History of Russia: Grand Duchy of Moscow
The Grand Duchy of Moscow was a Rus' principality of the Late Middle Ages centered on Moscow, and the predecessor state of the Tsardom of Russia in the early modern period. It was ruled by the Rurik dynasty, who had ruled Rus' since the foundation of Novgorod in 862. Ivan III the Great titled himself as Sovereign and Grand Duke of All Rus'.
The state originated with the rule of Alexander Nevsky of the Rurik dynasty, when in 1263 his son Daniel I was appointed to rule the newly created Grand Principality of Moscow, which was a vassal state to the Mongol Empire (under the "Tatar Yoke"), and which eclipsed and eventually absorbed its parent duchy of Vladimir-Suzdal by the 1320s. It later absorbed its neighbors including the Novgorod Republic in 1478 and the Principality of Tver in 1485, and remained a vassal state of the Golden Horde until 1480, though there were frequent uprisings and successful military campaigns against the Mongols, such as the war of Dmitri Donskoy in 1380.
Ivan III further consolidated the state during his 43-year reign, campaigning against his major remaining rival power, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, and by 1503 he had tripled the territory of his realm, adopting the title of tsar and claiming the title of "Ruler of all Rus'". By his marriage to Sophia Palaiologina, niece of Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last Byzantine emperor, he claimed Muscovy to be the successor state of the Roman Empire, the "Third Rome". The immigration of Byzantine people influenced and strengthened Moscow's identity as the heir of Orthodox traditions. Ivan's successor Vasili III also enjoyed military success, gaining Smolensk from Lithuania in 1512 and pushing Muscovy's borders to the Dnieper. Vasili's son Ivan IV (later known as Ivan the Terrible) was an infant upon his father's death in 1533. He was crowned in 1547, assuming the title of tsar together with the proclamation of the Tsardom of Russia.
Table of Contents / Timeline
Alexander Nevsky diesMoscow, Russia
Alexander Nevsky's appanages were divided within his family; his youngest son Daniel became the first Prince of Moscow. His younger brother Yaroslav of Tver had become the Grand Prince of Tver and of Vladimir and had appointed deputies to run the Principality of Moscow during Daniel's minority.
Reign of Daniel of MoscowMoscow, Russia
Daniel has been credited with founding the first Moscow monasteries, namely the Lord's Epiphany, and The Danilov Monestery (Saint Daniel Monestery). He also built the first stone church in the Moscow Kremlin in the 1280s, dedicated to the Great Martyr Demetrius.
Daniel took part in his brothers'—Dmitri of Pereslavl and Andrey of Gorodets—struggle for the right to govern Vladimir and Novgorod, respectively. After Dmitry's death in 1294, Daniel made an alliance with Mikhail of Tver and Ivan of Pereslavl against Andrey of Gorodets of Novgorod.
In 1301, he went to Ryazan with an army and imprisoned the ruler of the Ryazan Principality "by some ruse", as the chronicle says, and destroyed a multitude of Tatars. To secure his release, the prisoner ceded to Daniel his fortress of Kolomna. It was an important acquisition, as now Daniel controlled all the length of the Moskva River.
Moscow's growing influencePereslavl-Zalessky, Yaroslavl
Daniel's participation in the struggle for Novgorod in 1296 indicated Moscow's increasing political influence. Constantine, the prince of Ryazan, tried to capture the Moscow lands with the help of a Mongol force. Prince Daniel defeated it near Pereslavl. This was a first victory over the Tatars, though not a tremendous victory, but it was noteworthy as a first push towards freedom.
Reign of Yury of MoscowPereslavl-Zalessky, Yaroslavl
Yury was the oldest son of Daniel, the first prince of Moscow. His first official action was to defend Pereslavl-Zalessky against Grand Duke Andrew III. Upon Andrew's death the next year, Yury had to contend the title of Grand Duke of Vladimir with Mikhail of Tver. While the Tverian army besieged Pereslavl and Moscow itself, Mikhail went to the Golden Horde, where the Khan elevated him to the supreme position among Russian princes.
Yury goes to the Golden HordeSaray, Sofiivka, Kyiv Oblast,
In 1315, Yury went to the Golden Horde and, after spending two years there, constructed an alliance with Uzbeg Khan. Upon Yury's marriage to the khan's sister Konchaka, Uzbeg Khan deposed Mikhail and nominated Yury as the Grand Duke of Vladimir. Back in Russia with a large force of Mongols, Yury approached Tver. However, Yuri's army was defeated and his brother Boris and his wife were taken prisoners. Thereupon he fled to Novgorod and sued for peace. At that time his wife, still held in Tver as a hostage, died unexpectedly. Yury availed himself of the confusion that followed and announced to the khan that she had been poisoned on Mikhail's order. The khan summoned both princes to Sarai and, after a trial, had Mikhail executed.
Setting the border with SwedenNöteborg, Leningrad Oblast, Ru
Shortly before his death, Yury led the army of Novgorod to fight the Swedes and founded a fort in the mouth of the Neva River. Upon signing the Treaty of Orekhovo in 1323, Yury continued eastward and conquered Velikiy Ustyug the same year.
The Treaty of Nöteborg, also known as the Treaty of Oreshek is a conventional name for the peace treaty signed at Oreshek on 12 August 1323. It was the first settlement between Sweden and the Novgorod Republic regulating their border. Three years later, Novgorod signed the Treaty of Novgorod with the Norwegians.
Yury executed by the HordeSaray, Sofiivka, Kyiv Oblast,
After his time with the Golden Horde, Yury returned to Russia, hated by other princes and populace alike, in 1319. He was now entrusted with the task of gathering all-Russian tribute to the Horde. But Mikhail's son and successor, Dmitry the Terrible Eyes, still opposed him. In 1322, Dmitry, seeking revenge for his father's murder, went to Sarai and persuaded the khan that Yury had appropriated a large portion of the tribute due to the Horde. Yury was summoned to the Horde for a trial but, before any formal investigation, was killed by Dmitry. Eight months later, Dmitry was also executed in the Horde.
Reign of Ivan I of MoscowMoscow, Russia
Iván I Danilovich Kalitá was Grand Duke of Moscow from 1325 and Vladimir from 1332. Ivan was the son of the Prince of Moscow Daniil Aleksandrovich. After the death of his elder brother Yury, Ivan inherited the Principality of Moscow. Ivan participated in the struggle to get the title of Grand Duke of Vladimir which could be obtained with the approval of a khan of the Golden Horde. The main rivals of the princes of Moscow in this struggle were the princes of Tver – Mikhail, Dmitry the Terrible Eyes, and Alexander II, all of whom obtained the title of Grand Duke of Vladimir and were deprived of it. All of them were murdered in the Golden Horde. In 1328 Ivan Kalita received the approval of khan Muhammad Ozbeg to become the Grand Duke of Vladimir with the right to collect taxes from all Russian lands.
According to Baumer, Öz Beg Khan took a fateful decision when he abandoned the former policy of divide and rule by making the new grand prince responsible for collecting and passing on all the tribute and taxes from all the Russian cities. Ivan delivered these exactions punctually, so further strengthening his position of privilege. In this way he laid the foundations for Moscow's future as a regional great power.
Ivan made Moscow very wealthy by maintaining his loyalty to the Horde. He used this wealth to give loans to neighbouring Russian principalities. These cities gradually fell deeper and deeper into debt, a condition that would eventually allow Ivan's successors to annex them. Ivan's greatest success, however, was convincing the Khan in Sarai that his son, Simeon The Proud, should succeed him as the Grand Duke of Vladimir and from then on this position almost always belonged to the ruling house of Moscow.
Tver UprisingTver, Russia
The Tver Uprising of 1327 was the first major uprising against the Golden Horde by the people of Vladimir. It was brutally suppressed by the joint efforts of the Golden Horde, Muscovy and Suzdal. At the time, Muscovy and Vladimir were involved in a rivalry for dominance, and Vladimir's total defeat effectively ended the quarter-century struggle for power.
Rise of MoscowTver, Russia
Ivan led a Horde army against the Grand Prince of Tver, also the Grand Prince of Vladimir. Ivan was allowed to replace him in the latter office. Grand Prince of Vladimir Aleksandr Mikhailovich of Tver dies, after which Ivan I succeeds, marking rise of Moscow as leading power in Rus.
Reign of Simeon of MoscowMoscow, Russia
Simeon Ivanovich Gordyy (the Proud) was Prince of Moscow and Grand Prince of Vladimir. Simeon continued his father's policies aimed to increase the power and prestige of his state. Simeon's rule was marked by regular military and political standoffs against the Novgorod Republic and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. His relationships with neighboring Russian principalities remained peaceful if not passive: Simeon stayed aside from conflicts between subordinate princes. He had recourse to war only when war was unavoidable. A relatively quiet period for Moscow was ended by the Black Death that claimed the lives of Simeon and his sons in 1353.
Black DeathMoscow, Russia
The Black Death (also known as the Pestilence, the Great Mortality or simply, the Plague) was a bubonic plague pandemic occurring in Afro-Eurasia from 1346 to 1353. It is the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, causing the death of 75–200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa, peaking in Europe from 1347 to 1351. Bubonic plague is caused by the bacterium Yersinia pestis spread by fleas, but it can also take a secondary form where it is spread person-to-person contact via aerosols causing septicaemic or pneumonic plagues.
Reign of Ivan II of MoscowMoscow, Russia
Upon succeeding his brother and because of increased civil strife among the Golden Horde, Ivan briefly toyed with the idea of abandoning traditional Moscow allegiance to the Mongols and allying himself with Lithuania, a growing power in the west. This policy was quickly abandoned and Ivan asserted his allegiance to the Golden Horde.
Contemporaries described Ivan as a pacific, apathetic ruler, who didn't flinch even when Algirdas of Lithuania captured his father-in-law's capital, Bryansk. He also allowed Oleg of Riazan to burn villages on his territory. However, Orthodox churchmen aided in consolidating the power of the Grand Prince. He received much aid from the capable Metropolitan Alexius. Like his brother, Ivan II was not as successful as his father or grandfather with regard to territorial expansion.
Reign of Dmitry DonskoyMoscow, Russia
Saint Dmitry Ivanovich Donskoy reigned as the Prince of Moscow from 1359 and Grand Prince of Vladimir from 1363 to his death. He was the first prince of Moscow to openly challenge Mongol authority in Russia. His nickname, Donskoy ("of the Don"), alludes to his great victory against the Tatars in the Battle of Kulikovo (1380), which took place on the Don River. He is venerated as a Saint in the Orthodox Church with his feast day on 19 May.
Battle of Blue WatersTorhovytsya, Rivne Oblast, Ukr
After the death of its ruler Berdi Beg Khan in 1359 the Golden Horde experienced a series of succession disputes and wars that lasted two decades (1359–81). The Horde began fracturing into separate districts (ulus). Taking advantage of internal disorder within the Horde, Grand Duke Algirdas of Lithuania organized a campaign into Tatar lands. He aimed to secure and expand southern territories of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, particularly the Principality of Kiev. Kiev had already come under semi-Lithuanian control after the Battle on the Irpin River in early 1320s, but still paid tribute to the Horde.
The Battle of Blue Waters was a battle fought at some time in autumn 1362 or 1363 on the banks of the Syniukha river, left tributary of the Southern Bug, between the armies of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Golden Horde. The Lithuanians won a decisive victory and finalized their conquest of the Principality of Kiev.
The victory brought Kyiv and a large part of present-day Ukraine, including sparsely populated Podolia and Dykra, under the control of the expanding Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Lithuania also gained access to the Black Sea. Algirdas left his son Vladimir in Kyiv. After taking Kyiv, Lithuania became a direct neighbor and rival of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
Moscow KremlinKremlin, Moscow, Russia
The most important event during Dmitry's early reign was to start building the Moscow Kremlin; it was completed in 1367. Dmitri Donskoi replaced the oak walls with a strong citadel of white limestone in 1366–1368 on the basic foundations of the current walls. Thanks to the new fortress, the city withstood two sieges by Algirdas of Lithuania during the Lithuanian–Muscovite War (1368–1372).
Lithuanian–Muscovite WarMoscow, Russia
The Lithuanian–Muscovite War encompasses three raids by Algirdas, Grand Duke of Lithuania, to the Grand Duchy of Moscow in 1368, 1370, and 1372. Algirdas organized the raids against Dmitry Donskoy in support of the Principality of Tver, chief rival of Moscow. In 1368 and 1370, Lithuanians besieged Moscow and burned the posad, but did not succeed in taking the city's Kremlin. In 1372, the Lithuanian army was stopped near Lyubutsk where, after a standoff, the Treaty of Lyubutsk was concluded. Lithuanians agreed to cease their aid to Tver, which was defeated in 1375. Mikhail II of Tver had to acknowledge Dmitry as "elder brother".
Battle of the Vozha RiverRyazan Oblast, Russia
Khan Mamai sent an army to punish the Russians for disobedience. The Russians were led by Prince Dmitri Ivanovich of Moscow. The Tatars were commanded by murza Begich. After successful reconnaissance Dmitri managed to block the ford which the Tatars intended to use for the crossing of the river. He occupied a good position for his troops on a hill. The Russians' formation had a shape of a bow with Donskoy leading the center and the flanks under the command of Timofey Velyaminov and Andrei of Polotsk.
After waiting a long time, Begich decided to cross the river and to encircle the Russians from both sides. However, the attack of the Tatar cavalry was repelled and the Russians went over to a counter-attack. The Tatars left their tracks and began retreating in disorder, many of them drowned in the river. Begich himself was killed.
The Vozha battle was the first serious victory of the Russians over a big army of the Golden Horde. It had a big psychological effect before the famous Battle of Kulikovo because it demonstrated the vulnerability of the Tatar cavalry which was unable to overcome tough resistance or withstand determined counter-attacks. For Mamai, the defeat of Vozha meant a direct challenge by Dmitry which caused him to start a new unsuccessful campaign two years later.
Battle of KulikovoYepifan, Tula Oblast, Russia
The Battle of Kulikovo was fought between the armies of the Golden Horde, under the command of Mamai, and various Russian principalities, under the united command of Prince Dmitry of Moscow. The battle took place on 8 September 1380, at the Kulikovo Field near the Don River (now Tula Oblast, Russia) and was won by Dmitry, who became known as Donskoy, 'of the Don' after the battle. Although the victory did not end Mongol domination over Rus, it is widely regarded by Russian historians as the turning point at which Mongol influence began to wane and Moscow's power began to rise.
Golden Horde reasserts controlMoscow, Russia
In 1378, Tokhtamysh, a descendant of Orda Khan and an ally of Tamerlane, assumed the power in the White Horde and annexed Blue Horde by fording across the Volga and quickly annihilated an army sent by Muscovy. He then united the hordes and formed the Golden Horde.
After uniting the two hordes, Tokhtamysh promoted a military campaign to restore the Tatar power in Russia. After ravaging some small cities, he besieged Moscow on the 23rd of August, but his attack was beaten off by the Muscovites, who used firearms for the first time in Russian history. Three days later, the two sons of Dmitry of Suzdal, who was a supporter of Tokhtamysh, present at the siege, namely the dukes of Suzdal and Nizhny Novgorod Vasily and Semyon, persuaded Muscovites to open the city gates, promising that forces would not harm the city in this case. That allowed Tokhtamysh's troops to burst in and to ravage Moscow, killing around 24,000 people in the process.
The defeat reasserted the Horde's rule over some of Russian lands. Tokhtamysh also re-established the Golden Horde as a dominant regional power, reunified the Mongol lands from Crimea to Lake Balkash and defeated Lithuanians at Poltava in the next year. However, he made the disastrous decision to wage a war against his former master, Tamerlane, and the Golden Horde never recovered.
Tokhtamysh–Timur warTurkestan, Kazakhstan
The Tokhtamysh–Timur war was fought from 1386 to 1395 between Tokhtamysh, khan of the Golden Horde, and the warlord and conqueror Timur, founder of the Timurid Empire, in the areas of the Caucasus mountains, Turkistan and Eastern Europe. The battle between the two Mongol rulers played a key role in the decline of the Mongol power over early Russian principalities.
The Golden Horde never recovered from this war. In the middle of the 15th century, it fragmented into smaller khanates: the Kazan khanate, Nogai Horde, Qasim Khanate, Crimean Khanate and Astrakhan Khanate. Thus Tatar-Mongol power in Russia was weakened and in 1480 the 'Tatar yoke' over Russia, a reminder of the bloody Mongol conquest, was definitively shaken in the Great standing on the Ugra River.
Reign of Vasily I of MoscowMoscow, Russia
Vasily I Dmitriyevich was the Grand Prince of Moscow, heir of Dmitry Donskoy. He ruled as a Golden Horde vassal between 1389 and 1395, and again in 1412–1425. The raid on the Volgan regions in 1395 by the Turco-Mongol Emir Timur resulted in a state of anarchy for the Golden Horde and the independence of Moscow. In 1412, Vasily reinstated himself as a vassal of the Horde. He had entered an alliance with the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1392 and married the only daughter of Vytautas the Great, Sophia, though the alliance turned out to be fragile, and they waged war against each other in 1406–1408.
ExpansionNòvgorod, Novgorod Oblast, Rus
Vasily I continued the process of unification of the Russian lands: in 1392, he annexed the principalities of Nizhny Novgorod and Murom. Nizhny Novgorod was given to Vasily by the Khan of the Golden Horde in exchange for the help Moscow had given against one of his rivals. In 1397–1398 Kaluga, Vologda, Veliki Ustyug and the lands of the Komi peoples were annexed.
Battle of the Terek RiverNovaya Kosa, Kirov Oblast, Rus
In 1395, Timur launched his final assault on the Golden Horde. He decisively routed Tokhtamysh in the Battle of the Terek river on 15 April 1395. All the major cities of the khanate were destroyed: Sarai, Ukek, Majar, Azaq, Tana and Astrakhan. Timur's raid was of service to the Russian prince as it damaged the Golden Horde, which for the next twelve years was in a state of anarchy. During the whole of this time no tribute was paid to the khan, Olug Moxammat, though vast sums of money were collected in the Moscow treasury for military purposes.
Tartar Tribute continuesMoscow, Russia
Vasily found it necessary to pay the long-deferred visit of submission to the Horde.
Civil War: First PeriodGalich, Kostroma Oblast, Russi
In 1389, Dmitry Donskoy died. He appointed his son Vasily Dmitrievich as successor, with the provision that if Vasily were to die as an infant, his brother, Yury Dmitrievich, would be the successor. Vasily died in 1425 and left a child, Vasily Vasilyevich, whom he appointed as the Grand Prince (known as Vasily II). This was against the existing rule, where the oldest living brother and not a son, should have received the crown.
In 1431 Yury decided to seek the title of Prince of Moscow with the Khan of the Horde. The Khan ruled in favor of Vasily, and additionally ordered Yury to give Vasily the town of Dmitrov, which he owned. The formal pretext to start a war was found in 1433, when during the marriage feast of Vasily his mother, Sophia of Lithuania, insulted Vasily Yuryevich, the son of Yury, in public. Both sons of Yury, Vasily and Dmitry, left for Galich. They plundered Yaroslavl, ruled by an allied of Vasily II, allied with their father, collected an army, and defeated the army of Vasily II. Subsequently, Yury Dmitrievich entered Moscow, declared himself the Great Prince, and sent Vasily II to Kolomna.
Eventually, however, he did not prove himself as an efficient head of state, having alienated some Muscovites who fled to Kolomna, and even alienating his own sons. Eventually, Yury allied with Vasily II against his sons. In 1434. Vasily II's army was defeated in a major battle. Vasily Yuryevich conquered Galich, and Yury openly joined his sons. Yury became the Prince of Moscow again, but suddenly died, and his son, Vasily Yuryevich, became his successor.
Reign of Vasily II of MoscowMoscow, Russia
Vasily Vasiliyevich, also known as Vasily II the Blind, was the Grand Prince of Moscow whose long reign (1425–1462) was plagued by the greatest civil war of Old Russian history. At one point, Vasily was captured and blinded by his opponents, yet eventually managed to reclaim the throne. Due to his disability, he made his son, Ivan III the Great, his co-ruler in his late years.
Civil War: Second PeriodRostov-on-Don, Russia
Vasily Yuryevich was driven out of Moscow; he also lost Zvenigorod to Vasily II and was left landless, forced to flee to Novgorod. In 1435, Vasily managed to collect an army in Kostroma and moved in the direction of Moscow. He lost a battle on the bank of the Kotorosl River to Vasily II and fled to Kashin. He then managed to conquer Vologda and built up a new army with the support of Vyatka. With this new army he moved again to the south and encountered Vasily II in Kostroma. The two armies were stationed on two banks of the Kostroma River and could not start fighting immediately. Before the fight started, the two cousins concluded a peace treaty. Vasily Yuryevich recognized Vasily II as the Great Prince and got Dmitrov. However, he only spent a month in Dmitrov and subsequently moved to Kostroma and further to Galich and to Veliky Ustyug. In Veliky Ustyug, the army formed in Vyatka, which had supported Yuri Dmitrievich for a long time, and joined Vasily. Vasily Yuryevich plundered Veliky Ustyug and with the army went south again. In early 1436, he lost a battle in Skoryatino, close to Rostov, to Vasily II, and was captured Subsequently, when the Vyatka people continued to attack the lands belonging to the Grand Prince, Vasily II ordered to have Vasily Yuryevich blinded. Vasily Yuryevich was known after that as Vasily Kosoy.
Wars with the Khanate of KazanSuzdal, Vladimir Oblast, Russi
In the early 1440s Vasily II was mostly busy with the wars against the Khanate of Kazan. The Khan, Ulugh Muhammad, besieged Moscow in 1439. Dmitry Shemyaka, despite being under the oath of allegiance, failed to appear in support of Vasily. After the Tatars left, Vasily chased Shemyaka, forcing him to flee to Novgorod again. Subsequently, Shemyaka returned to Moscow and confirmed his allegiance.
Battle of SuzdalSuzdal, Vladimir Oblast, Russi
The campaign of 1445 was disastrous for Muscovy and had major repercussions in Russian politics. Hostilities broke out when Khan Ulugh Muhammad took the strategic fortress of Nizhny Novgorod and invaded Muscovy. Vasily II mustered an army and defeated the Tatars near Murom and Gorokhovets. Thinking the war over, he disbanded his forces and returned to Moscow in triumph, only to learn that the Tatars had besieged Nizhny Novgorod again.
A new army was mustered and marched towards Suzdal, where they met the Russian generals who had surrendered Nizhny to the enemy after setting the fortress on fire. On 6 June 1445 the Russians and the Tatars clashed in the Battle of the Kamenka River near the walls of St. Euphemius Monastery. The battle was a resounding success for the Tatars, who took Vasily II prisoner. It took four months and an enormous ransom (200,000 roubles) to recover the monarch from captivity.
Vasily caught and blinded by ShemyakaUglich, Yaroslavl Oblast, Russ
Ulugh Muhammad released Vasily II after an enormous ransom was paid. This resulted in an increase of taxes and, consequently, in discontent, which strengthened the party of Dmitry Shemyaka. In early 1446, Vasily was captured by Shemyaka in the Trinity Sergius Lavra, brought to Moscow, blinded, and then sent to Uglich. Shemyaka started to reign as the Prince of Moscow. In the fall of 1446 he traveled to Uglich to seek peace with Vasily. They made a deal, Vasily gave an oath of allegiance and promised not to seek the Great Princedom any more, and in return he was released and got Vologda in his possession. In Vologda, Vasily traveled to the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, and the hegumen released him from the oath. Vasily immediately started preparations for the war against Shemyaka.
End of the Civil WarMoscow, Russia
Shemyaka ruled inefficiently, did not manage to attract allies, and nobility started to defect from Moscow to Vologda. Vasily also managed to ally with Kazan Tatars. In the end of 1446, when Dmitry Shemyaka was out in Volokolamsk, the army of Vasily II entered Moscow. Vasily then started to chase Shemyaka. In 1447, they asked for peace, and agreed to accept the superiority of Vasily.
Nevertheless, Dmitry Shemyaka continued resistance, trying to attract the allies and to collect a big enough army to fight against Vasily. In 1448, Vasily started military action, which included mostly Northern lands up to Veliky Ustyug and with some interruptions continued till 1452, when Shemyaka was finally defeated and fled to Novgorod. In 1453, he was poisoned there following a direct order of Vasily. Subsequently, Vasily managed to remove all local princes who previously supported Shemyaka. The Principality of Mozhaysk and Serpukhov was made a part of the Grand Duchy of Moscow.
Reign of Ivan III of RussiaMoscow, Russia
Ivan III Vasilyevich, also known as Ivan the Great, 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 war and through the seizure of lands from his dynastic relatives, ended the dominance of the Tatars over Russia, renovated the Moscow Kremlin, introduced a new legal codex and laid the foundations of the Russian state. His 1480 victory over the Great Horde is cited as the restoration of Russian independence 240 years after the fall of Kiev to Mongols' invasion.
Ivan was the first Russian ruler to style himself "tsar", albeit not as an official title. Through marriage to Sofia Paleologue, he made the double-headed eagle Russia's coat of arms and adopted the idea of Moscow as Third Rome. His 43-year reign was the second longest in Russian history, after that of his grandson Ivan IV.
Ivan III's territorial expansionYaroslavl, Russia
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 north-eastern Rus' cities. 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 eventually absorbed by conquest, purchase, or marriage contract: The Principality of Yaroslavl in 1463, Rostov in 1474, Tver in 1485, and Vyatka 1489.
Qasim WarKazan, Russia
A fragile peace was broken in 1467, when Ibrahim of Kazan came to the throne and Ivan III of Russia supported the claims of his ally or vassal Qasim Khan. Ivan's army sailed down the Volga, with their eyes fixed on Kazan, but autumn rains and rasputitsa ("quagmire season") hindered the progress of Russian forces. The campaign fell apart for lack of unity of purpose and military capability.
In 1469, a much stronger army was raised and, sailing down the Volga and the Oka, linked up in Nizhny Novgorod. The Russians marched downstream and ravaged the neighbourhood of Kazan. After negotiations were broken, the Tatars clashed with the Russians in two bloody but indecisive battles.
In autumn 1469 Ivan III launched a third invasion of the khanate. The Russian commander, Prince Daniil Kholmsky, besieged Kazan, cut off water supplies, and compelled Ibrahim to surrender. Under the terms of the peace settlement, the Tatars set free all the ethnic Christian Russians they had enslaved in the forty previous years.
War with NovgorodNòvgorod, Novgorod Oblast, Rus
When the Novgorodians turned to Poland–Lithuania for help in limiting Moscow's growing power, Ivan III and the metropolitan accused them not only of political treachery, but of attempting to abandon Eastern Orthodoxy and go over to the Catholic Church. A draft treaty between Novgorod and the Grand Duke of Lithuania and King of Poland, Casimir IV Jagiellon (r. 1440–1492), said to have been found in a cache of documents after the battle of Shelon, made it clear that the Lithuanian Grand Prince was not to interfere with the election of the archbishop of Novgorod or the Orthodox faith in the city (by building Catholic churches in the city for example.)
The Battle of Shelon was a decisive battle between the forces of the Grand Duchy of Moscow under Ivan III and the army of the Novgorod Republic, which took place on the Shelon River on 14 July 1471. Novgorod suffered a major defeat and ended with the de facto unconditional surrender of the city. Novgorod was absorbed by Muscovy in 1478.
Ivan III marries Sophia PalaiologinaDormition Cathedral, Moscow, R
After the death of his first consort, Maria of Tver (1467), and at the suggestion of Pope Paul II (1469), who hoped thereby to bind Muscovy to the Holy See, Ivan III wedded Sophia Palaiologina (also known under her original name Zoe), 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. The formal wedding between Ivan III and Sophia took place at the Dormition Cathedral in Moscow on 12 November 1472.
Ivan III refuses to pay tributeMoscow, Russia
Muscovy rejected the Tatar yoke during the reign of Ivan III. In 1476, Ivan refused to pay the customary tribute to the grand Khan Ahmed.
End of Tatar ruleKaluga Oblast, Russia
The Great Stand on the Ugra River was a standoff between the forces of Akhmat Khan of the Great Horde, and the Grand Prince Ivan III of Muscovy in 1480 on the banks of the Ugra River, which ended when the Tatars departed without conflict. It is seen in Russian historiography as the end of Tatar/Mongol rule over Moscow.
First Lithuanian–Muscovite WarUkraine
The Lithuanian-Muscovite War of 1487–1494 (First border war) was the war of the Grand Duchy of Moscow, in alliance with the Crimean Khanate, against the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Ruthenia in alliance with the Golden Horde Khan Akhmat, united by personal union (Union of Krewo). Kingdom of Poland under the leadership of Grand Duke Casimir IV Jagiellon. Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Ruthenia was home for Ruthenians (ethnic Ukrainians, Belarusians) and the war was going for capturing Belarusians and Ukrainian lands (Kievan inheritance) under Moscow rule.
Siege of KazanKazan, Russia
In 1487 Ivan again found it prudent to intervene in Kazan affairs and replace Ilham with Moxammat Amin. Prince Kholmsky sailed down the Volga from Nizhny Novgorod and laid siege to Kazan on 18 May. The city fell to the Russians on 9 June. Ilham was sent in chains to Moscow before being imprisoned in Vologda, while Moxammat Amin was proclaimed the new khan.
Ivan III invades LithuaniaLithuania
In August 1492, without declaring war, Ivan III began large military actions: he captured and burned Mtsensk, Lyubutsk, Serpeysk, and Meshchovsk; raided Mosalsk; and attacked the territory of the Dukes of Vyazma. Orthodox nobles began switching sides to Moscow as it promised better protection from military raids and an end to religious discrimination by Catholic Lithuanians. Ivan III officially declared war in 1493, but the conflict soon ended. Grand Duke of Lithuania Alexander Jagiellon sent a delegation to Moscow to negotiate a peace treaty. An "eternal" peace treaty was concluded on February 5, 1494. The agreement marked the first Lithuanian territorial losses to Moscow: the Principality of Vyazma and a sizable region in the upper reaches of the Oka River.
Russo-Swedish WarIvangorod Fortress, Kingisepps
The Russo-Swedish War of 1495–1497, known in Sweden as the Stures' Russian War was a border war which occurred between the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Kingdom of Sweden. Although the war was relatively short, and did not lead to any territorial changes, it has significance as the first war between Sweden and Moscow, following the Muscovite annexation of the Republic of Novgorod two decades previously. As the Grand Duchy of Moscow would later become the Tsardom of Russia and ultimately the Russian Empire, the 1495-7 war is usually considered to be the first Russo-Swedish War, as opposed to the various Swedish-Novgorodian Wars which had occurred earlier in the Middle Ages.
Sudebnik of 1497Moscow, Russia
The Sudebnik of 1497 (Судебник 1497 года in Russian, or Code of Law) was a collection of laws introduced by Ivan III in 1497. It played a big part in the centralisation of the Russian state, creation of the nationwide Russian Law and elimination of feudal fragmentation.
It took its roots from Old Russian Law, including Russkaya Pravda, Legal Code of Pskov, princely decrees, and common law, the regulations of which had been upgraded with reference to social and economic changes. Basically, Sudebnik was a collection of legal procedures. It established a universal system of the judicial bodies of the state, defined their competence and subordination, and regulated legal fees. Sudebnik expanded the range of acts, considered punishable by the standards of criminal justice (e.g., sedition, sacrilege, slander). It also renewed the concept of different kinds of a crime. Sudebnik established the investigative nature of legal proceedings. It provided different kinds of punishment, such as death penalty, flagellation etc. In order to protect the feudal landownership, Sudebnik introduced certain limitations in the law of estate, increased the term of limitation of legal actions with regards to princely lands, introduced flagellation for the violation of property boundaries of princely, boyar and monastic lands - violation of peasant land boundaries entailed a fine. Sudebnik also introduced a fee for peasants who wanted to leave their feudal lord , and also established a universal day (November 26) across the Russian state for peasants, who wanted to switch their masters.
Renewed war with LithuanianKaluga, Russia
Hostilities were renewed in May 1500, when Ivan III took advantage of a planned Polish–Hungarian campaign against the Ottoman Empire: While preoccupied with the Ottomans, Poland and Hungary would not assist Lithuania. The pretext was the alleged religious intolerance toward the Orthodox in the Lithuanian court. Helena was forbidden by her father Ivan III to convert to Catholicism, which provided numerous opportunities for Ivan III, as the defender of all Orthodox, to interfere in Lithuanian affairs and rally Orthodox believers.
The skilled Russian commander employed similar tactics that proved successful for the Russian army in the Battle of Kulikovo. Vedrosha was a crushing victory for the Russians. Some 8,000 Lithuanians were killed, and many more were taken prisoner, including Prince Konstantin Ostrogski, the first ever Grand Hetman of Lithuania. After the battle the Lithuanians lost the possibility for military initiative and restricted themselves to defensive actions.
Battle of the Siritsa RiverMaritsa River
During the Russo-Swedish War (1495–1497), Sweden captured Ivangorod and offered it to Livonia, an offer which was refused. Moscow perceived that as a Swedish–Livonian alliance. As negotiations failed, Livonia began preparing for war. In May 1500, a war broke out between Moscow and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
On 17 May 1501, Livonia and Lithuania concluded a ten-year alliance in Vilnius. In August 1501, von Plettenberg led a Livonian army, reinforced with 3,000 mercenaries from Lübeck, towards Pskov.
The armies met on 27 August 1501 on the Siritsa River, 10 km south from Izborsk, on the western approaches to Pskov. The Pskovian regiment attacked the Livonians first but was thrown back. The Livonian artillery then destroyed the remainder of the Muscovite army despite a Russian attempt to reply with their own, insufficient, artillery force. In the battle, the smaller Livonian army defeated the Muscovite army (drawn from the cities of Moscow, Novgorod, and Tver, as well as from Pskov – which was not formally part of Muscovy until 1510) in large part due to the Order's formidable artillery park and the Russians' significant shortage of guns of any kind. The defeat prompted Moscow to modernize its army by creating standing infantry units armed with arquebus.
Battle of MstislavlMstsislaw, Belarus
The Battle of Mstislavl took place on 4 November 1501 between the forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the forces of the Grand Duchy of Moscow and Principality of Novgorod-Seversk. The Lithuanian forces were defeated.
The Muscovite–Lithuanian Wars renewed in 1500. In 1501, Ivan III of Russia sent a new force under the command of Semyon Mozhayskiy towards Mstislavl. Local princes Mstislavsky together with Ostap Dashkevych organized the defense and were badly beaten on 4 November. They retreated to Mstislavl and Mozhayskiy decided not to attack the castle. Instead, Russian forces besieged the city and pillaged surrounding areas.Lithuanians organized a relief force, brought by Great Hetman Stanislovas Kęsgaila. Neither Mozhayskiy nor Kęsgaila dared to attack and the Russian forces retreated without a battle.
Ivan's last warArsk, Republic of Tatarstan, R
The last war of Ivan's reign was instigated by Ilham's widow, who married Moxammat Amin and persuaded him to assert his independence from Moscow in 1505. The rebellion broke out into the open on Saint John's Day, when the Tatars massacred Russian merchants and envoys present at the annual Kazan Fair. A huge army of the Kazan and Nogai Tatars then advanced towards Nizhny Novgorod and besieged the city. The affair was decided by 300 Lithuanian archers, who had been captured by Russians in the Battle of Vedrosha and lived in Nizhny in captivity. They managed to put the Tatar vanguard into disarray: the khan's brother-in-law was killed in action and the horde retreated.
Ivan's death prevented hostilities from being renewed until May 1506, when Prince Fyodor Belsky led Russian forces against Kazan. After the Tatar cavalry attacked his rear, many Russians took flight or drowned in the Foul Lake (22 May). Prince Vasily Kholmsky was sent to relieve Belsky and defeated the khan on Arsk Field on June 22. Moxammat Amin withdrew to the Arsk Tower but, when the Russians started to celebrate their victory, ventured out and inflicted an excruciating defeat on them (June 25). Although it was the most brilliant Tatar victory in decades, Moxammat Amin – for some reason not clearly understood – resolved to sue for peace and paid homage to Ivan's successor, Vasily III of Russia.
Vasili III of RussiaMoscow, Russia
Vasili III continued the policies of his father Ivan III and spent most of his reign consolidating Ivan's gains. Vasili annexed the last surviving autonomous provinces: Pskov in 1510, appanage of Volokolamsk in 1513, principalities of Ryazan in 1521 and Novgorod-Seversky in 1522. Vasili also took advantage of the difficult position of Sigismund of Poland to capture Smolensk, the great eastern fortress of Lithuania, chiefly through the aid of the rebel Lithuanian, Prince Mikhail Glinski, who provided him with artillery and engineers.
In 1521 Vasili received an emissary of the neighboring Iranian Safavid Empire, sent by Shah Ismail I whose ambitions were to construct an Irano-Russian alliance against the common enemy, the Ottoman Empire.
Vasili was equally successful against the Crimean Khanate. Although in 1519 he was obliged to buy off the Crimean khan, Mehmed I Giray, under the very walls of Moscow, towards the end of his reign he established Russian influence on the Volga. In 1531–32 he placed the pretender Cangali khan on the throne of Khanate of Kazan. Vasili was the first grand-duke of Moscow who adopted the title of tsar and the double-headed eagle of the Byzantine Empire.
The Glinski rebellion was a revolt in 1508 in the Grand Duchy of Lithuania by a group of aristocrats led by Prince Mikhail Glinski in 1508. It grew out of a rivalry between two factions of the nobility during the final years of Grand Duke Alexander Jagiellon. The revolt began when Sigismund I, the new Grand Duke, decided to strip Glinski of his posts based on rumors spread by Jan Zabrzeziński, Glinski's personal enemy. After failing to settle the dispute at the royal court, Glinski and his supporters (mostly relatives) rose up in arms. The rebels swore allegiance to Vasili III of Russia, who was waging war against Lithuania. The rebels and their Russian supporters failed to achieve military victory. They were allowed to go into exile in Moscow and take their movable property, but their vast land possessions were confiscated.
Fourth Lithuanian–Muscovite WarBelarus
In the two previous wars, the Moscow state did not succeed in realizing the idea of regaining all the "Kievan inheritance" - the lands of Principality of Smolensk, Principality of Polotsk and Principality of Kiev. The Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Ruthenia did not accept the results of these wars - the loss of some of its eastern lands. At the end of 1512 a new war broke out between the two states. The reason for this was the Lithuanian-Crimean Tatar negotiations and the attack of the Crimean Tatars in May 1512 on the Upper Oka Principalities.
The Lithuanian-Muscovite War of 1512-1522 (also known as the Ten Years' War) was a military conflict between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Ruthenia, which included Ukrainian and Belarusian lands, and the Grand Duchy of Moscow for Russian border lands.
Siege of SmolenskSmolensk, Russia
The Siege of Smolensk of 1514 took place during the fourth Muscovite–Lithuanian War (1512–1520). When war broke out again with Lithuania in November 1512, Moscow's main objective was to capture Smolensk, an important fortress and trade center that had been part of Lithuania since 1404. The Russians, commanded personally by Tsar Vasili III of Russia, laid a six-week siege in January–February 1513, but Grand Hetman Konstanty Ostrogski repelled the attack. Another four-week siege followed in August–September 1513.
In May 1514, Vasili III again led his army against Smolensk. This time the Russian army included a number of artillerymen, brought from the Holy Roman Empire by Michael Glinski. After a lengthy preparation, shelling of the city from nearby hills began in July. After a few days Jurij Sołłohub, Voivode of Smolensk, agreed to surrender on 30 July 1514. Vasili III entered the city the next day.
Battle of OrshaOrsha, Belarus
The Battle of Orsha, was a battle fought on 8 September 1514, between the allied forces of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Crown of the Kingdom of Poland, under the command of Lithuanian Grand Hetman Konstanty Ostrogski; and the army of the Grand Duchy of Moscow under Konyushy Ivan Chelyadnin and Kniaz Mikhail Bulgakov-Golitsa. The Battle of Orsha was part of a long series of Muscovite–Lithuanian Wars conducted by Muscovite rulers striving to gather all the former Kievan Rus' lands under their rule. The battle halted Muscovy's expansion into Eastern Europe.
Ostrogski's forces continued their pursuit of the routed Russian army and retook most of the previously captured strongholds, including Mstislavl and Krychev, and the advancement of the Russians was stopped for four years. However, the Lithuanian and Polish forces were too exhausted to besiege Smolensk before the winter. This meant that Ostrogski did not reach the gates of Smolensk until late September, giving Vasili III enough time to prepare defense.
End of Lithuanian-Muscovite WarsLithuania
The war between the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and Grand Duchy of Moscow lasted until 1520. In 1522 a peace was signed, under the terms of which Lithuania was forced to cede to Moscow about a quarter of its possessions within the lands of the former Kievan Rus', including Smolensk. The latter city was not retaken until almost a century later, in 1611. After the peace agreement of 1522, the Grand Duchy of Lithuania tried to attack Moscow one more time, but major military conflicts were settled for around 40 years.
Starodub WarVilnius, Lithuania
Upon Vasily's death in 1533, his son and heir, Ivan IV, was only three years old. His mother, Elena Glinskaya, acted as the regent and engaged in power struggles with other relatives and boyars. The Polish–Lithuanian monarch decided to take advantage of the situation and demanded the return of territories conquered by Vasily III. In the summer of 1534, Grand Hetman Jerzy Radziwiłł and the Tatars devastated the area around Chernigov, Novgorod Seversk, Radogoshch, Starodub, and Briansk. In October 1534, a Muscovite army under the command of Prince Ovchina-Telepnev-Obolensky, Prince Nikita Obolensky, and Prince Vasily Shuisky invaded Lithuania, advancing as far as Vilnius and Naugardukas, and built a fortress on Lake Sebezh the following year, before being stopped. The Lithuanian army under Hetman Radziwill, Andrei Nemirovich, Polish Hetman Jan Tarnowski, and Semen Belsky launched a powerful counterattack and took Gomel and Starodub.
In 1536, the fortress Sebezh defeated Nemirovich's Lithuanian forces when they tried to besiege it, and then the Muscovites attacked Liubech, razed Vitebsk, and built fortresses at Velizh and Zavoloche. Lithuania and Russia negotiated a five-year truce, without prisoner exchange, in which Homel stayed under the king's control, while Muscovy Rus' kept Sebezh and Zavoloche.
The development of the modern-day Russian state is traced from Kievan Rus' through Vladimir-Suzdal and the Grand Duchy of Moscow to the Tsardom of Russia, and then the Russian Empire. The Moscow Duchy drew people and wealth to the northeastern part of Kievan Rus'; established trade links to the Baltic Sea, White Sea, Caspian Sea, and to Siberia; and created a highly centralized and autocratic political system. The political traditions established in Muscovy, therefore, exerted a powerful influence on the future development of Russian society.
- Meyendorff, John (1981). Byzantium and the Rise of Russia: A Study of Byzantino-Russian Relations in the Fourteenth Century (1st ed.). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 9780521135337.
- Moss, Walter G (2005). "History of Russia - Volume 1: To 1917", Anthem Press, p. 80
- Chester Dunning, The Russian Empire and the Grand Duchy of Muscovy: A Seventeenth Century French Account
- Romaniello, Matthew (September 2006). "Ethnicity as social rank: Governance, law, and empire in Muscovite Russia". Nationalities Papers. 34 (4): 447–469. doi:10.1080/00905990600842049. S2CID 109929798.
- Marshall Poe, Foreign Descriptions of Muscovy: An Analytic Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources, Slavica Publishers, 1995, ISBN 0-89357-262-4
Get our monthly newsletter sent to your inbox, no spam.
- Notifications on new HistoryMaps
- Find out which HistoryMaps are updated
- Find out which HistoryMaps are coming out next