Ivan the Terrible — the Pious and Chanting Hero of the Folk Epos and the first Russian Tsar


Ten facts about Ivan IV Vasilyevich, born on August 25, 1530

In Russian history, there are few such controversial, ambiguous and still striking figures as the first Russian Tsar, Ivan IV the Terrible. Perhaps, it is only the creator of the Russian Empire, Peter the Great, that can be a match for him in this respect. Despite the difference in their titles, these two potentates have much in common: Peter's reforms were introduced by methods resembling those of Ivan IV, and Ivan the Terrible did as much in the expansion of the kingdom as Peter I.

The scale and significance of Ivan IV the Terrible for Russian history are so colossal that so far there are disputes about the Tsar's temper and achievements of his reign, about the authoritarian and even terrorist nature of his power and about the strengthening of the state structure. Yet, without those policies, the Russian Tsardom, first emerged in this form under Ivan the Terrible, could not exist. But one thing is certain: if Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich hadn't ascended to the throne in 1547, the whole history of our country could have gone the other way.

When Ivan I became Ivan IV

During his reign, Tsar Ioann Vasilyevich did not have any numbers in his titles — they just did not exist in those national practices. People called the Great Knyaz or Sovereign Ruler by name and patronymic, and it was the years of the reign that differentiated the rulers in the chronicles. In decrees and other documents, there were only the traditional name and reference to the year of publication. Numerical designations appeared only in 1740. It was first used in the name of Emperor Ioann Antonovich anointed to reign as an infant. He became known as Ioann III Antonovich. Other tsars with the same names received relevant numerical titles. It was then that the great-grandfather of Ioann III became Ioann II, and Ioann Vasilyevich by the nickname the Terrible became Ioann I. Numerical designation changed after historian Nikolai Karamzin mentioned Ivan I as Moscow knyaz Ivan Kalita, and mentioned Ivan the Terrible as Ivan IV in his book "History of the Russian State".

Ivan the Terrible, the Pious and the Chanting

We usually call Ivan IV the Terrible though during his lifetime nobody officially called him this way. The first mention of this nickname is found in the book “Russian History” written by historian Vasiliy Tatishchev where it went to the Russian and then foreign historical literature. The epithet "the Terrible" reflected well both the temper and the ruling methods of Ioann Vasilyevich and quickly became mainstream. It is interesting that he has other nicknames in the Russian folk tales of the 16th century which are dedicated to "Tsar Ivan". It is noteworthy that he became the first character of truly folk Russian tales! In particular, two tales are most famous: in one of them, the Tsar is called not only "the Terrible", but also "the Pious" (since he delivers Russia from wicked sorcerers and witches); in another one, he is called "the Chanting" since he used to chant at the choir place.

Streltsy of Ivan the Terrible

Although the first volleys of firearms had thundered in Russia more than a century and a half before the enthronement of Ivan the Terrible, the "fiery battle" got widespread when he reigned. And it was in the time Ivan the Terrible reigned, in 1550, that Streltsy, the first regular units armed with hand-held firearms, appeared in the Russian army. This word in Russian, which once meant simply an archer, got a new meaning during the reign of Ivan IV — "soldiers armed with harquebuses and muskets who were in public service and received money for it". The salary of streltsy was considerable, 4 rubles a year, which at that time was a very significant amount. Unlike the Boyar militia, which, in the absence of armed actions, did peacetime jobs, the streltsy in peacetime served as a garrison force and were responsible for public order and firefighting.

Ministries of Ivan the Terrible

In fact, the public administration system familiar to us, when the relevant department is in charge of its field of concern, also began to develop during the reign of Ivan the Terrible. Prikazy (administrative offices) existed before Ivan the Terrible, but it was him who created a strict system of them that lasted more than a century and a half. This administrative structure remained until the end of the reign of Peter the Great when prikazy were replaced by Europeanized collegia. But many of them will keep their history precisely from the prikazy established in the 16th century. During the reign of Ivan IV, there were more than eight dozen of prikazy established, but only nine of them performed the main functions of state administration: Chelobitny (in charge of the acceptance of appeals), Posolsky (Embassy), Pomestny (in charge of land rights, information about the population and taxes), Streletsky, Pushkarsky (artillerists), Bronny (armour), Razboyny (in charge of the investigation and prevention of criminal offences), Pechatny (in charge of the state seal and authentication of documents) and Sokolnichy (in charge of hawking).

Kazan and Astrakhan Campaigns of Ivan the Terrible

During his reign, Tsar Ivan IV managed to double the territory of the Russian Tsardom — from 2.8 million to 5.4 million square kilometres. The first major acquisition resulted from the conquest of the Kazan Khanate, one of the largest fragments of the Golden Horde. Khanate lands that covered virtually the entire territory of the present Middle Volga Region were annexed by Ivan the Terrible to his Tsardom as a result of three military campaigns that ended with the siege and capture of Kazan in August 1552. Four years later, the territory of the Astrakhan Khanate (the present Lower Volga Region) became part of the Russian lands. It sufficed two military campaigns to conquer this Golden Horde fragment.

Siberian Conquests of Ivan the Terrible

The annexation of the Kazan Khanate paved the way for the Russian Tsardom to the East, to Siberia. Tsar Ivan IV did not hesitate to seize this opportunity. In 1581, the Cossack detachment of Ataman Yermak Timofeyevich began a campaign against the Siberian Khanate whose leader Khan Kuchum refused to confirm the sovereignty of Moscow. It is noteworthy that it was formed not at the behest of Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, who at that time was drawn into the protracted Livonian War to get access to the Baltic, but by the efforts of Stroganov merchants. However, the Tsar showed the most gracious reaction to the results of the campaign three years later when the Cossack messengers reported to the Tsar, which brought the embassy rich rewards. Among them was a magnificent chain mail which, according to legend, soon became the cause of Yermak's death.

The Tsardom of Ivan the Terrible

Ivan IV is traditionally considered the first of the Russian rulers to be crowned as the Tsar, rather than the Great Knyaz. The solemn ceremony of Ivan Vasilyevich's coronation as the Tsar took place in the Kremlin on January 16, 1547. In the Dormition Cathedral, the 16-year-old boy received royal regalia, including the Monomach's Cap, and was aneled. Eleven years later, Patriarch Joasaph II of Constantinople confirmed that Ivan IV had been mentioned in the cathedral church precisely as the Russian Tsar. Since that time, both in the reports of foreign messengers and in the notes of travellers, the Moscow Principality became increasingly known as the Moscow one and later as the Russian Tsardom, which gives reason to consider Ivan the Terrible to be the first of the Russian Tsars.

The Title of Ivan the Terrible

The full title of Ivan the Terrible by the end of his reign read as follows: "By God's mercy the Great Ruler, Tsar and Great Knyaz Ioann Vasilyevich of all Russia, Vladimir, Moscow, Novgorod, the Tsar of Kazan, the Tsar of Astrakhan, the Ruler of Pskov, the Great Knyaz of Smolensk, Tver, Yugor, Perm, Vyatsk. Of Bulgaria and others, the Ruler and Great Knyaz of Novagorod of the Nizovsk land, of Chernigov, Ryazan, Polotsk, Rostov, Yaroslavsk, Beloozersk, Udorsk, Obdorsk, Kondiy and others, and of all Siberian land and of the Northern country the Lord, and the Ruler of the land of Bethlehem and others".

Family of Ivan the Terrible

This topic is almost the most fertile ground for historical speculation and literary experimentation. Indeed, despite affiliation to the Orthodox Church, which does not welcome multiple marriages, Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich got married to five women and had at least two concubines for 54 years of his lifetime. The first three wives — Anastasia Zakharyina-Yuryeva, Maria Temryukovna and Marfa Sobakina — died before the husband, three more — Anna Koltovskaya, Anna Vasilchikova and Maria Nagaya — survived Ivan the Terrible, but were tonsured into nuns. The Tsar's children had an even sadder fate — seven of the eight, including all three daughters, died in infancy. The last son, Tsarevich Dmitry, died under strange circumstances, which led to the appearance of two False Dmitries in the Time of Trouble. Only one heir — Fyodor Ioannovich — reigned for 15 years and became the last representative of the Rurik dynasty on the Moscow throne.

Death of Ivan the Terrible

The circumstances of Ivan IV's death remain unclear to this day, but many details, including those that became known in the 20th century upon studying the remains of the famous Tsar, assume that he could have died against his own will. However, many contemporaries who closely knew Ivan the Terrible in the last years of his life spoke of him as a very old man who looked aged beyond his fifty years. This can serve as confirmation of the natural causes of the potentate's death. However, the bones of Ivan the Terrible, screened by Soviet scientists in 1964, contained a large amount of arsenic and mercury, which made it possible to make a well-founded assumption that these substances that served as the basis for many medicines in the 16th century were administered to the Tsar in exaggerated quantities. In other words, he was being slowly poisoned.

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