The downstream of the Volga (Idel), widely believed to have been a cradle of the Proto-Indo-European civilization, was settled by Huns and other Turkic peoples in the first millennium AD, replacing Scythians. The ancient scholar Ptolemy of Alexandria mentions the lower Volga (Idel) in his Geography (Book 5, Chapter 8, 2nd Map of Asia). He calls it the Rha, which was the Scythian name for the river. Ptolemy believed the Don and the Volga (Idel) shared the same upper branch, which flowed from the Hyperborean Mountains.

Subsequently, the river basin played an important role in the movements of peoples from Asia to Europe. A powerful polity of Volga (Idel) Bulgaria once flourished where the Kama river joins the Volga (Idel), while Khazaria controlled the lower stretches of the river. Such Volga (Idel) cities as Atil, Saqsin, or Sarai were among the largest in the medieval world. The river served as an important trade route connecting Scandinavia, Rus’, and Volga (Idel) Bulgaria with Khazaria and Persia.

Khazars were replaced by Kipchaks, Kimeks and Mongols, who founded the Golden Horde in the lower reaches of the Volga (Idel). Later their empire broke into the Khanate of Kazan and Khanate of Astrakhan both of which were conquered by the Russians in the course of the 16th century Russo-Kazan Wars. The Russian people’s deep feeling for the Volga (Idel) finds echoes in their culture and literature, starting from the 12th-century Lay of Igor’s Campaign. The Volga (Idel) Boatmen’s Song is one of many songs devoted to the national river of Russia.

Construction of Soviet dams often involved enforced resettlement of huge numbers of people, as well as destruction of their historical heritage. For instance, the town of Mologa was flooded for the purpose of constructing the Rybinsk Reservoir (then the largest artificial lake in the world), and the construction of the Uglich Reservoir entailed the flooding of several monasteries with buildings dating from the 15th and 16th centuries. In such cases the ecological and cultural damage often outbalanced any economical advantage.

During the Russian Civil War, both sides fielded warships on the Volga (Idel). In 1918, the Red Volga (Idel) Flotilla participated in driving the Whites eastward, from the Middle Volga (Idel) at Kazan to the Kama and eventually to Ufa on the Belaya River.

In modern times, the city on the big bend of the Volga (Idel), currently known as Volgograd, witnessed the Battle of Stalingrad, possibly the bloodiest battle in human history, in which the Soviet Union and the German forces were deadlocked in a stalemate battle for access to the river. The Volga (Idel) was (and still is) a vital transport route between central Russia and the Caspian Sea, which provides access to the oil fields of Apsheron. Hitler planned to use access to the oil fields of Azerbaijan to fuel future German conquests. Apart from that, whoever held both sides of the river could move valuable troops and war machines, across the river, to defeat the enemy’s fortifications beyond the river. By taking the river, Hitler’s Germany would have been able to move supplies, guns, and men into the northern part of Russia.

For this reason, many amphibious assaults were brought about in an attempt to remove the other side from the banks of the river. In these battles, the Soviet Union was the main offensive side, while the German troops used a more defensive stance, though most of the fighting was close quarters combat, with no clear offensive or defensive side.

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