This shifting of ways did not, however, prove fatal to Novgorodian foreign trade. Losses were compensated for by the growth of commerce in the Volga basin: Novgorod and the towns of the Vladimir - Suzdal principality lay on the new routes of European trade with the Orient. Novgorod largely traded in furs which came in abundance from its northeastern possessions, and imported woolen cloth, pig - iron, luxury items, etc.
In those days Novgorodian merchants were a familiar sight in the streets of almost every town of the Baltic littoral. Evidence of Novgorodian foreign trade is found in the written sources surviving from that period and ranging from business contracts with foreign merchants to records in the Novgorodian town chronicle. Thus, we learn from the entry for 1156 y. that "overseas merchants" - evidently Novgorodians engaged in foreign trade - erected a wooden church in the Market Square, dedicating it to St. Parasceve Piatnitsa, a saint venerated as the patroness of commerce. We also know that foreigners came in large numbers to live in Novgorod: this is clear from the fact that there were churches for Christians of other persuasions than Russian Orthodox. The Life of St. Anthony the Roman, a local saint, tells how, on arriving in Novgorod, he found there men speaking European languages. And finally, there was in Novgorod a foreign - trade station with a pier area reserved for foreign traders, and called Gotland Pier - from the name of an island in the Baltic Sea, which was an important lintel in the system of Novgorod's Western European trade.
The growth of commerce was attended by a flourishing of the crafts. So numerous was the artisan class that whole streets might be inhabited by representatives of a single craft. Of the Five Ends, or districts, of Novgorod, one was called the Carpenters' End, another, the Potters' End. In the latter half of the twelfth and in the thirteenth centuries, craftsmen became more and more active in the city's politics. In the political life of the Five Ends, the influence of the posadnik steadily increased.
The rapidly developing and already powerful Novgorod now stood up in opposition to the weakening Kievan state. For a time, the interests of the thriving merchants and artisans coincided: both groups were equally resolved to free themselves from the control of the Prince and to shake off the overlordship of Kiev.
Until that time, the Prince had wielded supreme power in the administration of Novgorod, and had played the leading role in its cultural life as the principal patron of the arts. But towards the middle of the twelfth century, he seems to have lost most of his power, and with it, his rights to St. Sophia's - formerly his court church - he was forced to move his residence first to Yaroslav's Court on the opposite bank of the Volkhov, and then to the Rurik Fortress outside of the precincts of the city. From that time on, the Prince's functions were limited to those of a military commander responsible solely for the defence of the city - state.
The middle of the twelfth century saw the establishment in Novgorod of a new political structure which made it an autonomous boyar republic (the term "republic" here implies certain restrictions and limitations). The formation of the new system was preceded by a long series of political upheavals, involving frequent replacement of princes and other chief officials, posadniks and tysiatskiys. The forms of Novgorod's self - government coined at this stage endured for several centuries as part of the political organization peculiar to that city - state. This organization can be briefly described as follows: Supreme political and legislative power was lodged in the Veche, an assembly composed of, or representing, all free householders of town and country (the question of whether any citizen willing to attend might participate in the work of a Veche, or whether only elected delegates were entitled to do so, remains unanswered to this day). To summon a Veche, a special bell - the Veche Bell - was sounded. Decisions were approved by majority vote. The assembly elected, from among the boyars, a posadnik (a mayor, who was chief official of the state), a tysiatskiy (an official second to the posadnik in importance), and even the Archbishop. The Veche was often a scene of dramatic episodes of class struggle, and of the strife between the contending factions of the boyar class. Executive power was vested in the Council of Nobles, comprised of boyars and presided over by the Archbishop.