|Sovereign of all Russia|
|Grand Prince of Moscow[note 1]|
|Reign||28 March 1462 – 27 October 1505|
|Coronation||14 April 1502|
|Born||22 January 1440|
Moscow, Grand Duchy of Moscow
|Died||27 October 1505 (aged 65)|
Moscow, Grand Duchy of Moscow
|Father||Vasily II of Moscow|
|Mother||Maria of Borovsk|
Ivan III Vasilyevich (Russian: Иван III Васильевич; 22 January 1440 – 27 October 1505), also known as Ivan the Great,[note 2] was Grand Prince of Moscow and Sovereign of all Russia.[note 3] Ivan served as the co-ruler and regent for his blind father Vasily II from the mid-1450s before he officially ascended the throne in 1462.
He multiplied the territory of his state through conquest and the seizure of lands from his dynastic relatives, and laid the foundations of the centralized Russian state. He also renovated the Moscow Kremlin and introduced a new legal code. Ivan is credited with ending the dominance of the Tatars over Russia; his victory over the Great Horde in 1480 formally restored its independence.
Ivan began using the title tsar, and used the title tentatively until the Habsburgs recognized it. While officially using "tsar" in his correspondence with other monarchs, he was satisfied with the title of grand prince at home. Through marriage to Sofia Paleologue, Ivan made the double-headed eagle Russia's coat of arms, and adopted the idea of Moscow as the third Rome. His 43-year reign was the second-longest in Russian history, after that of his grandson Ivan IV.
Ivan's rule is marked by vastly expanding the territory and his control of Muscovy. As part of the "gathering of the Russian lands", Ivan brought the independent duchies of different Rurikid princes under the direct control of Moscow, leaving the princes and their posterity without royal titles or land inheritance. His first enterprise was a war with the Novgorod Republic, with which Muscovy had fought a series of wars stretching back to at least the reign of Dmitry Donskoy. These wars were waged over Moscow's religious and political sovereignty, and over Moscow's efforts to seize land in the Northern Dvina region. Alarmed at the growing power of Moscow, Novgorod had negotiated with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the hope of placing itself under the protection of Casimir IV, King of Poland and Grand Duke of Lithuania, a would-be alliance that was proclaimed by the rulers of Moscow as an act of apostasy from Orthodoxy (in part, because Poland and its monarchs were Catholic). Ivan took the field against Novgorod in 1470, and after his generals had twice defeated the forces of the Novgorodians – at the Battle of Shelon and on the Northern Dvina, both in the summer of 1471 – the Novgorodians were forced to sue for peace, agreeing to abandon their overtures to Lithuania and to cede a considerable portion of their northern territories, while paying a war indemnity of 15,500 rubles. He took a promise of allegiance from Novgorod, but left its system of government in place.
Ivan visited Novgorod several times in the next several years, persecuting a number of pro-Lithuanian boyars and confiscating their lands. In 1477, two Novgorodian envoys, claiming to have been sent by the archbishops and the entire city, addressed Ivan in public audience as gosudar (sovereign) instead of the usual gospodin (sir). Ivan at once seized upon this as a recognition of his sovereignty, and when the Novgorodians repudiated the envoys (indeed, one was killed at the veche and several others of the pro-Moscow faction were killed with him) and swore openly in front of the Moscow ambassadors that they would turn to Lithuania again, he marched against them. Deserted by Casimir and surrounded on every side by the Muscovite armies, which occupied the major monasteries around the city, Novgorod ultimately recognized Ivan's direct rule over the city and its vast hinterland in a document signed and sealed by Archbishop Feofil of Novgorod (1470–1480) on 15 January 1478.
Ivan dispossessed Novgorod of more than four-fifths of its land, keeping half for himself and giving the other half to his allies. Subsequent revolts (1479–1488) were punished by the removal en masse of the richest and most ancient families of Novgorod to Moscow, Vyatka, and other cities in northeastern Rus'. Many merchants, landholders, and boyars were replaced with loyalists who came from Moscow. The Novgorod veche and its elected offices were also abolished. Archbishop Feofil was also removed to Moscow for plotting against the grand prince. The rival republic of Pskov owed the continuance of its own political existence to the readiness with which it assisted Ivan against its old enemy. The acquisition of Novgorod alone nearly doubled the size of his realm.
Other principalities were eventually absorbed by conquest, purchase, or marriage contract: the Principality of Yaroslavl in 1463, Rostov in 1474, Tver in 1485, and Vyatka 1489. Ivan also increased Moscow's dominance over Pskov, with his son and successor Vasily III annexing it in 1510.
Whereas his father Vasily II followed the custom of dividing the realm between his sons, seeing this as a cause for weakness and instability, Ivan consolidated his exclusive control over Muscovy during his reign. Ivan's refusal to share his conquests with his brothers, and his subsequent interference with the internal politics of their inherited principalities, involved him in several wars with them, from which, though the princes were assisted by Lithuania, he emerged victorious. Finally, Ivan's new rule of government, formally set forth in his last will to the effect that the domains of all his kinsfolk, after their deaths, should pass directly to the reigning grand prince instead of reverting, as hitherto, to the princes' heirs, put an end once and for all to these semi-independent princelings.
Ivan had four brothers. The eldest, Yury, died childless on 12 September 1472. He only had a draft of a will that said nothing about his land. Ivan seized the land, much to the fury of the surviving brothers, whom he placated with some land. Boris and Andrei the Elder signed treaties with Vasily in February and September 1473. They agreed to protect each other's land and not to have secret dealings with foreign states; they broke this clause in 1480, fleeing to Lithuania. It is unknown whether Andrei the Youngersigned a treaty. He died in 1481, leaving his lands to Ivan. In 1491, Andrei the Elder was arrested by Ivan for refusing to aid the Crimean Khanate against the Golden Horde. He died in prison in 1493, and Ivan seized his land. In 1494, Boris, the only brother able to pass his land to his sons, died. However, their land reverted to the tsar upon their deaths in 1503 and 1515 respectively.
There was one semi-autonomous prince in Muscovy when Ivan acceded: Prince Mikhail Andreevich of Vereya, who had been awarded an appanage by Vasily II. In 1478, he was pressured into giving Belozersk to Ivan, who got all of Mikhail's land on his death in 1486.
The character of the government of Moscow changed significantly under Ivan III, taking on a new autocratic form, as Moscow increased its hegemony, but also to new imperial pretensions. After the fall of Constantinople, Orthodox canonists were inclined to regard the grand princes of Moscow, where the Metropolian of Kiev moved in 1325 after the Mongol invasions, as the successors of the Byzantine emperors. Ivan himself appeared to welcome the idea, and he began to style himself "tsar" in foreign correspondence. The British historian J. L. I. Fennell emphasizes Ivan's military and economic success, as well as his success in centralizing control over local rulers, adding, however, that his reign was also marked by cultural depression, lack of freedom, and isolation from the West.
This movement coincided with a change in the family circumstances of Ivan III. After the death of his first consort in 1467, Maria of Tver, and at the suggestion of Pope Paul II in 1469, who hoped thereby to bind Moscow to the Holy See, Ivan III wedded Sophia Palaiologina (also known under her original name Zoe) in 1472, daughter of Thomas Palaeologus, despot of Morea, who claimed the throne of Constantinople as the brother of Constantine XI, the last Byzantine emperor. Frustrating the Pope's hopes of reuniting the two faiths, the princess endorsed Eastern Orthodoxy. Due to her family traditions, she encouraged imperial ideas in the mind of her consort. It was through her influence that the ceremonious etiquette of Constantinople (along with the imperial double-headed eagle and all that it implied) was adopted by the court of Moscow; his family seal became and remained a symbol of the Russian tsars until the monarchy was abolished in 1917. Ivan's marriage would add to Moscow's prestige after the Russian Orthodox Church had earlier declared itself autocephalous in 1448, and a native metropolitan was installed in Moscow.
The adoption of Byzantine symbolism and its ceremonial style in effect allowed for the Muscovite grand prince to claim the powers of that of a Byzantine emperor. Ivan also began styling himself as "tsar", meaning caesar, and used the title of "autocrat". By 1493, he had added the title of "Sovereign of all Russia" or "Sovereign of all Rus'". The transformation to absolutism was supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, which benefitted from Moscow's increased international standing, with the doctrine of Moscow as the "third Rome" beginning to emerge.
Ivan's son with Maria of Tver, Ivan the Young, died in 1490, leaving from his marriage with Helen of Moldavia an only child, Dmitry the Grandson. The latter was crowned as successor by his grandfather on 15 February 1498, but later Ivan reverted his decision in favor of Sophia's elder son Vasily, who was ultimately crowned co-regent with his father (14 April 1502). The decision was dictated by the crisis connected with the Sect of Skhariya the Jew, as well as by the imperial prestige of Sophia's descendants. Dmitry the Grandson was put into prison, where he died, unmarried and childless, in 1509, already under the rule of his uncle.
The grand prince increasingly held aloof from his boyars, who were a barrier to the transformation to absolutism. As a result, he gradually reduced the boyars' economic and political powers. He granted estates called pomestie to a new noble class in exchange for military service and other conditions, allowing him to build up a centralized army and create a counterbalance to the boyars. The old patriarchal systems of government vanished. The boyars, who would meet in a council known as a boyar duma, were no longer consulted on state affairs. The sovereign became sacrosanct, while the boyars were reduced to dependency on the will of the sovereign. The boyars naturally resented this revolution and struggled against it.
It was in the reign of Ivan III that the new sudebnik, or law code, was compiled by the scribe, Vladimir Gusev. The death penalty was mandated for rebellion or sedition, which was a more severe penalty compared to that of the earlier Russkaya Pravda. It restricted the mobility of peasants, also requiring an exit fee to be paid to the landlords, which were in the interests of the new noble class. Ivan therefore laid the groundwork for serfdom, which would negatively impact Russia's development in the following centuries.
Ivan did his utmost to make his capital a worthy successor to Constantinople, and with that object invited many foreign masters and artificers to settle in Moscow. Ivan's most notable construction was the rebuilding of the Kremlin in Moscow. The most noted of these architects was the Italian Ridolfo di Fioravante, nicknamed "Aristotle" because of his extraordinary knowledge, who built several cathedrals and palaces in the Kremlin, and also supervised the construction of the walls of the Kremlin. These include the Dormition Cathedral and Palace of Facets. Construction of the Ivan the Great Bell Tower also started in 1505, which was completed after his death.
In 1476, Ivan refused to pay the customary tribute to Ahmed Khan, and in 1480, Ahmed Khan organized a military campaign against Muscovy. Throughout the autumn the Muscovite and Tatar hosts confronted each other on opposite sides of the Ugra River until 11 November 1480, when Ahmed retreated into the steppe. In traditional Russian historiography, it is marked as the end of the "Tatar yoke" over Russia.
In the following year, Ahmed Khan, while preparing a second expedition against Moscow, was suddenly attacked, routed and slain by Khan Ibak of the Nogai Horde, whereupon the Golden Horde suddenly fell to pieces. In 1487, Ivan reduced the Khanate of Kazan, one of the offshoots of the Horde, to the condition of a vassal state, though in his later years, it broke away from his suzerainty. With the other Muslim powers, the Khan of the Crimean Khanate and the sultans of the Ottoman Empire, Ivan's relations were peaceful and even amicable. The Crimean khan, Meñli I Giray, helped him against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and facilitated the opening of diplomatic relations between Moscow and Constantinople, where the first embassy appeared in 1495.
The Christian rulers in the Caucasus began to see the Muscovite monarchs as their natural allies against the Muslim regional powers. The first attempt at forging an alliance was made by Alexander I, king of a small Georgian kingdom of Kakheti, who dispatched two embassies, in 1483 and 1491, to Moscow. However, as the Muscovites were still too far from the Caucasus, neither of these missions had any effect on the course of events in the region. In 1488, Ivan sought gun founders, master gunners for siege cannons, gold and silversmiths, and Italian master builders from King Matthias Corvinus.
In Nordic affairs, Ivan concluded an offensive alliance with John of Denmark and maintained regular correspondence with Emperor Maximilian I, who called him a "brother". He built a strong citadel in Ingria, named Ivangorod after himself, situated on the present-day Russian-Estonian border, opposite the fortress of Narva held by the Livonian Confederation. In the Russo-Swedish War, Ivan unsuccessfully attempted to conquer Vyborg from Sweden, but this attempt was checked by the Swedish garrison in Vyborg Castle led by Lord Knut Posse.
Ivan deemed Moscow to be the legitimate heir to the territories that formerly belonged to Kievan Rus', leading to wars with Lithuania, including skirmishes in the late 1480s and early 1490s. The further extension of his dominion was facilitated by the death of Casimir IV in 1492, when Poland and Lithuania once again parted company. The throne of Lithuania was now occupied by Casimir's son Alexander, a weak and lethargic prince so incapable of defending his possessions against the persistent attacks of the Muscovites that he attempted to save them by a matrimonial compact, wedding Helena, Ivan's daughter. But the clear determination of Ivan to appropriate as much of Lithuania as possible finally compelled Alexander to take up arms against his father-in-law in 1499. A full-scale war broke out in 1500. The Lithuanians were routed at the Battle of Vedrosha on 14 July 1500, and in 1503, Alexander was glad to purchase peace by ceding Chernigov, Starodub, Novgorod-Seversky, and sixteen other towns.[note 4] However, Smolensk remained in Lithuanian hands, though Ivan's son Vasily III would take the city in 1514.
Ivan conquered or brought under his control the lands of northeastern Rus', marking the beginning of Muscovite dominance over Rus'. Ivan arguably became best known for his consolidation of Muscovite rule. His predecessors had increased Moscow's territory from less than 600 square miles (1,600 square kilometres) under Ivan II (r. 1353–1359) to more than 15,000 square miles (39,000 square kilometres) at the end of Vasily II's reign. It remained for Ivan III to absorb Moscow's old rivals, Novgorod and Tver, and establish virtually a single rule over what had been appanages of Rus'. Although the circumstances surrounding the acquisitions varied, the results were basically the same: former sovereign or semi-autonomous principalities were reduced to the status of provinces of Moscow, while their princes joined the ranks of the Muscovite service nobility.
After the death of his first wife in 1467, Ivan married Sophia (Zoë) Palaiologina in 1472, a Byzantine princess and niece of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI, who was killed in battle in 1453. The Vatican sponsored the marriage in hope of bringing Moscow under the sway of the Pope and of establishing a broad front against the Turks, a goal that failed. From Ivan's point of view, the marriage fitted well into the general trend of elevating the Muscovite ruler.
Following his second marriage, Ivan developed a complicated court ceremonial on the Byzantine model and began to use the title of "tsar" and "autocrat". Also during the reign of Ivan and his son, Vasily III, Moscow came to be referred to by spokesmen as the third Rome. Philotheos, a monk from Pskov, developed the idea of Moscow as the true successor to Byzantium and, hence, to Rome.
An impressive building program in Moscow took place under Ivan, directed primarily by Italian artists and craftsmen. New buildings were erected in the Kremlin in Moscow, and its walls were strengthened and furnished with towers and gates. In 1475, Ivan III established the first cannon foundry of Russia in Moscow, which started native cannon production. Ivan died on 27 October 1505, and was succeeded by his son, Vasily III.
In Herberstein's Notes on Muscovite Affairs, Ivan III was characterized as a cruel tyrant, drunk, and a misogynist, far from being a ruler of great fairness and equity presented by previous writers.
1.By Maria of Tver
2.By Sophia Palaiologina