By the late eleventh century, instability in the Muslim and Byzantine empires and the expansion of the Seljuk Turks had made pilgrimages to Palestine unsafe for Christians. When Byzantine envoys asked Pope Urban II for military aid against the Seljuks, the pope responded by calling for a Crusade. Crusades, or holy wars supported by the papacy against the infidel, had been waged in Spain since the Muslim invasions of the eighth century.
The Late Middle Ages in Eastern Europe
A final development of these two centuries was to prove of the utmost importance for the future Russia. This was the slow and gradual penetration of foreigners and foreign ideas, a process welcomed with mixed feelings by those who prized the technical and mechanical learning they could derive from the West while fearing Western influence on society and manners. This ambivalent attitude toward Westerners and Western ideas became characteristic of later Russians.
The sixteenth and seventeenth centuries saw tremendous expansion of the Russian domain. Russian pioneers, in search of furs to sell and new land to settle, led the way, and the government followed. Frontiersmen in Russia were known as Cossacks. Cossack communities gradually became more settled, and two Cossack republics, one on the Dnieper River, the other on the Don, were set up. As time passed, more Cossack groups formed along the Volga River, in the Ural Mountains and elsewhere.
The church remained the partner of the autocracy. The czar controlled the election of the patriarch of Moscow, a rank to which the archbishop was elevated in 1589. In the seventeenth century there were two striking instances when a patriarch actually shared power with the czar. In 1619 the father of Czar Michael Romanov, Filaret, who had become a monk, became patriarch and was granted the additional title of “Great Sovereign.”
The zemski sobor now elected as czar Michael Romanov, grand-nephew of Ivan IV. Michael succeeded with no limitations placed upon his power by the zemski sobor or by any other body; he was an elected autocrat. For the first ten years of his reign, the zemski sobor stayed in continual session. It assisted the uncertain new dynasty to get underway by endorsing the policies of the czar and his advisers, thus lending them the semblance of popular support.
Though the territory was wide and the imperial rule absolute, ignorance, illiteracy, and inefficiency weakened Russian society. Though the old nobility had been weakened, the new gentry was not firmly in control of the machinery of government.
Ivan’s son and heir, Feauedor (r. 1584-1598), was an imbecile, and with his death the Moscow dynasty, descended from the rulers of Kiev, died out. Cliques of rival nobles intrigued for power. Feauedor’s brother-in-law, Boris Godunov (r. 15981605), emerged as the dominant figure.