Annalistic histories serve as important primary sources for the pre-Petrine period. The earliest chronicle written in Kiev begins with highlights of world history based on the Old and New Testaments (the divisions of the earth into tribes, the story of Christ and his disciples), followed by traditional tales on the founding, first rulers, and Christianization of the Rus lands. Chronologically ordered records organized in yearly entries (hence the Russian title letopis, commonly translated as "annal" or "chronicle") include documents, hagiographical narratives, reports on occurrences of significance for the state and the church; births, illnesses, and deaths of prominent persons; accounts of military and political conflicts; construction of fortifications, palaces, and churches; and notes on meteorological phenomena and wonders. As appanage principalities and ecclesiastical establishments acquired the resources for scriptoria, they initiated new chronicle compilations that borrowed from earlier annals, but devoted special attention to concerns of their own time and locality. Compendious chronicles produced in the central Muscovite scriptorium of the metropolitans include extended hagiographical narratives, correspondence, reports of church councils, details of protocol, and descriptions of important ceremonies involving princes and high-ranking hierarchs.
The editor of a chronicle constructed his compilation (svod ) from an archive of earlier texts, editing and supplementing them as necessary. Because some sources have not survived and compilations are usually not clearly marked by titles, the origins, sources, and genealogical relationships of chronicles must be reconstructed on the basis of internal evidence, paleographical analysis, and synoptic comparison. Alexei Shakhmatov created the methodological foundations of chronicle scholarship. Shakhmatov's hypotheses, continually revised during his lifetime and still indispensable, were corrected and refined by his successors, chief among them historians Mikhail D. Priselkov and Arseny N. Nasonov. Iakov S. Lur'e greatly contributed to our understanding of chronicle writing in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. Boris Kloss has done important codicological analysis on Muscovite compilations. Alexei Gippius and Alexander Bobrov have continued to research Novgorodian compilations. The evolving views of these chronicle scholars, and their ongoing differences, are registered in the critical apparati of the continuing series known as the Complete Collection of Russian Chronicles (Polnoye sobranie russkikh letopisei ), founded in 1846 by the Imperial Russian Academy of Sciences, and in entries for individual chronicles in the multivolume Slovar knizhnikov i knizhnosti Drevnei Rusi.
Among the most important sources for historians of the period from the founding of Rus through the fourteenth century are the Laurentian Codex (containing the earliest surviving copy of the Kievan Primary Chronicle), copied for Prince Dmitry Konstantinovich of Suzdal in 1377; the Hypatian Codex (containing a Kievan thirteenth-century chronicle and a Galician Volynian compilation, copied in the fifteenth century); and the Novgorod First Chronicle, surviving in several versions: the oldest version (starshy izvod ) covering up to the mid-fourteenth century and a younger version, preserved in fifteenth-century copies, adding records from the second half of the fourteenth century through the beginning of the fifteenth century.
Two fifteenth-century annals associated with Novgorod's St. Sophia Cathedral (Novgorodsko-Sofysky svod ) but relatively neutral toward the Moscow princes (who were fighting dynastic wars among themselves) were compiled during the 1430s and 1440s. The Sophia First Chronicle, surviving in an early version (starshy izvod ), preserved in the Karamzin and Obolensky copies, ends in the year 1418. A later version, whose earliest witness is the Balzerov manuscript (late fifteenth century), offers sporadic coverage of historical events up to the year 1471; the Tsarsky copy, dating from the beginning of the sixteenth century, extends to the year 1508. The Novgorod Fourth Chronicle also survives in several versions. The earliest version ends in the year 1437. The later version covers events to the year 1447 (the Frolov copy), extending to 1477 in the Stroyev and Synodal copies. Important primary sources on fifteenth-century Muscovy are the Rogozhsky Chronicle, represented in a single mid-fifteenth-century codex covering the period to 1412; the Simeonov Chronicle, represented in a single sixteenth-century copy covering the period to 1493; and the Uvarov Codex, a sixteenth-century manuscript, extending to the year 1492. The Typography Chronicle contains many entries representing the views of the influential Rostov bishops from the period between 1424 and 1481. The Yermolin Chronicle, connected by Lur'e to the "politically independent" Kirillov-Belozero Monastery, provides some unique details passed over in mainstream chronicles for the period from 1460 to 1472.
In the sixteenth century, chronicle writing proliferated. The most important compilations were composed in the scriptorium of the Moscow metropolitans and convey their special interests as well as certain biases of the Moscow grand princes. The Sophia Second Chronicle, surviving in manuscripts from the early- and mid-sixteenth century, covers the period between 1398 and 1518. The Nikon Chronicle, compiled in the scriptorium of Moscow Metropolitan Daniel (r. 1522–1539) by 1529, covers the period up to 1520 and lays the foundation for all subsequent chronicles of the sixteenth century. The Voskresenk Chronicle, a key Muscovite source surviving in thirteen copies, was compiled between 1542 and 1544 and contains a number of articles sympathetic to the Shuisky family. These chronicles served as the primary annalistic sources for the first Muscovite narrative history, the Book of Degrees of the Royal Genealogy, compiled between 1556 and 1563. The Illustrated Compilation (litsevoy letopisny svod ), the most extensive medieval Russian chronicle, consists of ten codices with over 16,000 miniature illustrations. Commissioned (and, some believe, edited) by Ivan the Terrible, the Illustrated Compilation was prepared in the capital of his "state within a state" (oprichnina ), Alexandrovskaya sloboda. Kloss dates its compilation between 1568 and 1576, Alexander Amosov from the late 1570s to the beginning of the 1580s. Among the most valuable seventeenth-century annals are the Novy letopisets, surviving in many copies and covering the period from the end of Ivan IV's reign to 1630; the Novgorod Third Chronicle, surviving in two versions and providing unique coverage of seventeenth-century Novgorodian affairs to 1676; and the Piskarev Codex, which, compiled by an annalist connected with the powerful Golitsyn clan, covers the period up to the reign of Alexei Mikhailovich (r. 1645–1676).
See also: book of degrees; primary chronicle
Kloss, Boris M. (1980). Nikonovskii svod i russkie letopisi XVI-XVII vv. Moscow: AN SSSR.
Lur'e, Iakov S. (1985). "Genealogicheskaia schema letopisei XI-XVI vv." In Trudy Otdela drevnerusskoi literatury XL. St. Petersburg: Nauka.