How Terrible was Ivan the Terrible?

Ivan the Terrible is a very complicated ruler to label as simply “a good guy” or “a bad guy.”  Both good and overlapped throughout his life, coming up at different times, but I don’t believe one is more prominent than the other.  Even more interesting and important to remember is all of Ivan’s personal troubles while he was young and how they could have possibly affected his future as Tsar.

Ivan was successful in bringing change to Russia, although it can be difficult to view his rule as a reformation rule.  Ivan implemented a new law code, paid order to the church, strengthened the military and ordered out bureaucracy.  Ivan was creating an honest and efficient administration.  These reforms were positive towards Ivan’s rule and Russia benefitted greatly.

However the bad of Ivan also has to be analyzed.  Because Ivan was so skeptical of who to trust, he began to “wipe out all the chief people of the oprichnina” ((Kaiser and Marker 153)).  Brutal, horrific deaths began occurring; Ivan’s brother in law “was chopped to death by the harquebusiers [musketeers] with axes,” “Prince Vasilii Temkin was drowned,” “Peter Seisse was hanged from his own court gate,” and more ((Kaiser and Marker 153)).  What was the cause of these awful deaths?

It is interesting to analyze the beginning or early periods of Ivan’s life.  Many tragic things, the death of his mother when he was a young boy and the death of his beloved wife, could be possible reasons as to why he was so agonized.  Ivan also came to power at age three, so it’s possible he never knew who to trust from the beginning since his mother and wife died early on.  His life and personality are too difficult to label as just good or bad; regardless he was a powerful ruler.

Can Ivan the Terrible be classified as just good or bad?

Is it wrong to blame the tragedies of Ivan’s early life for the brutality in his later life?


Works Cited

Kaiser, Daniel H., and Gary Marker. Reinterpreting Russian History: Readings, 860-1860’s. New York: Oxford UP, 1994. Print.

One thought on “How Terrible was Ivan the Terrible?

  1. To answer your first question, Ivan is just too complicated a man to truly be classified as good or bad. He seems to be a much more nuanced man than what many historians make him out to be. I hope to find out about more about that nuance, because from what I hear history is oversimplified in a way that simply describes Ivan as terrible without significant thinking.

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