Home » Culture and History

Today in Russian History - Ivan the Terrible was Born

25. August 2010 by Michelle 0 Comments

Ivan the Terrible

Ivan became Grand Prince of Moscow at age three, and then the first Tsar of Russia at age seventeen in 1547. The early years of his reign were dynamic and impressive. He created armies, established assemblies and councils, and introduced local self-government to rural regions. As an avid reader, he even introduced the printing press to Russia when he discovered it had been invented during a trip to England.


However, events such as wars, plagues, and famines, as well as the suspicious death of his first wife, and his own life-threatening illness, changed Ivan. He became incredibly paranoid, pompous, and many believe, psychotic. Countless legends craft a crazy profile of the first Tsar, like when he had the architect of St. Basil’s Cathedral blinded so he could never design anything as beautiful ever again.


In 1565, Ivan formed the Oprichnina, a territory which included nearly a third of Russia and was ruled by political police forces, called Oprichniks. They were described as “trusties of Ivan who wore black cowls and carried brooms and dogs’ heads at their saddle bows.” They were solely charged with carrying out Ivan’s orders, by any means necessary. As Ivan became more mentally and physically disabled, the Oprichniks grew into murderous thugs.


His family life wasn’t too flowery either. After his first wife was suspected of death by poisoning, Ivan barreled through a barrage of Russian brides. When married to his eighth wife, legend says he beat his pregnant daughter for dressing immodestly, which resulted in a miscarriage. This started an argument with his son and planned successor, also named Ivan, who was no match for his crazed father. Ivan struck his son on the head which proved to be a fatal injury.


Three years later, Ivan the Terrible died while playing chess in 1584 from the popular cause of the period, poisoning. As a poet and composer throughout his life, some of his works were put together by Soviet composer Rodion Shchedrin and the recording was released in 1988 as the first Soviet-produced CD. The acclaimed filmmaker Sergei Eisenstein made two films based on Ivan’s life. Plus, some Russian organizations are currently controversially campaigning in favor of granting sainthood to the infamous Ivan the Terrible.