The Khazars, a semi-nomadic people of the steppes, created a loose confederation of peoples covering a large area of the Ukraine. By the mid-8th century this confederation was at the peak of its power, with the Khazar rulers exercised loose authority over a large though ill-defined area to the north of the Black and Caspian Seas. The comparative stability that their authority imposes allowed trade to flourish, much of it in the hands of Jewish merchants. These exercise an important influence with the Khazar court, which, at around this time, converts to Judaism.
Two other peoples of the steppe are the Magyars, who at this time pay tribute to the Khazar rulers, and the Bulgars. These latter have been defeated by the Khazars and been split into two main groups. One of these has headed south-west towards the Balkans, where they will play an important role in the history of that region.
In the Baltic region, Scandinavians were by this date active as traders, seeking the local populations in honey and furs from the great northern forests. A small merchant colony of Swedes was already established just inland from the Gulf of Finland, on the shores of Lake Lagoda
The Balkans have been lost to Byzantine rule, and Slavs and Bulgars have settled the region.click to view Greece and the Balkans 750AD
Scandinavian society was experiencing change as regional kingdoms were beginning to replace the local chiefdoms.click to view Scandinavia 750AD
The Middle East has been conquered by Arab armies in the name of a major new religion, Islam; these have created a vast empire called the "Caliphate"click to view Middle East 750AD
Another steppe people, the Avars, have dominated this region, and the Slavs have spread into lands previously inhabited by German tribes.click to view Central Europe 750AD
Scandinavian traders, seeking to secure the trade route from the Baltic to the Black Sea, established settlements along the great river systems of Russia, or captured already established Slav towns (such as Kiev). From these bases, they won control over the areas surrounding the towns, and formed principalities. One of these, Novgorod, assumed a pre-eminent position under its ruler Rurik. He even led an expedition against Constantinople itself in 860.
Later, Oleg of Novgorod won control of Kiev, thus founding the state of Russia. In this state, the Rus (Scandinavians) are a warrior and merchant elite exercising a loose authority over the surrounding Slav communities, from their small, fortified towns.
One of the first acts of the new Rus rulers of Kiev was to attack the Khazars, whose large confederacy of steppe peoples immediately fell apart. They were replaced as the leaders in the region by the Pechenegs, a much more aggressive and militaristic people. One group which fell foul of their aggression was the Magyars, on the River Don (892). The Magyars have therefore followed earlier steppe nomads by heading west into Europe, where they will in due course found the kingdom of Hungary.
The Islamic Caliphate has begun to break up, but the religion of Islam continues to expand, both in the Middle East and beyondclick to view Middle East 979AD
Central Europe has experienced great upheavals with the coming of the Magyarsclick to view East Central Europe 979AD
The Byzantines and the Bulgarians now compete for control of the Balkansclick to view Greece and the Balkans 979AD
Scandinavian raiders and traders voyage far and wide in the great age of the Vikingsclick to view Scandinavia 979AD
Vladimir, grand prince of Kiev, was converted to Christianity by Byzantine monks (988). This conversion was followed by a period of political stability and cultural creativity under Iaroslav the Wise (1019-54). The Byzantine church introduced the Slavic (Cyrilic) script and, along with its faith, brought its distinctive literature, art and architecture.
The huge area of the Kievan state made it difficult to govern from one centre, and power became fragmented amongst different members of the royal family, with each governing a separate principality. Kiev itself was sacked by the warlike Kipchak nomads (1093) and the centre of political and cultural life in Rus shifted further north, away from the steppes.
By this time the original Norse elite had intermarried with the surrounding Slav peoples and adopted Slavic names and language. Even the kings soon came to have Slav names.
In 1126, Novgorod declared its independence from Kiev and became a republic. Novgorod is a flourishing commercial and cultural centre, as well as being a powerful military state in its own right.
Powerful nations are emerging in Central Europeclick to view East Central Europe 1215AD
The rivalry between the Byzantine empire and the Bulgars has continued, only ending with the sack of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade 1204.click to view Greece and the Balkans 1215AD
The Scandinavians have become Christians and are colonizing the Baltic coasts.click to view Scandinavia 1215AD
The Middle East has been ruled by a succession of conquerors from central Asia, most famously the Mongolsclick to view Middle East 1215AD
The Russian principalities were devastated by a massive Mongol invasion in 1242. The city of Kiev was completely destroyed and all the principalities were incorporated into the Mongol empire, as tribute-paying vassals. Only the Republic of Novgorod was able to resist. Novgorod, with its huge hinterland, has continued to flourish by developing strong trading ties with western Europe.
In the second half of the 13th century the Mongol empire divided into several branches, with the Mongols of the western steppes becoming known as the Golden Horde. The khan of the Golden Horde continues as overlord of the Russian princes. Since the mid-14th century the princes of Muscovy have acted as intermediaries between the khan and the other princes, and by the mid-15th century they have established themselves as the effective leaders of Russia.
The Russians' western neighbour, Poland-Lithuania, has been able to take advantage of the Russian princes' subordination to the Golden Horde by expanding far into their territory. However, by this date the Golden Horde is in decline, with independent khanates being established in the Crimea and Kazan.
The Middle East has been ruled by a succession of conquerors from central Asia, most famously the Mongolsclick to view Middle East 1453AD
The kingdoms of Denmark, Norway and Sweden are all ruled by one monarch
click to view Scandinavia 1453AD
The union of Poles and Lithuanians under one crown creates a huge dual kingdomclick to view East Central Europe 1453AD
The Balkans are falling under the rule of the Ottoman Turksclick to view Greece and the Balkans 1453AD
Under Ivan the Great (1462-1505), Muscovy expanded hugely at the expense of its neighbours, annexing Novgorod (1478) and taking much territory from Poland-Lithuania (1493-1503). Ivan successfully asserted his independence from the Golden Horde (1480). He took the title Sovereign of All the Russias (1497) and adopted the additional title of Caesar, or Tsar.
Ivan’s successors continued the expansion of Muscovy. However, in c. 1560, Ivan IV ("The Terrible", reigned 1533-84) began a reign of terror. By his death he had eliminated all other members of the royal line, and the nobles had to elect one of themselves, Boris Godunov, as Tsar. Unfortunately, his rule was engulfed by revolt and foreign invasion, and Muscovy descended into chaos. Eventually a group of nobles elected a new Tsar, the 16-year old Michael Romanov (1613). His ministers set about restoring stability, peace and prosperity, a task in which they largely succeeded. Alexis (1645-76) now reigns as Tsar.
The decline of the Golden Horde has allowed a great movement of Russian peoples eastward into Siberia. Under Ivan the Terrible, the new territories are populated to a great extent by people fleeing his persecutions. Not far behind the migrants are the Russian authorities, imposing some kind of control over the new territories, but this is a much less onerous style of rule than in the Russian heartlands.
The Balkans are now ruled by the Ottoman empireclick to view Greece and the Balkans 1648AD
Much of Central Europe is threatened by the Ottoman Turksclick to view East Central Europe 1648AD
Sweden has become a leading European power
click to view Scandinavia 1648AD
The Ottoman empire now dominates most of the Middle eastclick to view Middle East 1648AD
Tsar Alexis (1645-76) oversaw the “liberation” of large tracts of the Ukraine from Poland-Lithuania.
His son, Peter the Great (1689-1726), was determined to modernise (i.e. Europeanise) Russia, and set about doing so with enormous energy. He expelled Sweden from the Baltic coast (giving Russia much prized access to ice-free waters), actively encouraged commerce and industry, founded a navy, re-organized the army along modern lines, carried out a root-and-branch reform of the administration, forced the nobles to shave their beards and wear European dress, introduced western education and built a new capital on some marshland on the Gulf of Finland – St Petersburg, one of Europe’s most spectacular cities
After Peter the Great's reign, factional strife at court led to a series of short, weak reigns until the empresses Elizabeth (ruled 1741-61), and Catherine II, "the Great", (1762-96) consolidated his reforms. In particular, they called into being a loyal and competent administration, and centralised the government. Under both empresses, Russia's borders have expanded at the expense of the Ottoman empire, Poland-Lithuania (especially in the First Partition of Poland in 1772), and the Crimean Khanate.
The Middle East experiences political weakness in both the Ottoman empire and Iranclick to view Middle East 1789AD
Much of Central Europe is now divided between Austria and Prussiaclick to view East Central Europe 1789AD
The Balkans remain under the rule of the Ottoman Turksclick to view Greece and the Balkans 1789AD
Sweden has experienced decline as a European power
click to view Scandinavia 1789AD
Tsar Alexander I (1801-25) was intent on further westernisation and liberalisation. His plans for reform, however, had to be put on hold by the war against Napoleon.
Because of its crucial role in defeating Napoleon, Russia’s prestige soared, and since 1815 it has been seen by many as the leading power in Europe. After the war, Alexander’s attention turned to creating an international order that would protect the world from revolutionary movements. His son, Tsar Nicholas I (1825-55) is even more intent on stamping out revolution in Europe and protecting Russia from corrupting foreign influences. He is known as the “Gendarme of Europe”.
Abroad, Georgia, hard pressed by Caucasian tribesmen and Persian aggression, voluntarily submitted to Russian rule (1801). The annexation of Georgia led to Russian involvement in the Caucuses, which has gradually, but with difficulty, been falling under Russian control.
Far to the east, the Russian-American Company, set up in 1799, has established trading settlements in Alaska.
Some Middle Eastern governments are taking steps to modernize their countriesclick to view Middle East 1837AD
In the Balkans, national agitation against Ottoman rule is growingclick to view Greece and the Balkans 1837AD
Norway is now under the control of Sweden
click to view Scandinavia 1837AD
All of Central Europe is now divided between Russia, Austria and Prussiaclick to view East Central Europe 1837AD
In 1848, Nicholas utterly opposed the liberal revolutions in western Europe, and sent in troops to neighbouring Hungary to help the Austrians stamp out the revolution there.
Russia’s defeat by Britain and France in the Crimean War (1854-6) led to widespread unrest at all levels of society, and the government of the present Tsar, Alexander II (1855-81), has carried out many reforms. Most notably, the serfs have been emancipated. But these measures, though well-intentioned, have been too little and too late for some. Revolutionary ideas are spreading in Russia, especially amongst the young members of the educated middle classes.
Russia’s borders have been pushed deep into Turkish territory around the Black Sea and into the Caucuses – though the Chechens and Circassians continued to hold out for many decades before annexation. In central Asia, the systematic annexation of Turkestan has begun. Much further east (or west, depending on one's point of view), the Russians have sold Alaska to the USA (1867).
The Ottoman empire has tightened its grip on much of the Middle Eastclick to view Middle East 1871AD
Central Europe is divided between the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German empiresclick to view East Central Europe 1871AD
Greece has won its independence from the Ottoman empireclick to view Greece and the Balkans 1871AD
Denmark has experienced traumatic defeat at the hands of Prussia
click to view Scandinavia 1871AD
At home, Russia’s industrial base has been growing at an ever-faster rate. At the same time, the mounting strength of revolutionary movements is signified by the assassination of Tsar Alexander II in 1881. The accession of the conservative Tsar Alexander III (1881-94) leads to the harsh suppression of revolutionary organisations, and policies aimed at the full restoration of autocracy. Alexander’s reign also sees widespread persecution of the Jews. Alexander is succeeded by Tsar Nicholas II (1894-1917).
Russian expansionism in the Far East leads to the Russo-Japanese war of 1904. This is disastrous for Russia, which is defeated by Japanese nerve and technical superiority. The defeat of giant Russia at the hands of tiny Japan is a national humiliation, and is followed by industrial strikes, peasant unrest, and mutinies in the army and navy. Demands for large-scale reform come from all quarters. A parliament, the Duma, is called, but it can only discuss problems, not legislate. The revolutionary activity of 1905 is followed by a period of repression. Under the ministry of Peter Stolypin, some much-needed reforms are carried out, including land reform to aid the newly-freed peasants, and a dramatic expansion of the education system. Stolypin is assassinated in 1911.
The British and French are increasingly active in the Middle Eastclick to view Middle East 1914AD
Central Europe remains divided between the Russian, Austro-Hungarian and German empiresclick to view East Central Europe 1914AD
The Ottoman empire has been driven from most of Europeclick to view Greece and the Balkans 1914AD
Norway is now an independent nation
click to view Scandinavia 1914AD
Russia entered World War 1 on the side of Britain and France; however, the Russian Revolution of 1917 led the new Bolshevik government to sign the Treaty of Brest-Ltovsk, taking Russia out of the war and giving away huge tracts of land.
The Russian Revolution was followed by several years of civil war, which the Bolsheviks, now renamed the Communists, eventually won. Lenin died in 1924 and power passed to Joseph Stalin. Stalin's drive to industrialize the Soviet Union (as the Russian Empire was now called) and to collectivize the land, caused millions of deaths amongst the peasantry. His bid for complete control over the party, government and army led to wave after wave of purges of senior and middle-ranking officials and officers.
The Soviet Union suffered enormously during World War 2, with perhaps 20 million lives lost. But it survived as one of the two post-war superpowers. Its armies now occupy most of Eastern Europe, and it has imposed tight control over its satellite nations there. In 1955, it established the Warsaw Pact, to counter NATO. Internally there is a measure of liberalisation after the death of Stalin in 1953 and the rise to power of Nikita Kruschev.
The Cold War has had a major impact on the Middle Eastclick to view Middle East 1960AD
Eastern-central Europe is divided amongst several countries, most now under Soviet controlclick to view East Central Europe 1960AD
Most of the Balkans is under communist ruleclick to view Greece and the Balkans 1960AD
Finland has had to fight hard against Russia for its independence
click to view Scandinavia 1960AD
In the 1960's the Cold War with the USA and its allies remained intense, and after a few years of thawing relations, a renewed - and unaffordable - arms race with the USA, coupled with economic stagnation and a disastrous invasion of Afghanistan, undermined the Soviet Union's morale. Finally, Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985. He pursued policies of ‘glasnost’, liberalising public life, and ‘perestroika’, economic restructuring.
The reform movement that Gorbachev initiated gathered pace under his successor, Boris Yeltsin. The Communist Party was disbanded, and the constituent republics of the Soviet Union declared their independence. A whole host of new nations appeared on the map. The western-most of these, the Baltic States, welcome democracy and are themselves welcomed into the EU and NATO. Other ex-Soviet states have retained authoritiarian regimes.
The sudden introduction of a market economy to Russia led to severe economic contraction and social stress, but in recent years the huge country has been set on a path to economic and social recovery.
Arab-Israeli hostility has dominated Middle Eastern politicsclick to view Middle East 2005AD
All countries of East-central Europe are members of the EUclick to view East Central Europe 2005AD
The Balkans have experienced bitter fighting between different ethnic groupsclick to view Greece and the Balkans 2005AD
The Scandinavian countries are amongst the most prosperous nations in the world
click to view Scandinavia 2005AD
Hover MAP for summary and tap to zoom. MAP < and > buttons change date. TIMELINE icons jump to date. See below for historical summary.