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The Soviet Union has/had the most powerful (Hydrogen) Bomb ever, the Tsar Bomb.

Why did they name it Tsar Bomb, when they had freed themself from the Tsars before, and even executed Tsar Nicholas II?

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    Welcome to History:SE. That looks like an interesting question. What has your research shown you so far? Where have you already searched? Please help us to help you. You might find it helpful to review the site tour and Help Centre and, in particular, How to Ask. – sempaiscuba Mar 27 '18 at 23:19
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    The King of the Bombs, naturally. I see no relation between executing a ruler and using a word that what his title. – Alexey Mar 28 '18 at 12:53
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    Why would Americans call their beds "king sized" and "queen sized" even though they fought a war hundreds of years ago to keep King George out of their business? And why are Burger King and Dairy Queen still things in America? – Eric Lippert Mar 28 '18 at 17:09
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    Presumably they named it that to participate in Tsar Wars... (gets coat) (leaves) – AJFaraday Mar 29 '18 at 10:05
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    @EricLippert Obviously because "Washington-sized" is ambiguous between the man, the city and the state, and these are significantly different sizes. – David Richerby Mar 29 '18 at 11:48
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The official designation for that particular device was the RDS-220. The nickname Tsar Bomba was an appellation applied by the West, rather than the designers of the bomb (who - according to the site linked above - apparently referred to it as Big Ivan, or simply the Big Bomb).


According to the information on nuclearweaponarchive.org,

The nickname Tsar Bomba is a reference to a famous Russian tradition for making gigantic artifacts for show. The world's largest bell (the Tsar Kolokol) and cannon (the Tsar Pushka) are on display at the Kremlin.


The only reference to the device that I could find made by a member of the design team simply refers to the RDS-220 as the "Big Bomb":

"... Krushchev was already familiar with the test program, and in particular with our program to explode a device of record-breaking power, the "Big Bomb"."

  • Andrei Sakharov, Memoirs, New York, 1990, p218

(It's worth noting that "Big Bomb" is the English translation from the original Russian. It would be interesting to know if there is an alternative translation if anyone has access to a copy in Russian).

In any event, since Sakharov headed the design team, the fact that he doesn't use the term Tsar Bomb in his memoirs would seem to support the idea that it is a western designation for the device.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. – Mark C. Wallace Mar 29 '18 at 12:08
  • Andrei Sakharov, Memoirs, New York, 1990 - The curious thing is that the Russian version does not seem to not any sentence like this (I can't even find what chapter/period this text from the English version may correspond to - both versions seem to be quite different from each other - there's no even any "bomb" in quotes - it's all just a/the bomb(s) w/o any quotes or nicknames). – seven-phases-max Apr 9 '18 at 20:42
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    @seven-phases-max According to Google Translate, Chapter 15 has the terms "product" and "Big product", rather than "Big Bomb". – sempaiscuba Apr 9 '18 at 20:46
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    Aha, I see now - so it's "большое" изделие (i.e. roughly "Big" product) used several times. Which means Sakharov's nickname for the developed device is roughly just "The Big" (<thing>). Изделие was often used for things you could not or should not name explicitly (e.g. Изделие №2 was used instead of condom). – seven-phases-max Apr 9 '18 at 20:59
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    @seven-phases-max That would make sense. Since the "products they were making were atomic weapons, The Big Product, _The Big One", "The Big Bomb" etc. might all just be variations on a theme. I found a number of sites claiming (without citing a source) that the project was code-named "Ivan", which - if combined with "большое" изделие - could explain the origin of the "Big Ivan" claim. Either way, as far as the original question goes, it seems that the "Tsar Bombe" moniker was a Western name, rather than a Russian one. – sempaiscuba Apr 9 '18 at 21:08
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In Russian Language the word "Tsar" has also another, non-literal meaning.

Examples are: "Tsar-pushka" (king of the guns), the largest (in caliber) existing gun, and "Tsar-kolokol" (king of the bells), the largest bell in the world. Both the gun and the bell are currently in the publicly accessible part of the Kremlin, (and were there during the last two centuries), they are popular tourist attractions, many Russians have seen them, and all Russians know them. The analogy is clear: Tsar bomb was the largest (most powerful) bomb ever exploded. Anyway, it seems probable that the name "Tsar bomba" is of Russian (not US) origin.

http://mos-holidays.ru/tsar-pushka-tsar-kolokol/

Remark. Neither the gun nor the bell were ever used (the bell cracked when they were casting it). Hopefully this will apply to the bomb as well.

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    But if the other answer is correct, the use of “Tsar” in Russian is completely irrelevant, isn't it? – DaG Mar 28 '18 at 7:25
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    @DaG I would say that both answers are more like supplemental rather than conflicting. This is neither official nor original name, but just a nickname that became in use much later. But even in Soviet times, words like "tsar" or "tsarskiy" were absolutely fine to use in everyday life (as synonyms for "rich"/~"incredible"), there was nothing royalist in them (unless stated specifically as in "Tsarist Regime"). Though, when it comes to the Bomb, the more widely-used nickname among the Russians since the end of 1980s is probably Kuz'kina Mat'. – seven-phases-max Mar 28 '18 at 10:13
  • Thanks for further explaining, @seven-phases-max, but if Russian-language people didn't call that bomb in a Tsar-related way, the use of “tsar” and derived words in Russian, while very interesting, is irrelevant to the name of this particular device. – DaG Mar 28 '18 at 10:52
  • @DaG Ah, I see what you mean now. Indeed. Though since the question itself arises from the fact that for an English speaker the word Tsar is solely associated with something Royal (while in Russian it has much wider meaning), I think this answer does a good job in explaining of how that nickname might appear and get in use. – seven-phases-max Mar 28 '18 at 11:03
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    The bomb was "used" in the sense that it was exploded in a test in 1961. – James Reinstate Monica Polk Mar 28 '18 at 12:04
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1. (As already mentioned in other answers/comments) The literal meaning of Russian Tsar Bomba is The King of the Bombs. Just that, not The Bomb of a/the King/Tsar or something like that (i.e. there's no specific "royalist" connotation there or any ideological connection to a monarchy as a form of government in general).

2. Tsar Bomba neither was the official name of the device nor it was an unofficial nickname used by its designers. This nickname came in use much later (80s?) and it's not even clear if the Soviets started to use this form first or it came from the West.

(For more details on the (nick)names of the device and origins of the "Tsar Bomb" nickname, please see other answers here).

---

And finally even if such name was (but yet again it wasn't) invented by the bomb designers, there would be nothing strange:

3. As already mentioned the Russian word tsar is basically an equivalent of the English word king having almost the same wide connotations/meanings (probably even wider). I.e. just like eating Burger King does not make you a royalist in your place, use of Tsar word did not make you a royalist in the USSR.

Idioms involving tsar and its derivatives are quite common in Russian and, unless stressed specifically (e.g. as in "Tsarist Regime" or "Tsarist Henchmen"), the word brings no ideological/political context.

In short: it is/was often used just as a synonym for (roughly) exceptional/rich/incredible:

  • царь зверей - lion
  • царица полей - infantry (or maize)
  • царский подарок - royal gift

etc. and so on. And it was nothing special about using this word(s) in Soviet times either (except maybe the very first years right after 1917).

4. In fact, even when it comes to the primary monarchy government meaning of Tsar, there was no taboo or a sort of either. Soviets did not deny or try to diminish the historical achievements of Russian Tsars (where it was applicable). Often it was quite in opposite actually (obviously stressing the achievements belong more to the people rather than to the ruler himself).

E.g. notice the two most epic Soviet movies of 40s: Alexander Nevsky (1938) and Ivan Grozniy (1944). Both are named of knyaz'/tsar.

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Tsar, also spelled Csar, or Czar, is derived from the Latin title for the Roman emperors, "Caesar". Usually considered by western Europeans to be equivalent to "king".

Tsar Bomba would simply mean "King of Bombs" or "King Bomb" "Emperor Bomb" etc.

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There seem to be a lot of answers explaining "Tsar" as being equivalent to "King", which true-ish, but a bit of a simplification. It could be argued "Tsar" is closer to "Emperor".

The word is a Russification of "Ceasar", which of course was the patronym of the founder of the Roman Imperial system, Julius Caesar. The word "Kaiser" is the German equivalent.

Many of the Emperors after Julius Caesar were made heir-apparent via adoption, at which point they picked up the "Caesar" patronym. Eventually it just became a title the later Roman Emperors used. The Byzantines afterward took it up to designate the Emperor's heir-apparent.

The Russians in their early days did nearly all their trade with Constantinople, and looked to that city as their model for civilization. So when their own domains became worthy of the title of "Empire", the ruler naturally had to be a "Tsar".

English monarchs during their own imperial period didn't chose to take up that title, and were instead just styled as "Emperor" or "Empress". So that's probably the closest equivalent we have in English. However, we're more apt to describe the best of something as "King of the...". The only metaphorical "Emperor" I can think of in English is the Emperor Penguin.

So in this particular case "King of the Bombs" is indeed probably the best translation. Its just not a literal translation. But of course in this case it was English-speakers making a mock back-translation into Russian.

In perhaps his only positive contribution to the world, Saddam Hussein bestowed upon English the alternative phrase "Mother of all...". So in modern English you could instead argue that this is equivalent to "Mother of all bombs". Which of course the Americans do have one of - the B MOAB.

  • You forget that Russian Tsars starting from Peter The Great called themselves "Emperor". This was their official title (Tsar then became more like unofficial title + "ruler of some local territories" subtitle). So yes, there're nuances (like a tsar may be considered like someone having more power than a king), but even if Tsar cames from Ceasar, "King" is still the closest translation in either literal or non-literal meaning. – seven-phases-max Mar 29 '18 at 14:08
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    E.g. notice the full title by 20 century includes "... Tsar of Kazan, Tsar of Astrakhan, Tsar of Poland, Tsar of Siberia, Tsar of Chersonese Taurian, Tsar of Georgia ...". We barely would consider these as Empires (and then go with Tsar -> Emperor). – seven-phases-max Mar 29 '18 at 14:19
  • @seven-phases-max - It is kind of tough, since the Russian rulers went from "Prince / Grand Prince" (or Duke / Grand Duke depending on translation) straight to Tsar, and then to Emperor (but still informally called Tsar). So it could be argued that to them "Tsar" is more equivalent to "King" than "Emperor". Mapping Russian titles to the ones used by the rest of Europe has always been a challenge. – T.E.D. Mar 29 '18 at 14:22
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    Well, speaking of "Prince" it is/was very rough translation from Knyaz' - we just (still) don't have any better (Technically Knyaz' is usually considered to have the same roots as Germanic König, i.e. basically it's the King again). Sure you are absolutely right about original intentions of the Grand Princes to switch to Tsar to emphasize the amount of their power but apparently it did not work well hence later switching to Emperor (and then the meaning of the word also starts to fade down). – seven-phases-max Mar 29 '18 at 14:33
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    Well, one's a thing that is said (or a "Snowclone" according to Wikipedia), where the other is not. As I said in the answer, "Emperor of" isn't a metaphor we usually use in English. – T.E.D. Mar 29 '18 at 15:07

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