Sunday, August 12, 2018

Muscovy’s Destruction of the Novgorod Republic – a Tragedy Whose Consequences Continue

Paul Goble

            Staunton, August 11 – Despite its proclivity for celebrating even minor historical anniversaries, the current Russian regime is not marking one today that has had fateful consequences for that country for more than 500 year: the destruction of the Novgorod Republic by the Muscovite principality on August 11, 1471.

            Indeed, almost the only mention of this event this year is a brief article by Yevgeny Politdrug who writes the historical calendar series for the Sputnik i Pogrom portal ( But what he says deserves attention because of its continuing relevance for Moscow’s behavior.

            “On August 11, 1471,” he writes, “the fall of the Novgorod Republic took place” when a treaty was signed “that in fact deprived the republic of its former status and made it dependent on the Muscovite principality.”  Earlier, Muscovy had focused on combatting the Mongols but having won on that front it turned West against Lithuania and Novgorod.

            Novgorod’s cooperation with Lithuania, Politdrug says, “was used by Ivan III as the pretext for the launch of a military campaign against the republic.  The specific cause became the fact that the Novgorodians asked to sent an archbishop to the Kyiv metropolitanate which was under the control of Lithuania and not Muscovy.”

            Muscovy thus accused Novgorod of treason for its work with “the Latins” and “began a campaign.” The war didn’t last long and Novgorod was defeated with its leaders taken prisoner and then executed. 

            “Formally,” Politdrug continues, “the republic preserved its territory and status. In fact, the Novgorodians were forced to recognize the supremacy of the great prince of Muscovy. The Veche and other aspects of the republic were maintained but subordinated to the Muscovite prince.”

            As a result, the Veche lost its democratic prerogative to elect its leaders, something that made Novgorod at the time perhaps the most democratic city in Europe; the church in Novgorod was subordinate to the new Muscovite metropolitanate as well; and the city was forced to pay a heavy tax to Muscovy.

             After 1471, the Novgorod Republic continued to exist in this diminished form for another seven years. “Ivan III patiently waited when there would be a new basis for a campaign” so that he could end the existence of the republic. Meanwhile, he “supported in the Veche a group of boyars who called for the total subordination of Novgorod to Moscow.”

            Some in Novgorod protested and that was enough for Ivan to declare the city in revolt and lay siege to the city. The city was divided as a result into two camps and negotiations ensued. Talks followed and Novgorod lost: the Veche bell ceased to sound and “with this, the history of the Novgorod Republic ended,” Politdrug writes.

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