Ivan the Terrible Annexes Astrakhan Summary

  • Last updated on November 11, 2022

With the defeat and annexation of the Khanate of Astrakhan, Russia under Ivan the Terrible enjoyed control over the entire course of the Volga River. The victory opened the way for the subordination of neighboring Muslim khanates and non-Russian steppe peoples, expansion into Siberia, and trade with Persia and Central Asia. It also allowed Ivan to portray himself as the true successor to the khans of the Golden Horde.

Summary of Event

Located at the extreme southern end of the Volga River, north of the Caspian Sea, the territories comprising the Khanate of Astrakhan became part of the Golden Horde Golden Horde in the wake of the Mongol invasion of Kievan Rus (1237-1241). Achieving political independence in 1466 as the Golden Horde crumbled from internal political dissension, the khanate emerged as one of three sophisticated, well-organized Muslim successor states, the others being the Khanate of Crimea Crimea (1430)—which quickly became a vassal of the Ottoman Empire—and the Khanate of Kazan Kazan (1436). These three khanates proved a tremendous problem for the Russian Muscovite state and its rulers from the Danilovich branch of the Rurik Dynasty. They blocked Muscovy’s southern and eastward expansion, and they periodically raided Russian territory, devastating the lands and taking thousands of Russians as slaves. Astrakhan;Russian annexation of Ivan the Terrible Derbysh Ismāՙīl Sheremetev, Ivan Pronsky-Shemyakin, Yuri Ivanovich Vyazemsky, Alexander Yamgurchey Derbysh Devlet I Giray Ismāՙīl (Nogai Tatar khan) Sheremetev, Ivan Ivan the Terrible

Russian military forces subdued Kazan and its people (seen here submitting to Ivan the Terrible), annexed the khanate of Kazan to Russia, and established Russian control over the entire central Volga region.

(R. S. Peale and J. A. Hill)

Prior to the mid-sixteenth century, Muscovite rulers relied on a combination of defensive military force and diplomacy to keep the Golden Horde successor states at bay. This changed, however, with Czar Ivan the Terrible, the first of the Rurik Muscovite princes officially to be crowned czar of Russia. Ivan went on the offensive against the Khanate of Kazan. In a series of campaigns commencing in 1545 and ending in 1552, Russian military forces subdued Kazan, annexing it to Russia and establishing Russian control over the entire central Volga region.

Following his dramatic victory at Kazan, Ivan soon turned his attention southward. In spring, 1554, the czar ordered to the Khanate of Astrakhan a military force more than thirty thousand strong, commanded by Prince Yuri Ivanovich Pronsky-Shemyakin and Prince Alexander Vyazemsky. Traveling primarily by boat down the Volga River, Russian forces seized Perevolok, the portage between the Don and Volga Rivers, on June 29 and reached the city of Astrakhan on July 2. Encountering no resistance—Astrakhan’s defenders having fled upon learning of the Russian approach—the Russians seized the city but discovered, to their dismay, that Khan Yamgurchey and his family had escaped.

Although Prince Vyazemsky’s forces ultimately captured Yamgurchey’s wives and children, the khan himself managed to make his way to Azov before being murdered by Nogai Tatars. Whatever his eventual fate, the khan’s entire khanate was at Moscow’s mercy once its capital city had been captured. Rather than annex the khanate immediately, however, Ivan placed in power a new khan, Derbysh, who pledged loyalty to the czar and signed a treaty providing that the khanate pay Moscow an annual tribute of 120,000 kopecks and 3,000 fish, that Muscovite fishermen be allowed to fish the Volga from Kazan to the Caspian Sea without payment, and that Ivan and his successors enjoy the exclusive right to select all future khans.

Derbysh’s loyalty to Ivan the Terrible proved short lived. During 1555 and early 1556, Derbysh allied himself with Khan Devlet Giray of Crimea, one of Muscovy’s most ferocious enemies, and with the Ottoman Empire. With Ottoman military support, Derbysh murdered those members of the Astrakhan elite known to be loyal to Ivan and attacked Russian forces in the city, killing 192 of 500 men and chasing the survivors to the Don-Volga portage. Muscovite forces in the region and their steppe ally, Khan Ismāՙīl of the Nogai Tatars, responded by moving against Astrakhan. Like Yamgurchey before him, Derbysh fled from the approaching Russian army. Left undefended, Astrakhan once again fell to the Muscovites in the summer of 1556.

After fortifying the city, the Russian commander, General Ivan Sheremetev, and his forces proceeded down the Volga toward the Caspian Sea. Discovering that Derbysh had set up camp some 13 miles (21 kilometers) west of the river, the Muscovites launched a successful night attack that inflicted heavy casualties but did not destroy the khan’s forces. The khan counterattacked the next day and drove the Russians back to the Volga. Immediately thereafter, Derbysh contacted Sheremetev, to whom he explained that he had broken his oath to Ivan under duress. He then begged the czar’s mercy, pledging to return to Astrakhan and to serve Ivan loyally.

Apparently, Derbysh’s professions to Sheremetev were nothing but an attempt to buy time. Without waiting to learn of Ivan’s response, Derbysh joined forces with the Yusufs, a Nogai Tatar clan who were in rebellion against Khan Ismāՙīl, Ivan’s ally. This alliance, however, dissolved almost as quickly as it was formed: The Yusuf clan and its forces made peace with Ismāՙīl, offered to surrender to Muscovite forces, and promised to serve the czar as Ismāՙīl served him. Sheremetev immediately accepted the Yusuf offer of surrender and agreed to provide them with boats to cross the Volga so they could return to Nogai territory.

The defection of the Yusuf clan sealed the fate of both Derbysh and the Khanate of Astrakhan. Before returning home, Yusuf forces attacked their recent ally, forcing Derbysh to flee to Azov and permanent exile. In the process, they captured cannon dispatched by the khan of Crimea and turned them over to Sheremetev. Upon discovering the fate of Derbysh, the common people of Astrakhan, who had fled at the approach of Muscovite forces, petitioned Sheremetev, begging to be allowed to swear an oath of allegiance to the czar and to return to the city. Claiming that they were simple folk who had been forced to follow Derbysh against their will, they asked that the czar not punish them and agreed to pay tribute. Although he agreed to these requests, Ivan also decided to annex Astrakhan outright, making it a part of the growing Russian empire.


Learning of the Muscovite conquest of Astrakhan, the Bashkirs, a non-Russian people living in the steppe east of the Volga, voluntarily declared their association with Muscow, while the khans of the Nogai Horde and the Sibir Khanate, along with the princes of Pyatigorsk and Kabardia, declared themselves vassals of the czar. Additionally, Ivan decided to undertake an assault against the Crimean Khanate, the third of the three troublesome Golden Horde successor states. In preparation, he ordered the construction of a fleet on the Don and Dnieper Rivers, which was to transport streltsy (musketeers) for the campaign. Ultimately, however, Ivan abandoned his plan when he became convinced that he could not build up sufficient forces. The Crimean Tatars would thus remain a problem for Russia and her rulers until 1783, when Empress Catherine the Great (r. 1762-1796) finally annexed their territories.

Most historians agree that the reign of Czar Ivan the Terrible marked the real birth of the Russian Empire as a Eurasian, multinational state. In this regard, Ivan’s conquest of the Khanate of Astrakhan represented a critical development. Along with the 1552 defeat of the Kazan Khanate, the annexation of Astrakhan gave Muscovy control over the entire course of the Volga River. Furthermore, it allowed Moscow to subordinate the neighboring Muslim Khanate of Sibir and non-Russian steppe peoples including the Nogai Tatars and the Bashkirs, as well as to establish regular trade, via the Caspian Sea, with Persia and Central Asia. Finally, the defeat of Astrakhan allowed Ivan and those who succeeded him on the Russian throne to portray themselves as the legitimate successors to the khans of the Golden Horde, that portion of the Mongol Empire to which the territories of Kievan Rus had belonged from 1241 to 1480.

Further Reading
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Hosking, Geoffrey. Russia and the Russians: A History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2001. Includes a chapter on Muscovy’s expansion during the reign of Ivan IV that emphasizes the significance of the annexations of Kazan and Astrakhan.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Kappeler, Andreas. The Russian Empire: A Multiethnic History. Translated by Alfred Clayton. New York: Longman, 2001. Traces the history of the Russian Empire from a multiethnic perspective. Chapter 2, which deals with the acquisition of the territories of the Golden Horde includes an entire section on the conquest of the Khanates of Kazan and Astrakhan and its significance.
  • citation-type="booksimple"

    xlink:type="simple">Soloviev, Sergei. The Reign of Ivan the Terrible: Kazan, Astrakhan, Livonia, the Oprichnina, and the Polotsk Campaign. Vol. 10 in History of Russia from Ancient Times, edited and translated by Anthony L. H. Rhinelander. Gulf Breeze, Fla.: Academic International Press, 1995. Originally published in the nineteenth century, Soloviev’s volume remains the best secondary account of Ivan’s capture of Astrakhan.

1462: Regiomontanus Completes the Epitome of Ptolemy’s Almagest

1480-1502: Destruction of the Golden Horde

After 1480: Ivan the Great Organizes the “Third Rome”

1499-c. 1600: Russo-Polish Wars

Jan. 16, 1547: Coronation of Ivan the Terrible

1581-1597: Cossacks Seize Sibir

1584-1613: Russia’s Time of Troubles

Categories: History