Alexander Nevsky

At different periods of his life he was prince of Novgorod, Kiev and grand prince of Vladimir. Alexander Nevsky stopped the eastward drive of the Germans and Swedes but collaborated with the Mongols. At that time Russia was between two rocks and could not fight on two directions. Alexander Nevsky had to chose the lesser evil. Mongols wanted only yearly tribute (which was less, for example, than taxes in US), providing military help in exchange and letting Russians "make bread in their way" and keep their faith (Orthodox Christianity), leaving all the structure of society untouched (Actually, Mongols of that period demonstrated amazing religious tolerance and among themselves had Christians, Buddhists and Moslems. Only in the middle of 14th century, when the Golden Horde became predominantly Moslem state the relations began worsening). At the same time, the "crusaders" from the Western Europe wanted control over Russian souls and their ways of life.

This was a difficult moment for Rus'. Mongol-Tatar invasion devastated most of the principates. Using this, Polish, Hungarian, German, Sweedish troops attacked different lands of Rus' from the west and the north. Rus' was weak, East and West were strong, and most of the neighbors tried to slice out a little piece of troubled land while it was in crisis. Alexander Nevsky said then: "God manifests himself not in Power, but in Truth" ("Ne v sile Bog, a v Pvavde").

When in 1240 the Swedes invaded Russia to bar Russians access to the sea, Alexander defeated the Swedes at the confluence of the Rivers Izhora and Neva. For that decisive victory he won the name Nevsky, which means "of the Neva."

The Teutonic Knights shortly thereafter invaded Russia, justifying obvious aggression by the call by Pope Gregory IX to "Christianize" the Baltic region (partially already Christian, and by free choice, not "under the sword" of crusaders). After a few minor battles, Alexander decisively defeated the Germans in the famous "massacre on the ice" in April 1242 on a narrow channel between Lakes Chud (Peipus) and Pskov. Alexander continued to fight both the Swedes and Germans and eventually stopped their eastward expansion.

Alexander's son Daniel founded the house of Moscow, which subsequently reunited the northern Russian lands and ruled until 1598 (Alexander Nevsky was direct ancestor of such Russian princes as Dmitry Donskoi, who defeated Golden Horde in one of the greatest battles of mediaeval period in 1380, at Kulikovo, Ivan the Great, who threw off Tartar yoke, Ivan Kalita and others). Alexander can be called the last prince of Kievan Rus and first prince of Muskovia-Russia, which emerged later under princes who followed his internal and external policy.

Alexandr Nevsky was canonized as a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church, and, as a saint-warrior, was particularly popular among the Cossacks.


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