Ivan III Vasilyevich (22 January 1440, Moscow – 27 October 1505, Moscow), also known as Ivan the Great, was a Grand Prince of Moscow and Grand Prince of all Rus’ . Sometimes referred to as the “gatherer of the Rus’ lands”, he tripled the territory of his state, ended the dominance of the Golden Horde over the Rus’, renovated the Moscow Kremlin, and laid the foundations of what later became called the Russian state. He was one of the longest-reigning Russian rulers in history.
Ivan’s rule is marked by what subsequently Russophile historians called ‘the Gathering of the Russian Lands’ (even though ‘Russia’ was not a term used until 1547 when Ivan IV changed Muscovy’s name to the Greek inspired ‘Tsardom’, a strategy later employed by Peter I when he changed its title to the Latin ‘Empire’ as a way of appealing to Muscovy’s European patrimony, which had hitherto been associated in Europe with Kiev and the western Ruthenian principalities). In effect, this entailed bringing the independent duchies of different Rurikid princes under the direct control of Moscow by leaving the princes and their posterity without royal titles or land inheritance. His first enterprise was a war with the Republic of Novgorod, with which Muscovy (Moscow) had fought a series of wars stretching back to at least the reign of Dmitry Donskoi. These were waged for two reasons: over Moscow’s religious and political sovereignty, and over Moscow’s efforts to seize land in the Northern Dvina region. Alarmed at Moscow’s growing power, Novgorod had negotiated with Lithuania in the hope of placing itself under the protection of Casimir IV, King of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania, a would-be alliance, which was proclaimed by the Moscow rulers 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 the Battle of Shelon River and on the Northern Dvina, both in the summer of 1471—the Novgorodians were forced to sue for peace, agreeing to abandon their overtures to Lithuania and ceding a considerable portion of their northern territories, and paying a war indemnity of 15,500 roubles.
Ivan visited Novgorod Central several times in the next several years, persecuting a number of pro-Lithuanian boyars and confiscating their lands. In 1477, two Novgorodian envoys, claiming to have been sent by the archbishops and the entire city, addressed Ivan in public audience as Gosudar (sovereign) instead of the usual Gospodin (sir). Ivan at once seized upon this as a recognition of his sovereignty, and when the Novgorodians repudiated the envoys (indeed, one was killed at the veche and several others of the pro-Moscow faction were killed with him) and swore openly in front of the Moscow ambassadors that they would turn to Lithuania again, he marched against them. Deserted by Casimir IV and surrounded on every side by the Moscow armies, which occupied the major monasteries around the city, Novgorod ultimately recognized Ivan’s direct rule over the city and its vast hinterland in a document signed and sealed by Archbishop Feofil of Novgorod (1470–1480) on 15 January 1478
Ivan dispossessed Novgorod of over 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. Archbishop Feofil, too, was removed to Moscow for plotting against the Grand Prince. The rival republic of Pskov owed the continuance of its own political existence to the readiness with which it assisted Ivan against its ancient enemy. The other principalities were eventually absorbed, be it by conquest, purchase or marriage contract: The Yaroslavl in 1463, Rostov was bought in 1474, Tver in 1485, and Vyatka 1489.
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.
Ivan had four brothers. The eldest, Iurii, died childless on 12 September 1472. He only had a draft of a will which said nothing about his land. Ivan seized the land, much to the surviving brothers’ fury. He placated them with some land. Boris and Andrei the Elder signed treaties with Vasily in February and September 1473. They agreed to protect each other’s land and not have secret dealings with foreign states. They broke this clause in 1480, fleeing to Lithuania. It is unknown if Andrei the Younger signed a treaty. He died in 1481, leaving his lands to Ivan. In 1491 Andrei the Elder was arrested by Ivan for refusing to aid the Crimean Tatars against the Golden Horde. He died in prison in 1493, and Ivan seized his land. In 1494 Boris, the only brother able to pass his land to his sons, died. However, their land reverted to the Tsar upon their deaths in 1503 and 1515 respectively.
There was one semi-autonomous prince in Muscovy when Ivan acceded: Prince Mikhail Andreevich of Vereia, who had been awarded an Appanage by Vasily II. In 1478 he was pressured into giving Belozersk to Ivan, who got all of Mikhail’s land on his death in 1486.
Ivan became arguably best known for his consolidation of Muscovite rule. His predecessors had increased Moscow’s territory from less than 600 square miles under Ivan II (reigned 1353 – 1359) to more than 15,000 square miles at the end of Vasily II’s reign. It remained for Ivan III to absorb Moscow’s old rivals, Novgorod and Tver, and establish virtually a single rule over what had been appanages of Rus’. Although the circumstances surrounding the acquisitions varied, the results were basically the same: former sovereign or semi-autonomous principalities were reduced to the status of provinces of Moscow, while their princes joined the ranks of the Muscovite service nobility.
Ivan considered himself the rightful heir to all the former Kievan lands, which in his opinion constituted his lawful patrimony. This presented a challenge to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, which, following the collapse of the Kievan state, had incorporated the western and southwestern Rus’ territories and assimilated their Rus’ aristocracy and nobility. Thus much of Ivan’s reign saw war against Lithuania. A peace treaty was signed in 1503, following the Battle of Vedrosha (1500), by which Lithuania recognised Moscow’s control over parts of the Smolensk and the Polotsk areas, and much of Novgorod-Seversky (although Russia lost Novgorod-Severskyto Poland in 1618). Another peace treaty of 1503 ended the war which Moscow had effectively waged against the Livonian Order.
After the death of his first wife in 1467, Ivan married (1472) Sophia (Zoë) Paleologue, a Byzantine princess and niece of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI (died 1453). The Vatican sponsored the marriage in hope of bringing Russia under the sway of the Pope and of establishing a broad front against the Turks, a goal that failed. From Ivan’s point of view, the marriage fitted well into the general trend of elevating the Muscovite ruler.
Following his second marriage, Ivan developed a complicated court ceremonial on the Byzantine model and began to use the title of “Tsar and Autocrat”. Also during the reign of Ivan and his son, Vasily III, Moscow came to be referred to by spokesmen as the Third Rome. Philotheos, a monk from Pskov, developed the idea of Moscow as the true successor to Byzantium and, hence, to Rome.
An impressive building program in Moscow took place under Ivan, directed primarily by Italian artists and craftsmen. New buildings were erected in the Kremlin, and the Kremlin walls were strengthened and furnished with towers and gates. Ivan died on October 27, 1505, and was succeeded by his son, Vasily III