Establishment of the Grand Duchy of Moscow

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Believe it or not, the Mongols helped Moscow to not only become the most powerful city in Russia, but also to eventually unite the Russians against their foreign occupiers! This lesson explains how.

Founding Moscow

Moscow was founded as one of many small city-states in what is now Western Russia and Ukraine. In fact, Moscow was one of the last ones founded, as it was first established as a landmark sometime during the twelfth century. This is late for the period, as the powerful cities of Novgorod and Kiev are more than 300 years older. Founded by Yuri Dolgorukiy, it was soon important enough to have its own fortress, known as a Kremlin. Situated on the Moskva River, it was a considerable stronghold.

Moscow as a small trading post
Moscow Trading Post

Fate under the Mongols

Unfortunately for Moscow, cities that could be called 'considerable strongholds' did not fare so well when the Mongols came to town. By 1238, the city had been burned to the ground by the invading Mongols, with all of its inhabitants either killed or carried off into slavery. However, the Mongols were willing to let a native Russian rule the city, just as long as he paid plenty of money for the honor of doing so. That native son, who would eventually restore Moscow to much of its previous greatness, was Alexander Nevsky. So popular in Russian history that he was made a Saint in 1547, Nevsky helped to keep the city strong against the attacks of other European powers, all while sparing it further destruction at the hands of the Mongols.

Alexander Nevsky
Alexander Nevsky

Grand Duchy

Alexander Nevsky ruled much of the region, and thought little of passing on Moscow to his youngest son, Daniel, upon his death. However, Daniel was determined to grow his territory. Daniel would be the first in a line of leaders of Moscow who would seek to further its power. Knowing that his city alone was too weak to confront the Mongols, Daniel instead worked to convince the Mongols that he sought to rule Russia as their surrogate. As such, he called his domain the Grand Duchy of Moscow. For generations, this strategy of working alongside the Mongols with the ultimate goal of defeating them continued. Finally, almost 200 years later, Ivan the Great was able to end all Mongol control over Russia, declaring himself Ruler of all Rus.

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