The initiation of the Russian people in the art and religion of Byzantium began before 1000, when the Prince of Kiev Vladimir “the Saint” became Christian in 989. To get rid of the Russian threat, the Byzantine emperors Basil and Constantine gave Vladimir their sister Anna in marriage, in turn Vladimir had to convert to Christianity in order to be formally linked to the imperial family.
The Virgin Orans, ca. 1000, mosaic at St. Sophia’s Cathedral, Kiev.
For this reason the Russian Church is still Orthodox, and even their customs, alphabet and art have a strong Byzantine influence. After he converted, Vladimir moved to the capital (in Kiev) where he built the first church, the mother of all Russian churches, the St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev built mostly by Byzantine-Greek artists coming from Byzantium and finished in 1307. It is a temple with five naves with apses covered by domes and decorated with mosaics in pure Byzantine style. From Kiev the Byzantine art spread throughout Russia.
In the XVth century the Russian court moved north of Kiev to Moscow fearing the Mongol invasions and since then this city became the political and cultural center of Russia. Around 1473 Ivan III married Sophia, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, which allowed him to be considered as heir to the emperors of Byzantium and taking as his own insignia the imperial double-headed eagle he turned Moscow into a third Rome. One of Ivan III successors, Ivan IV the Terrible, took the title of
Tsar, i.e. Caesar.