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He was born in 1479 the son of Ivan III Vasil'yevich, grand prince of Moscow and his second wife, Sofia Fominichna Paleologa, Byzantine princess. He married first Solomonia, daughter of Yurii Konstantinovich Saburov, and then in 1526 to Yelyena, daughter of Vasilii L'vovich Glinskii. His sons from the second marriage were Yuri, appanage prince of Uglich and Tsar Ivan IV. The family is shown on this chart.

Summary of Reign

Vasilii III was spared the difficulties associated with civil war or even serious differences of opinion with brothers and uncles that so plagued the reigns of some of his forbearers. However he was faced with extensive external warfare on three fronts except for the approximately ten years from 1528 to 1534. In the west he continued his father's war against Lithuania over the lands between the Dnieper and Oka Rivers. Campaigns were conducted during 1507-08 and 1512-22. He annexed Pskov in 1510 and succeeded in his father's goal of taking Smolensk in 1514. He acquired the remaining pieces of Riazan territory in 1521 and all of Novgorod-Severskii in 1522.
To the south Vasilii had to contend with the effects of Mengli Gerei's reversal of alliances after the final destruction of the Golden Horde in 1503. The Tatar raids began in 1507 and grew in intensity until by 1521 the Crimean and Kazan Tatars in alliance were again at the gates of Moscow as the Mongols had been over a hundred years previously. Vasilii continued to use his own Tatars based at Kasimov and strengthened the southern defenses with additional service people and fortifications.

To the east Vasilii continued his father's efforts to control Kazan by placing friendly Tatars on the throne, but immeshed Moscow in the inherently unstable internal politics of the shifting Tatar hordes. The result was at least intermittant warfare on that front as well. Vasilii built a fortress at Vasil'sursk in 1523 that served as a base for further operations against Kazan.
Vasilii also continued his father's interest in Western ideas, particularly in the military sphere. The Italians who initially arrived with his mother were succeeded by still others. The Kremlin was re-built as a north Italian fortress by architects from Milan. Other fruits of western military technology arrived as well with improved artillery and firearms.



In the spring Vasilii III sent his armies to conquer Kazan, but the Russians suffered two defeats and failed in their mission.(1)


Mohammed Amin returned the Russians he held prisoner and signed a treaty of friendship.


The autonomy of Pskov was an obstacle to the centralization of the Russian army and judicial administration. The town was bound by treaty to help Moscow, but it did so only conditionally and reluctantly. Even on campaign, the Pskov army was a separate unit. Vasilii III isolated Pskov the same way his father had isolated Novgorod and then fomented internal discord in the town. Finally, he tricked the nobles into assembling to meet him, then arrested and deported them. He removed 300 boyar families and 6,500 middle class citizens and replaced them with his Muscovite followers, including a garrison of 1,000 deti-boyarski and 500 pishchalniki from Novgorod.(2)


Vasilii's brother, Prince Simeon, attempted to revolt but was apprehended.(3)


Until 1512 the cornerstone of Ivan III's foreign policy had been the alliance with Mengli Gerei. After the fall of the Horde and Moscow's annexation of Severia, the Tatars of Crimea were no longer so interested in the alliance. Moreover, Vasilii III instead of actively pursuing the alliance was too miserly to give the accustomed presents to the Tatars. Therefore, in 1512 Mengli Gerei changed sides and allied himself with Lithuania. This began the long bitter struggle between Moscow and Crimea that lasted until the annexation of the Crimea by Catherine II.(4)

Campaign against Lithuania


Vasilii renewed the war with Lithuania by sending Prince Daniel Shchenya with an army to seize Smolensk, which he did after a fierce artillery bombardment. Vasilii appointed Prince Vasilii V. Shuisky as his lieutenant for the city instead of Mikhailinsky, a west Russian noble who considered himself due the position. Another Russian commander was Vasilii's favorite, Ivan F. Ovchina.
A month later the the Lithuanians, commanded by Prince Konstantin I. Ostrozhsky (the looser at Vedrosha in 1500), decisively defeated the Russian army at the Orsha River. Even so, the Russians managed to keep Smolensk. The skirmishes continued until 1522.(5)


The Crimean Tatar Khan raided Moscow. The Starosta of Cherkassy, Ostafi Dashkevich, led Cossacks to help the Tatars by seizing Chernigov and Novgorod-in-Severia, but he didn't take the towns.(6) This break with Crimea and the troubles with Kazan the same year required Moscow to improve the border defense system. In the spring troops went on "shore duty" along the Oka River. Fortresses built during the early 1500's included Zaraisk, Tula, and Kaluga. Cossack companies settled south of the Oka line. Vasilii III tried to obtain help from the Nogai and from Astrakhan but without much success.(7)


The Khan of Kazan, Mehemmed Amin, died and Vasilii sent Shah Ali, Mehemmed's brother, to be the new Khan. Kazan agreed, but then under Crimean influence, revolted and invited Sahib Gerei, the Crimean Khan's brother, to be the new Khan of Kazan.


Shah Ali returned to Moscow and Sahib Gerei killed or enslaved the Russians residing in Kazan.

The Crimean Khan, Mehemmed Gerei, (Mengli's son) launched a major attack on Muscovy, reaching the suburbs of Moscow during the summer. He received aid from Lithuania and from the Starosta of Cherkassy, Ostafi Dashkevich, who raided Severia with the Ukraine Cossacks. Vasilii III retired to Volok "to get more troops," leaving Moscow under the command of the Tatar prince, Peter, husband of Vasilii's sister, Evdokia. Peter sent presents to bribe Khan Mehemmed who retired with much booty. Moscow annexed Riazan during this year when the last duke, Ivan VI, was accused of negotiating with Mehemmed Gerei and fled to Lithuania during the Tatar raid. The Riazantsi were deported and replaced with Muscovites.(8)


Vasilii built the fortress of Sursk at the confluence of the Sura and Volga Rivers, halfway between Nizhni Novgorod and Kazan as a base for further campaigns against Kazan.(9)


Vasilii III married Elena Glinskaya, after divorcing his first wife. Elena was of Mongol family descent; her father and uncle were famous military commanders who transferred allegiance from Lithuania to Moscow.


The Kazantsi agreed to let Vasilii appoint a new Khan, so he sent Yan Ali, the Tsarivich of Kasimov and brother of Shah Ali. This restored Moscow's suzerainty over Kazan.(10) Vasilii died in 1533, leaving the throne to his infant son, Ivan IV.


1. Ian Grey, Ivan the Terrible, Philadelphia, Lippencott, 1964, p. 167. Vernadsky, op. cit. Vol. IV p. 140, 142.

2. Vernadsky, op. cit. Vol. IV p. 143-145.

3. ibid. p. 155.

4. Grey, Ivan the Terrible, p. 167. According to Grey, the war began in 1508, but the first campaign recorded was in 1512. Vernadsky, op. cit. Vol. IV p. 153.

5. Vernadsky, op. cit. Vol. IV p. 155-156; Grey, Ivan the Terrible, p. 168. For a detailed description of the battle of Orsha see Razin, op. cit. p. 353; and for the main campaigns of the war, pages 351-354.

6. Vernadsky, op. cit. Vol. IV p. 255.

7. ibid. p. 154; Grey, Ivan the Terrible, p. 168.

8. Vernadsky, op. cit. Vol. IV p. 153, 156, 157, 255; Grey, Ivan the Terrible p. 167. In February 1521 the Ottoman Turks resumed the offensive in Hungary, by 29 August they captured Belgrade. In 1522 the Austrians began to construct a fortified military border in Croatia, manned by refugee peasants, mostly Serbs, and mercenaries. This fortified line was similar to the ones which the Russians began building soon afterwards. The austrian military border lasted into the 19th century. For a complete study of this system see Guther Rothenburg, The Austrian Military Border in Croatia 1522-1737, Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1960; and The Military Border in Croatia 1740-1881, Chicago, Univ. of Chicago Press, 1966.

9. Vernadsky, op. cit. Vol. IV p. 162.

10. In the West, Turkish power was expanding during this period. Sulemian defeated the Hungarians at Mohacs and then entered Buda on 12 Sept. 1526. His advance guard reached as far as Vignna. Then in 1529 the Sultan brought his whole army into Austria and besieged Vienna unsuccessfully.


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