The first mention of the Old Russian state or “Russian Land” (Russ. Russkaya zemlya) occurs in 862 in the Russian Primary Chronicle (Povest’ vremennykh let) of Nestor. The compiler of this work relates that the elders of the eastern Slavic tribes had summoned three Varangians (i.e., Scandinavians) called Rurik, Sineus, and Truvor to establish order among them and to rule their lands. Without denying the appearance of Rurik as a fact, historians now date the foundation of Rus’, to use the medieval name, to the eighth century, as the economy and political relations of the native peoples had developed by this time.
Ancient Rus’ was a confederation of a number of towns with subject lands that were governed by princes of the Rurikid family (Russ. Ryurikovichi), whose senior member was the prince of Kiev (mod. Kyiv, Ukraine). It was on the initiative of a prince of Kiev, Vladimir the Great (d. 1015), that the Russian princes adopted the Orthodox form of Christianity in 988. By the beginning of the twelfth century, the Russian princes had extended their political influence into the lands of neighboring non-Slavic pagan peoples of the eastern Baltic Region. The region known as Northwestern Rus’ included the Novgorodian Land (Russ. Novgorodskaya zemlya) together with the Finnic regions of Karelia, Ingria and Votia, and the Pskovian Land (Russ. Pskovskaya zemlya). The preface of the Primary Chronicle (dated to 1113) lists those who were required to pay tribute to Russia: the Chud’ (Estonians), Neroma (possibly the northeastern Estonians), the Livs, Letigola (Lett- galians), Zimigola (Semgallians), Kors’ (Curonians), and Litva (Lithuanians). Although by this time the Russian state had fragmented into different (and sometimes hostile) principalities, the princes had preserved their influence in the eastern Baltic lands. According to the First Nov- gorodian Chronicle and the chronicle of Henry of Livonia, at the beginning of the thirteenth century, the Estonians and the northern Lettgallians were tributaries of the Novgorodian state, while the Russians of Polotsk (mod. Polatsk, Belarus) came for tribute in the lands of the Livs and the Lettgallians around the river Düna (Russ. Zapad- naya Dvina, Latv. Daugava).
From their inception, the Western crusades to the eastern Baltic region were detrimental to Russian interests. Initially Russian control over the Düna area was recognized in the West; thus in 1184 the canon Meinhard came to Polotsk in order to persuade its prince to permit his preaching of the Latin (Roman Catholic) faith to the Livs of the Düna region. Meinhard was accompanied by German merchants who were interested in establishing fortified trading stations on the lower reaches of the Düna. Their proposal to build stone fortresses in the lands of the Livs suited the prince of Polotsk. By the 1180s the Livish regions had become a target for Lithuanian raids, while Polotsk had become entangled in internal wars in Russia and the prince could not defend his subjects in the Baltic region. He therefore allowed Meinhard to preach in return for constructing fortresses that would protect the Livs against Lithuanian attacks. However, the Orthodox Church and Russian merchants were displeased by the growing influence of German merchants and by the establishment in 1186 of a Livonian bishopric with Meinhard as its first bishop, which was named in a bull of Pope Clement III of 1 October 1188 as “the bishopric of Üxküll in Ruthenia [i.e., Russia]” [Liv-, Esth- und Curlåndisches Urkundenbuch nebst Regesten, ed. Friedrich G. von Bunge et al., 15 vols. (Reval: Kluge und Strohm, 1853-1914), 10:11].
Russian control of Livonia began to crumble with the appearance of a new bishop, Albert of Buxhovden (1198-1229), who had obtained papal permission for annual crusades to Livonia. In 1208-1209 the crusaders conquered the Orthodox Lettgallian principalities of Koknese (Ger. Kokenhusen) and Jersika (Ger. Gerzike), whose rulers were vassals of the prince of Polotsk. In 1212 Prince Vladimir of Polotsk was forced to give up his rights to tribute from the Livs. In 1216 the Russians of Polotsk were ready to invade Livonia, but the campaign was canceled because of the sudden death of Prince Vladimir. By the late 1230s the crusaders had extended their authority along the Düna as far as the lands inhabited by Russians.
It was only in 1210 that the Russians of Novgorod attempted to assert their authority over the lands of the Estonians and northern Letgallians, after the crusaders and the Order of the Sword Brethren (established in 1202) had invaded Estonia. The aim of the Novgorodian incursions into Estonia in 1210 and 1212 was to force the still pagan natives to accept conversion to the Orthodox form of Christianity and to concede the rights of Novgorod to take tribute. However, the Novgorodians failed to convert the Estonians, and there was also confrontation between Novgorod and Pskov: in 1210 a detachment from Pskov took part in the crusaders’ campaign against southwestern Estonia.
In 1216-1221 the Novgorodians and Pskovians fought against the crusaders in Livonia, but met little success because of their uncoordinated actions. The long history of raiding between Estonians and Russians hampered any immediate military alliance between them; it was not until 1222, when the greater part of Estonia had been occupied, that the Estonians and Russians allied against the crusaders. Although the Novgorodians sent troops to help defend several fortresses of the Estonians, the allies were unable to withstand the crusaders and the large numbers of native inhabitants who were by now subject to the new rulers of Livonia. The last fortress to hold out was Dorpat (mod. Tartu, Estonia), defended by Estonians and a Russian detachment led by Prince Vetseke, the former ruler of Koknese. On 15 August 1224 Dorpat was captured by storm after a siege of two weeks. All but one of the Russian defenders were killed.
In 1224 the Russians concluded a peace treaty with the bishop of Riga and the Sword Brethren. The Novgorodians and Pskovians gave up political control of the territories of the Estonians and Lettgallians, but retained the right to take tribute from the natives; in the early 1280s the Pskovians were still known to come for tribute to the Lettgallian land of Adzele. The Livonian-Russian border was fixed along the line of the river Narova and lakes Peipus and Pskovskoye.
The Western powers in Livonia intended to extend their authority into the Russian lands, pressing in two directions: toward Pskov and along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland into the lands of the Finnic peoples subject to the Novgorodian state. The papacy planned to found a new bishopric in Northwestern Rus’ with Pskov as its center. The main role in the realization of these projects was to be taken by the Livonian church and the Sword Brethren, whose prospects were improved by a Lithuanian offensive against the principality of Polotsk and the rout of the Russian troops by the Mongols in the battle of Kalka. Letters of Pope Hon- orius III addressed to the Christians of Russia (16 November 1224) and the kings of Russia (17 January 1227) called on them to adopt the Latin faith in order to support the struggle against the pagans. In his second letter the pope had in mind the princes of Novgorod, Pskov, Smolensk, and Polotsk, but it went unheeded.
In the late 1220s the Livonians planned to take advantage of the confrontation between Pskov and Novgorod.
After the establishment of the bishopric of Dorpat (1225), lands close to the Russian border were given to Dietrich, brother of Bishop Albert of Riga and of Bishop Hermann of Dorpat, and to other members of their family. This region was intended as a springboard for the invasion of Russia. After a new conflict broke out between Pskov and Novgorod in 1228, the Pskovians concluded a defense treaty with the Livonians in expectation of an attack by Yaroslav Vsevolodovich, the prince of Novgorod. This, together with opposition from the citizens of Novgorod, forced the prince to call off the campaign. In 1233 Prince Yaroslav, son of Prince Vladimir of Pskov (d. 1227), together with disgraced nobles from Novgorod and vassals of the bishop of Dorpat, besieged Izborsk, but were defeated. Yaroslav was captured and held captive in Pereslavl’-Zalesskii until 1235. In the same year the Livonians desolated the town of Tesov near Novgorod; in response the Novgorodians invaded the bishopric of Dorpat and gained a victory over the vassals of the bishop and the Sword Brethren (1234). In 1236 a detachment of 200 warriors from Pskov took part in the crusaders’ offensive against Lithuania, which was ended with their defeat in the battle of Saule (22 September 1236).
In 1240-1241 four consecutive military expeditions were launched against Northwestern Rus’. Some historians hold to the theory of a prearranged offensive from Livonia, Sweden, and Denmark. However, the written sources suggest that these were separate undertakings, which were intended to take advantage of the military-political situation in Russia after large areas of the country had fallen prey to the Mongol invaders in 1238.
In July 1240 a Swedish naval force entered the mouth of the river Neva, planning to build a fortress at the confluence of the river Izhora. They hoped to find support among the elders of the Ingrian (Izhorian) people, who were dissatisfied with the authority of Novgorod. By chance coastal watchers of the Orthodox Izhorian elder Pelgusii, who was loyal to Novgorod, observed the Swedes at sea. The Nov- gorodians managed to mount a surprise attack and smashed the Swedes in battle on 15 July 1240. The Novgorodian commander, Prince Alexander Yaroslavich, was later known as Nevskii after this victory.
In September 1240 a united Livonian army together with a detachment under Prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich captured Izborsk, and after seven days’ siege Pskov surrendered (15 September 1240). The invaders remained for a year and a half, from time to time desolating villages in Novgorodian territory. In the winter of 1240-1241 the Teutonic Knights of Livonia invaded the territory of the Votians and built the fortress of Kopor’e with the consent of the native elders, who had agreed to adopt the Latin faith. In the beginning of 1241, Livonians (possibly vassals of the bishopric of Riga) occupied the Novgorodian lands in the region of the river Luga and the fortress of Tesov. The situation was complicated, since Prince Alexander Nevskii had left Novgorod for Pereslavl’-Zalesskii in the summer of 1240 after a dispute with the citizens, and returned only in 1241. Toward the end of 1241, an armed force consisting of Novgorodians, Izhori- ans, Karelians, and the inhabitants of the Ladoga region dislodged the Teutonic Knights from Kopor’e. Some of the knights were taken prisoner, while the elders of the Votians who had gone over to the Livonians were hanged. In March 1242 Pskov and Izborsk were freed from the invaders. On 5 April 1242 the crusader army was smashed on the ice of Lake Peipus. Now facing the threat of a Russian offensive, the Livonians signed a peace treaty with Prince Alexander, forswearing all claims to any lands within the territory of the Novgorodian state.
The papacy and the rulers of Livonia did not give up the idea of annexing and converting the Russian territories. Two letters of Pope Innocent IV are known from 21 January and 15 September 1248, which appealed to Prince Alexander Nevskii to adopt the Latin faith and build a Roman Catholic cathedral in Pskov. Alexander was tempted by the prospect of obtaining the help of the Teutonic Order in the war with the Mongols. The pope’s legate to Russia, John of Piano Carpini, had met Yaroslav Vsevolodovich, prince of Vladimir, at Qaraqorum in Mongolia in 1246. John had assured the pope of Yaroslav’s willingness to convert, although it cannot be established whether his assurance was correct, as the prince was poisoned soon after their meeting. Negotiations conducted with Alexander by Albert Suerbeer, the archbishop of Riga, failed because Alexander was firmly against conversion.
The next attempt of the Livonian crusaders to gain a foothold in Northwestern Rus’ occurred in the 1250s. In 1253 Livonian troops attacked the Pskovian Land, but retreated without a fight. Soon after that the Novgorodian host and the united Pskovian-Karelian army pushed across the river Narva and devastated the Estonian province of Vironia. The Russians were not only concerned about Livonian attacks, but were also evidently attempting to stop the infiltration of secular and ecclesiastical emissaries from Livonia. This assumption can be confirmed by letters of Pope Alexander IV to the archbishop of Riga (19 March and 3 August 1255), which relate that according to the king of Denmark’s vassals in North Estonia, some natives in the Finnic lands of the Novgorodian state had been converted. In 1256 a Swedish army came to the Narva and started to build a fortress on the right bank of the river, but retreated when it heard of the advance of Prince Alexander’s troops.
In 1261 the Lithuanian king Mindaugas and Prince Alexander negotiated about a combined offensive against the crusaders. This was probably planned for the spring of 1262, but it was postponed when Alexander had to travel to the khanate of the Golden Horde to prevent a punitive campaign against his lands by the Mongols. It was only in autumn 1262 that the Russian host nominally led by Prince Dmitrii, the son of Alexander, invaded Livonia. As Dmitrii was too young to exercise command, decisions were made by his uncle, Prince Yaroslav Yaroslavich, and other princes. They plundered the country around Dorpat, burned its suburbs, and besieged the fortress before withdrawing. In 1267, having heard of Livonian plans to establish a new bishopric at Kopor’e, the Novgorodians attacked the fortress of Wesenberg (mod. Rakvere, Estonia), but withdrew after sustaining losses.
At the end of February 1268 the Russians assembled a large army and launched an offensive across the Narva. Having signed a treaty with the rulers of Livonia, the Novgoro- dians were confident that they would only be opposed by the nobles of Danish North Estonia, and were therefore surprised by the appearance of a Livonian military force. On 18 February 1268 there was a battle at the river Kegol near Wesenberg, which ended with great losses for both armies. The Russians withdrew, but the Livonians started to prepare for a new campaign, mustering forces in Livonia and north Germany. The rulers of Livonia and the Danish archbishopric of Lund agreed that all conquered Russian lands should be united within the diocese of Dorpat. In May 1269 the Livonian forces came to Pskov and besieged the fortress for a week (19-25 May), but after relief came from Novgorod, the Livonian master of the Teutonic Order signed a peace agreement with Prince Yurii. However, this was only a respite before a new offensive into Russia. In January 1270 war broke out between the Lithuanians and the Livonians, and on 16 February 1270 the Livonian master, Otto von Lut- terberg, was killed in the battle of Karusen. At the same time a large Russian force mustered in Novgorod with the aim of attacking Reval; it included a detachment under Amragan, the baskak (representative of the khan) of the Golden Horde. Unable to fight on two fronts simultaneously, the Livonians asked Prince Yaroslav of Novgorod for a peace treaty, in which they forswore all claims to any lands of Northwestern Russia beyond the Narva. In addition, a trade agreement was concluded between Novgorod and the merchants of Lübeck and Riga.
There is no evidence for any plans for conversion or establishment of a Latin bishopric within the territory of Northwestern Rus’ after the 1270s. Nevertheless, the peace treaty and the increase in trade connections between the Russian, Livonian, and Western merchants did not prevent fresh attacks on Russia by the Livonians. Two offensives against Pskov occurred in 1299 and 1323, and in 1343 Izborsk was attacked. In 1294 the Russians destroyed the fortress of Ottenburg, which had been built by the North Estonian vassals on the right bank of the Narva. There were also retaliatory Russian attacks across the Livonian border. Frontier wars occurred sporadically during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.
The Swedes and the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order from time to time organized raids into the lands along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland up to Lake Ladoga and also into Karelia. In 1300 the Swedes constructed the fortress of Landskrona at the mouth of the Neva and left a detachment there, which was expelled by the Nov- gorodians a year later. In 1443 the Teutonic Knights fought a war with the Novgorodian state that went badly for them: it ended with the Treaty of Narva (1448), which confirmed the existing Russian-Livonian border. A peace treaty between the Novgorodian state and the archbishopric of Livonia was signed in 1474.
From the middle of the fifteenth century, the government of Novgorod was concerned by resistance from Pskov and by the threat of annexation to the Muscovite state, and consequently tried to avoid military conflicts with Livonia. Indeed, Novgorod tried to negotiate Livonian assistance against Pskov and Moscow, but no treaty was signed. Muscovy annexed Novgorod in 1478 and Pskov in 1510. In 1469 Ivan III, grand prince of Muscovy, invaded Livonia after Russian merchants had been imprisoned in Dorpat. In 1501-1502 there was war between Muscovy and an alliance consisting of the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Order and the grand duchy of Lithuania, which went badly for the allies. In 1558 Muscovy declared war on Livonia, which hastened the destruction of the Livonian ecclesiastical states.