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1492 – The Rise Of Russia

September 7, 2016

1492(One in a series of posts about 1492: The Year The World Began.)

June 7: Casimir IV, king of Poland and Grand Prince of Lithuania, dies.

Casimir was, by common assent, the greatest ruler in Christendom. His territory stretched from the Baltic Sea to the Black Sea. Its eastern frontier lay deep inside Russia, along the breakwater between the Dnieper and Volga valleys. Westward, it unfolded as far as Saxony and the satellite kingdoms of Bohemia, and Hungary, which Casimir more or less controlled. On the map, it was the biggest and most formidable-looking domain in the Latin world since the fall of the Roman empire.” (p. 147)

But that’s not why his death is important, in Felipe Fernández-Armesto’s view. It’s important because Casimir was the last great Western rival to Russia’s Ivan III.

“Ivan turned Russia into the uncontainable, imperial state that has played a major role in global politics ever since. In his reign, the extent of territory nominally subject to Moscow grew from fifteen thousand to six hundred thousand square kilometers. He annexed Novgorod and wrenched at the frontiers of Kazan and Lithuania. His priorities lay in the West. He defined Russia’s championship of Orthodoxy. He drew a new frontier with Catholic Europe, but, while excluding Catholicism, he opened Russia to cultural influences from the West. He discarded the Mongol yoke and reversed the direction of imperialism in Eurasia. From his time on, the pastoralists of the central Asian steppes would usually be victims of Russian imperialism rather than empire makers at Russian expense. In all these respects the influence of his achievements has endured and helped shape the world in which we live, in which Russia seems to teeter on the edge of the West, never utterly alien but maddeningly inassimilable. But the most striking effect of his reign on the subsequent history of the world has usually gone unremarked: the opening of Russia’s way east, toward what contemporaries called ‘The Land of Darkness’—Arctic Russia and Siberia, which, of all the colonial territories European imperialists conquered in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, is the only land where empire endures today.” (p. 172)

“The year 1492 was the decisive one for the reign, not only because the world failed to end* but also because a new world began for Russia when Casimir IV died. His sons divided his inheritance. The only power capable of challenging Muscovy in the vast imperial arena between Europe and Asia dissolved. The frontier between Orthodoxy and Catholicism wavered a great deal in future centuries, but it never strayed far from the lines laid down in the treaties Ivan and his son made with Casimir’s heir. Muscovy became Russia—recognizably the state that occupies the region today. Russia was able to turn east toward the Land of Darkness and begin to convert the great forests and tundra into an empire that has remained Russia’s ever since.” (p. 175)

*Russian calendars stopped in 1492 because that year was, by their calculations, “the close of the seventh millennium of creation”. (p. 148)

Other posts in this series:




From → Books, Uncategorized

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