Sep/Oct 2018 Current Moscow Time: 19:57:57
19 September 2018

  The world’s biggest country, in a magazine. Since 1956.

Terror's Legacy

Author: Tamara Eidelman
Translation: Nora Seligman Favorov

Jan/Feb 2015
Page 19   ( 3 pages)

Summary: In December 1564, Ivan the Terrible abdicated the Russian throne. The consequences were dire and continue to affect Russian society, 450 years on.


In December 1564 Muscovites were horrified to learn that their ruler – 34-year old Tsar Ivan Vasilyevich, who had already begun to earn the sobriquet “the Terrible” – had gone missing. The tsar had quit the city, taking with him not only a rather large cohort of loyal followers, but also the state treasury, the royal seal, and many of Russia’s most revered icons. It is hard to say what was more horrifying for Ivan’s abandoned subjects: the disappearance of the icons was a terrible blow, but life without the tsar was simply unimaginable.

Soon royal messengers came to spread the word that the sovereign, angered by the traitorous boyars, had retreated to his palace in Alexandrov (aka Alexandrova Sloboda), a summer residence that Ivan’s father had used as a sort of hunting lodge. The idea that the tsar could leave Moscow and take up permanent residence there seemed absurd.

Crowds began streaming toward Alexandrov: members of the clergy, ordinary folk, and the boyars, who had a feeling that Ivan’s maneuver could not possibly end well for them. They all beseeched the tsar to forgive them and return to Moscow.

In January Ivan announced his decision to change Russia’s entire governmental order. Since the boyars were so power-hungry, let them rule. He placed them in charge of most of the country and kept a small piece for himself, an “oprichnina.” This term was ordinarily used for the land left to a widow after her husband’s death, at a time when most wealth went to a family’s sons. True, Ivan’s “widow’s share” did include the richest and most strategic lands, and he still exercised real power in the rest of the country, but in formal terms this new order endured for seven years, at which point, in 1572, Ivan not only abolished the oprichnina, but even made it a crime to utter the word.

To read more, follow the "Purchase Back Issue" link from the full story listing for this issue.