According to the historical and archeological research of the Byelorussian Academy of Science, the city of Minsk was founded in the 1067. The city is located upon rows of beautiful valleys on the sides of the Svisloch River. The potential for economic development of this city was due not only to its proximity to the river as a conduit for barges (that brought merchandise from afar and exported the agricultural and civic produce), but also to the fact that it was situated on the crossroads of Vilna-Bobruisk from north to south, and of Novogrodok-Borislav from east to west. Its economic importance grew further at the end of the 19th century, when the Moscow-Brisk railway line that was built in 1871 cut through the city and connected it to the principal communication network of Eastern Europe. The founders of the city were princes of the Krivichan tribe, whose capital was the city of Plotzk, located to the north of Minsk. In the 11th century, the entire region suffered from the attacks of the Scandinavians, but the attacks were repelled with the help of the Polish King Boleslaw, called the "Brave." Minsk was destroyed by Prince Vladimir of Kiev about 20 years after it had been founded, however it was rebuilt anew, and in a proper fashion. When the soldiers of the Principality of Kiev lay siege to it in the year 1104, the city stood up to the siege and was not subdued, though at the end, Prince Gleb of Minsk agreed to pay a tax to the Prince of Kiev. With the independence and the expansion of the Principality of Lithuania during the 12th and 13th centuries, Minsk and its environs became a part of this state. After the official union of Poland and Lithuania in 1569, the political and cultural influence of Poland penetrated to the entire region. In 1496, the Lithuanian King Alexander of the Jagelow dynasty granted civic rights to Minsk in accordance with the Magdeberg Charter. The city was given its own limited autonomy, which attracted German and other residents to it, including craftsmen and merchants – the middle class without whom the entire state would be destined to a primitive economic life that relied solely on internal barter. The situation of Minsk was strong from an economic perspective, except like all of the cities that were situated on the main routes and played important strategic positions, it was liable to conquests, attacks and sieges at various times. The attacks of the Tatars during the 14th and 15th centuries, which turned many cities in Poland and Lithuania into heaps of ruins, did not pass over Minsk, which was conquered and burned by in 1506. The residents of the city were not able to rebuild it, and after only about thirteen years, the city was conquered again by the Russians who were on the route to conquer Vilna. Despite everything, the business and wealth of Minsk grew to such a degree that the King's tax grew to a sum of 50 Shak of Polish Groszy. The Polish King Zygmunt August (1548-1572) esteemed Minsk to the degree that he visited it several times. During a visit in the year 1552, he granted special privileges to Minsk, and established more markets to expand trade in the region. After several years, Minsk became the capital city of the region, and sent its delegates to the Polish Senate. Representatives of Minsk were numbered among the signers of the contract of unity between Poland and Lithuania in the year 1569. In those years, the royal courthouse established itself in Minsk, in addition to Vilna and Novogrodok. During the time of the Cossack Revolution that began in the year 1648, the Russian Czar Alexei conquered Minsk. It only returned to Polish rule in the year 1662. During the years of this occupation, a plague broke out that lasted until the year 1658. Negotiations had begun between delegates of Russia and Poland regarding the conditions of the surrender of Poland in 1660, when suddenly the dramatic news reached the city of the defeat of the Russians by the Polish armies headed by Stefan Czarniecki and Prince Sapeha near the town of Polonka. Wars and epidemics during the 17th century impoverished the population to the degree that King Jan-Kazimir came to Minsk accompanied by the minister Jan Sowiecki immediately after the departure of the Russians, and granted a wide degree of rights to the Jews so that they could develop business, which by then had transferred almost fully to their hands. Apparently, the Jews of Minsk did not suffer from Tach and Tat to the same degree that other communities suffered, since they left the city and returned only after the end of the disturbances. Thus, they were also saved from the plague. During those years, the Catholic element grew in the city, and the Jesuit monks received large inheritances from the Polish noblemen who had perished in the wars. They became lenders for interest through the intermediation of the Jews. However, the city was not quiet for long, for a Swedish invasion followed the wars of the Cossacks and the Russians. Fires and epidemics were once again common, and continued until the year 1708. Piotr the Great remained in Minsk for several weeks in the year 1706, until the Russians were expelled from the city by the Swedes. The city of Minsk recovered very quickly. As proof to this we see a decision of the Polish Sejm from 1717 that required the Jews of the city to give 2,000 Polish Guilder to the state treasury each year as a head tax, and an additional 602 Guilder as a special tax. The taxes from the Christians totaled only 1,460 Polish Guilder. The taxes that Jews paid to the city hall totaled 12,000 guilder during those years. At the time of the second partition of Poland, the armies of Yekaterina II entered Minsk on June 22, 1793. Minsk was declared the capital of the Minsk region immediately after the capture of the region by the Russian. The population of the city, which had reached 30,000 people in the year 1865, doubled after the building of the Moscow-Brisk railway and reached 60,000 people in 1885. According to the Large Polish Geographical Dictionary of 1885, 2/3 of the population were Jews. However this is an exaggerated estimate, and we can assume that in those years Jews were only half the population. In the middle of the 18th century, most of the houses that had been built of wood were converted to stone houses. In 1883, there were 45 factories in Minsk, the vast majority owned by Jews. These included: 3 soap factories, 5 tanneries, one candle making factory, 1 liquor distillery, 5 beer breweries, 2 mead breweries, a sawmill, 14 brick kilns, 2 tobacco factories, 1 iron foundry, 1 pottery factory, and 6 match factories. The annual value of all of the products reached the sum of 265,000 rubles. The vast majority of the craftsmen were Jews, and business was almost all in the hands of the Jews. In the year 1805, a Russian government gymnasium was established in the city. 552 students were accepted, including 142 Jews. The private Real School had 59 students, including 22 Jews. A water plant was set up in 1875, which greatly improved the health condition of the population. Before that, the residents had drawn their water from the polluted river, and the numerous epidemics that had broken out in the city from time to time were caused primarily by the polluted water. There are two theories regarding the origin of the Jews of Lithuania, including as well the Jews of Minsk. One opinion assumes that they came from the land of the Khazars around the Black Sea, that they came directly from the Land of Israel after the destruction of the First Temple, or after wandering in Babylonia, Persia, and the Caucasus Mountains. The second theory claims that the Jews of Lithuania came from the west during the time of the crusades, as a result of the persecutions and disturbances in France, Germany, Italy, Bohemia and Moravia. The first historian of Polish-Lithuanian Jewry, Tadeusz Czaczki , claims that the Jews of those countries spoke Polish and Ukrainian during the Middle Ages and even worshipped in those languages. Reb Yitzchak Ber Levinson (Rib"l), one of the first of the Maskilim of Eastern Europe, supported this theory. Reb Avraham Chaim Shabad of Minsk, in his introduction to his book "Annals of the Times" that appeared in Minsk in 1904, claims that "The Jewish community in the city of Minsk is one of the most ancient communities in the country of Russia. Without doubt, Jews were among the settlers in that city from its first founding in the year 4826, which is 1066 according to their count…" What can be stated with certainty is that, after the destruction that was perpetrated in Poland-Lithuania by the Tatar invasions of the 13th century, the Jews were invited by the kings and noblemen to rehabilitate the economy of the state and to conduct a primitive form of barter within the monetary economy. Coins with Hebrew inscriptions can be found in the museums of Poland and Lithuania, for the Jews, the lessees of the mint, did not know Polish or Latin. The rulers, in their efforts to rehabilitate the destruction of the cities that had been devastated by the Tatars, preferred the Jews over the Germans, for the latter demanded rights for themselves in accordance with the Magdeberg Charter; whereas the Jews who had been persecuted in the west demanded no political rights aside from protection of life and property and the right to observe the precepts of their faith. In the primitive agrarian government, which was based on the labor of tenants, the Jews became a sort of middle class of merchants and craftsmen, which was completely missing in Poland and Lithuania. We can surmise that the first Jewish settlers in Minsk were merchants and lessees who received rights of leasing (Arenda) from the Polish kings or Lithuanian noblemen in return for a payment of a head tax to the state treasury. According to this opinion, these were wealthy Jews who at first came in few numbers, and later increased both by natural increase and by additional immigration from the west.
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