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John Sloan


For a description of the conquest of Kazan by Tsar Ivan IV we extract here a section from our forthcoming book on the Muscovite army. The history of Muscovite-Tatar relations obviously goes back many years, but for this we will start in 1546. In April of that year the 15 year old Ivan IV proclaimed a campaign against Kazan. The army went by barge and by land, winning several minor victories on the way. In Kazan an internal struggle resulted in Safa Gerei's exile in June. The Muscovite commander, Boyar Dmitri Bel'sky, installed a new Khan; but when Bel'sky left, Safa Gerei regained Kazan.(1) In 1547 Ivan proclaimed another campaign against Kazan. The army set out in January 1548, but the Volga ice broke up unexpectedly and many men and cannon were lost. Ivan waited for a new freeze, but in vain, therefore he returned to Moscow.
Safa Gerei died the following year, leaving a 2 year old son in Kazan. Ivan started again in the winter of 1549-50. The army reached Kazan despite great hardships in the cold on 14 February 1550. After elaborate preparations, 60,000 Muscovites attacked without any gains. On the second day of the attack, an unusual thaw flooded the river and made the ground turn into mud, forcing Ivan to retreat again. Ivan now gave urgent attention to military reform, especially to curtailing Mestnichestvo.(2)

In March 1550, reports that Saip Gerei was advancing from the Crimea reached Ivan. He sent troops south from Moscow and went himself to Kolomna and Riazan to inspect the defenses. On the way back from Kazan, Ivan climbed the hill at Kruglaya and, seeing the strategic importance of the location, ordered a town to be built there. In July Ivan decreed the confirmation of his order abolishing Mestnichestvo in the field and strengthening the command of the chief voevoda of the Main polk. The decree established a chain of command and prohibited precedence considerations on campaign. In the summer, Ivan created the Streltsi as a personal guard of infantry. This was not a completely new device, as there already were units of town arquebusiers. In October, Ivan proclaimed a new project as a part of the military reforms. It was the formation of a special guard of 1,000 picked men to be settled on land around Moscow. Actually, 1,078 were chosen but the plan was frustrated by lack of available land near the capital. By the 1550's the government generally lacked land to give to the new service gentry, especially around Moscow. Ivan's solution was to seize the patrimonial lands and the church lands. In 1551 he asked a church council to secularize the church lands, but it refused.(3)

In 1551 Ivan sent the ex-Khan of Kazan, Shig Alei, with 500 Tatars and Moscow troops to Kruglaya hill at the mouth of the Sviyaza River to build a new fort. Prince Peter Obolensky went with troops from Nizhni Novgorod to supervise this project. The main army arrived on 14 May and quickly completed the new town of Sviyazhsk, which greatly impressed the local Tatars, Mordvins, Cheremish, Chuvash, and others.

The Kazan Tatars wanted peace, but their Crimean rulers did not, so Kazan expelled the Crimeans and asked Ivan to send Shig Ali to Kazan. He released 60,000 prisoners there. Ivan annexed the northern part of the Khanate and appointed a governor. This made the Kazan Tatars change their minds again and revolt. Ivan then sought a complete and final conquest.(4)

The Final Campaign against Kazan

A momentous event in Muscovite history occurred in 1552, when Ivan IV conquered Kazan and added its territories to his growing empire. Ivan began the campaign by ordering the armies to proceed as usual by boat and over land. A plague in Sviyazhsk and a Mordvin rebellion reduced morale in the army and delayed the campaign. At Kazan, Ediger Mohammed arrived with 500 Nogai Tatars to lead the defense. He was a good leader who kept the spirits of the Kazan population high. On 16 June Ivan set out for Kolomna. Enroute, he received word that the Crimean Tatars were advancing again. See campaign map. They captured Riazan and Tula before Ivan, who had sent troops to meet them, decided to go south himself. When Ivan arrived, the Khan retreated; the Muscovite army followed and defeated the Tatars near the Shivoron River. On 3 July Ivan again started for Kazan via Vladimir. By then, the plague was over and Voevoda Mikulinsky had defeated the Mordvins and Chuvash. On 15 August lvan crossed the Volga and sent a demand for surrender to Kazan. He reached the city on 2 August and began the siege on the 23rd. Ivan gathered the officers and men and unfurled the banner of the Virgin and showed the cross of Dmitri Donskoi in an effort to instill a religious fervor in the army. The Tatars also had strong religious beliefs. There were 30,000 local Tatar troops and 2,700 Nogais plus the town population. The well fortified Kazan wall consisted of oak beams reinforced on the inside. The towers were of stone. See maps {short description of image}and {short description of image}of the city and siege.

Ivan had 150,000 men in his army.(5) The first action was a sortie of 15,000 Tatars that expended its full force on the streltsi, forceng them to retreat. Ivan ordered deti boyarski reinforcements forward and the streltsi reformed and forced the Tatars back into the city. Then a rainstorm deluged the Russian camp and sank the supply barges while a high wind blew down the Tsar's tent and many other structures. These were bad omens for the soldiery who took great alarm. Ivan calmed them and sent for more supplies, including warm clothing for a possible winter siege. The soldiers worked hard making trenches and palisades. Ivan was busy inspecting and encouraging the troops who were on short rations and lacking for sleep. Tatar pressure increased when Prince Yapancha launched a series of attacks on the Russians from woods behind the Russians. The Tatars used signals from the walls to coordinate the attacks launched from the town with those of the forces in the woods. On 30 August the Russians defeated Prince Yapancha and captured 340 Tatars. They tied the prisoners to stakes in front of the town walls. Ivan urged the city to surrender and promised that the prisoners would be freed, but the Kazantsi shot them with bows rather than let the Russians kill them. Ivan was astounded at this display of hatred and fanaticism. The next day he ordered his Danish engineer to blow up the town water supply, which came from a spring and underground stream. On 4 September the Russians exploded eleven barrels of powder, killing many Tatars and breaching the wall. Still, the Muscovite assault failed. The Tatars found a new spring. Meanwhile, Muscovite morale was suffering from more bad weather and from superstition. For example, Prince Kurbsky reported that at dawn the Tatar sorcerers appeared on the walls to cause the bad weather. Being concerned, Ivan ordered a special miracle-making cross to be brought from Moscow. The weather then improved. See views of diorama- diorama 2 - diorama 3

The Russians built high towers and mounted guns on them, moving the towers close to the city wall so they could fire down on the defenders. Ivan ordered the construction of new mines. On 30 September the Danish engineer blew up a large part of the city wall, at which the Tatars panicked, but then rallied and attacked. The hand to hand fighting lasted several hours with no gains on either side. On 1 October Ivan ordered a general assault to be launched on the next morning. The troops took communion and awaited the detonation of 48 barrels of powder in the mines. The Tatars discovered the mines and counter-mined while the Russians hurried everything into readiness. Near dawn the explosion shook the ground. The Russians immediately attacked, but the Tatars held firm, waiting until the Russians were very close before firing salvos from their cannon, arquebuses, and bows. Many Russians died but more came on using ladders and towers to reach the parapets from which the Tatars poured boiling pitch and dropped heavy beams and stones.
The Russians fought their way into the city, house by house, in a fierce battle with the heavily outnumbered Tatars. The Russian attack faltered and the men began looting. The Tatars counterattacked and nearly drove the Russians back through the breach. Ivan then sent officers to kill anyone found looting and he himself went to the main gate with the holy banner to stop the retreating soldiers. He sent in fresh units that forced Khan Ediger to retreat to the fortified palace and then to a tower. The last Tatars climbed down the tower wall and fought their way to the river, where Princes Andrei and Roman Kurbsky caught and held them until a large Russian force, under the command of Princes Mikulinsky, Glinsky, and Sheremetev could come up and kill them. The Russians killed or wounded five thousand Tatars. Ivan received Khan Ediger as his prisoner and gave a formal thanksgiving service.

On 11 October he started for Moscow, having appointed Alexander Gorbaty and Vasilii Serebryanny as governors. Some of Ivan's advisors urged him to keep many troops in the town to quell possible outbreaks. He did not agree and only left a small streltsi garrison. The rest of the army, being the feudal levy, had to return home, as usual.(6)
In 1553 Ivan IV became ill and asked all the princes and boyars to swear allegiance to his son. Many refused, preferring Ivan's brother to his baby son. This convinced him he could not trust his generals.
There were Tatar revolts at Kazan. In September Princes Mikulinski, Ivan Sheremetev, and Andrei Kurbski arrived with strong armies to crush the revolt. They captured 6,000 Tatar men and 15,600 Tatar women and children. Ivan used the Tatar feuds to split the opposition. In October 1553 the Nogai Tatars asked Ivan's help to depose the Khan of Astrakhan, which he agreed to do. Prince Andrei Kurbski fought 20 major engagements during the year to suppress the Cheremish and other rebels around Kazan.(7)

(1) ibid. p. 54.

(2) ibid. p. 92; Keenan, Edward; Muscovy and Kazan; Some "Introductory Remarks on the Patterns of Steppe Diplomacy," Slavic Review Vol. XXVI No. 4 December 1967, p. 553-557.

(3) Grey, Ivan the Terrible, p. 95; A. V. Chernov, Vooruzhenie Sili Russkogo Gosudarstva v XV- XVII Veke, Moscow, 1954 gives a detailed study of Ivan's military reforms. These reforms are studied separately in this paper. Ivan's need to sieze church lands to reward his followers is similar to the same need experienced by Henry VIII in England about the same time.

(4) Grey, Ivan the Terrible p. 94-96; A. M. Sakharov, Obrazovanie i Razvitie Rossiiskogo Gosdudarstva v XIV-XVII Veke, Moscow, 1969, p. 99. The author explains that the fort at Svayazhsk was prefabricated and test assembled in Moscow then disassembled and shipped to the site and erected there to the amazement of the Tatars. The engineer in charge was Ivan Verodkov. See also Pankov, op.cit. p. 29-31.

(5) According to contemporary chronicles and soivet writers who accept them. However, we may be excused for cutting this number in half or less.

(6) This account of the siege of Kazan is given by Ian Grey in Ivan the Terrible, p. 98, 99.

(7) Grey, op.cit. p. 120, 151.