While feudalism and the Roman Catholic Church were shaping Western Europe in the Middle Ages, another culture was emerging in Russia to the east. Russia lies on the vast Eurasian plain that stretches from Europe to the borders of China. Although mapmakers use the Ural Mountains to mark the boundary between Europe and Asia, these ancient mountains were long ago worn away to wooded hills. They posed no great obstacle to the movement of peoples who were constantly migrating from Asia into Russia.
Stefan Dusan was called the Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, and Albanians and considered the greatest ruler of medieval Serbia.
During the Middle Ages, Russia—like Western Europe—was battered by invasions. Russia, however, had never been part of the Roman empire, and its early rulers looked to the Byzantine world, adapting much of its advanced civilization.
Three broad regions with different climates and resources helped shape early Russian life. The first included the northern forests, which supplied lumber for building and fuel. Fur-bearing animals attracted hunters, but poor soil and a cold, snowy climate hindered farming. Farther south lay a second zone of fertile land, where farmers settled and grew crops. This region, which includes what is today Ukraine, was home to Russia's first civilization. The fertile soil and relatively mild climate of this region would eventually make it the “breadbasket” of Russia because of the vast fields of wheat grown there.
A third region, the southern steppe, is an open, treeless grassland. It offered splendid pasture for the herds and horses of nomadic peoples. With no natural barriers, the steppe was a great highway along which streams of nomads migrated.