Ivan III

Ivan III (1440-1505), called Ivan the Great, was grand duke of Moscow from 1462 to 1505. He completed the unification of Russian lands, and his reign marks the beginning of Muscovite Russia.

Born on Jan. 22, 1440, in Moscow, Ivan was the oldest son of Basil II. He was married when he was 12 years old to Princess Maria of Tver. When Basil died in 1462, the 22-year-old Ivan became the grand duke of Moscow without being confirmed by the Mongol Khan. Ivan limited his allegiance to the Golden Horde to the sending of presents instead of regular tribute, finally discontinuing even those. Several Mongol attempts to subjugate the Russians failed, the last one in 1480.

The accomplishment for which Ivan is best known is the consolidation of Muscovite rule. His predecessors had increased Moscow's territory from less than 600 square miles under Ivan II to more than 15,000 square miles at the end of Basil 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 appanage Russia. Although the circumstances surrounding the acquisitions varied, the results were basically the same: former sovereign or semiautonomous principalities were reduced to the status of provinces of Moscow, while their princes joined the ranks of the service nobility.

Ivan also considered himself the rightful heir to all the former Kievan lands, which in his opinion constituted his lawful patrimony. This presented a challenge to Lithuania, which, following the collapse of Kiev, had expanded into the western and southwestern Russian territories. Thus, much of Ivan's reign was occupied in war against Lithuania. A peace treaty was signed in 1503 by which Lithuania recognized Russian control over parts of the Smolensk and the Polotsk areas and much of Chernigov-Seversk. Another peace treaty of 1503 ended the war which Moscow had effectively waged against the Livonian Order.

After the death of his first wife, Ivan married Sophia, or Zoë, Paleologue, a Byzantine princess and niece of the last Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI. The marriage was sponsored by the Vatican 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 the marriage, Ivan developed a complicated court ceremonial on the Byzantine model and began to use the title of czar and autocrat. Also during the reign of Ivan and his son, Basil III, Moscow came to be referred to by spokesmen as the Third Rome. Philotheos, a monk from Pskov, developed the idea that Moscow was 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 Oct. 27, 1505, and was succeeded by his son, Basil.


Further Reading on Ivan III

The only biography in English of Ivan is J. L. I. Fennell, Ivan the Great of Moscow (1961). A good discussion of the Third Rome concept is Nicholas Zernov, Moscow: The Third Rome (1937). A firsthand account of the 1486-1506 period is Baron Sigismund von Herberstein, Notes upon Russia, translated and edited by R. H. Major (2 vols., 1851-1852). The most thorough study of this period available to the English reader is George Vernadsky and Michael Karpovich, A History of Russia, vol. 4 (1959).