Portrait of Ivan the Terrible


-Portrait of Ivan IV by Viktor Vasnetsov, 1897 (Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow)

Ivan the Terrible, or Ivan IV, was the first Russian czar. Ivan married Anastasia Romanov in 1547. He is known to have acquired vast amounts of land through brutal means and also created a centrally controlled bureaucratic government during his reign (1533-1584).

Ivan ruled with a great ruthlessness. It is mentioned in one source that he gouged out the eyes of the architects who built St. Basil’s Cathedral so that a cathedral of such beauty could never be built again. His  power became absolute when he, the czar, succeeded in conquering the remaining independent provinces such as Siberia. His state also assigned a master to the peasants who worked around estates which set in stone the system of serfdom. Ivan confiscated the property of the boyars and granted the state property to those who served him. Since his soldiers were administered to the Russian state for life, their land grants became hereditary and they became the new ruling elite nobility.

In 1582, after the Livonian War against Poland and Sweden, Russia lost its northern territories and access to the Baltic Sea. In the same year, the czar, Ivan IV, also killed his son, Ivan, in rage. When Ivan the Terrible died in 1584, Russia was left in a state of political and economic ruin.

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