I do know that the Russian nobility faced great terror under Ivan IV. The movie by Sergei Eisenstein, "Ivan the terrible" shows him as a benevolent ruler as far as people are concerned. I wish to know to what extent this portrayal of him is true.

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    How does one quantify "happy"? It's unclear at best.
    – taninamdar
    Sep 22, 2016 at 15:17
  • Taninamdar, that's a great point. I would quantify happy as general stability in the lives of peasants and ensuring that the majority gets ample food, water and security.
    – Vishwanath
    Sep 22, 2016 at 18:30
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    The nobility aren't people? I would imagine it's much the same as in the current world: unless the government has some reason, either personal or racial/ethnic/religious, to target you, you have about the same chance of happiness as anyone else.
    – jamesqf
    Sep 25, 2017 at 17:12
  • They were terribly happy, hence the name. :-)
    – Lucian
    Aug 17, 2021 at 15:15
  • @Lucian Gotta admit, that was a good answer
    – Vishwanath
    Aug 17, 2021 at 18:00

2 Answers 2


First. Movies are not a good source to study history. Soviet Movies especially. And the least reliable of them (for the study of history) are those made in Stalin's epoch. This particular movie of Eisenstein was made with the explicit propaganda purpose to justify the state terror. Stalin's henchmen, if not himself publicly stated that they see analogies between Stalin's regime and that of Ivan IV.

Second. Ivan the Terrible terrorized not only the nobility and boyars. Most of the victims were ordinary people. Read about his sack of the city of Novgorod, for example.

Massacre of Novgorod (Wikipedia).

Were people happy or not, I don't know, I cannot ask them. Perhaps some of those who did the looting, murder and torture were happy. Those whom they killed looted and tortured probably were not. And those killed left no writings and no folklore.

The case of Stalin is probably similar indeed. I knew a lot of people who lived under Stalin, and I witness that they were not happy with Stalin's regime. And you cannot ask the millions whom he killed. By starvation or otherwise. But if you talk to Russian people today, many of them will justify him and even glorify. One of the reasons is that they learn history from the Russian TV. Whose main purpose is to justify the modern bloody conqueror. The popular memory is really short.

Many people remember nowadays how North American Indians were exterminated. But who remembers the conquest of Siberia? Which started under Ivan IV.

  • +1. I would compare Ivan the Terrible to Krum the Horrible and Vlad the Impaler, three harsh rulers often considered "folk heroes".
    – Brasidas
    Sep 21, 2016 at 20:13
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    Genghis Khan is also considered a folk hero (for some folks).
    – Alex
    Sep 21, 2016 at 20:29
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    @Alex Though it's worth noting that Ghengis Khan allowed religious pluralism, established a legal system for a prior illiterate and lawless people, and that Mongolian women seemed to be treated far better than those in China, Christendom or the Islamic world at the time. I mean when his mother died and he couldn't ask her for advice on policy decisions he insisted his wives attend council with his generals and offer their opinions on matters of state. So, for all the mass murder, he at least had some redeeming features. Ivan and Stalin? Ehh...
    – user17846
    Sep 22, 2016 at 17:04
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    @inappropriateCode Mongol government systems were actually more advanced than historians give credit and were more advanced than the Russians they subjugated. Russians who learned their system and played along became quite powerful - Alexander Nevsky being a good example. Nevsky is another Russian figure like Ivan Grozny (Terrible), Lenin or Stalin, where an objective analysis would brand them as a criminal, yet their praises are sung by Russian society to this day (or at least in parts of it - not sure if ALL of Russia is over Stalin yet).
    – Smith
    Sep 26, 2016 at 14:51
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    @Alex That doesn't make any sense. If you're arguing for a utilitarian point about maximum happiness then there isn't a deontological point about rights to stuff like life, because it may benefit the majority to dispose of the minority. I don't matter in a commentary on systems.
    – user17846
    Sep 27, 2016 at 9:11

Yes, it seems that common people were generally happy about Ivan the Terrible's rule, as far as we can tell.


Primarily, throughout folktales, the tsar is typically described as an “ally and protector of the ordinary people against their common enemies, and especially the boyars (noblemen)".

Ivan the Terrible did restrict the movement of peasants, and entrench the institution of slavery. But at the same time, he persecuted the nobles and apparently was seen as protecting peasants from exploitation. Thus, just based on the limited information we have, passed down through folktales, Ivan was seen as an ally of the peasants. Being terrible to boyars might be a compliment.


Even Ivan’s nickname has left a controversial legacy. The English word “terrible” is usually used to translate the Russian word grozny. Yet, grozny’s meaning is closer to inspiring fear or terror, threatening or awesome rather than sinister or cruel. Some believe the original intended sense could have been Ivan the Fearsome or Ivan the Formidable.

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    -1: "Russia Today" barely can be called a credible reference. Sep 22, 2016 at 3:27
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    It's a lot better than CNN.
    – D J Sims
    Sep 22, 2016 at 8:38
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    +1 for the translation of Terrible to Grozny. Grozny is great or awesome in the sense of how you would describe a tornado or a hurricane - a great or awesome thing that is also associated with a lot of damage, but the word concentrates more on the awesomeness of it than the damaging part.
    – Smith
    Sep 26, 2016 at 14:45

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