III Vasilyevich Ivan

XV pageRussiaPrincely times Princes and Princesses

Ivan III Vasilyevich, known as Ivan the Great (22.01.1440, probably Moscow – 27.10.1505) – Grand Prince of Muscovy (1462–1505) from the Riurikid dynasty.

Ivan III was a son of Vasily II Vasilyevich the Blind, Grand Prince of Muscovy, and Maria Yaroslavna, daughter of the appanage Prince Yaroslav of Borovsk, Rus princess of the Serpukhov line of the Danilovichi family. There is no reliable information on his early childhood, it is possible that he, the eldest son, was brought up at the court of his father. However, the further events drastically changed the fate of the heir to the throne: on July 7, 1445 near Suzdal the army of Grand Prince Vasily II was defeated by the army of Tatar Princes Mamutiak and Yakub. The wounded Grand Prince was captured, and the power in the country passed temporarily into the hands of Prince Dmitry Yurievich Shemyaka, the eldest descendant of the family of Ivan Kalita. The captivity of Grand Prince Vasily II and anxious expectations of the Tatar invasion led to the increasing disorder in the principality; the situation was aggravated by a conflagration in Moscow. In autumn, the Grand Prince returned to Moscow. Moscow had to pay an enormous ransom for the Prince – several tens of thousands of roubles. Under such circumstances a mutiny broke out in Moscow. Grand Prince Vasily II was caught and blinded by order of Dmitry Shemyaka (after that Vasily II was called the Blind).

Six-year-old Prince Ivan did not fall into Shemyaka’s hands: children of Grand Prince Vasily together with loyal boyars managed to flee to Murom. After a while, Shemyaka decided to grant the former Grand Prince an appanage – Vologda, whereto children followed their father. But Grand Prince Vasily II did not intend to concede his defeat and went to Tver to ask the Grand Prince Boris of Tver for assistance. Their alliance was strengthened by the betrothal of six-year-old Ivan Vasilyevich with Maria Borisovna, a little daughter of the Tver Prince. Soon afterwards, the united armies took up Moscow. Dmitry Shemyaka run away and Vasily II again took the Grand Prince throne.

Subsequently Ivan became the co-regent with his father: on Muscovite coins appeared the legend “rulers of all Rus,” and he, like his father Vasily, was titled “Grand Prince.” For two years Ivan governed Pereslavl-Zalessky, one of the key towns of Muscovy, as the appanage Prince. Military campaigns in which the heir to the throne was a titular commander played an important role in his upbringing. Thus, in 1455 Ivan together with the experienced voivode Fedor Basenok carried out a victorious campaign against the Tatars who invaded Rus.

In March 1462 Ivan’s father, Grand Prince Vasily II fell seriously ill and died. Shortly before, he made his will by which divided his lands among his sons. Ivan Vasilyevich, as the eldest son, got not only the throne of Grand Prince but the major part of the territory of the state – 16 main towns (not including Moscow, which he, according to his father’s will, should possess jointly with his brothers).

During the whole period of Ivan III’s reign his main aim in the foreign policy was the unification of north-eastern Rus into a single Moscow state. This policy turned out to be extremely successful. At the beginning of the reign of Grand Prince Ivan III, Muscovy was surrounded by lands of appanage Rus principalities; dying, he handed down to his son Vasily the country that had united the majority of them.

Under the rule of Ivan III, the Rus state became finally independent of the Horde. His government strongly supported enemies of the Horde among the Tatars; in particular, the alliance with the Crimean Khanate was concluded.

The eastern direction of foreign policy was also successful: combining diplomacy and military force, Ivan III brought the Kazan Khanate in the wake of Moscow politics.

In this period relations with the Great Duchy of Lithuania became especially aggravated. Moscow’s striving to unite Rus lands contradicted Lithuanian interests, therefore there were regular border clashes. Ivan Vasilyevich annexed ethnic Ukrainian (Siversk area) and Byelorussian (Gomel area) lands. Appanage principalities were liquidated and due to this, the territory of the Great Principality of Muscovy doubled: annexed were Yaroslavl (1463), Rostov (1474) and the Great Tver (1485) Principalities, Khlynov (1489; now the town of Kirov, Russian Federation), and the greater part of Riazan land. Ivan III laid the foundations of the Rus state as an absolute monarchy. The unification of previously fragmented Rus lands into a single state required, along with the political unity, the creation of a unified legal system. In September 1497, a Law Code came into force. The range of questions, elucidated in this first generalized state legislation was rather wide: it established the unified legal procedure general for the entire country and regulations of civil and criminal law.

Under Ivan III, churches and monasteries were built on a vast scale. The Grand Prince invited Italian masters, which favoured the development of construction. In 1462 the erection of the Moscow Kremlin began. In 1472, it was decided to raise a new Dormition Cathedral on the site of the dilapidated one, built under Ivan Kalita in 1326–1327.

Meanwhile, the successes of Ivan III in the development of the country promoted the growth of its relations with European countries. A new state emblem – the double-headed eagle as well as a new title – The Grand Prince of All Rus became a significant symbol of the embodiment of the ideology of the unified country. Besides, it is considered that namely in the epoch of Ivan III the ideas originated, which later became an official expansionist ideology of Muscovy.

In summer of 1503 Ivan III fell seriously ill and soon died (being 65). He was buried in the Archangel Cathedral of the Moscow Kremlin.