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At a Glance
2:23 PM
Page 209
Ivan III (the Great) and Ivan IV (the Terrible) expanded Russian territory and the authority of the czars.
Peter the Great sought to modernize and westernize Russia in order to
enable it to compete with European nations for trade, territory, and
The desire to find a warm-water port was one factor that encouraged
Russian expansion.
Catherine the Great, while once interested in reforming certain abuses
of Russian government, became as autocratic as her predecessors after a
peasant revolt and the French Revolution.
The lives of peasants worsened under Peter and Catherine.
What Teachers Need to Know
A. History and Culture
Byzantine Influence in Russia
Teaching Idea
You may want to teach section B,
“Geography,” before “History and
The rise of Russia is closely related to the history of the Byzantine Empire,
which students in Core Knowledge schools should have encountered in Grades 3
and 4. For a thousand years after the fall of the Roman Empire in the west, the
Eastern or Byzantine Empire continued to build on ancient Greek and Roman traditions and culture. For example, Byzantine architects used the Roman dome to
build magnificent churches, such as Hagia Sophia in the Byzantine capital of
Constantinople (now called Istanbul). Byzantine artists also created beautiful
mosaics and icons. Students in Core Knowledge schools should have studied
Hagia Sophia and Byzantine mosaics as part of the art curriculum for Grade 3.
However, they may not be acquainted with icons, which are special pictures of
Jesus, Mary, and the saints. Icons are meant to help Christians during worship
and meditation.
Constantinople was a great religious center, home of the Eastern Orthodox
Church, which had split with the Roman Catholic Church in 1054.
Constantinople was also the center of a vast trading network that connected
Europe with the Middle East and Asia. Trade brought the Byzantine Empire great
riches as well as new cultural influences.
The influence of the Byzantine Empire in Russia dates at least to the 860s,
when the Byzantine Emperor sent two monks to convert the Slavic people of
Eastern Europe to Orthodox Christianity. At the time, the Slavs were pagans who
worshipped many gods. The two monks sent to convert them were two brothers
named Cyril and Methodius. Cyril and Methodius invented a new alphabet,
called the Cyrillic alphabet after Cyril. The Cyrillic alphabet was loosely based on
the Greek alphabet. Cyril and Methodius then taught the Slavs to read and write
using the Cyrillic alphabet so that they could read the Bible.
History and Geography: World
2:23 PM
Page 210
VI. Russia: Early Growth
and Expansion
A little more than a century later, Christianity began to spread around Slavic
and Russian territories, but many people remained pagans. Once such person was
Prince Vladimir, the ruler of the city-state of Kiev, which would become the first
Russian state. According to legend, the prince sent emissaries to investigate the
major monotheistic religions of his day: Eastern Orthodox Christianity, Roman
Catholic Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. When his emissaries visited
Constantinople and saw Hagia Sophia, they were astonished and overwhelmed by
the beauty of the church, its dome, and its mosaics. Surely, they thought, this is
the house of the true God. Vladimir selected Orthodox Christianity as his own
religion, and decided it would also be the religion of his people. It is also possible that he may have been influenced to convert to Christianity by the economic
and political advantages of an alliance with Byzantium, as well as in order to get
approval to marry the Byzantine emperor’s sister. He ordered the old pagan idols
thrown into the Dnieper River and conducted mass baptisms in the same river.
Adoption of Eastern Orthodox Christianity had a number of benefits for the
Russians. It strengthened the commercial ties between Russia and the Byzantine
Empire and also provided the basis for the development of a national identity
among the various Russian city-states by giving them something in common.
Over time, princes of the various city-states adopted the written language of the
empire, as well as its architecture, music, and art. Like the Byzantine emperor, the
Russian czars (also spelled tsars) would claim jurisdiction over the church in
Russia, thus strengthening their own power. Similar to the monarchs of western
Europe, the Russian czars also came to believe in the theory of the divine right of
kings—that they ruled as the representative of God on Earth, and as such, their
authority was absolute.
Moscow as the Third Rome
Over time Kiev became less important and Moscow, to the north, became
more important. Moscow became the headquarters of the Russian church. When
the Byzantine Empire fell to the Turks in 1453, the rulers of Moscow announced
that Moscow was “The Third Rome.” Rome had been the capital city of
Christianity and so the “spiritual center of the world,” but then the popes and the
Roman Catholic church had fallen into heresy and false belief. After 1054, when
the Orthodox Church split with the Roman Catholic Church, Constantinople had
become the new “spiritual center of the world,” the “Second Rome.” When
Constantinople fell to the Turks in 1453, the Russians thought Moscow was
poised to take its place and become the latest spiritual center of the world, the
“Third Rome.”
The Czars
Ivan III
Beginning in 1236, Mongols, nomadic warriors from Central Asia, had invaded and conquered large parts of Russia. Students in Core Knowledge schools
should have learned about the Mongols in the Grade 4 section on China. The
same people who swept south to conquer China swept north to conquer large
parts of Russia. In return for acknowledging the Mongols as their rulers and paying tribute to them, the princes of the various states were allowed to keep their
lands and titles. The Mongols remained in power until 1480 when Ivan III
declared Russia free of Mongol rule.
Grade 5 Handbook