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 Alexander Nevsky

Born:   30 May 1220
Deceased:   14 November 1263

Legendary Russian Ruler and Warlord, an Orthodox Saint


Alexander Nevsky was a prince of Novgorod and Grand Prince of Vladimir, proclaimed Saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. He is considered as the key figure of the Russian medieval history. Alexander Nevsky got a status of a legendary warlord after his military victories over the German and Swedish invaders while employing collaboration policies towards the powerful Golden Horde.

First Steps
Alexander Nevsky was born on May 30, 1219, in Pereaslavl-Zalessky town. He was the fourth son of Prince Yaroslavl Vsevolodovich and princess Rostislava (Feodosiya) Mstislavovna so he hadn't much chances for claiming the throne of Vladimir. In 1230, however, he and his brother Fyodor were put forward to rule over Novgorod lands. Three years later Fyor died, being only at the age of 13.
In 1234 Alexander undertook his first military campaign (under his father's colours) to Derpt, which had been occupied by the Livonian Order, and won it on the Ovozh River. In 1236 Alexander became an independent ruler of the Novgorod region. That time the northern lands suffered from the Swedish, German and Muslim invaders, so Alexander had to undertake several more campaigns to defend his lands.
In 1239 he married the daughter of the Prince of Polotsk, a feudal neighbor. His first son, Vasily, was born in 1240.

The Neva Battle
But surely 1240 was a remarkable year for Alexander Nevsky and the whole country not only by that reason. In 1240 the German troops approached the town of Pskov and Swedish militants went towards Novgorod under the leadership of Birger, the current country's leader (according to Sweden sources, it was Ulf Fasy, not Birger).
Swedes  were convinced the Novgorod forces, deprived of the assistance of the Suzdal army, recently destroyed by the Mongols, would be in no position to offer them resistance. Birger was installed in a gold embroidered tent as were many of his knights, but the main body of troops had not yet disembarked. 
  At the night of 15 July 1240, Alexander Nevsky together with a quite small armed force of Novgorod and Ladoga citizens came up to the Swedes' military camp. The Russians carried out their attacks with lightning like rapidity while Alexander in person wounded Birger with a blow from a spear, his men at arms cut the bridges joining the boats to the river bank. Panic seized the Swedes and the battle ended with their flight in utter disorder.

The Neva battle of 1240 saved Rus from a full-scale enemy invasion from the North. Because of this battle, 19-year-old Alexander was given the sobriquet "Nevsky" (which means of Neva). 
This victory, coming just three years after the disastrous Mongol invasion of Rus, strengthened Nevsky’s political influence, but at the same time it worsened his relations with the boyars. He would soon have to leave Novgorod because of this conflict.

The Battle on the Ice
After Pskov had been invaded by the crusading Livonian Knights, the Novgorod authorities sent for Alexander. In spring of 1241 he returned from his exile, gathered an army, and drove out the invaders. Then Alexander went to the Chudsky land, which was under control of the Livonian Order then. Alexander and his men faced the Livonian heavy cavalry led by the master of the Order, Hermann, brother of Albert of Buxhoeveden. Nevsky's army met the enemy on the ice of the Lake Peipus and defeated the Livonian branch of the Teutonic Knights during the Battle of the Ice on 5 April 1242. The exact battle's course is unknown, but, according to Livonian chronicles, the Order's knights had been surrounded by Alexander's army. Then Russian persuaded Livonians overice. According to Livonian chronicles, the Order had lost 20 killed and 6 captive knights. According to Novgorod chronicles, the Order had lost 400-500 killed and 50 captive Germans. If to take into account that one fully fledged knight was usually supported by 15-20 servants and militants of lower ranks, the both chronicles confirm each other.

Nevsky and the Golden Horde
Nevsky's successful military campaigns ensured the safety of Russia's western lands, but in the East Russian princes still had to bow their heads before more powerful and dangerous rivals - Tartars. 
In 1243 Grand Khan Batiy, the ruler of the western part of Mongolian power, gave an edict of Vladimir Great Prince for the control over the conquered land to Alexander's father - Yaroslavl. Great Mongolian khan Guyuk invited him to his Karakorum capital, where, on 30 September 1246 Yaroslav suddenly died (according to generally accepted version, he was poisoned).
The matter of succession could not be settled without further intervention of the Tartar leaders. Then Yaroslavl's sons, Alexander and Andrei, were summoned to Korakorum. While they were travelling there, khan Guyuk died and new Karakorum's hostess, woman-khan Ogul-Gamysh decided to appoint Andrei as a Grand Prince. Alexander was only given devastated lands of Southern Rus and Kiev. Only in 1249 the brothers were able to come home. Alexander didn't go to his new possessions but returned to Novgorod where he got ill.
At that time, Roman Pope Innokentiy IV sent ambassadors to Alexander Nevsky with the proposal to catholicize him, supposedly in exchange for Pope's help in collaboration war against Tartars. That proposal was strongly refused by Alexander.

Alexander Nevsky was faced with a tragic dilemma. Was the conqueror of the Swedes and the Teutons, was the hero of the Neva and Chudskoye Lake, to adopt the attitude of a humble vassal and to recognize openly the loss of Russian independence, thus insulting the death under torture already suffered by some of his near relations?
Alexander, an Orthodox prince, thinking solely of the good of his people preferred to submit to the divine will and took counsel of the higher clergy. Metropolitan Cyrill gave his approval to the decision to leave, on the condition that he worshiped no idols and did not deny his faith in Christ.
Surely the collaboration with the tartars was indeed at the moment an historical necessity, - the nation could count on no help from outside, the attitude of neighboring countries was entirely hostile and the worth of her own warriors, which was sufficient to confront enemies as courageous as the Swedes or the Teutons in equal numbers, did not amount to much when faced with the hordes of nomads who carried all before them as they advanced by their tens or even hundreds of thousands.

Battles for the Power
In 1252, in Karakorum, Ogul-Gamish was overthrown by a new Grand Khan Munke. Batiy decided to take full advantage of that fact and to remove Andrei Yaroslavovich from his Grand Prince post. So he gave the edict to Alexander Nevsky, who was urgently called to visit the Gold Horde capital - Sarai. But Alexander's smaller brother Andrei refused to obey Batiy's orders. For his punishment Batiy sent Mongolian detachment "Nevryueva Rat", as a result of which Andrei and his brother and ally Yaroslav had to run outside the North-Eastern Rus. Later, in 1253, Yaroslav Yaroslavovich was called for the throne in Pskov and in 1255 - in Novgorod. Moreover, Novgorod citizens drove out their former Prince Vasily - Alexander Nevsky's son. 
But Alexander enthroned his son in Novgorod again and men-at-arms were severely punished for being unable to secure Vasily's rights - they were blinded. The new Golden Horde ruler khan Berque (since 1255) established the common system for taxation in all conquered lands. In 1257 "tchislenniki" (special workers) were sent to Novgorod and other towns for the mass population census. This event angered indignation of Novgorod citizens, which was supported by Prince Vasily.

  In 1262 in Vladimir, Suzdal, Rostov, Pereyaslavl, Yaroslavl and other cities several Tartar tribute farmers were killed by protesting citizens. Morevoer, Sarai khan Berque demanded to make military draft among Russians, as he saw the menace to his lands from Iranian ruler Khulagu. Alexander Nevsky went to the Golden Horde in order to dissuade the khan from that demand. 
  While being there Alexander got ill. A decade later, Alexander died in the town of Gorodets-on-the-Volga on his way back from Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde. Prior to his death, he took monastic vows and was given the religious name of Alexis. "The sun has set over the land of Suzdal", exclaimed Metropolitan Cyrill in announcing the death of their leader to the dismayed people.

With His Name on the Chest
During dark times and troubles on the Russian land Alexander was able to find powers for struggle against western conquerors, gaining fame of a great Russian military leader. In 1280s there was the first evidences of considered Nevsky as a saint. Later he was officially canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. 
Alexander Nevsky was the only orthodox temporal ruler in Russia and Europe, who had not accepted a compromise with the Catholic church for retention of his power. 
In 1724 Pyotr the First founded a monastery in St. Petersburg in honour of his great compatriot (Alexandro-Nevsky Lavra now) and ordered to move Nevsky's remains there. Previously Nevsky has been buried at the Christmas monastery in Vladimir. Pyotr also decreed to mark Alexander Nevsky's Day on August 30, the day of triumphant Nishtadsky peace treaty with Sweden. 
In 1725 the empress Ekaterina I founded the Alexander Nevsky's Order - one of the Russia's highest awards existed till 1917. During the Second World War in 1942 the Soviet officials established new Alexander Nevsky's Order which had been given to commanders of platoons and devision, who had proved their braveness and military talents. 

Alexander Nevsky's Cultural Heritage
In 1938, Sergei Eisenstein made one of his most acclaimed films, "Alexander Nevsky", on Alexander's victory over the Teutonic Knights. The soundtrack for the film was written by Sergei Prokofiev, who also reworked the score into a concert cantata.
Alexander's proverbial phrase (actually, paraphrased Math.26:52) "Whoever will come to us with a sword, from a sword will perish," has become a slogan of Russian patriots.
Russian maritime fleet often gives Nevsky's names to naval vessels, such as the nineteenth century screw frigate Alexander Nevsky and a nuclear submarine currently being built for the Russian Navy. 
Alexander Nevsky's fame has spread beyond the borders of Russia, and numerous churches are dedicated to him, including the Patriarchal Cathedral at Sofia, Bulgaria; the Cathedral church in Tallinn, Estonia; a church in Belgrade, Serbia; and a church in Tbilisi, Georgia.
In December 2008 Alexander Nevsky was named the greatest Russian in the big "Name of Russia" television show among 500 original and 12 final candidates (Stolypin was voted the second and Stalin was voted the third). More than 50 million Russian people took part in the voting by phones, Internet and text messages.

Sources: abc-people Wikipedia To-name

"Alexander Nevsky" film by Sergei Eisenstein

Tags: Russian history     

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