Ivan the Great Organizes the “Third Rome” Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

Ivan the Great organized the “Third Rome,” establishing Russia’s claim as the center of Orthodox Christianity. Russia’s religious power both enhanced and derived from the growth of the Russian monarchy’s internal authority, as well as the state’s increasing territorial expansion and importance as a world power.

Summary of Event

In the early sixteenth century, the Russian monk Filofei set forth what is known as the Third Rome doctrine Third Rome doctrine , extolling the preeminence of Moscow as the leader of a universal Christian empire. According to Filofei, the first Rome of classical times had fallen because of its acceptance of heretical doctrine and papal domination, while the second Rome, Constantinople, capital of the Byzantine Empire and Greek Orthodoxy, fell to the Turks in 1453 because of its moral weakness and the rapprochement with the Latin Church. Constantinople, fall of (1453) Orthodox Church, Russian Filofei Ivan the Great Palaeologus, Sophia Zosima Ivan the Great Filofei Dmitry Donskoy Palaeologus, Sophia Zosima Ivan the Great

Ivan the Great, grand prince of Moscow (standing center right) defies the Tartar khan.

(F. R. Niglutsch)

The third Rome, Moscow, the political and religious successor of Byzantium, would survive forever. Two Romes had fallen to heresy, but the third would stand firm: There would never be a fourth. Filofei based this theoretical enunciation of Russia’s preeminence primarily on the expansion of Moscow’s power and influence during the reign of Ivan the Great and the city’s significance as the center of Orthodox Christianity in Russia. Orthodox Church, Russian Although the exact date of his statement is disputed by scholars, it clearly reflects the power and authority Ivan had attached to the Russian throne.

For a century and a half prior to Ivan the Great’s coming to power, Moscow Moscow had been the capital of one of several relatively minor principalities situated in the heart of Russia. These lands had fallen under the ruthless domination of the Golden Horde Golden Horde;Moscow and , which invading Mongols established in the thirteenth century. During the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries, however, Moscow steadily enlarged the territory under its control at the expense of the Golden Horde.

Muscovite rulers beginning with Ivan I (r. 1328-1341) developed the independence and influence of their provincial state, even while nominally serving their Mongol overlords. As a result, the prestige of the growing urban center of Moscow and the area under its jurisdiction, commonly known as Muscovy, gradually increased. Moreover, in the 1320’, the metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church, the highest ecclesiastical official in Russia, moved his administrative headquarters from Vladimir to Moscow, placing Moscow at the center of Russian religious life. A half century later, in 1380, Moscow’s grand prince, Dmitry Donskoy, won a battlefield victory over the Mongol army at Kulikovo Kulikovo, Battle of (1380) . Although Kulikovo did not permanently break the power of the Golden Horde, it added to the reputation of the city and its leaders.

In 1462, Ivan the Great ascended the throne of the grand prince of Moscow as Ivan III. He sought to throw off the Mongol yoke completely and to unify all the Russian principalities, both large and small, under Muscovite leadership. Ivan’s campaigns met with great success: The huge state of Novgorod Novgorod, annexation by Moscow to the north was annexed to Muscovy in 1478. Tver’, Tver’, annexation by Moscow[Tver, annexation by Moscow] to the northwest, was acquired in 1485. Ivan absorbed many smaller territories as well, including numerous appanage lands, many of them enclaves of Muscovy, that his father had bequeathed to his other sons and relatives. Ivan also seized significant territories from Lithuania Lithuania , managing by 1500 to conquer portions of White Russia to the west and Little Russia (another term for the Ukraine) in the south.

Ivan’s most spectacular achievement, however, was winning final independence from the authority and jurisdiction of the Golden Horde after 1480 without open warfare. Ivan’s liberation of Russia from the Golden Horde’s authority facilitated the further consolidation of his power over territorial acquisitions such as Novgorod and Tver’. Moscow’s growing prominence understandably increased his prestige in the eyes of contemporary chroniclers, as well as later writers such as Filofei. By 1480, most of Russia was beginning to recognize the new titles that Ivan had bestowed upon himself, namely Autocrat and Czar of all Rus.

Since most of Europe’s states sought a historical or religious rationale to bolster their claims to legitimacy and authority, it is not surprising that Ivan’s successes prompted him and his contemporaries to advance claims on behalf of Moscow as the political and religious successor to Constantinople, capital of the former Byzantine Empire. Russia was by this time the leading independent state in the Orthodox world. Ivan and his supporters exploited his second marriage in 1472 to Sophia -logus, the orphaned niece of the last Byzantine emperor. They glorified Moscow as the legitimate heir to the empire of the caesars and the champion of Christian Orthodoxy.

Moscow’s position as successor to the Eastern Roman Empire was symbolized by adding the Byzantine double-headed eagle to the state crest and seal, and Zosima, metropolitan of the Russian Orthodox Church, referred in 1492 to “the new Emperor Constantine of the new Constantinople—Moscow.” Several years later, the monk Filofei from the neighboring principality of Pskov expanded this salutation into the “Third Rome” doctrine.


The reign of Ivan the Great marked the birth of the modern Russian nation, both politically and geographically. Ivan’s greatness lies in the fact that he took the territorial state left him by his father, unified and expanded it, broke Mongol control, and transformed the principality of Moscow into a fully sovereign state encompassing the great Russian heartland. The success of his leadership provided political and religious justification for Moscow’s claim to greatness by his marriage into the dynasty of fallen Constantinople.

To solidify control over his domains, Ivan promulgated in 1497 a code of common law, the Sudebnik, intended to improve administrative uniformity and increase the centralization of autocratic power. This Russian prince brought political factions and the aristocratic boyar class, groups that historically opposed the national government in previous centuries, under his effective control. Law;Russia

Ivan the Great bequeathed to his successors a compact and well-organized state, a legacy of Moscow’s right as symbolized in the double-headed eagle looking both eastward and westward. This was to be the historical mission of the Third Rome. While some scholars interpret the theory as applying solely to Moscow in its narrower religious context, others apply it to the entire Russian nation as justification for territorial expansion. In either case, this sense of a divinely ordained mission did not perish until the last czar gave up his title as well as his life as consequences of violent revolution in 1917.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Anderson, Thornton. Russian Political Thought: An Introduction. Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967. Includes discussion of the Third Rome theory and provides a substantial passage of the famous Filofei statement justifying this concept.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Crummey, R. O. The Formation of Muscovy, 1304-1613. New York: Longman, 1987. Solid account of the emergence of Moscow as the nucleus of the revived Russian state.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Fennell, J. L. I. Ivan the Great of Moscow. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1963. Biography of the famous Russian leader, with primary focus on political, diplomatic, and military matters.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Grey, Ian. Ivan III and the Unification of Russia. New York: Collier Books, 1967. Brief, readable account of Ivan’s life and rule includes a useful assessment of the Third Rome theory.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hunczak, Taras, ed. Russian Imperialism from Ivan the Great to the Revolution. Reprint. Lanham, Md.: University Press of America, 2000. Anthology of essays detailing the rise to power of the modern Russian state and its imperial aspirations from the late fifteenth century to the early twentieth century. Includes maps, bibliographic references, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kollmann, Nancy Shields. Kinship and Politics: The Making of the Muscovite Political System, 1345-1547. Stanford, Calif.: Stanford University Press, 1987. Study of the influence of the Russian aristocracy during the years of growing centralization of power.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Ostrowski, Donald. Muscovy and the Mongols: Cross-Cultural Influences on the Steppe Frontier, 1304-1589. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1998. A history of the development of Muscovy and the Russian state that focuses on its relationship to and interactions with other cultures, especially those of the Mongols. Devotes a chapter to the concept of a Third Rome and its role in delimiting the power and authority of the Russian ruler. Includes glossary, chronology, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Riasanovsky, Nicholas V. A History of Russia. 6th ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000. Discusses the importance of the Third Rome doctrine to the development of the Russian state. Includes photographic plates, illustrations, maps, bibliography, and index.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Vernadsky, George. Russia at the Dawn of the Modern Age. Vol. 4 in A History of Russia. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1959. This highly respected study of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries includes the reign of Ivan III and the Third Rome topic.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Zernov, N. Moscow: The Third Rome. Reprint. New York: AMS Press, 1971. Reprint of a brief history of the Orthodox Church in Russia and the place of Moscow as the leader of the faith.

1478: Muscovite Conquest of Novgorod

1480-1502: Destruction of the Golden Horde

1499- c. 1600: Russo-Polish Wars

Jan. 16, 1547: Coronation of Ivan the Terrible

Jan.-May, 1551: The Stoglav Convenes

Summer, 1556: Ivan the Terrible Annexes Astrakhan

1581-1597: Cossacks Seize Sibir

1584-1613: Russia’s Time of Troubles

1589: Russian Patriarchate Is Established

Categories: History