History Files

European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe


Old Rus / The Russias

The term 'the Russias' can be used to describe a rather ill-defined expanse of territory to the north of the Pontic-Caspian steppe in Eastern Europe. Areas of modern Russia have long been occupied by tribal peoples. The Pontic-Caspian steppe stretches through modern Ukraine and southern areas of Russia, and it was this vast region which witnessed the gradual development of forager cultures, plus the arrival in western parts of the Neolithic farmer culture of the Near East, known by the umbrella term 'Old Europe'. To the north of this, on either side of the Ural Mountains, were more forager cultures which inhabited the great forest regions on either side of the mountain range.

In the fourth millennium BC the Indo-European Yamnaya steppe-herder cultural horizon exploded across Eastern Europe and the Far East steppeland of modern Kazakhstan. Its people were largely descended from these forager cultures on the steppe and in the Ural forests, with a dash of 'Old Europe' ancestry added to the westernmost populations. They were neighboured to the north by the proto-Uralic peoples.

Later tribal groups included the apparently Belgic Venedi people by the first and second centuries BC. In the first few centuries AD, various Germanic tribes began migrating between the southern Baltic shore and the westernmost areas of southern Russia and Ukraine. These migrations included the Goths who managed to construct a vast confederation in the fourth century AD before it was crushed by the Huns.

The Viking era (especially in relation to Swedish Vikings) brought about radical changes to the lands which lay to the east and south of the Baltic territories. Viking interest and exploration into Slavic lands had been building up for some time, possibly resulting in a Rus Khaganate in the early ninth century. A number of ancient towns such as Old Ladoga, Novgorod, Pskov, Polotsk, Kyiv, and so on emerged on the shores of the great rivers between the Baltic Sea and the Ural Mountains. Large centres like these attracted Vikings, Eastern Slavs, Finno-Ugrics, and Baltic people. In these lands the Vikings were known by various names, although not by the most popular name of Varangians, a term which seems to have been coined by the Byzantines.

Led by Rurik, the Rus Vikings who soon ruled the Slavs (a specific, northern Slavic tribe at that time) from their main base at Novgorod in the north seem to have originated on the Roslagen seashore of Uppland. This is not universally accepted, but 'Roslagen' adapted into Slavic easily becomes Rus' (the correct, but les-often used form of the name). At the time Roslagen was part of the nebulous territory of Kvenland. Early Swede and Kven integration in the region had only recently begun by the time of Rurik's birth and the Rus themselves are noted separately from the Swedes. Instead of being Swedes themselves, they were probably a 'Vikingised' group of Kvens in Uppland who had adopted some of the newcomer's culture. Sadly, although modern DNA studies may have confirmed Rurik's Kvenish ethnic origin, his exact tribal origins would seem to be impossible to confirm.

An alternative option for naming the Rus is that the word may originate in the Finnish word for Swedish Scandinavians - Ruotsi - another pointer towards a Finnic origin for Rurik himself. This could have been used by the Rus themselves, or by the Eastern Slavs who neighboured Finno-Ugric groups and who would soon be subjects of these Rus.

The close of the ninth century witnessed the formation of an Old Russian state, accompanied by the rise of the Rus as the dominant force in this society, principally from Kyiv, the mother city until 1169. These lands, generally excluding Kyiv and what would become Ukraine, are what became the core of 'the Russias', encompassing many regions and often a large number of principalities, all of which vied for superiority. These included Halych, Murom, Pereyaslav, Polotsk, Rostov-Suzdal, Smolensk, Tmutarakhan, Vladimir, and Volodimir. Trading centres such as Grodno, Volkovosk, and Novogorodok, were also founded by Rus in the former territories of the Lithuanians and Yotvingians.

Steppe plains of Ukraine

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information by Keith Matthews, from Gesta Danorum, Saxo Grammaticus, from Viking-Rus Mercenaries in the Byzantine-Arab Wars of the 950s-960s: the Numismatic Evidence, Roman K Kovalev, from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America), and from External Links: Worldstatesman, and Rurik of Novgorod and the Varangian DNA, and And it was given the name of Kyiv, Oleg Yastrubov, and The Fragmentation & Decline of Kievan Rus, and Encyclopaedia.com, and The Map Archive, and How DO you pronounce Kyiv, anyway? (University of Kansas News Service on YouTube).)

Princes of Moscow (Rus)
AD 1246 - 1263

The Rus presence in Eastern Slavic lands was initially confined to the major rivers and the trading settlements which formed along them. Led by Rurik, the Rus Vikings soon ruled the indigenous Slavs from their main base at Novgorod in the north. Following this they captured the Eastern Polans settlement of Kyiv, making it the mother of the cities of the Rus. The city became the heart of a grand principality and the guiding power in the Rus conquest of the east, remaining so until 1169 when it was sacked and the seat officially moved northwards to Vladimir-Suzdal.

This principality, which was located in the north-east of Rus lands, had quickly grown from its origins as a regional administrative centre under Novgorod's oversight to become a major Rus power. It played a major role in destabilising Kyiv as the principle Rus city and benefited greatly from its diminishing status. Further Rus migration into the region took place due to increased raids by Turkic tribes on Kyiv and the southern Rus lands. Vladimir became a major centre of Rus power and settlement immediately before the arrival of the Mongols and the eventual ending of Old Rus independence at the hands of the Golden Horde.

The city of Moskva (Moscow) was founded as a fortress settlement by the ruler of Rostov-Suzdal (the precursor to Vladimir-Suzdal) prior to 1147. It sat immediately south of the junction between the River Moskva and the mighty Volga, which provided direct access to the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. Moscow of the thirteenth century was an insignificant trading outpost within the principality. The Mongols burnt it down in the winter of 1238 but it was quickly rebuilt, its remote location in heavy forest offering it a degree of protection.

The Russian Primary Chronicle is a major source of information on the early states of the Rus. Much of the earliest material is legendary in nature, seemingly having been collated from various tales and folk memories which were then hung over a framework of dates which were taken from Byzantine sources. It was only from the accession of Yaroslav 'the Wise' of Kyiv in 1019 that its content rested largely on the personal reminiscences of contemporaries of the writers. Overall, the text is an homogeneous work which was compiled over a period of several years towards the close of the eleventh and the opening of the twelfth centuries, and it is highly important despite its unreliability in early entries.

As for Moscow, its early princes are not universally accepted by scholars. Daniel I, the first ruler of the grand duchy of Moscow is preferred as the 'founder' of Moscow's later greatness. Nevertheless, these individuals are mentioned in extant records as princes of Moscow, whatever the extent of their power or influence.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America), from Novgorodskaia Pervaia Letopis' Starshego i Mladshego Izvodov, A N Nasonov (Ed, ANSSR, 1950), from The Chronicle of Novgorod 1016-1471, Michell & Forbes (Eds, Translators, Offices of the Society, London, 1914), and from External Links: Worldstatesman, and Rurik of Novgorod and the Varangian DNA, and The Fragmentation & Decline of Kievan Rus, and Encyclopaedia.com, and The Map Archive.)

1237 - 1240

Batu Khan of the Golden Horde begins the invasion and conquest of the lands of the Rus, with Subedei agreeing to accompany him. They cross the Volga and, having been refused in their demand that Yuri II of Vladimir-Suzdal submits, they take the city of Riazan after a five-day catapult assault.

Kipchak mounted warrior
An illustration of a mounted Kipchack warrior, typical of the waves of westward migrants who swept in from the Kazak steppe during the eleventh and twelfth centuries, largely pushed that way by the sudden creation of the Mongol empire

Then they take Kolumna and Moscow, defeating and killing Prince Yuri of Vladimir at the Battle of the River Sit, whilst leading the most powerful force in the northern half of the Rus lands (Yuri's death means he is succeeded by his brother Yaroslav, but it also seemingly signals the point at which the first prince of Moscow appears, this being Yaroslav's son, Mikhail).

During the invasion, Kyiv is conquered by Danylo Romanovych of Halych-Volynia, creating another target for a Mongol attack. Cumans, Kipchaks, and other nomadic groups flee the Rus lands to seek refuge in Hungary. As Batu Khan sees these people as his subjects, news of their departure is not welcomed and plans are laid to pursue them. Novgorod survives the tidal wave of conquest because the Mongols are unable to find a route through the marshes.

1246 - 1248

Mikhail Khorobrit

Son of Yaroslav II of Vladimir-Suzdal. Vassal. Killed.


Sviatoslav III has been removed from his seat as grand duke of Vladimir-Suzdal by his nephew, Mikhail Khorobrit, prince of Moscow. He appeals directly to his overlords, the Golden Horde, but Mikhail is killed in battle by the Lithuanians under the leadership of Tautvilas of the Samogitians and his co-commanders before any action can be taken.

1248 - 1263

Boris Mikhailovich

Son. Vassal. Died.

1252 - 1253

Grand Prince Andrey of Vladimir-Suzdal allies himself with other princes of the western Rus in a move against the domination of the Golden Horde. Batu Khan sends out a punitive expedition which causes Andrey to flee first to Pskov and then to Sweden, and the population of Vladimir are punished for the crimes of their master. The Livonian Knights prevent the Mongols from advancing any farther north, while Alexander Nevsky is installed as the new grand prince of Vladimir.

Aleksander Nevsky Cathedral in Tallinn, Estonia
The Russian Orthodox Cathedral of Alexander Nevsky in Tallinn, Estonia, was built in 1894-1900, with the sainted Nevsky having been honoured for halting in 1242 the further eastwards advance of the German crusaders in the Baltics (click or tap on photo to read more on a separate page)


Aleksandr Nevsky's death means that his two year-old son, Daniel, inherits the smallest and least significant of his domains in the form of the newly-created duchy of Moscow. Daniel of Moscow, or Daniil Aleksandrovich, is claimed by some modern scholars to be the first prince of Moscow, although that is not the case. He is, however, the first prince of a duchy of Moscow.

Duchy of Moscow (Rus)
AD 1263 - 1328

The Rus presence in Eastern Slavic lands initially crystallised around Novgorod and Kyiv. Led by Rurik, the Rus Vikings ruled the indigenous Slavs from these growing cities until 1169 when Kyiv was sacked and the principal seat of Rus command was officially moved northwards to Vladimir-Suzdal. This principality played a major role in destabilising Kyiv as the principle Rus city and benefited greatly from its diminishing status. It became a major centre of Rus power and settlement immediately before the arrival of the Mongols and the eventual ending of Old Rus independence at the hands of the Golden Horde.

The city of Moskva (Moscow) was founded as a fortress settlement by the ruler of Rostov-Suzdal (the precursor to Vladimir-Suzdal) prior to 1147. It sat immediately south of the junction between the River Moskva and the mighty Volga, which provided direct access to the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. The Mongols burnt it down in the winter of 1238 but it was quickly rebuilt, its remote location in heavy forest offering it a degree of protection.

The city's early princes of Moscow are not universally accepted by scholars, however. Daniel or Daniil Aleksandrovich, the first ruler of the grand duchy of Moscow from the age of two in 1263 is often preferred as the 'founder' of Moscow's later greatness. In effect, it was the last seat of power to be founded by the Old Rus, with defeat and domination by the Golden Horde already having been completed. The Rus lands were almost entirely occupied (especially the eastern Rus territories) or subjugated by other European powers (mainly the western Rus territories).

The Russian Primary Chronicle is a major source of information on the early states of the Rus. Much of the earliest material is legendary in nature, seemingly having been collated from various tales and folk memories which were then hung over a framework of dates which were taken from Byzantine sources. It was only from the accession of Yaroslav 'the Wise' of Kyiv in 1019 that its content rested largely on the personal reminiscences of contemporaries of the writers. Overall, the text is an homogeneous work which was compiled over a period of several years towards the close of the eleventh and the opening of the twelfth centuries, and it is highly important despite its unreliability in early entries.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America), and from External Links: Worldstatesman, and Rurik of Novgorod and the Varangian DNA, and The Fragmentation & Decline of Kievan Rus, and Encyclopaedia.com, and The Map Archive.)

1263 - 1303

St Daniel of Moscow

Son of Aleksandr Nevsky of Vladimir-Suzdal. First duke.


With both German crusaders and Lithuanians from the Baltics impinging on the territories of the various Rus principalities which are still vassals of the Golden Horde, Khan Mongke Temur sends troops to Novgorod to eject the Livonian Knights.

Livonian Knights
The Livonian Knights - otherwise known as the Livonian Brethren of the Sword, the Order of the Knights of the Sword, or more simply as the 'Order' or 'Brethren' - did the dirty work of extinguishing resistance to the German crusaders and their imposition of order on the Estonian and northern Balt tribes

1274 - 1275

Smolensk is the last of the independent principalities of the Rus, but it now falls to Mongke Temur of the Golden Horde. The following year he defends his Rus vassals by dispatching a Mongol-Rus force to ward off the Lithuanians, an action which is requested by Duke Lev I of Halych-Volynia.


Toqta Khan of the Golden Horde attempts to end the semi-independent rule of the Rus vassal princes by sending his brothers at the head of an army which devastates no less than fourteen towns. Toqta himself forces Grand Prince Demetrius of Pereslavl, grand prince of Vladimir, to abdicate, which is an important victory in itself as he is an ally of Nogai Khan of the Nogai Horde. The Rus record the campaign as the 'harsh-time of Batu returns'. Daniel himself has been involved in supporting his brother, Demetrius.


Having recently fended off a minor but important attack by Constantine, prince of Ryazan, Daniel takes an army to Ryazan. The city's ruler is captured and imprisoned, a large force of Tartars is destroyed, and Daniel gains the fortress of Kolomna. This acquisition guarantees Moscow's control of the entire length of the River Moskva.


The death of Daniel's firm ally and nephew, Ivan of Pereslavl, means that he is granted control of all of Ivan's territories, including Pereslavl-Zalessky itself, on the east bank of the Dnieper in modern Ukraine.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1300
By around AD 1300 the Swedes and Norse had taken full control of southern Scandinavia, while Lithuania was beginning to extend its influence greatly towards the east and south-east, across the fractured western Rus lands of Ruthenia (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1303 - 1325

Yuri (I) / Georgiy Danilovich

Son. Gained Vladimir-Suzdal (1318). Killed by Dmitry.

1318 - 1322

The sons of Mikhail of Tver, Dimitry (or Dmitri) and Alexander Mikhailovich, fight a series of battles against Yuri Danilovich of Moscow. By intriguing with the royal court of the Golden Horde, Dmitry manages to gain the yarlik for Vladimir in 1322, removing it from Yuri's control.


In or around this year (the dating is uncertain as the various chronicles which cover this event are only written down afterwards), Lithuania meets Kyiv in battle. Prince Stanislav Ivanovich is allied to the principalities of Pereyaslavl and Bryansk under Oleg and Roman respectively, but their joint forces are defeated at the Battle of the River Irpin. Kyiv now falls under Lithuanian influence, although the city itself successfully withstands a siege.

1325 - 1326

The metropolitan of Kievan Rus moves his seat in 1325 from Vladimir to Moscow, making it clear that he regards Moscow as the principal city of the grand duchy of Vladimir. The city of Vladimir is reduced in importance by the move.

Yuri Danilovich of Moscow is killed by Dmitry in the same year, before he can clear his name and regain the yarlik. Ozbeg of the Golden Horde arrests Dimity for the murder and executes him in 1326.

Berdi Beg coins
This Russian imitation is of a coin issued (possibly) during the short-lived khanate of Berdi Beg (1357-1359), the victim of an all-too-familiar assassination in the Blue Horde

1325 - 1328

Ivan I / Ivan Kalita / Ivan Danilovich

Brother. Became ruler of Moscow State (1328).

1327 - 1328

Baskaki Shevkal, cousin to Ozbeg Khan, is killed in Tver along with his Tartars and rebellion is ignited against the Golden Horde's overlordship. Grand Prince Alexander Mikhailovich of Tver and Vladimir is forced to flee, first to Novgorod which refuses him, and then to Pskov. Not only does Pskov welcome him - it makes him the ruling prince.

The Golden Horde sends an expedition which consists of fifty thousand Mongol-Tartars and Muscovites led by Ivan Danilovich, brother and successor of Yuri. The uprising in Tver is brutally suppressed, and Ozbeg appoints Ivan as grand duke of Vladimir in 1328. Ivan's seat, though, is in Moscow, which now means the end of Vladimir as a city which carries any meaningful authority and the beginning of Moscow as a state in its own right.

Grand Duchy of Moscow State / Muscovy
AD 1328 - 1552

Led by Rurik, the Rus Vikings ruled the indigenous Slavs from the cities of Novgorod and then Kyiv until 1169, when Kyiv was sacked and the principal seat of Rus command was officially moved northwards to Vladimir-Suzdal. This principality played a major role in destabilising Kyiv as the principle Rus city and benefited greatly from its diminishing status. It became a major centre of Rus power and settlement immediately before the arrival of the Mongols and the eventual ending of Old Rus independence at the hands of the Golden Horde.

The city of Moskva (Moscow) was founded as a fortress settlement prior to 1147. It sat immediately south of the junction between the River Moskva and the mighty Volga, which provided direct access to the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. The Mongols burnt it down in the winter of 1238 but it was quickly rebuilt, its remote location in heavy forest offering it a degree of protection. The city's early princes of Moscow are not universally accepted by scholars, but Daniel or Daniil Aleksandrovich certainly is in his role as the first ruler of the grand duchy of Moscow. The Rus lands were still dominated by the Mongols (especially the eastern Rus territories) or had been subjugated by other European powers (mainly the western Rus territories).

It was Ivan Danilovich's role in commanding the suppression of rebellion in Tver in 1327 which cemented his reputation with his overlord, Ozbeg Khan of the Golden Horde. He was the younger son of Daniel of Moscow, having inherited Moscow but not Vladimir. Ivan led fifty thousand Mongol-Tartars and Muscovites against the Tver rebellion, crushing it and restoring order to the city. As a result he was appointed grand duke of Vladimir by Ozbeg, With his principal seat in Moscow, he effectively turned Vladimir into a secondary position in its favour, while his promotion marked the true beginning of Moscow's rise to glory. His grandson, Dmitry, built the Kremlin in its initial guise, completing it in 1367. At first, though, the city remained a vassal of the Golden Horde.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America), and from External Links: Worldstatesman, and Rurik of Novgorod and the Varangian DNA, and The Fragmentation & Decline of Kievan Rus, and Encyclopaedia.com, and The Map Archive, and The Moscow Times.)

1328 - 1341

Ivan I / Ivan Kalita / Ivan Danilovich

Formerly duke of Moscow. Grand duke of Vladimir (1318).


Lithuania defeats the boyars of the Rus and occupies Kyiv and its surrounding territory. The loss of this vassal state by the Golden Horde removes not only it from their control, but also cuts off Wallachia whose ruler, Basarab I, effectively becomes independent, although this has increasingly been the case for several years.

Mongols of the Golden Horde
The Mongols maintained their dominance of the eastern Rus with bloodletting where necessary, burning and destroying towns which stood against them

However, despite this setback, Ozbeg is still able to threaten the Bulgars, Byzantium, and the Lithuanians themselves. Ivan is gradually strengthening his own position at the same time, having already taken control of the weakened small principality of Uglich (in 1328), located on the Volga.


Now in the official position of collecting taxes from all the Rus lands before passing them onto his overlords, the Golden Horde, Ivan Kalita, prince of Moscow and grand duke of Vladimir, greatly increases his own prestige and power ('kalita' means 'the moneybag'). He takes control of the principality of Belozero between 1328-1338, and the principality of Galich (not to be confused with Halych) in 1340.

Nobles and peasants alike flock to Moscow and the greater protection it offers from raids, while Ivan makes loans to the other principalities which weakens their positions and makes them increasingly liable to being absorbed under Moscow's control. Having a direct trading route along the Volga to Novgorod also helps. Vladimir becomes insignificant, with all power now being held in Moscow.

1341 - 1353

Simeon 'the Proud'

Son. Grand duke of Moscow & Vladimir. Killed by plague.

1341 - 1377

Grand Duke Algirdas expands his Lithuanian territory further eastwards, bringing it into renewed conflict with Moscow. Simeon has been granted extra powers by his overlord, Ozbeg Khan of the Golden Horde specifically to counter the Lithuanian threat. Simeon and his brother, Ivan II, remain subordinated to the Golden Horde under Ozbeg's successor, Jani Beg.

Grand Prince Simeon the Proud of Moscow
Simeon Ioannovich, playing a delicate balancing game between enemies to the east of Moscow and those to the west, possessed a strong character which was apparent in a number of Moscow's ruling princes, earning him the epithet 'the Proud'


Andrei Ivanovich Kobyla receives his one mention in history in this year. He is the progenitor of the later Romanov dynasty of czars and a good many other Russian noble families. Holding the rank of boyar (a noble, second only to the ruling prince himself), Kobyla is sent by Grand Duke Simeon to Tver with the purpose of meeting Simeon's bride, a daughter of Alexander I of Tver. Kobyla's pedigree and precise position at court are unknown, resulting in a good deal of speculation about his origins, many of which are applied far after his own time.


The Black Death reaches Moscow after spending several years getting ever closer. Grand Duke Simeon falls victim to it, as do his two sons and a brother, Andrey, along with Metropolitan Theognostus. Simeon's brother Ivan is recalled from his governance of the towns of Ruza and Zvenigorod to succeed.

1353 - 1359

Ivan II 'the Fair'

Brother. Formerly in Ruza & Zvenigorod.

1357 - 1359

With the assassination of Jani Beg, the political cohesion of the Golden Horde begins to disintegrate. Berdi Beg is probably behind Jani Beg's death, and his reign as khan is not universally accepted. The khanate goes from being able to claim titular dominance over the three ulus (Blue Horde, White Horde, and Chaghatayids) and actual dominance over the Rus to internecine warfare and the possibility of complete dissolution.

Mongol gur
This nineteenth century illustration depicting a Mongol gur being transported by cart provides a small sense of the traditional ways which were championed by Chagatai and his followers

1359 - 1389

Demetrius / Dmitry Donski

Son. Grand prince of Vladimir (1363).

1362 - 1372

The Battle of Blue Waters in either autumn 1362 or winter 1363 takes place on the banks of the River Syniukha, a tributary of the Bug in modern Ukraine. Grand Duke Algirdas and his Lithuanian army decisively defeats the Golden Horde.

The victory delivers Kyiv very firmly into Lithuanian hands, along with a large swathe of modern Ukraine and access to the Black Sea. The Lithuanian-Muscovite War (1368-1372), however, sees Moscow withstand two Lithuanian sieges to emerge even more regionally-dominant.

1378 - 1380

The Blue Horde is heavily defeated by the Muscovites under Demetrius Donski ('of the Don') at the Battle of the River Vozha. Two years later - in 1380 - the horde is defeated again by the Rus, at the Battle of Kulikovo (on the Don, the source of Dmitry's epithet). While putting together a retaliatory force the horde is defeated yet again, this time by the White Horde in a battle on the banks of the River Kalka. The once-powerful Blue Horde is fully reunited with the White Horde to form a greater Golden Horde.


Now resurgent under the leadership of Toqtamish Khan, the Golden Horde defeats the Muscovites in retaliation for their attack against the Blue Horde. This delays the Muscovite search for independence.

The White Horde ruled the territory between Lake Balkhash and the Volga, while initially continuing to push westwards as part of the greater Golden Horde

1389 - 1425

Basil / Vasily I

Son. Gained Moscow's independence (1395-1412).

1392 - 1395

With the Golden Horde showing nothing like its previous dominance, Vasily I allies himself in 1392 with Lithuania. In the same year he secures Moscow's control of not one but two Rus principalities: Murom and Nizhny Novgorod. In 1395 the Golden Horde is beaten by Timur of Persia, allowing him to claim complete control of the Caucuses, which probably includes Alania to its north. Moscow benefits from the disaster by asserting its independence.

1406 - 1412

The alliance with Lithuania has proven to be fragile. War breaks out between it and Moscow between 1406-1408, so in 1412 Vasily effectively accepts renewed vassalage to the troubled Golden Horde when it successfully collects long-delayed tribute payments.

1425 - 1433

Basil / Vasily II 'the Blind'

Son. Acceded aged 10. Unseated by his uncle.


Moscow is thought to be subordinated by the all-powerful Lithuanian state under Great Prince Vytautas. The fact that Vasily II is a boy of ten who initially holds his seat under the regency of his mother prompts rival claims for control of Moscow. Vasily's uncle, Yuri, prince of Galich-Mersky, steps forward as the main rival, although both his sons also proffer their own claims.

1425 - 1433

Yuri of Zvenigorod

Uncle. Prince of Galich-Mersky. Rival claimant.


Yuri of Zvenigorod leads his army into Moscow, having defeated a betrayed Vasily II. The prince is captured, pardoned for refusing to give up his rightful seat, and is sent off to command the town of Kolomna. This proves to be a mistake as many of the leading boyars follow him there. Yuri temporarily admits defeat by leaving Moscow.

Muscovite-Lithuanian Wars
Moscow fought a series of wars against the then-dominant Grand Duchy of Lithuania & Ruthenia (the latter being western Rus) during the fifteenth century, but Moscow's eventual victory would present it with new threats, such as the Tartars of the powerful Crimean khanate (click or tap on image to view full sized)


Yuri (II) of Zvenigorod

Usurper. Left Moscow in the face of Vasily's resurgence.

1433 - 1434

Basil / Vasily II 'the Blind'

Restored due to his extensive support amongst the boyars.


The civil war continues with two of Yuri's sons - Vasily Kosoy and Dmitry Shemyaka - defeating Vasily on the banks of the River Kus. Vasily also continues to pursue Yuri, but is defeated by him on 16 March 1434. Yuri is able to reclaim Moscow, only to die while preparing a fresh campaign against Vasily.


Yuri (II) of Zvenigorod

Usurper. Died in Moscow.

1434 - 1435

Vasily Kosoy 'the Cross-Eyed'

Son. Inherited control of Moscow. Defeated and fled.

1434 - 1435

With Vasily Kosoy inheriting control of Moscow and the title of grand prince at the death of his father, Yuri, his own brother rebels against him. Dmitry Shemyaka joins his forces to those of Vasily II and they capture Moscow between them.

1435 - 1445

Basil / Vasily II 'the Blind'

Restored with Dmitry Shemyaka's support. Captured.

1439 - 1445

Moscow is besieged in 1439 by Ulugh Muhammad of the newly-founded Kazan khanate. Vasily II is forced to flee the city and rule in exile. By 1445 he has gathered together his forces so that he is able to fight Ulugh Muhammad in person. However, his army is defeated and he is taken prisoner. Governance of Moscow passes to Dmitry Shemyaka.

Map of the Tartar Khanates AD 1500
The Mongol empire created by Chingiz Khan gradually broke up over the course of three hundred years until, by around AD 1500, it had fragmented into several more-or-less stable khanates which each vied with the others for power and influence, while having to fend off the growing power of the Ottoman empire to the south and Moscow Sate (Muscovy) to the north - in the end it was an unwinnable fight (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1445 - 1446

Dmitry Shemyaka

Brother of Vasily Kosoy. Fled Moscow. Poisoned.


Vasily's release takes a huge ransom payment, but Dmitry Shemyaka has him blinded as soon as he returns. Vasily is exiled to Uglich before being given command of Vologda, but still the boyars flock to his side. Dmitry has repeated the mistakes of his father, and completes the cycle by fleeing Moscow and fighting on from a distance until he is poisoned in 1453. The civil war is ended.

1446 - 1462

Basil / Vasily II 'the Blind'

Restored again, albeit now blind.

1448 - 1453

Vasily II refuses the arrangement of 1448 whereby the patriarch of Byzantine Constantinople acknowledges Rome's supremacy. Instead he appoints his own metropolitan of Russia, an assertion of the independence of the Russian Orthodox church. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 to the Ottomans sees Greece become an Ottoman province and the patriarch's authority lessened.

1462 - 1505

Ivan III 'the Great'

Son. Co-ruled in father's later years. Empire-builder.


Aleksandr Fedorovich Brukhatii, the last grand prince of Yaroslavl, is forced by Ivan to sign over his succession. Having evolved from the principality of Rostov, it has been a direct territorial rival to Moscow, if not a rival in terms of power. Now Moscow is free to absorb its territory, further consolidating the city's position.

Veiselga Monastery
Veiselga Monastery, shown here in oils by Napoleon Orda, was apparently founded by Vaisvilkas, second grand duke of Lithuania following the assassination of King Mindaugas, prior to the state's rise to a major power-player in Eastern Europe

1470 - 1471

After years of simmering tension between the aggressively expansionist Ivan and the state of Novgorod which has refused to be acquired by Moscow, Ivan launches a campaign. Defeat in 1471 at the Battle of the River Shelon forces Novgorod to abandon attempts to seek Lithuania's protection and to cede to Ivan a considerable swathe of its territory.


Although Moscow has long been dominant in Vladimir, effectively eclipsing that city in terms of controlling the overall principality, there are still minor principalities within the territory which have their own rulers, albeit weak and insignificant ones. Nevertheless, Ivan pursues utter dominance by acquiring them one-by-one. Now, in 1474, Rostov-Veliky is annexed to Moscow.

1477 - 1479

Taking offence at the apparent repudiation of his authority, Novgorod once again finds itself being attacked by Ivan. With no allies and its city surrounded by Moscow's armies, Novgorod surrenders entirely. Over eighty percent of its vast and largely empty or tribal Finno-Ugric territories are taken by Ivan, with half of that being shared out amongst his allies. Unsuccessful revolts in 1478 and 1479 sees the richest of Novgorod's noble families being forcibly shipped to Moscow and other key cities.


In alliance with the khans of the Crimea, Ivan III refuses tribute to the Great Horde. The latter, now allied to Lithuania, attempts an invasion of Moscow's territory but this fails. The independence of Moscow is confirmed, two hundred and forty years after Kyiv had fallen to Mongol dominance.

Ivan III tears up the Mongol demand for tribute
Ivan III of Moscow tears up the Mongol demand for tribute in front of his own court and the Mongol messengers, ending once and for all Mongol dominance over the Rus


One of the major regional opponents of Moscow's climb to power, Tver has had to be defeated more than once during internecine warfare or revolts. Now Ivan takes the final step of conquering the city by force of arms and removing Mikhail III of Tver from power. The city is absorbed into the growing Moscow state.


Vyatka, a relatively late Rus settlement on the banks of the river of the same name, has largely remained free of direct outside control in its comparative isolation. Ivan sends an army to subdue it and its satellite cities, with its three atamans or Cossack leading figures, being beheaded. Most of its nobles are moved to Moscow's southern territories.


The Crimean khanate apparently seizes all of the Great Horde's horses, and encourages Moscow to deliver the death blow as a result. Both Moscow and the Ottomans dispatch forces which include Russian cavalry, Tartars, and Janissaries. This causes part of the horde to secede in November 1491, while the remainder is routed by its enemies.


FeatureThe fortifications of the Livonian Order's Narva Castle are so powerful that, instead of attempting to conquer it, Ivan decides to build his own stronghold of Ivangorod on the opposite side of the River Narva (see feature link). The river remains the dividing line between Russia and Estonia to this very day.

Narva Castle, Estonia
Narva Castle guarded the trade route from the Gulf of Finland to Novgorod and Pskov to the east, although the early fortress failed to stop a Ruthenian invasion in 1294 (click or tap on image to read more on a separate page)


Ivan signs a peace agreement with Stanislovas Janavicius of Samogitia, while his daughter, Helen, is married to the weak Alexander of Lithuania. The marriage does not protect Alexander from the looming threat of war against Moscow.

1500 - 1503

Attempting to expand its borders westwards, Ivan's Moscow begins to attack the grand duchy of Lithuania, Ruthenia, and Samogitia from 1500 as it lays claim to the Russian lands within the grand duchy. However, Ivan's efforts are resisted. Also, between 1501-1503, Moscow goes to war against Livonia and the Livonian Knights. Livonians, uniting their forces under the leadership of the Knights, defeat Moscow's army near Lake Smolensk in 1502, and a truce is concluded the following year which lasts until 1558.

1505 - 1533

Basil / Vasily III

Son. First to use 'czar' as a title.

1510 - 1522

Continuing the work of his father and consolidating Moscow's gains, Vasily now annexes the last autonomous principalities: Pskov (in 1510, although it had already been ruled for more than a century by Moscow's viceroy), Volokolamsk (in 1513, the former Novgrodian city having long been a minor appanage of Moscow), Ryazan (in 1521, with Vasily having imprisoned its last ruling duke in 1520 on apparently spurious charges), and Novgorod-Seversky (in 1522, having gained this particular region from Lithuania in battle in 1503).

Pskov's Old Ascension Monastery
Pskov's Old Ascension Monastery is a classic example of the city's architecture, with its single dome and whitewashed walls

1513 - 1514

Grand Duke Sigismund of Lithuania loses Smolensk following a concerted effort by Moscow to take this eastern stronghold, but Lithuania finds some recompense in the following year when it smashes Moscow's army near Orsha.

1533 - 1547

Ivan IV Grozny 'the Terrible'

Son. Aggressively expanded territory to form Czarate.


A peace treaty is concluded between Lithuania and Moscow in order to end nearly four decades of warfare between the two states. However, Lithuanian relations with Moscow remain the most important concern as the former Rus state begins to evolve into the new state of Russia.


Still only aged seventeen, Ivan Grozny is declared by his reformist select council to be the first czar (or tsar) of all the Russias. The title is the equivalent of 'emperor', a fitting title - so it is thought - for the ruler of the city of Moscow and all its expanded territories, which the nobility has long thought of as the third Rome (after the Constantinople of the Eastern Roman empire).

Czarate of all the Russias
AD 1547 - 1613

The 'Russias' were the lands of the Rus, covering almost all of those Rus principalities and states which had existed from the ninth century onwards. The Rus Vikings had ruled the indigenous Slavs from the cities of Novgorod and then Kyiv until 1169, when Kyiv was sacked and the principal seat of Rus command was officially moved northwards to Vladimir-Suzdal. This principality played a major role in destabilising Kyiv as the principle Rus city and benefited greatly from its diminishing status. It became a major centre of Rus power and settlement immediately before the arrival of the Mongols and the eventual ending of Old Rus independence at the hands of the Golden Horde.

The city of Moskva (Moscow) was founded as a fortress settlement prior to 1147. It sat immediately south of the junction between the River Moskva and the mighty Volga, which provided direct access to the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. The Mongols burnt it down in the winter of 1238 but it was quickly rebuilt, its remote location in heavy forest offering it a degree of protection.

The city's early princes of Moscow are not universally accepted by scholars, but Daniel or Daniil Aleksandrovich certainly is in his role as the first ruler of the grand duchy of Moscow. His descendants turned that into Moscow State, and gradually increased the city's dominance until it ruled all of the northern Rus lands. The southern and western Rus lands were largely in Lithuania's hands, commanded principally from Kyiv.

Ivan 'the Terrible' was a descendant of Theodora (or Theothiure), daughter of Sartaq, khan of the Golden Horde. Theodora had married Gleb Vasilkovich, the first Prince Belozersky of Beloozero and Rostov. He himself was a grandson of Konstantin of Rostov, and first cousin once removed of Grand Prince Alexander Nevsky of Vladimir. When Moscow State asserted its dominance over all of its rival principalities, their groups of nobility gradually became enmeshed into that of Moscow. Ivan gained the principality in 1533, aggressively expanding it from the start, despite his young age. In 1547 he was declared by his reformist select council to be the first czar (or tsar) of all the Russias. The title was the equivalent of 'emperor', a fitting title - so it was thought - for the ruler of the city of Moscow and its great sweep of Rus territory, which the nobility had long thought of as the third Rome (after the Constantinople of the Eastern Roman empire).

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America), from The Formation of Muscovy 1304-1613, Robert O Crummey, from An Introduction to the History of the Turkic Peoples, Peter B Golden (1992), from the Encyclopaedia Britannica: Or, A Dictionary of Arts, Sciences, and Miscellaneous Literature, Enlarged and Improved, Volume 3, and from External Links: Worldstatesman, and Rurik of Novgorod and the Varangian DNA, and The Fragmentation & Decline of Kievan Rus, and Encyclopaedia.com, and The Map Archive, and The Moscow Times.)

1547 - 1584

Ivan IV Grozny 'the Terrible'

Grand duke of Moscow. First czar of all the Russias.

1547 - 1558

Ivan 'the Terrible' involves the bishop of Dorpat in Livonia in a dispute which becomes the main pretext for the Livonian Wars. Ivan demands that the bishopric pay a huge tribute of 40,000 talers, insisting that city of Dorpat is the ancient Russian fortress of Yuryev, referring to the short term Ruthenian rule of the area after its conquest by Prince Yaroslav I the Wise of Kyiv between about 1030-1061. Bishop Hermann tries to negotiate a smaller tribute in the interests of extending the truce, but Ivan dismisses the diplomats and assembles his army.

Kazan khanate and Ivan IV
The short-lived Kazan khanate was conquered in 1552 by the resurgent Rus under the leadership of Ivan IV just over a century after Ulugh Muhammad had founded it


Ivan conquers the khanate of Kazan. He lays siege to their main fortress for two months before the walls are destroyed. Most of the surviving defenders are slaughtered. Yadigar Muhammad, the ruling khan, is imprisoned but the slaughter spreads to the civilian populace, with a reported 110,000 or so being killed. Neighbouring territories such as Udmurtia surrender without a fight, and many Tartars are forcibly relocated so that Russian nobles can take over their lands.

1554 - 1555

Astrakhan is attacked in 1554. The khanate's ruler, Yaghmurchi, is defeated at the Battle of Xacitarxan (Astrakhan) and is forced to flee across the River Terek to the south, in Dagestan, close to the Caucus Mountains. In 1555 he is killed, either by the Russians, or by the Nogais, or by his own successor (sources conflict). The Russians and Nogais have already ensured that their own candidate to rule Astrakhan, Darwish Ali, is able to seize control (the khanate is extinguished in 1557).

1558 - 1560

In the very first stage of the Livonian Wars in 1558, the city of Dorpat is conquered by Russian troops and the bishopric ceases to exist. The Russians also claim a success when they completely destroy the army of the Livonian Knights at the Battle of Ergeme in 1560, forcing the Order to dissolve itself the following year and submit to Lithuania.


The fight for the Baltic states is not yet over. In this decade, the Russian army launches a new offensive, and reaches Riga and Tallinn under the command of Ivan 'the Terrible'. He does not manage to capture either town. During the same period, there are further raids by the Crimean Tartars. The most serious of them, in 1571, sees Moscow in flames, but the Russians gain their revenge in the following year, at the Battle of Molodi.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1581
This map of the Nordic countries and the western czarate after AD 1581 reveal the massive advance of Moscow's controlled territories since the ending of Mongol overlordship (click or tap on map to view full sized)


The reign of John III of Sweden sees Finland raised to a grand duchy, with the king himself holding the title and governors being appointed to handle the day-to-day running of the country. This is part of the king's policy of opposing the various grand duchies claimed by Ivan IV. Ingria, Karelia, and Livonia are similarly raised, creating a line of grand duchies along the border with Russia. In the same year, 1581, the Estonian county of Läänemaa is conquered by Sweden, removing it from the control of Ösel and giving Sweden control of all of North Estonia.


The khanate of Siberia is conquered after an initial Russian attack is unsuccessful. Khan Kuchum is forced to flee under cover of darkness, leaving his capital in Russian hands. Kuchum's claim to rule the khanate lingers on until 1598 but with decreasingly few followers.

1582 - 1583

An armistice agreement is concluded between Ivan and the Polish-Lithuanian kingdom, proclaiming Livonia a possession of the latter. In 1583, Russia concludes a similar agreement with Sweden, acknowledging its supreme power in North Estonia, ending the Livonian Wars.

1584 - 1598

Fedör / Theodore I 'the Bellringer'

Second son. Last direct line Rus Rurikid. Died childless.


The Teusina Treaty agrees peaceful terms between Sweden and Russia. Kvenland ('Kaianske landet') is mentioned for the first time in an official government document as a territory which is governed by Sweden, although in reality this claim is not entirely merited.

Olavinlinna Castle
The late fifteenth century Olavinlinna Castle was constructed in Savonlinna by Erik Axelsson in an attempt to lay claim to the recently acquired Russian side of the Finnish border

1598 - 1605

Boris Godunov

Relation by the marriage of Ivan IV. Governed under Feodor.


The death of Boris Godunov and the accession of his capable sixteen year-old son as Feodor II prompts enemies of the Godunovs to protest. Envoys of an opposition leader by the name of Dimitri ('False Dimitry I', having claimed to be a son of Ivan 'the Terrible') enter Moscow to demand that Feodor is removed. They read out sensitive letters in Red Square which turns some of the boyars against Feodor. These boyars seize the young czar and arrest him. Both he and his mother are soon murdered. The 'Time of Troubles' has begun.


Fedör / Feodor / Theodore II

Son. Murdered by Godunov rivals.

1605 - 1606

Dimitri I 'the Imposter' / 'False Dimitry I'

Pretender. Murdered for welcoming Catholics into Russia.

1605 - 1618

The Polish-Muscovite War is triggered (also known as the Polish-Russian War or, in Poland-Lithuania, the Dimitriads). It forms an eastwards extension of the ongoing struggle of wills with Sweden, as both sides make the most of the dynastic problems of the Russian czarate which are known internally as 'The Times of Troubles'. The fighting is not continuous, and the sides switch constantly as objectives and opportunities evolve.

The Russians themselves spend a good deal of the conflict fighting one another, both with and without Swedish or Polish allies, and the aristocracy of the Polish commonwealth also lead their own private or mercenary armies against targets of their choosing as they attempt to expand into czarate territory. The war is not formally declared by Poland until 1609, with Sweden's formal involvement taking place as part of the Ingrian War (1610-1617).

Ingrians in early modern peasant costume
Ingrians were the Finno-Ugric cousins of the Estonians, Finns, Livs, Karelians, Wots, and Weps, many of whom were forcibly integrated into the Russian czarate and later empire

1606 - 1610

Basil Shuisky / Vasili IV

The last (distant) Rurikid. Deposed by the 'Seven Boyars'.

1607 - 1610

Pseudo-Demetrius / 'False Dimitry II'

Pretender. Never ruled in Moscow. Killed by Tartars.

1610 - 1612

Wladyislaw / Ladislaus

Future king of Poland (1632-1648). Elected czar - never ruled.


Pseudo-Demetrius / 'False Dimitry III'

Pretender. Swiftly captured and executed.

1610 - 1613

With Sweden seemingly allied more closely to Russia, Sigismund III of Poland-Lithuania is invited to 'capture' Moscow and Smolensk in 1610 by the 'Seven Boyars' (seven influential nobles who had only just deposed Vasili IV). His son, Wladyislaw, is elected czar of the Russias by the Seven Boyars but he does not take up his position due to opposition by Sigismund.

The rule of the Rurikids has already been brought to an end, although Sigismund himself is soon forced out by popular resistance in Moscow. There follows an interregnum in the Russian czarate and a period of renewed civil war whilst the wider conflict rumbles on until 1618, when an armistice is agreed in the village of Deulino, heralding the start of the Romanov dynasty of rulers.

Romanov Czars of the Russias (Russian Empire)
AD 1613 - 1917

Descendants of Rurik of Novgorod had ruled Kievan Rus since the late ninth century (albeit arguably, since some of the early leaders may not have been related to Rurik). The 'Russias' were the lands of the Rus, which gradually broke up into semi-independent principalities in the eleventh and twelfth centuries before one of them sacked Kyiv to claim Rus supremacy for Vladimir-Suzdal. This principality became a major centre of Rus power and settlement immediately before the arrival of the Mongols and the eventual ending of Old Rus independence at the hands of the Golden Horde.

Out of the loss of the Old Russian state, a new one emerged during Mongol hegemony, in the form of Moscow. This quickly became a leading power in Rus lands before becoming the only power after it absorbed the last of its opposition. Moscow's regional dominance expanded outwards gradually, but the early seventeenth century interregnum and civil war known as 'The Time of Troubles' following the murder of Czar Dimitri I set the city back somewhat. The same nobles who ignominiously deposed one of Dimitri's many successors invited Sigismund III of Poland-Lithuania into Moscow in 1610 and subsequently elected his son, Wladyislaw, as czar. Wladyislaw was unable to take up the position due to his father's opposition, and the czarate continued to fight itself for three years without any czar at all. Russia also remained at war with Poland until 1618.

The Romanovs formed Russia's second dynasty. Michael Romanov was descended from the largely mysterious Boyar Andrei Ivanovich Kobyla who received his only mention in history in the Moscow State of 1347. During the reign of Ivan IV 'the Terrible' (1547-1584), Koblya's descendants via his son, Feodor, became known as the Yakovlev family. However, the grandchildren of one of them, Roman Yurievich Zakharyin-Yuriev, assumed a form of clan name by adopting Roman Yurievich's first name as the 'Romanovs' (essentially meaning the clan or descendants of Roman). His daughter had been the wife of Ivan IV, bringing the family great wealth and power despite later problems during the short reign of Boris Godunov (1598-1605).

Following the expulsion of the Poles in 1612, the crown was offered to several Rurik and Gedimin princes whilst a number of pretenders also sought to claim the throne. In the end the son of the highly respected Filaret Romanov was asked - the sixteen year-old Mikhail Romanov (nephew of Czar Fedör I). Once he had been persuaded to accept by his mother, Kseniya Ivanovna Shestova, he pursued a policy of emphasising family ties with the Ruriks through marriage to Ivan IV. He also made sure that he asked the advice of the 'Assembly of the Land' on important issues, thereby ensuring that the populace loved him and the nobility respected him.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from Indian Frontier Policy, John Ayde (2010), from the Encyclopaedia Britannica, from the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopaedic Dictionary (1906), from the Almanach de Gotha (2012), from The Formation of Muscovy 1304-1613, Robert O Crummey, from History of the World: Volume 7, Arthur Mee, J A Hammerton, & Arthur D Innes (1907), from The First World War, John Keegan (Vintage Books, 2000), and from External Links: Imperial House (used with care, now a dead link), and The Napoleon Series.)

1613 - 1645

Mikhail / Michael I Romanov

Son of Filaret Romanov. Aged 16 at accession.

1617 - 1618

The wars against Sweden and Poland-Lithuania are quickly ended by Michael I with the signing of the Peace of Stolbovo (17 February 1617) and the Truce of Deulino (1 December 1618) respectively. The latter achievement allows the return of Michael's father from exile. Filaret Romanov largely assumes the duties of the czar's office without taking on the trappings of power. Michael's position is largely ceremonial until his father's death in 1633.

Michael Romanov
Michael Romanov was the first Russian czar of the House of Romanov, but it would be his successors who turned the czarate of the Russias into an empire

1618 - 1633

Filaret Romanov

Father and de facto ruler during his remaining lifetime.

1645 - 1676

Aleksei / Alexis

Son of Michael. A competent ruler in troubled times.

1651 - 1653

The Russo-Persian War sees Safavid troops and their allies in Dagestan attacking Russian fortifications along the Sunzha. The Dagestani units are led by Khan of Derbent, the governor of the region, who is possibly also the instigator of the violence. The intention is to strengthen the Persian position in the North Caucasus. Alexis sends an embassy to Iran to conclude a peaceful settlement of the conflict, which succeeds in August 1653.


FeatureThe reforms of Aleksei and Patriarch Nikon to Russian Orthodox ritual and worship causes a section of the Church's congregation to secede during the Great Schism. Many 'Old Believers' who refuse to follow the new practises migrate westwards, to the shores of Lake Peipsi in Estonia to form small fishing communities which continue to trade at St Petersburg (see feature link). Others are killed in their thousands, or commit suicide by setting themselves alight rather than obey the czar's reforms.

1654 - 1655

Poland-Lithuania is dragged into the Russo-Polish War over control of Kyiv, the south-easternmost of the Polish Commonwealth's territories. Russian troops seize the most important centres of the Lithuanian grand duchy - Smolensk, Vitebsk, Mogilev, and Minsk - and for the first time in Lithuanian history Vilnius is occupied, followed shortly afterwards by Kaunas and Grodno. The commonwealth's king is exiled between September and November in 1655 while the Dnieper Cossacks now ally themselves with Russia, providing an additional threat to the Crimean khanate.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1660
The Swedes had removed themselves from the Union of Kalmar with Denmark and Norway in 1523, and since that time had built up a Nordic empire of their own which now dominated the eastern lands and Baltic territories - prime targets for Russian expansion (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1654 - 1658

A Russian expeditionary force which enters the Qin lands is defeated by a combined Qin and Joseon army at the Battle of Hutong (today's Yilan in far north-western China). A second Russian expedition into Qin lands in 1658 is similarly ejected by combined Qin and Joseon forces.

1669 - 1671

Under pressure for years by heavy taxes and unsettled political conditions, the Don Cossacks in southern Russia now rebel. Led by Stenka Razin, a disaffected Don Cossack, they capture the Russian city of Astrakhan on the northern shore of the Caspian sea. Then they expand their operations to seize several towns along the River Volga. Stenka Razin becomes involved in the siege of Simbirsk in October 1670. This fails, and Razin is eventually captured on the Don in April 1671. His punishment is to be drawn and quartered in Moscow.

1676 - 1682

Fedör / Feodor / Theodore III

Son. Acceded aged 15. Died without any surviving offspring.


The rapid growth of Russian territory finally prompts a serious Ottoman campaign to expel the Russians from the Ukraine 'border' region to the east of Kyiv. A large Ottoman army is sent against them, supported by Tartar cavalry. The offensive culminates in the siege of the strategic city of Cihrin. Russian attempts to relieve the city fail, and the Ottomans are able to secure a favourable treaty. However, although the Russians are temporarily pushed back, continued warfare along the Polish frontier forces the Ottomans to discontinue their Ukrainian campaign.

1682 - 1689

The death of Fedör sparks the Streltsy Uprising or Moscow Uprising of 1682. Behind it are the two wives of the late Czar Aleksei, who are striving for domination. The uprising of the Moscow Streltsy regiments provides Sofia Alexeyevna, daughter of Maria Miloslavskaya, with supreme power as regent of Russia. Ivan and Peter, both still minors, accede to the throne (with a two-seater throne made especially for them), but Sofia is in charge. She rules with an iron fist and a heavy hand.

The Streltsy Uprising of 1682
The Streltsy Uprising resulted in executions, as depicted in this fragment of the 'Morning of the Streltsy execution'

1682 - 1696

Ivan V

Brother. Czar in name only due to severe disabilities.

1682 - 1725

Peter I the Great

Half-brother and co-czar during Ivan's lifetime.

1682 - 1689

Sofia Alexeyevna

Sister of Ivan V and regent. Deposed.

1688 - 1689

Peter reaches the age of sixteen in 1688, and begins to impose his will on events. Power in the royal court gradually shifts from Sofia to him as he makes his own appointments. In 1689 Sofia considers pronouncing herself czarina but her broad support has already waned. Then she offers a joint throne to Peter, who refuses. Instead she is arrested and sent in virtual exile to Novodevichy Convent (Ivan V survives as the now-junior co-czar until his death in 1696, after which Peter is sole czar).

In the same year, 1689, the Treaty of Nerchinsk is signed, the first treaty between Russia and Qin China. It delineates the border between their respective empires, largely placing the hunter-gatherer Tungusic peoples on the Russian side while China dominates their sedentary groups around the River Amur.


While the Ottomans are preoccupied in the Balkans against Austria, Poland-Lithuania, and Venice, Peter the Great leads an attack against the Ottoman fortress of Azov in the heart of the Crimean khanate. He finally captures it in this year, although the Tartars manage to evade two other Russian invasions during the war. This series of campaigns signal the beginning of an ominous new era in the khanate's relationship with Russia, as its neighbour is able to steadily penetrate its frontier as never before.

Battle of Lepanto 1571
European victory at the Battle of Lepanto (in which Venice's navy was heavily involved) was considered the saviour of Europe itself from the advancing Ottoman threat, shown in this 1640 oil by Andries van Eertvelt (1590-1652)


Russia adopts the already-outdated Julian calender on the orders of the czar while Western Europe is in the process of switching to the Gregorian calender. The Russian year of 7207 - as calculated from the purported beginning of the world ('Anno Mundi', meaning 'from the world's creation') - is replaced by the year 1700 and the date upon which the new year is celebrated is switched from 1 September to 1 January.

In the same year Sweden finds itself attacked by Russia, Poland, and Denmark in the Great Northern War (alternatively entitled the Second Northern War) which lasts until 1721. Sweden's expansion at the end of the Livonian Wars had antagonised several states, notably those on the receiving end of defeats such as Russia and Denmark. The latter state takes the opportunity presented by the death of Charles XI of Sweden to organise an anti-Swedish coalition.

1709 - 1710

Czar Peter defeats and effectively destroys the Swedish empire at the Battle of Poltava, in Ukraine in 1709, during the Great Northern War. The Swedish army is forced to surrender at Perevolochna. The following year, the growing Russian empire gains control of Finland, Estonia, and Livonia.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1721
Capture of Malmo 1709
The capture of the town of Malmo in 1709 by Count Magnus Stenbock was probably one of the last Swedish victories as Russia and her allies defeated the Swedes later the same year, while above is a map showing the Nordic borders following the war's conclusion in 1721 (click or tap on map to view full sized)

1717 - 1718

The discovery of gold along the banks of the Amu Darya has prompted a good deal of interest in the khanate of Khiva by various great powers. Peter the Great sends a 'trade' expedition under the command of Prince Alexander Bekovich-Cherkassky which comes complete with a considerable number of armed men. It fails to secure Russian ambitions in the region, however, because Shir Ghazi slaughters all but ten of the men. After his Swedish and Ottoman conflicts, Peter is unable to raise any funds to mount a retaliatory strike.


The Great Northern War is ended with the Treaty of Nystad by which time Russia has already gained much influence in the duchy of Courland with the marriage of Princess Anna Ivanova (later empress in 1730) to the ruling duke. That duchy, plus Ingria, Estonia, and Livonia, are confirmed as Russian possessions. Large numbers of Ingrian Finns (not to be confused with Izhorian-speaking Ingrians) migrate back into Finland proper as Russia starts to impose its own rule on the region. Peter is subsequently proclaimed 'Emperor of All Russia', although only Poland-Lithuania, Prussia, and Sweden recognise this claim.

1722 - 1723

Sensing the weakness of the Safavid empire, Peter launches the Russo-Persian War of 1722-1723. Otherwise known as the 'Persian Expedition of Peter the Great', the war is designed to increase Russian influence in the Caucuses and prevent the Ottoman empire from increasing its own regional authority. Astrabad, Baku, Derbent, Gilan, Mazandaran, and Shirvan are all successfully won (only to be subsequently leased back to Persia between 1732-1735 now that the two states are allies).

Russian troops of the Russo-Persian War in 1722
Peter the Great spotted the military weakness of Iran and its provinces and began a long-running Russian push to extend his empire's borders southwards with his modernised army

1725 - 1727

Catherine I

Wife of Peter I, and czarina in her own right after his death.

1727 - 1730

Peter II

Son of Tsarevich Alexei Petrovich (son of Peter I).

1730 - 1740

Anna / Anne

Dau of Ivan V. Former regent of Courland.

1735 - 1739

The recent Ottoman-Persian War and the subsequent peace treaty results now in the Austro-Russo-Turkish War (1735-1739). The main excuse for the war is continued raiding for slaves by the Crimean khanate on the Cossack Hetmanate of Ukraine, and a Crimean military excursion into the Caucuses. The Russians plunge deep into poorly-defended Crimean territory, burning as they go. Even the Ottoman fortress at Azov is captured, so that the caliph at Constantinople is forced to remove Crimean khans Qaplan Giray I (in 1736) and Fetih Giray II (in 1737) from their positions for their failures.

Plague also sweeps through the combatants, sometimes reducing the fighting to little more than minor border skirmishes. Austria's own participation in the war against the Ottomans in 1737 ends in several Austrian defeats.


Anna Ivanova, following her accession to the imperial throne, places her own candidate in charge of the duchy of Courland. He is Ernst Biron, but he is soon exiled by the new regime in St Petersburg following Anna's death. Despite this he continues to claim to rule there.

1740 - 1741

Ivan VI

Grand-nephew. Infant at accession. Usurped and imprisoned.

1740 - 1741

Anna Leopoldovna / Carlovna

Mother and regent. Niece of Anna. Exiled.

1741 - 1762

Elizaveta / Elizabeth Petrovna

Dau of Peter I. Usurper. Last direct Romanov descendant.

1741 - 1743

A Swedish attempt to regain territory lost to Russia backfires in the Russo-Swedish War, which is part of the greater Austrian War of Succession. Also known as the Hats' Russian War, the Russian forces sweep the Swedes back to Helsinki where they surrender, and Finland is again occupied while peace negotiations rumble on. The Lesser Wrath, as this event is known, sees Sweden further diminished as a great power when it is forced to hand over the Finnish towns of Hamina and Lappeenranta, along with a strip of territory lying to the north-west of St Petersburg. The River Kymi is set as the new border.

War of the Austrian Succession
The War of the Austrian Succession saw Europe go to war to decide whether Maria Theresa would secure the throne left to her by her father, but several other issues were also decided as a wide range of wars were involved in the overall conflict


The direct line of Romanov rulers dies out with Elizabeth Petrovna (although the direct male line had already ended with the death of Peter II). A period of crisis follows the death as a suitable candidate is sought amongst various more distant relatives. In the end, a grandson of Peter I is found in the House of Holstein-Gottorp, a junior (cadet) branch of the House of Oldenburg. Peter III (born Karl Peter Ulrich) is the product of a marriage between Grand Duchess Anne, daughter of Peter I, and Duke Charles-Frederick of Holstein-Gottorp. Although generally acclaimed as a Romanov, in fact he begins the line of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov which rules Russia until 1917.


Peter III

First Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov czar. Assassinated.


Peter III is assassinated after only six months on the throne, although the circumstances of his death seem uncertain. As the duke of Holstein-Gottorp he has an extra degree of interest in affairs in Germany, perhaps too much for some elements of the Russian nobility. He plans an attack on Denmark in order to restore areas of Schleswig to his duchy, and withdraws Russian troops from the Seven Years' War. In the end, the plot to depose him is led by his own wife. He is transported to captivity at Ropsha, where he dies in mysterious circumstances. Catherine takes over, but is beset by various claimants to be Peter, not dead after all. One of them also claims to be Jesus.

1762 - 1796

Yekaterina / Catherine II the Great

Wife, and czarina in her own right after Peter's death.


With an increase of direct Russian control of the Baltic states in mind, Catherine orders Livonia to be administered directly by the governor-general of the Baltic Provinces, Count George Browne. Estonia is forced to follow suit in 1775.


The imperial province of Novorossiya (New Russia) is formed along the central northern area of the Black Sea coast (now part of Ukraine). The province is a merging of several military districts and the Cossack Hetmanate in order to improve and increase Russian control of the region as part of the ongoing process of impinging upon Ottoman territory to the south.

Torelli Stefano's Allegory of Catherine the Great's Victory over the Turks and Tatars
Torelli Stefano's Allegory of Catherine the Great's Victory over the Turks and Tatars was painted in 1772, combining images of concrete historical personages with figures from the artists' free-flying imagination - the painting was commissioned to glorify the victory of the Russian army in the first Russo-Turkish War (1768-1774) and Catherine the Great is portrayed as the goddess Minerva in a triumphal chariot (click or tap on image to view full sized)


After this date, all of Alania falls under the rule of the Russian empire as part of Catherine's thrust southwards through the Caucuses to remove these territories from Ottoman influence. The peoples are generally converted to the Russian Orthodox church and in terms of identity they form the Ossetians, based in modern Georgia and the bordering Russian republics.

1768 -1774

The First Russo-Turkish War is part of Catherine's move to secure the conquest of territory on Russia's southern borders. Following the repression of revolts in Poland-Lithuania, Russia becomes involved in chasing rebels across the southern border into Ottoman territory. The Ottomans imprison captured Russian forces, effectively declaring war.

Despite being slow to mobilise, in 1774 Russia wins Kabardia (in the northern Caucuses), part of the Yedisan between the Bug and Dnieper (now covering south-western Ukraine and south-eastern Moldova (southern Transnistria), and the Crimea region. Georgia also joins the Russian empire as a client kingdom while the khanate of Crimea is granted nominal independence.


As part of Catherine's successful policy of expanding the Russian empire southwards and westwards during what becomes seen as its golden age, Russia shares the spoils during the First Partition of Poland-Lithuania, gaining Polish Livonia (Latgallia) and Lithuania.

Allenstien's Old Town
The city of Olsztyn (or Allenstein in German) was seized by Prussia in the 1772 partition of Poland-Lithuania, but Russia and Austria also seized their own prizes

1773 - 1775

Perhaps the most serious revolt which takes place during Catherine's expansionist foreign policy is the Cossack Rebellion, also known as Pugachev's Rebellion. The Ural Cossacks rebel against the high taxes being imposed on their main livelihood, the fishing industry.

They are united under the leadership of former Russian army lieutenant, Yemelyan Pugachev, but when he proclaims the formation of an alternative Russian government in the name of Peter III and the end of serfdom, action has to be taken against him. The Battle of Kazan (actually two back-to-back battles) takes place on 12-15 July 1774, and the rebel forces are crushed. The rebellion is finally ended before the year is out.

1778 - 1790

Having secured the Swedish throne through force, Gustavus conducts two failed military campaigns in 1788-1790, first to capture Norway and then to recapture the Baltic Provinces from Russia.

1783 - 1786

Despite having guaranteed its independence in 1774, Catherine now formally annexes the khanate of Crimea. This removes any possibility of Ottoman influence or domination. She also agrees with the Treaty of Georgievsk to protect Georgia from any fresh Persian attacks. In 1786 Catherine takes part in a procession in the Crimea to celebrate the event, which itself sparks the Second Russo-Turkish War.

Siege of Azov 1736
The Siege of Azov in 1736 had been part of the greater Austro-Russo-Turkish War (1735-1739) and had already seen the Russians capture the Ottoman fortress of Azov for a second, and final, time in their ongoing on-off conflict

In 1784 the newly-formed Shelikhov-Golikov Company (in 1783) gains the charter for the Russian exploitation of Russian America's resources. Founded by Grigory Shelikhov and Ivan Golikov (1729–1805), this is the first attempt to found a permanent settlement in Alaska following around forty years of relatively low key fur trading.

1787 - 1792

The Second Russo-Turkish War is part of the ongoing struggle for hegemony between the Russian and Ottoman empires around the Black Sea coast. Stung by the apparent permanent loss of the Crimea, the Ottoman empire launches a campaign to regain territory which had been lost to Russia in the previous Russo-Turkish War.

The Ottomans have to fight on two fronts - the other being the Austro-Turkish War of 1787 - as Austria and Russia have agreed an alliance. Ottoman troops are hopelessly ill-prepared and badly led, and their defeats results in the sudden death of Sultan Abdul-Hamid I. Russia gains Yedisan (Odessa and Ochakov), while the Dniester becomes the new frontier.

From 1791, Russia operates an area known as the Pale of Settlement. Initially this is small, but it increases greatly from 1793 and the Second Partition of the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. By the mid-nineteenth century it incorporates modern Belarus (eastern Poland at the time), eastern Latvia, Lithuania, the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), and western Ukraine. Having formerly been citizens of the defunct commonwealth, the Jewish population of the 'Pale' is restricted from moving eastwards into Russia proper.

Russian troops of the Second Russo-Turkish War in 1787
The Second Russo-Persian War in 1787-1792 witnessed a continuation of imperial Russia's push to extend its borders southwards at the expense of the weakening Muslim powers

1793 - 1795

Russia gains Podolia, Volynia, and more of Lithuania during the Second Partition of Poland-Lithuania. Two years later, the Third Partition of Poland-Lithuania sees Russia gain almost all of modern Belarus, ending the existence of the joint states, as well as terminating the duchies of Courland and Samogitia. Governors are installed in Lithuania.

1795 - 1796

The new shah of Persia, Agha Mohammad, has put an end to the dynastic struggles at home and now mounts a campaign to re-strengthen Persian positions in Dagestan, Azerbaijan, and Armenia. He also launches a devastating attack on Georgia which sees Tiblisi destroyed and from which the kingdom never recovers.

However, Georgia's agreement with Russia means that Catherine the Great launches the Persian Expedition of 1796. Georgia is cleared of Persians with little trouble, but with Azerbaijan also seemingly captured, the empress' sudden death means that her son, Paul, is free to cancel the expedition (resulting in a sense of injustice amongst many officers involved).

1796 - 1801

Paul I

Son. Killed in palace coup.

1799 - 1800

The Second Coalition is formed by Austria and Russia against France. It ends in Austrian defeat at the Battle of Marengo, which eventually secures the French client republics in the Netherlands and Italy. Also in 1799, the 'Russian American Company' is formed under the patronage of Czar Paul I to exploit Russian America for the czar's direct benefit.

Battle of Marengo 1800
One of Napoleon's most brilliant achievements was his Italian campaign, which ended with the Battle of Marengo on 14 June 1800 - Austria was ejected from Northern Italy and French power there was now unquestioned


On 8 January Czar Paul I signs a decree which incorporates the kingdom of Kartli-Kakheti in eastern Georgia into the empire. King Giorgi is deposed as Russia formally annexes the state on 12 September. The western Georgian kingdom of Imeretia retains its independence for the time being.

1801 - 1825

Alexander I

Son. Implicated in coup. First grand duke of Finland.


King Solomoni II is attempting to enlist Ottoman and Persian support for Imeretia in preparation for the anticipated Russian encroachment on his borders. The Russian commander in the region is Prince Pavel Tsitsianov. He marches his army into Imeretia and forces Solomoni to accept vassalage under the terms of the convention of Elaznauri, on 25 April 1804. This effectively triggers a Russo-Persian War (1804-1813) which sees some early Persian victories followed by defeats, stalemate, and the effective loss of Dagestan, Georgia, and Azerbaijan.


The Third Coalition is formed against France so, in a swift campaign, Napoleon marches east, occupies the Austrian capital of Vienna, and defeats large armies of Austrians and Russians at Austerlitz. The coalition lies in ruins.


Russia takes the principalities of Moldavia and Wallachia from the Ottomans in battle and occupies the region. Upon the advance into Russia of the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte, they sign a quick treaty and evacuate their troops northwards.


Following the indecisive Battle of Eylau, Napoleon's France utterly defeats the Austrians and Russians at the Battle of Friedland. The Russian army is forced to retreat in chaos from the battlefield, ending the Fourth Coalition and forcing Alexander to negotiate for peace.


The Finnish War is fought between Sweden and Russia, part of the wider Napoleonic Wars. Russia has long coveted control of the grand duchy of Finland, and between February 1808 to September 1809 it is able to annexe what is in effect the eastern third of Sweden. This vast area is detached as the now-autonomous grand duchy of Finland, with Czar Alexander as its titular head. The campaign is commanded by Barclay de Tolly, later Russian governor of Finland.

The Finnish War of 1809
The Swedish plan of war in 1809 was largely based around the fortress of Sveaborg and waiting for reinforcements from Sweden itself, but the fortress' commanding officer, Karl Olof Cronstedt, inexplicably handed it over to the Russians following a brief barrage and the loss of six men


Alexander abolishes the western Georgian kingdom of Imeretia and removes its last king in violation of Russia's own protectorate treaty, on 20 February 1810. Later the same year the deposed king flees to Ottoman Akhaltsikhe when he learns of a Russian plot to kidnap him.

1812 - 1813

Incensed by Russia's refusal to join his blockade of Britain, Napoleon invades with one of the largest armies Europe has ever seen. Courland is captured, and Lithuania is occupied, and the French advance to Moscow. However, frustrated by the Russian policy of using the vast space of the country to defeat him, and perhaps unnerved by being ignored after his capture of Moscow, he is forced to retreat to Germany. In early 1813, Europe's armies mobilise against him, and a victory at Leipzig pushes the French back within their own borders.


Those Polish lands which had been under Russian control prior to the Napoleonic Wars are formally regained, with the territory being formed into the 'Polish Kingdom' in subordinate union with Russia, as established by the Congress of Vienna. The czar remains head of state as king of Poland.

1825 - 1855

Nicholas I

Brother. King of Poland. Grand duke of Finland.

1826 - 1828

The Russo-Persian War is the last major military conflict between the Russian and Persian empires, and the first time the two have fought each other since the Treaty of Gulistan of 1813. Shah Fath Ali is still desperate for increased foreign subsidies, and is advised by British agents to reconquer the territories that have been lost to Russia. On 28 July 1826, a 35,000-strong Persian army is led across the border by Abbas Mirza, invading the khanates of Talysh and Karabakh. The khans surrender their main cities to the Persians. However, Russian military power proves too much for them and eastern Armenia is taken before Persia agrees peace terms, bolstered in part by the start of the Russo-Turkish War.

'Sinope 3 November 1855' by William Simpson (1823-1899)
Sinope remains inhabited today, centred around the military fort shown here on 3 November 1855 by William Simpson, although the fort's presence makes archaeological digs very difficult (click or tap on image to view full sized)

1828 - 1829

The Russo-Turkish War, triggered by the fighting in Greece and the Danubian principalities, ends in the Peace of Adrianople. The Ottoman sultan closes the Dardanelles to Russian vessels but the Russians lay siege to three major Ottoman cities in Bulgaria. In the end, despite an embarrassing defeat along the way, Russia wins the mouth of the Danube and much of the Black Sea's western coast under the terms of the peace, or Treaty of Adrianople. Serbia also achieves autonomy.

1839 - 1840

Nicholas sends an expedition to Khiva, purportedly to free slaves who had been captured from areas of the Russian frontier and sold by Turkmen raiders. Britain is already involved in the First Anglo-Afghan War in Afghanistan but, despite sending over five thousand infantry, the Russian force stumbles into one of harshest winters in living memory. It is driven back by the weather and by its losses in early 1840. Britain persuades the khan of Khiva to outlaw the slave trade, removing Russia's excuse to attempt a re-invasion.


Undeterred by previous setbacks, Russia builds Fort Aralsk at the mouth of the Syr Darya. From here the empire begins a steady process of encroachment upon the lands of Bukhara, Khiva, and Kokend. Russia meets stiff resistance all the way but its resources far exceed those of its opponents.

1854 - 1856

Britain and France join the Ottoman empire in the Crimean War against Russia, to halt Russian expansion. The war ends with the signing of the Treaty of Paris, a severe setback to Russian ambitions. In the meantime, Czar Nicholas has died of pneumonia.

French Zouaves in the Crimea
This illustration of French Zouaves (light infantry, generally drawn from North Africa) in the Crimea was published in The Charleston Mercury on 21 November 1861

1855 - 1881

Alexander II

Son. Assassinated by revolutionaries.


The 'Emancipation Reform of 1861' - more literally known as the 'Peasants' Reform' - abolishes serfdom in the Russian empire. The act frees up to twenty-three million people. (Serfs living on state-owned lands are freed in 1866.)


The period between 22 January 1863 to April 1865 witnesses the 'Second (January) Insurrection', or January Uprising in Poland. The uprising takes place across much of the former Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, including Poland, Lithuania, the Baltic Provinces, Latgallia, and Livonia. Following this, Congress Poland is administered as an integral part of Russia.

In the same year, the Language Decree is issued in Finland by Alexander. It marks the beginning of the process through which Finnish becomes an official administrative language. Although only one seventh of the Finnish population speaks Swedish as its first language, Swedish retains its dominant position until the beginning of the twentieth century. In the same year, the Finnish Diet is convened after a break of more than half a century. From now on, the Diet meets regularly, and active legislative work begins in Finland.

1866 - 1867

An uprising in Georgia is put down. The following year, the United States senate purchases Russian America (Alaska and northern California) from Russia for just US$7.2 million. Alexander lets it go because he fears that the British in Canada will invade and seize it.


Khiva is finally conquered by Russia, on the third attempt. Russian General von Kaufman leads 13,000 infantry and cavalry, taking the capital, Khiva, on 28 May 1873. The city's fall is recorded by artist Vasily Vereshchagin. A treaty of August of the same year establishes Khiva as a Russian protectorate which retains its own rulers but only with nominal independence. Russia establishes a fixed boundary between Afghanistan and its new territories ( Bukhara, Tashkent, and Khiva, all of which go into forming Uzbekistan in 1924), promising to respect Afghanistan's territorial integrity.

Russia takes Khiva in 1873
Russia's determination to capture Khiva led it farther and farther east and south around the shore of the Caspian Sea - until Khiva was finally taken in 1873 and the artist Vasily Vereshchagin could be present to capture this scene of Russian troops entering the capital

1881 - 1894

Alexander III

Son. Died of cancer.


The first modern-era wave of Jewish migrations back to Palestine begins with an event known as the First Aliyah. The Jews are fleeing pogroms in Eastern Europe, most notably in the territories of the Russian empire under Alexander III and his imposition of anti-liberalisation reforms. These may be partially the result of the January Uprising of 1863.

Russia operates an area known as the Pale of Settlement, largely territory to the west which has been acquired from the former Polish-Lithuanian commonwealth. Today this forms Russia's western border region and, from 1791-1793, it has incorporated modern Belarus (eastern Poland at the time), eastern Latvia, Lithuania, the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), and western Ukraine. The Jewish population of the 'Pale' are restricted from moving eastwards into Russia proper and are now being discouraged from remaining in the western border regions of the empire.

1894 - 1917

Nicholas II

Son. Last de facto Czar. Murdered in 1918.

1899 - 1905

The grand duchy of Finland has long been a sore point for Russian imperialists. It is a state within a state, with its own senate and its own Diet, its own local officials, legislation, army, money (the mark) and postage stamps. And to top it all off, Finland is separated from the empire by an official border. The obliteration of 'Finnish separatism', a policy also known as Russification, begins during the 'First Era of Oppression' which is driven by Nicholas.

The lakes and forests of Karelia formed the official eastern Finnish-Russian border from the start of the nineteenth century

1903 - 1914

The Second Aliyah to Palestine is triggered in 1903 by an anti-Jewish riot in the city of Kishinev (modern Chişinău), the capital of the province of Bessarabia (modern Moldova), part of the Russian empire. Something like 40,000 Jews settle in Palestine, although only half remain permanently. Many others, evicted from their settlements in the 'Pale' head towards western Poland or America (something which is dramatically highlighted, if with a touch of artistic licence, in the film musical, Fiddler on the Roof, 1971. which has its final scenes set in 1905).


Russian troops fire on protestors in St Petersburg (an event dubbed 'Bloody Sunday'), sparking the 1905 Russian Revolution. The outcome of the revolution is especially noticeable in Finland, which makes a great leap forwards in the application of democratic governance, and in Armenia and Azerbaijan, which gain considerably more freedom as a result. The Poles fare less well, facing brutal repressions. In September of the same year, Japan and Russia sign the Treaty of Portsmouth, ending the Russo-Japanese War (1904-1905) and confirming Japan's dominance in Korea.


The illiterate Siberian starets (a mystic, or holy man), Grigori Rasputin, cements his hold over Czarina Alexandra (a granddaughter of Britain's Queen Victoria). Her son, Alexei, is a haemophiliac whom no modern medical practitioners can seemingly help. She has turned increasingly to various starets, and now to Rasputin, following a head injury to Alexei which had threatened to continue bleeding until he was dead. Instead the bleeding stops the day after Rasputin advises her to dismiss the doctors. His influence steadily increases, seemingly to the detriment of the empire, until he is murdered by persons unknown on 30 December 1916.

Grigori Rasputin exhibited a startling and, to many in the imperial court, troubling level of influence over the czarina and, through her, the czar himself, so Rasputin had to be removed from the scene


Having jointly guaranteed in 1839 to support the neutrality of Belgium, when the country is invaded by Germany, Britain, France, and Russia are forced to declare war against imperial Germany and Austria at midnight on 4 August in what becomes known as the Great War or First World War. However, the Russian army advancing into Eastern Europe is routed by the Germans at the Battle of Tannenberg, and Russian Poland is lost.


On the Eastern Front, Russian defeats bring the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania, under German imperial control, much to the relief of the German-descended land-owning aristocracy.


The February Revolution begins with riots in Petrograd over food rations and the conduct of the First World War against the German empire, and it ends with the creation of a Bolshevik Russian republic following the October Revolution. Nicholas II abdicates, first in favour of his son, Alexei, and then in favour of his brother, Michael. The act effectively ends a thousand years of royal rule. Mismanaging their own administration of the country and badly handling the war effort, the Bolsheviks start to lose control of some of Russia's imperial dominions, and Russia slides into civil war.

Belgium refugees in 1914
Belgian refugees (looking surprisingly jolly) were photographed here in 1914, on the road between Malines and Brussels while they attempted to outrun the invading imperial German army



Son. Provisional czar for eight hours.


Grand Duke Michael (II) Alexandrovich

Second son of Alexander II. Executed 1918.

1917 - 1918

Grand Duke Michael, pronounced Michael II by his brother, defers his ascension to the throne until his rule can be ratified. Instead, and under pressure, he authorises the provisional government to rule. His uncrowned reign ends when he is executed the following year. His death is legally recognised by a court of law in 1924, at which time Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich becomes the recognised head of the House of Romanov and the legitimate heir to the Romanov throne. The new Soviet Union, though, shows no signs of entertaining a return to imperial control.

Soviet Russia
AD 1917 - 1991
Incorporating the House of Romanov

The Old Rus state began at Novgorod, but quickly moved its mother city to Kyiv in the ninth century. The 'Russias' were the lands of the Rus, which gradually broke up into semi-independent principalities in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Superiority was taken by force from Kyiv and transferred to Vladimir-Suzdal in 1169, just a century or so prior to the arrival of the Mongols. A new centre of Rus power emerged during the period of Mongol hegemony, in the form of Moscow. This quickly dominated the remaining Rus principalities to form a single, Moscow State which became an empire under the Czarate, and gained the Romanovs as its second major dynasty.

The Romanovs ruled with a fairly strict hand for the next three centuries, but resentment against the lack of reform began to spread during the second half of the nineteenth century, sparked in part by various popular revolts in western and Central Europe. The First World War brought matters to a head, with the February Revolution in 1917 removing the Romanovs from power. The October Revolution which replaced the unstable 'February' republican government created a Bolshevik communist state in Russia, sweeping away the old administrative order in favour of regional 'soviets'. The new government, far from stable itself, also badly handled what remained of Russia's First World War effort, holding out for a beneficial peace agreement with Germany and being forced instead to accept the harsh terms of the Brest-Litovsk treaty.

As a result of that and far too many reforms in too short a period, the Soviet authorities began losing control over many of the former empire's outlying states and provinces, especially those which had been handed over to Germany under the terms of the treaty, such as Bessarabia, Byelorussia, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldavia, Russian Poland, and western Ukraine, plus Crimea, the industrial Donetz basin and, on 8 May 1918, the Don. It took the collapse of imperial Germany and three long years of civil war before the Russian empire could be reborn under more solid Soviet control.

As for the Romanovs, it was not until 1924 when the death of Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich was legally recognised (the civil war was a distraction until then). The subsequent claim of Grand Duke Vladimir Cyrillovich Romanov to be the rightful heir to Czar Nicholas II was not disputed then or for quite some time later. However, since his death in 1992 the divided branches of the House of Romanov (or more accurately Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov) have each put forward their own claimant as heir to the throne of the Russias.

Prince Nicholas Romanovich is recognised by most of the family, bearing direct descent from the uncrowned 'successor' to Nicholas II, Grand Duke Michael Alexandrovich. Meanwhile, Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna, the daughter of Grand Duke Vladimir, upholds her claim because her father issued a controversial decree which recognised her as his successor. Before that, the claim by Anna Anderson that she was one of Czar Nicholas' daughters was proved false but, as she could not claim the throne while a valid male heir still lived, she was not actually a pretender. Recognised successors of the last czar are shown below with a shaded background. Pretenders and other disqualified claimants are shown in green text.

The true power in Soviet Russia was the Marxist-Leninist single state party state which was usually headed by a single, strong figure (a typical feature throughout Russian history). These individuals are shown below in black text with no shading. Russia lay at the heart of the new Soviet empire so, although some purists disagree with using 'Russia' to refer to the Soviet regime, it seems to be the most logical way of describing events which related directly to Russia itself. Anything else is simply a case of semantics taking precedence over good reason.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopaedic Dictionary (1906), from The Formation of Muscovy 1304-1613, Robert O Crummey, from History of the World: Volume 7, Arthur Mee, J A Hammerton, & Arthur D Innes (1907), from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UCLA International Institute, Reuters, from the Almanach de Gotha (2012), from The History of the Baltic Countries, Zigmantas Kiaupa, Ain Mäesalu, Ago Pajur, & Gvido Straube (Eds, Estonia 2008), from Estonia: Return to independence, Rein Taagepera (Westview Press, 1993), from The First World War, John Keegan (Vintage Books, 2000), and from External Links: Reading Russia and the Soviet Union in the twentieth century, Ronald Suny (Cambridge History of Russia, 2008), and Russia Agrees to Full Withdrawal Of Troops in Estonia by Aug 31 (New York Times), and USSR Established (on this day) (History.com), and Britannica.)


Liberalist and monarchist White Guard Russian forces (including supporters of the 'February' revolution) resist the imposition of a Bolshevik state, and fight a civil war against the Red Guard communist forces. In the newly-formed Tashkent SSR, anti-Bolshevik forces unite to liberate the former khanate of Khiva, the emirate of Bukhara, and Turkestan Krai. While Russia is preoccupied, Rumania gains the principality of Transylvania from Hungary, as well as some territory from Russia itself.

Lenin and the October Revolution
Vladimir Lenin was the figurehead of the October Revolution and also its key instigator and controller, but the revolution plunged Russia into three years of bitter civil war

FeatureWhite Guard forces are closing in on the location in Yekaterinburg in which the czar and his family are imprisoned. In the basement, Bolshevik soldiers gather together Tsar Nicholas II, his wife Alexandra, their four daughters, the grand duchesses Anastasia, Maria, Olga, and Tatiana, their son, Tsarevich Alexei, and four royal staff members, ostensibly for a photo. Instead they murder all of their captives in a hail of bullets, completing the work with more bullets, bayonets, and rifle-butt clubbing (see feature link, right). The bodies are hurriedly buried in a mass grave in the Urals.

1918 - 1924

Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov / Lenin

Bolshevik & Soviet leader. Confirmed 1922.

1918 - 1984

Anastasia / Anna Anderson

Born 22 Dec 1896. Claimed youngest dau of Czar Nicholas.

1918 - 1924

The title of czar of all the Russias is vacant until an heir is selected in 1924, when the death of Michael II (by execution in 1918 - see above) is legally recognised in a court of law. However, Anastasia has already claimed to be the only survivor of the 1917 massacre of the imperial family, and she bears all of the physical similarities and internal palace knowledge necessary to convince many that her claim is true.

However, her claim is never accepted by the surviving senior members of the Romanov family in Europe and America, and cannot be confirmed legally. Some critics point to a Polish peasant girl who had gone missing at the same time as Anastasia had appeared, and they claim it is a hoax. Anastasia's own admission in her last years, alongside DNA testing, confirms that she had indeed been the missing Polish girl.

1918 - 1919

During the Russian Civil War, the Ossetians form part of the Transcaucasian republic in 1918-1919, before forming one of several pockets of White Guard/Republican resistance against Moscow until 1920.

North Ossetia
The countryside which traditionally formed the territory of Alania in the North Caucuses, now the Russian republic of North Ossetia-Alania, is mostly mountainous scrub

1920 - 1921

The Russian Civil War comes to an end with the Bolshevik forces victorious against the piecemeal attempts at resistance. The main threat had been Admiral Kolchak's anti-Bolshevik forces in Siberia, which assembled through Czech intervention after interference by the Bolsheviks themselves. Russia and Turkey establish their respective borders with one another and the remaining independent Armenian lands fall under Russian control. Russia also invades and re-conquers Georgia, and the Russo-Polish War results in the partitioning of disputed territory between the two as the Belarussian Soviet Socialist Republic and eastern Poland respectively.


Grand Duke Nicholas Nikolaevich

Grandson of Nicholas II. Briefly hailed by White Army East.

1922 - 1924

The victorious Bolsheviks form the Soviet Union through the unification of the former empire's various new republics with the Russian republic. The other three founding members are the Transcaucasian Socialist Federative Soviet Republic, the Ukrainian Soviet Socialist Republic, and the Byelorussian Soviet Socialist Republic. In Central Asia, the Turkestan ASSR is divided into the Uzbek SSR, the Turkmen SSR, the Kara-Kirghiz Autonomous Oblast (Kyrgyzstan), and the Karakalpak Autonomous Oblast (modern Karakalpakstan, an autonomous republic of Uzbekistan). Initially, the Tajik ASSR is also adjoined to the Uzbek state.

Lenin is confirmed as the union's leader, but his death in 1924 leaves a troika (triumvirate) collective leadership in place. The Central Committee's general secretary, Joseph Stalin, quickly suppresses his opposition which is headed by Leon Trotsky, sometimes violently. He assumes the leadership of the union, still as the general secretary (although he assumes the dual role of Soviet premier from 1941).

Joseph Stalin
Joseph Stalin, who was born in Georgia, led the Soviet Union away from its initial idealistic concept of equal citizenship for all and instead instituted a brutal regime of fear

1924 - 1953

Joseph Stalin

Soviet leader (in the role of general secretary).

1924 - 1938

Grand Duke Cyril Vladimirovich

Grandson of Alexander II by his third son. Born 12 Oct 1876.

1932 - 1933

Less than a decade of Stalin's economic changes, plus the imprisonment of millions of people in correctional labour camps, and a brutal reorganisation of agricultural practices, results in a catastrophic famine. The breadbasket of Europe, Ukraine, is especially badly hit, with the famine being known as the Holodomor, 'extermination by hunger'. Other Soviet states also suffer, such as Armenia, but perhaps not quite as badly.

1934 - 1939

Undaunted by his failures to date, Stalin directs a massive purge of the Bolshevik party, the armed forces (decimating the officer class), government and intelligentsia. Millions of people, labelled enemies of the state, are killed or imprisoned, with the notoriously harsh gulags in Siberia being used to deposit many thousands of Stalin's victims.

1938 - 1992

Grand Duke Vladimir Cyrillovich

Son of Cyril. Born 30 Aug 1917. Died of natural causes 21 Apr.

1939 - 1940

As part of the wider conflict of the Second World War, Finland fights the Winter War against Soviet Russia following a Soviet attack in November 1939. The attack is prompted by the Soviet Union's (and Stalin's) almost paranoid need to restore the former Russian empire's borders in preparation for the expected German attack. Finland is seen as a weak link in Russia's northern defences so it must be captured. The war is brief, and the Finns give the Soviets a bloody nose before agreeing peace terms that are very generous for Russia.

Berlin 1945
Poet Yevgeny Dolmatovski recites his works on Berlin's Pariser Platz just a few days after the German surrender - a remarkable poetry recital with the bullet-riddled Brandenburg Gate flanked by ruins and two tank barrels hovering above the heads of soldiers

In Continental Europe, the Soviets invade Poland from the east on 17 September 1940. As part of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact they annexe western Ukraine, west Byelorussia, and also Bessarabia on 28 September (the last of which is formed with Ukraine's Trans-Dniester region into the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic). About 1,433,230 Uzbek citizens are incorporated into the Red Army (amongst many millions of others) in the subsequent battles against the Nazis. A certain number also fight for the Germans against the Soviets.

1941 - 1942

The Continuation War is, as the name suggests, a renewal of the fighting of 1940 in Finland. With Nazi Germany now occupying Denmark and Norway, Finland finds itself between two major powers, with Germany doing its best to tempt Finland to become an ally and the Soviets frequently violating the border agreement. With its people facing famine or the threat of invasion by Russia, there seems little choice but to take action, which the Finns do by sending forces to recapture the Aland Islands.

The Soviets attack the troop convoys and launch coordinated bombing attacks on eighteen Finnish cities. This is accompanied by further Soviet attacks over land and from the sea against Finnish targets, and a state of war exists without actually having been declared. With German weapons and some German units to assist, the Finns manage to halt the Russian advance into Finland but again have to agree peace terms.

Map of Scandinavia AD 1917-1944
The twentieth century wrought great changes on the borders of the Nordic countries with Finland, controlled from Moscow since 1809, now becoming a battleground between Soviet and German interests, while Denmark and Norway were occupied by Germany (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Around 160,000 Meskhetian Turks are deported from Georgia to Uzbekistan by Stalin. Other ethnic groups are also imported into the Uzbek SSR, especially Russians and Ukrainians as the empire's industrial war efforts are moved farther east to remove them from the threat of German attacks. Russia's Great Patriotic War sees the country gradually turn the tide against the Nazis and begin to drive them back towards Poland and then Germany.

1945 - 1949

Germany is occupied by the forces of Soviet Russia, the United States, Britain and France until 1949. From 1945 until 1989-1991, the Soviet dictatorship establishes satellite states in occupied Bulgaria, Byelorussia, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and Romania. The northern section of former East Prussia is annexed directly to the state as Kaliningrad.


The 1944 armistice with Finland is confirmed through a peace treaty signed in Paris. Finland is saddled with a debt to the Soviet Union of 300 million dollars as well as the loss of the Karelian Isthmus, the northern port of Petsamo, the second largest city, Viipuri (modern Viborg), and the loss of access to Lake Ladoga. Russia is also handed a fifty year lease for control of the Porkkala region. With the loss of Karelia, more than 420,000 Finns voluntarily migrate west across the new border between Finland and Russia, causing some social and housing problems.


Russia reduces Finland's war debt by seventy-four million dollars. Thanks to this the balance of war reparations is paid off by Finland by 1952.

Russians in the 1950s
Despite the increasing frostiness of the Cold War and the slow recovery from the worst of Stalin's repressions, the post-war period saw a steady improvement in living conditions, and relative safety and security at home

1953 - 1964

Nikita Kruschev

Soviet leader (as first secretary & premier). Died 1971.


Under Kruschev, the Soviet Union begins a process of de-Stalinisation, along with supplying economic and military aid to Afghanistan. The Russian space programme also accelerates in direct competition with the efforts by the USA as part of an increasingly chilly Cold War.


The USSR forms the Warsaw Pact in direct response to the admission of the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany) into Nato whilst itself being barred from joining. The states involved in the founding of this eastern alliance are Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, the German Democratic Republic (East Germany), Hungary, Poland, Romania, and Russia.


When Nikita Khrushchev denounces Joseph Stalin's crimes and personality cult in a secret report to the 20th Congress of the Soviet Communist Party in February 1956, Enver Hoxha of Albania decries Russia's revisionism. After some shrewd and ruthless political manoeuvring, he manages to overcome criticism of his own Stalinist policies and maintain power.

1962 - 1964

One immediate result of the Cuban-Soviet alliance of 1959 is the placement of ballistic missiles on Cuba, precipitating the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. The USA 'blockades' Cuba, and only a last-minute climb-down by the Soviets avoids the spectre of nuclear war. It may be this apparent failure among many other alleged failures by Kruschev which triggers moves by Supreme Soviet head, Leonid Brezhnev, to oust him in 1964. Indeed Kruschev gives him all the time he needs to complete his political manoeuvres by being absent from Moscow for five months. Summoned to Moscow, Kruschev is informed of his removal from office and accepts his fate without protest.

Nikita Kruschev and John F Kennedy
Photographed together here, John F Kennedy and Nikita Kruschev would, in 1962, play the world's biggest game of brinkmanship as the USA and Soviet Union vied for supremacy

1964 - 1982

Leonid Brezhnev

Soviet leader (as general secretary). Died in office.


Soviet troops are sent into Afghanistan as civil war erupts there. They spend the next decade locked in an unwinnable war against various guerrilla Mujahideen forces. These forces later reorganise to offer a much more effective fighting force (backed by the USA from 1986).

1982 - 1984

Yuri Andropov

Soviet leader (as general secretary). Died in office.

1984 - 1985

Konstantin Chernenko

Soviet leader (as general secretary). Died in office.


Chernenko had already been in poor health when he replaced the late Andropov. He favours a return to Brezhnev policies in the face of a push for limited reform, but dies in office before being able to make any particular mark. The turnover in general secretaries of a more senior level of experience now leaves an opening for younger, more reform-minded individual to make a mark on the Soviet Union. One of Mikhail Gorbachev's first actions is to remove from office Muhammetnazar Gapurow, first secretary of the Communist party in the Turkmen SSR.

1985 - 1991

Mikhail Gorbachev

Soviet leader (as general secretary and president).


Thanks to behind-the-scenes manoeuvring by the newly-elected president of the Russian republic, Boris Yeltsin, on Christmas Day 1991 the USSR's President Gorbachev announces the termination of the Soviet communist state. The Soviet republics become independent sovereign states (if they had not already become so since 1989), including Azerbaijan, Belarus, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, Estonia, Georgia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Moldova, North Ossetia, Poland, Romania, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, and Uzbekistan.

Belarussian independence in 1990
The Chernobyl disaster and the subsequent attempted cover-up by the Soviet authorities was the spark which brought down the already-fragile USSR, allowing Belarus amongst many other subject territories to gain its independence

The Chechen-Ingush ASSR is divided in two, creating the republic of Ingushetia and the Chechen republic. The latter proclaims the 'Chechen Republic of Ichkeria', which seeks full independence from the new Russian federation. The Eastern European states are only too happy to be rid of Soviet control, while many of those lying farther east elect to join the new Confederation of Independent States - still strongly controlled from Moscow. Cuba, a staunch Soviet ally, suffers badly from the fall of its only supplier of oil and many major foodstuffs. Former East Prussia, or Kaliningrad as it now is, remains directly part of Russia, and is now an isolated enclave on Poland's north-eastern border.

Modern Russia
AD 1991 - Present Day

Modern Russia is a federal, semi-presidential republic which was founded in 1991 in the wake of the dissolution of the Soviet Union. Despite bearing the resemblance of a democratic state in terms of its offices and elections, it has always managed to convey the impression that old habits die hard in terms of its tendencies towards strong centralist control. It is neighboured by Japan along its eastern coast, shares its long Eurasian southern border with China, Outer Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, and Georgia, and shares its western border with Ukraine, Belarus, Latvia, Estonia, Finland, and Norway. To the north lies the Arctic Circle.

Russia as a concept had been forged through Viking control of those lands lying to the east and south of the Baltic lands. A number of ancient towns such as Old Ladoga, Novgorod, Pskov, Polotsk, and Kyiv emerged on the shores of the great rivers. The close of the ninth century witnessed the formation of an Old Russian state, accompanied by the rise of Russians as the dominant force in this society. Territory which became the core of 'the Russias' encompassed many regions and often a large number of principalities, all of which vied for superiority. An eventual later Russian state emerged under the grand dukes of Moscow, followed by a czarate which soon fell under Romanov control.

Today, Russia lies at the heart of the CIS, the Commonwealth of Independent States. This was a voluntary organisation of those republics which had formed part of the Soviet empire. Its creation in the late-Soviet era scramble for identity and control was masterminded by Boris Yeltsin as the president of the Russian republic, Leonid Kravchuk, president of the Ukrainian republic, and Stanislav Shushkevich, director of the supreme council of the Belarus republic. The work had been carried out behind the back of Mikhail Gorbachev, leaving him with no choice other than to announce the dissolution of the Soviet state. Not all former Soviet republics joined the CIS. The Baltic states and several central and Eastern European countries forged ahead, enjoying the restoration of their independence from Moscow. Millions of ethnic Russians suddenly found themselves living in foreign countries, often without the legal standing which they had formerly enjoyed.

While the post-Soviet Russian economy could be fragile at times, until 2022 it still ranked as one of the world's top ten. Its expensive mineral and oil reserves made it one of the world's largest producers of gas and oil, but it showed an unsettling ability to be able to use its power in this area as an economic weapon. The country also possesses the world's largest stockpile of nuclear weapons thanks to its Cold War heritage. Its post-Yeltsin dominance by Vladimir Putin led it increasingly towards dictatorship and rule-by-fear. Its 2022 invasion of Ukraine turned it almost into a pariah state which faced levels of isolation never before seen in European politics.

Successors of the last czar of the House of Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov are shown with a shaded background. Opponents, pretenders, and other disqualified claimants are shown in green or red text. The true power in Russia is the elected president, although this post is usually filled by a typically strong figure who appears to pull many of the government's strings. These individuals are shown in black with no shading. The rise to power of Vladimir Putin saw decreasingly less value or influence being available through elections as he gradually tightened his grip. By 2020 his rule could easily be seen as a dictatorship.

(Information by Peter Kessler, with additional information from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the UCLA International Institute, Reuters, from the Almanach de Gotha (2012), from The First World War, John Keegan (Vintage Books, 2000), and from External Links: Christianity faces biggest schism in a millennium (The Week), and Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia (Russian Legitimist), and Vladimir Putin passes law (The Guardian), and Ukraine announces independent Orthodox church (The Guardian), and Eastern Ukraine on peacekeeping duties (The Guardian).)

1991 - 1999

Boris Yeltsin

First directly elected president. Fell ill and died.

1991 - 1993

Boris Yeltsin wins Russia's first ever direct elections for a head of state. He promises to convert the country's former socialist-led economy into a free market economy, but the economic shock therapy required to enact it leads to a major economic crisis, with a massive decline in industrial output and GDP.

Boris Yeltsin in 1991
Boris Yeltsin won mass popular support during his leading role in thwarting the attempted coup against Mikhail Gorbachev in August 1991

Control of formerly nationalised resources is switched to a handful of people with connections to government members, creating a wave of powerful billionaires who soon start moving the bulk of their wealth outside the country, further deepening the economic crisis.

Coincidentally perhaps, in the same year the remains of the murdered Romanov imperial family are discovered in an unmarked mass grave in the Urals. The bones are removed for tests to be carried out to authenticate their identities. The tests prove positive.

1992 - Present

Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna

Daughter of Vladimir. Born 23 Dec 1953. Opposed.


Upon the death of Vladimir Cyrilovich as heir to the Romanov throne, his daughter Maria Vladimirovna proclaims herself the new head of the imperial house. She assumes the senior position in the House of Romanov and proclaims her son, George Mikhailovich, to be the heir-apparent.

However, her mother is Princess Leonida Bagration-Moukransky (died 2010), a daughter of a line of the Georgian royal house which has not ruled since 1505 and which had already been a junior (cadet) branch when Georgia had been conquered by Russia in 1810. Due to this, some opponents see the marriage as unequal, and Maria's claim as illegal. Maria is opposed by Prince Nicholas Romanovich as the choice of a greater proportion of the rest of the House of Romanov, and the already complicated line of hereditary succession now has two main branches claiming the senior position.

Maria Vladimirovna Romanov
Maria Vladimirovna Romanov claimed to be the new head of the House of Romanov in 1992, although there was some opposition due to the fact that she hailed from a cadet branch of the family

Fortunately for her, Maria's claim to be the head of the Romanovs is supported by just about everyone outside the House of Romanov, including most monarchist groups, most other societies of Russian nobles, and by the Russian Orthodox Church  To differentiate between the two opposing lines of succession, claimants who arise from this opposing faction - led by Nicholas and supported by the majority of Romanovs - are shown in green. All claimants are shown on a shaded background to highlight the fact that none of them hold any power.

1992 - 2014

Prince Nicholas Romanovich

Son of Prince Roman Romanov. Born 26 Sep 1922.


Matters come to a head as many of Yeltsin's key supporters turn against him. In October 1993 he orders the dissolution of parliament, an act which is outside his remit. Parliament moves to remove him from office. Troops loyal to Yeltsin put down an armed uprising by his opponents outside the parliament building, and he scraps the constitution, replacing it with one which increases his presidential powers. This sets a trend for the future.

1994 - 1996

The Chechen republic has proclaimed the 'Chechen Republic of Ichkeria' and seeks full independence from the Russian federation. The First Chechen War is triggered when Boris Yeltsin sends in the army in December 1994.

The 1995 campaign results in the brutal and devastating Battle of Grozny, but Russian federation forces are unable to win the subsequent guerrilla war against the Chechens. The troops become demoralised and public opinion almost totally swings against the fighting. Yeltsin declares a ceasefire with the Chechens in 1996 and signs a peace treaty a year later.

First Chechen War
The First Chechen War, seen here, highlighted limitations in the ability of the Russian armed forces to defeat a determined guerrilla war, something which had also been apparent in the Afghan adventure of 1979


The investigation into the identity of those remains found in a mass grave in the Urals in 1991 has been completed. Satisfied with DNA results which show that the remains are indeed those of the immediate imperial family, they are given a burial in St Petersburg's St Peter & St Paul Cathedral.


Still unpopular with the majority of the Russian population, Yeltsin surprises everyone by announcing his resignation. His chosen successor is ex-KGB man and current prime minister, Vladimir Putin. Elections in 2000 confirm his position in the post. He is strongly in favour of reconstituting the Russian empire, in deed if not in name, and his many actions seem to back up that claim as he increases the power of his office and attempts to impose a more authoritarian governance of the population and the Russian federation. However, his first two terms of office oversee a marked improvement in the standard of living of many Russians.

The year is also marked by the start of the Second Chechen War, following the invasion of Dagestan by the so-called Islamic International Brigade of militants. The campaign ends the de facto independence of the Chechen Republic of Ichkeria and restores the region to federation control.

Grozny is again decimated, the Islamic Brigade is effectively destroyed, and the Chechen guerrillas are severely crippled as an effective fighting force. Instead their survivors switch to an occasional terrorist campaign in Russia proper, carrying out seemingly indiscriminate operations which are designed to result in the greatest number of casualties. Often heavy-handed counter-terrorist operations by the Russian military response seems designed to help in this respect, but overall the Chechen desire for independence is silenced.

Vladimir Putin
Vladimir Putin, a former KGB lieutenant-colonel, came to power in 2000 and was determined to hold onto it in the fashion of the former imperial family, whether from the 'throne' itself or behind the scenes due to the restrictions of the constitution

2000 - 2008

Vladimir Putin

Former KGB lieutenant-colonel. Served two terms of office.


The DNA tests carried out on the remains of the imperial family have not convinced some Russian Orthodox Church members. Their doubts are further fuelled by the discovery now of two further bodies - those of Tsarevich Alexei and Grand Duchess Maria - at a different spot in the Urals. Further DNA tests will be required before they can be buried alongside the now-canonised remainder of the family in St Petersburg's St Peter & St Paul Cathedral.


Thanks to the restrictions of the constitution, Putin is unable to stand for a third consecutive four year term of office. Instead, his preferred candidate is elected, Dmitry Medvedev, who is widely seen as little more than Putin's 'yes man'. This period is known as the 'duumvirate', an alliance of two strong leaders (which can include two leaders who have both declared themselves to be the sole leader), or the 'tandemocracy', from 'tandem' and democracy', showing two leaders working together. Putin himself returns to his former role of prime minister, his political dominance of Russia apparently undimmed.

Later in the same year and partially fooled by Russia into commencing an attack on South Ossetia to recover the breakaway territory, Georgia is humiliated as a pre-prepared Russian taskforce crushes its forces and occupies South Ossetia under the pretence of protecting Russian passport holders there. Russia soon recognises South Ossetia (and Abkhazia, another breakaway Georgian region) as independent states. The short conflict is later known as the Russo-Georgian War.

2008 - 2013

Dmitry Medvedev

Former prime minister. Essentially a Putin puppet.

2011 - 2012

In 2011 the law on the length of a term of office for the president is changed from four to six years. Putin announces his intention to stand for a third, non-consecutive term of office and in due course wins the 2012 elections despite strong protests in many Russian cities (including the notorious 'Pussy Riot' protests and subsequent arrests).

2011 Russian protests
Putin's apparent 'seizure' of the post of president for an extra two year term raised suspicions that he intended to remain in the post for as long as possible, something which worried many Russians

2012 - Present

Vladimir Putin

Returned to post. Extended it indefinitely. Dictator.


A meteor strike known as the Tschebarkul 2013 super bolide hits the city of Tscheljabinsk in Russia. The event is seen by many thousands of people in the region and lights up the sky with the blazing trail it leaves across the daytime sky. It is also filmed by dozens of people with camera phones and is equated by some scholars with the Chiemgau impact of prehistoric Central Europe which must have greatly disrupted the lives of the Celtic tribes in the region.

In the same year, a third claimant to the hereditary imperial throne puts himself forward. Prince Karl Emich of Leiningen issues his claim under the name of Prince Nikolai Kirillovich of Leiningen. He is the grandson of Grand Duchess Maria Cyrillovna of Russia, (the sister of Grand Duke Vladimir Cyrillovich (died 1992 - see above), and the aunt of current legitimist claimant Maria Vladimirovna - again, see above).

This makes him the great-grandson of Cyril Vladimirovich, grand duke of Russia and recognised claimant until his death in 1938. Karl is supported by the Monarchist Party of Russia, which sees both of the current claimants as pretenders. However, he has already been bypassed as prince of Leiningen by his younger brother due to a morganatic marriage, which should also disbar him from claiming the Russian throne. This third line of claimants is shown in red.

2013 - Present

Prince Nikolai Kirillovich of Leiningen

Brother of Prince Nicholas. Born 12 Jun 1952.

2013 - 2014

Mass protests in Kyiv over Ukraine's pro-Russian policy eventually force the collapse and flight of the Yanukovych government after four months of violent chaos. Moscow reacts to Ukraine's domestic turmoil by sending troops to annexe the former Russian territory of Crimea while stoking separatist sentiment in eastern Ukraine.

Ukrainian separatists
The separatists in eastern Ukraine carried weapons, used equipment, and even had troops which were supplied directly from Russia, although Russia continued to deny any involvement

The pro-Russian separatist eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk form their own republican governments and, with military aid from Russia, manage to hold onto a core territory in the face of Ukrainian attempts to end the rebellion. The USA and the European Union impose sanctions which are targeted at individuals rather than the state, but they still hit hard, especially when oil and gas prices suffer a dramatic fall at the end of 2014.

2014 - 2016

Prince Dimitri Romanov

Brother of Prince Nicholas. 17 May 1926 to 31 Dec 2016.


The death of Prince Dimitri Romanov ends the Nicholaevich branch of the Romanovs. With no children to succeed him, his particular side of the claim to the Romanov titles passes to Andrew Romanov, of the Mikhailovich branch which descends directly from Czar Nicholas I.

2016 - 2021

Prince Andrew Romanov

Great-great-grandson of Nicholas I. Born 21 Jan 1923.


Ukraine secures approval from the global head of Orthodox Christianity in Istanbul (Constantinople) to create its own Orthodox Church structure which is independent of Russia's patriarchate for the first time since the seventeenth century. The change is politically driven of course, and is largely due to Russia's occupation of Crimea, its invasion by proxy of eastern Ukraine, and many years of bullying and interfering in Ukrainian affairs, and it sparks the expected negative reaction in Moscow.

Ukraine's Orthodox church splits with Moscow in 2018
Ukrainians gathered in Kyiv in 2018 in a show of support for the decision to detach the country's Orthodox church establishment from Moscow's increasingly belligerent control


At the start of April, President Putin signs a law which allows him to run for the presidency twice more in his lifetime, potentially keeping him in office until 2036. The law also 'resets' any previous count of terms of office back to zero. The kind of president-to-prime-minister-and-back shuffling of 2008-2013 is no longer permitted. The new law generously affords him and former president, Dmitry Medvedev, lifetime immunity from prosecution.

2021 - Present

Prince Alexis Romanov

Son of Andrew. Born 27 April 1953.


On Monday 22 February, after months of increasing pressure from his side, President Putin takes the politically manipulative step of formally recognising as independent states the Russian-created breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine. They are now - according to Moscow - to be known as the Luhansk and Donetsk People's Republics.

Almost immediately afterwards, Putin orders Russian troops which had been massing along Ukraine's borders (and even its Belarussian border) to enter Ukraine on a 'peacekeeping' mission. Initial thoughts are that Luhansk and Donetsk are to be secured so that they can later be 'allowed' to apply to join the Russian federation. The invasion, though, comes from all along the Russian border, including occupied Crimea, and targets several cities, including Kyiv.

A Russian tank burns in Ukraine in 2022
Despite outnumbering the more lighty-armed Ukrainian forces by at least three-to-one, Russian forces continued to suffer far heavier casualties, with tank losses surprisingly high as Ukrainian units undertook ambushes against them

The scale of Ukrainian resistance surprises and delays the Russian forces, while Belarus is also included in the unprecedented international backlash against an increasingly isolated Russia. Realising that a swift victory has become impossible but refusing to back down, Putin directs his forces to undertake a slow and brutal siege-warfare approach which devastates Ukrainian cities. By then Ukraine's popular President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, former actor and comedian, has long since won the hearts and support of much of the rest of the world.

Grand Duke George Mikhailovich

Son of Maria. Born 13 Mar 1981. Heir apparent. Opposed.