Byzantine Influence on Kievan Rus

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Byzantine Influence on Kievan Rus
Kate Sergeeva
World History to the 16th Century (CHW3M1-01)

Byzantine Influence on Kievan Rus

“All the empires of Christendom are united in thine, for two Romes have fallen and the third exists, and there will not be a fourth. No one will replace your Christian Tsardom!” - Such were the words of an Orthodox monk Philoteus as he wrote to Vasily III in 1510, proclaiming Russia as the true and only successor to the Byzantine Empire. ("The Third Rome," 2012) Although at that time the words were probably only intended to glorify Muscovy and its Tsar, they gradually became a symbol of the enormous influence that Byzantine Empire had on Russia ever since Christianity became the official religion of the latter. The conversion of Russia to the new religion had numerous political and economic impacts, and greatly contributed to the development of the state, while the integration of Byzantium culture into Slavic resulted in a unique cultural merge that Russia is known for today. It is important to point out that although Russo-Byzantine relationships were very much strengthened with the adoption of Christianity, they started long before that; the earliest evidences of trade between Byzantium and Russia date as early the beginning of the IX century, when the famous trade route “from the Varangians to the Greeks” that connected the Baltic Sea, Eastern Europe and the Byzantine Empire was discovered. (Lebedev, 1996) From now on, Slavic tribes no longer traded with their close neighbours only, and such an enhancement of trade resulted in an economic boost. Since the state of Kievan Rus first formed along the trade route “from the Varangians to the Greeks”, I am certain that the discovery of the route became one of the main reasons of the Slavic tribes uniting under the rule of Kiev Kniaz Oleg in 882. The role of merchants who were travelling along this trade route was not limited to a simply economic one; by importing luxury goods from Byzantium, such as rich fabrics, jewellery and pieces of art, as well as transmitting Byzantine ideas and beliefs they also exerted an influence on Russian culture. So, even though paganism was the official religion of the state, seeds of Christian faith were spread in Kievan Rus by merchants and other intermediaries. (Shults, 2006).  Olga of Kiev was the first Russian ruler to convert to Christianity (and later, the first Russian saint): according to Nestor’s “Tale of Bygone Years”, she was baptized in Constantinople in 957. However, she did not impose her faith and soon stepped down from power. It was her grandson, Vladimir the Red Sun, who took the final steps to Christianity. When his reforms of the pagan cult did not achieve the desired effect of lessening the separatism between different tribes in Kievan Rus, Vladimir, despite originally being an ardent supporter of paganism, started searching for a new official religion. (Zhovna, 2009) He was choosing out of Islam, Roman Catholicism, Judaism and Orthodox Christianity, however, he denied most of them: in Roman Catholicism, in Vladimir’s opinion, the Pope had too much power; Judaism did not have enough influence in the world, and Islam simply prohibited alcohol (Vladimir was known for his passion for wine.) Still unsure, he sent ambassadors to travel around the world and tell him about what they saw. When they returned, they told him that they admired Byzantine religion the most, and the decision was made. In 988, Vladimir travelled to Constantinople, where he accepted Christianity, and when he came back, he converted the rest of Rus. The adoption of Orthodox Christianity as the official religion had several political outcomes. Firstly, Vladimir consolidated himself as a ruler in particular, and the kniaz’s power in general, as Christian faith promoted the idea of the monarch’s divine right to rule. (Later, this idea would be supported by the ceremony of coronation and anointing with holy oil that would be...
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