Russian Literature

Topics: Russia, Russian Orthodox Church, History of Russia Pages: 9 (3180 words) Published: February 17, 2013
Question 1: What does Thompson say about the lives and belies of people in Kievan Russia?

The Kievan state of Russia dates back to first settlement in 800 AD and continues on to about 1200 AD when the internal discord weakened the state paired along side the Mongol conquest of the thirteenth century. During this time, the Kievan state was diversified yet the manner in which this first state of Russia was established is unclear. This however is “where the fundamental characteristics of Russian culture and religion took root…[introducing] basic and lasting political ideas and social institutions” [Thompson 13].

A large majority of the population in Kievan Russia was composed of people living outside of the city, such as hunters, herdsmen and farmers. The climate and environment in Russia at the time was not conducive to agriculture, creating a need for obshchina, or farming commune, as a collective way of unrelated farmers to gather and pool their equipment, time and themselves to work the hard land and share in the products. They lived these small communities, sometimes organized due to the taxes or tribute to the prince or boyar who ruled over them. There were also half-free peasants who had fallen into forced labor temporarily, not being capable to pay back a loan. While a majority of the populace was made up of this class, in the Kiev state very strict and rigid social classes dominated society and the way it ran.

“There were…eleven classes as dictated by Kievan law. But these can be allocated among seven main categories: princes, boyars (nobles), merchants, artisans, smerdy (peasants), semi free persons, and slaves” [17]. The princes were the ‘top dogs’ of the Kiev state alongside the boyers, playing a crucial role in military service especially. The merchants and other people involved in commerce formed their own separate class of a lower rank but not of a significantly lower importance. Many people who resided in cities were free, which cannot be said of their agriculture and rural residing counterparts. Semi free persons could be originally belonging to the merchant, artisan or peasant class, while slaves made up the bottom rung of the social pyramid. These rankings played a big role in how a person was to interact within the society of the Kievan state. However Thompson states “ the single most important event in the history of Kiev was that state’s official adoption of Christianity in AD 988 “ [18].

It was Prince Vladimir who made the decision to adopt Eastern Christianity over the Holy Catholic Church for a variety of different reasons. The first reason was due to the Byzantine Empire’s following of the Eastern Christianity. Following in line with the Byzantines would strengthen their close commercial ties as well as political attachments. Additionally, “geography and political factors undoubtedly weighed heavily on Vladimir’s choice” [19]. Not only did adopting this religion give Kievan Russia these aforementioned advantages, but it also had many distinctive and significant characteristics that shaped the state as a whole and the future of Russia.

Eastern Christianity reinforced the sense of community that was being established by the rural obshchina, making an even large sense of collectivity. It also focused in on the outward forms of religion and worship such as “the church building and decorations, the icons (paintings on wood of holy figures and saints), and the structure and ritual of the Mass itself. To stress these visible signs of devotion made it easier to wean the East Slavs away from pagan idols and customs…” [20]. The adoption of Eastern Christianity as the official religion still did not stop all of the old, traditional pagan rites and customs though, as some were even adapted or added in addition to the new customs. The addition of religion brought a new level of culture and society to Kiev, whether through new craftsmanship, music, art, or education, the new Kievan society was...
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