When it comes to the unification of feudally fragmented medieval Rus' into a single state, everyone intuitively thinks only of Moscow as the only and uncontested center of unification. But what about the other principalities? Did they have any chance of becoming the center of "collecting lands"? How were they going to achieve this and why did they fail in the end?
The struggle for the right to become the unifier of Rus', which lasted more than two centuries, was uncompromising and cruel. Russian people in the course of this struggle slaughtered other similar Russian people with no less frenzy than the most vicious foreign invaders. And this struggle can hardly be called only a consequence of medieval backwardness.
A lot was at stake: who exactly would rule in the new united state, what form of government would be, who would write their own laws for everyone, manage all the country's wealth, and so on. There really could only be one winner here.
Who applied for this role?
Kyiv was considered the main city of Rus' for quite a long time - from the XNUMXth to the XNUMXth centuries. Before the collapse of Kievan Rus, it was the capital. And even after the collapse of Rus' into small principalities, Kyiv continued to be considered the main city, and the Kyiv prince had seniority in relation to other Russian princes.
At the beginning of the XIII century, Kyiv could well act as a "collector of Russian lands." In fact, this would mean the revival of Kievan Rus. The invasion of the Mongols and the defeat on the Kalka River in 1223 was a serious argument in favor of uniting into one state. But the Russian princes never learned the lesson of the defeat at Kalka. And Kyiv, having missed its chance after Kalka, soon lost it forever.
Kyiv finally lost the opportunity to become the capital and the center of "gathering lands" in 1240, when it was taken and devastated by the Mongols. They devastated the city to such an extent that the population, as it was before the capture, reached Kyiv only in the 600th century. As many as XNUMX years it took to fully recover from the ruin.
Thus, after 1240, Kyiv no longer had a chance to claim the role of the capital of the united Rus'.
Image in the annals of the capture of Kyiv by the Mongols in 1240
Another city that could well act as a unifier of Rus' is Tver.
Tver princes in the XIV-XV centuries. very often fought with Moscow. The competition for the right to be the unifier of Rus' was fierce. The winner in this confrontation decided everything.
In order to crush their opponent, both sides did not hesitate to enter into alliances with the eternal enemies of Rus'. So, Moscow, in order to crush Tver, agreed to an alliance with the Golden Horde, and Tver chose the Grand Duchy of Lithuania as its allies.
The Grand Duke of Tver Mikhail Yaroslavich besieged Moscow twice - in 1305 and 1308, but could not take it. Muscovites in response, having entered into an alliance with the Golden Horde, undertook a joint campaign against Tver in 1317, but were defeated in the Battle of Bortenevskaya. Unable to defeat the prince of Tver on the battlefield, the Horde dealt with him in a different way. In 1318, Mikhail Yaroslavich was summoned to the Horde and brutally killed there. But to conquer Tver and this time also failed.
The next attempt to conquer the Principality of Tver and get rid of the hated competitor was made in 1327. Then the Tverites raised an uprising against the insolent Tatars who were in the city, and killed them. In response, a punitive campaign of the 50th Tatar army, reinforced by Moscow and Suzdal detachments, followed. After a stubborn defense, Tver was taken and turned into ruins and ashes. The same fate befell many other cities that the Tatars took.
The uprising of the Tverchi against the Horde. 1327
But the confrontation between the two principalities did not end there. Tver quickly recovered from the defeat and until 1485 did not allow Moscow princes to sleep peacefully. During the time of Dmitry Donskoy, Tver fought with Moscow in alliance with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and fought very successfully: Tver and Lithuanian troops besieged Moscow twice.
However, this did not prevent the Tver troops from fighting in the ranks of the army of Dmitry Donskoy a few years later in the Battle of Kulikovo. But the prince of Tver could well have attacked Moscow while Dmitry was at war with Mamai! But it is obvious that of the two evils, the Tatars were much greater for Tver.
Which way would the Russian история, if Tver was able to finally defeat Moscow and began to collect Russian lands? One can ask the question in another way: would Tver be able to unite Russia in general, and how long would it last?
If, after the Battle of Bortenev, the prince of Tver had captured Moscow and gathered the Moscow-Tver army, then the Horde yoke would have been ended in the near future. Such an army had every chance of winning, and the Golden Horde, tormented by unrest, would soon disintegrate, and the yoke would end like a nightmare. And if the Horde yoke ended in the 1320s, then Rus' could have united by the middle of the same century.
Why, then, did the unification of the Russian lands by Moscow take so long?
The reasons are many.
Firstly, Moscow began to unite the Russian lands much later.
Secondly, even in 1462 the territory of the Moscow principality was only 400 thousand square meters. km.
And thirdly, the collection of Russian lands by Moscow was not beneficial to anyone. The Moscow princes had to pursue a rather cunning policy, entering into alliances with some enemies in order to crush others. Therefore, the joint campaign of the Moscow-Tatar troops against Tver was not surprising. Using the Golden Horde as an ally in difficult times, having grown stronger, Moscow successfully dealt with it.
Another city that could also act as a unifier of Rus' was Novgorod.
Mr. Veliky Novgorod, as the locals called it, was a republic and owned a territory several times larger than the Moscow principality. Novgorod rarely waged war, and if it did, it was with Sweden and other invaders who invaded its territory.
In general, the Novgorod Republic was the most peaceful Russian principality.
Another plus of Novgorod is that it never knew the Mongol-Tatar yoke, the Mongols simply did not reach it. Even more than that, from the moment Rurik was called up to joining the Muscovite state, that is, from 862 to 1478, an enemy soldier never set foot in Novgorod. What other city in Rus' can boast of such a thing?
On the other hand, there was active trade with European countries, the republic and its inhabitants grew noticeably richer. If Novgorod were a little more aggressive, he could unite Rus'.
How could it be? And most importantly, when?
The territory of the Novgorod Republic around 1400
The most optimal time for the unification of Rus' by Novgorod is the second half of the XNUMXth century. It was at this time that Rus' had not yet recovered from the Mongol invasion, and the Golden Horde had already begun to show the first signs of weakness. Novgorod is flourishing.
Hypothetically, having gathered an army and made alliances with several princes - primarily with Tver and Pskov - Novgorodians set off on a campaign to the east with the slogan of liberating Rus' from the hated Tatars. In every city where Novgorodians enter, a veche system and a republic are established. No longer Novgorod, but the united Russian army in a general battle defeats the Tatars. Rus' is liberated, it is united into a single state with a republican form of government and the capital in Novgorod. So, what is next? What are her development prospects?
In any case, a huge plus is that Rus' has been liberated from the Golden Horde yoke. The second plus is that it is united in one state. How long will Rus' remain a republic? Probably until the XNUMXth century - no longer. It was at this time that the process of the formation of absolutism took place in Europe, it would hardly have bypassed Rus', provided that Novgorod Rus' had close relations with Europe.
And yet it must be said that more than 200 years of republican rule would not have passed without a trace for Russia. Even after the restoration of absolutism, the new form of government would be much softer than the absolutism of Ivan the Terrible or Peter I.
Grand Duchy of Lithuania
In addition to Lithuania, Belarus and most of Ukraine, this state also included many lands of the current Russian Federation: the territories of Kursk, Bryansk, Smolensk, Kaluga and other regions. In a word, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the XIV-XV centuries. was a huge state, larger than any of the Russian principalities.
It is clear that the Orthodox in this state constituted the absolute majority of the population. Officially, it was called the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Russia and Samogitia (Zhemogitia is a region of Lithuania). And the official language was Russian (along with Latin and Polish).
By the way, on the monument "Millennium of Russia", opened in 1862 in Veliky Novgorod, next to the Russian princes and commanders of that era, there are also four Lithuanian princes: Keistut, Gedemin, Olgerd and Vitovt. That is, back in the XNUMXth century, the history of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was perceived as an integral part of the all-Russian history.
Olgerd and Vitovt at the Millennium of Russia monument
Based on all this, there is no doubt that the Grand Duchy of Lithuania laid claim to all other Russian lands.
And it had more than one chance to conquer them. During the Muscovite-Lithuanian war of 1368-1372. Lithuanian troops besieged Moscow twice, their ally was the Principality of Tver. But they failed to take Moscow.
The Lithuanians had a good chance to end Moscow in 1380, when Dmitry Donskoy left his capital to go to war with Mamai. But why did the Lithuanians not realize this chance? Moscow, deprived of a large garrison, could be taken. After that, the conquest of the remaining Russian principalities by the Lithuanian-Tver troops would only be a matter of time.
The next chance to conquer the Moscow Principality was even easier. 1382. Khan Tokhtamysh stormed, plundered and burned Moscow, while Dmitry Donskoy hid in Kostroma. The Moscow prince no longer had a huge army, as on the Kulikovo field, he was forced to hide from the ferocious Tokhtamysh. Such was the retribution for the victory on the Kulikovo field and the attempt to gain complete independence from the Horde.
Preparations for the defense of Moscow from the troops of Khan Tokhtamysh. Painting by A. Vasnetsov
The Tatars left, leaving behind mountains of corpses and smoking ruins. Why did the Lithuanians not take advantage of this? Why not finished off the already devastated principality?
The point here is that just at that time in Lithuania itself there was an active struggle for power, which resulted in a civil war, in which the neighbors intervened, so the Lithuanians had no time for Moscow.
The last chance to put an end to Moscow once and for all was with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the middle of the XNUMXth century. By this time, it had significantly expanded its territory, conquered the principality of Smolensk and other Russian lands. The military power of the Lithuanians also increased.
But the Moscow principality was going through hard times. Civil war between Vasily the Dark and Dmitry Shemyaka, again devastated cities and villages, again mountains of corpses. Why not a reason to intervene under the pretext of supporting your candidate for power? And then finally conquer Moscow.
But, alas, the Lithuanians did not use this moment either. So they finally lost the chance to become collectors of Russian lands.
In subsequent Russian-Lithuanian wars of the late XV - early XVI centuries. the struggle was for the border lands, and there was no longer any talk of any claims to Moscow.