In the feudal age the only form of capital was land. In those smaller Western European countries which had been conquered by Teuton tribes and administered by traditions of Roman law, the tenure of land was soon organized on a system of defined services, and was always lineally descendible. The only variance between different countries was the effective power and the rights of the sovereign, who was in theory the supreme and ultimate owner of all the land.
None of these antecedents obtained in Russia. The Norsemen had descended on Russia spasmodically, gradually, rather more like the Saxons who overwhelmed Celtic Britain and had already acquired vested interests, before any unitary state arose.
Secondly, the victorious princes rewarded their faithful followers with principalities, with an eye to the defensive value of such holdings and the fitness of the individual for the post. The grants were personal; they were not descendable to the sons, who might he minors or otherwise incompetent or undesirable. These gants were called удѣлы.
On the death of such territorial prince, the post, with its responsibilities generally passed to his next brother; a course of lateral succession, by which the throne of Kíev also devolved.
The natural outcome of this system was civil strife and a great mortality in brothers. Russia, which in the first place was too vast to hold together, showed a tendency (that increased with the prolific families of these princes) to shale off, so to speak, into factions which were ever subdividing themselves. As each fragment broke off, it became a private estate and heritable; an удѣлъ which had been held by a father was called an отчина and in the second generation a дѣдина [отецъ, father; дѣдъ grandfather]. In such minor principalities, the course of descent was lateral as for Russia in general, with the all important distinctions, that the descendants of the particular brother received their father's estates.
Thus at the death of Svyatosláv I, the three удѣлы were Nóvgorod, the Drevlyán country, and Kíev; on Vladímir's death, Izyasláv held Polotsk (which was independent from this date onwards), Svyatosláv had Turóv; Yarosláv had Nóvgorod; Borís Rostóv; and so on.
Later on, when Černígov became the отчина of the Ólgoviči, similar descendible tenures arose inside this principality such as Nóvgorod Sěverski: similarly, too, in every other part of Russia. There was no notion of fealty or allegiance; the grand prince of Kíev was merely primus inter pares; all отчины and дѣдины were held as allods.
Very much later, in the centralized state of Great Russia (with its capital at Moscow), a feudal system of land held by military tenure came into existence; such grants were called помѣцтье.
The primitive удѣлы, being personal grants for the defence of certain outposts, presupposed the indivisibility of Russia, and generally went in rotation, the eldest brother being assigned the central position of Kíev, the next one that of Černígov; and as each post became vacated these officers of state, as they may be considered, were all in turn promoted.
A regular scheme of lateral succession was adumbrated by the will of Yarosláv I, when Russia was partitioned amongst his five sons in the following order, Kíev, Černígov, Pereyáslavl’, Smolénsk and Vladímir Volynsk.
This provisional arrangement, with all its inconveniences and jealousies, secured some little method in Russia and came to be regarded as something like a fundamental law.
If a brother predeceased the holder of the throne at Kíev, his descendants had no claim to any part of his удѣлъ which, so to speak, escheated to the next brother. These landless princes were called изгои, and their just claims for compensation were a fruitful source of civil war.
Thus, the absence of a central monarch and feudal overlord, the perpetuation of lateral succession, the constant creation of landless pretenders
were all causes predisposing to anarchy and the effacement of a common patriotism: for the owners of descendible estates were concerned for themselves: and the удѣльные киязи were too insecure. After the death of Yarosláv I, Russia steadily declined from unity and efficiency.