The Infrastructure of the Novgorodian Fur Trade in the Pre-Mongol Era (ca. 900-ca. 1240)
By Roman Kovalev
PhD Dissertation, University of Minnesota, 2002
Introduction: During Russia’s pre-Mongol or Kievan era (ca. 900-1240), Novgorod was not only the capital of the Novgorodian principality, but, after Kiev, the second most important city in Kievan Rus’. The Kievan Rus’ realm stretched from the forest-steppe region of southern Russia and Ukraine in the south to the Arctic Circle in the north and from the borders of Poland and Hungary in the west to the middle Volga and the foothills of the Urals in the east. A large part of this vast territory lay within the borders of the Novgorodian principality. By the fourteenth-early fifteenth centuries, Novgorod had also become one of medieval Europe’s great cities, occupying about 329 hectares with a population of some 25,000-30,000 inhabitants. By way of contrast, while the contemporary cities of Constantinople (40,000-70,000+), Paris (80,000), London (35,000-40,000), Köln (30,000-40,000), Milan, Venice, Florence, Naples, Ghent, and Bruges (the last five with 50,000+) surpassed Novgorod in population, the city was on a par with Lübeck, Prague, Valencia, Saragossa, and Lisbon. The populations of other important late medieval cities such as Nuremburg, Augsburg, Vienna, Strasburg, and Toulouse (all with 20,000) fell below that of Novgorod. In this way, in population, Novgorod can be rated as one of the larger cities of late medieval Europe.
Aside from being one of the great medieval European cities, when considering the vastness of the Novgorodian territories (core and colonial) that formed by the first half of the twelfth century, at the latest, the Novgorodian principality was the largest state in all of medieval Europe. The immense territories of Novgorod, most of which lay to the north and northeast of the city and stretched to as far as the coastal regions of the White and Kara Seas and the northwestern Urals, provided it with enormous and largely-untapped sources of high-quality northern furs coming from a great array of animals inhabiting the taiga and tundra zones of northern Russia. The accumulation of such colossal colonial lands by Novgorodian can be directly linked to the fur trade. The urge to find additional supplies of pelts and better-quality furs drove not only the Novgorodian traders and tribute collectors to cross the Urals during the Middle Ages, but later the Muscovites to colonize Siberia and even later the Russian Empire to explore and establish control over the Russian Far East and Alaska.