Ivan the Terrible

Ivan the Terrible

Forensic facial reconstruction of Ivan IV by Mikhail Gerasimov[1]
Tsar of All the Russias
Reign 16 January 1547 – 28 March 1584
Coronation 16 January 1547
Successor Feodor I
Grand Prince of Moscow
Reign 3 December 1533 – 16 January 1547
Predecessor Vasili III
Born 3 September [O.S. 25 August] 1530
Kolomenskoye, Grand Duchy of Moscow
Died 28 March [O.S. 18 March] 1584
(aged 53)
Moscow, Tsardom of Russia
Burial Cathedral of the Archangel, Moscow
Full name
Ivan Vasilyevich
Dynasty Rurik
Father Vasili III of Russia
Mother Elena Glinskaya
Religion Russian Orthodox

Ivan IV Vasilyevich (Russian: Ива́н Васи́льевич, tr. Ivan Vasilyevich; 3 September [O.S. 25 August] 153028 March [O.S. 18 March] 1584),[2] commonly known as Ivan the Terrible or Ivan the Fearsome (Russian:  Ива́н Гро́зный , Ivan Grozny), was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547 and "Tsar of All the Russias" from 1547 until his death in 1584.

Under his long reign Russia conquered the Khanate of Kazan, Khanate of Astrakhan and Khanate of Sibir, transforming into a multiethnic and multicontinental state spanning approximately 4,050,000 km2 (1,560,000 sq mi). Ivan managed countless changes in the progression from a medieval state to an empire and emerging regional power, and he became the first ruler to be crowned as Tsar of All the Russias.

Historic sources present disparate accounts of Ivan's complex personality: he was described as intelligent and devout, yet given to rages and prone to episodic outbreaks of mental instability[3] that increased with his age, affecting his reign.[4][5] In one such outburst, he killed his groomed and chosen heir Ivan Ivanovich. This left the Tsardom to be passed to Ivan's younger son, the weak and intellectually disabled Feodor Ivanovich.

The title of Tsar was first used on occasion by his grandfather, Ivan the Great, but became the permanent primary title of Russian monarchs with Ivan's death.

Ivan's legacy is complex: he was an able diplomat, a patron of arts and trade, founder of the Moscow Print Yard, Russia's first publishing house, a leader highly popular among the common people of Russia (see Ivan the Terrible in Russian folklore), but he is also remembered for his paranoia and arguably harsh treatment of the Russian nobility. The Massacre of Novgorod is regarded as one of the biggest demonstrations of his mental instability and brutality.[6]


The English word terrible is usually used to translate the Russian word grozny in Ivan's nickname, but this is a somewhat archaic translation. The Russian word grozny reflects the older English usage of terrible as in "inspiring fear or terror; dangerous; powerful; formidable". It does not convey the more modern connotations of English terrible, such as "defective" or "evil". Vladimir Dal defines grozny specifically in archaic usage and as an epithet for tsars: "courageous, magnificent, magisterial and keeping enemies in fear, but people in obedience".[7] Other translations have also been suggested by modern scholars.[8][9][10]

Early life

Ivan was the first son of Vasili III and his second wife, Elena Glinskaya, who was of half Serbian and half Russian descent. When Ivan was three years old, his father died from an abscess and inflammation on his leg that developed into blood poisoning. Ivan was proclaimed the Grand Prince of Moscow at the request of his father. His mother Elena Glinskaya initially acted as regent, but she died of what many believe to be assassination by poison,[11][12] in 1538 when Ivan was only eight years old. The regency then alternated between several feuding boyar families fighting for control. According to his own letters, Ivan, along with his younger brother Yuri, often felt neglected and offended by the mighty boyars from the Shuisky and Belsky families.

On 16 January 1547, at age sixteen, Ivan was crowned with Monomakh's Cap at the Cathedral of the Dormition. He was the first to be crowned as "Tsar of All the Russias", hence claiming the ancestry of Kievan Rus'. Prior to that, rulers of Muscovy were crowned as Grand Princes, although Ivan III the Great, his grandfather, styled himself "tsar" in his correspondence. Two weeks after his coronation, Ivan married his first wife Anastasia Romanovna, a member of the Romanov family, who became the first Russian tsaritsa.

By being crowned Tsar, Ivan was sending a message to the world and to Russia: he was now the one and only supreme ruler of the country, and his will was not to be questioned. "The new title symbolized an assumption of powers equivalent and parallel to those held by former Byzantine Emperor and the Tatar Khan, both known in Russian sources as Tsar. The political effect was to elevate Ivan's position."[13] The new title not only secured the throne, but it also granted Ivan a new dimension of power, one intimately tied to religion. He was now a "divine" leader appointed to enact God's will, as "church texts described Old Testament kings as 'Tsars' and Christ as the Heavenly Tsar."[14] The newly appointed title was then passed on from generation to generation: "succeeding Muscovite rulers ... benefited from the divine nature of the power of the Russian monarch ... crystallized during Ivan's reign."[15]

Domestic policy

Portrait of Ivan IV by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1897 (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

Despite calamities triggered by the Great Fire of 1547, the early part of Ivan's reign was one of peaceful reforms and modernization. Ivan revised the law code, creating the Sudebnik of 1550, founded a standing army (the streltsy),[16] established the Zemsky Sobor (the first Russian parliament of the feudal Estates type) and the council of the nobles (known as the Chosen Council), and confirmed the position of the Church with the Council of the Hundred Chapters (Stoglavy Synod), which unified the rituals and ecclesiastical regulations of the whole country. He introduced local self-government to rural regions, mainly in the northeast of Russia, populated by the state peasantry.

By Ivan's order in 1553 the Moscow Print Yard was established and the first printing press was introduced to Russia. Several religious books in Russian were printed during the 1550s and 1560s. The new technology provoked discontent among traditional scribes, leading to the Print Yard being burned in an arson attack. The first Russian printers, Ivan Fedorov and Pyotr Mstislavets, were forced to flee from Moscow to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Nevertheless, printing of books resumed from 1568 onwards, with Andronik Timofeevich Nevezha and his son Ivan now heading the Print Yard.

Ivan had St. Basil's Cathedral constructed in Moscow to commemorate the seizure of Kazan. Legend has it that he was so impressed with the structure that he had the architect, Postnik Yakovlev, blinded so that he could never design anything as beautiful again. In reality, Postnik Yakovlev went on to design more churches for Ivan and the walls of the Kazan Kremlin in the early 1560s, as well as the chapel over St. Basil's grave that was added to St. Basil's Cathedral in 1588, several years after Ivan's death. Although more than one architect was associated with this name and constructions, it is believed that the principal architect is one and the same person.[17][18][19]

Other events of this period include the introduction of the first laws restricting the mobility of the peasants, which would eventually lead to serfdom.


Main article: Oprichnina

The 1560s brought hardships to Russia that led to dramatic change of Ivan's policies. Russia was devastated by a combination of drought and famine, unsuccessful wars against the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, Tatar invasions and the sea-trading blockade carried out by the Swedes, Poles and the Hanseatic League. His first wife, Anastasia Romanovna, died in 1560, and her death was suspected to be a poisoning. This personal tragedy deeply hurt Ivan and is thought to have affected his personality, if not his mental health. At the same time, one of Ivan's advisors, Prince Andrei Kurbsky, defected to the Lithuanians, took command of the Lithuanian troops and devastated the Russian region of Velikiye Luki. The series of treasons made Ivan paranoically suspicious of nobility.

The Oprichniki by Nikolai Nevrev. The painting shows the last minutes of boyarin Feodorov, arrested for treason. To mock his alleged ambitions on the Tsar's title, the nobleman was given Tsar's regalia before execution.

On 3 December 1564, Ivan departed Moscow for Aleksandrova Sloboda. From there he sent two letters in which he announced his abdication because of the alleged embezzlement and treason of the aristocracy and clergy. The boyar court was unable to rule in Ivan's absence and feared the wrath of the Muscovite citizenry. A boyar envoy departed for Aleksandrova Sloboda to beg Ivan to return to the throne.[20][21] Ivan agreed to return on condition of being granted absolute power (see Absolute monarchy). He demanded that he should be able to execute and confiscate the estates of traitors without interference from the boyar council or church. Upon this, Ivan decreed the creation of the oprichnina.[22]

The oprichnina consisted of a separate territory within the borders of Russia, mostly in the territory of the former Novgorod Republic in the north. Ivan held exclusive power over the oprichnina territory. The Boyar Council ruled the zemshchina ('land'), the second division of the state. Ivan also recruited a personal guard known as the Oprichniki. Originally it was a thousand strong.[23][21] The oprichniki were headed by Malyuta Skuratov. One known oprichnik was the German adventurer Heinrich von Staden. The oprichniki enjoyed social and economic privileges under the oprichnina. They owed their allegiance and status to Ivan, not to heredity or local bonds.[21]

The first wave of persecutions targeted primarily the princely clans of Russia, notably the influential families of Suzdal’. Ivan executed, exiled or forcibly tonsured prominent members of the boyar clans on questionable accusations of conspiracy. Among those executed were the Metropolitan Philip and the prominent warlord Alexander Gorbaty-Shuisky. In 1566 Ivan extended the oprichnina to eight central districts. Of the 12,000 nobles there, 570 became oprichniks, the rest were expelled.[24]

Under the new political system, the Oprichniki were given large estates, but unlike the previous landlords, could not be held accountable for their actions. These men, "took virtually all the peasants possessed, forcing them to pay 'in one year as much as [they] used to pay in ten.'"[25] This degree of oppression resulted in increasing cases of peasants fleeing which in turn led to a drop in the overall production. The price of grain increased by a factor of ten.

Sack of Novgorod

Main article: Massacre of Novgorod

Conditions under Oprichnina were worsened by the 1570 epidemics of plague that killed 10,000 people in Novgorod. In Moscow it killed 600–1,000 daily. During the grim conditions of the epidemics, famine and ongoing Livonian War, Ivan grew suspicious that noblemen of the wealthy city of Novgorod were planning to defect, placing the city itself into the control of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In 1570 Ivan ordered the Oprichniki to raid the city. The Oprichniki burned and pillaged Novgorod and the surrounding villages, and the city was never to regain its former prominence.[26]

Casualty figures vary greatly in different sources. The First Pskov Chronicle estimates the number of victims at 60,000.[26][27][28] Yet the official death toll named 1,500 of Novgorod's big people (nobility) and mentioned only about the same number of smaller people. Many modern researchers estimate the number of victims to range from 2,000–3,000 (after the famine and epidemics of the 1560s the population of Novgorod most likely did not exceed 10,000–20,000).[29] Many survivors were deported elsewhere.

Oprichnina did not live long after the sack of Novgorod. During the 1571–72 Russo-Crimean war, oprichniks failed to prove themselves worthy against a regular army. In 1572, Ivan abolished the Oprichnina and disbanded his oprichniks.

Foreign policy

Diplomacy and trade

Ivan the Terrible Showing His Treasures to Jerome Horsey by Alexander Litovchenko (1875)

In 1547 Hans Schlitte, the agent of Ivan, recruited craftsmen in Germany for work in Russia. However, all these craftsmen were arrested in Lübeck at the request of Poland and Livonia. The German merchant companies ignored the new port built by Ivan on the River Narva in 1550 and continued to deliver goods in the Baltic ports owned by Livonia. Russia remained isolated from sea trade.

Ivan established very close ties with the Kingdom of England. Russo-English relations can be traced to 1551, when the Muscovy Company was formed by Richard Chancellor, Sebastian Cabot, Sir Hugh Willoughby and several London merchants. In 1553, Richard Chancellor sailed to the White Sea and continued overland to Moscow, where he visited Ivan's court. Ivan opened up the White Sea and the port of Arkhangelsk to the Company and granted the Company privilege of trading throughout his reign without paying the standard customs fees.[30] Muscovy Company retained the monopoly in Russo-English trade until 1698.

With the use of English merchants, Ivan engaged in a long correspondence with Elizabeth I of England. While the queen focused on commerce, Ivan was more interested in a military alliance. During his troubled relations with the boyars, the tsar even asked her for a guarantee to be granted asylum in England should his rule be jeopardized. Elizabeth agreed on condition that he provided for himself during his stay.[31]

Ivan IV corresponded with Orthodox leaders overseas as well. In response to a letter of Patriarch Joachim of Alexandria asking the Tsar for financial assistance for the Saint Catherine's Monastery in the Sinai Peninsula, which had suffered from the Turks, Ivan IV sent in 1558 a delegation to Egypt Eyalet by archdeacon Gennady, who, however, died in Constantinople before he could reach Egypt. From then on the embassy was headed by Smolensk merchant Vasily Poznyakov. Poznyakov's delegation visited Alexandria, Cairo and Sinai, brought the patriarch a fur coat and an icon sent by the Tsar and left an interesting account of its 2½ years of travels.[32]

Conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan

Main article: Siege of Kazan (1552)
Ivan IV under the walls of Kazan by Pyotr Korovin

While Ivan IV was a minor, armies of the Kazan Khanate repeatedly raided the northeast of Russia,[33] In the 1530s the Crimean khan formed an offensive alliance with Safa Giray of Kazan, his relative. When Safa Giray invaded Muscovy in December 1540, the Russians used Qasim Tatars to contain him. After his advance was stalled near Murom, Safa Giray was forced to withdraw to his own borders.

These reverses undermined Safa Giray's authority in Kazan. A pro-Russian party, represented by Shahgali, gained enough popular support to make several attempts to take over the Kazan throne. In 1545 Ivan IV mounted an expedition to the River Volga to show his support for pro-Russian factions.

In 1551 the tsar sent his envoy to the Nogai Horde and they promised to maintain neutrality during the impending war. The Ar begs and Udmurts submitted to Russian authority as well. In 1551 the wooden fort of Sviyazhsk was transported down the Volga from Uglich all the way to Kazan. It was used as the Russian place d'armes during the decisive campaign of 1552.

On 16 June 1552 Ivan IV led a 150,000-strong Russian army towards Kazan. The last siege of the Tatar capital commenced on 30 August. Under the supervision of Prince Alexander Gorbaty-Shuisky, the Russians used battering rams and a siege tower, undermining and 150 cannon. The Russians also had the advantage of efficient military engineers. The city's water supply was blocked and the walls were breached. Kazan finally fell on 2 October, its fortifications were razed, and much of the population massacred. About 60,000–100,000 Russian prisoners and slaves were released. The Tsar celebrated his victory over Kazan by building several churches with oriental features, most famously Saint Basil's Cathedral on Red Square in Moscow.

The fall of Kazan had as its primary effect the outright annexation of the Middle Volga. The Bashkirs accepted Ivan IV's authority two years later. In 1556 Ivan annexed the Astrakhan Khanate and destroyed the largest slave market on the River Volga. These conquests complicated the migration of the aggressive nomadic hordes from Asia to Europe through Volga. As a result of the Kazan campaigns, Muscovy was transformed into the multinational and multi-faith state of Russia.

Russo-Turkish war

In 1556, the khanate was conquered by Ivan the Terrible, who had a new fortress built on a steep hill overlooking the Volga. In 1568 the Grand Vizier Sokollu Mehmet Paşa, who was the real power in the administration of the Ottoman Empire under Sultan Selim, initiated the first encounter between the Ottoman Empire and her future northern rival. The results presaged the many disasters to come. A plan to unite the Volga and Don by a canal was detailed in Constantinople and in the summer of 1569 a large force under Kasim Paşa of 1,500 Janissaries, 2,000 Spakhs and few thousand Azaps, and Akıncıs, were sent to lay siege to Astrakhan and begin the canal works, while an Ottoman fleet besieged Azov.

Early in 1570, Ivan's ambassadors concluded at Constantinople a treaty which restored friendly relations between the Sultan and the Tsar.

Livonian War

Main article: Livonian War
Ioannes Basilius Magnus Imperator Russiae, Dux Moscoviae by Abraham Ortelius (1574)

In an attempt to gain access to Baltic Sea and its major trade routes, Ivan launched an ultimately unsuccessful 24 years Livonian War of seaward expansion to the west and found himself fighting the Kingdom of Sweden, Lithuanians, Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Teutonic Knights of Livonia.

Having rejected peace proposals from his enemies, Ivan IV found himself in a difficult position by 1579. The displaced refugees fleeing the war compounded the effects of the simultaneous drought, and exacerbated war engendered epidemics, causing much loss of life.

Altogether the prolonged war had nearly destroyed the economy, Oprichnina had thoroughly disrupted the government, whilst Union of Lublin had united the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Kingdom of Poland and acquired an energetic leader, Stefan Batory, who was supported by Russia's southern enemy, the Ottoman Empire (1576). Ivan's realm was now being squeezed by two of the great powers of the time.

After negotiations with Ivan failed, Batory launched a series of offensives against Muscovy in the campaign seasons of 1579–81, trying to cut the Kingdom of Livonia from Muscovite territories. During his first offensive in 1579, he retook Polotsk with 22,000 men. During the second, in 1580, he took Velikie Luki with a 29,000-strong force. Finally, he began the Siege of Pskov in 1581 with a 100,000-strong army. Narva in Estonia was reconquered by Sweden in 1581.

Unlike Sweden and Poland, Denmark under Frederick II had trouble continuing the fight against Muscovy. He came to an agreement with John III of Sweden, in 1580, transferring the Danish titles of Livonia to him. Muscovy recognized Polish-Lithuanian control of Livonia only in 1582. After Magnus von Lyffland, brother of Fredrick II and former ally of Ivan, died in 1583, Poland invaded his territories in the Duchy of Courland and Frederick II decided to sell his rights of inheritance. Except for the island of Saaremaa, Denmark was out of the Baltic by 1585.

Crimean raids

Ivan's throne (ivory, metal, wood)

In the later years of Ivan's reign, the southern borders of Muscovy were disturbed by Crimean Tatars. Their main purpose was the capture of slaves.[34] (see also Slavery in the Ottoman Empire.) Khan Devlet I Giray of Crimea repeatedly raided the Moscow region. In 1571, the 40,000-strong Crimean and Turkish army launched a large-scale raid. Due to the ongoing Livonian War, Moscow's garrison was as small as 6,000, and could not even delay the Tatar approach. Unresisted, Devlet devastated unprotected towns and villages around Moscow and caused the 1572, Fire of Moscow. Historians estimate the number of casualties of the fire from 10,000 to as many 80,000 people.

To buy peace from Devlet Giray, Ivan was forced to relinquish his rights on Astrakhan in favor of Crimean Khanate (although this proposed transfer was only a diplomatic maneuver and was never actually complete). This defeat angered Ivan. Between 1571 and 1572, preparations were made upon his orders. In addition to Zasechnaya cherta, innovative fortifications were set beyond the River Oka that defined the border.

The following year, Devlet launched another raid on Moscow, now with a 120,000-strong[35] horde, equipped with cannons and reinforced by Turkish janissaries. On 26 July 1572, the horde crossed the River Oka near Serpukhov, destroyed the Russian vanguard of 200 noblemen and advanced towards Moscow.

The Russian army, led by Prince Mikhail Vorotynsky, was half the size, estimated at between 60,000–70,000 men; yet it was an experienced streltsi army, equipped with modern firearms and gulyay-gorods. On 30 July the armies clashed near the River Lopasnya in what would be known as the Battle of Molodi, which continued for more than a week. The outcome was a decisive Russian victory. The Crimean horde was defeated so thoroughly that both the Ottoman Sultan and the Crimean khan, his vassal, had to give up their ambitious plans of northward expansion into Russia.

Conquest of Siberia

During Ivan's reign, Russia started a large-scale exploration and colonization of Siberia. In 1555, shortly after the conquest of Kazan, the Siberian khan Yadegar and the Nogai Horde under Khan Ismail pledged their allegiance to Ivan, in hope that he would help them against their opponents. However, Yadegar failed to gather the full sum of tribute he proposed to the tsar, so Ivan did nothing to save his inefficient vassal. in 1563 Yadegar was overthrown and killed by Khan Kuchum, who denied any tribute to Moscow.

In 1558 Ivan gave the Stroganov merchant family the patent for colonising "the abundant region along the Kama River", and in 1574, lands over the Ural Mountains along the rivers Tura and Tobol. They also received permission to build forts along the Ob and Irtysh rivers. Around 1577, the Stroganovs engaged the Cossack leader Yermak Timofeyevich to protect their lands from attacks of the Siberian Khan Kuchum.

In 1580 Yermak started his conquest of Siberia. With some 540 Cossacks, he started to penetrate territories that were tributary to Kuchum. Yermak pressured and persuaded the various family-based tribes to change their loyalties and become tributaries of Russia. Some agreed voluntarily, under better terms than with Kuchum; others were forced. He also established distant forts in the newly conquered lands. The campaign was successful, and the Cossacks managed to defeat the Siberian army in the Battle of Chuvash Cape, but Yermak was still in need for reinforcements. He sent an envoy to Ivan the Terrible, with a message that proclaimed Yermak-conquered Siberia a part of Russia, to the dismay of the Stroganovs, who had planned to keep Siberia for themselves. Ivan agreed to reinforce the Cossacks with his streltsi. Yermak's conquest expanded Ivan's empire to the east and allowed him to style himself "Tsar of Siberia" in the tsar's very last years.

Personal life

Marriages and children

Tsar Ivan IV admires his sixth wife Vasilisa Melentyeva. 1875 painting by Grigory Sedov.
Ivan the Terrible killing his son; painting by Ilya Repin
  1. Anastasia Romanovna (in 1547–1560, death):
    • Tsarevna Anna Ivanovna (10 August 1548  20 July 1550)
    • Tsarevna Maria Ivanovna (17 March 1551  young)
    • Tsarevich Dmitri Ivanovich (October 1552  26 June 1553)
    • Tsarevich Ivan Ivanovich (28 March 1554  19 November 1581)
    • Tsarevna Eudoxia Ivanovna (26 February 1556  June 1558)
    • Tsar Feodor I of Russia (31 May 1557  6 January 1598)
  2. Maria Temryukovna (in 1561–1569, death):
    • Tsarevich Vasili Ivanovich (21 March 1563  3 May 1563)
  3. Marfa Sobakina (28 October – 13 November 1571, death)
  4. Anna Koltovskaya (in 1572, sent to monastery). This was the last of his church-authorized weddings. She was later canonized as Saint Daria.
  5. Anna Vasilchikova (in 1575/76, sent to monastery)
  6. Vasilisa Melentyeva (concubine in 1575 ?). Possibly fictitious, a 19th-century creation;[36][37] his other "wife" Maria Dolgorukaya (1573) is fictitious.
  7. Maria Nagaya (since 1580), widow:

In 1581 Ivan beat his pregnant daughter-in-law (Yelena Sheremeteva) for wearing immodest clothing, and this may have caused a miscarriage. His second son, also named Ivan, upon learning of this, engaged in a heated argument with his father, resulting in Ivan's striking his son in the head with his pointed staff, fatally wounding him.[38] This event is depicted in the famous painting by Ilya Repin, Ivan the Terrible and his son Ivan on Friday, 16 November 1581 better known as Ivan the Terrible killing his son.


Death of Ivan the Terrible by Ivan Bilibin (1935)

Ivan was a poet, a composer of considerable talent, and supported the arts. His Orthodox liturgical hymn, "Stichiron No. 1 in Honor of St. Peter", and fragments of his letters were put into music by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin. The recording was released in 1988, marking the millennium of Christianity in Russia, and was the first Soviet-produced CD.[39][40]


D.S. Mirsky called Ivan "a pamphleteer of genius".[41] These letters are often the only existing source on Ivan's personality and provide crucial information on his reign, but Harvard professor Edward Keenan has argued that these letters are 17th century forgeries. This contention, however, has not been widely accepted, and most other scholars, such as John Fennell and Ruslan Skrynnikov continued to argue for their authenticity. Recent archival discoveries of 16th century copies of the letters strengthen the argument for their authenticity.[42][43]


Ivan died from a stroke while playing chess with Bogdan Belsky[44] on 28 March [O.S. 18 March] 1584.[44] Upon Ivan's death, the Russian throne was left to his unfit and childless middle son Feodor.[38] Feodor died childless in 1598, ushering in the Time of Troubles.


Little is known about appearance of Ivan, as virtually all existing portraits had been made after his death and contain uncertain amounts of artist's impression.[1] In 1567, ambassador Daniel Prinz von Buchau described Ivan as follows: he is tall, stout and full of energy. His eyes are big, observing and restless. His beard is reddish-black, long and thick, but most other hairs on his head are shaved off according to the Russian habits of the time.[38]

According to Ivan Katyryov-Rostovsky, the son-in-law of Michael I of Russia, Ivan had an unpleasant face, with a long and crooked nose. He was tall and athletically built, with broad shoulders and narrow waist.[38]

In 1963, the graves of Ivan and his sons were excavated and examined by Soviet scientists. Chemical and structural analysis of his remains disproved earlier suggestions that Ivan suffered from syphilis, or that he was poisoned by arsenic or strangled. At the time of his death he was 178 cm tall and weighed 85–90 kg. His body was rather asymmetrical and had a large amount of osteophytes uncharacteristic of his age; it also contained excessive concentration of mercury. Researchers concluded that while Ivan was athletically built in his youth, in his last years he had developed various bone deceases and could barely move. They attributed the high mercury content in his body to the use of ointments for joints healing.[1]


Emperor Ivan IV as found in the University of Texas Portrait Gallery (published in 1901)

Ivan completely altered the Russian governmental structure; his economic policies ultimately contributed to the end of the Rurik Dynasty, and his social legacy lives on in unexpected places. Arguably Ivan's most important legacy can be found in the political changes that he enacted. In the words of historian Alexander Yanov, "Ivan the Formidable and the origins of the modern Russian political structure [are]... indissolubly connected."[45]

Ivan's political revolution surpassed the symbolic power of his title by significantly altering Russia's political structure. The creation of the Oprichnina diminished the power of the boyars to create a more centralized government. "...the revolution of Tsar Ivan was an attempt to transform an absolutist political structure into a despotism... the Oprichnina proved to be not only the starting point, but also the nucleus of autocracy which determined... the entire subsequent historical process in Russia."[46] Ivan created a way to bypass the Mestnichestvo system and elevate the men among the gentry to positions of power, thus suppressing the aristocracy that failed to support him.[47] The structure of local governments was altered to include, "a combination of centrally appointed and locally elected officials. Despite later modifications, this form of local administration proved to be functional and durable." [15] Ivan successfully cemented autocracy and a centralized government and thereby also "a centralized apparatus of political control in the form of his own guard."[48]

Ivan by expanding into Poland (although a failed campaign), the Caspian and Siberia established a sphere of influence that lasted until the 20th century. His conquests ignited a conflict with Turkey that later caused successive wars: "Russia's victories confined the Turkish conquests to the Balkans and the Black Sea region, although Turkish expansionism continued to cast a shadow over the whole of Eastern Europe."[49]

Acquiring territory enabled another of Ivan's legacies: a relationship with Europe, especially through trade. Although contact between Russia and Europe remained small, it would later grow, facilitating the permeation of European ideals across the border. Peter the Great would later push Russia to become a European power, and Catherine II would manipulate that power to make Russia a leader within the region.

Contrary to his political legacy, Ivan IV's economic legacy was disastrous and contributed to the decline of the Rurik Dynasty and the Time of Troubles. Ivan inherited a government in debt, and in an effort to raise more revenue instituted a series of taxes. "It was the military campaigns themselves... that were responsible for the increasing government expenses."[50] Worse, successive wars drained the country both of men and resources. "Muscovy from its core, where its centralized political structures depended upon a dying dynasty, to its frontiers, where its villages stood depopulated and its fields lay fallow, was on the brink of ruin."[51]

Ivan's political revolution also created a centralized government structure, the ramifications of which extended to local government. "The assumption and active propaganda of the title of Czar, transgressions and sudden changes in policy during the Oprichnina contributed to the image of the Muscovite prince as a ruler accountable only to God."[15] Subsequent Russian rulers inherited a system put in place by Ivan.

Ivan's social legacy was manipulated by Communist Russia. In an effort to revive Russia nationalist pride, Ivan's image became closely associated with Joseph Stalin.[52] Historians faced great difficulties when trying to gather information about Ivan IV in his early years because "Early Soviet historiography, especially in the 1920s, paid little attention to Ivan IV as a statesman." This paucity was because the "Marxist intellectual tradition attached greater significance to socio-economic forces than to political history and the role of individuals." By the second half of the 1930s, the method used by Soviet historians changed: they more greatly emphasized the individual, and history became more "comprehensible and accessible". The way was clear for an emphasis on such 'great men' as Ivan and Peter the Great, who greatly strengthened and expanded the Russian state. The Soviet Union's focus on great leaders would thereafter be greatly exaggerated, driving historians to gather more and more information on the great Ivan the Formidable.[53]

Today a movement in Russia campaigns in favor of granting sainthood to Ivan IV.[54] The Russian Orthodox Church has stated its opposition to the idea.[55]

See also: Ivan the Terrible in Russian folklore and Category:Cultural depictions of Ivan the Terrible


In art

<gallery widths="200px" heights="200px" perrow="5" captions "Ivan the Terrible in Art">

File:Wjatscheslaw Grigorjewitsch Schwarz 001.jpg|Ivan the Terrible meditating at the deathbed of his son. Ivan's murder of his son brought about the extinction of the Rurik Dynasty and the Time of Troubles. Painting by Vyacheslav Schwarz (1861). File:Kirillov ivan grozny.jpg|Ivan the Terrible, by Sergei Kirillov File:Ivan the Terrible by Klavdiy Lebedev.jpg|Ivan the Terrible by Klavdiy Lebedev, 1916 File:LebedevKV CarIvan4GrozPrMI.jpg|Ivan's repentance: he asks a father superior Kornily of the Pskovo-Pechorsky Monastery to let him take the tonsure at his monastery. Painting by Klavdiy Lebedev, 1898. File:Iwan Groźny i jego niania (1886).jpg|Ivan the Terrible and his old nanny, by Bogdan (Karl) Venig File:Ivan the Terrible and the souls of his victums by M.P.Klodt (detail).jpg|Ivan the Terrible and souls of his victims, by Mikhail Clodt File:Pavel Pleshanov 001.jpg|Tsar Ivan the Terrible and the priest Sylvester, 24 June 1547 (oil painting, 1856, by Pavel Pleshanov) File:Nikolay Shustov 001.jpg|Ivan the Terrible, with the Body of His Son, Whom he has Murdered (1860s), by Nikolay Shustov </gallery>

See also



  1. 1 2 3 Gerasimov, M. M. (1965). "Документальный портрет Ивана Грозного". Краткие сообщения института археологии Академии наук СССР (in Russian). 100: 139–142.
  2. 28 March: This Date in History. Webcitation.org. Retrieved 7 December 2011
  3. Shvidkovskiĭ, Dmitriĭ Olegovich (2007) Russian Architecture and the West. Yale University Press. p. 147. ISBN 0300109121.
  4. Yanov, p. 208
  5. Del Testa, David W. (2001) Government Leaders, Military Rulers and Political Activists. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 91. ISBN 1573561533
  6. History's Worst Dictators: A Short Guide to the Most Brutal Rulers by Michael Rank
  7. Dal, Vladimir, Explanatory Dictionary of the Live Great Russian language, article ГРОЗИТЬ. Available in many editions as well as online, for example at slovardalja.net
  8. Jacobsen, C. G. (1993). "Myths, Politics and the Not-so-New World Order". Journal of Peace Research. 30 (3): 241–250. doi:10.1177/0022343393030003001. JSTOR 424804.
  9. Noth, Ernst Erich (1941). Books Abroad: An International Literary Quarterly. Vol. 15. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 343. ISSN 0006-7431.
  10. McConnell, Frank D. (1979). Storytelling and Mythmaking: Images from Film and Literature. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-502572-5; p. 78: "But Ivan IV, Ivan the Terrible, or as the Russian has it, Ivan groznyi, "Ivan the Magnificent" or "Ivan the Great" is precisely a man who has become a legend"
  11. Martin, p. 331
  12. Pushkareva, N. (1997) Women in Russian History. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 65–67. ISBN 0765632705.
  13. Martin, p. 377
  14. Bogatyrev, p. 245
  15. 1 2 3 Bogatyrev, p. 263.
  16. Paul, Michael C. (2004). "The Military Revolution in Russia 1550–1682". The Journal of Military History. 68 (1): 9–45 [esp. pp. 20–22]. doi:10.1353/jmh.2003.0401.
  17. Постник. Great Soviet Encyclopedia
  18. Барма и Постник (Постник Яковлев). ecology-mef.narod.ru.
  19. Постник Барма – строитель собора Василия Блаженного в Москве и Казанского кремля. russiancity.ru.
  20. Madariaga, pp. 176–178
  21. 1 2 3 Pavlov, Andrei and Perrie, Maureen (2003) Ivan the Terrible (Profiles in Power). Harlow, UK: Longman. pp. 112–113. ISBN 058209948X.
  22. Madariaga, pp. 179–80
  23. Madariaga, pp. 182–183
  24. Madariaga, p. 183; as the tonsure was the distinctive hairstyle of monastic orders, a forcibly "tonsured" boyar was effectively exiled from power by being made to enter a monastic life.
  25. Martin, p. 410
  26. 1 2 Novgorod, Russia (Capital). 1911encyclopedia.org (6 October 2006). Retrieved 7 December 2011
  27. Ivan the Terrible, Russia, (r.1533–84). Users.erols.com. Retrieved 7 December 2011
  28. According to the Third Novgorod Chronicle, the massacre lasted for five weeks. Almost every day 500 or 600 people were killed or drowned.
  29. Having investigated the report of Maljuta Skuratov and commemoration lists (sinodiki), R. Skrynnikov considers that the number of victims was 2,000–3,000. (Skrynnikov R. G., "Ivan Grosny", M., AST, 2001)
  30. Martin, p. 407.
  31. "Russians in London: Government in exile". The Economist. 12 February 2016. Retrieved 12 February 2016.
  32. ХОЖДЕНИЕ НА ВОСТОК ГОСТЯ ВАСИЛИЯ ПОЗНЯКОВА С ТОВАРИЩИ (The travels to the Orient by the merchant Vasily Poznyakov and his companions) (Russian)
  33. Russian chronicles record about 40 attacks of Kazan Khans on Russian territories (mainly the regions of Nizhniy Novgorod, Murom, Vyatka, Vladimir, Kostroma and Galich) in the first half of the 16th century. In 1521 the combined forces of Khan Mehmed Giray and his Crimean allies attacked Russia, captured more than 150,000 slaves The Full Collection of the Russian Annals, vol.13, SPb, 1904
  34. Kizilov, Mikhail (2007). "Slave Trade in the Early Modern Crimea From the Perspective of Christian, Muslim and Jewish Sources". Journal of Early Modern History. 11: 1. doi:10.1163/157006507780385125.
  35. Новгородская вторая летопись. Год 7080(1572). ПСРЛ т. III, СПб, 1841
  36. Йена, Детлеф (2008). Русские царицы (1547—1918). Мoscow, p. 43
  37. Сперанский М. Н. (1956) Русские подделки рукописей в начале XIX в. Vol. 5, p. 100
  38. 1 2 3 4 Zimin, A.A, and Khoroshkevich, A.L. (1982). "Отечественные историки о государе Иване IV Грозном". Россия времен Ивана Грозного (in Russian). Moscow. pp. 147–151.
  39. "Иван IV Грозный / Родион Константинович Щедрин – Стихиры (Первый отечественный компакт-диск)". intoclassics.net. 9 August 2009.
  40. Kuzin, Viktor. "Первый русский компакт-диск". rarity.ru.
  41. Mirsky, D.S. and Whitfield, Francis James (1958). "A History of Russian Literature: From Its Beginnings to 1900". ISBN 9780810116795.
  42. Keenan, Edward L. (1971) The Kurbskii-Groznyi Apocrypha: the 17th Century Genesis of the "Correspondence" Attributed to Prince A. M. Kurbskii and Tsar Ivan IV. Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press
  43. Martin, pp. 328–329.
  44. 1 2 Waliszewski, Kazimierz; Mary Loyd (1904). Ivan the Terrible. Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott. pp. 377–78.
  45. Yanov, p. 31
  46. Yanov, p. 68.
  47. Riasanovsky, Nicholas V., and Mark D. Steinberg (2011). "Russia at the Time of Ivan IV, 1533–1598" in A History of Russia 8th ed. Vol. 1. New York: Oxford University Press, p. 151. ISBN 9780195341973.
  48. Yanov, p. 69.
  49. Shrynnikov, Ruslan G. (1975) "Conclusion", p. 199 in Ivan the Formidable, translated by Hugh F. Graham. Moscow: Academic International.
  50. Martin, p. 404.
  51. Martin, p. 415.
  52. Maureen, Perrie (2001). The Cult of Ivan the Formidable in Stalin's Russia. New York: Palgrava.
  53. Perrie, Maureen (1987). The Image of Ivan the Formidable in Russian Folklore. Cambridge, UK: Pitt Building.
  54. "Russians Laud Ivan the Not So Formidable; Loose Coalition Presses Orthodox Church to Canonize the Notorious Czar" Washington Post, 10 November 2003
  55. "Church says nyet to St. Rasputin". UPI NewsTrack. 4 October 2004
  56. Leaders of distribution. kinokultura.com (Russian)
  57. BBC Radio 4 – Drama, Tsar, Ivan the Terrible: Absolute Power. Bbc.co.uk (17 September 2016). Retrieved on 2016-11-21.


General references

Further reading

Wikimedia Commons has media related to Ivan IV of Russia.
Ivan the Terrible
Born: 3 September 1530 Died: 28 March 1584
Regnal titles
Tsardom created Tsar of All the Russias
16 January 1547 – 28 March 1584
Succeeded by
Feodor I
Preceded by
Vasili III
Grand Prince of Moscow
3 December 1533 – 16 January 1547
Tsardom created
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