IVAN III. (1440-1505), grand duke of Muscovy, son of Vasily (Basil) Vasilievich the Blind, grand duke of Moscow, and Maria Yaroslavovna, was born in 1440. He was co-regent with his father during the latter years of his life and succeeded him in 1462. Ivan tenaciously pursued the unifying policy of his predecessors. Nevertheless, cautious to timidity, like most of the princes of the house of Rurik, he avoided as far as possible any violent collision with his neighbours until all the circumstances were exceptionally favourable, always preferring to attain his ends gradually, circuitously and subterraneously. Muscovy had by this time become a compact and powerful state, whilst her rivals had grown sensibly weaker, a condition of things very favourable to the speculative activity of a statesman of Ivan III.'s peculiar character. His first enterprise was a war with the republic of Novgorod, which, alarmed at the growing dominancy of Muscovy, had placed herself beneath the protection of Casimir IV., king of Poland, an alliance regarded at Moscow as an act of apostasy from orthodoxy. Ivan took the field against Novgorod in 1470, and after his generals had twice defeated the forces of the republic, at Shelona and on the Dvina, during the summer of 1471, the Novgorodians were forced to sue for peace, which they obtained on engaging to abandon for ever the Polish alliance, ceding a considerable portion of their northern colonies, and paying a war indemnity of 15,500 roubles. From henceforth Ivan sought continually a pretext for destroying Novgorod altogether; but though he frequently violated its ancient privileges in minor matters, the attitude of the republic was so wary that his looked-for opportunity did not come till 1477. In that year the ambassadors of Novgorod played into his hands by addressing him in public audience as " Gosudar " (sovereign) instead of " Gospodin " (" Sir ") as heretofore. Ivan at once seized upon this as a recognition of his sovereignty, and when the Novgorodians repudiated their ambassadors, he marched against them. Deserted by Casimir IV., and surrounded on every side by the Muscovite armies, which included a Tatar contingent, the republic recognized Ivan as autocrat, and surrendered (January 14, 1478) all her prerogatives and possessions (the latter including the whole of northern Russia from Lapland_to the Urals) into his hands. Subsequent revolts (1470-1488) were punished by the removal en masse of the richest and most ancient families of Novgorod to Moscow, Vyatka and other central Russian cities. After this, Novgorod, as an independent state, ceased to exist. The rival republic of Pskov owed the continuance of its own political existence to the readiness with which it assisted Ivan against its ancient enemy. The other principalities were virtually absorbed, by conquest, purchase or marriage contract Yaroslavl in 1463, Rostov in 1474, Tver in 1485.
Ivan's refusal to share his conquests with his brothers, and his subsequent interference with the internal politics of their inherited principalities, involved him in several wars with them, from which, though the princes were assisted by Lithuania, he emerged victorious. Finally, Ivan's new rule of government, formally set forth in his last will to the effect that the domains of all his kinsfolk, after their deaths, should pass directly to the reigning grand duke instead of reverting, as hitherto, to the princes' heirs, put an end once for all to these semi-independent princelets. The further extension of the Muscovite dominion was facilitated by the death of Casimir IV. in 1492, when Poland and Lithuania once more parted company. The throne of Lithuania was now occupied by Casimir's son Alexander, a weak and lethargic prince so incapable of defending his possessions against the persistent attacks of the Muscovites that he attempted to save them by a matrimonial compact, and wedded Helena, Ivan's daughter. But the clear determination of Ivan to appropriate as much of Lithuania as possible at last compelled Alexander in 1499 to take up arms against his fatherin-law. The Lithuanians were routed at Vedrosha (July 14, 1500), and in 1503 Alexander was glad to purchase peace by ceding to Ivan Chernigov, Starodub, Novgorod-Syeversk and sixteen other towns.
It was in the reign of Ivan III. that Muscovy rejected the Tatar yoke. In 1480 Ivan refused to pay the customary tribute to the grand Khan Ahmed. When, however, the grand khan marched against him, Ivan's courage began to fail, and only the stern exhortations of the high-spirited bishop of Rostov, Vassian, could induce him to take the field. All through the autumn the Russian and Tatar hosts confronted each other on opposite sides of the Ugra, till the nth of November, when Ahmed retired into the steppe. In the following year the grand khan, while preparing a second expedition against Moscow, was suddenly attacked, routed and slain by Ivak, the khan of the Nogai Tatars, whereupon the Golden Horde suddenly fell to pieces. In 1487 Ivan reduced the khanate of Kazan (one of the offshoots of the Horde) to the condition of a vassal-state, though in his later years it broke away from his suzerainty. With the other Mahommedan powers, the khan of the Crimea and the sultan of Turkey, Ivan's relations were pacific and even amicable. The Crimean khan, Mengli Girai, helped him against Lithuania and facilitated the opening of diplomatic intercourse between Moscow and Constantinople, where the first Russian embassy appeared in 1495..
The character of the government of Muscovy under Ivan III. changed essentially and took on an autocratic form which it had never had before. This was due not merely to the natural consequence of the hegemony of Moscow over the other Russian lands, but even more to the simultaneous growth of new and exotic principles falling upon a soil already prepared for them. After the fall of Constantinople, orthodox canonists were inclined to regard the Muscovite grand dukes as the successors by the Byzantine emperors. This movement coincided with a change in the family circumstances of Ivan III. After the death of his first consort, Maria of Tver (1467), at the suggestion of Pope Paul II. (1469), who hoped thereby to bind Russia to the holy see, Ivan III. wedded the Catholic Zoe Palaeologa (better known by her orthodox name of Sophia), daughter of Thomas, despot of the Morea, who claimed the throne of- Constantinople as the nearest relative of the last Greek emperor. The princess, however, clave to her family traditions, and awoke imperial ideas in the mind of her consort. It was through her influence that the ceremonious etiquette of Constantinople (along with the imperial double-headed eagle and all that it implied) was adopted by the court of Moscow. The grand duke henceforth held aloof from his boyars. The old patriarchal systems of government vanished. The boyars were no longer consulted on affairs of state. The sovereign became sacrosanct, while the boyars were reduced to the level of slaves absolutely dependent on the will of the sovereign. The boyars naturally resented so insulting a revolution, and struggled against it, at first with some success. But the clever Greek lady prevailed in the end, and it was her son Vasily, not Maria of Tver's son, Demetrius, who was ultimately crowned co-regent with his father (April 14, 1502). It was in the reign of Ivan III. that the first Russian " Law Book," or code, was compiled by the scribe Gusev. Ivan did his utmost to promote civilization in his realm, and with that object invited many foreign masters and artificers to settle in Muscovy, the most noted of whom was the Italian Ridolfo di Fioravante, nicknamed Aristotle because of his extraordinary knowledge, who built the cathedrals of the Assumption (Uspenski) and of Saint Michael or the Holy Archangels in the Kreml.
See P. Pierling, Mariage d'un tsar au Vatican, Ivan III et Sophie Paleologue (Paris, 1891) ; E. I. Kashprovsky, The Struggle of Ivan III. with Sigismund I. (Rus.) (Nizhni, 1899); S. M. Solovev, History of Russia (Rus.), vol. v. (St Petersburg, 1895).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)