Russia eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 979 pages of information about Russia.
case have been sooner or later united under one sceptre; but it is quite certain that the policy of the Khans helped to accelerate this unification and to create the autocratic power which has since been wielded by the Tsars.  If the principalities had been united without foreign interference we should probably have found in the united State some form of political organisation corresponding to that which existed in the component parts—­some mixed form of government, in which the political power would have been more or less equally divided between the Tsar and the people.  The Tartar rule interrupted this normal development by extinguishing all free political life.  The first Tsars of Muscovy were the political descendants, not of the old independent Princes, but of the Mongol Khans.  It may be said, therefore, that the autocratic power, which has been during the last four centuries out of all comparison the most important factor in Russian history, was in a certain sense created by the Mongol domination.



Lawlessness on the Steppe—­Slave-markets of the Crimea—­The Military Cordon and the Free Cossacks—­The Zaporovian Commonwealth Compared with Sparta and with the Mediaeval Military Orders—­The Cossacks of the Don, of the Volga, and of the Ural—­Border Warfare—­The Modern Cossacks—­Land Tenure among the Cossacks of the Don—­The Transition from Pastoral to Agriculture Life—­“Universal Law” of Social Development—­Communal versus Private Property—­Flogging as a Means of Land-registration.

No sooner had the Grand Princes of Moscow thrown off the Mongol yoke and become independent Tsars of Muscovy than they began that eastward territorial expansion which has been going on steadily ever since, and which culminated in the occupation of Talienwan and Port Arthur.  Ivan the Terrible conquered the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan (1552-54) and reduced to nominal subjection the Bashkir and Kirghiz tribes in the vicinity of the Volga, but he did not thereby establish law and order on the Steppe.  The lawless tribes retained their old pastoral mode of life and predatory habits, and harassed the Russian agricultural population of the outlying provinces in the same way as the Red Indians in America used to harass the white colonists of the Far West.  A large section of the Horde, inhabiting the Crimea and the Steppe to the north of the Black Sea, escaped annexation by submitting to the Ottoman Turks and becoming tributaries of the Sultan.

The Turks were at that time a formidable power, with which the Tsars of Muscovy were too weak to cope successfully, and the Khan of the Crimea could always, when hard pressed by his northern neighbours, obtain assistance from Constantinople.  This potentate exercised a nominal authority over the pastoral tribes which roamed on the Steppe between the Crimea and the Russian frontier, but he had neither the power nor the desire to control their aggressive tendencies.  Their raids in Russian and Polish territory ensured, among other advantages, a regular and plentiful supply of slaves, which formed the chief article of export from Kaffa—­the modern Theodosia—­and from the other seaports of the coast.

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Russia from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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