Novgorod Republic

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The Novgorod Feudal Republic (Russian: Новгородская феодальная республика / Novgorodskaya feodal'naya respublika) was a powerful mediæval Russian state which stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Ural Mountains between the 12th and 15th centuries.

History of Russia
Early East Slavs
Rus' Khaganate
Kievan Rus'
Novgorod Republic
Volga Bulgaria
Mongol invasion
Golden Horde
Khanate of Kazan
Russian Empire
Revolution of 1905
Revolution of 1917
Civil War
Soviet Union
Russian Federation
Novgorod’s tendencies towards isolation from Kiev manifested themselves as early as the beginning of the 11th century. The Novgorod boyars were the exponents of these tendencies with the support from the urban population, which had had to pay tribute to Kiev and supply it with soldiers for its military campaigns. In the early 12th century, Novgorod began inviting different knyazs to rule the city without prior consultations with the grand prince of Kiev. In 1136, the boyars and leading merchants gained political independence. Cities like Staraya Russa, Ladoga, Torzhok and Oreshek, which had been home to influential posads, enjoyed political independence and were considered the suburbs (vassals) of Novgorod the Great.

The city of Pskov was a part of the Novgorod Feudal Republic (NFR) in the 12th–13th century, but it began to isolate itself in the mid-13th century. Pskov’s de jure independence was acknowledged by the Treaty of Bolotovo in 1348 (see Pskov Feudal Republic). In the 12th–15th century, the NFR was expanding east and northeast. The Novgorodians were exploring the areas around Lake Onega, along the Northern Dvina, and coastlines of the White Sea. In the beginning of the 14th century the Novgorodians explored the Arctic Ocean, Barents Sea, Kara Sea, and the West-Siberian river Ob.

The Ugric tribes, which inhabited the Northern Urals, had to pay tribute to Novgorod the Great. The lands to the north of the city, rich with furs, sea fauna, salt etc., were of great economic importance to the NFR.


[edit] Internal organization

Medieval walls of Novgorod City

The veche (popular assembly) was the highest authority in the NFR, which comprised members of the urban population, as well as of the free rural population. This governmental body had the power to elect posadniks, tys'atskys ("thousand's", military commanders), and even archbishops (starting from 1156) from among the boyars. The archbishop was the head of the executive branch of the government and the richest feudal lord of Novgorod, who possessed most of the lands and sources of income, transferred to him from the Kievan prince. The archbishop was in charge of the republican treasury and foreign relations and even had the right to prosecute. Regular tradespeople and craftsmen also participated in the political affairs of Novgorod the Great. They had their own "unions" and were divided into konchans (кончане, or those living at the edge of the city), ulichans (уличанe, or those living on the city streets), and sotnyas (сотни, or hundreds) (see also Ivan’s Hundred, the first Russian guild).

Starting from the 12th century, the heads of these unions began to exercise their right to ratify the most important republican documents. A ruler of Novgorod was invited by the veche from other principalities, which would then sign a contract with him, called ryad (ряд). This contract protected the interests of the Novgorodian boyars. The duties of the ruler of the NFR were limited. First and foremost, he was a military leader. He couldn’t exercise the right to prosecute. The city life was governed by an electable posadnik, who was the mediator between the public and the Novgorodian prince (kniaz'). The latter's residence was moved from the city kremlin (called Детинец / Detinets) to the outskirts of Novgorod (Городище / Gorodische). Starting with Alexander Nevsky, the rulers of Novgorod had been chosen from among the princes of Vladimir since the mid-13th century.

[edit] Economy

Frescoes from a church built by Novgorodians in Ladoga (1167).

The economy of the NFR was mainly based on farming and cattle breeding. Hunting, beekeeping, and fishing were also widespread. In most of the regions of the republic, these different "industries" were combined with farming. Iron was mined on the coast of the Gulf of Finland. Staraya Russa and other localities of the NFR were known for their saltworks. Flax and hop cultivation were also of significant importance. Countryside products, such as furs, beeswax, honey, fish, lard, flax, and hop, were sold on the market and exported to other Russian cities or abroad. The Novgorodian merchants traded with Swedish, German, and Danish cities. However the Hanseatic League did not allow the Novgorod merchants to carry out sea trade independently and to deliver cargoes in the West-European ports by their own ships.

More than a half of all Novgorodian privately owned lands had been concentrated in the hands of some 30–40 noble boyar families by the 14th–15th century. These vast estates served as material resources, which secured political supremacy of the boyars. The House of St. Sophia of Novgorod (Дом святой Софии, Dom Svyatoy Sofiy) — the main ecclesiastic establishment of Novgorod — was their chief rival in terms of landownership. Its votchinas were located in the most economically developed regions of the NFR. Yuriev Monastery, Arkazhsky Monastery, Antoniev Monastery and some other privileged monasteries are known to have been big landowners. There were also the so-called zhityi lyudi (житьи люди), who owned less land than the boyars, and unprivileged small votchina owners called svoyezemtsy (своеземцы, or private landowners). The most common form of labor exploitation — the system of metayage — was typical for the afore-mentioned categories of landowners. Their household economies were mostly serviced by the kholops, whose number had been constantly decreasing. Along with the metayage, monetary payments also gained significant importance by the 2nd half of the 15th century.
13th-century Novgorod as represented in Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938).

The feudal lords tried to legally tie down the peasants to their land. Certain categories of feudally dependent peasants, such as davniye lyudi (давние люди), polovniki (половники), poruchniki (поручники), dolzhniki (должники), were deprived of the right to leave their masters. The boyars and monasteries also tried to restrict other categories of peasants from switching their feudal lords. Such a state of affairs in the NFR was often accompanied by relentless "class" struggle. There were around 80 major citizen uprisings in the republic, which often turned into armed rebellions. The most notable among these took place in 1136, 1207, 122829, 1270, 1418, and 144647 and involved the peasantry. Escapes, refusal to pay dues, separate local revolts and other forms of anti-feudal protest were a frequent phenomenon in the NFR in the 12th–15th century.

[edit] Foreign relations

The NFR struggled against the aggression of the Swedish and then German feudalism. During the Swedish-Novgorodian Wars, the Swedes had been invading the Finnish lands where some of the population had on previous occasions paid tribute to Novgorod. The Germans had been trying to conquer the Baltic region since the late 12th century. Novgorod had to go to war 26 times with Sweden and 11 times with the Livonian Brothers of the Sword. Taking advantage of the Mongol invasion, the German knights along with the Danish and Swedish feudal lords increased their military activity in 1240-1242, transferring their operations to the Novgorod territories. Their campaigns, however, failed after the Battle of the Neva (1240) and Battle on the Ice (1242). On August 12, 1323, the Treaty of Nöteborg, a treaty between Sweden and Novgorod regulating their border, was signed. This was the first time the border between what was to become Russia and Sweden-Finland was regulated.

The army of Novgorod successfully repelled their subsequent attacks, as well. The NFR managed to escape the horrors of the Mongol invasion, but though it declared its independence from the Golden Horde, the Republic began to pay tribute to its khans. In the 14th century, the raids of Novgorod's pirates (or ushkuiniki), who sowed fear as far as Kazan and Astrakhan, would contribute to the economic stagnation and downfall of the Horde.

[edit] The Fall of the Republic

Image:LebedevK UnichNovgrodVecha.jpg
Martha the Mayoress at the Destruction of the Novgorod Veche, by Klavdiy Lebedev

Tver, Moscow, and Lithuania had been trying to subjugate the NFR since the 14th century. Upon becoming the Grand Prince of Vladimir, Mikhail Yaroslavich of Tver sent his governors to Novgorod without prior consultations with its citizens. This incident pushed Novgorod towards developing closer ties with Moscow during the reign of Grand Prince George.

As Muscovy grew in strength, Ivan Kalita, Simeon Gordiy and other Muscovite monarchs sought to limit NFR’s independence. In 1397, a critical conflict took place between Muscovy and the NFR, when Moscow annexed the lands along the course of the Northern Dvina. This territory was returned to Novgorod the following year.

Resisting the Muscovite oppression, the government of Novgorod sought alliance with Lithuania and became an obstacle in Moscow’s campaign for elimination of feudal division in Russia. Most Novgorodian boyars, wishing to keep the republic afloat, steered the veche towards an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The proponent of this move was a group of boyars called the Lithuanian party and led by Marfa Boretskaya.

At the initiative of this party, Boretskaya invited the Lithuanian princeling Mikhail Olelkovich and asked him to become her husband and the ruler of Novgorod. She also concluded an alliance with Casimir, Grand Duke of Lithuania. The prospects of changing allegiance in favor of the allied Kingdom of Poland and Grand Duchy of Lithuania caused major commotion among the commoners.

Muscovite authorities took advantage of the civil turmoil and, repudiating the Treaty of Yazhelbitsy, went to war with the NFR. The army of Moscow won a victory in the Battle of Shelon in 1471, which would predetermine the subsequent elimination of Novgorod’s political isolation. In 1478, Ivan III sent his army to besiege Novgorod and finally annexed the whole NFR in favor of the centralized Russian state. The NFR ceased to exist.

[edit] See also

[edit] External links

es:República de Nóvgorod pl:Republika Nowogrodu ro:Republica Novgorodului ru:Новгородская феодальная республика uk:Новгородська республіка

Novgorod Republic

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