Kazan presented the most alluring point of actual attack. The horde that had established that city subsisted by predatory excursions.
Continuing Ivan The Great Unites Russia And Breaks The Tartar Yoke,
our selection from History of Russia by Robert Bell published in 1838. The selection is presented in six easy 5 minute installments. For works benefiting from the latest research see the “More information” section at the bottom of these pages.
Previously in Ivan The Great Unites Russia And Breaks The Tartar Yoke.
Time: 1462 – 1505
The immediate object of consideration was obviously the Golden Horde, because all the princes and republics, and even the Poles and Lithuanians, were interested in any movement that was calculated to embarrass the common enemy. Ivan’s policy was to unite as many of his enemies as he could against a single one, and, finally, to subdue them all by the aid of each other. Had he ventured upon any less certain course, he must have risked a similar combination against himself. He began by withholding the ordinary tribute from the Khan, but without exhibiting any symptoms of inallegiance. He merely evaded the tax, while he acknowledged the right; and his dissimulation succeeded in blinding the Tartar, who still believed that he held the Grand Prince as a tributary, although he did not receive his tribute. The Khan, completely deceived, not only permitted this recusancy to escape with impunity, but was further prevailed upon to withdraw the Tartar residents and their retinues, and the Tartar merchants who dwelt in Moscow and who infested, with the haughty bearing of masters, even the avenues of the Kremlin.
This latter concession was purchased by bribery, for Ivan condescended to buy the interference of a Tartar princess. So slavish and degrading was his outward seeming that his wife, a noble and spirited lady, the daughter of the Emperor of Byzantium, could with difficulty prevail upon him to forego the humiliating usages which had hitherto attended the reception of the Mongol envoys. It had been customary on the part of the grand princes to go forward to meet the Tartar minister, to spread a carpet of fur under his horse’s feet, to hear the Khan’s letter read upon their knees, to present to the envoy a cup of koumiss, and to lick from the mane of the horse the drops which had fallen from the lips of the negotiator: and these disagreeable customs Ivan would have complied with but for the successful remonstrances of the Princess.
Kazan presented the most alluring point of actual attack. The horde that had established that city subsisted by predatory excursions, and even the other bands of the barbarians were not unwilling to witness the descent of the Russians upon one of their own tribes that had acquired so much power. The project was favored by so many circumstances that, although his policy was evidently at this period to preserve peace as long as he could, he was tempted to make a general levy, and to assemble the whole flower of the population for the purpose of driving out of his dominions the bold invaders who had entrenched themselves within the walls of a fortified town. This was about 1468. At that very time the army of the Golden Horde, inspired by some sudden impulse, was advancing into Russia. It appears, however, that the multitudes assembled by Ivan were so numerous that the Khan’s troops retired upon the mere rumor of their approach; so that the display of his resources had all the effect he desired, and he won a signal victory without striking a blow. The old Russian annalist dwells, with some pomp of words, upon this bloodless triumph, and, in the true vein of hyperbole, says that the Russian army shone like the waves of the sea illuminated by the sunbeams. We take the expression for all it is worth, when we estimate the force as having been more numerous than that of the Tartars.
It does not appear that Ivan was yet prepared, even with this great armament, to risk his future objects by any hostile collision, so long as such an extremity could be averted by intrigue; for in the following year, when the anticipated march against Kazan was at last commenced, he suddenly paused in the midst of his course, although the result was almost certain. Were it of much consequence, it would not be easy to decide the cause of this strange and abrupt proceeding; but it was evident that the soldiery were resolved not to return home without spoils. They rushed onward to the city; and even the general, who was instructed by Ivan to countermand the attack, in vain attempted to restrain them. With a leader of their own choosing, they fell upon Kazan, and utterly routed the inhabitants. The Grand Prince, perceiving that the enemy was powerless, now no longer hesitated; but, engaging all the princes in his service, and throwing his own guards into the ranks, he dispatched his colossal forces to reduce the already dismembered hold of the Tartars of Kazan. The event was a complete victory, but Ivan remained safe at Moscow, to watch the issue of an undertaking which he could not reasonably have feared.
The subjugation of Kazan left the field clear for his designs upon the three domestic republics. Vyatka, insolent in its own strength, declared itself neutral between Moscow and Kazan; and on the fall of the latter city, Novgorod, apprehensive that Ivan would turn his arms immediately against her, called upon the people of Pskof for aid, expressing her determination to march at once against the Grand Prince, in order to anticipate and avert his intentions. The Novgorodians were the more determined upon this bold measure by the personal pusillanimity which Ivan betrayed in a war where the advantages lay entirely at his own side. They calculated upon the terror they should inspire; and judged that if they could not succeed in vanquishing the Grand Prince, they should, at all events, be enabled to secure their own terms. Marpha, a rich and influential woman, the widow of a posadnik, and who was enamored of a Lithuanian chief, conceiving the romantic design of bestowing her country as a marriage dower upon her lover, exerted all her power to kindle the enthusiasm and assist the project of the citizens. Her hospitality was unbounded. She threw open her palace to the people; lavished her wealth among them in sumptuous entertainments and exhibitions, and caused the vetchooi kolokol (“assembling-bell”), which summoned the popular meetings to the market-place, to be rung as the signal of these orgies of licentiousness. The great bell in Novgorod was the type of the republican independence of the citizens, and represented the excesses into which they were not unwilling to plunge whenever it was necessary to testify their sense of that wild liberty which they had established among themselves. It was tolled on all occasions of a public nature, and the people gathered in multitudes at the well-known call. If any individual were accused of a crime against the republic or of any offence against the laws, the judges appeared at the sound of the bell to hold a summary court of justice, and the citizens surrounded the trial-seat, prepared to execute the sentence. Every citizen, with his sons, attended, carrying each two stones under his arms; and, if the accused were found guilty, lapidation instantly followed. The house of the culprit was also immediately plundered, cast down, confiscated, and sold for the benefit of the corporation. Except in China, where a law still more sanguinary and destructive prevails in cases of murder, there is hardly a similar instance of deliberate legal severity to be found among nations elevated above barbarism.
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