Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview

The Gathering of Russia

IVAN III began his reign ( 1462-1505) at the early age of twenty-two, and enjoyed a forty-three-year span of continuous rule. Endowed with extraordinary vigor and native intelligence, he undertook with relentless energy the pursuit of Muscovite consolidation. The title of 'Great' bestowed upon him characterizes his accomplishments. Following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Ivan III held on to his title of Grand Prince and more than his predecessors came to regard the other princes as his vassals.

The galaxy of Muscovite leaders that achieved the 'gathering' of the country attained their goal by shrewd exploitation of lessons and legacies and by an unswerving pursuit of national unification regardless of cost, opinion, or sentiment. With Olympian patience and calculated callousness they either lay low or acted vigorously when the proper opportunity presented itself. The difficulties that had to be overcome were great and complex, yet expansion was achieved with amazing speed within a comparatively brief period. Suffice it to say that during the two reigns of Ivan III and Basil III ( 1505-1533), a period between 1462 and 1533, the territory of the Muscovite state expanded from about 150,000 to 400,000 square miles. Within another century Moscow incorporated practically every Russian principality outside of Kiev, while still surging eastward. Where annexation could be attained by persuasion, persuasion was employed; where feigned friendship or cooperation proved more useful, these would become accepted policy. On the other hand, if open conflict promised success, sheer force would be employed without hesitation; marital ties, financial deals, outright intimidation--no policy that might prove opportune would be rejected. If pretense of submission to Tartar overlordship was called for to avoid provocation of the still formidable enemy, submission was the policy, and the prince himself would undertake the long, hazardous, and painfully humiliating journey to Karakorum in Mongolia, the capital of the Great Khan, to deliver the tribute and extra gifts. In return, the Moscow prince would enjoy the much coveted yarlik, with which he would further his long-range program of national consolidation and liberation from the very Khan whom he so humbly served and assured of loyalty. On the other hand, whenever sufficient strength had been gathered to challenge the authority of the Khan, Moscow would rise to the occasion.

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