The Kievian Rus
A map of the Kievian Rus, an Early Kingdom that unified the various Russian lands
By 989, Oleg's great-grandson Vladimir I was ruler of a kingdom that extended to as far south as the Black Sea, the Caucasus Mountains, and the lower reaches of the Volga River. Having decided to establish a state religion, Vladimir carefully considered a number of available faiths and decided upon Greek Orthodoxy, thus allying himself with Constantinople and the West. It is said that Vladimir decided against Islam partly because of his belief that his people could not live under a religion that prohibits hard liquor. Vladimir was succeeded by Yaroslav the Wise, whose reign marked the apogee of Kievan Rus'. Yaroslav codified laws, made shrewd alliances with other states, encouraged the arts, and all the other sorts of things that wise kings do. Unfortunately, he decided in the end to act like Lear, dividing his kingdom among his children and bidding them to cooperate and flourish. Of course, they did nothing of the sort.
Kerchik natives of eastern Russia on an early 19th century illustration
Within a few decades of Yaroslav's death (in 1054), Kievan Rus' was rife with internecine strife and had broken up into regional power centers. Internal divisions were made worse by the depredations of the invading Cumans (better known as the Kipchaks). It was during this time (in 1147 to be exact) that Yuri Dolgorukiy, one of the regional princes, held a feast at his hunting lodge atop a hill overlooking the confluence of the Moskva and Neglina Rivers. A chronicler recorded the party, thus providing us with the earliest mention of Moscow, the small settlement that would soon become the pre-eminent city in Russia.