Making an Anti-Hero or Describing a Tyrant? Postmodernism and Ivan the Terrible

3rd Contribution to the Forum: Ivan the Terrible and the Campaign against Novgorod in 1570

In: Russian History
Alexander Filyushkin Professor, Department of History of Slavic and Balkan Countries, Institute of History, St. Petersburg State University St. Petersburg Russia

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Historiography of the study of Ivan the Terrible’s times contains many examples of demystification attempts: E. Keenan declared the correspondence between Ivan the Terrible and Andrey Kurbsky to be apocrypha, Anthony Grobovsky exposed the ‘Chosen Rada’, Mikhail Krom unmasked the time of ‘boyar rule’. Cornelia Soldat suggests revising the history of the ‘massacre of Novgorod’ in 1570. She believes it to be a product of a ‘literary game’. The story of the destruction of Novgorod first appeared in the German Flying Leaf in 1570 and Alexander Guagnini’s Chronicle in 1578. It was a product of European political discourse. The Novgorod Chronicles borrowed that story from Guagnini’s Chronicle in the late 17th century. However, this hypothesis lacks sufficient proof. Independent evidence exists: The Solovetsky Chronicle of the 16th century. According to Soldat, the reports from The Novgorod Uvarov Chronicle date back to the late 16t–early 17th (about 1606) centuries, rather than to the 17th century. The main argument against her concept is the confirmation in independent sources and documents of the death of many people, while the circumstances of the repression or death point to Novgorod and 1570. The Novgorod chronicles contain no evidence of text borrowings from German or Polish sources. There is no proven textual similarity between them. The story of the ‘massacre of Novgorod’ evolved in the Novgorod’s urban legends. This would have been hardly possible, if this story had been of a purely bookish, literary origin. Therefore, Cornelia Soldat’s attempt to demystify the history of the ‘massacre of Novgorod’ in 1570 cannot be considered convincing.

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