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The Grand Duchy of Moscow ( ) was a medieval Russianmarker polity centered on Moscowmarker between 1340 and 1547. The Grand Duchy of Moscow, as the state is known in Russian records, has been referred to by many Western sources as Muscovy. However, this term is also sometimes applied to the Tsardom of Russiamarker. The Grand Duchy of Moscow was the successor to the Principality of Moscow and the predecessor of the Tsardom of Russiamarker.


When the Mongols invaded the lands of Kievan Rus', Moscowmarker was an insignificant trading outpost in the principality of Vladimir-Suzdal.Though Mongols burnt down Moscow in the winter of 1238 and pillaged it in 1293, the outpost's remote, forested location offered some security from Mongol attacks and occupation, and a number of rivers provided access to the Balticmarker and Blackmarker Seas and to the Caucasus region.

More important to Moscow's development into what became the state of Moscow however, was its rule by a series of princes who were ambitious, determined, and lucky. The first ruler of the principality of Moscow, Daniel I (d. 1303), was the youngest son of Alexander Nevsky of Vladimir-Suzdal. He started to expand his principality by seizing Kolomnamarker and securing the bequest of Pereslavl-Zalesskymarker to his family. Daniel's son Yuriy controlled the entire basin of the Moskva River and expanded westward by capturing Mozhaiskmarker. He then forged an alliance with the overlord of the Russian principalities, Uzbeg Khan of the Golden Horde, and married the khan's sister. He was allowed by the khan to claim the title of Grand Duke of Vladimir-Suzdal, a position which allowed him to interfere into the affairs of the Novgorod Republic to the north-west.

Yuriy's successor, Ivan I (r. 1325–40), managed to retain the title of Grand Duke by cooperating closely with the Mongols and collecting tribute and taxes from other Russian principalities on their behalf. This relationship enabled Ivan to gain regional ascendancy, particularly over Moscow's chief rival, the northern city of Tvermarker, which rebelled against the Horde in 1327. The uprising was subdued by the joint forces of Mongols and Muscovites. Ivan was reputed to be the richest person in Russia, as his moniker "Kalita" (literally, the "moneybag") testifies. He used his treasures to purchase land in other principalities and to finance construction of stone churches in the Kremlinmarker. In 1327, the Orthodox Metropolitan Peter transferred his residence from Kiev to Vladimir and then to Moscow, further enhancing the prestige of the new principality.

Dmitri Donskoi

Ivan's successors continued gathering Russian lands to increase the population and wealth under their rule. In the process, their interests clashed with the expanding Grand Duchy of Lithuania, whose subjects were predominantly East Slavic and Orthodox. Grand Duke Algirdas of Lithuaniamarker allied himself by marriage with Tver and undertook three expeditions against Moscow (1368, 1370, 1372) but was unable to take it. The main bone of contention between Moscow and Vilnius was the large city of Smolenskmarker.

In the 1350s, the country and the royal family were hit by the Black Death. Dmitry Ivanovich was aged nine, when his parents died and the title of Grand Duke slipped into the hands of his distant relative, Dmitry of Suzdal. Surrounded by pagan Lithuaniansmarker and Muslim nomads, the ruler of Moscow cultivated an alliance with the Russian Orthodox Church, which experienced a resurgence in influence, due to the monastic reform of St. Sergius of Radonezh.

Educated by Metropolitan Alexis, Dmitri posed as a champion of Orthodoxy and managed to unite the warring principalities of Russia in his struggle against the Horde. He challenged the Khan's authority and defeated his commander Mamai in the epic Battle of Kulikovomarker (1380). Although political advantages from the battle were nullified during Tokhtamysh's invasion of Russia several years later, Dmitri successfully overcame the stigma of collaborating with the Tatars which had been attached to Moscow for decades. In 1389, he passed the throne to his son Vasily I without bothering to obtain the Khan's sanction.

Vasily I and Vasily II

Vasily I (r. 1389–1425) continued the policies of his father. After the Horde was attacked by Tamerlane, he desisted from paying tribute to the Khan, but was forced to pursue a more conciliatory policy after Edigu's incursion on Moscow in 1408. Married to the only daughter of Grand Duke Vytautas of Lithuaniamarker, he attempted to avoid open conflicts with his powerful father-in-law, even when the latter annexed Smolensk. The peaceful years of his long reign were marked by the continuing expansion to the east (annexation of Nizhny Novgorodmarker and Suzdalmarker, 1392) and to the north (annexation of Vologdamarker, Veliky Ustyugmarker, and Perm of Vychegda, 1398).

The reforms of St. Sergius triggered a cultural revival, exemplified by the icons and frescoes of the monk Andrei Rublev. Hundreds of monasteries were founded by St. Sergius's disciples in distant and inhospitable locations, including Beloozeromarker and Solovkimarker. Apart from their cultural function, these monasteries were major landowners, who could control economy of the adjacent region. In effect, they served as outposts of Moscow influence in the neighboring principalities and republics. Another factor responsible for the expansion of Grand Duchy of Moscow was its favorable dynastic situation, when each sovereign was succeeded by his son, while rival principalities were plagued by dynastic strife and splintered into ever smaller polities. The only lateral branch of the House of Moscow, represented by Vladimir of Serpukhov and his descendants, was firmly anchored into Moscow Duchy.

The situation changed with the ascension of Vasily I's successor, Vasily II (r. 1425–62). Before long his uncle, Yuri of Zvenigorod, started to advance his claims to the throne and Monomakh's Cap. A bitter fratricidal conflict erupted and rocked the country during the whole reign. After Yuri's death in 1432, his claims were taken up by his sons, Vasily Kosoy and Dmitry Shemyaka, who pursued the Great Feudal War well into the 1450s. Although he was ousted from Moscow on several occasions, taken prisoner by Olug Moxammat of Kazanmarker, and blinded in 1446, Vasily II eventually managed to triumph over his enemies and pass the throne to his son. At his urging, a native bishop was elected as Metropolitan of Moscow, which was tantamount to declaration of independence of the Russian Orthodox Church from the Patriarch of Constantinoplemarker (1448).

Ivan III

Outward expansion of the Grand Duchy in the 14th and 15th centuries was accompanied by internal consolidation. By the 15th century, the rulers of Moscow considered the entire Russian territory their collective property. Various semi-independent princes of Rurikid stock still claimed specific territories, but Ivan III (the Great; r. 1462–1505) forced the lesser princes to acknowledge the grand prince of Moscow and his descendants as unquestioned rulers with control over military, judicial, and foreign affairs.
A scene from the medieval Russian history.

Moscow gained full sovereignty over a significant part of the ethnically Russian lands by 1480, when the Tatars' Golden Horde overlordship ended officially after the Great standing on the Ugra river, and by the beginning of the 16th century virtually all those lands were united, including the Novgorod Republic (annexation of 1478) and the Grand Duchy of Tver (annexation of 1485). Through inheritance, Ivan was able to control the important Principality of Ryazan, and the princes of Rostovmarker and Yaroslavl'marker subordinated themselves to him. The northwestern city of Pskov consisting of city and few lands surrounding it remained independent in this period, but Ivan's son, Vasili III (r. 1505–33), later conquered it.

Having consolidated the core of Russia under his rule, Ivan III became the first Moscow ruler to adopt the titles of tsar and "Ruler of all Rus'". Ivan competed with his powerful northwestern rival Lithuania for control over some of the semi-independent former principalities of Kievan Rus' in the upper Dnieper and Donetsmarker river basins. Through the defections of some princes, border skirmishes, and a long, inconclusive war with Lithuania that ended only in 1503, Ivan III was able to push westward, and Moscow state tripled in size under his rule.

The reign of the tsars started officially with Ivan IV of Russia (Ivan the Terrible), the first monarch to be crowned Tsar of Russia, but in practice it started with Ivan III, who completed centralization of the state (traditionally known as the gathering of the Russian lands) at the same time as Louis XI did the same in Francemarker.


The court of the Moscow princes combined ceremonies and customs inherited from Kievan Rus with those imported from the Byzantine Empire and Golden Horde. Some traditional Russian offices, like that of tysyatsky and veche, were gradually abolished in order to consolidate power in the hands of the ruling prince. A new elaborate system of court precedence, or mestnichestvo, predicated the nobleman's rank and function on the rank and function of his ancestors and other members of his family. The highest echelon of hereditary nobles was composed of boyars. They fell into three categories:
A medieval princely estate in Russia

Rurikid and Gediminid boyars, whose fathers and grandfathers were independent princelings, felt that they were kin to the grand prince and hence almost equal to him. During the times of dynastic troubles (such as the years of Ivan IV's minority), boyardom constituted an internal force which was a permanent threat to the throne. An early form of the monarch's conflict with boyarstvo was the oprichnina policy of Ivan the Terrible.

During such conflicts, Ivan, Boris Godunov, and some later monarchs felt the necessity to counterbalance the boyardom by creating a new kind of nobility, based on personal devotion to tsar and merits earned by faithful service, rather than by heredity. Later these new nobles were called dvoryans (singular: dvoryanin). The name comes from the Russian word dvor in the meaning of tsar's dvor, i.e., The Court. Hence the expression pozhalovat ko dvoru, i.e., to be called to (serve) The Court.


The development of the Russian state can be traced from Kievan Rus' through Vladimir-Suzdal and Moscow Duchy to Tsardom of Russia, and then, the Russian Empire. Moscow Duchy drew people and wealth to the northeastern part of Kievan Rus'; established trade links to the Baltic Seamarker, the White Seamarker, and the Caspian Seamarker and to Siberiamarker; and created a highly centralized and autocratic political system. Moscow political traditions, therefore, exerted a powerful influence on Russian society.

See also

Further reading


  • - Russia
  • Marshall Poe, Foreign Descriptions of Muscovy: An Analytic Bibliography of Primary and Secondary Sources, Slavica Publishers, 1995, ISBN 0-89357-262-4

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