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   Course Title    Political Ideology in Early Russia (11th-13th Centuries)
Lecturer    Kirill Maximovich
Institution    Russian Academy of Sciences
Country    Russia

I. Aim and objectives of the course.


Aim of the proposed academic course is to enlarge the cultural background of the students with systematic comparative knowledge of political ideology of Byzantium, Kievan Rus’ (optionally other medieval societies) and to develop practical skills of reading and interpreting medieval sources. Political ideology of medieval societies as a high school discipline is quite new in Russia. Methods and approaches of teaching must be yet developed and put into practice. Thus the syllabus below is to be regarded as rather an experimental one.

The course ”Political ideology in Early Russia (11th-13th centuries)” has the following objectives:


1)                 to explain basic principles of medieval political thought and sketch scientific approaches to related problems;

2)                 to inform students about the rise and evolution of political ideas in Byzantium and Early Russia;

3)                 to trace pagan and Byzantine sources of Russian political ideology after the conversion to Christianity in 988;

4)                 to make clear the difference between Russian and Byzantine approaches to the definition of duties of the ruler;

5)                 to specify the difference between ecclesiastical and non-ecclesiastical approaches to the definition of duties of the ruler in Russia.

6)                 An important feature of the course is a strong stress upon work with sources. The fact is that early political ideology of Russia must be reconstructed from various texts. Hence at the end of the course students must be able to read and interpret historical sources. The elaboration of related abilities for source analysis and interpretation must be seen as a collateral implication of the methods used. Hence the final (practical) objective of the course:

7)                 to develop practical skills of source study and gain experience in analysis and interpretation of historical evidence.


II. Role of the course in the overall degree curriculum


The course must enlarge the common cultural background of students by connecting historical knowledge with political and philological knowledge. Ideally, students are expected to have a certain command of Greek and/or Latin as well as Russian language. Desirable is also basic knowledge of Roman and Byzantine history. The course can, however, be taught also to students of non-medieval specialization, e.g. as an elective course for those specialized in political studies. In the latter case it can be shorter and rather more superficial as regards Old Russian subjects, yet giving more general information about ancient and medieval political thought of Europe.


III. Methods used.


The aim of making students able to read and interprete historical sources on political ideology can be realized in the following ways:

1)                 Systematic explanation of medieval political ideas by means of bringing them in connection with contemporary social structures. The basic idea is that any state (be it ancient or medieval) develops only those political ideas, which may be realized in the actual historical situation, taking into account the actual social structure etc. Thus historical analysis must precede ideological analysis.

2)                 Comparative study of sources. This method comprises two stages. First, students receive a theoretical basis for source study. Second, they are asked to turn their theoretical knowledge into practical skills. For that purpose they are given some texts of different origins (in translation or original) to prepare a comparative historical and ideological analysis of those texts. Those who have successfully carried out this task can count on successful evaluation.

3)                 Reasoning and discussing. At the end of every lecture students are given an opportunity to discuss some problems which appear to be crucial for understanding the issue exposed. The lecturer poses questions to inspire further discussion.

4)                 Historical approach and chronological structure. Evolution of medieval political thought occurred over centuries in close connection with political and historical events. Studying this process one must apply historical methods. That’s why the basic structure of the course is chronological.

5)                 Comparative approach to ideology. It appears reasonable while studying Russian medieval political ideology to draw parallels to other medieval and, if possible, modern societies. For instance, growth of imperial ideology in Muscovite Russia towards the 15th and especially in the 16th century was brought about by the process of uniting Russian lands of the North-Est around the principality of Moscow. Similar ideological development can be observed also in other medieval as well as modern societies, such as Serbia under the Nemanja dynasty (12th-13th centuries) and Yugoslavia of the 20th century, the German ”Reich” under the Nazi regime, China after 1949, Turkey of the present days (the idea of the “Great Turan”).


IV. Course content


As has been stated above, the structure of the course is chronological. Yet students must have an idea about basic notions and terms relevant for political ideology of medieval Orthodox Slavs, such as ”empire”, ”political Orthodoxy”, ”feudal society”, ”vassalage”, ”sacred monarchy”, ”world order”, ”hierarchy of states” and so on. These basic concepts must be explained to students in some preliminary lectures which are a kind of theoretical introduction to the practical problems of interpreting sources.

Primarily, a definition of political ideology is given. Political ideology is a complex of ideas concerning ways of wielding power, role and duties of the ruler and his subjects, peculiarities of interaction between the secular and the ecclesiastical authorities. This complex of ideas is not necessarily clearly formulated in texts, but can also be reconstructed on the basis of official ceremonies, paintings, icons, seals etc.

Some introductory remarks on ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine political ideology and a short survey of related sources.

Sources of early Russian official ideology. They are not very numerous – apart from pagan customs and traditions of tribal life, there were mostly Byzantine political ideas to influence activities of Russian princes. The Byzantine impact, however, was not homogeneous. Two tendencies may be observed here. Firstly, the Greek metropolitans of Kiev pursued very consequently the policy of envolving the Russian state into the Byzantine cultural and political sphere of interests as a loyal and reliable partner. Hence their constant attempts to support orthodox faith of Russian princes and ensure in this way their religious dependence upon Constantinople. The idea of God-given monarchy, propagated by Kievan metropolitans, is typically Byzantine (the  so-called ”political orthodoxy”). The idea of supporting the Church as a main duty of the prince resulting from the conception of ”political orthodoxy” was also the favorite one in ecclesiastical circles. On the other hand, there were influential laymen around the prince who were not interested in a strong ecclesiastical lobby at court. Those seem to have supplied princes with texts and ideas of classical Greek-Roman heritage adopted by Byzantines (see Russian translation of the Greek ”Melissa”). These texts lay a greater stress on secular virtues of the prince than on his religious piety. To say it in general, the Byzantine roots of early Russian political thought – be they of Greek, Roman or Christian origin - are undeniable. 

Nonetheless, Russian sources, compared with the Greek ones, demonstrate some essential peculiarities. It can be pointed out, for instance, that in contrast to Byzantine emperors moral duties of Russian princes appear more important as their administrative capacities. Care for all citizens of the Empire – one of the main obligations of Byzantine emperors – was replaced in Early Russia with the precept of supporting the closest circle of familiars and nobility. Such deviations from the Byzantine tradition are highly interesting for comparative studies in history of culture.

Finally, it is established that Russia in the 11th-13th centuries was not able to take over the whole entirety of Byzantine political ideas because of a patriarchal, non-imperial nature of the Kievan state which was a kind of commonwealth of principalities. The Russian reception of Byzantine political thought was nothing but an adaptation of a very complex and well elaborated foreign ideology to native political and social relations.


Muscovite political ideology. As can be seen from the statements above early Russian political ideology wasn’t quite independent from the Byzantine one. Yet unlike Byzantium the Kievan feudal state had no need to develop imperial ideas. This situation changes in the 15th century. After the Union of Florence (1439) and especially the fall of Constantinople (1453) Grand Princes of Moscow began to regard themselves as the only faithful rulers in Europe and protectors of Orthodoxy all over the Christian world. Russian expansion to the East in the 16th –17th centuries corroborated imperial traits in the official propaganda. It is no surprise that under those conditions the Muscovite Tsars adopted originally Byzantine state symbols and claimed to be true heirs of Byzantine emperors. The theory of ”Moscow – the third Rome” sealed this highly interesting and yet not enough studied ideological development. An official proclamation of the Empire occurred under Peter the Great at the beginning of the 18th century as Moscow was no longer the capital of the Russian state. With Peter the Great the Byzantine tradition of Russian political ideology was decisively interrupted. The ”European choice” of Russia came about. Yet substantial points of later imperial ideology were formulated still in Muscovite Russia (such as the Orthodox rulership, centralized state, the reign over annexed territories with their solemn enumeration in official documents etc.).

Since these matters exceed the proper framework of the course, they are exposed in the final lecture only in outline.




The goal of assessment is to test analytical abilities and practical skills of students acquired during the course time. As a result of assessment the teacher can measure to what extent students have internalized the course contents.

The best way of testing students’ abilities in medieval political ideology is a written essay examination. Such an examination gives students the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge and practical skills. The examination consists of two parts: theoretical and practical. The theoretical part contains a general problem to be examined, such as “Implications of the principle of “sacred monarchy” for medieval societies”, “Political issues in medieval Christianity”, “Imitation of Christ in medieval rulership” and the like.

The practical task will include comparative analysis of some texts relating to medieval political ideology – Byzantine, Russian or West-European.

The examination implies that students have attended all lectures and read at least mandatory literature from the list of readings. Duration of the exam – 2 academic hours. The use of written materials and books is strictly forbidden.


V. Readings


A. Mandatory:



 [E. Barker, ed.] Social and Political Thought in Byzantium from Justinian I to the Last Palaeologus. Passages from Byzantine writers and documents. Translated with an introduction and notes by E.Barker. Oxford, 1957.

V.I. Malyšev, Zhitie Aleksandra Nevskogo // Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoj literatury, vol. 5 (1947) 185-193.

A.M. Moldovan, Slovo o zakone i blagodati Ilariona . Kiev 1984.

N.V. Ponyrko, Epistol’arnoe nasledie Drevnej Rusi. XI-XIII. St.-Petersbourg 1992.

V. Semyonov, Drevn’aja russkaja Pcela po pergamennomu spisku. In: Sbornik Otdel’enija russkogo jazyka i slovesnosti Imp. Akademii Nauk, vol. LIV. St.-Petersbourg 1893, N 4, p. 96-112. [Repr.: Melissa. Ein byzantinisches Florilegium, griechisch und altrussisch. Munich 1968 (Slavische Propyläen, vol. 7)].


Secondary literature

 [J.H. Burns, ed.]. The Cambridge History of Medieval Political Thought. c. 350 – c. 1450. Cambridge 1997.

I.S. Cicurov, Politiceskaya ideologiya Srednevekovya. Vizantiya i Rus’. Moscow 1990.

F. Dvornik, Byzantine Political  Ideas in Kievan Russia // Dumbarton Oaks Papers 9/10 (1956) 73-121.

G.G. Litavrin, Ideja verkhovnoj gosudarstvennoj vlasti v Vizantii i Drevnej Rusi domongol’skogo perioda. In: Slavjanskie kultury i Balkany. Sofia 1978, vol. 1, p. 50-56.

K. Maximovich, Obraz ideal’nogo pravitel’a v drevnerusskoj ”Pcele” i politiceskaja mysl’ Vizantii // Drevn’aja Rus’. Voprosy medievistiki, vol. 7 (2002), p. 28-42.

Revelli G. Obraz ”khristianskogo gosudar’a” v Zhitii Aleksandra Nevskogo i v latinskoj srednevekovoj literature. In: Contributi italiani al XII Congresso Internazionale degli slavisti (Cracovia 26 Agosto – 3 Settembre 1998). A cura di Fr. Esvan. Napoli, 1998, p. 183-220.

D.Obolenski, The Byzantine Commonwealth. Eastern Europe 500-1453. London 1971.

Ševcenko, On Some Sources of Prince Svjatoslav's Izbornik of the Year 1076. In: Orbis Scriptus: Festschrift für Dmitrij Tchiževskij zum 70. Geburtstag. Munich 1966, p. 723-738 (727).

V. Valdenberg, Drevnerusskie ucenija o predelakh tsarskoj vlasti. Petrograd 1916 [repr.: The Hague, 1966].


B. Recommended:


H. Ahrweiler, L’Empire byzantin // [Ahrweiler H., Alencastro L.F. de, Balandier G. et al.] Le concept d’empire. Sous la direction de Maurice Duverger. Paris, 1980, p. 131-145.

I.S. Cicurov, Mesto ”Khronografii” Feofana v rannevizantijskoj istoriograficeskoj traditsii (IV – nacalo IX veka). In: Drevnejšie gosudarstva na territorii SSSR, 1981. Moscow 1983, p. 5-146

I.S. Cicurov, Neizvestnaja redaktsija ”Vtorogo poucenija” Vasilija I (867-886) L’vu VI. In: Trudy istoriceskogo fakul’teta MGU, 15. Serija III. Trudy kafedry drevnikh jazykov. Moscow – St.Petersbourg, 2001, p. 201-212 (210).

Kazhdan A. Certain Traits of Imperial Propaganda in the Byzantine Empire from the Eighth to the Fifteenth Centuries // Preaching and Propaganda in the Middle Ages: Islam, Byzantium, Latin West. Paris, 1983, p. 13-27.

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