« 10.8- The Red And The Black | Main | 10.10- The Russian Empire »

28 July 2019


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.


The Mongol invasion had such a scarring effect in Russian historical memory that in the 1960s, during the worst of the Sino-Soviet split, state propaganda dubbing Mao Zedong a new Genghis Khan still could resonate deeply with the people of the USSR.

I couldn't help but note that in having a historical sense of messianism, Russia struck me as being much like the United States. It's so funny to reflect on the founders of the USA being so attached to Republican Roman ideals and then look at the Russian connection to Byzantium. So different, and yet so many parallels within the separate mental universes pointing in the end toward the same political entity that would exist from Romulus to Constantine XI. Having gone on a major History of Byzantium kick lately...

It's like you are looking at an older sibling of yours who was taken away at birth and raised in a 100% different environment.


Oh, and thank you so much for posting early. :) I was constantly reloading the page waiting for this one.


Hi Mike, love the content and the show, one small request is if you could try to use more native pronunciations, especially with Moscow (I guess this is going to be said a lot this series!)

Thanks and keep up the good work!


Russia parallels the USA, because the USA parallels western europe, while Russia parallels eastern europe. Both are still europe, but one is east and the other west. Although current parlance suggests that 'eastern europe' distinction got started with the iron curtain, some might say that eastern europe began all the way back to the founding of constantinople.

Aaron L Olson

Excellent episode, Mike. There are a lot of moving parts there, so I appreciate the quality overview of things there. Between listening to The History of Byzantium an The History of the Crusades, I've gotten tidbits of the development of Russia. This history blitz you put together was really useful. Thanks.

Caroline Palmer

The History of China podcast by Chris Stewart is at the Mongol-Song Era, check it out!

Gregory W Levitsky

Just a quick note – “the Terrible” is NOT a mistranslation. When it was first coined in the 17-1800s, it had a meaning more akin to “dread.” See “His terrible swift sword” in the Battle Hymn of the Republic. Lots of people make this mistake, but as a translation it’s right on the money.

Eugene Skibinsky

Hey Mike! Awesome episode, truly, especially considering the time limit. One thing I would add is probably the most important yet least mentioned factor in the rise of Moscovy is that sometime around the turn of the XIV century they ditched the old eastern Slav pattern of succession (agnatic seniority) and switched to primogeniture. This allowed the Moscow principality to remain strong and avoid fragmentation and internal conflict, which was the norm in the rest of the old Kievan Rus. This laid the groundwork for Moscow to take over their weakened neighbors. In this vein, both the selection of Moscow by the Tatars as their proxy and revenue collector, as well as by the Church, were logical steps -- it was by then the most stable of the principalities.

Brandon Smith

Great episode!

The Scandinavians were barely politically organized - they resembled more of the large trading companies such as Hudson Bay Company or DEIC, who were economically driven and found themselves in wide open territory, such that they had to cobble together a system to run the territory while spending more time doing business.

The political structure of Russia came to be very different than western Europe. The early Tsar claimed the country as his personal household, which was a form of rule that was critically different than his contemporaries in the west (or even east, for that matter). Technically there was no private property - all belonged to the Tsar and you used land and stuff at his pleasure (often receiving it as reward for service), with the result that even today in Russia the concepts of ownership vs possession are hazy.

We also got to meet the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Orthodox church was about to die with the fall of Constantinople, and the Moscow princes became their only lifeline. The Orthodox church would view the ruler in Moscow as their life-saving patron and would back him to the hilt, and basically became a less-useful appendage to his bureaucracy (a court jester, so to speak). As a result, the Orthodox church fell over with a nudge in 1917 and nobody cried over it.

Looking forward to hearing about the social classes of Russia soon - the unambitious boyars, the careerist bureaucrats, the "psychologically interesting" serfs, and the couldn't-quote-a-single-verse Orthodox priests. What a mix!

Wes F

Hi Mike - longtime listener here (all the way back from the History of Rome days). Great episode! One quick point on the Time of Troubles:

As a few modern scholars have shown (especially Chester S. L. Dunning and his 2001 book "Russia's First Civil War"), the Troubles were *not* in fact a peasant uprising. That view was largely formed by 18th and 19th century historians influenced by Russia's later experience with peasant uprising, and then reinforced by Soviet historians who looked for evidence of peasant uprisings throughout Russian history.

Modern scholarship has shown that the Troubles were based on an element you rightly highlighted in your episode: relentless expansion south. The marginal lands of the southern frontier were divided up into smaller and smaller holdings manned by impoverished military retainers required to pacify the newly conquered territory. Serfdom was slowly introduced under Feodor and later the regent Boris Godunov to prevent serfs from running away from desperate military retainers trying to eke out a living from fewer serfs on smaller holdings - holdings which were not hereditary and which could be (and often were) withdrawn and re-parceled out to new retainers. There was no incentive for retainers to improve their lands' production. Finally, a devastating famine in the late 1500s worsened retainers' status.

Thus this linchpin of Moscow's power in the south was dangerously wobbly by the time the charismatic pretender Dmitry, claiming to be the rightful son of Ivan IV who had somehow survived murder by the unpopular regent Godunov, appeared at the Polish-Russian border. When he appeared, the southern military retainers, Cossacks (many of whom had been peasants, but should not be characterized as such) and many lords and towns joined him. This regional rebellion ultimately succeeded in putting Dmitry (briefly) on the throne, and continued until Mikhail Romanov was crowned in an uneasy alliance between boyar families who had been on every side of the conflict.

The serfs and "peasantry" did not play a significant role in the conflict. The success of rebels throughout various stages of the Troubles was in fact because their forces were made up of trained military retainers or southern Cossack troops, not serfs (the number of "free" peasants, mostly living on crown lands, was minimal). Serfs were no happier than retainers or lords about their miserable conditions in the south, but as in so many early-modern wars, had no means to coalesce into a class movement and were the unfortunate victims of the conflict - not active participants.The Troubles were a series of southern regional revolts/defections by military retainers and - at times - a critical mass of southern and Muscovite nobility - but they were not a peasant uprising.

Just wanted to drop a line on that - great show as always!

P.S. - it's "boYAR" not "BOYar" :-)

Pavel Ovsepian

Hi Mike! Long-time listener here, all the way from HoR. Loved the Storm before the storm. French Revolution was a truly titanic work and I enjoyed it immensely, but I fell off the wagon on Haitian and Mexican revolutions because of lack of interest.

I remember you mentioned sometime during FR podcast that you would do the Russian revolution, but then when Haiti and Mexico showed up in my feed I though you have abandoned the idea. Needless to say, I was extremely excited when you started the Russian revolution!

In episode 9 "The Third Rome", you mentioned History of Russia Podcast? Could you please provide the link because I could not find it. Also, if you need tutoring on your Russian pronunciations (free of charge, of course), I will be happy to help, since I am a native Russian speaker and a big fan!

Keep up the great work!


James in Poggio Sn Marcello


I think this is it:



For those looking for a more condensed Russian history podcast that is further along, there's also this:


Gregory W Levitsky

Wow, how's this for an incredibly bad take?

"As a result, the Orthodox church fell over with a nudge in 1917 and nobody cried over it..."

The "nudge" was tens of thousands of dead and exiled clergy (~8,000 in 1922 alone), the legalized seizure of all Church valuables (as a pretext for further arrests for those who opposed it), official state sanction of the "Living" Church schism to help peel off believers, and the shuttering of virtually every church and monastery, using Red Army troops and the "League of the Militant Godless" to disperse any faithful who tried to protest.

And yet the Church survived (despite atheist indoctrination in schools), recovered slightly under Stalin during WWII, and after the fall of state-enforced atheism in 1991, is now thriving and nearly back to its pre-revolutionary numbers, and that *without* salaries paid by the state and a more liberal populace than under the Tsars.

It takes a totally superficial knowledge of the Russian Orthodox Church to say what you said, Brandon. And ignores the widespread existence of Orthodox Christians in the former Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, Greece, Georgia, Cyprus, the Middle East, and throughout the world.

The comments to this entry are closed.

Support Revolutions

  • If you are enjoying Revolutions, please support the show so I can keep doing it full time. Click the link, head over to Paypal and pay any amount you like. Thanks!