In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Russia and Muscovy

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • Cities and Towns
  • The Countryside
  • Economy
  • Law and Legal Structures
  • Art, Architecture, and Music
  • Literary Culture
  • Muscovy and the Mongols
  • Muscovy and Byzantium
  • Borderlands and Expansion
  • Foreign Relations
  • Warfare

Renaissance and Reformation Russia and Muscovy
Russell E. Martin
  • LAST REVIEWED: 25 April 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 29 May 2014
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195399301-0179


The centuries when western Europe was undergoing the Renaissance and Reformation were dynamic times in Muscovy as well. The Mongols had arrived in 1250 and laid waste to many of the towns of Kievan Rus’—the polity that ruled a territory fanning north and northeast from the city of Kiev, its political and religious center. The next two centuries saw the successor states to Kiev entering a complex relationship with the Mongols and their successors, a period called Appanage Rus’ (traditionally, 1250–1450). By 1450, when the Renaissance was moving into full swing in the West, the East Slavic spaces were again beginning to coalesce into more sturdy polities, though it could not have been foreseen then which one, if any, of these polities—Vladimir, Suzdal’, Tver, Riazan’, or Moscow, among others—would come to dominate Rus’. By the end of the Renaissance centuries—by the mid-17th century—Moscow had long been the clear winner in the contest between its East Slavic rivals, having annexed the other major polities (but not Kiev) by the first quarter of the 16th century. Muscovy also emerged as a major player in the political and diplomatic world that extended from Poland-Lithuania through the Qipchaq Steppe to the nearer reaches of Siberia, a giant expanse that was beginning then to be explored and appropriated for Russian settlement and commerce. Culturally, however, Muscovy remained an integral part of the European world, despite the upheavals of the so-called Tatar Yoke, as Ivan III (r. 1462–1505) imported artists and architects from Italy and much of his improvised Imperial style of the court from the Byzantines and the Holy Roman Empire. The 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries were thus a dynamic and discrete period, when Russia both settled issues of its own particular history—its political unity, its succession system, its economic life, and its expansion into new territories—and continued and deepened its involvement with the rest of Europe. Despite these links to the historical processes in the West, the “Renaissance Era” is not a category of periodization in Russian history, largely because Russia did not experience the Renaissance—nor, of course, the Protestant Reformation—even if it did borrow from the political, cultural, and even religious styles and vocabularies developed then in the West. As a result, histories of Russia in the period from 1450 to 1650 do not typically treat these centuries as a discrete period, and so scholarly works that treat the period often spill over these chronological boundaries, either reaching back to Appanage or Kievan times, or forward to Imperial times.

General Overviews

A number of excellent general treatments of Russia from the 15th through the 17th centuries are available, though they vary by the period they cover and the emphases they place on long-term trends, key events, and major personalities. Crummey 1987 is perhaps the most accessible of these works, beginning with the reign of Grand Prince Iurii Daniilovich (r. 1304–1325), the first Muscovite grand prince, and ending with the election to the throne of Tsar Mikhail Fedorovich (r. 1613–1645), the first tsar of the Romanov dynasty, in 1613. Martin 2007 begins with the foundation of the Rus’ polities in Novgorod and Kiev in the 10th century and goes through the reign of Ivan IV the Terrible (r. 1533–1584). Three older works remain very relevant: Solov’ev 1976 is a sweeping and influential narrative of East Slavic history from its beginnings in the 9th century down to the 18th century; Volumes 4–6 of Ocherki istorii SSSR (Druzhinin 1953–1958) provide a highly competent chronological, interdisciplinary, and Soviet-era assessment of the entire period; and Karamzin 1988–1989 begins its elegant, literary treatment at the beginnings of Rus’ history and proceeds to 1611. Two other works provide modern and topical surveys: Perrie 2006 divides up the periods and topics of Russian history among leading scholars, with most of its focus falling particularly on the 14th through 17th centuries; and Keenan 1986 draws thoughtful and dramatic conclusions about the length and breadth of Russian history based on the implications of the author’s own idiosyncratic understanding of the Early Modern period. Taken together, these works provide not only strong and synthetic surveys of the centuries in question, but also they show the range of evolving concerns that historians have had in attempting to describe these centuries over time and today.

  • Crummey, Robert O. The Formation of Muscovy, 1304–1613. London: Longman, 1987.

    General yet comprehensive in scope, this small volume presents a highly readable introduction to the structure of Russian history from the 14th through the early 17th centuries. Evenhanded on the major historiographical debates, the book remains among the most accessible general introductions available in English.

  • Druzhinin, N. M., ed. Ocherki istorii SSSR. 9 vols. Moscow: Izdatel’stvo Akademii nauk SSSR, 1953–1958.

    Encyclopedic, though deeply imprinted with the ideological concerns of the time in which it was produced, this set of volumes remains noteworthy if only because it was written by the leading Soviet scholars of the mid-20th century. For the Early Modern centuries, Volumes 4–6 are particularly useful. Volumes are not, however, numbered, so readers will have to find these volumes by their cumbersome titles: Period Feodalizma, chast’ II: XIV–XV vv.; Period Feodalizma, konets XV v. – nachalo XVII v.; and Period Feodalizma, XVII v.

  • Karamzin, Nikolai Mikhailovich. Istoriia Gosudarstva Rossiiskogo. 4 vols. Moscow: “Kniga,” 1988–1989.

    An older but still relevant general history of Russia up to 1611. While the text may now be as important for its influence on subsequent historiography as for its own interpretative strengths, the extensive notes in it include publications of some sources that have been lost or destroyed after this work was completed. The entire text may also be profitably read as an elegant example of modern Russian literary prose.

  • Keenan, Edward L., Jr. “Muscovite Political Folkways.” Russian Review 45 (1986): 115–181.

    DOI: 10.2307/130423

    A classic and synthetic think-piece on the deep structures of Muscovite political culture, focusing particularly on the 15th through the 17th centuries, but extending themes back to Kievan times and forward to that of Stalin. Argues that the roots of Russian political culture can be found in the peasant village, and that kinship and consensus, not class conflict, best characterize the political world of the tsar’s court.

  • Martin, Janet. Medieval Russia, 980–1584. 2d ed. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2007.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511811074

    Despite the title, this work extends its narrative well into the Early Modern centuries, providing particularly good coverage of the major events and developments in the reigns of Vasilii II, Ivan III, Vasilii III, and Ivan IV (whose reigns cover the period 1425–1584). For aspects of this work that treat royal succession in Muscovy, see Martin 2007, cited under Succession.

  • Perrie, Maureen, ed. The Cambridge History of Russia. Vol. 1, From Early Rus’ to 1689. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2006.

    The first of a three-volume set, this work presents twenty-eight thematic chapters, all but the first five of which pertain to the 14th through the 17th centuries. While not a substitute for a textbook, the chapters in this collection together provide a lucidly written and accessible overview of the problems that are currently attracting the attention of scholars in the field of early East Slavic history.

  • Solov’ev, Sergei Mikhailovich. History of Russia from Earliest Times. 35 vols. to date. Gulf Breeze, FL: Academic International Press, 1976–.

    An English translation of one of the most significant general histories of Russia ever produced. Based on the lectures given by Solov’ev from 1820 to 1879 in the History Department at the University of Moscow, the original twenty-nine volumes of this work have influenced the direction of Russian historiography ever since. The translation is an ongoing project and individual volumes of the planned fifty appear irregularly and nonsequentially. Volumes 4 to 25 treat the 14th through the 17th centuries.

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