Alexander Yaroslavich

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(12201263), known as Alexander Nevsky, prince of Novgorod, grand prince of Vladimir, grand prince of Kiev, and progenitor of the princes of Moscow.

Born around 1220, Alexander was the grandson of Vsevolod Yurevich "Big Nest." Between the years 1228 and 1233 he and his elder brother, Fyodor, ruled Novgorod in the name of their father Yaroslav of Pereyaslavl Zalessky. After Fyodor's death in 1233, Alexander's younger brother Andrei helped him to expand Novgorod's lands and to increase the prince's control over the town. In 1238 the Tatars invaded Suzdalia but bypassed Novgorod. Nevertheless, the town's expansion into the neighboring Finnish lands was challenged by the Swedes and by German Knights (the Order of Livonian Swordbearers, joined later by the Teutonic Order). In 1240, when the Swedes marched against Novgorod, Alexander and a small force confronted the enemy at the river Neva and routed them. He thereby secured Novgorod's outlet to the Baltic Sea and earned the sobriquet "Nevsky" (of the Neva). After his brilliant victory, he quarreled with the Novgorodians and withdrew to Pereyaslavl Zalessky. But less than a year later the Germans seized Pskov and threatened Novgorod's commerce, therewith forcing the citizens to bring back Nevsky on his terms. He arrived in 1241 and began reclaiming Novgorod's lost territories, including neighboring Pskov. He confronted the main force of Teutonic Knights on the frozen Lake Chud (Lake Peypus) where, on April 5, 1242, he defeated them in the famous "battle on the ice." The next year the Knights and the Novgorodians concluded peace. This allowed Nevsky to continue asserting Novgorod's jurisdiction over the Finns and to wage war against the encroaching Lithuanians.

After his father died in 1246, Nevsky visited Khan Batu in Saray who sent him to the Great Khan at Karakorum in Mongolia. He came home in 1249 as the grand prince of Kiev and of all Rus, including Novgorod, to which he returned. However, his younger brother Andrei received the patrimonial domain of Vladimir on the Klyazma. After Nevsky visited the Golden Horde in 1252, the khan sent a punitive force against Andrei because he had rebelled against the khan. The Tatars drove him out of Vladimir. Nevsky succeeded him and gained jurisdiction over Suzdalia and Novgorod. Because he was a subservient vassal, the khan let him centralize his control over the other towns of Suzdalia. He also served the khan faithfully by suppressing opposition to the khan's policies, with the help of the Tatar army. Nevertheless, after the citizens of many towns rebelled against the Tatar census takers, Nevsky interceded, evidently successfully, on behalf of his people. In 1262, on his fourth visit to the Golden Horde, he fell ill. While returning home he became a monk and died at Gorodets on the Volga on November 14, 1263.

Although Nevsky's valor was generally admired, his collaboration with the Tatars was criticized by his contemporaries and by historians. Metropolitan Cyril, however, exonerated the prince in his "Life of Alexander Nevsky," and the church canonized him during the reign of Tsar Ivan IV (the Terrible).

See also: andrei yaroslavich; batu; golden horde; ivan iv; kievan rus; novgorod the great; vsevolod iii


Fennell, John. (1983). The Crisis of Medieval Russia, 12001304. London: Longman.

Martin, Janet. (1995). Medieval Russia, 9801584. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press.

Vernadsky, George. (1953). The Mongols and Russia. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Martin Dimnik

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Alexander Yaroslavich

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