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Belarus, History

Rzeczpospolita, partitions of Poland, Belarusian language, Belarusians, Belarusian state

Human settlement in Belarusian territory dates to prehistoric times, but there is no consensus among scholars on the origins of the Belarusian state. The three early Slavic tribes from which the Belarusians are believed to have derived are the Krivichi, Dregovichi, and Radimichi, who between the 6th and 8th centuries settled first on the Daugava (Western Daugava) River and later in the vicinity of the Pripyat’ and Sozh rivers. The medieval period of Belarusian history dates most notably from the last quarter of the 10th century, when Prince Rogvold ruled the local principality of Polotsk (Polatsk). In the late 10th century Polotsk was annexed into Kievan Rus, the first significant East Slavic state. At least three principalities—Smolensk, Polotsk, and Turov-Pinsk—existed on what later became Belarusian territory. The Tatar invasions that destroyed Kievan Rus and the city of Kiev (Kyiv) in 1240 left Belarusian territory relatively unscathed.

In the 14th century Belarusian territory became part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, with its capital at Vilnius. Slavs heavily outnumbered the titular nation and retained privileges, and state business was for a time conducted in the Belarusian language. By the 16th century a Slavic culture had begun to emerge, symbolized by the translation of the Bible into the Belarusian language by Frantsysk Skaryna in 1517. In 1569, however, the Grand Duchy formed a political union with Poland by the Union of Lublin, forming the Rzeczpospolita (Commonwealth) and making the sovereign of Poland also the grand duke of the Lithuanian kingdom. In this period, Belarusians faced pressure from the Poles to convert from Eastern Orthodoxy to Roman Catholicism. The union lasted until the late 18th century, by which time the lands of Belarus had fallen under the control of the Russian Empire as a result of the partitions of Poland that took place in 1772, 1793, and 1795.

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Article key phrases:

Rzeczpospolita, partitions of Poland, Belarusian language, Belarusians, Belarusian state, Grand Duchy of Lithuania, Smolensk, Pripyat, political union, Eastern Orthodoxy, grand duke, Slavs, principalities, Russian Empire, state business, Roman Catholicism, Human settlement, prehistoric times, Vilnius, Kyiv, Commonwealth, Bible, origins, vicinity, privileges, translation, Poles, scholars, centuries, consensus, capital, quarter, result, pressure, period, place, control, time, Kievan Rus


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