Grand Duchess Sophia (1455–1503) of the Palaeologian Greek dynasty was the wife of Ivan III. She came from a kind of Byzantine emperors. By marriage with the Greek princess, Ivan Vasilyevich stressed the connection of his own power with Constantinople. Once Byzantium gave Russia Christianity. The marriage of Ivan and Sophia closed this historical circle. Their son Basil III and his heirs considered themselves successors of the Greek emperors. To transfer power to his own son, Sophia had to wage many years of 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 Thomas Palaeologus - the brother of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI. He ruled the despot of Morea, located on the Peloponnese peninsula. Sophia's mother, Ekaterina Akhayskaya, was the daughter of the Frankish prince Ahea Centurion II (of Italian descent). The Catholic governor clashed with Thomas and lost to him the decisive war, as a result of which he lost his own possessions. In a sign of victory, as well as the accession of Ahea, the Greek despot and married Catherine.

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

If the Ottomans defeated the emperor, then the other princes did not pose a threat to them at all. Sea despotat was captured already in 1460. Thomas managed to pick up his family and escape from the Peloponnese. First, Palaeologis 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 Muslim citizenship.

Parents of the girl died almost simultaneously in 1465. After their death, the story of Sofia Paleolog was closely connected with the story of her brothers Andrew and Manuel. Young Paleologians were sheltered by Pope Sixtus IV. In order to enlist his support and ensure a peaceful future for the children, Thomas accepted Catholicism shortly before his death, renouncing the Greek Orthodox faith.

Sophia Paleolog, second wife of Ivan III: biography, personal life, historical role

Life in rome

The biography of the future Moscow Grand Princess from an early age wore the seal of the Greco-Roman duality, the adherent of which was Vissarion of Nicaea. She always had a translator with her in Italy. Two professors taught her Greek and Latin. Sophia Paleologue and her brothers were kept at the expense of the Holy See. In the year dad gave them more than 3 thousand ECU. Money was spent on servants, clothes, a doctor, etc.

The fate of the brothers Sofia was the opposite way from each other. As the eldest son of Thomas, Andrew was considered the legal heir of the entire Paleologov dynasty. He tried to sell his status to several European kings, hoping that they would help him return the throne. Crusade expectedly did not happen. Andrew died in poverty. Manuel returned to his historic homeland. In Constantinople, he began to serve the Turkish Sultan Bayezid II, and according to some sources, he even converted to Islam.

As a representative of the extinct imperial dynasty, Sofia Paleolog from Byzantium was one of the most enviable brides in Europe. However, none of the Catholic monarchs, with whom they tried to negotiate in Rome, did not agree to marry the girl. Even the glory of the name Paleologov could not overshadow the danger posed by the Ottomans. It is known that the patrons of Sophia began to woo her with the King of Cyprus Jacques II, but he answered with a firm refusal. On another occasion, the Roman pontiff Paul II himself offered the girl's hand to the influential Italian aristocrat Caracciolo, but this attempt to celebrate the wedding failed.

Embassy to Ivan III

In Moscow, they learned about Sofia in 1469, when a Greek diplomat, Yuri Trahaniot, arrived in the Russian capital. He proposed to the recently widowed, but still very young Ivan III, the project of marriage with the princess. The Roman message transmitted by a foreign guest was compiled by Pope Paul II. The pontiff promised Ivan support if he wanted to marry Sophia.

What made Roman diplomacy turn to the Moscow Grand Duke? In the 15th century, after a long period of political fragmentation and the Mongol yoke, Russia once again united 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 people hoped for the help of the Grand Duke in the struggle of Christians against the Turkish expansion.

One way or another, but Ivan III agreed and decided to continue the negotiations. His mother, Maria Yaroslavna, favorably responded to the "Roman-Byzantine" candidacy. Ivan III, despite his cool temper, was a little afraid of the parent and always listened to her opinion. At the same time, the figure of Sophia Paleolog, whose biography was connected with the Latins, did not like the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, Metropolitan Philip. Understanding his powerlessness, he did not oppose the Moscow sovereign and distanced himself from the upcoming wedding.

The Moscow Embassy arrived in Rome in May 1472. The delegation was led by an Italian, Gian Batista della Volpe, in Russia known as Ivan Fryazin. The ambassadors met Pope Sixtus IV, shortly before the deceased Paul II. As a sign of gratitude for the hospitality rendered, the pontiff received a large number of sable fur as a gift.

Only a week passed, and in the main Roman cathedral of St. Peter a solemn ceremony was held, at which Sophia Paleolog and Ivan III were engaged in absentia. In the role of the groom was Volpe. Preparing for an important event, the ambassador made a serious misstep. The Catholic rite required the use of wedding rings, but Volpe did not prepare them. The scandal was hushed up. All the influential organizers of the engagement wanted to complete it safely and closed their eyes to formalities.

In the summer of 1472, Sophia Palaeolog together with her own retinue, papal legate and Moscow ambassadors set off on a long journey. In parting, she met the pontiff, who gave her final blessing to the bride. From several routes, the satellites of Sofia chose a route through Northern Europe and the Baltic. The Greek princess crossed the entire Old World, coming from Rome to Lubeck. Sophia Palaeologus from Byzantium decently endured the long road - such trips were not her first. At the insistence of the Pope, all the Catholic cities organized a warm welcome to the embassy. By sea, she got to Tallinn. Then followed Yuryev, Pskov, and Novgorod followed him. Sofia Palaeolog, whose exterior reconstruction was carried out by experts in the 20th century, surprised Russians with its foreign southern appearance and unfamiliar habits. Everywhere, the future Grand Duchess was greeted with bread and salt.

November 12, 1472, Princess Sofia Paleolog arrived in the long-awaited Moscow. The wedding ceremony with Ivan III took place on the same day. Haste had an understandable reason. The arrival of Sophia coincided with the celebration of the day of memory of John Chrysostom - the patron saint of the Grand Duke. So the Moscow sovereign gave his marriage under heavenly patronage.

For the Orthodox Church, the fact that Sofia, the second wife of Ivan III, was reprehensible. The priest who would have crowned such a marriage had to risk his reputation. In addition, the attitude towards the bride as an alien Latina has been entrenched in conservative circles since its very appearance in Moscow. That is why Metropolitan Philip evaded the obligation to hold a wedding. Instead, the ceremony was led by the archpriest Kolomna Hosea.

Sophia Palaeologus, whose religion remained Orthodox even during her stay in Rome, nevertheless arrived with a papal legate. Traveling on Russian roads, this messenger was demonstratively carrying a large Catholic crucifix in front of him. Under the pressure of Metropolitan Philip, Ivan Vasilyevich made it clear to the legate that he was not going to tolerate such behavior, embarrassing his Orthodox subjects. The conflict was settled, but "Roman glory" haunted Sophia to the end of her days.

Historical role

Together with Sofia, her Greek retinue arrived in Russia. Ivan III was very interested in the heritage of Byzantium. Marriage with Sofia was a signal for many other Greeks who wandered in Europe. A stream of co-religionists was formed, striving to settle in the possession of the Grand Duke.

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

In the days of standing on the Ugra

In 1480, Ivan III went to the aggravation of the conflict with the Tatar khan Akhmat. The result of this conflict is known - after the bloodless standing on the Ugra, the Horde left Russia and never demanded tribute from it. Ivan Vasilyevich managed to throw off the perennial yoke. However, before Akhmat with shame left the possession of the Moscow prince, the situation seemed uncertain. Fearing an attack on the capital, Ivan III organized the departure of Sophia and their children to White Lake. Together with his wife was the grand duke's treasury. If Akhmat had captured Moscow, she should have fled farther north closer to the sea.

The decision to evacuate, which was taken by Ivan 3 and Sophia Paleolog, caused outrage among the people. Muscovites gladly began to recall the "Roman" origin of the princess. Sarcastic descriptions of the sovereign's flight to the north are preserved in some chronicles, for example, in the Rostov arch. Nevertheless, all the contempt of his contemporaries were immediately forgotten after the news came to Moscow that Akhmat and his army decided to retreat from the Ugra and return to the steppes. Sophia from the Palaeologian family arrived in Moscow a month later.

Heir problem

Ivan and Sofia had 12 children. Half of them died in childhood or infancy. The rest of the grown children of Sophia Paleolog also left offspring, but the branch of Rurikovich, which began with the marriage of Ivan and the Greek princess, died away approximately in the middle of the XVII century. The Grand Duke had including a son from his first marriage with the Princess of Tver. Named after his father, he was remembered as Ivan Mlada. According to the law of seniority, it was this prince who was to become the heir to the Moscow state. Of course, Sophia did not like this version of the development of events, who wanted the power to be transferred to her son Vasily. A faithful group of court nobility was formed around it, supporting the princess’s claims. However, for the time being she could not influence the dynastic question.

From 1477, Ivan Mladoy was considered the co-regent of his father. He participated in standing on the Ugra and gradually learned princely duties. For many years, the position of Ivan Mlady as the legitimate heir was undeniable. However, in 1490, he became ill with gout. There was no medicine for "leg aches". Then an Italian doctor, Mr. Leon, was discharged from Venice. He undertook to cure the heir and vouched for success with his own head. Leon used rather strange methods. He gave Ivan a kind of potion and burned his legs with red-hot glass vessels. From the treatment of the disease only intensified. In 1490, Ivan Mladoy died in terrible agony at the age of 32 years. In anger, Sophia’s husband, Palaeologus, imprisoned a Venetian in a dungeon, and after a few weeks he executed him in public.

Conflict with Elena

The death of Ivan Mlady did not bring Sofia much closer to the fulfillment of her dream. The deceased heir was married to the Moldavian sovereign’s daughter, Elena Stefanovna, and had a son, Dmitri. 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 waver. Boyars again split. Some supported Elena, others supported Sofia. The first supporters had much more. Many influential Russian aristocrats and nobles did not like the story of Sofia Paleolog. Some continued to reproach her for the past connected with Rome. In addition, Sophia herself tried to surround herself with her native Greeks, which did not benefit her popularity.

On the side of Elena and her son Dmitri was a good memory of Ivan Mlad. Supporters of Basil resisted: by his mother he was a descendant of the Byzantine emperors! Elena and Sofia were worth each other. Both were ambitious and cunning. Although women respected palace decency, their mutual hatred for each other was no secret to the princely entourage.

In 1497, Ivan III became aware of the conspiracy that was being prepared behind his back. Young Vasily fell under the influence of several reckless boyars. Among them stood Fyodor Stromilov. This clerk could convince Basil that Ivan was already about to officially declare his heir Dmitry. The reckless boyars offered to get rid of a competitor or to seize the treasury in Vologda. The number of like-minded people involved in the venture continued to grow until Ivan III himself learned about the conspiracy.

As always, the terrible prince in a rage ordered the execution of the main noble conspirators, including Deacon Stromilov. Basil escaped prison, but to him was put the guard. Sophia fell into disgrace. Rumor reached her husband that she was leading an imaginary sorceress to herself and was trying to get a potion to poison Helen or Dmitry. These women were found and drowned in the river. The sovereign forbade his wife to meet his eyes. To top it off, Ivan really declared the fifteen-year-old grandson his official heir.

The fight goes on

In February 1498, ceremonies were held in Moscow on the occasion of the coronation of young Dmitry. At the ceremony in the Assumption Cathedral was attended by all the boyars and members of the grand-ducal family with the exception of Basil and Sofia. The disgraced relatives of the grand duke were demonstratively not invited to the coronation. Dmitry was given a Monomakh's Cap, and Ivan III gave a grand feast in honor of his grandson.

Elena's party 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 distinguished by impulsiveness. Because of his strong temper, he could plunge anyone, including his wife, into disgrace, but nothing guaranteed that the grand duke would not change his preferences.

After Dmitry's coronation, a year has passed. Suddenly, the Sovereign's mercy returned to Sophia and her eldest son. In the annals there is no evidence of the reasons that prompted Ivan to reconcile with his wife. One way or another, the Grand Duke ordered a review of the case against his wife. With the repeated investigation, new circumstances of the court struggle were revealed. Some denunciations of Sophia and Basil were deceitful.

The sovereign accused of slander the most influential defenders of Helen and Dmitry - Princes Ivan Patrikeev and Simeon Ryapolovsky. The first of them was the chief military adviser of the Moscow ruler for more than thirty years. Ryapolovskiy’s father defended Ivan Vasilyevich as a child when he was in danger from Dmitry Shemyaka during the last Russian civil war. These great services of the nobles and their families did not save them.

Six weeks after the boyar opals, Ivan, who had already returned favor with Sophia, declared their son Vasily Novgorod and the Pskov prince. Dmitry was still considered the heir, but the members of the court, feeling the change in the sovereign's mood, began to leave Elena and her child. Fearing to repeat the fate of Patrikeev and Ryapolovsky, other aristocrats began to demonstrate the loyalty of Sofia and Basil.

Triumph and death

Three more years passed, and finally, in 1502, the struggle of Sophia and Helena ended with the fall of the latter. Ivan ordered the guard to be sent to Dmitry and his mother, then sent them to prison and officially deprived the grandson of his grand-princely dignity. Then the sovereign declared Vasily his heir. Sofia triumphed. Not a single boyar dared to contradict the decision of the Grand Duke, although many continued to sympathize with the eighteen-year-old Dmitry. Even the quarrel with his faithful and important ally, Elena’s father and the Moldovan ruler Stephan, who hated the Kremlin’s master for the suffering of her daughter and grandson, did not stop Ivana.

Sophia Paleolog, whose biography was a series of ups and downs, managed to achieve the main goal of her life shortly before her death. She died at the age of 48 on April 7, 1503. The Grand Duchess was buried in a white stone sarcophagus placed in the tomb of Ascension Cathedral. The grave of Sofia was near 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 Cathedral of the Archangel.

For Ivan, the death of his wife was a strong blow. He was already over 60. In mourning, the Grand Duke visited several Orthodox monasteries, where he zealously indulged in prayers. The last years of their life together were clouded by the disgrace and mutual suspicions of the spouses. Nevertheless, Ivan III always appreciated Sophia's mind and her help in public affairs. After the loss of his wife, the grand duke, feeling the closeness of his own death, made a testament. Basil's rights to power were confirmed. Ivan followed Sophia in 1505, having died at the age of 65.