The Military and Society in Russia: 1450-1917

By Eric Lohr; Marshall Poe | Go to book overview

BATTLE FOR DIVINE WISDOM. THE RHETORIC OF
IVAN IV's CAMPAIGN AGAINST POLOTSK1
Sergei Bogatyrev

When Tsar Ivan IV went to war against Livonia in 1558, victory in the west appeared to be easily within his grasp. Livonia was an amorphous state formation unable to resist the onslaught of the Muscovite troops. The situation, however, dramatically changed in the early 1560s when the Polish-Lithuanian state, Sweden, and Denmark partitioned Livonia and became directly involved in the ongoing conflict. Muscovite diplomacy failed to form an international coalition against Ivan IV's main rival in the Livonian war, Sigismund II of Poland. After these developments, the Livonian war became a protracted affair.

Under these circumstances, the victorious campaign of Ivan IV against the town of Polotsk (December 1562–February 1563) acquired a special place in the policy and ideology of the Muscovite government. Polotsk became the furthermost point in the extension of the Muscovite state westward, which continued throughout the sixteenth century. No other military action of the Livonian war received as detailed a description in the official Muscovite chronicle as the Polotsk campaign. This work focuses on Ivan IV's campaign against Polotsk as seen from the angle of Muscovite political culture and ideology. For this purpose I make use of Donald Ostrowski's interpretation of these notions, which defines “political culture” as the totality of institutions, attitudes, concepts, and practices connected with the running of a polity. Ideology, according to Ostrowski, exists when a belief system fulfils all three of the following functions: (1) interprets social experience; (2) provides a guide for political action; and (3)

____________________
1
This article is based on papers that I delivered at the Davis Center for Russian Studies at Harvard University and at the Department of History at Yale University in the fall of 2000. I am grateful to David Goldfrank, Paul Bushkovitch, Priscilla Hunt, Charles Halperin, and the person requested by the publisher to conduct a peer review for their comments on earlier versions of this work. I alone am responsible for all opinions and interpretations in this article.

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