The shaping of the ethnic community of the Maris was completed around the turn of the first and second millennia AD. Intense contacts with Turkic peoples constitute the prominent feature of medieval Mari history: from the tenth until the mid-thirteenth century the Maris were subjects of the Volga Bolgar Kingdom and then, until the middle of the sixteenth century, they were in a kind of vassalage to the Kazan Tatars. The bulk of Maris remained loyal to the Tatars until the collapse of Kazan in 1552.
Submission to Russian rule took place painfully: a series of violent uprisings erupted, known as the Cheremis wars. By the onset of the seventeenth century—only after the Russians had erected a set of forts in the Mari areas—the struggles gradually ended. Later, the Maris were quick to join peasant uprisings but these were more ventures to relieve economic burdens than attempts to win back independence. Conversions to Russian Orthodoxy began on a large scale in the second half of the seventeenth century, and missionary pursuits further intensified in the following century. Results were poor, however: adoption of Christianity remained mostly superficial, and large numbers of Maris chose to escape to the Bashkir lands. The outcome of this move was the formation of the group of Eastern Maris; among this group paganism prevailed until the present century. In the tiny circles of Mari intellectuals, the beginnings of ethnic awakening became apparent around 1900. A number of Mari territories that earlier were divided among several provinces were united in 1920 into a single administrative entity, the Mari Autonomous Area. In the 1930s the Mari intelligentsia fell victim to Stalinist purges even as Mari autonomy was formally elevated to the ASSR level.