Russia's network of rivers provided transportation for both people and goods. The Dneiper (NEE puhr) and Volga rivers became productive trade routes. Major rivers ran from north to south, linking Russia early on to the advanced Byzantine world to the south.

Photo of a reconstructed ship with a serpent at the bow and a mast without sails set on a pedestal in the snow.

This reconstruction of a Viking ship unearthed in Russia is an example of the swift Viking trading ships that traveled Russia's many rivers.

Early Russia

Russia's early history was similar to that of much of Western Europe. Migrating peoples settled on the land, which was fragmented into many small kingdoms. Early Russia included a collection of small cities that were in time united into an empire.

Slavs and Vikings

During Roman times, migrating Slavic peoples expanded into southern Russia. Like the Germanic people who pushed into Western Europe, the Slavs had no political organization more complex than the clan. They lived in small villages, farmed, and traded along the rivers connecting the Baltic in the north to the Black Sea in the south.

In the 700s and 800s, while some Viking leaders pushed into Western Europe, others steered their long ships out of Scandinavia into Russia. These Vikings, whom the Russians later called Varangians, traveled south along the rivers, trading with and collecting tribute, or forced payment, from the Slavs.

The Vikings also conducted a thriving trade with Constantinople. Located at the heart of this trade was the city of Kiev, which would later become the center of the first Russian state. Within a few generations, the Varangians who had settled among the Slavs were absorbed into the local culture. Viking names like Helga and Waldemar became the Slavic names Olga and Vladimir.

Byzantine Influences

Trade had already brought Kiev into the Byzantine orbit. In the 800s, Constantinople sent Christian missionaries to convert the Slavs. About 863, two Greek brothers, Cyril and Methodius, adapted the Greek alphabet so they could translate the Bible into the Slavic tongue. This Cyrillic (suh RIL ik) alphabet became the written script that is still used today in Russia, Ukraine, Serbia, Bulgaria, and other countries of Eastern Europe.

Manuscript in decorative Cyrillic.

Letters were added to the medieval Greek alphabet, with some based on Hebrew, to reflect the rich sounds of the Slavic language.

In 957, Olga, the reigning princess of Kiev, converted to Byzantine Christianity. But it was not until the reign of Olga's grandson Vladimir that the religion spread widely. After his conversion, Vladimir married the sister of a Byzantine emperor. Soon, Greek priests arrived in Kiev to preside over the mass baptisms organized by Vladimir.

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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