Indeed, it was not so much a principality as a municipal republic of the Venetian type.
The principality which was to become the nucleus of the future Russian empire was not Novgorod with its democratic institutions, but its eastern neighbour Moscow, in which the popular assembly played a very insignificant part, and the supreme law was the will of the prince.
There was no longer within the Russian land any independent principality in which an asylum could be found, and emigration to a principality beyond the frontier, such as Lithuania, was regarded as treason, for which the property of the fugitive would be confiscated and his family might be punished.
The opportunity thus given for debate naturally stimulated the movement in favour of constitutional government, which received new impulses from the sympathetic attitude of the emperor Alexander II., his grant in 1879 of a constitution to the liberated principality of Bulgaria, and the multiplication of Nihilist outrages which pointed to the necessity of conciliating Liberal opinion in order to present a united front against revolutionary agitation.
From about 1200 till 1628 it was the seat of a bishopric, which at the latter date became a secular principality, being in 1648 incorporated with Brandenburg.