Evaluation of Ivan the Terrible

Ivan the Terrible (1533-84) began his rule in 1547 at a young age and during the first half of his reign he and his administration made great strides toward reform in the Muscovite lands. In 1564, however, his health starts to decline and so does his power to rule. He separated his administration into people who he could trust, and it is possible that he became mentally paranoid, and a second administration run by boyar elite and nobles. This double administration was called oprichnina and it was also a time of killing anyone Ivan felt he couldn’t trust.

I agree with Crummey’s analysis that Ivan III created reforms to help the good of the people but then his personality changed which disrupted this reformation and ultimately made a failure of the oprichnina. But even in the beginning of his rule, I think he was a bit deceptive with his motivations for certain reforms. His government attempted to strengthen the army, something seen as good for the people, but Crummey argues that it was also to “strengthen the upper echelons of the service nobility” ((KM 159)) . Another reform aimed to grow the central administration, which kept elaborate records and thus “considerable increased its control over the country and its resources” ((KM 159)) . From this reading, it seems that he had hidden motivations as to why he put these reforms in place: to increase his power and control over the region. This sounds like he was trying to deceive the people, but in reality these reforms did indeed aide the population, and I don’t think this deception is integrally connected to his paranoid “reforms” later on.

How did his reforms ultimately influence the Muscovite government in the long run?

What was his “Reign of Terror” and who was it directed towards? Why did he target these people?

Worked Cited

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

The Start of Moscow’s Rise

The documents ascertaining to different regions of Rus’ in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries depict rather well how power was viewed and exacted.  The most important thing to note is since the different regions of Rus’ were ruled differently, the expansion eastward and away from Kiev is logical.

Firstly, we can tell how the mentality of the Northwest, Southwest, and Northeast parts of the Rus’ were different in the types of the documents given.  The document for Northwest Rus’ is a treaty between boyars and the prince.  In this document, it lays out ground rules for the prince to abide by.  The aristocrats in Novgorod clearly write in a tone of authority, but in the document itself they state more or less that power is to be shared between the people of Novgorod (the aristocrats) and the prince.

The document for the Southwestern Rus’ is an extraction from a chronicle, which tells a tale of boyars conspiring against the prince in this region.  When their first conspiracy plan is foiled, many boyars flee to Hungary, convince the king of Hungary to overtake Prince Danilo’s lands, and eventually the boyars end up making princely decisions over the land without the knowledge or permission of Prince Danilo.  Of course, as this document is a chronicle, it carries a religious tone, especially when Prince Danilo finds out about how his Boyar’s betray him, but acts meekly in seeking favor from God, and how he “[prays] to God for his native land, which [is] held by these godless [boyars] and ruled by them” (KM, pg. 87).  Here we can see that the prince is merely a figurehead with no authority over his lands, while the aristocracy holds any real power.

The third document, coming from Moscow, is Prince Dmitrii Donskoi’s will and testament.  This document are the prince’s own words, and were recorded in witness by members of the Church and aristocracy.  However, these witnesses are mentioned penultimately, and Prince Dmitrii is clearly in control over his lands and its profits.  In this document, there are two important aspects to note about how he divvies up his property.  Firstly, he gives his wife shares of property from each of the shares of his sons, and gives her authority over her sons about how in any circumstances that are not outlined in the will, she can change each son’s share (though this is still outlined rather carefully in the will how she is supposed to distribute the land).  He also states several times throughout the document how his sons must obey the princess, or they lose his blessing, and therefore, their shares of his lands and property.  Secondly, Prince Dmitrii divides the land unevenly.  He gives the largest share of inheritance and his princeship to his eldest son, and the following sons receive less than their older brother(s).  In the lands he gives each of his sons, he mentions how they are to inherit the lands that his father had obtained, meaning before Prince Dmitrii’s rule, Moscow had greatly expanded.

As each Moscow heir receives an uneven amount of inheritance, this exhibits how eventually over time, Moscow heirs would inherit close to nothing.  However, since there is evidence of a previous Moscow expansion, what this does in turn is encourage the Muscovite royalty to further expand, making there more lands to inherit.  What this leads to is a novel expansionist attitude in Muscovite princes that is not seen in the other regions of Rus’.

With that said, this is exactly how true power began to gravitate toward Moscow:

  1. In the western parts of the Rus’, the princes lost most if not all of their princely power in government, while in Moscow, the rule of the prince was absolute.
  2. Moscow was beginning to express a need to expand their lands.  In the expansion of their lands, it would in turn result in Rus’ expanding in general.

The Rise of the Individual States in Rus’

As Kievan Rus’ became less and less centralized, individual principalities rose in its place as the chief governing bodies in the land.  These were much more independent of one another, and largely stayed more personal.  While this movement was occurring on the own accord of the princes, the pace was changed drastically as the hordes of Mongols began to go West.  While making it difficult for princes to stay sovereign, a large proportion of inhabitant of Rus’ felt the inclusion of Rus’ into the Mongol Yoke certainly had some benefits.

One of the greater success stories of the decentralization was Novgorod.  Novgorod, even after the Mongols had entered the region, became even more prosperous and powerful.  This is in large part due to the creation of a number of political institutions that was controlled by a “merchant republic”.  One of the larger treaties between the city of Novgorod and the local princes was the First Treaty of Novgorod with Tver’ Grand Prince Iaroslav Iaroslavich.  This document provided the ground work for the city and prince’s relationship.  Many of the statutes within the document inhibit Iaroslav from a number of powers a prince would typically have.  The ability of Novgorod to create such a document, in which Iaroslav agreed too exemplifies how beneficial the decentralization of the Kievan Rus’ region was larger cities and the merchants in them.

Similarly, in Southwest Rus’ the princes were also losing power, as power was at an even smaller level.  Boyars held the most power within their lands, thus the state was losing even more control.  In the Extracts from the Galician-Volhyniam Chronicle, in 1231, a boyar set out against a prince with only 18 men.  However, as he marched, more and more individuals joined his cause.  This shows that boyars had a large proportion of the popular support of the lower class individuals in the region.

Moscow was yet another region that was becoming decentralized.  Within The Second Testament of Moscow Grand Prince Dmitrii Domskoi, he separates Moscow between his four sons.  Dmitrii Domskoi goes into incredible detail on what each prince should recieve, such as Prince Vasilli receiving “the beekeepers in the city districts, and the horse and the falconers and the huntsmen” (88).  This separation of a single city/ region into four separate areas adds to the decentralization of the Kievan Rus’ state.

Domostroi (Chapters 1-18)

The Domostroi represents the many facets of life for the “fortunate few” in Muscovy’s social hierarchy.  Those living under this social system were subjected to strict and detailed standards of behavior and expectations.  We have determined that at the crux of this system was a “culture of fear” that was responsible for ensuring proper social conduct.  This means that this group of people followed the Domostroi‘s guidelines not because it was necessarily beneficial but because they were motivated by fear of consequences.  These consequences were social, political, and most strikingly, religious.  There is a heavy emphasis on how one should appear to God and to his peers, as he represented his family’s name and place within the religious and social hierarchy.  It seems then, that the household was not restricted to its physical space, but extended into the city, society, and religion of Moscow.

There were many expectations for Christians at this time. Specifically, the head of the household was expected to “Do God’s will faithfully and keep His commandments” (65).  If one did not, he would “…answer for [himself] on Judgement Day” (65). In turn, he was expected to teach these values not only to his wife and children, but also to his servants. However, these values were not to be taught through abuse or violence, but rather through love and by example. Throughout the document there was an emphasis on maintaining the social hierarchy already imbedded within the culture, especially with the emphasis on the importance of both priests and the Tsar. The Domostroi notes to “Always approach bishops eagerly and offer them the honor that is due… Fall at their feet and obey them in everything, as God commanded” (69). Regarding the Tsar, one was expected to “Fear the Tsar and serve him faithfully… Do not say anything false to him, but tell the truth, deferentially, as though you [speak] to God Himself” (71). Throughout the document, explicitly stated within each section were the expectations for Christian individuals and then subsequently the rewards and punishments for adhering to or disobeying these mandates. In addition, another way this order was maintained was through the emphasis on helping others less fortunate than oneself. By encouraging people to donate what they could to the poor, there was no emphasis on rising socially, but rather on staying where you were, and helping those poorer than you. By applying this mentality to the social hierarchy, this document allowed the nobility to maintain order. The culture of fear emphasized not only applied to God and His wrath, but also to the clergy and Tsar.

Another part of the Domostroi lays the rules of savoir vivre attached to hosting events. This section possessed two main parts. The first described the manner in which a priest should be received on holy days. The host was the master of his home and in charge of preparing, inviting, and offering food, while the guests had to show humility and respect. The priests invited were supposed to perform the ritual appropriate for the occasion. The priest had to pray for the Tsar and the Tsaritsa, the members of the clergy and finally “all that is profitable to the man of the house, his wife, children, and servants” hinting the role genders played in the society. It is also interesting to point out that the host had to invite as many priests as possible; it might suggest that such actions were also used to show one’s wealth as well as nobility. The second section regarded the behavior to possess should one invite guests. It demonstrated that not only the host was in charge of the preparation, and conducting the gathering, but that it was also his role to respect God through the evening’s interactions. It was the host’s responsibility that guest behaved appropriately, eat and drink enough to honor God, but not too much. This chapter also used fear as the method of choice to convince its reader. Shall you guest misbehave or utter blasphemy and food will turn into dung in their mouths, angels will report your actions to the Devil as opposed to God and “such deeds will stand on Judgment Day.”

Similarly latter passages of The Domostroi bring that culture of fear to the daily religious lives of the people. Men were told that they should attend church services daily. And women should go as they are able and have their husbands permission. Church goers were instructed to stand like pillars while praying “with fear and trembling, with sighs and tears, {turning the eyes of your body towards the abyss}”(13). Fortunately there were ways to make amends, unceasing prays for long periods of time was said to allow the holy spirit to enter your body. A good priest was also considered an acceptable remedy. A priest was to be held in fear when you come to him in love to confess your sins. This fear was doubtlessly preached throughout Russia and was a significant part of every true christian’s life. The father was taught by the church and he taught his family what they said. That adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, drunkards, swindlers and slanderers will not possess the kingdom of God.

The discussion of daily life and family relationships shows the importance of children in families and society.  Parents were expected to care for and protect their children or be ridiculed by their neighbors.  These relationships were also highly gendered, as mothers were responsible for their daughter’s instruction in female crafts and fathers were responsible for teaching their son a specific trade.  Education was considered important because it made the daughter or son more marriageable, thus enabling families to improve their social position through their children.  The same concept applies for the establishment of a dowry, which was considered a father’s responsibility.  The culture of fear began early in children’s education, even before the children started learning themselves.  Parents that failed to instruct their children away from sin would pay the price on Judgment Day and be publicly shamed, possibly having their house dishonored and paying a fine to the government.  As part of their education, children were taught to fear God, but they were also taught to fear their parents.  The Domostroi references biblical passages that advised fathers beating their sons so that they might behave properly, and there is little mention of affection between parents and children (96).  Even the discussion of caring for parents in old age is framed in terms of cleansing sins instead of familial love.  It is clear from these chapters that the level of respect between family members was a means of establishing social position and proving one’s religiosity and merit to the community.

The Mongol Yoke

The excerpts from Halperin and Sakharov are drastically different. Halperin’s article, Interpreting the Mongol Yoke: The Ideology of Silence, sheds a harsh light on the church, and those who seek to discredit any innovation the Mongols might have brought to Rus. Evidence demonstrates that the Rus people borrowed from nearly all aspects of Mongol life, with the one exception being religious culture. Rus princes married Mongol princesses, and the conquered peoples borrowed Mongol political and military institutions, as well as adopting the postal network of the Mongols. On the other hand, Sakharov’s article suggests that he blames Mongols for a lack of craftsmanship during the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. He claims that the Mongols destroyed a “vast number of artifacts of the written world” (137). Sakharov goes on to blame the Church for blocking Moscow’s connections with the Western world during the second half of the fifteenth century, which he perceived to be the time period of a ‘pre-Renaissance.’

Upon closer reading, Sakharov seems as if he’s grasping at straws while simultaneously making sweeping generalizations. He takes the Chronicles as complete fact, citing a few stories about destroyed books as an indicator of “how seriously Russian writings suffered from the onslaughts of the Mongol-Tatars” (137). His entire excerpt completely slams the Mongols, deciding that nothing good could have come from the Mongol-Tatar Yoke.

Upon closer inspection, it becomes evident that his article, entitled The Mongols and Cultural Change, comes from a larger book entitled Soviet Studies in History. Most likely, Sakharov wrote his article with a tremendous bias. It seems unlikely that the Soviet Union would admit that anything good came from the Mongol Invasion, let alone a political system or military institutions (which would have been pivotal to society during the thirteenth century).

What kind of bias was Sakharov writing with? Is there more evidence of his bias? Was he even biased at all?

Debates over the Effects of the Mongol Invasion

Halperin’s and Sakharov’s articles offer different historical intepretations of the reception and effects of the Mongol invasion in Rus’. Halperin argues that, contrary to teachings perpetuated by the Church, the Rus adapted many aspects of Mongolian life which advanced Rus’ society. For instance, during the Mongol occupation, Rus’ society learned to use the Mongols’ efficient military structure and postal service. The Mongols also “rerouted the fur trade to extract greater revenue” (Halperin 106) for Rus’, thus assisting the culture they had conquered. Halperin makes the point, however, that the Mongols did not force every aspect of their culture onto the Rus’ people, such as their religion. Such an interpretation portrays the Mongol invasion as a kind and enriching period in Rus’ history. On the other hand, Sakharov, in a study of Rus’ culture after the Mongol occupation ended, argues that the Mongols had no positive effect on Rus’. He explains that the Mongols, in taking away Rus’ best craftsmen, created centuries of a Rus’ with inferior architecture. Sakharov then contends that, after the Mongols left, Rus’ culture became much more sophisticated and enlightened, thus underscoring the dark period that had been the Mongols’ reign.

Sakharov writes, “Reborn and developing Russian culture regained its national character in full. The Mongol-Tartars enriched it with nothing whatever, and their influence was quite insignificant in practice” (Sakharov 138). I find this claim to be a little too broad and definitive to be taken as fact. Even disregarding the period after the occupation, the Mongol invasion was clearly significant in its empowering of Moscow and ultimate depowering of Kiev. But moreover, the fact that Rus’ culture exploded in literature and architecture after the occupation also signfies that the Mongols affected Rus’. Perhaps, Rus’ culture wouldn’t have advanced as quickly as it did if the Mongols had not stunted it (if indeed they did stunt it) for so long.

I wonder how the effects Mongol occupation is viewed in other parts of the world. Does the Middle-East and China contend that the Mongols had a positive or negative impact on their cultures? Furthermore, do different geographic sections of Russia today claim different interpretations about the Mongol invasions?

Urban development as a reflection of culture and politics

I found the reviewer’s last sentence, recommending the three books for those interested in issues of memory, history, and urban planning very interesting. Urban planning reflects both the values and dynamism of a society. Paris, for instance, along with many other European cities, remains fixated on the past; try building a skyscraper on the Champs-Élysées if you want a challenge. Other cities, like New York, promote their ostensibly forward-looking nature with hyper-modern architectural styles and a constant flow of major construction projects.

I believe cities should recognize the importance of change with regard to practical matters, including increasing populations, inadequate public services, and important cultural changes (e.g the dissolution of an old, popularly discredited order). I contend that, with urban planning as with history in general, we must not regret the past but question the future we choose.  Regarding this, I found the debate over Sevastopol particularly interesting, considering the conflict between “accommodation and agitation” and Moscow’s attempt to mythologize the city without paying attention to the actual needs of its citizens. It would appear that overconfidence in an assured victory posed as grave a danger to the Soviet Union as it did to Catholicism and Liberalism in the West. For all of his flaws, at least Chairman Mao understood that only revolutions within the revolution, fed by the blood and ingenuity of each successive generation, could keep the movement effective and relevant.

Moscow & Lithuania: A Showdown?

An article in The Moscow Times caught my eye yesterday. I’ve been reading a lot about Russia lately, not just in this Russian history course but in other courses as well. With every reading something becomes more and more apparent: Russia has a bit of an attitude when it comes to international relations.

I get it; history shows that their path to the present wasn’t exactly a walk in the park. They are often on the defensive and find themselves with few allies that truly have their back. But isn’t it time they drop the innocent, “I don’t know what you’re talking about” act? The following excerpt from the article displays this:

“Titov (Russia’s deputy foreign minister) said that speculation about Lithuania responding with border restrictions is an attempt to create the impression that it is the “victim of some imaginary outside pressure” and accused Lithuanian carriers of violating customs rules more and more often…”

The language alone gives off a feeling of arrogance. They are belittling the actions of Lithuania in an attempt to discredit them. And certainly Russia doesn’t have a history of inflicting “outside pressure” on its neighbors, does it?  Oh, wait….

Maybe Lithuania really is making something out of nothing and Russia is completely guilt-free of the interference in Lithuanian trade of which they are being accused.  But as a historian I was taught to learn from the past, and in this case the past is on the side of Lithuania.