The confused history of this epoch is clearest surveyed from its centre, which had moved up North.
South Russia was exhausting itself. From the year 1054 the Pólovtsy had been ravaging and laying waste, carrying off with them Russians as slaves and creating utter insecurity, poignantly described in the Chronicles for 1170. "God put a good thought into the heart of Mstíslav Izyaslávič on behalf of the Russian land; for he wished her well with all his heart; so he summoned his brothers, and took counsel with them, saying;--'Brothers, have compassion on the Russian land, and for your own ancestral estates; for the enemy every year carry away the peasants [or the Christians] in their tents; they cut down our forests, and always march over us; and already they will soon cut us off from the road to Greece to Salonica. . . .'"; or again (1103) "In the spring the serf [смердъ] sets out to plough with his horses, and the Polovčín arrives, strikes him down with his arrow, takes his horse, then goes into his village, seizes his wife, his children and all of his possessions, and burns the empty hut."
After 1126 the evil went on unabated. Some of the Polovsk campaigns should be outlined. In 1128 they were active under a leader Seluk, a very Turkish name. In 1135, 1139, the Ólgoviči are in alliance with the
Pólovtsy. In 1140 the Pólovtsy were beaten and pursued beyond the Don and Volga. In 1150 they are in alliance with Yúri of Suzdal. In 1152, 1154 they reappear in the heart of Russia, in 1155 on the Kanina river (near Kíev), and there is another great battle in 1160.
After 1160 there is frequent mention of the wild Pólovtsy,: the implication seems to be that some of them had been settled on Russian territory, and used as auxiliaries by the territorial princes. Thus in 1172, when Glĕb Yúrevič of Suzdal was on the throne of Kíev, a host of Pólovtsy invaded, and divided into two sections; one proceeding to Pereyáslavl’, the other going down the Dnĕpr to Korsún; both sent envoys to Glĕb to say that God had established him in his ancestral estate at Kíev, and they wished to settle amongst the Russians who need fear nothing from them. Terms were arranged with the first section, but not with the second.
In 1161, 1162, 1165, 1167 (when the Polovsk leader was Bonyák), 1168, this endless fight continues with the Pólovtsy; in 1172 Glĕb Yúrevič is found in alliance with the 'wild' Pólovtsy, under Kontsák (or Končák) against whom Ígoŕ Svyatoslávič, the hero of the Slóvo, made his foray in 1185. In 1173 the relentless nomads ravaged the neighbourhood of Kíev; but were beaten and pursued as far as the river Bug.
This list of years and invasions might be prolonged; every year seems the same; the nomads moved forwards with their herds and tents, no doubt themselves shifted from their old pastures by other tribes who urged them from the rear. In 1177 the Russians suffered another great defeat: "God let loose his wrath on us," says the Chronicler in 1177, "and sent the Pagans; but not in compassion for them; but, as manifesting to us, turning us to repentance, that we might be deterred from evil paths. For this is his scourge. . .'--pious reflections, but poor consolation.
Končák appears again in 1178, leading the "godless Ishmaelites, the desperate sons of Hagar,"; whilst still the princes bickered and Svyatosláv Vsévolodič in 1180, Prince of Kíev, used these foes in his quarrel with the treacherous house of Suzdal which had imprisoned his son Glĕb.
Meanwhile the princes of Suzdal were gradually conquering the Bolgars of the Volga, a tribe which had almost settled into civic ways.
In 1184 Svyatosláv Vsévolodovič defeated the Polovsk chieftain Kobyák, an incident mentioned in the Slóvo l. 344. But in that same year Kontsák, "the desperate and godless and thrice-accursèd," made a very dangerous inroad, using the 'Greek Fire,' that belched flames out of long heavy tubes. Unfortunately for the Pólovtsy, their one artificer was captured, and the Russians won a great victory.
And so the tale of these incursions goes on, until in 1224 the Pólovtsy disappear from history, wiped out of separate existence by the Tatars, and merged with the subject Russians.
The territory of Kíev and South Russia was being steadily devastated by these ceaseless incursions of barbarians.
The population was also changing its character. The endless wars internal and external resulted in great captures of slaves the general impoverishment of the agricultural population was also contributing to the enslavement of the Russian people. The husbandman in this insecurity could not cultivate or pay his debts; as a debtor, he became a закупъ or debt-serf, who had to pay in labour what he could not absolve in money; as such, if he ran away or evaded his obligations he lost his freedom altogether. Prosperity was founded on slave-ownership and, at the end there were too few freemen left to fight for national freedom.
The composition of the population was changing. When the Pólovtsy subdued the Pečenegs, the latter were soon absorbed into the mass of the people, and these Asiatics were allowed to settle on Russian soil. The remnants of the Pečenegs, the Torks, the Beréndiči, and other similar tribes were collectively called Black-caps [черные клобуки] and used as auxiliaries of the Prince of Kíev. In like manner Černígov † and Galicia drew on other barbarian peoples as mercenaries.
These ruralized Turanians became the natural allies of the Russians in defence of their villages and lands; but these admixtures were altering the composition and so the character of the nation.
To these disturbing factors may be added the continuous emigration North, to Suzdal, six hundred miles away, where there was something like a settled government, and above all some immunity from nomad incursion. These Turanian invaders seem nearly all to have come from the South, from the shores of the Caspian, North of the Caucasus, and to have advanced by the steppes watered by the Don, the Volga and their affluents. This also was the Tatars' line of advance.
Thus South Russia, racked with civil war, depleted by emigration, repeopled by Asiatics, ravaged year in, year out, by savage foes, and crippled in her energies by the rapid extention of slave-holding, was exhausted, the wonder is that she kept up the struggle so long, and gave such valiant account of herself at the last hopeless contest with the Mongols.
Something, even though in outline, must be said of the dynastic changes from 1126, when Vladímir II died, down to the extinction of Russian freedom by the Tatars and the supersession of Kíev as the seat of the Grand-Prince.
After the death of Mstíslav I in 1132, the Monomákhovici had to contend with the Ólgoviči, who aspired to Kíev; with the rivalry of the descendants of Izyasláv II and Rostíslav I, (i. e. the princes of Volhynia and the princes of Smolénsk), as well as with the claims of Suzdal which were governed by the descendants. of Yúri Vladímirovič. On the death
of Izyasláv II, (a prince whom the Chronicle calls honourable, orthodox and pious; he was certainly a brave warrior), Yúri from 1154-1157 held the throne of Kíev, for which he had plotted so long and so indefatigably. The annals from 1157 are mainly occupied with wars with the princes of Galicia, during which Yarosláv Vladímirkovič was creating his immense principality [v. note sub hoc nomine].
In 1169 Mstíslav II Izyáslavič was on the throne, and allied him self with Nóvgorod in a last attempt to strengthen Kíev against Suzdal, which under Andréy Bogolybhski Yúrevič (1110-1174) had been steadily growing and consolidating. A great conspiracy was entered into against, Kíev, amongst others by the princes of Pereyáslavl’, Smolénsk, Dorogobug, Ovruc, Vysegórod, Olég and Ígoŕ Svyatoslávic of the house of Černígov. The expedition was entrusted to Mstíslav, Andréy's son. Kíev was sacked for two days; "no mercy was shown to anyone; the churches were burnt; the inhabitants slaughtered, the women led into captivity and separated from their husbands; and the children sobbed as they saw their mothers' plight: houses were pillaged: royal robes, icons and books looted; and all the bells were carried away. All men in Kíev groaned and lamented. All of this was accomplished for our sins."
Andréy Yúrevič had too mean an opinion of the former capital of Russia to trouble to occupy the throne; at his orders, his son Mstíslav set up Glěb Yúrevič as regent.
Suzdal had long been virtually independent. It had taken practically no share in the defence of Russia against the Pólovtsy, and directed its energies to expansion Northwards against the pacific Bolgars of the Volga. Andréy, by the brutal sack of Kíev, turned the current of Russian history. In 1172 Mstíslav Izyaslavič with the aid of the Galicians [cf. 1.486 of the text] re-entered Kíev: and Glěb, to recover his conquest, utilized the savage Pólovtsy under Končák. In 1173 Román Rostíslavič was allowed to take the throne of Kíev, on the death of Glĕb, whom the Chronicle celebrates as one who loved his brothers, held fast by his oath until death, was gentle, courteous, generous to the church and charitable. This obituary gathers force by comparison with another of 1174, one Vladímir Mstíslavič who suffered much evil, fleeing to Galicia, to Hungary or Polovsk-land, for his own fault, that he never was faithful to his pledged word.
In 1175 the prince of Suzdal already has the title of Grand Prince [великій князь], whilst the ruler at Kíev is appointed and deposed at his will, and soon called simply Князь кіевцкій like any other local princelet. In 1175 Andréy Yúrevič, the real founder of the northern Russian state, was assassinated. He is duly appraised by the Chronicle for his wisdom and piety, his zeal in building cities, and the greatness of the state he erected. He was born in the North, was cold and calculating, unlike the great princes of Kíevite Russia; but he deserves the lengthy laudation awarded to him by the contemporary Chronicle.
Moscow was founded in 1147, and already appears in 1175 and 1176 as a place of importance. In 1271 it became the capital of Moscovite Russia, replacing Vladímir, [the northern town of that name].
In 1177 Vsévolod Yúrevič succeeded to Andréy as virtual autocrat of the independent state of Suzdal. He was the master of Russia, controlled the Ólgoviči of Černígov, from whom he took Ryazán, compensating them with the gift of Kíev. Thus in 1180 Svyatosláv Vsévolodič, the grandson of Olég of Tmutarakáń succeeded to the sceptre of Vladímir II.
From all these causes the centre of gravity of medieval Russia gradually shifted up North; Kíev was left to decay: to be swept into the subsequent Lithuanian State, and at last to be recovered by Moscow, two hundred and forty years later, together with the Tatar title of Tsar of Russia [Царь бсея Россіи], after the Tatar dominion had been overwhelmed by new Turkish invaders, who swept farther South to uproot the ancient Eastern Empire, and to occupy the impregnable Dardanelles.
xxv:† e.g. the Куи or Ковун.