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Russia Engages the World, 1453-1825
1453 Through the Reign of Ivan the Terrible (1533-1584) The Time of Troubles to the First Romanovs (1598-1682) Peter the Great and His Legacy (1682-1762) The Age of Catherine the Great (1762-1801) The Reign of Emperor Alexander I (1801-1825)


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From the Fall of Constantinople to the Reign of Ivan the Terrible: A Summary of Russian History
Russia Symbol Introduction
Russia Symbol Prior to 1453
Russia Symbol The Period of Mongol Invasion and Rule, 1237–1480
Russia Symbol Muscovy Emerges as a Power
Russia Symbol 1453–1584: Moscow Becomes the "Third Rome"
Russia Symbol Ivan IV Descends into Madness
From the Fall of Constantinople to the Reign of Ivan the Terrible: A Summary of World History
World Symbol
World Symbol
Special Features

Russia's Globalization:
A Key

Events marked Russia Symbol are specific to Muscovy/Russia's internal development.
Those marked World Symbol are important world historical or cultural events.
Engagement Symbol indicates specific points of sociocultural or military engagement between Muscovy/Russia and foreign powers or individuals.



Russia Symbol    The Period of Mongol Invasion and Rule, 1237-1480

Engagement Symbol An Account by the Pope's Wily Diplomat

An Account by the Pope's Wily Diplomat
NYPL, Rare Books Division

Three centuries of development and cultural exchange were cut short by the Mongol invasion. Under the leadership of Genghis Khan (r. 1206-27), this fierce nomadic tribe from the east thundered across the open steppes and, invincible in battle, left devastation wherever they went.

In just three years, from 1237 to 1240, Genghis's grandson, Batu (Badu, r. 1235-55/6), brought Poland, Hungary, the Balkans, and all of Kievan Rus' under Mongol control and established a kingdom at Sarai called the Golden Horde. Rus' remained under the firm domination of the Mongols for about two centuries; only in 1480 did it shake the last vestige of their control. During that time, the political organization and the mercantile economy disintegrated, and the area remained isolated from both the west and the Byzantine Empire. Only the Orthodox Church - since the Mongols believed in religious toleration - maintained a sense of unity and kept alive Russian language, literature, and traditions.

Engagement Symbol The Habsburg's Greatest Emissary to Moscow

The Habsburg's Greatest Emissary to Moscow
NYPL, Rare Books Division

With most sense of cohesion destroyed by the Mongol Yoke, the population of Kievan Rus' scattered, becoming part of Lithuania, Poland, or the various principalities that sprang up in the northeastern area of the fragmented state. Tver, Riazan, Iaroslavl, Vladimir, Suzdal, and Rostov all aspired to Kyïv's former position as the central city of Rus'. Novgorod, in particular, endured as a vast, prosperous, freedom-loving city-state, the rival in size to Milan, Venice, Paris, or the commune towns of Tuscany. A fortunate location convenient to Baltic trade routes, and elected, and often charismatic, officials, such as Prince Aleksandr of Vladimir (Nevskii) (1220-1263), allowed its expansion to the Ural Mountains and offered protection against the worst features of Mongol rule. However, in a twist characteristic of Russian history, a small village founded in 1147 on the banks of the Moskva or Moscow River grew into a city, eclipsed its rivals, and became the center of the next powerful East Slavic state, Muscovy.

Geography, genes, and good luck account for Moscow's triumph in reunifying Russians under its aegis. The city was located near the headwaters of four important rivers - the Volga, Oka, Don, and Dniepr - and in the middle of the territory that once comprised Kievan Rus'; these characteristics facilitated trade, communication, and expansion. Most rulers of Moscow were blessed with long reigns and ensured father-to-son inheritance of the throne, which brought stability and prevented the civil wars of succession that plagued many of their enemies. Furthermore, generation after generation produced Muscovite heads of state who proved to be able administrators, diplomats, and warriors and who were ruthless in fulfilling the dynastic ambitions of their branch of the Rurikids. These leaders were also shrewd: they outmaneuvered the Mongols, whose power faded just as Muscovy's blossomed; they attracted noble and peasant settlers to their territory; and they won the support of the Orthodox Church in their quest for dominance over the other Russian principalities.

Grand Duke Dmitrii (Donskoi) of Vladimir and Moscow (1350-1389), who ruled from 1359 to 1389, typifies the skillful Muscovite ruler. He better fortified the city by building stone walls around the Kremlin or citadel; he defeated Tver, Riazan, and Lithuania in major battles; and he won acknowledgment for Moscow as the leader in the Russian fight against the Mongols. The most brilliant episode in his reign occurred in 1380 at the Battle of Kulikovo Field, when Dmitrii faced the Mongols under Mamai and their Lithuanian allies. Recognizing that he was vastly outnumbered, the Muscovite Prince sought the guidance of the holy monk and later Orthodox saint, Sergii of Radonezh (ca. 1314-1391/2), who encouraged him to forge ahead: "Go forward and fear not... God will be on your side." Dmitrii inspired his troops during the ferocious fighting and routed the Mongols, thereby ending their aura of invincibility. While it would take another century finally to end formal domination, the idea took hold that Moscow, together with the support of the Orthodox Church, would drive out the infidels and once again unify the Russian lands.