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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)


Explore this Section:

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    1453-1584: Moscow Becomes the

Russia Symbol Russian Manuscript Illumination

Russian Manuscript Illumination
NYPL, Spencer Collection

In 1453, Constantinople fell to the Turks, and the Ottoman Empire replaced the Byzantine, leaving Muscovite Russia as the only independent Orthodox realm. As the self-appointed heir of what was once a global Christian empire, Muscovy assumed a role that transcended its borders. Churchmen rushed to find ways to enhance its prestige so that it could be worthy of its new position and to justify greater power for the ruler so that he could preserve Orthodoxy from further harm. To establish a direct inheritance, Ivan married Sofiia Palaeologus (b. ca. 1450), the niece of the last Byzantine emperor, and adopted the liturgical court ceremonies and two-headed eagle of the fallen empire, as well as the titles of tsar and autocrat. The clergy contributed legends to bolster Muscovy's image: St. Andrew, the Apostle, had originally brought Christianity to East Slavic lands; the Muscovite rulers were descended from the Roman emperors; Russian regalia, such as the Cap of Monomakh, claimed to be those of the 10th-century Byzantine emperor, Constantine Monomachus; Muscovy was the Third Rome (following the original and Constantinople) and was destined to unite all Christian realms under its sway. The Russian church strove to replicate the Byzantine ideal of a wealthy and influential church ruling in partnership with a divinely appointed, all-powerful monarch who could protect its interests.

Russia Symbol Gospels for a Russian National Saint?

Gospels for a Russian National Saint?
NYPL, Spencer Collection

In 1547, when Metropolitan Makarii (1482-1585), the head of the Orthodox Church in Russia, crowned the next Muscovite ruler, Ivan IV, "the Terrible" (r. 1533-84), the new theories were put on public display. Using the title of tsar for the first time, the awe-inspiring coronation ceremonies enforced the notion that Ivan possessed a divine mandate to rule, that his will was God's will, and that he headed the only true Christian realm. Also parading links with the Roman emperors, Ivan claimed dynastic as well as religious superiority over all other European monarchs.

As Ivan's tutor, Makarii had instilled in his pupil a deep piety and love for Orthodoxy, and the tsar considered it his duty to revivify the church: new saints were canonized; the lives of the saints were organized into a single book of edification (Velikiia Cheti-Minei ); a church council, similar to the Counter-Reformation in the west, condemned such abuses as illiteracy and drunkenness among priests and recommended the building of schools and homes for the poor. Church rules governing private behavior were set forth in the Domostroi [House Management], a book that offered guides to amassing a dowry (do it gradually), raising sons (beat them regularly), drinking (avoid excess), and crossing yourself (with two fingers raised). The tsar and prelates cooperated to make Muscovite life highly liturgical and regularized.

At the beginning of Ivan IV's reign, he had excellent advisers, both in church and state affairs, including Makarii and the tsar's beloved wife, Anastasiia Romanova (1530-1560). This epoch witnessed a spate of secular reforms and spectacular territorial expansion. In a sign of truly progressive political thinking, the tsar called together a zemskii sobor, or assembly of the land, with elected representatives who were asked for advice, opinions, and support for various military and civilian measures. In addition, Ivan offered local self-government in the hope of ending the legendary corruption and oppressive behavior of officials. A cultural milestone, the printing of the first book in Moscow, occurred in 1564. On the military front, a revamped army annexed the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan (in what is now southern Russia), while the settlement of Siberia began in earnest, on the initiative of the mercantile Stroganov family and of adventurers such as the Cossack Ermak (d. 1585). Muscovite Russia was becoming a multinational empire.