Essay Example on 15th-16th Century Russia: Ivan III the Great & Ivan IV the Terrible

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  6
Wordcount:  1389 Words
Date:  2023-04-23

Russia is one of the countries in the world whose history spans many centuries ago. With such a long history, the country has been led by many leaders as well. Some of the leaders who ruled Russia in the 15th and 16th century, are Ivan III, also called Ivan the Great and Ivan IV, also called Ivan the Terrible (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). Both leaders were from the lineage of the country's leadership, with Ivan III being the son of Vasily II, while Ivan IV was the grandson of Ivan the Great. Ivan III was the grand duke of Moscow between 1462 and 1505 (Christian, 2018). Ivan, the Terrible, on the other hand, assumed the same office and reigned between 1547 and 1575 (Christian, 2018). The two leaders had several similarities and differences in their reign that left significant marks in the history of Russia.

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Ivan the Great was one of the longest-serving leaders of Russia, who reigned for 43 years, coming second after his grandson Ivan IV whose reign lasted for 51 years (Gill, 2018). Also known as the gatherer of the Russian lands, Ivan III managed to triple the territory led by his state. He was the first Muscovite prince to increase the power and position of Moscow as well as incorporating the rival cities of Novgorod and Tver under his rule (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). Novgorod had been Moscow's primary rival for decades; however, when Ivan III ascended to the throne, he made the relationship between the two cities his first order of business (Gill, 2018). He wages a harsh war on Novgorod, forcing it to cede its land to him, thus bring this rival territory under him. Any disobedient by Novgorodians to rebel was quickly repressed with their leaders sent to other outposts and Moscow (Gill, 2018). The transfer of power in Northern provinces led to the emergence of Russia as a state, the name was, however, adopted a century later. Besides, he refused to pay homage to the Mongol Empire on some of Rus' lands that had been called in 1476 (Gill, 2018). The refusal to pay Golden Horde taxes to Mongol forces Khan Ahmed to start a war against Moscow in 1480 (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). The battle, however, increased the internal conflicts within the Mongol Empire, thus allowing Moscow to be freed from paying taxes. Besides, he further collected local lands from his four brothers, thus expanding the territory under the Grand Prince of Moscow. Ivan III also levied military, economic, and political might over the Vyatka, Tver, Yaroslavl, and Rostov (Gill, 2018). Ivan the Great's gathering of the Rus' land under Moscow become is the greatest achievement that provided the foundation for the later creation of Russia as a country.

Ivan the Terrible, on the other hand, continued the legacy of his grandfather by continuing to expand Moscow's territory. He was also the first tsar of Russia. Ivan IV began his leadership over Russia as a reformer. Initially, he administered the country more democratically by using an informal democratic government called Elected Rada (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). His first form of government was, therefore, the opposite of his grandfather, who was more autocratic. Ivan the Terrible, however, changed after 24 years in power when his wife died and began reigning with terror (Gill, 2018). He started destroying and displacing the major boyar families as a way of consolidating his power.

Ivan IV's achievement, like his grandfather, was the increase of Russian territory. He ruthlessly acquired a large amount of land, which was controlled by a central government that used military dominance. During his period reign, he conquered the country's three main rivals; Siberia, Astrakhan, and Khanate. In August 1552, Ivan IV waged war on Kazan using his 150,000 men strong army (Neuberger, 2019). Despite the bad weather, Ivan the Terrible managed to conquer them, and bring them under Moscow rule. Later, in 1555, he started a large-scale campaign to colonize Siberia (Neuberger, 2019). The Siberian leader Yadegar agreed to pledge allegiance to Moscow, with the hope that Ivan IV will help them against their enemies. The success of Ivan IV in conquering Siberia was, however, short-lived because, in 1563, the new leaders in the colony denied any tribute to Moscow (Neuberger, 2019). In 1556, he embarked on the campaign to increase his territory by annexing Khanate of Astrakhan, thus bringing the entire Volga River under Moscow (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). Besides, he extended Moscow's region to the Caspian Sea in the south, and the Urals in the East. His attempts to conquer Baltic and Lithuania, however, failed (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). Despite the failure to capture these two territories, Ivan IV is still remembered for his expansion of Russian territory.

Apart from the achievement of both rulers is expanding Russia, many other activities shaped the future of Russia. The two rulers also initiated far-reaching domestic policies. For instance, Ivan the Great, was the first ruler to style himself as Autocrat and Tsar in Byzantine style, thus taking over a new leadership position based on Orthodoxy (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). After getting married to Sophia Paleologue of Constantinople, he introduced reforms in the religious and court rituals that reflected those from the former Byzantine Empire. As a result, Moscow was called the Third Rome. He also took the localized and state powers of their boyars, thus creating a sovereign state under the control of Moscow (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). When Ivan IV ascended to power, he continued to subdue the remaining boyars and stripped them of their power, thus creating the first centralized government (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). As a result, during their leadership era, the old patriarchal government system continued to vanish because boyars were not consulted anymore on the affairs of the state. Ivan III facilitated the creation of the Moscow law code called Sudebnik. The new law code played a critical role in the centralization of Russia, the elimination of feudal fragmentation, and the creation of Russian national law. Later, in 1550, Ivan IV revised the Sudebnik (Riasanovsky & Steinberg, 2018). The revised code led to the creation of the first Russian parliament. It also dissolved the privileges of the aristocracy judicial privileges as well as strengthening the state judicial bodies. The sudebnik of 1550 shaped the democratic future of the country by allowing the election of representatives who took part in legal proceedings. The creation and revision of sudebnik provided the legal foundation for the country.

The leading roles of the two leaders in Russia's history are the expansion of its territory and the centralization of the Moscow government. Prior to their leadership, Moscow was a tiny state that paid allegiance to the Mongolian Empire. Ivan III, however, changed the condition and later history of the country when he set Moscow free from the Mongolian Empire and begun colonizing other states. Ivan IV followed the food step of his father by colonizing other states as well. The current large size of Russia is mostly attributed to the works of Ivan III and Ivan IV.

From the above discussion, it is evident Ivan III and Ivan IV had several similarities and differences. First, they were the longest surviving leaders of Russia, with Ivan III serving for 43 years while Ivan IV served for 51 years. The two leaders were also from the same family linage who produced the prince of Moscow. Besides, the leadership played a critical role in the creation of the title tsar, where Ivan III informally assumed the title, Ivan IV, became the first Russian leader to be a constitutionally recognized tsar. The main achievements for the leaders, however, were the expansion of Russia territory and the creation of a centrally controlled country under Russia. Ivan III increased the area of Russia by three folds, while Ivan IV conquered Siberia and Khanate. He further expanded the territory of Russia to the south and the East. The main difference between the two leaders, however, was the fact that Ivan IV ruled with cruelty at the later stages of his leadership.


Christian, D. (2018). A History of Russia, Central Asia, and Mongolia, Volume II: Inner Eurasiafrom the Mongol Empire to Today, 1260-2000. John Wiley & Sons.

Gill, G. (2018). Lost Kingdom. A History of Russian Nationalism from Ivan the Great to Vladimir Putin. Australian Journal of Politics & History, 64(3), 517-518.

Neuberger, J. (2019). This Thing of Darkness: Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible in Stalin's Russia. Cornell University Press.

Riasanovsky, N. V., & Steinberg, M. D. (2018). A History of Russia. (9 Ed.) Oxford University Press.

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