Ivan the Terrible: Centralization in Sixteenth Century Muscovy

Ivan the Terrible: Centralization in Sixteenth Century Muscovy

Ivan the Terrible: Centralization in Sixteenth Century Muscovy

Matthew Bond

Western Oregon University: History Department,, Senior Seminar Thesis June 6, (2008)


The Oprichniki, Ivan IVís loyal death squads of the Oprichnina, rode black horses while dressed in black garb. To symbolize their cause, an insignia displaying a dogís head and broom were worn. The dogís head was a representation of sniffing out traitors. In turn, the broom represented how the Oprichniki were dedicated to eliminating, or sweeping them away. These symbols represented the struggle for centralization in Ivan the Terribleís sixteenth century Muscovy. During his time as Tsar, Ivan introduced reforms and imposed harsh judgments upon those he viewed as traitors. In 1565, key events in Ivanís life, religion and the desire to build a stronger state would motivate him to aggressively push for centralization and introduce his Oprichnina which would last until 1572.

Before Ivanís time Kievan Rus, a medieval state that predated Muscovy and the Russian Empire, was made up of multiple city-states governed by various princes. Under this system, Kiev was the most dominant and influential city-state. However, the Mongol invasion virtually eliminated Kievís position as the center of power. While Kiev continued its downward trend, Moscow emerged as the dominant city-state due to, in part, its geographical location. The princes from each city-state then became subservient to the Grand Prince of Moscow as power shifted from Kiev to Moscow. It is during this time that Kievan Rus became known as Muscovy. Ivan grew up surrounded by princes and aristocratic advisors known as boyars who had lost power during the transition from Kievan Rus to Muscovy. Some scholars attribute Ivanís intense paranoia to the boyar/princely classes which had dominated much of his early childhood. When Ivan came of age to rule Muscovy at age fifteen he demonstrated his readiness by executing select members of the elites who had tormented him throughout childhood.

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