Ivan's rule was full of contradiction, success and failure. Was his rule bloody? How many Russian people were killed by him?


4 Answers 4


According to this site: http://www.answerbag.com/q_view/2042196 Ivan the Terrible killed at least 60,000 people during his reign, but only publicly admitted to 3,750 people. Doing further research at this (http://www.guidetorussia.com/ivan-the-terrible.asp) website shows that the 60,000 killed was during a single event, so there was quite possibly many more people killed.

However, this website seems to be the most comprehensive and reliable, and claims that a total of anywhere from 60,000 to 220,000 people could have been killed, depending on the source.

Significant Events/Groups of People that led to people dying

1. Novgorod Massacre: at least 15,000 killed (the low figure is from Kurbsky)./ The massacre at Veliky Vovgorod, where Ivan the Terrible approximately 18,000 people

2. When Ivan the Terrible took control over the city of Pskov, he was responsible for 60,000 deaths.

3. The Oprichnina, an organization founded by Ivan the Terrible, was probably responsible for at least 40,000 deaths (although this number is debatable).

  • Oprichnik is a single member of the guard. The organization itself was called "Oprichina"
    – DVK
    Dec 11, 2012 at 15:02
  • I think you mislabelled Kurbsky. Dec 11, 2012 at 15:12
  • @FelixGoldberg I'm not really an expert on the topic, just a Reliable Source. Could you elaborate? Dec 11, 2012 at 22:21
  • @ReliableSource: Not much of an expert myself, by basically Kurbsky was a grand nobleman who was for a while one of Ivan's foremost generals. Then they had a quarrel and Kurbsky fled abroad, becoming Russia's first recorded dissident. They a famous exchange of letters during the latter period. But I do not recall ever hearing of Kurbsky being complicit in crimes or anything. Maybe I missed something? What was your source? Dec 11, 2012 at 22:47
  • 1
    @ReliableSource: Oh, I get it. The necrometrics lists Kurbsky. But the context indicates that he was a chonicler in this instance, not a perpetrator. Meshes well with my recollections. So I suggest an edit. Dec 11, 2012 at 22:49

No one will give you the exact number. Some historians, for example, tells about 200,000 or even 700,000 killed in Novgorod, but at that time the entire population of the city was about 40,000.

Historian Ruslan G. Skrynnikov (1931-2009) in his books «Начало опричнины» (1966), «Опричный террор» (1969), «Иван Грозный» (1975) gives the number of 3,000-4,000 repressed.

  • Note, though, that Skrynnikov is known as a revisionist (nothing wrong with it, he is a legitimate historian, just providing some context). Dec 11, 2012 at 15:14
  • @FelixGoldberg I just want to show that there is no consensus on this issue. A lot of propaganda, a lot of weak researches. Contemporaries of Ivan the Terrible left different versions too.
    – spyder
    Dec 11, 2012 at 15:27
  • Fair point, I did not touch Skrynnikov's figures in my edit, as you can see. Dec 11, 2012 at 15:51
  • Novgorod was the nam not for the city only, but for the great area belonging to it. So, if the population of the city inside the city walls was only 40 th, there is no contradiction in these numbers. According to what I have read, he really killed majority of population there.
    – Gangnus
    Dec 26, 2012 at 22:11
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    @spyder 1. I had not said that I believe in these numbers. I have said that these numbers are not contradictory. 2. Your numbers have a bit narrow span - I would say rather 5.5-9 mil. 3. Yes, most of specialists insist that the population of Russia during Ivan The Terrible years became about 1/5 smaller, simultaneously with huge increasing of the territory. They only can't decide what was the main reason of mass deaths - epidemies, killings and enslaving by Tartars, or killings by tsar. And this problem cannot be solved here.
    – Gangnus
    Dec 27, 2012 at 16:56

According to data table http://hist1.narod.ru/Science/Russia/Crisis.htm#_edn7 for one community in NW Rissia, the main reason of population decrease in the catastrophe of 1570-1571 were taxes ( together with road works 50 cases of an owner disappearing/death), oprichnina as direct reason - 11%, hunger - 20, epydemies - 11.

So, minimally 2/3 cases of owners death/disappearing were due to the Czar politics. Even if we are not counting hunger into it.

In such safe (out of war zones) areas the total losts was about 1/3.

The areas in center and further to the south had more than 50% losts.

But people who remained got wages larger about 2 times.

So, the time of Ivan the Terrible was extremely bloody. What is the measure of his own guilt - is another question and I am afraid, out of the scope of this site - it hasn't one answer.


Well, if we put aside the 'legitimate" deaths occurred during wars -- siege of Novgorod (which revolted against his rule), capture of Kazan and Astrakhan, war in Livonia etc -- then the number comes down to around 4000, most of whom are listed by Ivan IV himself in his own prayer book (which he supposedly kept in order to say proper prayers about all of them)

Almost all of these people were executed after trials and under court orders - then again, courts were very much under tzar's own authority, although there were (rare) cases when they ruled for the accused.

Quite a lot of these people were self-confessed conspirators against him, who at least three times attempted his overthrow and murder. It is also highly likely that his first (and favorite) wife was poisoned by his enemies.

For comparison, meet some of his "contemporaries": Henry VIII of England (around 50,000 people executed during his reign - heretics, those against his laws on religion, peasants revolting against his barons and his taxes); Charles IX of France (St.Bartholomew's Day Massacre, around 3000-5000 just in one day, and then tens of thousands during next month or so). While Henry VIII can at least claim that everything was done proper and according to the law, Charles IX cannot swing even that pseudo-argument.

And then we have rulers like Galeazzo Sforza (Milan), Edward I (England), Isabella and Ferdinand (Spain) who surely have at least as many victims on their conscience as Ivan IV had... I am not even talking about older times -- Philip IV (France) exterminating Templar knights, or many thousands cathars burned in Albigensian Crusade (Southern France, instigated by pope Innocent III)... etc etc ... kind of almost normal for medieval times...

And of course there are many other cases a bit closer to our era -- like tens of thousands Native Indians killed during "manifest destiny" push to the West in the USA, or hundreds of thousands (sic!) innocents murdered by Britain alone during Indian Rebellion of 1857. Again, I am talking about non-military murders and executions -- although one can always argue that many of these killings were made in the "heat of the moment" and should be considered in the historical context. Great suggestion! Why isn't that done for Ivan IV or Peter I?

Examples are abound everywhere we look... the difference is that Europe and entire Western civilization have "made peace" with that part of history by simply omitting it or forgetting about it - and they certainly do not use it to make sweeping and extremely negative generalizations about their allies these days.

Getting back to Ivan IV, it needs to be noticed that most of the contemporary accusations against him were made either by exiled traitors like Kurbsky (whose book was financed and published by Poland - at the time the foremost political and military rival of Russia) or envoys sent by Catholic church who were heavily biased against Orhodox Christianity and Russian influence in Eastern Europe.

By the way, as a good English-language treatise on the origin of the views that most Western people and media have on Russian history you could read Guy Mettan's book "Creating Russophobia" (some ideas there do not look super convincing to me, but generally this seems like a deserving introduction).

  • Perhaps downvoting people could comment on what exactly they didn't like. Question was: was Ivan IV's rule bloody, and how many did he kill? so the comparisons were simply made to keep this in historical context, and to try and put the nationalistic bias aside. E.g., I have not seen questions here (or other forum) asking "Was Victoria of England's rule bloody?" (the proper answer, I think would be "compared to what? from what POV?" -- British upper class thought it was the best time in history; Indian population of Northern Gangetic plain in 1857 most likely would say quite the opposite, etc)
    – JimT
    Jul 27, 2017 at 18:49

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