Who Was Ivan The Terrible ?

With such a name you're already imagining that this Ivan guy was just an all-around awful person. And yup, you guessed it; he was. But he didn't exactly come out the gate like that. Ivan the Terrible was a Russian Tsar — the first of his kind. It was a title bestowed onto him when he was just 16 years old, with no parents. He ruled Russia for almost four decades until his death, and according to Russia Beyond, is largely responsible for why Russia is so geographically massive. Ivan also oversaw the creation of St. Basil's Cathedral, the colorful house of worship that is also an iconic symbol of Russia's cultural heritage. The early years of his leadership would set the tone for Russian history in the centuries after his rule. But Ivan's brutal reign would overshadow everything beyond that.

Through instilling fear and punishment, undergoing mood changes and an overall unpredictable mental state, Ivan ruled with an iron fist, according to Biography. He would command ultimate control, punish and execute those he deemed traitors. History Collection says he ordered the massacre of an entire city, and, relates Up All Hours, even killed his own son.

Born on August 25, 1530, he was the older of two boys. His parents were Vasili III of Russia and Elena Galinskaya. His younger brother, Yuri of Uglich, was born deaf. Their father said before he died that Ivan would rule as his successor. At three years of age, Ivan was crowned the Grand Prince of Moscow.

The tragic slide into madness

His mother would rule until he was of age, but when Ivan was eight years old she too died suddenly. Now an orphan, Ivan was still a prince, but left in the care of the court. Historians believe this period shaped his outlook on life and ultimately his brutal nature. With noble families (or boyars) after the throne, Ivan and his brother were left to care for themselves. They watched as feuding families struggled for power while ignoring the brothers, per Biography. The trauma he endured during his childhood defined who Ivan came to be.

The end result of a childhood of neglect, in addition to high members of society questioning his legitimacy to the throne, would naturally cause some pent-up negative feelings. There was no question that anger would follow him into adulthood, and it did. But it didn't truly manifest until the death of a loved one. In 1560, his first wife, Anastasia Romanova, died. Her death devastated him, and soon people would start seeing a drastic change in Ivan's mental and emotional state. He had already been showing a personality change, but his wife's death sent him down a spiral, according to Biography.

Russia Beyond also says he later formed a brutal police force called oprichnina, to keep his foot on the necks of noble families by whom he felt threatened. These guards did Ivan's bidding by carrying out executions, torture, assaults, and theft. Their cruel style of policing instilled fear, particularly in the boyars who were always his target.

Father and executioner

Ivan the Terrible would go down in infamy for the executions he ordered. Throughout his reign, Ivan the Terrible had expanded Russia by conquering independently-run regions and claiming victory, most notably the siege of Kazan, which also helped later annexation of other areas, per History Today. Even though many independently-run cities had been conquered by Ivan or before him, his instability is largely blamed for what happened in Novgorod. It was said that he was extremely paranoid and suspicious, and anything could set him off.

The result was the most shocking massacre in history, the mass slaughter that took place in the city of Novgorod. In 1570, he and his oprichniki force descended on the city to carry out a brutal attack. Different numbers place the death toll anywhere from 60,000 and 100,000 people perishing, and Ivan the Terrible was forever remembered for launching the onslaught.

Before his death in 1584, he would cement his reputation for brutality by killing his own son in an apparent fit of rage. In 1581, Ivan struck his son, also named Ivan, in the head during an apparent argument about his daughter-in-law's revealing clothing. His 27-year-old heir was badly injured and would die a few days later. The incident was famously depicted in a painting (pictured) that shows Ivan clutching his injured son in a show of shock and regret.