Moscovite Russia: 1463–1598
In 1463, the principality of Moscow was almost a solid block of territory. It included the upper Volga River, the Moskva River, the Oka River, portions of the Northern Dvina River in the north, and the Don River to the south. It extended to the Tatar city of Kazan in the east. Ivan III, the Great (1462–1505), captured the city-state of Novgorod in 1471 and tripled the size of his realm. He also ended Mongol control of Moscow in 1480. Although he won few military victories, Ivan ended nearly two and a half centuries of Mongol rule. Free of the Golden Horde, this principality became Moscovite Russia—a nation-state.
When Ivan III's wife died, he married Sophia, the orphaned niece of the last Byzantine emperor. Sophia was an intelligent, ambitious woman. She urged Ivan III to claim religious leadership of the Orthodox world. He took her advice, and Moscow became the “Third Rome.” Ivan III declared himself “Tsar of all Rus” (Caesar of all Russians) and added the two-headed Byzantine eagle to the state crest and seal. His son, Vasily III (1505–1533), added more land to Russia, bringing all the “Great Russian” people under one rule.
As a three-year-old boy, Ivan IV, the Terrible (1533–1594), inherited Russia's “size” problem. His mother ruled in Ivan's name until she was poisoned in 1538. Ivan had himself crowned Tsar in 1547. He added the middle and lower Volga River basin and portions of the Ural Mountains and western Siberia to Russia; however, his attempts to capture the Baltic region failed miserably.
Deprived of family affection and denied the right to rule until he was 14, Ivan became ruthless.When he became the first official tsar of Russia in 1547, he reduced the influence of the Russian nobles. He prevented Russia from becoming a “constitutional monarchy.” His reign was plagued by administrative disorder. The mad terror Ivan inflicted on his people doomed Russia to more troubles even after his death.
When Ivan the Terrible died in 1584, the throne passed to his simpleminded son Fyodor. Fyodor's only interest was the church. He especially enjoyed tolling church bells. Fyodor's brother-in-law, Boris Godunov, administered the nation for him. With Fyodor's death in 1598, the Rurik dynasty ended. Boris Godunov was elected tsar. Boris had been selected to begin the transition to a new dynasty. The deepseated social unrest that followed Fyodor's death is called the “Time of Troubles.”