect, and admit that this is a guess from the different readings, but the climate in these two cities would have been moderated by the lowlands and the large amounts of water... whereas other areas in Russia may not have had or do have such a 'nice' climate.

Before this class, I have known only a few tiny tidbits about Russia and most of them are 'famous' tidbits. I had heard of Lenin and Stalin and not much very flattering about either of them. I had also heard of Gorbachev and and the 'collapse' and of Putin and his successor- I have become a current news reader over the last decade. I will admit that I do not have much of an opinion either way of Putin or Mendeleev mainly because I do not trust our newspapers to tell me an unbiased account. The only other tidbit that I have a bit of knowledge on is the most obvious- Nicolas I and Alexandra and their children... and can't forget Rasputin! I signed up for a class on Russian history for a few reasons. One is that I doubt that Russia is nearly as romantic as it seems in my mind... or as foreign. I also am not impressed with the idea that I have been studying history for years and feel as if I was weaned on it, but know almost nothing about Russia or China. And I think I would like to become more well rounded in that regard. Thank you for the opportunity!

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