The Illustrated Chronicle Compilation, one of the great projects of Ivan the Terrible’s reign, included a full Russian translation of the History of the Destruction of Troy by the thirteenth century Sicilian judge, Guido delle Colonne. A prose version of a French romance of chivalry, the text fits poorly with our conceptions of sixteenth century Russian culture. Was it history or fiction? Was it secular, or is that term not useful? Partial answers come from references to the text by the boyar V. M. Tuchkov, Ivan himself, and the use of the text by later authors after the Time of Troubles.
The Romanian writer Nikolae Milescu (Nikolai Gavrilovich Spafarii) was the author of several books designed for the tsar and the Russian court in the 1670's. Working under the patronage of Tsar Aleksei's favorite, Artamon Matveev, Spafarii composed an account of exemplary monarchs from the past called Vasiliologion. He presented ancient and Biblical monarchs as just and wise but also as great conquerors and builders of cities, even when they were pagans. His portrait of Russian monarchs was closer to traditional Orthodox conceptions, but still stressed military victory and building. Spafarii was one of the first writers in Russia to introduce the Aristotelian political terms, monarchy and aristocracy.
Russian historians have traditionally seen the church as merely the handmaiden of the state. Yet in the realm of foreign policy the heads of the Orthodox Church in Russia played a distinct role from the end of the fifteenth century to peter’s time. They were participants in the most important decisions (though not in routine affairs), especially about war and peace. In wartime the metropolitans and bishops produced exhortations to the army. In the sixteenth century these were not only calls to fight the infidel but frequently sermons to the Russians to be better Christians. After the mid-seventeenth century the sermons at the time of war, now in Western rhetorical style, came from a wider group of clergy and were more uniformly calls to fight for Orthodoxy. In Peter’s time such sermons became secular justifications for the wars.
The marriage of Sofiia Palaiologina and Ivan III of Moscow has been the subject of much speculation about Russia and Byzantium but little analysis of the reality of her role in Russian history. We know very little about her activity as the wife of the grand prince, though that may be because of the character of the chronicle sources. In the relations of Moscow and Lithuania concerning the marriage of her daughter Elena to Grand Prince Alexander her role can be glimpsed behind the protocol, perhaps because the sources are diplomatic records. After her death Sofiia acquired another role: the legend of the miraculous birth of Vasilii III was one of the foundational stories behind the annual pilgrimage of the Russian court to the Holy Trinity-St. Sergii Monastery.
The existence of parties in the Russian Orthodox Church 1480–1580 does not imply parties in the sense of coherent ideological groupings, as Don Ostrowski, David Goldfrank and Charles Halperin correctly argue. Iosif Volotskii and Nil Sorskii had complementary, not rival views. The issue of monastic lands was about regulation, not confiscation, and the parties were actually “old boy networks”. The Russian story needs a Byzantine context for the treatment of heresies, monastic lands, and other issues. Byzantium had different practices than the West, and so did the Russians. Western practice and terminology is not relevant.