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IVAN THE TERRIBLE: A MILITARY HISTORY

 
 

Alexander Filjushkin

 
 

Alexander Filjushkin, Ivan the Terrible: A Military History, Frontline Books. London, 2008, 303 pgs, index, large bibliography, footnotes, Appendix I - chronology, Appendix II - lists with dates of rulers of 15 powers contemporary with Ivan, Appendix III - comparisons of standing armies and mobilization potentials of the 8 steppe powers, Appendix IV - a very detailed comparison of Eastern European Armies of the 16th Century, illustrations, 21 excellent maps.

Review by John Sloan

 
 

This is an excellent and much needed study of the importance and influence of warfare on Ivan and Muscovy during this reign. The style is very readable. The author provides an unusual amount of detailed information about the armies including their strengths and commanders, the campaigns and battles, the diplomatic activities and grand political strategies. His own evaluations are clearly presented and cogently expressed. The bibliography and notes indicate a broad reading and assembling of information from many sources, Russian, Polish, German and English. I have to make my standard comment, however, that I miss presentations from the Tatar, Turkish side based on sources in those languages.

One can compare this book with Carol Stevens', Russia's Wars of Emergence 1460 - 1730, and Brian Davies' book, Warfare, state and Society on the Black Sea Steppe, 1500 - 1700. They overlap to a degree but are complementary and should be studied together.
The author briefly compares the military activity of Ivan IV with that of his father and grand-father. Ivan III was at war for 20 out of 43 years of his reign or 47 percent. Vasilii III was at war for 12 out of 28 years of his reign, or 43 percent. His son, Fyedor Ivanovich, was at war for 6 years of his brief reign or 43 percent. Ivan IV was at war for 37 out of 51 years of his total reign, but most of the peacetime years were during his minority. From 1547 to 1584 there were only three years without war.

War was already a major aspect of Muscovy, but under Ivan IV it became predominant. A whole generation of Russians saw only war. "War formed the appearance of Russian cities". The author means the very structure of Russian towns reflected the necessities of warfare. There were about 160 cities at the start of the 16th century and a further 55 to 70 were built during that century, with even more construction in the 17th century. Moscow was by far the largest with a population of 100,000. Novgorod had only 26,000. The author describes the differences between European and Russian cities. The detail of his descriptions of Muscovite Muscovite fortifications of these towns is exceptionally fine. He places them in three categories - medieval wooden fortress with earthen rampart and walls - stone fortress (usually brick) - and 15th century regular strongholds such as Ivangorod (1492), and Tula (1514-20). (One can look into this further in Konstantin Nossov's book, Russian Fortresses 1480-1682, Osprey, and his book, Russian Fortresses 862-1480 for the deeper historical origins of Russian fortifications.

In the introduction he discusses the introduction of serfdom (see Hellie). He notes that the prevailing ideology - doctrine - supported warfare, and mobilization for war. The reasons found to justify conquests were ideological and to restore or recover ancient Rus territories. Ivan waged a new type of war. "Military organization was established on the foundation of Russian social structure".

Chapter I is about Russian military forces their infrastructure. He notes that Russia at that time was not involved in the so-called European '"military revolution". - that is the change from feudal, knightly warfare to the early modern formation organization. He notes that the use of firearms by Russian cavalry increased only in the 17th century. And there was no pike-armed infantry. Dr. Filjushkin comments that Russian forces of the time "could successfully holdout against the armies of approximately equal development". That is the steppe nomads and the smaller armies of Livonia and Lithuania. "But Russian armies could oppose Polish troops only with difficulty" and had even more trouble against Hungarian and German mercenaries. The Muscovites attempted to avoid field battles against opposing cavalry. Ivan began the 'streltsi' and added considerable artillery. State service was actually service to the person of the Tsar. (I would rather avoid the use of the term, 'state' all together as it is misleading). The structure of the Muscovite army remained medieval . But it was not a system of lord and vassal in the Western manner. The entire population was in service personally to the Tsar in a one-way relationship. The "nobles" no longer had independence and no choice but to serve. The mentality and ethics were different from the West European as was the system of land ownership.
Dr. Filjushkin translates the Russian term 'polk' as regiment. I maintain that this is misleading for this and prior periods. The western term was 'battle' but that also would likely be confusing. Brian Davies in his Warfare, State and Society on the Black Sea Steppe 1500-1700 notes that 'regiment' is a mistranslation for 'polk' and selects the term 'corps' and this is a good choice. Carol Stevens, in Russia's Wars of Emergence 1460-1730 uses the simple term, divisions. Dr. Filjushkin describes the structure of the Muscovite military machine in great detail.
The Muscovite army size included about 30,000 to 35,000 in the noble cavalry in the 1560's but fell to about 15,000 to 20,000 in the 17th century. He estimates the 'efficient part' of the army at a total of 50,000 to 100,000 troops, but of course not all available at one time and place.
The author also describes the details of the pay and allowances, the cost of armor and weapons and other details. The artillery was extensive and included various pischali, tyufyaki, pushki and soroka. at this time the foreign mercenaries were mainly specialists and advisors.
He explains the requirements placed on the nobility to bring a number of armed followers depending on the size of their estates. The nobles could be paid more for exceeding their quota of armed retainers. The young noble was enrolled in service at age 15. The author notes that extensive bureaucratic offices kept detailed lists of those required for service and where they would be assigned.
/The system of 'mestnichestvo' (precedence) created a difficulty for the tsar in selecting the best commanders. But it created a fear amongst the noble clans of loss of prestige and possible disgrace. It was not until 1682 that the razryadni kinigi were burned (much to the dismay of historians today).
This chapter is excellent in its comprehensive descriptions of the Muscovite armed forces. One topic that stands out by its omission, and I have not found it anywhere else either, is information on training, especially training of the petty nobility cavalry. The Muscovite mounted noble warrior was enrolled, as noted, at age 15 and from then on was to show up at musters with his required equipment (often actually lacking). But it take a huge amount of careful training to create a mounted archer. And the author as well as many others notes that these men were generally reluctant to serve and often did not meet their required level of armament. So how could they have been effective horse archers?

Chapter 2 is about the military potential of Russia's enemies in the 16th centuries. The chapter begins with the Muslim armies - that is mainly the Tatars of Crimea, Kazan and the Nogai. Again, the information is in much more detail than one reads in typical histories of Russia. And the author correctly notes that "The Tatars did not intend to seize the lands of their enemies - Russia and Grand Duchy of Lithuania - even less to conquer these states." He very aptly describes their campaigns as "a protection racket at a state level". He assesses population of Crimea at 350,000 plus 150,000 living on the steppe and the Crimean khan's maximum force at 80,000 to 100,000 (unusual) but at 20,000 to 50,000 for a typical campaign. But the near constant raiding involved much smaller groups. He assesses the armed forces of the Kazan Khanate (population 200,000 to 500,000) at a normal strength of no more than 12,000 but with a potential in emergencies of increasing to 30,000 to 40,000. The author also describes the Astrakhan Tatars and the Nogai (60,000 warriors) as well as the forces the Ottoman Sultanate could deploy into eastern Europe. Again, however, the author does not discuss the level of training and military skill of the individual Tatar warriors, although he does note the sorry condition of their arms and lack of armor. I think the general, popular view equates these with the professional troops of Chingis Khan, Batu Khan or Mamai. I don't believe it. There is no indication that they underwent the constant training of the Mongol - Kypchak soldiers, or that they even lived in camps, which they did not. They were busy with their daily lives herding and cattle rustling until called up for brief excursions into Muscovy, Poland-Lithuania or occasional longer forays into Hungary or against Persia.

Then the author turns attention to the armies of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (population 4 million) and the Kingdom of Poland (population 3 million). The Grand Duchy raised 27,595 warriors in 1567 out of a theoretical maximum of 70,000. Poland should have been able to raise 100,000 but had difficulty assembling 50,000. Again, the level of detail given for these armies is exceptional. The remanent army of the Livonian Knights (400-500 German knights) is described and finally there is a short section on the Swedish intervention forces.
More detail about all these armies is provided in Appendix III.

Chapter 3 - The Russian Crusades - is about Muscovite wars against the Tatars. The author begins with the interesting comparison between Tatar and Muscovite use of religion and religious motivations. He notes here that the Tatars were not interested in converting Christians to Islam and did conceive of their campaigns and religious warfare. However, in the chapter on the siege of Kazan, he states that the Tatars indeed forced conversion on their Russian captives. But the Christian princes made increasing use of the necessity for attacking Islam itself as an ideological force to generate popular support for their campaigns. This became even stronger after 1480 and the more so as the real Tatar strength declined. He cites information from Yuri Seleznov on the number of these campaigns - in the 13th century 17 Tatar offensives versus 2 Muscovite counter attacks - in the 14th century 28 Tatar to 9 Muscovite - and in the 15th century 26 Tatar to 12 Muscovite. He does not mention that of course these do not include the frequent border raids and clashes. By the reign of Ivan IV it became a real "Holy War" preached by Orthodox clergy. Yet the Muscovites got along fine with the Muslim Tatars in their own armies. The author acribes the real motivation rather to a sense of seeking retribution for the suffering inflicted in prior centuries by the Mongol Yoke. I have to wonder at this. One would think the Muscovite motivation was a combination of practical considerations and if revenge then revenge for the yearly abductions totaling tens of thousands of prisoners to be sold in the slave markets. The author practically ignores this aspect - that the Crimean economy depended on the sale of slaves and that the murzas and beys demanded from their khan the opportunities to collect prisoners.

The first campaign of revenge is that to conquer Kazan from 2 April 1545 to 2 October 1552. The back and forth of the various campaigns are described culminating with an excellent account of the final siege of the city, although guerilla warfare continued for years. The description of the siege is especially fine, but Dr. Filjushkin ignores the Crimean campaign that summer which diverted the Muscovites temporarily. For Ivan it was Astrakhan's turn next, and the author proceeds to an unusually detailed description of that conquest. Next the tsar's attention was directed to the much more difficult problem on the Crimean Khanate. Dr. Filjushkin describes the situation and relative strengths of the two sides and Ivan's resulting strategy. The first encounter was in July 1555 at Sudbishchi, a battle I have not found in other English language references. The following year Muscovite forces, including Cossacks, Circassians, and Lithuanians reached Kerch to the east and Ochakov to the west of Crimea itself. These campaigns led by Dmitry Vishnevetsky and others continued until 1560.

Chapter 4 Ivan's strategy shifts from offense to defense. The chapter begins with discussion of the three-way diplomacy amongst Muscovy, Poland-Lithuania and the Crimean Khanate. Each was trying to get one of the others as an ally against the third. And in these moves and counter moves the Dnieper and Don Cossacks plaid their complex roles. The author describes in detail these tortuous negotiations that went on for years, all the while the Tatars continued to raid either Lithuania or Muscovy. Then in 1569 the Crimea Tatars were called upon by the Ottomans to participate in a Turkish campaign to Astrakhan. This campaign failed utterly. The next significant incidents were in 1571-72. In the first year Khan Devlet-Girei led his full army right to Moscow and burned the town. In the second he was attempting the same adventure when he was stopped and soundly defeated at the battle of Molodi . Dr. Filjushkin describes both campaigns in detail and fits in information about the Russian defense lines on the Oka and to the south. Not withstanding these campaigns, Ivan continued to seek a peace treaty with Crimea, because he was fully engaged in his war with Lithuania. The author sums up Ivan's efforts on this front before turning in the next chapter to his wars to the west.

The author uses the term oprichniki when mentioning specific commanders while discussing their engagements. But there is no real mention of the oprichnina as a phenomena and its influence on military readiness, force allocation, policy, and personnel. For instance, some authors connect the Muscovite failure in 1571 as well as Ivan's reaction to it to internal conflict between the oprichnina and the regular military establishment.
At the end of Chapter 4 the author states his conclusion related to this phase of Ivan's policies and enterprises. He notes that the wars against the Muslims continued for several more centuries. His assessment is that "On the whole his anti-Muslim policy may be considered successful, Russia destroyed two enemy states (The Kazan and Astrakhan khanates) and , in the end, turned out to be the winner in the military confrontation with the Crimea." Dr. Filjushkin points further to Ivan's success in increasing the southern defense lines and prepared these for his successors. He also notes that while Ivan's diplomatic efforts were unsuccessful in gaining Crimea as an ally against Poland, at least they prevented the Khanate from becoming an ally of Poland. But whether or not this situation was a result of Ivan's diplomacy or the inherent interest of the Crimean Khans and their Ottoman overlords may be subject to further discussion.

Chapter 5 Ivan's Baltic Wars - In this short chapter about Ivan's relatively brief and successful Livonian wars, Dr. Filjushkin first sets the stage by describing the political situation in the region. Then comes Ivan's first war with Sweden 1555-57. Next he provides great detail on the Livonian wars. For reasons of coherent narrative authors almost always do divide attention when discussing Muscovite history by geographical region. Typically Ivan's wars to the west, which were simultaneous to his wars with Crimea are described separately. This makes sense in enabling the reader to focus on one thing at a time. But one must also consider that from Ivan's point of view these conflicts required major decisions about allocation of forces and finances. The Muscovite administration could not make this separation. Warfare was going on on both fronts simultaneously. This is clear from the text, but even so its impact on policy and resource allocation could have been more stressed. Warfare on one front impacted significantly on warfare on the other.

Chapter 6 The Dispute over Russian Lands. This means the war with Lithuania and Poland over Polotsk, Smolensk, and points south and west. With his campaigns in Livonia having success by 1561 Ivan turned more to regain ancient Rus territories now held by Lithuania. The first war lasted until 1570 at Polotsk. The campaigns are described in detail, including numbers and types of troops and the names of their commanders. Polotsk was taken. But then Poland entered the game. And in 1576 Stefan Bathory was elected its king. This prince of Transylvania was able to bring (pay) Hungarian and German mercenaries into the conflict. Ivan's last success was a major raid into Livonia in 1577. This long chapter contains much valuable discussion of the lengthy and convoluted diplomatic moves, which even included the fanciful idea that Ivan might become King of Poland.

Chapter 7 The Military Disaster of Ivan the Terrible. The title tells it all. The short, sharp war against Bathory, 1579-81, brought disaster indeed, not withstanding Bathory's failure to capture Pskov in a great siege in the last year. Ivan lost all his gains in Livonia and more. The author describes all this in his typical style, mixing details of troops and commanders with analysis of operations. The chapter ends with an interesting disquisition on "How the Wars of Ivan the Terrible Opened up Russia for Europe'. In this section the author describes with contemporary quotations the appraisal Ivan's campaigns were having in Western Europe.

Epilogue - One of the best aspects of this book is that the author analyzes and comments on policies and events throughout. But in this epilogue he goes even further. He evaluates Ivan's military policy under three topics: results of his Eastern Policy, results of his Western Policy, and results of his military policy for his own country (in other words the impact internal to Russia). He judges the Eastern policy was successful, Kazan and Astrakhan along with a huge, valuable territory were added to the domain and the threat from these Tatar khanates was ended. Policy toward Crimea also was successful, despite setbacks such as the burning of Moscow, and the fortified frontier was moved significantly to the south. The evaluations of Ivan's Western policy by later historians have been more controversial. Dr. Filjushkin presents some of these alternate arguments and provides his own assessment of the gains and losses for all the participants. The Livonian Order of course disappeared. Poland and Sweden were big winners. Denmark lost out. The Holy Roman Empire lost its eastern appendage. The author settles with the view that Muscovy at least gained diplomatic experience as well as more significant military skills. Ivan's military policies at least prepared the way for his successors, in particular Peter I.

I recommend as a book that is a comprehensive biography of Ivan IV - Isabel de Madariaga, Ivan the Terrible, Yale Univ Press, New Haven, maps, illustrations. notes, bibliography, index. 484 pgs. Dr De Madariaga provides added political and social context for the same military events in Dr. Filjuskhin's book.

Here are some links to other articles and illustrations in this directory

 
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Smith, Dianne, THE MUSCOVITE ARMY OF IVAN IV, THE TERRIBLE Dr. Smith's manuscript on the army itself. With a chronology of military events and descriptions of weapons by John Sloan

 
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Smith, Dianne, The Sixteenth Century Muscovite Army - another essay focused on the army, with extensive illustrations and bibliography

 
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Sloan, John - A brief biography of Ivan

 
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Portrait of Ivan IV and summary of reign.

 
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Illustration from Razin book depicting the Muscovite artillery practicing with Ivan IV watching.

 
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Diorama of the siege of Kazan in the Artillery museum in St Petersburg

 
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Diorama from different perspective

 
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Diorama from another side. Note the Russian heavy artillery with gabions between them and the siege tower mounting smaller caliber guns.

 
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Illustration of Muscovite artillery in action.

 
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Illustration of Muscovite artillery in action.

 
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Order of battle typical for medieval Muscovite armies. This is the formation at the time of Dmitri Donskoi, but it had not changed by Ivan's reign. The equivalent polki of subordinate leaders would frequently be distributed to the various polki of the main army when they were united. While 'polk' in modern Russian is translated as 'regiment', the medieval formation was not a regular unit let alone a regiment - rather it was like the western 'battle'.

 
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This map from Beskrovni's atlas depicts the various fortified lines constructed during the reigns of Ivan IV and Boris Gudunov. And the opposing Tatar campaign routes from Crimea. "Shore duty" was the term used to describe the annual assignment of Muscovite troops to occupy frontier posts and perform mobile patrols along the Oka River.

 
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This schematic depicts a section of the prefabricated and portable Muscovite wooden fortress used in field operations to shelter artillery and streltzi gunners. This one is on runners for use in snow.

 
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This schematic shows a section of the gulai gorod on wheels for use in summer. The openings are for streltzi hand gunners. This innovation provided protection from Tatar cavalry.

 
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This diagram depicts a layout of an entire gulai gorod with the individual panels connected to form an all-around defensive work. This not only served as a mobile protection for the infantry and artillery, but also as a base of fire and operations at which cavalry could rally and form for counterattacks.

 
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Map showing Russian positions around Kazan during the siege . It shows also the Tatar and Cheremish efforts to relieve the siege.

 
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This schematic drawing depicts the wooden siege tower fitted with artillery and small arms used at the siege of Kazan in 1552. A model of the tower can be seen in the diorama of the siege at the Museum of Artillery in St Petersburg.

 
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This map from Beskrovni's Atlas of Russian military history shows the routes of the Muscovite armies from Moscow to Kazan. One section was diverted temporarily south by the incursion of the Crimean Tatars around Tula and Kashira. We see that the lead or advance polk, the great or mainpolk and the right arm polk traveled by the southern route across country through Ryazan, while the left arm polk and the Tsar's personal druzhina went via Vladimir and Murom. They reached the Volga at the fortress built on an island at Sviyazhsk where they met supplies and artillery brought down the river by barge.

 
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Sloan, John, Muscovite conquest of Kazan - essay

 
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Map from Beskrovni's atlas of Russian military history. These are the campaigns ordered by Ivan IV for the years shown. We are preparing text history of this war.

 
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These are the campaigns for the years shown. Ivan IV in 1563, Magnus in 1570, Ivan IV in 1572 and 1577, Stephan Bathori in 1579-81 and Delagarde in 1581.

 
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Drawing of Kazan at time of siege

 
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Drawing of bird's eye view of Kazan at time of siege.

 
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Diagram map of Kazan kremlin

 
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Typical march order for an army or section of an army moving in enemy or unknown territory.

 
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This shows the administrative organization for command and control of the Muscovite armed forces. At the top is the 'bol'shoi voyevod'=field commander ; the 'voyevod gulyavi '=commander of the gulai gorod; 'voyevod u naryada'=commander of the artillery and trains; then the 'bol'shoi polk'=main body (battl); the 'storozhevoi polk'=security unit; the 'zasadnii polk=ambush unit; the golova strelitskii=commander of the streltzi; beneath him are the several 'strelyetskii prikazi'=units of 800 to 1000 strelets which are in turn divided into 100's and 10's; with the main body are the 'peredovoi polk=lead body or advanced guard; the 'polk levoi ruki and polk pravoi ruki '=left and right wing bodies; they are organized into sotni=100's and desyatki=10's; and at bottom the 'artoul' or trains. Typically during the earlier middle ages the 'national' army if assembled for a major campaign would be composed of the forces brought by various serving princes which would be amalgamated into the total force. But by the reign of Ivan IV practically all forces with the exception of native (Tatar) or cossack units were already contained in one armed force. While the term 'polk' in modern Russian is translated into 'regiment', in the medieval army the 'polk' was not a standing body regiment - rather, the term should be translated into the western term 'battle' or corps.

 
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This diagrammatic map depicts Stephan Bathory's unsuccessful siege of Pskov during the Livonian War.

 
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This cross listing of the wars year by year well illustrates the strategic problem facing Ivan IV

 
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This illustration from Razin depicts streltzi repelling a Tatar cavalry attack from behind a temporary line of sacks.

 
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This illustration from Razin depicts streltzi pulling sled mounted sections of the gulai gorod into place and locking them together.

 
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An illustration from Razin showing a winter 'inspection' of streltzi with the tsar seated at the rear. The arquebusiers would fire at the ice wall until it was destroyed. Note how they use the berdish as a rest for the heavy arquebus.

 
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Illustration showing the use of the gulai gorod palisade as a base of fire and rally point in the field. The cavalry is effective for mobile operations mainly in attack but cannot form a defensive position very well without dismounting. But the infantry would be very vulnerable to enemy cavalry if left out in the open.

 

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