Grand Duchess Sofia (1455-1503) from the Greek Paleologic dynasty was the wife of Ivan III. It came from a kind of Byzantine emperors. A marriage with the Greek princess Ivan Vasilievich emphasized the connection of his own power with the Constantinople one. Once Byzantium gave Russia Christianity. Marriage of Ivan and Sophia closed this historical circle. Their son Vasily III and his heirs considered themselves the successors of the Greek emperors. To transfer power to his own son, Sofia had to wage a long-term dynastic struggle.


The exact date of birth of Sofia Paleolog is unknown. She was born around 1455 in the Greek city of Mystra. The father of the girl was Foma Palaeologus, the brother of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI. He ruled the Morphean despot, located on the peninsula of the Peloponnese. Sophia's mother, Catherine of Akhaya, was the daughter of the Frankish prince Achaea Chenturion II (Italian by descent). The Catholic ruler clashed with Thomas and lost to him a decisive war, as a result of which he lost his own possessions. As a token of victory, as well as the accession of Achaea to the Greek despot and married Catherine.

The fate of Sofia Paleologue was determined by the dramatic events that took place shortly before her birth. In 1453 the Turks seized Constantinople. This event marked the end of the thousand-year history of the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople was at the crossroads between Europe and Asia. Having occupied the city, the Turks opened their way to the Balkans and to the Old World as a whole.

If the Ottomans defeated the emperor, the other princes did not pose any threat to them. The Despotate of the Sea was seized already in 1460. Foma managed to take his family and flee the Peloponnese. First, the Paleologi came to Corfu, then moved to Rome. The choice was logical. Italy has become a new home for many thousands of Greeks who did not want to remain in the allegiance of Muslims.

Her parents passed away almost simultaneously in 1465. After their death, the story of Sophia Palaeologus was closely related to the history of her brothers Andrew and Manuel. Young Paleologue was sheltered by Pope Sixtus IV. In order to secure his support and ensure a quiet future for children, Thomas shortly before his death took Catholicism, giving up the Greek Orthodox faith.

Sofia Paleologue, the second wife of Ivan III: biography, personal life, historical role

Life in Rome

The biography of the future Grand Duchess of Moscow from the early years bore the seal of the Greco-Roman duality, the adherent of which was Vissarion of Nicaea. In Italy she always had an interpreter. Two professors taught it in Greek and Latin. Sofia Paleologue and her brothers were kept at the expense of the Holy See. In the year the pope gave them more than 3 thousand crowns. Money was spent on servants, clothes, doctors, etc.

The fate of the Sophia brothers was formed in the opposite way. As the eldest son of Thomas, Andrei was considered the legal successor of the entire Paleologic dynasty. He tried to sell his status to several European kings, hoping that they would help him regain the throne. The crusade was not expected to happen. Andrew and died in poverty. Manuel returned to his historical homeland. In Constantinople, he began to serve the Turkish sultan Bayazid II, and according to some sources, even converted to Islam.

As representative of the extinguished imperial dynasty, Sofia Paleologus from Byzantium was one of the most enviable brides of Europe. However, none of the Catholic monarchs with whom they tried to negotiate in Rome, and did not agree to marry the girl. Even the glory of the name Palaeologi could not eclipse the danger posed by the Ottomans. It is precisely known that the patrons of Sofia began to woo her with the Cypriot king Jacques II, but he replied with a firm refusal. Another time, the Roman pontiff Paul II himself offered the girl's hand to the influential Italian aristocrat Caracciolo, but this attempt to play the wedding failed.

Embassy to Ivan III

In Moscow, Sophia was recognized in 1469, when the Greek diplomat Yuri Trahaniot arrived in the Russian capital. He proposed to the newly widowed, but still very young Ivan III, a marriage project with the princess. The Roman message sent by a foreign guest was compiled by Pope Paul II. The Pope promised Ivan support, if he wants to marry Sophia.

What made the Roman diplomacy turn to the Moscow Grand Duke? In the 15th century, after a long period of political fragmentation and the Mongol yoke, Russia reunited and became the largest European power. In the Old World there were legends about the riches and power of Ivan III. In Rome, many influential persons hoped for the help of the Grand Duke in the struggle of Christians against Turkish expansion.

Anyway, but Ivan III agreed and decided to continue the negotiations. His "mother, Maria Yaroslavna, favorably referred to the" Roman-Byzantine "nominee. Ivan III, despite his steep temper, was afraid of the parent and always listened to her opinion. At the same time, the figure of Sophia Palaeologus, whose biography was associated with the Latins, did not like the head of the Russian Orthodox Church - Metropolitan Philip. Realizing his impotence, he did not resist the Moscow sovereign and distanced himself from the upcoming wedding.

The Moscow embassy arrived in Rome in May 1472. At the head of the delegation was the Italian Gian Batista della Volpe, in Russia known as Ivan Fryazin. The ambassadors were met by Pope Sixtus IV, who shortly before replaced Paul II who died. As a token of gratitude for the hospitality the Pontiff received as a gift a large amount of sable fur.

It took only a week, and in the main Roman cathedral of St. Peter there was a solemn ceremony at which Sofia Paleologus and Ivan III became engaged in absentia. In the role of the groom Volpe remained. Preparing for an important event, the ambassador made a serious oversight. The Catholic rite required the use of wedding rings, but Volpe did not prepare them. The scandal was hushed up. All influential organizers of the engagement wanted to finish it safely and turned a blind eye to the formalities.

In the summer of 1472, Sofia Paleologus, along with her own retinue, papal legate and Moscow ambassadors set off on a long journey. At parting, she met with the pontiff, who gave the bride his final blessing. From several routes, the Sophia's companions chose the path through Northern Europe and the Baltic. The Greek princess crossed the whole Old World, arriving from Rome to Lubeck. Sofia Paleolog from Byzantium adequately endured the hardships of a long journey - such trips were not the first for her. At the insistence of the pope, all the Catholic cities organized a warm welcome to the embassy. The girl reached the sea to Tallinn. Then came Yuriev, Pskov, and after him Novgorod. Sofia Paleolog, whose appearance was reconstructed by specialists in the 20th century, surprised Russians with her foreign southern appearance and unfamiliar habits. Everywhere the future Grand Duchess was greeted with bread and salt.

November 12, 1472, Princess Sophia Palaeologus arrived in the long-awaited Moscow. The ceremony of the wedding with Ivan III was held on the same day. Hurry had an explicable reason. The arrival of Sophia coincided with the celebration of the memory of John Chrysostom, the patron saint of the Grand Duke. So the Moscow sovereign gave his marriage to heavenly protection.

For the Orthodox Church, the fact that Sofia - the second wife of Ivan III, was reprehensible. A priest who married such a marriage should have risked his reputation. In addition, the attitude towards the bride as a stranger Latinian has been fixed in conservative circles since her appearance in Moscow. That is why Metropolitan Philip evaded the obligation to hold a wedding. Instead, the ceremony was headed by the protopoe of Kolomna Hosea.

Sofia Paleolog, whose religion remained Orthodox even during her stay in Rome, nevertheless came with a papal legate. This messenger, traveling on Russian roads, demonstratively carried a large Catholic crucifix. Under the pressure of Metropolitan Philip, Ivan Vasilyevich made it clear to the legate that he was not going to tolerate such behavior, which embarrassed his Orthodox subjects. The conflict was exhausted, however, the "Roman glory" pursued Sofia until the end of her days.

Historical role

Together with Sophia, her Greek suite came to Russia. Ivan III was very interested in the heritage of Byzantium. Marriage with Sophia became a signal for many other wanderers in Europe, the Greeks. A stream of coreligionists formed, striving to settle in the possessions of the Grand Duke.

What did Sofia Paleologue do for Russia? She opened it for Europeans. Not only the Greeks, but also the Italians, went to Muscovy. Especially prized masters and scientists. Ivan III took care of Italian architects (for example, Aristotle Fioravanti) who built in Moscow a large number of masterpieces of architecture. For Sofia, a separate courtyard and mansions were built. They burned down in 1493 during a terrible fire. Together with them the treasury of the Grand Duchess was lost.

In days of standing on the Ugra

In 1480, Ivan III went on to aggravate the conflict with the Tatar Khan Akhmat. The result of this conflict is known - after a bloodless stand on the Ugra, the Horde left Russia and never again demanded a tribute from her. Ivan Vasilievich managed to throw off a perennial yoke. However, before Ahmad left the possessions of the Moscow prince in disgrace, the situation seemed uncertain. Fearing an attack on the capital, Ivan III organized the departure of Sophia and their children to the White Lake. Together with his wife was a grand-ducal treasury. If Achmat had captured Moscow, she had to run farther north to the sea.

The decision on the evacuation, which was adopted by Ivan 3 and Sofia Paleologus, caused outrage among the people. Muscovites gladly began to recall the "Roman" origin of the princess. Sarcastic descriptions of the flight of the empress to the north were preserved in some chronicles, for example, in the Rostov arch. Nevertheless, all the reproaches of his contemporaries were immediately forgotten after the news came to Moscow that Akhmat and his army decided to retreat from Ugra and return to the steppe. Sofia from the Palaeologus family came to Moscow a month later.

The problem of the heir

Ivan and Sophia had 12 children. Half of them died in childhood or infancy. The rest of the grown up children of Sofia Paleolog also left their offspring, but the Rurikovich branch, which began from the marriage of Ivan and the Greek princess, faded around the middle of the 17th century. The Grand Duke also had a son from his first marriage with the Tver princess. Named after his father, he was remembered as Ivan Mlada. Under the law of seniority, it was this prince who was to become the heir to the Moscow power. Of course, Sofia did not like this variant of events, she wanted that the power passed to her son Vasily. Around her formed a loyal group of court nobility, supported the claims of the princess. However, for the time being she could not in any way influence the dynastic question.

Since 1477, Ivan Mlada was considered the co-ruler of his father. He participated in standing on the Ugra and gradually learned princely duties. For many years Ivan Mladogo's position as a legitimate heir was undeniable. However, in 1490 he became ill with gout. There was no remedy for "aching in the legs". Then an Italian doctor, Mister Leon, was discharged from Venice. He undertook to heal the heir and vouched for success with his own head. Leon used strange methods. He gave Ivan some potion and burned his feet with red-hot glass vessels. From treatment, the ailment only intensified. In 1490, Ivan Mlada died in terrible agony at the age of 32 years. In anger, Sophia's husband Palaeologus imprisoned a Venetian, and a few weeks later he was publicly executed.

Conflict with Elena

The death of Ivan the Young brought Sophia closer to the fulfillment of her dream. The deceased heir was married to the daughter of the Moldavian sovereign, Elena Stefanovna, and had a son, Dmitry. Now Ivan III faced a difficult choice. On the one hand, he had a grandson Dmitry, and on the other - a son from Sofia, Vasily.

For several years, the Grand Duke continued to hesitate. The boyars split again. Some supported Elena, others - Sofia. The first supporters had much more. Many influential Russian aristocrats and grandees disliked the story of Sophia Palaeologus. Some continued to reproach her for the past connected with Rome. In addition, Sofia herself tried to surround herself with the Greeks, which did not benefit her popularity.

On the side of Elena and her son Dmitry was a good memory of Ivan Mlad. Supporters of Basil resisted: according to his mother, he was a descendant of the Byzantine emperors! Elena and Sophia cost each other. Both of them were distinguished by ambition and cunning. Although the women observed the palace decency, their mutual hatred for each other was not a secret for the prince's entourage.

In 1497, Ivan III became aware of the plot being prepared behind him. Young Vasily came under the influence of several careless boyars. Among them stood Fyodor Stromilov. This clerk could assure Vasily that Ivan was already going to officially declare his heir Dmitry. Reckless boyars offered to get rid of a competitor or to seize the sovereign's treasury in Vologda. The number of like-minded people involved in the venture continued to grow, until Ivan III himself found out about the conspiracy.

As always, the terrible prince in anger ordered the execution of the main noble conspirators, including the deacon Stromilov. Basil escaped the dungeon, but the guard was assigned to him. Sofia also fell into disgrace. Her husband heard rumors that she was leading imaginary wizards to her and was trying to get a potion to poison Elena or Dmitri. These women were found and drowned in the river. The tsar forbade his wife to come to his attention. To top it off, Ivan really announced the fifteen-year-old grandson as his official heir.

The struggle continues

In February 1498, Moscow celebrated the coronation of the young Dmitry. At the ceremony in the Assumption Cathedral there were all the boyars and members of the Grand-Ducal family except for Basil and Sofia. The disgraced relatives of the Grand Duke were not demonstratively invited to the coronation. On Dmitry put on the Hat of Monomakh, and Ivan III arranged in honor of his grandson a grand feast.

The party of Elena could triumph - it was her long-awaited triumph. However, even supporters of Dmitry and his mother could not feel too confident. Ivan III was always impulsive. Because of his stern temper, he could plunge anyone into disgrace, including his wife, but nothing guaranteed that the Grand Duke would not change his preferences.

After Dmitry's coronation, a year passed. Unexpectedly, Sophia and her eldest son returned the mercy of the sovereign. In the annals there is no evidence that speaks of the reasons that prompted Ivan to reconcile with his wife. Anyway, but the Grand Duke ordered a review of the case against his wife. When the second investigation was opened, new circumstances of the court struggle opened up. Some denunciations against Sophia and Basil turned out to be false.

The Emperor accused the most influential defenders of Helen and Dmitry, the princes Ivan Patrikeev and Simeon Ryapolovsky, of defaming them. The first of them was the chief military adviser to the Moscow ruler for more than thirty years. Ryapolovsky's father defended Ivan Vasilyevich in his childhood, when he was in danger from Dmitry Shemyaka during the last Russian internecine war. These great services of the nobles and their families did not save them.

Six weeks after the Boyar's disgrace, Ivan, who had returned his favor to Sofia, announced their son Vasily to the Novgorod and Pskov princes. Dmitry was still considered an heir, but members of the court, feeling the change of mood of the sovereign, began to leave Elena and her child. Afraid to repeat the fate of Patrikeev and Ryapolovsky, other aristocrats began to demonstrate the loyalty of Sophia and Vasily.

Triumph and Death

Three years passed, and finally, in 1502, the struggle between Sofia and Elena ended with the fall of the latter. Ivan ordered to attach to Dmitry and his mother a guard, then sent them to prison and officially deprived the grandson of the Grand Duke's dignity. At the same time the emperor declared his heir Vasily. Sofia triumphed. No boyar did not dare to contradict the Grand Duke's decision, although many continued to sympathize with the eighteen-year-old Dmitry. Ivan did not even stop the quarrel with his faithful and important ally - Helen's father and Moldovan ruler Stefan, who hated the owner of the Kremlin for the suffering of his daughter and grandson.

Sophia Palaeologus, whose biography was a series of ups and downs, managed to achieve the main goal of his life shortly before his death. She died at the age of 48 on April 7, 1503. The Grand Duchess was buried in a sarcophagus of white stone, placed in the tomb of the Ascension Cathedral. The grave of Sofia was next to the grave of the first wife of Ivan, Maria Borisovna. In 1929, the Bolsheviks destroyed the Ascension Cathedral, and the remains of the Grand Duchess were transferred to the Archangel Cathedral.

For Ivan, the death of his wife became a powerful blow. He was already over 60. In mourning, the Grand Duke visited several Orthodox monasteries, where he diligently surrendered to prayers. The last years of a joint life were marred by disgrace and mutual suspicions of the spouses. Nevertheless, Ivan III always appreciated Sophia's mind and her help in state affairs. After the loss of his wife, the Grand Duke, feeling the proximity of his own death, made a will. Vasily's right to power was confirmed. Ivan followed Sophia in 1505, having died at the age of 65.