Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How Ivan the Great


The quarrels and rivalry of the three hordes into which the Tartar Empire was divided served the Russian prince in good stead. The Kans of Kazan, Sarai, or the Krim, when expelled from their thrones, often took refuge with Ivan and served in his armies against Novgorod or Lithuania. Five years before his marriage with Sophia he sent his army against Kazan, but owing to the lateness of the season it was unable to cross the Volga, and suffered much from rain and cold, and many soldiers perished of hunger.

Two years later, in the spring, he made great preparations. A fleet of boats from all the towns along the Moskva, the Oka, and the Volga, assembled at Lower Novgorod, where the union of the rivers makes an inland sea. The leaders addressed the army with eloquent words, and the soldiers shouted,—

"We all wish to go against the accursed Tartars, for the glory of the church, for our sovereign, the Grand Prince, and for orthodox Christianity."

Full of religious enthusiasm, they bade the priests chant the Te Deum, and then they set forth.

After camping two nights on the route, they reached Kazan at early morning, took the suburbs by surprise, and, with the sound of trumpets, began to murder the sleeping Tartars. Then they set fire to the wooden houses on all sides, and the natives, rather than fall alive into the hands of the Christians, shut themselves into their mosques with their wives, their children, and their goods, and perished in the flames. The Russians, wearied with slaughter, and not able to get within the walls of the city itself, embarked for an island, where they stayed several days. At last there came in full haste a prisoner escaped from Kazan, who said,—

"Ibrahim is coming at daybreak with all his forces, boats, and cavalry."

When they heard this news there was great stir in the camp: the younger men were sent in the better boats to another island; all made ready to defend themselves. The Tartar forces came in clouds; even the women shot arrows, but the Russians, dauntless, went out against them and drove them back into Kazan.

It was a Sunday morning; the priests had performed the service, and all were making ready for dinner. Suddenly the Tartars again made their appearance, some in boats, others on horse upon the shore. All day the battle lasted and the arrows flew, and night came down upon the battle.

The Russians felt it best to retreat, and the Tartars followed close at their heels. In a hand-to-hand skirmish one of Ivan's nobles won great fame by leaping amid a fleet of Tartar canoes bound together, and scattering his enemies with his club. After losing many men the brave band reached Lower Novgorod in safety.

Ivan was still humble before the Kan of the Golden Horde, and though he avoided paying tribute he often sent costly gifts, and managed to keep on the right side of the powerful Akmat.



This state of affairs was a great grief to the spirited Sophia. She said to him,—

"My father and I preferred to lose our inheritance rather than pay tribute; and I refused my hand to brave, strong princes and kings, and came to thee, but thou art willing for me and my children to be slaves. Is it because thou hast only a small army that thou art called his slave and hast not the power to defend thy honor and the holy faith?"

Ivan was stirred out of his usual caution by this appeal, and when Akmat sent his envoys demanding tribute, instead of meeting them on foot, beating his forehead before them, spreading costly carpets for their horses to tread upon, Ivan, in the presence of his court, takes the Kan's portrait seal, breaks it, and tramples it in the dust. He puts to death all the envoys except one, to whom he cries,—

"Depart! Tell the Kan what has happened to his seal and to his envoys, and say the same will happen to him also if he leave me not in peace."

Akmat took the field and Ivan went out to meet him with an army of one hundred and eighty thousand men armed with arquebuses and furnished with cannon but the sight of the barbarians filled his soul with fear. He even abandoned his army, hastened back to Moscow, and hid behind the Kreml walls. The people were indignant at such craven conduct, and the priests and boyars murmured, saying,—

"Thou, O Sovereign Grand Prince, hast of thine own accord angered the Kan, not paying him the tribute; and yet thou dost leave us to the mercy of the Tartars."

And the aged Vassian, Archbishop of Rostof, sought Ivan in the Kreml and upbraided him:—

"All the blood of the Christians cries out upon thee because thou hast abandoned the cause of Christianity, taken refuge in flight, and hast not given battle to the Tartars. Why dost thou fear death? Thou art not an immortal man but mortal, and free from the fate of death is neither man nor bird nor beast. Give me who am an old man thy army, and thou shalt see whether I turn my back upon the Tartars."

Ivan sent a letter to his son, commanding him at least to return to the safety of Moscow, but the brave young man replied, "I will meet death anywhere, but I will not return to my father."

Priest of the Greek Church


Then the Grand Prince, overcome by the prayers and entreaties of his mother and the clergy, made up his mind to take his place with the army, and the Metropolitan blessed his cross and said,—

"God preserve thy realm by the power of this holy cross and give thee victory over thine enemies! Be brave and true, my son, not as a hireling but as a good shepherd laying down his life for his sheep. Strive to save the flock from the wolf, and God the Lord will give thee strength and aid." And all the clergy said,—

"Amen! God will be thy helper."

Ivan set forth, but still doubted his power to give battle. The two armies, encamped on opposite sides of the Oka, were content to exchange arrows and insults. The Kan sent an envoy saying,—

"I have pity upon Ivan: only let him come in person to me and beat his forehead, as his fathers came to my fathers at the Horde."

Again he sent and said,—

"Since he is unwilling to come in person, let him send his son, or his brothers; let him send his boyar, Nikifor."

Even this Ivan declined to do; but he also held his hand from fighting, and the white-haired Vassian lost patience and sent a letter "to the orthodox and Christian and noble and God-crowned and God-strengthened Tsar, in glory shining to all the ends of the world, most illustrious, most glorious Sovereign, Grand Prince of all Russia," urging him to lay aside his weakness, to think no more of asking peace of this busurman  Akmat, (The mussulmans called busurman) whose armies came to put his people to the sword, and his churches to pollution.

"Go out to meet this godless Akmat," he wrote, "calling to mind thy ancestors, the grand princes, who not only freed Russia from the pagans, but conquered foreign lands. I mean Igor and Holy Fame and Vladimir, who took tribute from the Grecian tsars; of Monomak, who fought with the cursed Kumans for the Russian land; and many others whom thou knowest better than I. What bravery and valor did not thy ancestor, the Grand Prince Dimitri, show by the Don, in face of these same accursed gluttons!"

Ivan assured the archbishop that his letter filled his heart with joy, courage, and strength; but he let another fortnight pass in inaction.

It was now November; the river was coated with ice, which the Tartars were expecting soon to be able to cross. Ivan, seeing that the battle was nigh at hand, ordered his troops to change their position by night. This caused a panic; the soldiers felt that this order was a confession of weakness. They began a hasty and confused retreat, and soon were in full flight toward "Holy Mother Moscow."

And now happened one of the most wonderful events of history. The next morning the Tartars, seeing not a Russian on the banks of the river, began to suspect some dreadful ambuscade, such as Dimitri of the Don had used against their fathers; sudden panic spread through the ranks of the barbarians; they too began to retreat, and the flight soon became general. They left their tents and their utensils. By the time that Ivan's demoralized troops, hearing the Tartars at their heels, had safely hid themselves in Moscow, Akmat's army, pursued by fear of the Russians, was in full course down the Don; the two great hosts flying each from the other.

Akmat had hardly reached the banks of the Volga when he was attacked by Ivak, Kan of the Shiban, who put him to death, made his wives and children prisoners, and sent word to the Prince of Moscow that his great foe was dead.

Thus Ivan, "not by the might of earth's warriors nor by human wisdom, but by the will of God," repulsed the last invasion of the Golden Horde. His people saw that they had misjudged him: "His craven conduct was prudence, his cowardice was wisdom, his flight was skill."

The relations of Ivan with the Kans of the Crimea were far different. He sent to Mengli-Girei an envoy with a humble petition for friendship.

Mengli answered,—

"I, Mengli Girei, by the supreme will of God, Tsar, grant my favor to my brother, accept his love and friendship, and desire perpetual peace from children to grandchildren. Everywhere my friend shall be his friend, my enemy his enemy."

This friendship lasted all the rest of Ivan's life, and was as useful against the Golden Horde as against his other great enemy, the Lithuanian.