READ: From Muscovy to the Russian Empire (article) | Khan Academy (2024)

As Mongol power declined in northern Eurasia, Russia emerged as a world power, both an intensely centralized state with a national identity, and a multi-ethnic empire of many religions spread over a vast territory.

The article below uses “Three Close Reads”. If you want to learn more about this strategy, click here.

First read: preview and skimming for gist

Before you read the article, you should skim it first. The skim should be very quick and give you the gist (general idea) of what the article is about. You should be looking at the title, author, headings, pictures, and opening sentences of paragraphs for the gist.

Second read: key ideas and understanding content

Now that you’ve skimmed the article, you should preview the questions you will be answering. These questions will help you get a better understanding of the concepts and arguments that are presented in the article. Keep in mind that when you read the article, it is a good idea to write down any vocab you see in the article that is unfamiliar to you.

By the end of the second close read, you should be able to answer the following questions:

  1. Why have historians generally paid more attention to southern Eurasia than northern Eurasia?
  2. According to this essay, what northern Eurasian group had a huge impact on the entire region in the thirteenth century?
  3. Who drove the Mongol “Golden Horde” out of Muscovy, the region around today’s Moscow?
  4. How long did the Romanovs rule the Russian Empire?
  5. Who were the serfs and who were the boyars in imperial Russia? What were their roles?
  6. How and where did the Russian Empire expand under the Romanovs?

Third read: evaluating and corroborating

Finally, here are some questions that will help you focus on why this article matters and how it connects to other content you’ve studied.

At the end of the third read, you should be able to respond to these questions:

  1. To what extent does this article explain how rulers used a variety of methods to legitimize and consolidate their power in land-based empires from 1450 to 1750?
  2. How did the role of the Orthodox Church in Muscovy/Russia compare with the role of religions in other Eurasian land-based empires?

Now that you know what to look for, it’s time to read! Remember to return to these questions once you’ve finished reading.

From Muscovy to the Russian Empire

A vivid painting depicts a smoky post-battle scene. Some people are injured or dead, and a man on horseback rides through the middle of the scene accompanied by a trumpet player on foot.

By Trevor Getz

As Mongol power declined in northern Eurasia, Russia emerged as a world power, both an intensely centralized state with a national identity, and a multi-ethnic empire of many religions spread over a vast territory.

The long history of Russia

Historians’ attention has often been drawn more to southern Eurasia, whose population centers led to the large cities, big states, and thick trade routes, than to the chillier regions further north. After all, southern Eurasia’s agriculture-friendly temperatures and soils stretch from China through Southeast Asia, South Asia, Persia and Mesopotamia, and into the Mediterranean. Dense populations developed in these regions, and the trade routes connecting them—especially the so-called “Silk Routes”—were often thick with vehicles, animals, and people carrying new ideas and technologies.

Meanwhile, the region to the north was colder, mostly made up of marshes, dense forests, and grasslands with poor soil and infrequent rains. It was often seen as a domain of pastoralists, and as such a region that was less important and developed. Of course, the emergence of the Mongols from these northern areas proved that it was wrong to dismiss the north, but even the Mongol leaders tended to settle down to rule the more comfortable regions they had conquered, like China, Persia, and Mesopotamia.

A map shows the extent of Mongol territory in relation to Europe and India.

Many other groups, besides the Mongols, lived in these vast territories. Among them were Slavic-speaking peoples, who mostly settled in the forested regions of the north bordering Europe. There, they mixed and traded with other communities—mostly selling furs. Viking settlers, attracted by this trade, built communities among them. Greek-speaking merchants and settlers similarly moved in from the Balkan Peninsula to the south. In the eleventh century, a series of minor, often allied principalities emerged based on small cities like Novgorod and Kiev. Many of them adopted the Orthodox Christianity brought by the Greek-speaking community. In the thirteenth century, the Mongol Khanate known as the “Golden Horde” conquered these states, which were forced to pay tribute, like so many other people around Eurasia. In return, they benefited from many of the technologies the Mongols brought, including an excellent bureaucracy. Some local rulers, like the Dukes of Muscovy, or Moscow, collected those tributes in return for a share of the power to rule the region. But they also chafed under foreign rule.

Emerging from Mongol imperium

The fourteenth century collapse of the Mongol Empire created an opportunity for the many Slavic princes, and none more so than Moscow’s Grand Dukes. This particular principality was geographically well-situated along rivers and roads, and also the center of the Christian Church in the region, which was the Russian Orthodox Church. The Grand Dukes had been paying tribute to the Mongols for over a century, but in 1380 the rulers of Moscow led a combined army to drive them out of the area. While the Mongols of the Golden Horde would continue to raid their territory, the Grand Dukes could now turn their attention to consolidating their rule over the region.

The conquering of the city of Novgorod by Ivan III shows a crowd of wounded and dead.

For the next century, Moscow and its neighbors fought over territory. Finally, in 1478, the Grand Duke Ivan III defeated the principality of Novgorod. He soon claimed to rule all of the Russians. His successors, especially Ivan IV, turned southward into regions whose population was mostly not Slavic and not Christian Orthodox, unlike the people of Muscovy. He conquered the Muslim Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan, creating a multi-religious and multi-ethnic empire. However, Ivan’s attempts to push westward to the Baltic coast in Europe were less successful. In fact, by the early seventeenth century, the state had broken into civil war. It was being invaded by armies from Europe and was even divided between two nobles who claimed the throne. This era was known as the “time of troubles.”

Serfs and Boyars

A unified Russia would not re-emerge until 1613, when representatives from the cities (and some rural regions) elected a new ruler, Michael Romanov, as emperor, or czar. His family, the Romanovs, would rule the empire until the Russian Revolution of 1917, a period of three hundred years.

Michael Romanov modernized the military of Russia, which, despite possessing some gunpowder weapons, including cannon, had been dominated by cavalry with bows, swords, and spears. His government began to build a buffer zone with European states to the west by creating alliances with the Cossacks in Ukraine. Internally, the Romanovs demanded loyalty and service from the class of nobles known as the boyars. But the boyars wanted something in return: rights to totally control the peasants who lived on their land. The Romanov rulers cooperated in this process, formally creating the status of serf. Serfs were peasants who could not leave their land at all, and who were heavily taxed. Any serf who ran away was formally a fugitive, and the state agreed that nobles could hunt them down and force them to return. Many serfs resisted. There were a series of riots and uprisings in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, both among peasants and especially the Cossacks, who were used to a rather more egalitarian society. But in each case they were put down by Romanov armies.

The Romanovs were also aided by the Orthodox Church, whose leaders lived in Moscow and were financially supported by the Romanovs. Although some religious leaders supported the uprisings at times, the Church generally taught the serfs that it was virtuous for them to support the state and obey the boyars.

Expansion under the Romanovs

With the full support of their nobility, and a newly organized army, the Romanovs created a vast gunpowder empire. They were assisted in this by commercial companies, similar to those in other parts of Europe, who wanted access to the fur-rich territory of Siberia and trade with Central Asia. They were also assisted by Orthodox priests who went into these territories as missionaries. Still, the Romanovs were careful not to alienate their Muslim subjects in the south.

The Russian Empire now expanded rapidly. Under Czar Peter, often called Peter the Great, a war with Sweden finally led to the annexation of the Baltic Coast in 1721. This secured the western boundaries and allowed future Czars to push eastward. The early nineteenth century would see Russian forces racing across Siberia to the Pacific. It would also see them coming into conflict with the Ottoman Empire to the south. But that story will have to wait.

Map shows Russian empire in 1450.

Map shows Russian empire in 1550.

Map shows Russian empire in 1750.


By 1750, Russia was poised both to expand eastward into forested Siberia and the grasslands of Central Asia, and to play a major role in Europe. This meant that it would have to compete with both European maritime trading states and the great Eurasia land empires such as the Ottomans and Qing Dynasty China, both of which would become neighbors of Russia. It would also benefit from ideas and new technologies coming from all of these neighboring states. Russia would have to figure out how to apply them, or reject them, while ruling a multi-ethnic, multi-religious population spread across a vast territory.

For these reasons, Russia in 1750 is often depicted by European historians as facing in two directions, or being a bridge between two regions. These images aren’t wrong, but it is also important to note that Russia was at the same time developing two internal senses of itself. One; as a Slavic, Orthodox Christian, highly centralized nation, and two; as a multi-ethnic empire. For the Romanovs, figuring out how to balance these identities was a more pressing issue than whether Russia was an eastern or a western power. Some of the Romanov Czars did better at this balancing act than others. One of the best, Catherine the Great, would take power in 1762.

Author bio

Trevor Getz is a professor of African and world history at San Francisco State University. He has been the author or editor of 11 books, including the award-winning graphic history Abina and the Important Men, and has coproduced several prize-winning documentaries. Trevor is also the author of A Primer for Teaching African History, which explores questions about how we should teach the history of Africa in high school and university classes.

[Sources and attributions]

Want to join the conversation?

Log in

No posts yet.

As an enthusiast with a deep understanding of historical narratives, particularly the rise of Russia in northern Eurasia, I can confidently discuss the concepts presented in the article "From Muscovy to the Russian Empire" by Trevor Getz. My expertise is grounded in a comprehensive knowledge of the historical events and dynamics shaping the emergence of Russia as a world power. Now, let's delve into the key concepts covered in the article:

  1. Historical Context and Geography:

    • The decline of Mongol power in northern Eurasia paved the way for Russia's ascent.
    • Russia emerged as a centralized state with a national identity and a multi-ethnic empire encompassing various religions and spanning vast territories.
  2. Three Close Reads Strategy:

    • The article introduces the "Three Close Reads" strategy, emphasizing the importance of previewing, skimming for the gist, identifying key ideas, understanding content, and evaluating and corroborating information.
  3. First Read - Preview and Skimming:

    • Skimming involves quickly grasping the general idea of the article by examining the title, author, headings, pictures, and opening sentences of paragraphs.
  4. Second Read - Key Ideas and Understanding Content:

    • Previewing questions helps in comprehending the concepts and arguments presented in the article.
    • Questions include the focus on southern Eurasia, the impact of a northern Eurasian group in the thirteenth century, the expulsion of the Mongol "Golden Horde," the duration of Romanov rule, and the roles of serfs and boyars in imperial Russia.
  5. Third Read - Evaluating and Corroborating:

    • The third read involves considering the significance of the article and its connections to other content studied.
    • Questions relate to methods of legitimizing and consolidating power in land-based empires from 1450 to 1750 and comparing the role of the Orthodox Church in Muscovy/Russia with other Eurasian land-based empires.
  6. From Muscovy to the Russian Empire:

    • The article traces Russia's history from the Mongol era to the emergence of the Romanovs and the transformation of Moscow into a powerful entity.
    • It highlights key events, such as the collapse of the Mongol Empire, the role of Grand Dukes in Muscovy, and the expansion under the Romanovs.
  7. Serfs, Boyars, and Internal Dynamics:

    • The article explores the concept of serfdom, the role of boyars, and the internal challenges faced by Russia, including the "time of troubles."
    • The Romanovs' collaboration with the Orthodox Church and the resistance from serfs and Cossacks are discussed.
  8. Expansion Under the Romanovs:

    • The Romanovs expanded the Russian Empire eastward into Siberia, creating a vast multi-religious and multi-ethnic entity.
    • Commercial companies, alliances with Cossacks, and Orthodox missionaries played roles in this expansion.
  9. Russia in 1750:

    • Russia, by 1750, poised for further expansion and played a significant role in Europe.
    • The internal identity crisis of Russia as a Slavic, Orthodox Christian, centralized nation, and a multi-ethnic empire is highlighted.
  10. Conclusion and Author Bio:

    • The conclusion emphasizes Russia's dual identity as a bridge between regions and its internal struggle to balance multiple identities.
    • The author, Trevor Getz, is introduced as a professor with expertise in African and world history, providing credibility to the historical narrative presented.

In essence, the article provides a comprehensive overview of Russia's historical journey, emphasizing key events, internal dynamics, and the geopolitical landscape of northern Eurasia.

READ: From Muscovy to the Russian Empire (article) | Khan Academy (2024)


Top Articles
Latest Posts
Article information

Author: Sen. Ignacio Ratke

Last Updated:

Views: 6097

Rating: 4.6 / 5 (76 voted)

Reviews: 83% of readers found this page helpful

Author information

Name: Sen. Ignacio Ratke

Birthday: 1999-05-27

Address: Apt. 171 8116 Bailey Via, Roberthaven, GA 58289

Phone: +2585395768220

Job: Lead Liaison

Hobby: Lockpicking, LARPing, Lego building, Lapidary, Macrame, Book restoration, Bodybuilding

Introduction: My name is Sen. Ignacio Ratke, I am a adventurous, zealous, outstanding, agreeable, precious, excited, gifted person who loves writing and wants to share my knowledge and understanding with you.