Country Listing

Soviet Union Table of Contents

Soviet Union

The Evolution of Russian Autocracy

Outward expansion was accompanied by internal consolidation. By the fifteenth century, the rulers of Muscovy considered the entire territory their collective property. Various semi-independent princes still claimed specific territories, but Ivan forced the lesser princes to acknowledge the grand prince of Muscovy and his descendants as unquestioned rulers and having control over military, judicial, and foreign affairs.

Gradually, the Muscovite ruler emerged as a powerful, autocratic ruler, a "tsar." By assuming the title "tsar," the Muscovite prince underscored that he was a major ruler or emperor, much like the emperor of the Byzantine Empire or the Mongol khan. Indeed, Byzantine terms, rituals, emblems such as the double-headed eagle, and titles were adopted by the Muscovite court after Ivan III's marriage to Sophia Paleologue, the niece of the last Byzantine emperor. Ivan III was the first Russian prince to begin using the title "tsar and autocrat," mimicking the titles used by Christian emperors of Constantinople. At first, "autocrat" indicated merely that the tsar was an independent ruler, but in the reign of Ivan IV (1533-84) the concept was enlarged until it came to mean unlimited rule. Ivan IV was crowned tsar and was thus recognized, at least by the Orthodox Church, as emperor. An Orthodox monk had claimed that, with the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Empire in 1453, the Muscovite tsar was the only legitimate Orthodox ruler and that Moscow was the Third Rome because it was the final successor to Rome and Constantinople, the centers of Christianity in earlier empires.

Data as of May 1989