The Romance of Reality
Author of "Half-Hours with the Best American Authors," "Tales from the Dramatists," etc.
IN FIFTEEN VOLUMES
J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY
PHILADELPHIA AND LONDON
Copyright, 1898, by J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY. Copyright, 1904, by J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY. Copyright, 1908, by J.B. LIPPINCOTT COMPANY.
THE ANCIENT SCYTHIANS 5
OLEG THE VARANGIAN 14
THE VENGEANCE OF QUEEN OLGA 21
VLADIMIR THE GREAT 29
THE LAWGIVER OF RUSSIA 41
THE YOKE OF THE TARTARS 49
THE VICTORY OF THE DON 55
IVAN, THE FIRST OF THE CZARS 60
THE FALL OF NOVGOROD THE GREAT 64
IVAN THE TERRIBLE 74
THE CONQUEST OF SIBERIA 80
THE MACBETH OF RUSSIA 85
THE ERA OF THE IMPOSTORS 101
THE BOOKS OF ANCESTRY 110
BOYHOOD OF PETER THE GREAT 114
CARPENTER PETER OF ZAANDAM 123
THE FALL OF THE STRELITZ 132
THE CRUSADE AGAINST BEARDS AND CLOAKS 142
MAZEPPA, THE COSSACK CHIEF 149
A WINDOW OPEN TO EUROPE 155
FROM THE HOVEL TO THE THRONE 165
BUFFOONERIES OF THE RUSSIAN COURT 174
HOW A WOMAN DETHRONED A MAN 184
A STRUGGLE FOR A THRONE 195
THE FLIGHT OF THE KALMUCKS 202
A MAGICAL TRANSFORMATION SCENE 220
KOSCIUSKO AND THE FALL OF POLAND 226
SUWARROW THE UNCONQUERABLE 231
THE RETREAT OF NAPOLEON'S GRAND ARMY 241
THE DEATH-STRUGGLE OF POLAND 248
SCHAMYL, THE HERO OF CIRCASSIA 258
THE CHARGE OF THE LIGHT BRIGADE 267
THE FALL OF SEBASTOPOL 276
AT THE GATES OF CONSTANTINOPLE 284
THE NIHILISTS AND THEIR WORK 293
THE ADVANCE OF RUSSIA IN ASIA 300
THE RAILROAD IN TURKESTAN 311
AN ESCAPE FROM THE MINES OF SIBERIA 319
THE SEA FIGHT IN THE WATERS OF JAPAN 329
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE KREMLIN Frontispiece.
CATHEDRAL AT OSTANKINO, NEAR MOSCOW 40
GENERAL VIEW OF MOSCOW 55
CHURCH AND TOWER OF IVAN THE GREAT 78
KIAKHTA, SIBERIA 84
CHURCH OF THE ASSUMPTION, MOSCOW, IN WHICH THE CZAR IS CROWNED 109
ALEXANDER III., CZAR OF RUSSIA 122
DINING-ROOM IN THE PALACE OF PETER THE GREAT, MOSCOW 136
PETER THE GREAT 142
ST. PETERSBURG HARBOR, NEVA RIVER 156
SLEIGHING IN RUSSIA 160
A RUSSIAN DROSKY 189
THE CITY OF KASAN 199
SCENE ON A RUSSIAN FARM 223
RUSSIAN PEASANTS 249
MOUNT ST. PETER, CRIMEA 267
THE WALLS OF CONSTANTINOPLE 290
THE ARREST OF A NIHILIST 297
DOWAGER CZARINA OF RUSSIA 300
GROUP OF SIBERIANS 320
THE ANCIENT SCYTHIANS.
Far over the eastern half of Europe extends a vast and mighty plain, spreading thousands of miles to the north and south, to the east and west, in the north a land of forests, in the south and east a region of treeless levels. Here stretches the Black Land, whose deep dark soil is fit for endless harvests; here are the arable steppes, a vast fertile prairie land, and here again the barren steppes, fit only for wandering herds and the tents of nomad shepherds. Across this great plain, in all directions, flow myriads of meandering streams, many of them swelling into noble rivers, whose waters find their outlet in great seas. Over it blow the biting winds of the Arctic zone, chaining its waters in fetters of ice for half the year. On it in summer shine warm suns, in whose enlivening rays life flows full again.
Such is the land with which we have to deal, Russia, the seeding-place of nations, the home of restless tribes. Here the vast level of Northern Asia spreads like a sea over half of Europe, following the lowlands between the Urals and the Caspian Sea. Over these broad plains the fierce horsemen of the East long found an easy pathway to the rich and doomed cities of the West. Russia was playing its part in the grand drama of the nations in far-off days when such a land was hardly known to exist.
Have any of my readers ever from a hill-top looked out over a broad, low-lying meadow-land filled with morning mist, a dense white shroud under which everything lay hidden, all life and movement lost to view? In such a scene, as the mist thins under the rays of the rising sun, vague forms at first dimly appear, magnified and monstrous in their outlines, the shadows of a buried wonderland. Then, as the mist slowly lifts, like a great white curtain, living and moving objects appear below, still of strange outlines and unnatural dimensions. Finally, as if by the sweep of an enchanter's wand, the mists vanish, the land lies clear under the solar rays, and we perceive that these seeming monsters and giants are but the familiar forms which we know so well, those of houses and trees, men and their herds, actively stirring beneath us, clearly revealed as the things of every day.
It is thus that the land of Russia appears to us when the mists of prehistoric time first begin to lift. Half-formed figures appear, rising, vanishing, showing large through the vapor; stirring, interwoven, endlessly coming and going; a phantasmagoria which it is impossible more than half to understand. At that early date the great Russian plain seems to have been the home of unnumbered tribes of varied race and origin, made up of men doubtless full of hopes and aspirations like ourselves, yet whose story we fail to read on the blurred page of history, and concerning whom we must rest content with knowing a few of the names.
Yet progressive civilizations had long existed in the countries to the south, Egypt and Assyria, Greece and Persia. History was actively being made there, but it had not penetrated the mist-laden North. The Greeks founded colonies on the northern shores of the Black Sea, but they troubled themselves little about the seething tribes with whom they came there into contact. The land they called Scythia, and its people Scythians, but the latter were scarcely known until about 500 B.C., when Darius, the great Persian king, crossed the Danube and invaded their country. He found life there in abundance, and more warlike activity than he relished, for the fierce nomads drove him and his army in terror from their soil, and only fortune and a bridge of boats saved them from perishing.
It was this event that first gave the people of old Russia a place on the page of history. Herodotus, the charming old historian and story-teller, wrote down for us all he could learn about them, though what he says has probably as much fancy in it as fact.
We are told that these broad levels were formerly inhabited by a people called the Cimmerians, who were driven out by the Scythians and went—it is hard to tell whither. A shadow of their name survives in the Crimea, and some believe that they were the ancestors of the Cymri, the Celts of the West.
The Scythians, who thus came into history like a cloud of war, made the god of war their chief deity. The temples which they built to this deity were of the simplest, being great heaps of fagots, which were added to every year as they rotted away under the rains. Into the top of the heap was thrust an ancient iron sword as the emblem of the god. To this grim symbol more victims were sacrificed than to all the other deities; not only cattle and horses, but prisoners taken in battle, of whom one out of every hundred died to honor the god, their blood being caught in vessels and poured on the sword.
A people with a worship like this must have been savage in grain. To prove their prowess in war they cut off the heads of the slain and carried them to the king. Like the Indians of the West, they scalped their enemies. These scalps, softened by treatment, they used as napkins at their meals, and even sewed them together to make cloaks. Here was a refinement in barbarity undreamed of by the Indians.
These were not their only savage customs. They drank the blood of the first enemy killed by them in battle, and at their high feasts used drinking-cups made from the skulls of their foes. When a chief died cruelty was given free vent. The slaves and horses of the dead chief were slain at his grave, and placed upright like a circle of horsemen around the royal tomb, being impaled on sharp timbers to keep them in an upright position.
Tribes with habits like these have no history. There is nothing in their careers worth the telling, and no one to tell it if there were. Their origin, manners, and customs may be of interest, but not their intertribal quarrels.
Herodotus tells us of others besides the Scythians. There were the Melanchlainai, who dressed only in black; the Neuri, who once a year changed into wolves; the Agathyrei, who took pleasure in trinkets of gold; the Sauromati, children of the Amazons, or women warriors; the Argippei, bald-headed and snub-nosed from their birth; the Issedones, who feasted on the dead bodies of their parents; the Arimaspians, a one-eyed race; the Gryphons, guardians of great hoards of gold; the Hyperboreans, in whose land white feathers (snow-flakes?) fell all the year round from the skies.
Such is the mixture of fact and fable which Herodotus learned from the traders and travellers of Greece. We know nothing of these tribes but the names. Their ancestors may have dwelt for thousands of years on the Russian plains; their descendants may still make up part of the great Russian people and retain some of their old-time habits and customs; but of their doings history takes no account.
The Scythians, who occupied the south of Russia, came into contact with the Greek trading colonies north of the Black Sea, and gained from them some little veneer of civilization. They aided the Greeks in their commerce, took part in their caravans to the north and east, and spent some portion of the profits of their peaceful labor in objects of art made for them by Greek artists.
This we know, for some of these objects still exist. Jewels owned by the ancient Scythians may be seen to-day in Russian museums. Chief in importance among these relics are two vases of wonderful interest kept in the museum of the Hermitage, at St. Petersburg. These are the silver vase of Nicopol and the golden vase of Kertch, both probably as old as the days of Herodotus. These vases speak with history. On the silver vase we may see the faces and forms of the ancient Scythians, men with long hair and beards and large features. They resemble in dress and aspect the people who now dwell in the same country, and they are shown in the act of breaking in and bridling their horses, just as their descendants do to-day. Progress has had no place on these broad plains. There life stands still.
On the golden vase appear figures who wear pointed caps and dresses ornamented in the Asiatic fashion, while in their hands are bows of strange shape. But their features are those of men of Aryan descent, and in them we seem to see the far-off progenitors of the modern Russians.
Herodotus, in his chatty fashion, tells us various problematical stories of the Scythians, premising that he does not believe them all himself. A tradition with them was that they were the youngest of all nations, being descended from Targitaus, one of the numerous sons of Jove. The three children of Targitaus for a time ruled the land, but their joint rule was changed by a prodigy. There fell from the skies four implements of gold,—a plough, a yoke, a battle-axe, and a drinking-cup. The oldest brother hastened eagerly to seize this treasure, but it burst into flame at his approach. The second then made the attempt, but was in his turn driven back by the scorching flames. But on the approach of the youngest the flames vanished, the gold grew cool, and he was enabled to take possession of the heaven-given implements. His elders then withdrew from the throne, warned by this sign from the gods, and left him sole ruler. The story proceeds that the royal gold was guarded with the greatest care, yearly sacrifices being made in its honor. If its guardian fell asleep in the open air during the sacrifices he was doomed to die within the year. But as reward for the faithful keeping of his trust he received as much land as he could ride round on horseback in a day.
The old historian further tells us that the Scythian warriors invaded the kingdom of Media, which they conquered and held for twenty-eight years. During this long absence strange events were taking place at home. They had held many slaves, whom it was their custom to blind, as they used them only to stir the milk in the great pot in which koumiss, their favorite beverage, was made.
The wives of the absent warriors, after years of waiting, gave up all hopes of their return and married the blind slaves; and while the masters tarried in Media the children of their slaves grew to manhood.
The time at length came when the warriors, filled with home-sickness, left the subject realm to seek their native plains. As they marched onward they found themselves stopped by a great dike, dug from the Tauric Mountains to Lake Maeotis, behind which stood a host of youthful warriors. They were the children of the slaves, who were determined to keep the land for themselves. Many battles were fought, but the young men held their own bravely, and the warriors were in despair.
Then one of them cried to his fellows,—
"What foolish thing are we doing, Scythians? These men are our slaves, and every one of them that falls is a loss to us; while each of us that falls reduces our number. Take my advice, lay aside spear and bow, and let each man take his horsewhip and go boldly up to them. So long as they see us with arms in our hands they fancy that they are our equals and fight us bravely. But let them see us with only whips, and they will remember that they are slaves and flee like dogs from before our faces."
It happened as he said. As the Scythians approached with their whips the youths were so astounded that they forgot to fight, and ran away in trembling terror. And so the warriors came home, and the slaves were put to making koumiss again.
These fabulous stories of the early people of Russia may be followed by an account of their funeral customs, left for us by an Arabian writer who visited their land in the ninth century. He tells us that for ten days after the death of one of their great men his friends bewailed him, showing the depth of their grief by getting drunk on koumiss over his corpse.
Then the men-servants were asked which of them would be buried with his master. The one that consented was instantly seized and strangled. The same question was put to the women, one of whom was sure to accept. There may have been some rare future reward offered for death in such a cause. The willing victim was bathed, adorned, and treated like a princess, and did nothing but drink and sing while the obsequies lasted.
On the day fixed for the end of the ceremonies, the dead man was laid in a boat, with part of his arms and garments. His favorite horse was slain and laid in the boat, and with it the corpse of the man-servant. Then the young girl was led up. She took off her jewels, a glass of kvass was put in her hand, and she sang a farewell song.
"All at once," says the writer, "the old woman who accompanied her, and whom they called the angel of death, bade her to drink quickly, and to enter into the cabin of the boat, where lay the dead body of her master. At these words she changed color, and as she made some difficulty about entering, the old woman seized her by the hair, dragged her in, and entered with her. The men immediately began to beat their shields with clubs to prevent the other girls from hearing the cries of their companion, which might prevent them one day dying for their master."
The boat was then set on fire, and served as a funeral pile, in which living and dead alike were consumed.
OLEG THE VARANGIAN.
For ages and ages, none can say how many, the great plain of Russia existed as a nursery of tribes, some wandering with their herds, some dwelling in villages and tilling their fields, but all warlike and all barbarians. And over this plain at intervals swept conquering hordes from Asia, the terrible Huns, the devastating Avars, and others of varied names. But as yet the Russia we know did not exist, and its very name had never been heard.
As time went on, the people in the centre and north of the country became peaceful and prosperous, since the invaders did not cross their borders, and a great and wealthy city arose, whose commerce in time extended on the east as far as Persia and India, on the south to Constantinople, and on the west far through the Baltic Sea. Though seated in Russia, still largely a land of barbarous tribes, Novgorod became one of the powerful cities of the earth, making its strength felt far and wide, placing the tribes as far as the Ural Mountains under tribute, and growing so strong and warlike that it became a common saying among the people, "Who can oppose God and Novgorod the Great?"
But trouble arose for Novgorod. Its chief trade lay through the Baltic Sea, and here its ships met those terrible Scandinavian pirates who were then the ocean's lords. Among these bold rovers were the Danes who descended on England, the Normans who won a new home in France, the daring voyagers who discovered Iceland and Greenland, and those who sailed up the Mediterranean as far as Constantinople, conquering kingdoms as they went.
To some of these Scandinavians the merchants of Novgorod turned for aid against the others. Bands of them had made their way into Russia and settled on the eastern shores of the Baltic. To these the Novgorodians appealed in their trouble, and in the year 862 asked three Varangian brothers, Rurik, Sinaf, and Truvor, to come to their aid. The warlike brothers did so, seated themselves on the frontier of the republic of Novgorod, drove off its foes—and became its foes themselves. The people of Novgorod, finding their trade at the mercy of their allies, submitted to their power, and in 864 invited Rurik to become their king. His two brothers had meantime died.
Thus it was that the Russian empire began, for the Varangians came from a country called Ross, from which their new realm gained the name of Russia.
Rurik took the title of Grand Prince, made his principal followers lords of the cities of his new realm, and the republic of Novgorod came to an end in form, though not in spirit. It is interesting to note at this point that Russia, which began as a republic, has ended as one of the most absolute of monarchies. The first step in its subjection was taken when Novgorod invited Rurik the Varangian to be its prince; the other steps came later, one by one.
For fifteen years Rurik remained lord of Novgorod, and then died and left his four-year-old son Igor as his heir, with Oleg, his kinsman, as regent of the realm. It is the story of Oleg, as told by Nestor, the gossipy old Russian chronicler, that we propose here to tell, but it seemed useful to precede it by an account of how the Russian empire came into existence.
Oleg was a man of his period, a barbarian and a soldier born; brave, crafty, adventurous, faithful to Igor, his ward, cruel and treacherous to others. Under his rule the Russian dominions rapidly and widely increased.
At an earlier date two Varangians, Askhold and Dir by name, had made their way far to the south, where they became masters of the city of Kief. They even dared to attack Constantinople, but were driven back from that great stronghold of the South.
It by no means pleased Oleg to find this powerful kingdom founded in the land which he had set out to subdue. He determined that Kief should be his, and in 882 made his way to its vicinity. But it was easier to reach than to take. Its rulers were brave, their Varangian followers were courageous, the city was strong. Oleg, doubting his power to win it by force of arms, determined to try what could be done by stratagem and treachery.
Leaving his army, and taking Igor with him, he floated down the Dnieper with a few boats, in which a number of armed men were hidden, and at length landed near the ancient city of Kief, which stood on high ground near the river. Placing his warriors in ambush, he sent a messenger to Askhold and Dir, with the statement that a party of Varangian merchants, whom the prince of Novgorod had sent to Greece, had just landed, and desired to see them as friends and men of their own race.
Those were simple times, in which even the rulers of cities did not put on any show of state. On the contrary, the two princes at once left the city and went alone to meet the false merchants. They had no sooner arrived than Oleg threw off his mask. His followers sprang from their ambush, arms in hand.
"You are neither princes nor of princely birth," he cried; "but I am a prince, and this is the son of Rurik."
And at a sign from his hand Askhold and Dir were laid dead at his feet.
By this act of base treachery Oleg became the master of Kief. No one in the city ventured to resist the strong army which he quickly brought up, and the metropolis of the south opened its gates to the man who had wrought murder under the guise of war. It is not likely, though, that Oleg sought to justify his act on any grounds. In those barbarous days, when might made right, murder was too much an every-day matter to be deeply considered by any one.
Oleg was filled with admiration of the city he had won. "Let Kief be the mother of all the Russian cities!" he exclaimed. And such it became, for he made it his capital, and for three centuries it remained the capital city of the Russian realm.
What he principally admired it for was its nearness to Constantinople, the capital of the great empire of the East, on which, like the former lords of Kief, he looked with greedy and envious eyes.
For long centuries past Greece and the other countries of the South had paid little heed to the dwellers on the Russian plains, of whose scattered tribes they had no fear. But with the coming of the Varangians, the conquest of the tribes, and the founding of a wide-spread empire, a different state of affairs began, and from that day to this Constantinople has found the people of the steppes its most dangerous and persistent foes.
Oleg was not long in making the Greek empire feel his heavy hand. Filling the minds of his followers and subjects with his own thirst for blood and plunder, he set out with an army of eighty thousand men, in two thousand barks, passed the cataracts of the Borysthenes, crossed the Black Sea, murdered the subjects of the empire in hosts, and, as the chronicles say, sailed overland with all sails set to the port of Constantinople itself. What he probably did was to have his vessels taken over a neck of land on wheels or rollers.
Here he threw the imperial city into mortal terror, fixed his shield on the very gate of Constantinople, and forced the emperor to buy him off at the price of an enormous ransom. To the treaty made the Varangian warriors swore by their gods Perune and Voloss, by their rings, and by their swords,—gold and steel, the things they honored most and most desired.
Then back in triumph they sailed to Kief, rich with booty, and ever after hailing their leader as the Wise Man, or Magician. Eight years afterwards Oleg made a treaty of alliance and commerce with Constantinople, in which Greeks and Russians stood on equal footing. Russia had made a remarkable stride forward as a nation since Rurik was invited to Novgorod a quarter-century before.
For thirty-three years Oleg held the throne. His was too strong a hand to yield its power to his ward. Igor must wait for Oleg's death. He had found a province; he left an empire. In his hands Russia grew into greatness, and from Novgorod to Kief and far and wide to the right and left stretched the lands won by his conquering sword.
He was too great a man to die an ordinary death. According to the tradition, miracle had to do with his passing away. Nestor, the prince of Russian chroniclers, tells us the following story:
Oleg had a favorite horse, which he rode alike in battle and in the hunt, until at length a prediction came from the soothsayers that death would overtake him through his cherished charger. Warrior as he was, he had the superstition of the pagan, and to avoid the predicted fate he sent his horse far away, and for years avoided even speaking of it.
Then, moved by curiosity, he asked what had become of the banished animal.
"It died years ago," was the reply; "only its bones remain."
"So much for your soothsayers," he cried, with a contempt that was not unmixed with relief. "That, then, is all this prediction is worth! But where are the bones of my good old horse? I should like to see what little is left of him."
He was taken to the spot where lay the skeleton of his old favorite, and gazed with some show of feeling on the bleaching bones of what had once been his famous war-horse. Then, setting his foot on the skull, he said,—
"So this is the creature that is destined to be my death."
At that moment a deadly serpent that lay coiled up within the skull darted out and fixed its poisonous fangs in the conqueror's foot. And thus ignobly he who had slain men by thousands and conquered an empire came to his death.
THE VENGEANCE OF QUEEN OLGA.
The death of Oleg brought Igor his ward, then nearly forty years of age, to the throne of Rurik his father. And the same old story of bloodshed and barbarity went on. In those days a king was king in name only. He was really but the chief of a band of plunderers, who dug wealth from the world with the sword instead of the spade, threw it away in wild orgies, and then hounded him into leading them to new wars.
The story of the Northmen is everywhere the same. While in the West they were harrying England, France, and the Mediterranean countries with fire and sword, in the East their Varangian kinsmen were spreading devastation through Russia and the empire of the Greeks.
Like his predecessor, Igor invaded this empire with a great army, landing in Asia Minor and treating the people with such brutal ferocity that no earthquake or volcano could have shown itself more merciless. His prisoners were slaughtered in the most barbarous manner, fire swept away all that havoc had left, and then the Russian prince sailed in triumph against Constantinople, with his ten thousand barks manned by murderers and laden with plunder.
But the Greeks were now ready for their foes. Pouring on them the terrible Greek fire, they drove them back in dismay to Asia Minor, where they were met and routed by the land forces of the empire. In the end Igor hurried home with hardly a third of his great army.
Three years afterward he again led an army in boats against Constantinople, but this time he was bought off by a tribute of gold, silver, and precious stuffs, as Oleg had been before him.
Igor was now more than seventy years old, and naturally desired to spend the remainder of his days in peace, but his followers would not let him rest. The spoils and tribute of the Greeks had quickly disappeared from their open hands, and the warlike profligates demanded new plunder.
"We are naked," they bitterly complained, "while the companions of Sveneld have beautiful arms and fine clothing. Come with us and levy contributions, that we and you may dwell in plenty together."
Igor obeyed—he could not well help himself—and led them against the Drevlians, a neighboring nation already under tribute. Marching into their country, he forced them to pay still heavier tribute, and allowed his soldiers to plunder to their hearts' content.
Then the warriors of Kief marched back, laden with spoils. But the wolfish instincts of Igor were aroused. More, he thought, might be squeezed out of the Drevlians, but he wanted this extra plunder for himself. So he sent his army on to Kief, and went back with a small force to the country of the Drevlians, where he held out his hand—with the sword in it—for more.
He got more than he bargained for. The Drevlians, driven to extremity, came with arms instead of gold, attacked the king and his few followers, and killed the whole of them upon the spot. And thus in blood ended the career of this white-haired tribute-seeker.
The fallen prince left behind him a widow named Olga and a son named Sviatoslaf, who was still a child, as Igor had been at the death of his father. So Olga became regent of the kingdom, and Sveneld was made leader of the army.
How deeply Olga loved Igor we are not prepared to say, but we are told some strange tales of what she did to avenge him. These tales we may believe or not, as we please. They are legends only, like those of early Rome, but they are all the history we have, and so we repeat the story much as old Nestor has told it.
The death of Igor filled the hearts of the Drevlians with hope. Their great enemy was gone; the new prince was a child: might they not gain power as well as liberty? Their prince Male should marry Olga the widow, and all would be well with them.
So twenty of their leading men were sent to Kief, where they presented themselves to the queenly regent. Their offer of an alliance was made in terms suited to the manners of the times.
"We have killed your husband," they said, "because he plundered and devoured like a wolf. But we would be at peace with you and yours. We have good princes, under whom our country thrives. Come and marry our prince Male and be our queen."
Olga listened like one who weighed the offer deeply.
"After all," she said, "my husband is dead, and I cannot bring him to life again. Your proposal seems good to me. Leave me now, and come again to-morrow, when I will entertain you before my people as you deserve. Return to your barks, and when my people come to you to-morrow, say to them, 'We will not go on horseback or on foot; you must carry us in our barks.' Thus you will be honored as I desire you to be."
Back went the Drevlians, glad at heart, for the queen had seemed to them very gracious indeed. But Olga had a deep and wide pit dug before a house outside the city, and next day she went to that house and sent for the ambassadors.
"We will not go on foot or on horseback," they said to the messengers; "carry us in our barks."
"We are your slaves," answered the men of Kief. "Our ruler is slain, and our princess is willing to marry your prince."
So they took up on their shoulders the barks, in which the Drevlians proudly sat like kings on their thrones, and carried them to the front of the house in which Olga awaited them with smiling lips but ruthless heart.
There, at a sign from her hand, the ambassadors and the barks in which they sat were flung headlong into the yawning pit.
"How do you like your entertainment?" asked the cruel queen.
"Oh!" they cried, in terror, "pity us! Forgive us the death of Igor!"
But they begged in vain, for at her command the pit was filled up and the Drevlians were buried alive.
Then Olga sent messengers to the land of the Drevlians, with this message to their prince:
"If you really wish for me, send me men of the highest consideration in your country, that my people may be induced to let me go, and that I may come to you with honor and dignity."
This message had its effect. The chief men of the country were now sent as ambassadors. They entered Kief over the grave of their murdered countrymen without knowing where they trod, and came to the palace expecting to be hospitably entertained.
Olga had a bath made ready for them, and sent them word,—
"First take a bath, that you may refresh yourselves after the fatigue of your journey, then come into my presence."
The bath was heated, and the Drevlians entered it. But, to their dismay, smoke soon began to circle round them, and flames flashed on their frightened eyes. They ran to the doors, but they were immovable. Olga had ordered them to be made fast and the house to be set on fire, and the miserable bathers were all burned alive.
But even this terrible revenge was not enough for the implacable widow. Those were days when news crept slowly, and the Drevlians did not dream of Olga's treachery. Once more she sent them a deceitful message: "I am about to repair to you, and beg you to get ready a large quantity of hydromel in the place where my husband was killed, that I may weep over his tomb and honor him with the trizna [funeral banquet]."
The Drevlians, full of joy at this message, gathered honey in quantities and brewed it into hydromel. Then Olga sought the tomb, followed by a small guard who were only lightly armed. For a while she wept over the tomb. Then she ordered a great mound of honor to be heaped over it. When this was done she directed the trizna to be set out.
The Drevlians drank freely, while the men of Kief served them with the intoxicating beverage.
"Where are the friends whom we sent to you?" they asked.
"They are coming with the friends of my husband," she replied.
And so the feast went on until the unsuspecting Drevlians were stupid with drink. Then Olga bade her guards draw their weapons and slay her foes, and a great slaughter began. When it ended, five thousand Drevlians lay dead at her feet.
Olga's revenge was far from being complete: her thirst for blood grew as it was fed. She returned to Kief, collected her army, took her young son with her that he might early learn the art of war, and returned inspired by the rage of vengeance to the land of the Drevlians.
Here she laid waste the country and destroyed the towns. In the end she came to the capital, Korosten, and laid siege to it. Its name meant "wall of bark," so that it was, no doubt, a town of wood, as probably all the Russian towns at that time were.
The siege went on, but the inhabitants defended themselves obstinately, for they knew now the spirit of the woman with whom they had to contend. So a long time passed and Korosten still held out.
Finding that force would not serve, Olga tried stratagem, in which she was such an adept.
"Why do you hold out so foolishly?" she said. "You know that all your other towns are in my power, and your countrypeople are peacefully tilling their fields while you are uselessly dying of hunger. You would be wise to yield; you have no more to fear from me; I have taken full revenge for my slain husband."
The Drevlians, to conciliate her, offered a tribute of honey and furs. This she refused, with a show of generosity, and said that she would ask no more from them than a tribute of a pigeon and three sparrows from each house.
Gladdened by the lightness of this request, the Drevlians quickly gathered the birds asked for, and sent them out to the invading army. They did not dream what treachery lay in Olga's cruel heart. That evening she let all the birds loose with lighted matches tied to their tails. Back to their nests in the town they flew, and soon Korosten was in flames in a thousand places.
In terror the inhabitants fled through their gates, but the soldiers of the bloodthirsty queen awaited them outside, sword in hand, with orders to cut them down without mercy as they appeared. The prince and all the leading men of the state perished, and only the lowest of the populace were left alive, while the whole land thereafter was laid under a load of tribute so heavy that it devastated the country like an invading army and caused the people to groan bitterly beneath the burden.
And thus it was that Olga the widow took revenge upon the murderers of her fallen lord.
VLADIMIR THE GREAT.
Vladimir, Grand Prince of Russia before and after the year 1000, won the name not only of Vladimir the Great but of St. Vladimir, though he was as great a reprobate as he was a soldier and monarch, and as unregenerate a sinner as ever sat on a throne. But it was he who made Russia a Christian country, and in reward the Russian Church still looks upon him as "coequal with the Apostles." What he did to deserve this high honor we shall see.
Sviatoslaf, the son of Olga, had proved a hardy soldier. He disdained the palace and lived in the camp. In his marches he took no tent or baggage, but slept in the open air, lived on horse-flesh broiled by himself upon the coals, and showed all the endurance of a Cossack warrior born in the snows. After years of warfare he fell on the field of battle, and his skull, ornamented with a circle of gold, became a drinking-cup for the prince of the Petchenegans, by whose hands he had been slain. His empire was divided between his three sons, Yaropolk reigning in Kief, Oleg becoming prince of the Drevlians, and Vladimir taking Rurik's old capital of Novgorod.
These brothers did not long dwell in harmony. War broke out between Yaropolk and Oleg, and the latter was killed. Vladimir, fearing that his turn would come next, fled to the country of the Varangians, and Yaropolk became lord over all Russia. It is the story of the fugitive prince, and how he made his way from flight to empire and from empire to sainthood, that we are now about to tell.
For two years Vladimir dwelt with his Varangian kinsmen, during which time he lived the wild life of a Norseman, joining the bold vikings in their raids for booty far and wide over the seas of Europe. Then, gathering a large band of Varangian adventurers, he returned to Novgorod, drove out the men of Yaropolk, and sent word by them to his brother that he would soon call upon him at Kief.
Vladimir quickly proved himself a prince of barbarian instincts. In Polotsk ruled Rogvolod, a Varangian prince, whose daughter Rogneda, famed for her beauty, was betrothed to Yaropolk. Vladimir demanded her hand, but received an insulting reply.
"I will never unboot the son of a slave," said the haughty princess.
It was the custom at that time for brides, on the wedding night, to pull off the boots of their husbands; and Vladimir's mother had been one of Queen Olga's slave women.
But insults like this, to men like Vladimir, are apt to breed bloodshed. Hot with revengeful fury, he marched against Polotsk, killed in battle Rogvolod and his two sons, and forced the disdainful princess to accept his hand still red with her father's blood.
Then he marched against Kief, where Yaropolk, who seems to have had more ambition than courage, shut himself up within the walls. These walls were strong, the people were faithful, and Kief might long have defied its assailant had not treachery dwelt within. Vladimir had secretly bought over a villain named Blude, one of Yaropolk's trusted councillors, who filled his master's mind with suspicion of the people of Kief and persuaded him to fly for safety. His flight gave Kief into his brother's hands.
To Rodnia fled the fugitive prince, where he was closely besieged by Vladimir, to whose aid came a famine so fierce that it still gives point to a common Russian proverb. Flight or surrender became necessary. Yaropolk might have found strong friends among some of the powerful native tribes, but the voice of the traitor was still at his ear, and at Blude's suggestion he gave himself up to Vladimir. It was like the sheep yielding himself to the wolf. By the victor's order Yaropolk was slain in his father's palace.
And now the traitor sought his reward. Vladimir felt that it was to Blude he owed his empire, and for three days he so loaded him with honors and dignities that the false-hearted wretch deemed himself the greatest among the Russians.
But the villain had been playing with edge tools. At the end of the three days Vladimir called Blude before him.
"I have kept all my promises to you," he said. "I have treated you as my friend; your honors exceed your highest wishes; I have made you lord among my lords. But now," he continued, and his voice grew terrible, "the judge succeeds the benefactor. Traitor and assassin of your prince, I condemn you to death."
And at his stern command the startled and trembling traitor was struck dead in his presence.
The tide of affairs had strikingly turned. Vladimir, late a fugitive, was now lord of all the realm of Russia. His power assured, he showed himself in a new aspect. Yaropolk's widow, a Greek nun of great beauty, was forced to become his wife. Not content with two, he continued to marry until he had no less than six wives, while he filled his palaces with the daughters of his subjects until they numbered eight hundred in all.
"Thereby hangs a tale," as Shakespeare says. Rogneda, Vladimir's first wife, had forgiven him for the murder of her father and brothers, but could not forgive him for the insult of turning her out of his palace and putting other women in her place. She determined to be revenged.
One day when he had gone to see her in the lonely abode to which she had been banished, he fell asleep in her presence. Here was the opportunity her heart craved. Seizing a dagger, she was on the point of stabbing him where he lay, when Vladimir awoke and stopped the blow. While the frightened woman stood trembling before him, he furiously bade her prepare for death, as she should die by his own hand.
"Put on your wedding dress," he harshly commanded; "seek your handsomest apartment, and stretch yourself on the sumptuous bed you there possess. Die you must, but you have been honored as the wife of Vladimir, and shall not meet an ignoble death."
Rogneda did as she was bidden, yet hope had not left her heart, and she taught her young son Isiaslaf a part which she wished him to play. When the frowning prince entered the apartment where lay his condemned wife, he was met by the boy, who presented him with a drawn sword, saying, "You are not alone, father. Your son will be witness to your deed."
Vladimir's expression changed as he looked at the appealing face of the child.
"Who thought of seeing you here?" he cried, and, flinging the sword to the floor, he hastily left the room.
Calling his nobles together, he told them what had happened and asked their advice.
"Prince," they said, "you should spare the culprit for the sake of the child. Our advice is that you make the boy lord of Rogvolod's principality."
Vladimir did so, sending Rogneda with her son to rule over her father's realm, where he built a new city which he named after the boy.
Vladimir had been born a pagan, and a pagan he was still, worshipping the Varangian deities, in particular the god Perune, of whom he had a statue erected on a hill near his palace, adorned with a silver head. On the same sacred hill were planted the statues of other idols, and Vladimir proposed to restore the old human sacrifices by offering one of his own people as a victim to the gods.
For this purpose there was selected a young Varangian who, with his father, had adopted the Christian faith. The father refused to give up his son, and the enraged people, who looked on the refusal as an insult to their prince and their gods, broke into the house and murdered both father and son. These two have since been canonized by the Russian Church as the only martyrs to its faith.
Vladimir by this time had become great in dominion, his warlike prowess extending the borders of Russia on all sides. The nations to the south saw that a great kingdom had arisen on their northern border, ruled by a warlike and conquering prince, and it was deemed wise to seek to win him from the worship of idols to a more elevated faith. Askhold and Dir had been baptized as Christians. Olga, after her bloody revenge, had gone to Constantinople and been baptized by the patriarch. But the nation continued pagan, Vladimir was an idolater in grain, and a great field lay open for missionary zeal.
No less than four of the peoples of the south sought to make a convert of this powerful prince. The Bulgarians endeavored to win him to the religion of Mohammed, picturing to him in alluring language the charms of their paradise, with its lovely houris. But he must give up wine. This was more than he was ready to do.
"Wine is the delight of the Russians," he said: "we cannot do without it."
The envoys of the Christian churches and the Jewish faith also sought to win him over. The appeal of the Jews, however, failed to impress him, and he dismissed them with the remark that they had no country, and that he had no inclination to join hands with wanderers under the ban of Heaven. There remained the Christians, comprising the Roman and Greek Churches, at that time in unison. Of these the Greek Church, the claims of which were presented to him by an advocate from Constantinople, appealed to him most strongly, since its doctrines had been accepted by Queen Olga.
As may be seen, religion with Vladimir was far more a matter of policy than of piety. The gods of his fathers, to whom he had done such honor, had no abiding place in his heart; and that belief which would be most to his advantage was for him the best.
To settle the question he sent ten of his chief boyars, or nobles, to the south, that they might examine and report on the religions of the different countries. They were not long in coming to a decision. Mohammedanism and Catholicism, they said, they had found only in poor and barbarous provinces. Judaism had no land to call its own. But the Greek faith dwelt in a magnificent metropolis, and its ceremonies were full of pomp and solemnity.
"If the Greek religion were not the best," they said, in conclusion, "Olga, your ancestress, and the wisest of mortals, would never have thought of embracing it."
Pomp and solemnity won the day, and Vladimir determined to follow Olga's example. As to what religion meant in itself he seems to have thought little and cared less. His method of becoming a Christian was so original that it is well worth the telling.
Since the days of Olga Kief had possessed Christian churches and priests, and Vladimir might easily have been baptized without leaving home. But this was far too simple a process for a prince of his dignity. He must be baptized by a bishop of the parent Church, and the missionaries who were to convert his people must come from the central home of the faith.
Should he ask the emperor for the rite of baptism? Not he; it would be too much like rendering homage to a prince no greater than himself. The haughty barbarian found himself in a quandary; but soon he discovered a promising way out of it. He would make war on Greece, conquer priests and churches, and by force of arms obtain instruction and baptism in the new faith. Surely never before or since was a war waged with the object of winning a new religion.
Gathering a large army, Vladimir marched to the Crimea, where stood the rich and powerful Greek city of Kherson. The ruins of this city may still be seen near the modern Sevastopol. To it he laid siege, warning the inhabitants that it would be wise in them to yield, for he was prepared to remain three years before their walls.
The Khersonites proved obstinate, and for six months he besieged them closely. But no progress was made, and it began to look as if Vladimir would never become a Christian in his chosen mode. A traitor within the walls, however, solved the difficulty. He shot from the ramparts an arrow to which a letter was attached, in which the Russians were told that the city obtained all its fresh water from a spring near their camp, to which ran underground pipes. Vladimir cut the pipes, and the city, in peril of the horrors of thirst, was forced to yield.
Baptism was now to be had from the parent source, but Vladimir was still not content. He demanded to be united by ties of blood to the emperors of the southern realm, asking for the hand of Anna, the emperor's sister, and threatening to take Constantinople if his proposal were rejected.
Never before had a convert come with such conditions. The princess Anna had no desire for marriage with this haughty barbarian, but reasons of state were stronger than questions of taste, and the emperors (there were two of them at that time) yielded. Vladimir, having been baptized under the name of Basil, married the princess Anna, and the city he had taken as a token of his pious zeal was restored to his new kinsmen. All that he took back to Russia with him were a Christian wife, some bishops and priests, sacred vessels and books, images of saints, and a number of consecrated relics.
Vladimir displayed a zeal in his new faith in accordance with the trouble he had taken to win it. The old idols he had worshipped were now the most despised inmates of his realm. Perune, as the greatest of them all, was treated with the greatest indignity. The wooden image of the god was tied to the tail of a horse and dragged to the Borysthenes, twelve stout soldiers belaboring it with cudgels as it went. The banks reached, it was flung with disdain into the river.
At Novgorod the god was treated with like indignity, but did not bear it with equal patience. The story goes that, being flung from a bridge into the Volkhof, the image of Perune rose to the surface of the water, threw a staff upon the bridge, and cried out in a terrifying voice, "Citizens, that is what I leave you in remembrance of me."
In consequence of this legend it was long the custom in that city, on the day which was kept as the anniversary of the god, for the young people to run about with sticks in their hands, striking one another unawares.
As for the Russians in general, they discarded their old worship as easily as the prince had thrown overboard their idols. One day a proclamation was issued at Kief, commanding all the people to repair to the river-bank the next day, there to be baptized. They assented without a murmur, saying, "If it were not good to be baptized, the prince and the boyars would never submit to it."
These were not the only signs of Vladimir's zeal. He built churches, he gave alms freely, he set out public repasts in imitation of the love-feasts of the early Christians. His piety went so far that he even forbore to shed the blood of criminals or of the enemies of his country.
But horror of bloodshed did not lie long on Vladimir's conscience. In his later life he had wars in plenty, and the blood of his enemies was shed as freely as water. These wars were largely against the Petchenegans, the most powerful of his foes. And in connection with them there is a story extant which has its parallel in the history of many another country.
It seems that in one of their campaigns the two armies came face to face on the opposite sides of a small stream. The prince of the Petchenegans now proposed to Vladimir to settle their quarrel by single combat and thus spare the lives of their people. The side whose champion was vanquished should bind itself to a peace lasting for three years.
Vladimir was loath to consent, as he felt sure that his opponents had ready a champion of mighty power. He felt forced in honor to accept the challenge, but asked for delay that he might select a worthy champion.
Whom to select he knew not. No soldier of superior strength and skill presented himself. Uneasiness and agitation filled his mind. But at this critical interval an old man, who served in the army with four of his sons, came to him, saying that he had at home a fifth son of extraordinary strength, whom he would offer as champion.
The young man was sent for in great haste. On his arrival, to test his powers, a bull was sent against him which had been goaded into fury with hot irons. The young giant stopped the raging brute, knocked him down, and tore off great handfuls of his skin and flesh. Hope came to Vladimir's soul on witnessing this wonderful feat.
The day arrived. The champions advanced between the camps. The Petchenegan warrior laughed in scorn on seeing his beardless antagonist. But when they came to blows he found himself seized and crushed as in a vice in the arms of his boyish foe, and was flung, a lifeless body, to the earth. On seeing this the Petchenegans fled in dismay, while the Russians, forgetting their pledge, pursued and slaughtered them without mercy.
Vladimir at length (1015 A.D.) came to his end. His son Yaroslaf, whom he had made ruler of Novgorod, had refused to pay tribute, and the old prince, forced to march against his rebel son, died of grief on the way.
With all his faults, Vladimir deserved the title of Great which his country has given him. He put down the turbulent tribes, planted colonies in the desert, built towns, and embellished his cities with churches, palaces, and other buildings, for which workmen were brought from Greece. Russia grew rapidly under his rule. He established schools which the sons of the nobles were made to attend. And though he was but a poor pattern for a saint, he had the merit of finding Russia pagan and leaving it Christian.
THE LAWGIVER OF RUSSIA.
The Russia of the year 1000 lay deep in the age of barbarism. Vladimir had made it Christian in name, but it was far from Christian in thought or deed. It was a land without fixed laws, without settled government, without schools, without civilized customs, but with abundance of ignorance, cruelty, and superstition.
It was strangely made up. In the north lay the great commercial city of Novgorod, which, though governed by princes of the house of Rurik, was a republic in form and in fact. It possessed its popular assembly, of which every citizen was a member with full right to vote, and at whose meetings the prince was not permitted to appear. The sound of a famous bell, the Vetchevoy, called the people together, to decide on questions of peace and war, or to elect magistrates, and sometimes the bishop, or even the prince. The prince had to swear to carry out the ancient laws of the republic and not attempt to lay taxes on the citizens or to interfere with their trade. They made him gifts, but paid him no taxes. They decided how many hours he should give to pleasure and how many to business; and they expelled some of their princes who thought themselves beyond the power of the laws.
It seems strange that the absolute Russia of to-day should then have possessed one of the freest of the cities of Europe. Novgorod was not only a city, it was a state. The provinces far and wide around were subject to it, and governed by its prince, who had in them an authority much greater than he possessed over the proud civic merchants and money lords.
In the south, on the contrary, lay the great imperial city of Kief, the capital of the realm, and the seat of a government as arbitrary as that of Novgorod was free. Here dwelt the grand prince as an irresponsible autocrat, making his will the law, and forcing all the provinces, even haughty Novgorod, to pay a tax which bore the slavish title of tribute. Here none could vote, no assembly of citizens ever met, and the only restraint on the prince was that of his warlike and turbulent nobles, who often forced him to yield to their wishes. The government was a drifting rather than a settled one. It had no anchors out, but was moved about at the whim of the prince and his unruly lords.
Under these two forms of government lay still a third. Rural Russia was organized on a democratic principle which still prevails throughout that broad land. This is the principle of the Mir, or village community, which most of the people of the earth once possessed, but which has everywhere passed away except in Russia and India. It is the principle of the commune, of public instead of private property. The land of a Russian village belongs to the people as a whole, not to individuals. It is divided up among them for tillage, but no man can claim the fields he tills as his own, and for thousands of years what is known as communism has prevailed on Russian soil.
The government of the village is purely democratic. All the people meet and vote for their village magistrate, who decides, with the aid of a council of the elders, all the questions which arise within its confines, one of them being the division of the land. Thus at bottom Russia is a field sown thick with little communistic republics, though at top it is a despotism. The government of Novgorod doubtless grew out of that of the village. The republican city has long since passed away, but the seed of democracy remains planted deeply in the village community.
All this is preliminary to the story of the Russian lawgiver and his laws, which we have set out to tell. This famous person was no other than that Yaroslaf, prince of Novgorod, and son of Vladimir the Great, whose refusal to pay tribute had caused his father to die of grief.
Yaroslaf was the fifth able ruler of the dynasty of Rurik. The story of his young life resembles that of his father. He found his brother strong and threatening, and designed to fly from Novgorod and join the Varangians as a viking lord, as his father had done before him. But the Novgorodians proved his friends, destroyed the ships that were to carry him away, and provided him with money to raise a new army. With this he defeated his base brother, who had already killed or driven into exile all their other brothers. The result was that Yaroslof, like his father, became sovereign of all Russia.
But though this new grand prince extended his dominions by the sword, it was not as a soldier, but as a legislator, that he won fame. His genius was not shown on the field of battle, but in the legislative council, and Russia reveres Yaroslaf the Wise as its first maker of laws.
The free institutions of Novgorod, of which we have spoken, were by him sustained and strengthened. Many new cities were founded under his beneficent rule. Schools were widely established, in one of which three hundred of the youth of Novgorod were educated. A throng of Greek priests were invited into the land, since there were none of Russian birth to whom he could confide the duty of teaching the young. He gave toleration to the idolaters who still existed, and when the people of Suzdal were about to massacre some hapless women whom they accused of having brought on a famine by sorcery, he stayed their hands and saved the poor victims from death. The Russian Church owed its first national foundation to him, for he declared that the bishops of the land should no longer depend for appointment on the Patriarch of Constantinople.
There are no startling or dramatic stories to be told about Yaroslaf. The heroes of peace are not the men who make the world's dramas. But it is pleasant, after a season spent with princes who lived for war and revenge, and who even made war to obtain baptism, to rest awhile under the green boughs and beside the pleasant waters of a reign that became famous for the triumphs of peace.
Under Yaroslaf Russia united itself by ties of blood to Western Europe. His sons married Greek, German, and English princesses; his sister became queen of Poland; his three daughters were queens of Norway, Hungary, and France. Scandinavian in origin, the dynasty of Rurik was reaching out hands of brotherhood towards its kinsmen in the West.
But it is as a law-maker that Yaroslaf is chiefly known. Before his time the empire had no fixed code of laws. To say that it was without law would not be correct. Every people, however ignorant, has its laws of custom, unwritten edicts, the birth of the ages, which have grown up stage by stage, and which are only slowly outgrown as the tribe develops into the nation.
Russia had, besides Novgorod, other commercial cities, with republican institutions. Kief was certainly not without law. And the many tribes of hunters, shepherds, and farmers must have had their legal customs. But with all this there was no code for the empire, no body of written laws. The first of these was prepared about 1018 by Yaroslaf, for Novgorod alone, but in time became the law of all the land. This early code of Russian law is a remarkable one, and goes farther than history at large in teaching us the degree of civilization of Russia at that date.
In connection with it the chronicles tell a curious story. In 1018, we are told, Novgorod, having grown weary of the insults and oppression of its Varangian lords and warriors, killed them all. Angry at this, Yaroslaf enticed the leading Novgorodians into his palace and slaughtered them in reprisal. But at this critical interval, when his guards were slain and his subjects in rebellion, he found himself threatened by his ambitious brother. In despair he turned to the Novgorodians and begged with tears for pardon and assistance. They forgave and aided him, and by their help made him sovereign of the empire.
How far this is true it is impossible to say, but the code of Yaroslaf was promulgated at that date, and the rights given to Novgorod showed that its people held the reins of power. It confirmed the city in the ancient liberties of which we have already spoken, giving it a freedom which no other city of its time surpassed. And it laid down a series of laws for the people at large which seem very curious in this enlightened age. It must suffice to give the leading features of this ancient code.
It began by sustaining the right of private vengeance. The law was for the weak alone, the strong being left to avenge their own wrongs. The punishment of crime was provided for by judicial combats, which the law did not even regulate. Every strong man was a law unto himself.
Where no avengers of crime appeared, murder was to be settled by fines. For the murder of a boyar eighty grivnas were to be paid, and forty for the murder of a free Russian, but only half as much if the victim was a woman. Here we have a standard of value for the women of that age.
Nothing was paid into the treasury for the murder of a slave, but his master had to be paid his value, unless he had been slain for insulting a freeman. His value was reckoned according to his occupation, and ranged from twelve to five grivnas.
If it be asked what was the value of a grivna, it may be said that at that time there was little coined money, perhaps none at all, in Russia. Gold and silver were circulated by weight, and the common currency was composed of pieces of skin, called kuni. A grivna was a certain number of kunis equal in value to half a pound of silver, but the kuni often varied in value.
All prisoners of war and all persons bought from foreigners were condemned to perpetual slavery. Others became slaves for limited periods,—freemen who married slaves, insolvent debtors, servants out of employment, and various other classes. As the legal interest of money was forty per cent., the enslavement of debtors must have been very common, and Russia was even then largely a land of slaves.
The loss of a limb was fined almost as severely as that of a life. To pluck out part of the beard cost four times as much as to cut off a finger, and insults in general were fined four times as heavily as wounds. Horse-stealing was punished by slavery. In discovering the guilty the ordeals of red-hot iron and boiling water were in use, as in the countries of the West.
There were three classes in the nation,—slaves, freemen, and boyars, or nobles, the last being probably the descendants of Rurik's warriors. The prince was the heir of all citizens who died without male children, except of boyars and the officers of his guard.
These laws, which were little more primitive than those of Western Europe at the same period, seem never to have imposed corporal punishment for crime. Injury was made good by cash, except in the case of the combat. The fines went to the lord or prince, and were one of his means of support, the other being tribute from his estates. No provision for taxation was made. The mark of dependence on the prince was military service, the lord, as in the feudal West, being obliged to provide his own arms, provisions, and mounted followers.
Judges there were, who travelled on circuits, and who impanelled twelve respectable jurors, sworn to give just verdicts. There are several laws extending protection to property, fixed and movable, which seem specially framed for the merchants of Novgorod.
Such are the leading features of the code of Yaroslaf. The franchises granted the Novgorodians, which for four centuries gave them the right to "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness," form part of it. Crude as are many of its provisions, it forms a vital starting-point, that in which Russia first came under definite in place of indefinite law. And the bringing about of this important change is the glory of Yaroslaf the Wise.
THE YOKE OF THE TARTARS.
In Asia, the greatest continent of the earth, lies its most extensive plain, the vast plateau of Mongolia, whose true boundaries are the mountains of Siberia and the Himalayan highlands, the Pacific Ocean and the hills of Eastern Europe, and of which the great plain of Russia is but an outlying section. This mighty plateau, largely a desert, is the home of the nomad shepherd and warrior, the nesting-place of the emigrant invader. From these broad levels in the past horde after horde of savage horsemen rode over Europe and Asia,—the frightful Huns, the devastating Turks, the desolating Mongols. It is with the last that we are here concerned, for Russia fell beneath their arms, and was held for two centuries as a captive realm.
The nomads are born warriors. They live on horseback; the care of their great herds teaches them military discipline; they are always in motion, have no cities to defend, no homes to abandon, no crops to harvest. Their home is a camp; when they move it moves with them; their food is on the hoof and accompanies them on the march; they can go hungry for a week and then eat like cormorants; their tools are weapons, always in hand, always ready to use; a dozen times they have burst like a devouring torrent from their desert and overwhelmed the South and West.
While the Turks were still engaged in their work of conquest, the Mongols arose, and under the formidable Genghis Khan swept over Southern Asia like a tornado, leaving death and desolation in their track. The conqueror died in 1227,—for death is a foe that vanquishes even the greatest of warriors,—and was succeeded by his son Octoi, as Great Khan of the Mongols and Tartars. In 1235, Batou, nephew of the khan, was sent with an army of half a million men to the conquest of Europe.
This flood of barbarians fell upon Russia at an unfortunate time, one of anarchy and civil war, when the whole nation was rent and torn and there were almost as many sovereigns as there were cities. The system of giving a separate dominion to every son of a grand prince had ruined Russia. These small potentates were constantly at war, confusion reigned supreme, Kief was taken and degraded and a new capital, Vladimir, established, and Moscow, which was to become the fourth capital of Russia, was founded. Such was the state of affairs when Batou, with his vast horde of savage horsemen, fell on the distracted realm.
Defence was almost hopeless. Russia had no government, no army, no imperial organization. Each city stood for itself, with great widths of open country around. Over these broad spaces the invaders swept like an avalanche, finding cultivated fields before them, leaving a desert behind. They swam the Don, the Volga, and the other great rivers on their horses, or crossed them on the ice. Leathern boats brought over their wagons and artillery. They spread from Livonia to the Black Sea, poured into the kingdoms of the West, and would have overrun all Europe but for the vigorous resistance of the knighthood of Germany.
The cities of Russia made an obstinate defence, but one after another they fell. Some saved themselves by surrender. Most of them were taken by assault and destroyed. City after city was reduced to ashes, none of the inhabitants being left to deplore their fall. The nomads had no use for cities. Walls were their enemies: pasturage was all they cared for. The conversion of a country into a desert was to them a gain rather than a loss, for grass will grow in the desert, and grass to feed their horses and herds was what they most desired.
So far as the warriors of Mongolia were concerned, their conquests left them no better off. They still had to tend and feed their herds, and they could have done that as well in their native land. But the leaders had the lust of dominion, their followers the blood-fury, and inspired by these feelings they ravaged the world.
One thing alone saved Russia from being peopled by Tartars,—its climate. This was not to their liking, and they preferred to dwell in lands better suited to their tastes and habits. The great Tartar empire of Kaptchak, or the Golden Horde, was founded on the eastern frontier; other khanates were founded in the south; but the Russian princes were left to rule in the remainder of the land, under tribute to the khans, to whom they were forced to do homage. In truth, these Tartar chiefs made themselves lords paramount of the Russian realm, and no prince, great or small, could assume the government of his state until he had journeyed to Central Mongolia to beg permission to rule from the khan of the Great Horde.
The subjection of the princes was that of slaves. A century afterward they were obliged to spread a carpet of sable fur under the hoofs of the steed of the khan's envoy, to prostrate themselves at his feet and learn his mission on their knees, and not only to present a cup of koumiss to the barbarian, but even to lick from the neck of his horse the drops of the beverage which he might let fall in drinking. More shameful subjection it would be difficult to describe.
Several princes who proved insubordinate were summoned to the camp of the Horde and there tried and executed. Rivals sought the khan, to buy power by presents. During their journeys, which occupied a year or more, the Tartar bashaks ruled their dominions. Tartar armies aided the princes in their civil wars, and helped these ambitious lords to keep their country in a state of subjection.
Fortunately for Russia, the great empire of the Mongols gradually fell to pieces of its own weight. The Kaptchak, or Golden Horde, broke loose from the Great Horde, and Russia had a smaller power to deal with. The Golden Horde itself broke into two parts. And among the many princes of Russia a grand prince was still acknowledged, with right by title to dominion over the entire realm.
One of these grand princes, Alexander by name, son of the grand prince of Vladimir, proved a great warrior and statesman and gained the power as well as the title. Prince of Novgorod by inheritance, he defeated all his enemies, drove the Germans from Russia, and recovered the Neva from the Swedes, which feat of arms gained him the title of Alexander Nevsky. The Tartars were too powerful to be attacked, so he managed to gain their good will. The khan became his friend, and when trouble arose with Kief and Vladimir their princes were dethroned and these principalities given to the shrewd grand prince.
Russia seemed to be rehabilitated. Alexander was lord of its three capitals, Novgorod, Kief, and Vladimir, and grand prince of the realm. But the Russians were not content to submit either to his authority or to the yoke of the Tartars. His whole life was spent in battle with them, or in journeys to the tent of the khan to beg forgiveness for their insults.
The climax came when the Tartar collectors of tribute were massacred in some cities and ignominiously driven out of others. When these acts became known at the Horde the angry khan sent orders for the grand prince and all other Russian princes to appear before him and to bring all their troops. He said that he was about to make a campaign, and needed the aid of the Russians.
This story Alexander did not believe. He plainly perceived that the wily Tartar wished to deprive Russia of all its armed men, that he might the more easily reduce it again to subjection. Rather than see his country ruined, the patriotic prince determined to disobey, and to offer himself as a victim by seeking alone the camp of Usbek, the great khan, a mission of infinite danger.
He hoped that his submission might save Russia from ruin, though he knew that death lay on his path. He found Usbek bitterly bent on war, and for a whole year was kept in the camp of the Horde, seeking to appease the wrath of the barbarian. In the end he succeeded, the khan promising to forgive the Russians and desist from the intended war, and in the year 1262 Alexander started for home again.
He had seemingly escaped, but not in reality. He had not journeyed far before he suddenly died. To all appearance, poison had been mingled with his food before he left the camp of the khan. Alexander had become too great and powerful at home for the designs of the conquerors. He died the victim of his love of country. His people have recognized his virtue by making him a saint. He had not labored in vain. In his hands the grand princeship had been restored, Vladimir had become supreme, and a centre had been established around which the Russians might rally. But for a century and more still they were to remain subject to the Tartar yoke.
THE VICTORY OF THE DON.
The history of Russia during the century after the Mongol conquest is one of shame and anarchy. The shame was that of slavish submission to the Tartar khan. Each prince, in succession, fell on his knees before this high dignitary of the barbarians and begged or bought his throne. The anarchy was that of the Russian princes, on which the khan looked with winking eyes, thinking that the more they weakened themselves the more they would strengthen him. The rulers of Moscow, Tver, Vladimir, and Novgorod fought almost incessantly for supremacy, crushing their people beneath the feet of their ambition, now one, now another, gaining the upper hand.
In the end the princes of Moscow became supreme. They grew rich, and were able to keep up a regular army, that chief tool of despotism. The crown lands alone gave them dominion over three hundred thousand subjects. The time was coming in which they would be the absolute rulers of all Russia. But before this could be accomplished the power of the khans must be broken, and the first step towards this was taken by the great Dmitri Donskoi, who became grand prince of Moscow in 1362.
Dmitri came to the throne at a fortunate epoch. The Golden Horde was breaking to pieces. There were several khans, at war with one another, and discord ruled among the overlords of Russia. Still greater discord reigned in Russia itself. For eighteen years Dmitri was kept busy in wars with the princes of Tver, Kief, and Lithuania. Terrible was the war with Tver. Four times he overcame Michael, its prince. Four times did Michael, aided by the prince of Lithuania, gain the victory. During this obstinate conflict Moscow was twice besieged. Only its stone walls, lately built, saved it from capture and ruin. At length Olguerd, the fiery prince of Lithuania, died, and Tver yielded. Moscow became paramount among the Russian principalities.
And now Dmitri, with all Russia as his realm, dared to defy the terrible Tartars. For more than a century no Russian prince had ventured to appear before the khan of the Golden Horde except on his knees. Dmitri had thus humbled himself only three years before. Now, inflated with his new power, he refused to pay tribute to the khan, and went so far as to put to death the Tartar envoy, who insolently demanded the accustomed payment.
Dmitri had burned his bridges behind him. He had flung down the gage of war to the Tartars, and would soon feel their hand in all its dreaded strength. The khan, on hearing of the murder of his ambassador, burst into a terrible rage. The civil wars which divided the Golden Horde had for the time ceased, and Mamai, the khan, gathered all the power of the Horde and marched on defiant Moscow, vowing to sweep that rebel city from the face of the earth.
The Russians did not wait his coming. All dissensions ceased in the face of the impending peril, all the princes sent aid, and Dmitri marched to the Don at the head of an army of two hundred thousand men. Here he found the redoubtable Mamai with three times that number of the fierce Tartar horsemen in his train.
"Yonder lies the foe," said Dmitri to his princely associates. "Here runs the Don. Shall we await him here, or cross and meet him with the river at our backs?"
"Let us cross," was the unanimous verdict. "Let us be first in the assault."
At once the order was given, and the battalions marched on board the boats and were ferried across the stream, at a short distance from the opposite bank of which the enemy lay. No sooner had they landed than Dmitri ordered all the boats to be cast adrift. It was to be victory or death; no hope of escape by flight was left; but well he knew that the men would fight with double valor under such desperate straits.
The battle began. On the serried Russian ranks the Tartars poured in that impetuous assault which had so often carried their hosts to victory. The Russians defended themselves with fiery valor, assault after assault was repulsed, and so fiercely was the field contested that multitudes of the fallen were trampled to death beneath the horses' feet. At length, however, numbers began to tell. The Russians grew weary from the closeness of the conflict. The vast host of the Tartars enabled them to replace with fresh troops all that were worn in the fight. Victory seemed about to perch upon their banners.
Dismay crept into the Russian ranks. They would have broken in flight, but no avenue of escape was left. The river ran behind them, unruffled by a boat. Flight meant death by drowning; fight meant death by the sword. Of the two the latter seemed best, for the Russians firmly believed that death at the hands of the infidels meant an immediate transport to the heavenly mansions of bliss.
At this critical moment, when the host of Dmitri was wavering between panic and courage, the men ready to drop their swords through sheer fatigue, an unlooked-for diversion inspired their shrinking souls. The grand prince had stationed a detachment of his army as a reserve, and these, as yet, had taken no part in the battle. Now, fresh and furious, they were brought up, and fell vigorously upon the rear of the Tartars, who, filled with sudden terror, thought that a new army had come to the aid of the old. A moment later they broke and fled, pursued by their triumphant foes, and falling fast as they hurried in panic fear from the encrimsoned field.
Something like amazement filled the souls of the Russians as they saw their dreaded enemies in flight. Such a consummation they had scarcely dared hope for, accustomed as they had been for a century to crouch before this dreadful foe. They had bought their victory dearly. Their dead strewed the ground by thousands. Yet to be victorious over the Tartar host seemed to them an ample recompense for an even greater loss than that sustained. Eight days were occupied by the survivors in burying the slain. As for the Tartar dead, they were left to fester on the field. Such was the great victory of the Don, from which Dmitri gained his honorable surname of Donskoi. He died nine years afterwards (1389), having won the high honor of being the first to vanquish the terrible horsemen of the Steppes, firmly founded the authority of the grand princes, and made Moscow the paramount power in Russia.
IVAN, THE FIRST OF THE CZARS.
The victory of the Don did not free Russia from the Tartar yoke. Two years afterwards the principality of Moscow was overrun and ravaged by a lieutenant of the mighty Tamerlane, the all-conquering successor of Genghis Khan. Several times Moscow was taken and burned. Full seventy years later, at the court of the Golden Horde, two Russian princes might have been seen disputing before the great khan the possession of the grand principality and tremblingly awaiting his decision. Nevertheless, the battle of the Don had sounded the knell of the Tartar power. Anarchy continued to prevail in the Golden Horde. The power of the grand princes of Moscow steadily grew. The khans themselves played into the hands of their foes. Russia was slowly but surely casting off her fetters, and deliverance was at hand.
Ivan III., great-grandson of Dmitri Donskoi, ascended the throne in 1462, nearly two centuries and a half after the Tartar invasion. During all that period Russia had been the vassal of the khans. Only now was its freedom to come. It was by craft, more than by war, that Ivan won. In the field he was a dastard, but in subtlety and perfidy he surpassed all other men of his time, and his insidious but persistent policy ended by making him the autocrat of all the Russias.
He found powerful enemies outside his dominions,—the Tartars, the Lithuanians, and the Poles. He succeeded in defeating them all. He had powerful rivals within the domain of Russia. These also he overcame. He made Moscow all-powerful, imitated the tyranny of the Tartars, and founded the autocratic rule of the czars which has ever since prevailed.
The story of the fall of the Golden Horde may be briefly told. It was the work of the Russian army, but not of the Russian prince. In 1469, after collecting a large army, Ivan halted and began negotiating. But the army was not to be restrained. Disregarding the orders of their general, they chose another leader, and assailed and captured Kasan, the chief Tartar city. As for the army of the Golden Horde, it was twice defeated by the Russian force. In 1480 a third invasion of the Tartars took place, which resulted in the annihilation of their force.
The tale, as handed down to us, is a curious one. The army, full of martial ardor, had advanced as far as the Oka to meet the Tartars; but on the approach of the enemy Ivan, stricken with terror, deserted his troops and took refuge in far-off Moscow. He even recalled his son, but the brave boy refused to obey, saying that "he would rather die at his post than follow the example of his father."
The murmurs of the people, the supplication of the priests, the indignation of the boyars, forced him to return to the army, but he returned only to cover it with shame and himself with disgrace. For when the chill of the coming winter suddenly froze the river between the two forces, offering the foe a firm pathway to battle, Ivan, in consternation, ordered a retreat, which his haste converted into a disorderly flight. Yet the army was two hundred thousand strong and had not struck a blow.
Fortune and his allies saved the dastard monarch. For at this perilous interval the khan of the Crimea, an ally of Russia, attacked the capital of the Golden Horde and forced a hasty recall of its army; and during its disorderly homeward march a host of Cossacks fell upon it with such fury that it was totally destroyed. Russia, threatened with a new subjection to the Tartars by the cowardice of its monarch, was finally freed from these dreaded foes through the aid of her allies.
But the fruits of this harvest, sown by others, were reaped by the czar. His people, who had been disgusted with his cowardice, now gave him credit for the deepest craft and wisdom. All this had been prepared by him, they said. His flight was a ruse, his pusillanimity was prudence; he had made the Tartars their own destroyers, without risking the fate of Russia in a battle; and what had just been condemned as dastard baseness was now praised as undiluted wisdom.
Ivan would never have gained the title of Great from his deeds in war. He won it, and with some justice, from his deeds in peace. He was great in diplomacy, great in duplicity, great in that persistent pursuit of a single object through which men rise to power and fame. This object, in his case, was autocracy. It was his purpose to crush out the last shreds of freedom from Russia, establish an empire on the pernicious pattern of a Tartar khanate, which had so long been held up as an example before Russian eyes, and make the Prince of Moscow as absolute as the Emperor of China. He succeeded. During his reign freedom fled from Russia. It has never since returned.
The story of how this great aim was accomplished is too long to be told here, and the most important part of it must be left for our next tale. It will suffice, at this point, to say that by astute policy and good fortune Ivan added to his dominions nineteen thousand square miles of territory and four millions of subjects, made himself supreme autocrat and his voice the sole arbiter of fate, reduced the boyars and subordinate princes to dependence on his throne, established a new and improved system of administration in all the details of government, and by his marriage with Sophia, the last princess of the Greek imperial family,—driven by the Turks from Constantinople to Rome,—gained for his standard the two-headed eagle, the symbol of autocracy, and for himself the supreme title of czar.
THE FALL OF NOVGOROD THE GREAT.
The Czar of Russia is the one political deity in Europe, the sole absolute autocrat. More than a hundred millions of people have delivered themselves over, fettered hand and foot, almost body and soul, to the ownership of one man, without a voice in their own government, without daring to speak, hardly daring to think, otherwise than he approves. Thousands of them, millions of them, perhaps, are saying to-day, in the words of Hamlet, "It is not and it cannot come to good; but break my heart, for I must hold my tongue."
Who is this man, this god of a nation, that he should loom so high? Is he a marvel of wisdom, virtue, and nobility, made by nature to wear the purple, fashioned of porcelain clay, greater and better than all the host to whom his word is the voice of fate? By no means; thousands of his subjects tower far above him in virtue and ability, but, puppet-like, the noblest and best of them must dance as he pulls the strings, and hardly a man in Russia dares to say that his soul is his own if the czar says otherwise.
Such a state of affairs is an anachronism in the nineteenth century, a hideous relic of the barbarism and anarchy of mediaeval times. In America, where every man is a czar, so far as the disposal of himself is concerned, the enslavement of the Russians seems a frightful disregard of the rights of man, the nation a giant Gulliver bound down to the earth by chains of creed and custom, of bureaucracy and perverted public opinion. Like Gulliver, it was bound when asleep, and it must continue fettered while its intellect remains torpid. Some day it will awake, stretch its mighty limbs, burst its feeble bonds, and hurl in disarray to the earth the whole host of liliputian officials and dignitaries who are strutting in the pride of ownership on its great body, the czar tumbling first from his great estate.
This does not seem a proper beginning to a story from Russian history, but, to quote from Shakespeare again, "Thereby hangs a tale." The history of Russia has, in fact, been a strange one; it began as a republic, it has ended as a despotism; and we cannot go on with our work without attempting to show how this came about.
It was the Mongol invasion that enslaved Russia. Helped by the khans, Moscow gradually rose to supremacy over all the other principalities, trod them one by one under her feet, gained power by the aid of Tartar swords and spears or through sheer dread of the Tartar name, and when the Golden Horde was at length overthrown the Grand Prince took the place of the Great Khan and ruled with the same absolute sway. It was the absolutism of Asia imported into Europe. Step by step the princes of Moscow had copied the system of the khan. This work was finished by Ivan the Great, at once the deliverer and the enslaver of Russia, who freed that country from the yoke of the khan, but laid upon it a heavier burden of servility and shame.
Under the khan there had been insurrection. Under the czar there was subjection. The latter state was worse than the former. The subjection continues still, but the spirit of insurrection is again rising. The time is coming in which the rule of that successor of the Tartar khan, miscalled the czar, will end, and the people take into their own hands the control of their bodies and souls.
There were republics in Russia even in Ivan's day, free cities which, though governed by princes, maintained the republican institutions of the past. Chief among these was Novgorod, that Novgorod the Great which invited Rurik into Russia and under him became the germ of the vast Russian empire. A free city then, a free city it continued. Rurik and his descendants ruled by sufferance. Yaroslaf confirmed the free institutions which Rurik had respected. For centuries this great commercial city continued prosperous and free, becoming in time a member of the powerful Hanseatic League. Only for the invasion of the Mongols, Novgorod instead of Moscow might have become the prototype of modern Russia, and a republic instead of a despotism have been established in that mighty land. The sword of the Tartar cast into the scales overweighted the balance. It gave Moscow the supremacy, and liberty fell.
Ivan the Great, in his determined effort to subject all Russia to his autocratic sway, saw before him three republican communities, the free cities of Novgorod, Viatka, and Pskof, and took steps to sweep these last remnants of ancient freedom from his path. Novgorod, as much the most important of these, especially demands our attention. With its fall Russian liberty fell to the earth.
At that time Novgorod was one of the richest and most powerful cities of the earth. It was an ally rather than a subject of Moscow, and all the north of Russia was under its sway and contributed to its wealth. But luxury had sapped its strength, and it held its liberties more by purchase than by courage. Some of these liberties had already been lost, seized by the grand prince. The proud burghers chafed under this invasion of their time-honored privileges, and in 1471, inspired by the seeming timidity of Ivan, they determined to regain them.
It was a woman that brought about the revolt. Marfa, a rich and influential widow of the city, had fallen in love with a Lithuanian, and, inspired at once by the passions of love and ambition, sought to attach her country to that of her lover. She opened her palace to the citizens and lavished on them her treasures, seeking to inspire them with her own views. Her efforts were successful: the officers of the grand prince were driven out, and his domains seized; and when he threatened reprisal they broke into open revolt, and bound themselves by treaty to Casimir, prince of Lithuania.
But events were to prove that the turbulent citizens were no match for the crafty Ivan, who moved slowly but ever steadily to his goal, and made secure each footstep before taking a step in advance. His insidious policy roused three separate hostilities against Novgorod. The pride of the nobles was stirred up against its democracy; the greed of the princes made them eager to seize its wealth; the fanatical people were taught that this great city was an apostate to the faith.
These hostile forces proved too much for the city against which they were directed. Novgorod was taken and plundered, though Ivan did not yet deprive it of its liberties. He had powerful princes to deal with, and did not dare to seize so rich a prey without letting them share the spoil. But he ruined the city by devastation and plunder, deprived it of its tributaries, the city and territory of Perm, and turned from Novgorod to Moscow the rich commerce of this section. Taking advantage of some doubtful words in the treaty of submission, he held himself to be legislator and supreme judge of the captive city. Such was the first result of the advice of an ambitious woman.
The next step of the autocrat added to his influence. Novgorod being threatened with an attack from Livonia, he sent thither troops and envoys to fight and negotiate in his name, thus taking from the city, whose resources he had already drained, its old right of making peace and war.
The ill feeling between the rich and the poor of Novgorod was fomented by his agents; all complaints were required to be made to him; he still further impoverished the rich by the presents and magnificent receptions which his presence among them demanded, and dazzled the eyes of the people by the Oriental state and splendor which had been adopted by the court of Moscow, and which he displayed in their midst.
The nobles who had formerly been his enemies now became his victims. He had induced the people to denounce them, and at once seized them and sent them in chains to Moscow. The people, blinded by this seeming attention to their complaints, remained heedless of the violation of the ancient law of their republic, "that none of its citizens should ever be tried or punished out of the limits of its own territory."
Thus tyranny made its slow way. The citizens, once governed and judged by their own peers, now made their appeals to the grand prince and were summoned to appear before his tribunal. "Never since Rurik," say the annals, "had such an event happened; never had the grand princes of Kief and Vladimir seen the Novgorodians come and submit to them as their judges. Ivan alone could reduce Novgorod to that degree of humiliation."
This work was done with the deliberation of a settled policy. Ivan did not molest Marfa, who had instigated the revolt; his sentences were just and equitable; men were blinded by his seeming moderation; and for full seven years he pursued his insidious way, gradually weaning the people from their ancient customs, and taking advantage of every imprudence and thoughtless concession on their part to ground on it a claim to increased authority.
It was the glove of silk he had thus far extended to them. Within it lay concealed the hand of iron. The grasp of the iron hand was made when, during an audience, the envoy of the republic, through treason or thoughtlessness, addressed him by the name of sovereign (Gosudar, "liege lord," instead of Gospodin, "master," the usual title).
Ivan, taking advantage of this, at once claimed all the absolute rights which custom had attached to that title. He demanded that the republic should take an oath to him as its judge and legislator, receive his boyars as their rulers, and yield to them the ancient palace of Yaroslaf, the sacred temple of their liberties, in which for more than five centuries their assemblies had been held.
This demand roused the Novgorodians to their danger. They saw how blindly they had yielded to tyranny. A transport of indignation inspired them. For the last time the great bell of liberty sent forth its peal of alarm. Gathering tumultuously at the palace from which they were threatened with expulsion, they vigorously resolved,—
"Ivan is in fact our lord, but he shall never be our sovereign; the tribunal of his deputies may sit at Goroditch, but never at Novgorod: Novgorod is, and always shall be, its own judge."
In their rage they murdered several of the nobles whom they suspected of being friends of the tyrant. The envoy who had uttered the imprudent word was torn to pieces by their furious hands. They ended by again invoking the aid of Lithuania.
On hearing of this outbreak the despot feigned surprise. Groans broke from his lips, as if he felt that he had been basely used. His complaints were loud, and the calling in of a foreign power was brought against Novgorod as a frightful aggravation of its crime. Under cover of these groans and complaints an army was gathered to which all the provinces of the empire were forced to send contingents.
These warlike preparations alarmed the citizens. All Russia seemed arrayed against them, and they tremblingly asked for conditions of peace in accordance with their ancient honor. "I will reign at Novgorod as I do at Moscow," replied the imperious despot. "I must have domains on your territory. You must give up your Posadnick, and the bell which summons you to the national council." Yet this threat of enslavement was craftily coupled with a promise to respect their liberty.
This declaration, the most terrible that free citizens could have heard, threw them into a state of violent agitation. Now in defiant fury they seized their arms, now in helpless despondency let them fall. For a whole month their crafty adversary permitted them to exhibit their rage, not caring to use the great army with which he had encircled the city when assured that the terror of his presence would soon bring him victory.
They yielded: they could do nothing but yield. No blood was shed. Ivan had gained his end, and was not given to useless cruelty. Marfa and seven of the principal citizens were sent prisoners to Moscow and their property was confiscated. No others were molested. But on the 15th of January, 1478, the national assemblies ceased, and the citizens took the oath of subjection. The great republic, which had existed from prehistoric times, was at an end, and despotism ruled supreme.
On the 18th the boyars of Novgorod entered the service of Ivan, and the possessions of the clergy were added to the domain of the prince, giving him as vassals three hundred thousand boyar-followers, on whom he depended to hold Novgorod in a state of submission. A great part of the territories belonging to the city became the victor's prize, and it is said that, as a share of his spoil, he sent to Moscow three hundred cart-loads of gold, silver, and precious stones, besides vast quantities of furs, cloths, and other goods of value.
Pskov, another of the Russian republics, had been already subdued. In 1479, Viatka, a colony of Novgorod, was reduced to like slavery. The end had come. Republicanism in Russia was extinguished, and gradually the republican population was removed to the soil of Moscow and replaced by Muscovites, born to the yoke.
The liberties of Novgorod were gone. It had been robbed of its wealth. Its commerce remained, which in time would have restored its prosperity. But this too Ivan destroyed, not intentionally, but effectually. A burst of despotic anger completed the work of ruin. The tyrant, having been insulted by a Hanseatic city, ordered all the merchants of the Hansa then in Novgorod to be put in chains and their property confiscated. As a result, that confidence under which alone commerce can flourish vanished, the North sought new channels for its trade, and Novgorod the Great, once peopled by four hundred thousand souls, declined until only an insignificant borough marks the spot where once it stood.