Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 86.djvu/12

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search
This page has been validated.
8
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

could retreated, "trekked," northward into the region of the Volga and the Oká. There, in central Russia, this enforced colonization or "trekking" resulted in the development of the Great Russian stock, which to-day occupies the heart of Russia and constitutes two thirds of the Russian race. Sheltered in the almost impassable forests of central Russia, the Russian retained his nationality, and slowly recovering his strength, not only threw off the Tartar yoke but also freed his kinsmen on the Dnieper. In the subsequent centuries he fought his way to the sea.

The story of the rise of Moscow as the center from which the new Russia slowly expanded till it occupied the great plain of eastern Europe and northern Asia is well known. Midway between the Russian on the Volga and the Russian on the Dnieper rose Moscow, at the meeting place of the three great roads of the region. Its beginning must have been very humble for a rhymning tale of a little later period marvels much at its rise,

What man ever thought or divined that Moscow could be accounted an Empire? Once by the river Moskva there stood only the goodly hamlets of the boyar, of the worthy Stephen Kutchak the son of Ivan.

Under Ivan the Terrible in the sixteenth century, the mighty Volga, "Mother Volga," was conquered and its cities Kazan and Astrakhan brought under Muscovite rule. Then towards the end of the sixteenth century, the conquest of the land to the east was begun. On New Year's Day of 1581, Yermak, the trapper and giant pirate of the Volga, having been entrusted with a commission by the Tsar, set out to subdue the tribes of Sibir, whence the name Siberia, and the lands of the rich fur trade. A century later the Pacific was reached and northern Asia was added to the Tsar's dominions during the very period that marks the great colonial expansion of France and England.

With the accession of Peter the Great, an era of conquest began which gave the Russian his opportunity to expand over the plain westward. Geographically, as we have seen, it formed a part of the Muscovite territory but hostile races were in possession. During the reign of Peter the Great and later Catherine II., we see the conflict of the rival races for control of all the western provinces of present-day Russia. The victory was with the stronger ethnic group. Peter the Great got the Baltic provinces, pushing the frontier to its natural line, the sea, and in the founding of Petersburg placed "a window," as he put it, for Russia to look out upon Europe; a century later Catherine got a large portion of Poland, adding "the doormat" also. This completed the Russian advance into Europe in this direction save for the acquisition of Finland in 1809 and a further portion of Polish land including the city of Warsaw in 1815.

But the difficulties in the way of expansion to the geographic fron-