Russian Princes During the 13th & 14th Centuries

Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

The leaders of Russia would have to wait until the fifteenth century to claim the title of Tsar, however, the leader of the Grand Duchy of Moscow was acting with more and more power with each passing generation.

Overlooked Outpost of Moscow

Few Russians can claim to have made lemonade from lemons in quite the same way as Alexander Nevsky. Fewer families can claim to have kept the trick alive as long as his descendants, with the family moving from obscurity to founding the office of the Tsar, or Russian Emperor, in little more than 200 years. Originally the ruler of a small city in northern Russia, Nevsky worked to build his esteem and holdings until he was the most powerful Russian of his time, all the while still subservient to the Golden Horde of Mongols who had conquered much of Russia in the thirteenth century. Despite the pleas of the Catholic Pope, the Orthodox Nevsky refused to fight the non-Christian Mongols. In exchange, the Mongols granted Nevsky more land, and the right to pass on his lands to his sons.

None of his sons ran with the opportunities as much as his youngest son, Daniel, ruler of the otherwise unremarkable trading post of Moscow. Burned to the ground during the Mongol conquest, by the time Daniel ruled the city in the 1280s, it was clear that he was on a path to gaining more influence than his father had dreamed of earning. All while loyal to the Mongols, Daniel made sure that Russian institutions, most especially the Orthodox Church, were safe from foreign influence. In fact, Daniel spent more time founding churches and monasteries than fighting battles.

Daniel of Moscow
Daniel of Moscow

In the Service of the Mongols

During the reign of the two Grand Princes to follow Daniel, Vasily I and Vasily II, Russian nationalism and movements towards independence grew louder. By 1325, the seat of the Russian Orthodox Church had moved from Kiev to the small city of Vladimir, and then recognizing the state of affairs, was moved once more to Moscow. However, it wasn't just the Church that was recognizing the growing power of Moscow. Vasily I actually made it through much of his reign without paying the Mongols tribute by playing off the struggles between various Mongol factions. His son, Vasily II, gained power after a long civil war, but a more destructive civil war destroyed much of the power of the Mongols. With the fall of Constantinople in 1453, the seat of Orthodox power firmly moved to Moscow.

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