Ivan II. died in 1358, and was succeeded by Dmitri III., who died in 1363. The throne was then occupied by Dmitri IV., under whom, toward the close of this century, the Russians raised an army of four hundred thousand men, and met the Tartars near the Don, who were defeated with great loss. This terrible contest lasted three days, and was known in after-ages as " the Battle of the Giants." The victors, however, suffered greatly ; and when Dmitri reviewed his army after the battle," he found it reduced to forty thousand men! This success obtained for him the surname of Donskoi. Subsequently, however, to this victory, the Tartars again advanced ; and Dmitri, betrayed by his allies, the princes of the neighboring states, deserted Moscow, which fell by capitulation into the hands of the ruthless invaders, who devastated it with fire and sword until it was utterly destroyed, no building being permitted to remain except those which happened to have been constructed of stone by the grand prince.
The character of Dmitri IV. is thus given by the metropolitan Cyprian " He knew," says that ecclesiastic, " how to soften the kingly office by condescension, he was impartial in the administration of justice, and delighted to promote the peace and happiness of his subjects; his learning was small, but the rectitude of his disposition and the kindness of his heart supplied the defects of education, and entitle him to a distinguished place among Russian sovereigns." It was this prince who caused the kremlin to be erected of stone, and closed by a wall flanked with towers, which were defended by ditches surmounted with stone.
Vassili or Basil II., who succeeded his father Dmitri in 1389, was also destined to see his country invaded by the Tartars under Tamerlane ; but they never reached the capital, for he prepared to give them battle near the river Oka, when they suddenly turned round and retired, as their countrymen had previously done on two other occasions. The Russians attributed this to a miracle performed by a picture of the Virgin Mary, said to have been painted by St. Luke. The barbarian horde, however, joined by the Lithuanians, afterward laid siege to Moscow, but were repulsed by the inhabitants, the grand prince having retired with his family to Kostroma Exasperated at this defeat, the Tartars in their retreat harassed the surrounding country, and slaughtered the defenceless peasantry. Money was first coined in Novgorod during this reign, its place having hitherto been supplied with skins and pieces of leather: twenty skins of the martin were considered as equivalent to a grivna, the value of which was a real pound of gold or silver, of nine and a quarter ounces in Kiev and thirteen in Novgorod.
During the reign of Vassili, Kazan was taken from the Tartars, and Russia was thrice visited with the plague and famine, while the ancient city of Novgorod was shaken by an earthquake after the greater part of its buildings had been consumed by fire. Internal dissensions broke out on the death of Vassili, a dispute having arisen respecting the succession to the throne between the son of that monarch and his uncle George. This was, by the consent of both parties, left to the decision of the khan of Tartary, who determined in favor of the former. Nevertheless, a civil war ensued, and George was for a short time in possession of the throne, when, finding himself abandoned by his party and his family, he restored it to his nephew, and returned to his principality of Halitsch.
Complicated wars, Russian and Tartar, now followed; the principal incident of which was that Ivan, the prince of Mojask, in the interest of the traitor Chemiaka, induced Vassili to stop at the monastery of the Troitzkoi, to return thanks on his arrival from the Tartars, and, having seized him there, he took him to Moscow and put out his eyes. A few years after the prince of Mojask had committed this savage act, Vassili was restored to the throne, and died in 1462. The Tartars, under Makhmet, again possessed themselves of Kazan in this reign.
Vassili II. was succeeded by Ivan III. The first exploit which the new monarch attempted was the reduction of the province of Kazan, in which he succeeded after two severe campaigns. The next was the subjection of Novgorod, in which he also succeeded, incorporating that city and province with his own dominions, and, having received the oaths of allegiance of the inhabitants, he carried off with him to Moscow their celebrated town-clock, which he suspended in a tower before the kremlin, to be used only to call the people to their devotions.
The next and most arduous undertaking was the destruction of the " Golden Horde," under Achmet, which he effected in revenge for the insult offered him by that khan in demanding the homage which he had received from his predecessors. Ivan spat on the edict and Achmet's seal, and put his embassadors to death, sparing one only to convey the intelligence to his master, who prepared in the following year to take his revenge ; but, awed by the preparations made to receive him on the banks of the Oka, he retired for a time, and subsequently took the more circuitous route through Lithuania, from which country he expected support. The Russians, however, met and defeated a part of his horde, and were returning home, when the khan was met on a different route by the Nogai Tartars, who routed his army and slew him in the battle. His ally, Casimir IV., also brought himself under Ivan's indignation, not only for tin's war, but because he attempted to poison him, and an incursion that lie made into the territories of the Polish king was eminently successful.
This powerful and ambitious prince also made treaties with and received embassadors from the pope, the sultan, the kings of Denmark and Poland, and the republic of Venice. He assumed the title of " Grand Prince of Novgorod, Vladimir, Moscow, and all Russia," and changed the arms of St. George on horseback for the black eagle with two heads, after his marriage with Sophia, a princess of the imperial blood of Constantinople. In fact, Ivan III. may be called the true founder of the modern Russian empire. Karamsin, the historian, thus describes him: " Without being a tyrant like his grandson, he had received from nature a certain harshness of character, which he knew how to moderate by the strength of his reason. It is said, however, that a single glance of Ivan, when he was excited with anger, would make a timid woman swoon ; that petitioners dreaded to approach his throne; and that, even at his table, the boyars his grandees, trembled before him"—which portrait does not belie his own declaration, when the same boyars demanded that he should give the crown to his grandson Ivan, whom he had dispossessed in favor of a son by his second wife — "I will give to Russia whomsoever I please!" He died, very infirm, in 1505, having reigned forty-three years.
Wars between the Russians, the Poles, the Tartars, and the Novgorodians, again arose on the death of Ivan; and it was not till the death of Vassili IV., his successor, and a minority of twelve years had elapsed in the reign of Ivan IV., that internal cabals and intrigues were for a time suppressed. This monarch, the first to take the title of " Czar"* married Anastasia, the daughter of Roman Yuryvich, who in the early part of his reign had the happiest ascendency over a character naturally violent and cruel. Ivan was at this period affable and condescending, accessible to both rich and poor, and his mental powers under her guidance were employed in advancing the interests and happiness of his subjects. Ivan soon perceived that, to preserve his power, he must annihilate the Tartar dominion. To this he felt that his uninstructed army was unequal: he therefore established, in 1545, the militia of the Strelitzes, and armed them with muskets instead of bows, hit her to their arms, as their name imports, from strelai, " an arrow." He then laid siege to and capture Kazan, taking the khan prisoner. He likewise defeated Gustavus Vasa, king of Sweden, in a pitched battle near Viborg; ravaged Livonia, taking Dorpat, Narva, and thirty fortified towns; and made war on the king of Poland because he had refused him his daughter in marriage. An unsuccessful campaign against this potentate, attributed by the boyars to the unskilful arrangements of the foreign generals, as well as the death of his wife Anastasia, whose controlling influence was no longer felt, led to the unlimited indulgence of his naturally ferocious disposition; and the remaining acts of his life gained for him, in the history of his country, the surname of " The Terrible." Independently of the many and dreadful acts of barbarity of which he was guilty, he killed his own son in a paroxysm of rage, but died a prey to the grief and remorse which this fearful crime occasioned him, after having endeavored to atone for it by giving large sums of money to different monasteries. He received the tonsure in his last moments.
As a legislator, Ivan IV. was superior to his predecessors, having, with the assistance of his nobles, compiled a code of laws called "Soudebnik" In his reign an English ship, commanded by Richard Chancellor, on a voyage of discovery, before alluded to, in the Arctic sea, anchored in the mouth of the Dwina; and, when the information of this circumstance was forwarded to Ivan, he invited Chancellor to Moscow, where, on his arrival, he was received with marked attention, and presented with a letter to carry back to his sovereign, Queen Elizabeth, expressing a desire to enter into commercial relations with England, and to have English artificers and workmen sent to him. It is curious that even at this early period the fair which he established at Narva was so glutted with English, Dutch, and French goods, that some of them were sold for less than the prime cost in their respective countries. Ivan controlled his religious prejudices, and tolerated the Lutheran churches of the German merchants at Moscow; but he never shook hands with a foreign embassador without washing his own immediately after his visiter had taken his leave ! With a character so strongly marked by cruelty, superstition, and caprice, it is remarkable to find, not only that he was enterprising and intelligent, but that he should ever have entertained the idea of placing the Scriptures in the hands of his subjects in the mother-tongue: he did, however, order a translation to be made of the Acts and Epistles, and had it disseminated over his dominions. ' In the memory of the people,' observes Karanisin, " the brilliant renown of Ivan survived the recollection of his bad qualities. The groans had ceased, the victims were reduced to dust; new events caused ancient traditions to be forgotten; and the memory of this prince reminded people only of the conquest of three Mongol kingdoms. The proofs of his atrocious actions were buried in the public archives ; while Kazan, Astrakhan, and Siberia, remained in the eyes of the nation as imperishable monuments of his glory. The Russians, who saw in him the illustrious author of their power and civilization, rejected or forgot the surname of tyrant given him by his contemporaries. Under the influence of some confused recollections of his cruelty, they still call him Ivan ' The Terrible,' without distinguishing him from his grandfather Ivan III., to whom Russia had given the same epithet rather in praise than in reproach. History does not pardon wicked princes so easily as do people." Ivan IV. died in 1584, having governed the Russian nation for a longer period than any other sovereign, namely, fifty-one years.
Feodor I, who ascended the throne after the death of Ivan I., and was a feeble and vacillating prince, died in 1598. His successor was Boris Godunoff, the brother of Anastasia, the czar Ivan's first wife, who, like the English Richard, compassed the death of his nephew Dmitri, Feodor's younger brother, during that czar's lifetime ; and therefore in Peodor ended the dynasty of Rurik, which duriug eight centuries had wielded the Russian sceptre. Consequent upon this deed came all kinds of civil calamities, and in 1604 there arose a pretender to the throne in the person of a Russian monk. This man assumed the character of the murdered Dmitri, and, having drawn to his standard the Poles and the Cossacks of the Don, met Boris in the field, remained master of it, and in the space of one year seated himself on the throne.
Nor was this civil war the only calamity which befell the Russians during the reign of Boris. Moscow was, in 1600, decimated by the most appalling famine that ever devastated the capital of a country. It is related that, driven by the pangs of hunger, instances occurred of mothers having first slain and then eaten their own children; and it is recorded that a woman, in her extremity, seized with her teeth the flesh of her son whom she carried in her arms. Others confessed that they had entrapped into their dwellings, and subsequently killed and eaten, three men successively. One hundred and twenty-seven thousand corpses remained for some days in the streets unburied, and were afterward interred in the fields, exclusive of those which had been previously buried in the four hundred churches of the city! An eye-witness relates that this awful visitation carried off five hundred thousand persons from this densely-peopled capital, the population -of which was, at the time, augmented by the influx of strangers. During this dreadful calamity, Boris, with justifiable violence, broke open the granaries which avarice had closed, and had the grain sold at half its value.
Interminable and inexplicable troubles, a second false Dmitri, and other impostors, led to the occupation of Moscow by the Poles in 1610, who entered the city with Vladislaus, son of Sigismund, king of Poland, elected to the throne by the boyars, on condition that he should embrace the Greek religion. This gave great offence to the national feeling; and Minim, a citizen of Nijnei-Novgorod, called his countrymen to arms, and entreated the general Pojarski to take the command. This he did without reluctance, and his army was quickly increased by the arrival of troops and money from various towns, and by the Cossacks and Strelitzes who flocked to his banner. Thus reinforced, they marched to Yaroslav, and afterward to Moscow, to which they laid siege, carried the Kitai Gorod by assault, and made a fearful slaughter of the Poles; when the inhabitants, driven to the last extremity by famine, surrendered, and Vladislaus abandoned the country. A fine monument, previously referred to, was erected in the open space, under the kremlin-walls, in 1818, to the memory of Minim and Pojarski. It represents the high-spirited citizen of Nijnei calling on his countrymen to rid Russia of the foreign enemy, while Pojarski listens attentively to the stirring exhortation.
"With a vacant throne, and unembarrassed by republican feelings, the boyars, after the flight of Vladislaus, proceeded to elect as their czar Michael Romanoff, the son of the metropolitan of Rostof, who was, at the time, only sixteen years of age; and from him is descended the present imperial family. The usual routine of civil strife and foreign wars continued after the accession of Romanoff; and that in which the czar was involved with Gustavus Adolphus, king of Sweden, was terminated, not much to the advantage of Russia, through the mediation of England, France, and Holland. A treaty was signed by the belligerent parties on the 26th of January, 1616, which gave to Sweden Ingria, Carelia, Livonia, and Es-thonia, the Russians retaining Novgorod; and.these terms seem to have been dictated by the czar's love of peace. The Poles were, at this time, masters of Smolensk, and ravaged the country up to the walls of Moscow, against which they made a night attack, but were repulsed; they remained, however, in possession of Smolensk, after sustaining a siege of two years. Dragoons are mentioned, for the first time in this reign, as forming part of a Russian army, and the czar was assisted in his wars by both German and French troops: these regiments served him as models for the organization of the Russian army, which was further improved by the discipline introduced by the foreign officers in Romanoff's pay.
After a reign distinguished by an enlightened policy and virtuous habits, the czar died in July, 1645, at the age of only forty-nine years. His son Alexis, who was a prince of a mild and benevolent disposition, succeeded him. The chief events of his reign were, the marauding expeditions of the Cossacks of the Don, led by Rizan; a rebellion in the city of Astrakhan ; and the appearance of another false Dmitri, who was brought captive to Moscow, and put to a violent and cruel death. In this reign shipwrights came over from Holland and England, and a Dutchman named Butler built a vessel called the Eagle, at Didiloff, the first ship that the Russians had seen built on scientific principles.
Alexis died in 1676, and was succeeded by his son Feodor III., who died young, in 1682. During the short period allotted him for the exercise of power, he evinced every disposition to carry out his father's plans. He directed his attention to the improvement of the laws, and rendered justice accessible to all, and, in the words of a Russian historian, " lived the joy and delight of his people, and died amid their sighs and tears. On the day of his death, Moscow was in the same distress that Rome was on the death of Titus." The sovereignty of the Cossacks was secured to Russia in this reign. Feodor left no children, and was succeeded by his half-brother Peter, whom, some accounts say, was named by him as his successor.
Sears, Robert. An Illustrated Description of the Russian Empire. New York: Robert Sears, 1855