In the middle of the 9th century Novgorod was only a name used to describe a staging post on the trade route from the Baltic Sea to the Byzantine Empire. It was populated by various Finnic and Slavic tribes that were constantly at war with one another for supremacy. However, these tribes came together during the beginning of the 9th century to try and form a negotiated settlement to end military aggression between each other. The Novgorod First Chronicle, a collections of writings depicting the history of Novgorod from 1016-1471, states that these tribes wanted to “Seek a prince who may rule over us and judge us according to law.” By transforming its governing institutions, Novgorod rejected its politically dependent relationship to Kiev.
Novgorod functioned as the original capital of the Rus' people until 882 when Oleg transferred his administration to Kiev. From that time until 1019-1020 Novgorod was a part of Kievan Rus'. Novgorod Princes were appointed by the Grand Prince of Kiev (usually one of the elder sons).
The Novgorod boyars began to dominate the offices of posadnik and tysyatsky, which until about the mid-12th century had been appointed by the grand prince in Kiev. In 1136, the Novgorodians dismissed Prince Vsevolod Mstislavich and over the next century and a half were able to invite in and dismiss a number of princes. However, these invitations or dismissals were often based on who the dominant prince in Rus' or Appanage Russia was at the time, and not on any independent thinking on the part of Novgorod.
Cities such as Staraya Russa, Staraya Ladoga, Torzhok, and Oreshek were part of the Novgorodian Land. According to some accounts, a vicar of the archbishop ran the city of Staraya Ladoga in the 13th century. The city of Pskov, initially part of the Novgorodian Land, had de facto independence from at least the 13th century after joining the Hanseatic League. Several princes such as Dovmont (ca 1240-1299) and Vsevolod Mstislavich (before 1117-1138) reigned in Pskov without any deference to or consultation with the prince or other officials in Novgorod. Pskov's independence was acknowledged by the Treaty of Bolotovo in 1348 (see Pskov Republic). Even after this, however, the Archbishop of Novgorod headed the church in Pskov and kept the title "Archbishop of Novgorod the Great and Pskov" until 1589.
In the 12th–15th centuries, the Novgorodian Republic expanded east and northeast. The Novgorodians explored the areas around Lake Onega, along the Northern Dvina, and coastlines of the White Sea. At the beginning of the 14th century, the Novgorodians explored the Arctic Ocean, the Barents Sea, the Kara Sea, and the West-Siberian river Ob. The Ugric tribes that inhabited the Northern Urals had to pay tribute to Novgorod the Great. The lands to the north of the city, rich with furs, sea fauna, salt, etc., were of great economic importance to the Novgorodians, who fought a protracted series of wars with Moscow beginning in the late 14th century in order to keep these lands. Losing them meant economic and cultural decline for the city and its inhabitants. Indeed, the ultimate failure of the Novgorodians to win these wars led to the downfall of the Republic.
Soviet-era Marxist scholarship frequently described the political system of Novgorod as a "feudal republic", placing it within the Marxist historiographic periodization (slavery - feudalism - capitalism - socialism - communism). Many scholars today, however, question whether Russia ever really had a feudal political system parallel to that of the medieval West.
The city state of Novgorod had developed procedures of governance that held a large measure of democratic participation far in advance of the rest of Europe. The people had the power to elect city officials and they even had the power to elect and fire the prince. The Chronicle writer then goes on to describe a “town meeting” where these decisions would have been made, which included people from all social classes ranging from the Posadniki (Burgomaster), to the Chernye Liundi (literally, the black folks) or the lowest class. The precise constitution of the medieval Novgorodian Republic is uncertain, although traditional histories have created the image of a highly institutionalized network of veches (public assemblies) and a government of posadniks (burgomaster), tysyatskys ("thousandmen," originally the head of the town militia, but later a judicial and commercial official), other members of aristocratic families, and the archbishops of Novgorod.