The Shifting Borders of Eastern Europe

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 18th, 2014

History 101

By 1300 the Mongol Golden Horde took all of Kievan Rus

Vladimir Putin took Crimea from Ukraine.  Because he said the people there are more Russian than Ukrainian.  The people there wanted to be a part of Russia instead of Ukraine.  And that the land historically has belonged to Russia.  But that’s not true.  Yes, if you go back in time the land was Russian.  But if you go further back it wasn’t.  In fact the borders of Eastern Europe have changed so much that today’s borders bear little resemblance to what they have been over time.  You can watch 1,000 years of this change play out in a video on Loiter.co (see Watch as 1000 years of European borders change).  We’ll recap some of the changes in century intervals.

In the early 1100s the Western Roman Empire was gone.  In its place was the Holy Roman Empire stretching from central Italy to the North Sea.  Spain was mostly Muslim.  France was taking shape.  The Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) was still in modern day Turkey, Greece and the Balkans.  Going north there was Hungary.  Then Poland.  And Lithuania.  To the east of these countries was the large expanse of Kievan Rus.  Modern day Ukraine, Belarus and western Russia.  And the Crimea was held by the Turkic Cumans.  But this land would change hands many times in the centuries to come.

By 1200 the Byzantine Empire moved further north into the Balkans.  While the Muslims moved into Byzantine territory from the south.  Hungary, Poland and Lithuania adjusted their borders slightly.  The Holy Roman Empire pushed further west in Europe.  The Cumans pushed into southern Kievan Rus.  While Kievan Rus moved south between the Black and Caspian seas.  By 1300 the Mongol Golden Horde (northwest part of the Mongol Empire) took all of Kievan Rus.  Hungary pushed out her borders while Poland shrank hers.  With East Prussia taking her northern lands.  Lithuania reshaped her borders in part to East Prussia.  The Byzantine Empire was reduced to a small area of the southern Balkans.  The Mongols were in Crimea.

Russia, Prussia and Hungary reduced Poland to the Grand Duchy of Warsaw by 1800

By 1400 the Ottoman Empire had replaced the Byzantines in the Balkans.  Hungary adjusted her borders a little.  East Prussia remained the same.  Poland and Lithuania had joined in a commonwealth and pushed their border south and east.  Into the lands that were once Kievan Rus.  Except for Crimea and the area just north of Crimea.  Pushing the Mongols east.  As the Republic of Novgorod and Muscovy pushed down on the Mongols from the north.  By 1500 the Ottoman Empire pushed further into southern Europe.  Into Hungary.  Crimea.  And Poland-Lithuania.  Which pushed north into East Prussia.  While Russia replaced the Republic of Novgorod and Muscovy and pushed south into Poland-Lithuania.

By 1600 the Ottoman Empire adjusted her northern borders a little.  Poland replaced the Poland-Lithuania Commonwealth.  And pushed her border slightly east into Russia.  Russia pushed her southern border to the Caspian Sea.  Sweden was across the Baltic Sea into modern day Finland and Estonia.  On Russia’s most western border.  By 1700 Hungary had pushed the Ottoman Empire back into the Balkans.  Prussia formed on the Baltic Sea west of Poland.  With East Prussia to the east of Poland on the Baltic Sea.  The Russian Empire pushed west to the Baltic Sea.  Pushing the Swedes out of Estonia and part of Finland.  Russia had also pushed south through Lithuania and pushed deep into Poland.  The Ottoman Empire was still on the northern side of the Black Sea at Russia’s southern border.

By 1800 the Russian Empire had pushed their southern border all the way to the Black Sea.  Pushing the Ottoman Empire back.  The Russians also pushed their southern border further south between the Black and Caspian seas.  They pushed west through modern day Finland to the sea.  They pushed their western border through half of what was Poland.  Hungary pushed north into what was Poland.  Prussia and East Prussia joined together, taking land from Poland on the Baltic Sea.  Russia, Prussia and Hungary left little of Poland.   What was left of her lands became the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.

Vladimir Putin has said one of the Greatest Catastrophes of the 20th Century was the Collapse of the Soviet Union

By 1900 the Ottoman Empire was pushed almost completely out of the Balkans.  Greece and Bulgaria were now on the lands the Ottomans once held.  Russia pushed their southern border between the Black and Caspian seas further into the Ottoman Empire.  Hungary pushed her southern border to Greece and Bulgaria.  And west into Austria (which would later form the Austria-Hungary Empire).  The Germanic states had formed into a greater Germany that stretched from France to Russia.  Absorbing the Grand Duchy of Warsaw.  And even pushing into Russia’s western border.

Then came World War I.  And afterwards the borders of Europe were greatly changed.  The Austria-Hungary Empire was broken into Romania, Yugoslavia, Austria, Hungary and Czechoslovakia.  The eastern half (approximately) of the greater Germany was given to a reconstituted Poland.  With East Prussia bordering Poland on the north and separated from Germany (Hitler’s opening shots in World War II was to recover this lost territory).   To the north of Poland and East Prussia were Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia.  Russia was now the Soviet Union with her western border pushed slightly back from where it was before World War I.  Bordering Estonia, Latvia, Poland and Romania in the west.  And pushed back out of Finland.  The Soviet southern border between the Black and Caspian seas was pushed back a little.  And Turkey replaced what was left of the Ottoman Empire.

After World War II the Soviet Union pushed her border through Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia to the Baltic Sea.  After the Soviet Union fell Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia restored their borders.  And the former lands of the Kievan Rus are now divided between Russia in the north and east.  Belarus between Poland and Russia.  And Ukraine bordering Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Moldova to the west.  The Black Sea to the south.  And Russia to the east.  With Crimea a part of Ukraine.  Well, until recently, that is.  As Russia has recently annexed Crimea.  And may be looking further west.  For this former KGB officer—Vladimir Putin—has said one of the greatest catastrophes of the 20th century was the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Which he began to put back together with his annexation of Crimea.

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Ukraine

Posted by PITHOCRATES - March 4th, 2014

History 101

Ukraine is a Nation with Farmland so Fertile it earned the Moniker the ‘Breadbasket of Europe’

All roads may have led to Rome.  But all rivers led to Byzantium.  The city Constantine the Great of the Roman Empire turned into Constantinople.  Modern day Istanbul.  The great city on the Bosporus.  One-time trade crossroads of the world.  Where East met West.  And Europe met Asia.  Where goods from the Far East traveling on the Silk Road passed through on their way to Europe.  And where grain grown in the fertile river valleys of Eastern Europe passed through to feed the great empires.

Rivers created civilizations.  For they provided fertile farmland in their valleys.  And the rivers provided avenues for trade.  Which is why our great cities first appeared on rivers.  Like Kiev.  The Ukrainian capital.  On the Dnieper River.  Which flows from Smolensk through Russia, Belarus and Ukraine.  Emptying into the Black Sea.  Along with the Danube.  The Don.  And via a short portage from the Don, trade flowed to the Black Sea on the Volga, too.  (But the waters flowed into the Caspian Sea.)  And across the Black Sea lay Constantinople.  One-time trade crossroads of the world.

Ukraine is a nation with a lot of fertile farmland.  It is so fertile that it earned the moniker the ‘breadbasket of Europe’.  Making Ukraine some very valuable real estate.  Because of their grain production.  And the access the Dnieper River provided.  Opening trade between Scandinavia and the Byzantine Empire in Constantinople.  Providing Ukraine with a lot of north-south movement via the Dnieper.  As well as a lot of east-west movement via land between the Germanic tribes to the west.  And the Turkic people to the east.

To improve Relations with the Rus’ the Byzantine Patriarch converted the Rus’ and the Slavs to Christianity

Kiev was a crossroads.  Varangians (i.e., Vikings) moved south from Scandinavia.  The Greeks from Byzantine moved north.  As they did they bumped into the indigenous Slavs.  And the Khazars (one of those Turkic people).  Kiev was geographically in the Khazar Empire.  But the Varangians ruled Kiev.  As it was on their trade route with the Greeks in Constantinople.  It was the Varangians who ruled Kiev during the Golden Age (11th to early 12th centuries).  Which saw the rise of Kievan Rus’.  Which in time and much change gave us modern day Russia.

As the Rus’ expanded south they encroached on Khazar territory.  The Khazars allied with the Byzantine Empire and fought against the Persians and Arabs.  Who wanted that rich crossroads.  Constantinople.  As did the Rus’.  So there were all kinds of war with all kinds of people.  Which wasn’t good for trade.  So the Byzantines established a division of their empire on the Crimean peninsula on the northern shore of the Black Sea.  Near the mouth of the Dnieper.  The Theme of Cherson.  To ward off those raids by the Rus’.  And to protect the grain coming to Constantinople from the breadbasket of Europe.  The Theme of Cherson became the center of Black Sea commerce.

But to improve relations with the Rus’ the Byzantine Patriarch Photius sent emissaries to convert the Rus’ and the Slavs to Christianity.  In 863 brothers Cyril and Methodius headed north.  They could speak the Slavonic language.  Which was then only a spoken language.  They created an alphabet for them.  The Glagolitic alphabet.  Which became the Cyrillic alphabet.  And gave them a written language.  Translated scripture so they could read it.  And extended the Greek culture of the Byzantine Empire to these lands.  As well as Orthodox Christianity.  Which is why today many of the lands radiating out from the rivers flowing to the Black Sea are Orthodox Christian (Russian Orthodox, Ukrainian Orthodox, Serbian Orthodox, etc.).

Russian Migration into Ukraine helped make her less Ukrainian and more Russian

Kiev was one of the largest cities in the world.  Then came the invasions.  First from the Asian steppes to the east.  The Pechenegs in 968.  And then the Mongols in 1240.  Who completely destroyed Kiev.  Then the Lithuanians from the north (1320s).  Then the Crimean Tatars sacked and burned Kiev (1482).  Then Kiev passed to Poland (1569).  Then the Russians took it over.  In the 18th and 19th centuries the city was full of Russian soldiers.  And ecclesiastical authorities.  From the Russian Orthodox Church.  Making the Ukrainian people more Russian.  Some Ukrainians tried to change that in the 1840s but Russia put a stop to that.

The Russian Empire kept pushing south.  For they wanted a warm-water port.  Which they could have on the Black Sea.  All they had to do was fight through the Ukrainians.  Which they did.  By this time the Muslim Ottoman Turks had long conquered the Christian Byzantine Empire.  Which left the Ottomans open to Russian aggression once the Russians took Ukraine.  Of course, if the Russians conquered the Ottoman Empire that would give Russia open access to the Mediterranean Sea.  Where they could threaten the British Empire holdings.  Also, the Russians could free their fellow Orthodox Christians from Muslim rule.

This aggression exploded into one of the bloodiest wars in history.  The Crimean War (October 1853 – February 1856).  Much like the American Civil War the technology was well ahead of the tactics.  The Russian Empire took on the French Empire, the British Empire, the Ottoman Empire and the Kingdom of Sardinia.  Russia lost.  And she lost what she most coveted.  That warm-water port.  But that didn’t last for long.  Changes elsewhere allowed Russia to reject portions of the peace treaty that ended that war.  And built a navy she operated out of the Black Sea port of Sevastopol (first founded in 1783 by Rear Admiral Thomas Mackenzie then fortified by Catherine the Great in 1784).  On the Crimea peninsula.  And the Russians have been there ever since.

But the beating the Russians took led Tsar Alexander II to free the serfs.  And try to advance the backward Russia to be more like the advanced nations that had beaten her.  But it was too late.  For this marked the beginning of the end for Tsarist Russia.  The war left her in great debt.  So much debt that Russia sold Alaska to the United States.  While creating social unrest that would eventually lead to the October Revolution.  And the Soviet Union.  All the while Russian migration into Ukraine continued.  Making Ukraine less Ukrainian and more Russian.  With the Russian language taking over in Kiev and other large Ukrainian cities.  Pushing the Ukrainian language and culture to the country.  Leading to a divided Ukraine.  Under the boot of the Soviet regime.  Until the collapse of the Soviet Union.  When Ukraine finally got her independence.  Which Russian president and former KGB officer of the Soviet Union, Vladimir Putin, is now currently taking away.

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The Russian Empire

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 11th, 2014

History 101

The Europeans built Larger Ships and used Advanced Navigational Skills to sail from Europe to the Far East

The Anatolian peninsula (roughly the area of modern day Turkey) has long been a trade crossroads.  It’s where the Black Sea (and the rivers into Europe and Russia) met the Mediterranean Sea.  It’s where Europe met Asia.  Where East met West.  All important long-distant trade traveled through the Anatolian peninsula.  Right through the Bosporus.  The straits between East and West.

The Greeks, the Persians, the Romans and the Ottoman Turks all coveted this region.  When the Western Roman Empire fell the great Italian city-states rose.  They dominated the Mediterranean.  And the trade through the Bosporus.  Where the Silk Road for centuries brought riches from the Far East into Europe.  The Italian merchant banks controlled that trade.  Until the Eastern Roman Empire (the Byzantine Empire) fell to the Ottoman Turks.  Which, lucky for the Europeans, happened at the time of the Renaissance.  Bringing an end to the Middle Ages.  And ushering in the modern era.

It started in Italy.  And then spread into Europe.  A rebirth (hence Renaissance) of all that Greek learning.  Which shifted the trading center from the eastern Mediterranean to Europe.  Where the Europeans built larger ships and used advanced navigational skills to sail from Europe to the Far East.  Bypassing the Silk Road.  And the Ottoman Turks in the Anatolian peninsula.  Making the Europeans the new rich traders.  Knowledge and wealth created more ships for trade.  And advanced armies and navies.  Making the Europeans the masters of the world.

Peter the Great pulled Russia out of the Middle Ages by making it more European

While the Mediterranean and European nations were ushering in the modern world not all of Asia followed them.  Russia in particular remained in the Middle Ages.  A vast land full of disparate peoples.  Not a unique and singular Russian people.  Until Ivan the Terrible came along.  The Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547.  Then Tsar of All the Russians.  Ivan the Terrible united Russia by conquering it.  But at a cost.  Continuous wars killed a lot of Russian people.  Which left a lot of farmland fallow.  Giving Russia a chronic problem they would have for centuries.  The struggle to feed themselves.

Tsar Peter the Great (1682 – 1725) modernized Russia.  To be a more modern country like those in Europe.  He even went to Europe incognito to learn as much as he could about advanced European ways.  And had Europeans help him pull Russia out of the Middle Ages.  He made his army to be like European armies.  Learned about shipbuilding.  And built a Russian navy.  Which was a problem as the only access to the sea Russia had was the Arctic Ocean via the White Sea.  Which meant, of course, war and conquest.  He fought the Swedes for access to the Baltic Sea.  And he fought the Ottoman Turks for access to the Black Sea.

The disparate people of Russia were not all that happy with his ideas or the money he spent.  So he brutally suppressed any discontent.  Peter built his navy.  And a new capital on the Baltic Sea.  Saint Petersburg.  A European cultural center.  And the Imperial capital of Russia.  He also attacked the Ottoman Empire.  And lost.  Losing his Black Sea ports.  But Russia would return to fight the Ottoman Turks.  Under Catherine the Great.

The Bolsheviks killed Tsar Nicholas and his Family and ushered in the Oppressive Soviet Union

Catherine the Great ruled during Russia’s Golden Age.  Continuing the work started by Peter the Great to modernize Russia.  Making Russia a great European power.  Through military conquest.  And diplomacy.  She was even an international mediator.  And established the League of Armed Neutrality to protect neutral shipping from British attacks during the American Revolutionary War.

Catherine pushed Russia’s borders out largely at the expense of the Ottoman Empire.  And the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth.  These conquests cost, though.  And she turned to the nobility to pay for them.  In return she supported the nobility.  But the wealth she got form the nobility came from the serfs (basically slave laborers) working their land.  Which took a lot of work to pay for her conquests.  Leading to a peasant uprising or two.  But serfdom would continue in Russia.  Tsar Alexander I advanced the status of Russia with his defeat of Napoleon.  They even called him the Savior of Europe.  But serfdom remained as the Industrial Revolution took off in Europe.  Halting the modernization of Russia.

Tsar Alexander II emancipated the serfs in 1861.  Ending the landed aristocracy’s monopoly of power.  Serfs left their lands.  And moved into the cities.  Selling their labor.  Industrializing Russia.  Still, their freedom favored the landed aristocracy.  Who were compensated for their serfs’ freedom with a tax paid by the freed serfs.  Which little improved the life of the freed serfs.  And did little to ease the revolutionary fervor long simmering in the Russian people.  Especially those outside the nobility.

When Tsar Nicholas II entered Russia into World War I things did not go well for Russia.  Military losses, food shortages, fuel shortages, inflation and striking factory workers made the nation ripe for revolution.  Tsar Nicholas went off to command the Russian Army personally.  Leaving his wife Alexandra to run the country in his absence.  Who turned to Grigori Rasputin for help.  Which didn’t help quell the revolutionary fervor simmering in the Russian people.  They didn’t like Rasputin.  Or the Tsar.  And made Tsar Nicholas the last emperor of the Russian Empire.  Which the Bolsheviks made permanent.  By killing Nicholas and his entire family.  Which ultimately ushered in the Soviet Union.  One of the most oppressive regimes of all time.

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