January 9 1750 - Ivan the Terrible Kills Thousands of Town Residents

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With a name like "Ivan the Terrible", we can't expect anything good happened, right? Ivan IV Vasilyevich was the Grand Prince of Moscow from 1533 to 1547, and the first Tsar of Russia from 1547 to 1584. (1)

The late 1560s were riddled with conspiracies and violence as the tsar's mental state rapidly deteriorated. He was at war with Sweden, Lithuania and Poland. He also didn't trust anyone, and thus he created the Oprichnina, his own personal army. He wanted them to kill anyone he deemed a threat. (1)

Over 150 boyar council members and noblemen, sometimes along with their entire families, were killed. If he heard a conspiracy, whether proven true or false, he'd kill them. He also had anyone who protested his army. (2)

Ivan became convinced that treason and treachery were everywhere, and only getting worse. After a plague in 1570 that killed 10,000 people in Novgorod, he grew suspicious that the wealthy city was planning to defect and enter Lithuanian control. (Historians believe this conspiracy to have been fake.) (2)

So, thinking things were getting worse, he planned to take out 2 of his biggest threats: His cousin, Price Vladmir Adreyevich, and the entire city of Novgorod. He executed his cousin and most of his family, and then launched his attack. (2)


Ivan and his armies began marching to the city in December. On January 2, the first armies arrived, making a barrier around the city to trap residents, and began beating and imprisoning the clergy. (2)

Once Ivan arrived, he brought his son, also named Ivan. (Interesting side note: Ivan the Terrible would eventually kill this son. After beating Ivan's pregnant wife, causing a miscarriage, an argument broke out between father and son, resulting in his son's death. (1)) Anyway, he brings his son and they begin setting up camp and issuing orders - such as to begin beating any of the clergymen and monks who were rounded up. (2)

As is apparently customary, Ivan met with the Archbishop Pimen, to be blessed. However, he refused, saying that he and his entire city were guilty of treason. After that, they somehow still wound up having a peaceful meal together. That is, until Ivan began shouting and demanded his army to arrest Pimen. (2)

The ultimate goal of the attack was to destroy and humiliate the church, believing Pimen and the church to be the ultimate plots for their plan to defect. Father superiors and monks from outside the city were founded up and flogged. Deacons and priests from inside the city were arrested, held in shackles and flogged day and night, unless they could come up with 20 rubles to pay in ransom. Then they stripped all of the cathedrals and churches of their valuables. (2)

Though the church was their target, that didn't stop them from taking out the brunt of their sadism on the civilians in the town. The upper class and their families were rounded up and tortured for information. They were roasted over fires and strung up by their hands. (2)

Women and children were thrown off a bridge into a river and trapped under ice. If they were able to get out from underneath the ice, there were soldiers patrolling and would push them back down with spears or axes. Those condemned in court were tied to sleds, dragged through town, and ultimately thrown off the same bridge into the rivers. (2)

The middle class had their stores ransacked, with all of their goods stolen. Their homes were destroyed and anyone who resisted when the armies came in were killed. Those who survived after having their homes destroyed died of cold, hunger and disease. (2)

The lower class were expelled from the city. Being the middle of winter, most of them died of the cold, exposure or starvation. (2)


The official amount of casualties is unknown, with initial reports saying 60,000. That has been largely discounted. There were only 1,505 named victims, leading many to believe the total body count was somewhere between 2,000 and 3,000.

Novgorod was once rivaling Moscow for power in Russia, but after the attack, they lost all of their political standing and the city and their power became a thing of the past.

During the Rosso-Crimean war, Ivan realized that his army couldn't actually do much against a real army, and was disbanded in 1572.

Though the attack lasted from early January through the middle of February, much of the carnage took place on and around January 9th, 450 years ago today.


1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ivan_the_Terrible

2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Massacre_of_Novgorod

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