7.8 Russia and Eastern Europe

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.

Illustration of a crowned bearded man holding a staff with a halo around his head.

Stefan Dusan was called the Emperor of the Serbs, Greeks, and Albanians and considered the greatest ruler of medieval Serbia.


  • Describe how geography influenced the rise of Russia, and how Kiev grew to be the center of the first Russian state.
  • Explain how Mongol rule affected Russia.
  • Describe how Moscow took the lead in Russia and how its rulers developed authoritarian control.
  • Describe how geography influenced the development of Eastern Europe.
  • Understand how migration contributed to cultural diversity in Eastern Europe, and learn about three early Eastern European kingdoms.

Key Terms

  • steppe
  • Kiev
  • Cyrillic
  • Ivan the Great
  • Ivan the Terrible
  • Balkan Peninsula
  • ethnic group
  • diet
  • Golden Bull of 1222

The Geography of Russia

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 Regions

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.

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Table of Contents

World History Topic 1 Origins of Civilization (Prehistory–300 B.C.) Topic 2 The Ancient Middle East and Egypt (3200 B.C.–500 B.C.) Topic 3 Ancient India and China (2600 B.C.–A.D. 550) Topic 4 The Americas (Prehistory–A.D. 1570) Topic 5 Ancient Greece (1750 B.C.–133 B.C.) Topic 6 Ancient Rome and the Origins of Christianity (509 B.C.-A.D. 476) Topic 7 Medieval Christian Europe (330–1450) Topic 8 The Muslim World and Africa (730 B.C.-A.D. 1500) Topic 9 Civilizations of Asia (500–1650) Topic 10 The Renaissance and Reformation (1300–1650) Topic 11 New Global Connections (1415–1796) Topic 12 Absolutism and Revolution Topic 13 The Industrial Revolution Topic 14 Nationalism and the Spread of Democracy (1790–1914) Topic 15 The Age of Imperialism (1800–1914) Topic 16 World War I and the Russian Revolution (1914–1924) Topic 17 The World Between the Wars (1910–1939) Topic 18 World War II (1930–1945) Topic 19 The Cold War Era (1945–1991) Topic 20 New Nations Emerge (1945–Present) Topic 21 The World Today (1980-Present) United States Constitution Primary Sources 21st Century Skills Atlas Glossary Index Acknowledgments