Bryansk (Russian: Брянск; IPA: [brʲænsk]) is a city and the administrative center of Bryansk Oblast, Russia, located 379 kilometers (235 mi) southwest of Moscow. Population: 415,721 (2010 Census); 431,526 (2002 Census); 452,160 (1989 Census).
The first written mention of Bryansk was in 1146, in the Hypatian Codex, as Debryansk (appears variously as Дъбряньск, Дьбряньск, and in other spellings). Its name is derived from «дъбръ», a Slavic word for «ditch», «lowland», or «dense woodland»; the area was known for its dense woods, of which very little remains today. Local authorities and archaeologists, however, believe that the town had existed as early as 985 as a fortified settlement on the right bank of the Desna River.
Bryansk remained poorly attested until the Mongol invasion of Rus’. It was the northernmost of the Severian cities in the possession of the Chernigov Rurikids. After Mikhail of Chernigov was murdered by the Mongols and his capital was destroyed, his son moved his seat to Bryansk. In 1310, when the Mongols sacked the town again, it belonged to the Principality of Smolensk.
Algirdas of Lithuania acquired Bryansk through inheritance in 1356 and gave it to his son, Dmitry the Elder. Until the end of the century, the town was contested between Jogaila, Vytautas, Švitrigaila, and Yury of Smolensk.
The Grand Duchy of Moscow conquered Bryansk following the Battle of Vedrosha in 1503. The town was turned into a fortress which played a major role during the Time of Troubles. During the Time of Troubles, it was occupied by Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth in 1610 and remained at Polish hands as part of Smolensk Voivodeship until the Truce of Deulino in 1634. Peter the Great incorporated Bryansk into Kiev Governorate, but Catherine the Great deemed it wise to transfer the town to Oryol Governorate in 1779. She also promulgated the town’s coat of arms.
In the 17th and 18th centuries, the economy of Bryansk, which had become a regional trading center, was based on the Svenskaya fair, the largest in Western Russia. The fair was held annually under the auspices of the Svensky Monastery. After cannon and ammunition started to be manufactured there for the Imperial Russian Navy in 1783, Bryansk evolved from a regional market town into an important industrial center for metallurgy and textiles. The city’s population exceeded 30,000 by 1917.
In 1918, the Belarusian People’s Republic claimed Bryansk, but the town was taken by Bolshevik forces in 1919. During World War II, Bryansk was occupied by the Germans (from October 6, 1941 to August 18, 1943) and the city was heavily damaged by fighting. About 60,000 Soviet partisans were active in and around Bryansk, inflicting heavy losses on the German army. In 1944, soon after its liberation, Bryansk became the administrative center of Bryansk Oblast.