Early Russian History. Key Issues. Гончарова Л.Ю. - 23 стр.



advisor Adasjev died in prison, Silvester was exiled and in 1563 Macarius died of
natural causes. Ivan had alternately violent fits of temper and feelings of remorse,
while blasphemy and superstition succeeded his pious moods.
Shortly before Christmas in 1564, Ivan suddenly packed his belongings and
treasures, secretly left Moscow and announced his intention to abdicate. The
populace called for his return. After a month of negotiations Ivan agreed to come
back, demanding absolute power to punish anyone he considered disloyal and to
dispose of their estates as he wished. It is likely that Ivan deliberately used his threat
as a weapon against the boyars' resistance to strengthen his position as absolute ruler
of Russia.
The Oprichnina
The instruments of Ivan's new rule were the 'Oprichniki', who were handpicked
by Ivan and had to swear him a personal oath of allegiance. The mere sight of the
Oprichniki instilled fear: they dressed in black and rode black horses. Many were
without any remorse about killing anyone Ivan disliked. The Oprichniki
didn't hesitate to burst into a church during mass, either abducting the priest or
murdering him in front of the altar. Subsequently, Ivan founded a pseudo-monastic
order: he was the 'abbot' and his Oprichniki were the 'monks'. They regularly
performed sacrilegious masses that were followed by extended orgies of sex, rape and
torture. Frequently Ivan would act as master of the rituals, in which, with sharp and
hissing-hot pincers, ribs were torn out of men's chests. Drunken licentiousness was
alternated with passionate acts of repentance. After throwing himself down before the
altar with such vehemence that his forehead would be bloody and covered with
bruises, Ivan would rise and read sermons on the Christian virtues to his drunken
An ancient term, oprichnina signifies an entailed domain and was used to
describe the estate settled on the widow of a sovereign prince. The choice of the term
was presumably Ivan's own; he liked to think of himself as an orphan or a widower.
Under the new dispensation the territory of the nation was split into two parts:
zemshchina and oprichnina. The former was administered by the traditional
institutions, from the boyar duma down; oprichnina, the personal domain of the tsar,
had its own administrative agencies independent of those of the zemshchina.
Oprichnina presumably had two main objectives: the first, of a passing nature,
was the extermination of treason; and the second, of lasting significance, was the
elimination of the political influence of the landed aristocracy. In pursuit of the
former goal the oprichniki were actually agents of the security police. This function
was emphasized by their appearance; the emblem of their authority was a broom and
a dog's head attached to their saddles. The second objective - the destruction of the
influence of the landed aristocracy - was achieved by a mass transfer of the
population, a familiar policy used extensively by Vasili II, Ivan III and Vasili III. The
territories assigned to oprichnina, including streets in Moscow and other urban
centers, were cleared of property owners and occupants and settled by the oprichniki.
The dispossessed owners, among then many boyars and former princes, were given