Janet Martin, Medieval Russia 980-1584. Cambridge: University Press, 1995. [Cambridge Medieval Textbooks] 450 pp. Maps, b&w illustrations, and genealogies. Cloth $65.00; paperback $22.95.
There will certainly always be a need for Russian histories, perhaps no time more than now, when we can say Russian again and not necessarily have to remember that we should have said Soviet. However, some things change little. Histories of Russia may not ignore the Baltic entirely, but they still don't make the effort to get the details absolutely correct. Good enough for Moscow, one might say; at least for Moscow-centered medieval histories.
Riga was not founded by the Order of the Brothers of the Sword (126); Iur'ev might be identified with brackets indicating the alternate name, Tartu (126); the Brothers of the Sword were not established to fight Finns (162-163); Mindovg might also be identified as Mindaugas (163) and Olgierd as Algirdas (205-210) as was done with Gedymin, Gediminas (205), and Vitovt, Vytautas (216); the Livonian Order's victory over Ivan III in 1502 is completely ignored (307 and 310), despite its importance in bringing an end to Moscow's advance west into Lithuania; and Revel' could be noted to known both as Reval and Tallinn (311). Historians are not in agreement that Ivan IV invaded Livonia in 1558 to acquire either land or ports, much less to provide land for veterans (358); he may well have been sincere in his claim that all he wanted initially was the tribute from Dorpat [Tartu]. The rest of the Livonian War is handled in a similarly causal manner. Certainly, no description of the Tatar atrocities that made this conflict so memorable for the Baltic lands--which, in fact, by throwing together refugees from many regions caused tribes and related regional groups to merge into the modern Latvian and Estonian peoples.
On the other hand, the description of Alexander Nevsky's policies in 1240-1242 is well done (163), as is the description of Lithuanian-Galician/Volhynian relations (164), Lithuanian expansion in the 14th century (204-206); Vytautas' ambitions to dominate Smolensk and Novgorod (216-217), and the Moscow-Lithuanian conflicts of the late 1400's (303-307). Nevertheless, these are handled as minor episodes in the story of the rise of Russia out of the ruins of Rus' and out of the Tatar Yoke; on the whole, less emphasis is given to those outlying regions which are today the independent states of Belarus and Ukraine, and appropriately less to the Baltic states, which were not occupied until later.
Occasionally, the writing becomes wordy, confusing, but when the author is describing the material she is most comfortable with, she writes well. That material concerns the Golden Horde, which she credits equally with the Church for making Moscow the center of the Russia which is being born.
There are no long shadows reaching from this unhappy era into the future, none of the connections that lecturers love to make from the medieval past to the present. Martin concentrates on presenting a solid text that makes sense of a complex period.