The mighty Volga River has been an important route for transporting both people and goods. The Volga Region has also been of interest to many peoples. This is why the living areas of the Mordvins, Maris and Udmurts by the Volga and Kama Rivers have been at the crossroads of many cultures and peoples throughout history. It would appear, however, that the Finno-Ugric peoples are the oldest (known) inhabitants of the region. They have been in the region at least from the first centuries of the Common Era.
Mordvins are first mentioned as a people in a historical text dating back to the 500s. The split of the Mordvins into two groups speaking different languages started around the same period. The ancient Mari people had also been formed by the 500s, and the full formation of the Mari tribes had taken place by the 1000s.
East Slavic conquerors began to penetrate the Volga–Kama Region in the 700s. At the same time, Turkic peoples also arrived in the area. Bulgars, a Turkic people that arrived from the south, subjected the local peoples under their rule and created the Khanate of Volga Bulgaria, ruling over the Mordvins, Maris and at least some of the Udmurts.
After the Bulgars, the region was ruled from 1236 to 1450 by the Mongols and the Tatars in a confederation known as the Golden Horde. The Finno-Ugric peoples of the Volga–Kama Region came under the rule of Russians in the 1500s when Ivan the Terrible had conquered Kazan.
Many different conquerors and neighbouring peoples have had a major impact on the languages and cultures of the region’s Finno-Ugric peoples. Others have also fled from the conquerors and migrated to live in new areas. Rulers have also moved people from one area to another. This is why many Maris, Mordvins and Udmurts still live outside their titular republics.
The Russians also imported Christianity to the Volga–Kama Region, and the campaign to convert the original inhabitants of the region began already in the 1500s and became more systematic in the 1600s. Conversion to Christianity also played a role in the creation of literary languages for the local languages from the late 1700s onwards.
Today, the Maris, Mordvins, Udmurts and Komis have their own titular republics established in the Soviet era. The Mari Autonomous Oblast was established in 1920 and renamed the Mari Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1936, with Yoshkar-Ola as its capital city. Today, the Mari region is called the Mari El Republic.
The Mordovian Autonomous Oblast was established in 1930, and it became the Mordovian Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic in 1934. The capital city of the present Republic of Mordovia is Saransk.
The Udmurt Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic, today the Udmurt Republic, was established in 1934, and its capital city is Izhevsk.
The Komi Autonomous Soviet Socialist Republic was established in 1936. Today called the Komi Republic, its capital is the city of Syktyvkar. From 1925 to 2003, the Komi-Permyaks had their own Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug, the capital city of which was Kudymkar. Today, Komi-Permyak Autonomous Okrug is part of Perm Krai, a federal subject of Russia.
Although each of these peoples has its own titular administrative region, all of them are a minority in their own republic. The majority of the population of each republic are Russian, but there are also inhabitants representing peoples including the Tatars and other ethnic groups.