Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/11

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7
GEOGRAPHY IN RUSSIAN HISTORY

teenth and nineteenth centuries, but in the frequent struggles for the mastery of the borderland, so poignantly driven home, even to us at this distance, by the conflict now waging on the banks of the Vistula.

The other point where the natural frontiers are absent is in the southwest, towards the Danube. There the fact that the Carpathians do not reach to the Black Sea but double back on themselves, leaves an open and inviting road to the rich lands of the lower Danube, while the Black Sea itself offers an even more attractive outlet by way of the Bosphorus and Constantinople as the gateway to the Mediterranean and one of the world's great trade routes. And how many diplomatic intrigues, wars, conventions and treaties have had their origin in this simple geographic condition.

According to the latest investigations by Russian historians, the Slavic race was, about the second century after Christ, swept by the surging currents of racial migration into the region of the lower and middle Danube. But they were not allowed to remain, for it was they who received that terrible thrashing by Trajan's Romans. As a result of this, a large portion of them turned back, retraced their steps across the Carpathians into the Russian plain, and there on the banks of the lower Dnieper at Kiev slowly organized into a state. Indeed it is this little principality at Kiev that marks the beginning of the Russian nation. Its growth was stimulated by two great historic events. The first was the coming of the Scandinavians under Rurik and the subsequent assimilation, infusing into the Slav, especially the upper or commercial class, some of the military spirit of the north. The second was the adoption of Christianity about the year 1000. The conversion of the Eastern Slav was a step of momentous importance, for it brought a new force into his life. It also articulated, at least partially, his religion with that of western Europe. Partially, for as might be expected, the influence of geography told here, and the proximity of Kiev to Constantinople led the Russians to adopt the Eastern or Greek form of Christianity instead of the Western or Roman. Indeed the adoption at this psychological moment of the Byzantine religion and the Slavonic liturgy may well be regarded as the most fateful moment in Russian history. Later the marriage of Ivan III. with Sophia, the niece and heir of the last of the Constantines, gave to Russia not only the emblem of Byzantium, the double-headed eagle, but a claim to Constantinople itself.

The glories of the early civilization of Russia at Kiev, which even chroniclers of the west say outshone that of Alfred or of Charles the Great, can not delay us here. About the middle of the twelfth century, it was, however, violently interrupted by a great invasion by the Tartar hordes from Asia. The "Man of Rus," the Russian, was conquered and his civilization submerged. Kiev was abandoned in 1240 and those who