Vasili I Dmitriyevich
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Vasily II
Ivan III 'the Great' Vasilevich Grand Prince of Moscow


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Zoe Palaiologina Grand Duchess of Moscow

Ivan III 'the Great' Vasilevich Grand Prince of Moscow

  • Born: 22 Jan 1440, Moscow, Russia
  • Marriage: Zoe Palaiologina Grand Duchess of Moscow
  • Died: 27 Oct 1505, Moscow, Russia at age 65

  General Notes:

Ivan III Vasilevich, also known as Ivan the Great, was a Grand Prince of Moscow who first adopted a more pretentious title of the "grand duke of all the Russias". Sometimes referred to as the "gatherer of the Russian lands", he quadrupled the territory of his state, claimed Moscow to be a Third Rome, built the Moscow Kremlin, and laid foundations for the Russian autocracy.Ivan III is known as the founder of the "modern Russia state". By using extensive power and force, he was able to increase and add to the territory of Russia. Because of his grand duties of expanding Russia, Ivan III was given the title of "Ivan the Great".


Ivan's parents were Vasily II and Maria of Borovsk. He was co-regent with his father during the later years of his life and succeeded him in 1462. Ivan tenaciously pursued the unifying policy of his predecessors. Nevertheless, he was cautious to the point of timidity. He avoided as far as possible any violent collision with his neighbors until all the circumstances were exceptionally favorable, always preferring to attain his ends gradually and circuitously. Muscovy had by this time become a compact and powerful state, whilst her rivals had grown weaker, a state of affairs very favorable to the speculative activity of a statesman of Ivan III's peculiar character.

Gathering of Russian lands

His first enterprise was a war with the republic of Novgorod, which, alarmed at the growing dominance of Muscovy, had placed itself under the protection of Casimir IV, king of Poland, an alliance regarded at Moscow as an act of apostasy from orthodoxy. Ivan took the field against Novgorod in 1470, and after his generals had twice defeated the forces of the republic, at Shelona and on the Dvina, during the summer of 1471, the Novgorodians were forced to sue for peace, which they obtained on engaging to abandon for ever the Polish alliance, ceding a considerable portion of their northern colonies, and paying a war indemnity of 15,500 roubles.
The Palace of Facets (1487-91) was commissioned by Ivan from Italian architects.
The Palace of Facets (1487-91) was commissioned by Ivan from Italian architects.

From then on Ivan continually sought a pretext for destroying Novgorod altogether; but the attitude of the republic was so wary that though he frequently violated its ancient privileges in minor matters, his looked-for opportunity did not come till 1477. In that year the ambassadors of Novgorod played into his hands by addressing him in public audience as Gosudar (sovereign) instead of Gospodin (sir) as heretofore. Ivan at once seized upon this as a recognition of his sovereignty, and when the Novgorodians repudiated their ambassadors, he marched against them. Deserted by Casimir IV, and surrounded on every side by the Muscovite armies, which included a Tatar contingent, the republic recognized Ivan as autocrat, and surrendered (January 14, 1478) all her prerogatives and possessions (the latter including the whole of northern Russia from Lapland to the Urals) into his hands.

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 central Russian cities. After this, Novgorod, as an independent state, ceased to exist. The rival republic of Pskov owed the continuance of its own political existence to the readiness with which it assisted Ivan against its ancient enemy. The other principalities were virtually absorbed, by conquest, purchase or marriage contract: Yaroslavl in 1463, Rostov in 1474, and Tver in 1485.

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 duke instead of reverting, as hitherto, to the princes heirs, put an end once and for all to these semi-independent princelings.

Domestic policy
Portrait from the 17th-century Titulyarnik
Portrait from the 17th-century Titulyarnik

The character of the government of Muscovy under Ivan III changed essentially and took on a new autocratic form. This was due not merely to the natural consequence of the hegemony of Moscow over the other Russian lands but to new imperial pretensions. After the fall of Constantinople, orthodox canonists were inclined to regard the Muscovite grand dukes as the successors by the Byzantine emperors. Ivan himself appeared to welcome the idea, and he began to style himself tsar in foreign correspondence.

This movement coincided with a change in the family circumstances of Ivan III. After the death of his first consort, Maria of Tver (1467), at the suggestion of Pope Paul II (1469), who hoped thereby to bind Russia to the holy see, Ivan III wedded Sophia Paleologue (also known under her original Greek and Orthodox name of Zoe), daughter of Thomas Palaeologus , despot of Morea, who claimed the throne of Constantinople as the brother of Constantine XI, last Byzantine emperor. Frustrating the Pope's hopes of re-uniting the two faiths, the princess endorsed 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. And it was her son Vasily, not Maria of Tver's son, Ivan, who was ultimately crowned co-regent with his father (April 14, 1502).

The grand duke increasingly held aloof from his boyars. The old patriarchal systems of government vanished. The boyars were no longer consulted on affairs of state. 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, at first with some success.

It was in the reign of Ivan III that the new Russian Sudebnik, or law code, was compiled by the scribe Vladimir Gusev. 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. The most noted of these was the Italian Ridolfo di Fioravante, nicknamed Aristotle because of his extraordinary knowledge, who built several cathedrals and palaces in the Kremlin. This extraordinary monument of the Muscovite art remains a lasting symbol of the power and glory of Ivan III.

Foreign policy

It was in the reign of Ivan III that Muscovy rejected the Tatar yoke. In 1480 Ivan refused to pay the customary tribute to the grand Khan Ahmed. When, however, the grand khan marched against him, Ivan's courage began to fail, and only the stern exhortations of the high-spirited bishop of Rostov, Vassian, could induce him to take the field. All through the autumn the Russian and Tatar hosts confronted each other on opposite sides of the Ugra, till the 11th of November, when Ahmed retired into the steppe.
Ivan III tearing the khan's letter to pieces
Ivan III tearing the khan's letter to pieces

In the following year the grand khan, while preparing a second expedition against Moscow, was suddenly attacked, routed and slain by Ivan, the khan of the Nogay 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 Ottoman Empire, Ivan's relations were pacific and even amicable. The Crimean khan, Meñli I Giray, helped him against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and facilitated the opening of diplomatic intercourse between Moscow and Istanbul, where the first Russian embassy appeared in 1495.

In Nordic affairs, Ivan III concluded an offensive alliance with Hans of Denmark and maintained a regular correspondence with Emperor Maximilian I, who called him a "brother". He built a strong citadel in Ingria (named Ivangorod after himself), which proved of great consequence to Russians in the war with Sweden, which had been preceded by Ivan's detention of the Hanseatic merchants trading in Novgorod.

The further extension of the Muscovite dominion was facilitated by the death of Casimir IV in 1492, when Poland and Lithuania once more 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, and wedded Helena, Ivan's daughter. But the clear determination of Ivan to appropriate as much of Lithuania as possible at last compelled Alexander in 1499 to take up arms against his father-in-law. The Lithuanians were routed at Vedrosha (July 14, 1500), and in 1503 Alexander was glad to purchase peace by ceding to Ivan Chernigov, Starodub, Novgorod-Seversky and sixteen other towns.

Ivan married Zoe Palaiologina Grand Duchess of Moscow, daughter of Thomas Palaeologus the Despot of Morea and Unknown. (Zoe Palaiologina Grand Duchess of Moscow was born about 1455 and died on 7 Apr 1503.)

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