Law and power. The idea of sovereignty in 16th century Russia

Giovanni Maniscalco Basile


The late 15th century and the first half of 16th century is a crucial period for the formation of the ideology that would support Russian autocracy until the October Revolution. In those years, Moscow transformed from a city ruled by a Prince into the capital of an empire, whose borders would reach the Sea of Japan. The stages of this transformation had a turning point in 1564, when Ivan IV Vasilyevich received a mandate from the people of Moscow to punish the traitors of the country.
This was the last piece of a complex mosaic that would make Russian autocracy a unique phenomenon in Renaissance Europe: a monarchy in which the legislative power of the sovereign was not limited by any intermediate body. The power of the Muscovite sovereign rested not only on the consent of the people, but also on the support of the Orthodox Church that consecrated Moscow as the Third and Last Rome, the last Empire of the prophecy of Daniel (2 and 7) and its ruler as the “apostle”, destined by God to save his subjects “from the fire (of Hell) with fear” and to convert all the Heathen people to Christian faith. In this article, this evolution is analysed in all its most important phases.


Ivan the Terrible; Sultan Mehmed; autocracy; theory of sovereignty; absolute monarchy; customary law.

Full Text:



Agapetus and the West: the fate of а Byzantine “Mirror of Princes”. (1978). Revuedes Etudes Sud-East Européennes, XVI, 3–44.

Bombaci, А. & Shaw, S. J. (1981). L’Impero Ottomano. Torino: UTET.

Catalano, P., Pašuto, V. T. (Ed.). (1992). L’idea di Roma а Mosca, Secoli XV–XVI. Roma: Herder.

De Madariaga, I. (2005). Ivan il Terribile. Torino: Einaudi.

Diamond, J. (1997). Guns, Germs and Steel. The Fates of Human Societies. New York; London: W. W. Norton & C.

Dunning, C. (2014). Were Castile and Muscovy the First Fiscal-Military States? Quaestio Rossica, 1, 191–197.

Eis Konstantinon Тriakontaeterikos. (1902). In I. Heikel (Ed.) Eusehius Werke. Leipzig. Kaiser, D. (1980). The Growth of the Law in Medieval Russia. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.

Kantorowicz, E. H. (1957). The King’s two bodies. A study on Mediaeval Political Ideology. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press.

Maniscalco Basile, G. (1976). Scritti Politici di Ivan Semenovic Peresvetov. Palermo: A. Giuffre.

Maniscalco Basile, G. (1983). La sovranità ecumenica del gran principe di Mosca: Genesi di una dottrina: fine XV – inizio XVI secolo. Milano: Giuffre.

Maniscalco Basile, G. (1987). Popolo e potere in Russia nel XVI e nel XVII secolo. Il Pensiero Politico, XX, 3, 307–339.

Maniscalco Basile, G. (1988). Aspetti popolari е religiosi della legittimazione del potere in Russia nei secoli XVI е XVII. Palermo.

Maniscalco Basile, G. (1990). Ivan Semenovič Peresvetov е la Povest’ о Сargrade. Forma е ideologia politica . Europa Orientalis, 9, 211–235.

Maniscalco Basile, G. (1991). Alcune osservazioni sul significato del termine “vselennaya” nello Skazanie о knyaz’jakh vladimirskich. Il Pensiero Politico, XXIV, 2, 245–257.

Mantran, R. (1984). L’Empire ottoman du XVIe au XVIIIe siécle. Administmtio’n, econornie, societe. London: Variorum.

Mantran, R. (1989). Histoire de l’Empire ottoman. Lille: Fayard. Migne. PG, 86, 1.

Miller, D. B. (1967). The literary activities of Metropolitan Makarius: а study of Muscovite politica ideology in the time of Ivan IV. (Dissertation). Columbia Univ.

Miller, D. B. (1979a). The Velikie Minei Chetii and the Stepennaia Kniga. Forschungen zur osteuropaischen Geschichte, 26.

Miller, D. B. (1979b). Тhе Velikie Minei Chetii and the Stepennaja Kniga of Metropolit Makarij and the Origins to Russian National Consciousness. Wiesbaden: Harassowitz.

Quaglioni, D. (1980). Una fonte di Bodin: Andre Tiraqueau (1488–1558), giureconsulto. Appuntisu De Republica. In J. Bodin (Ed.). La “Republique”, III, 8.

Quaglioni, D. (2004). La sovranità. Roma; Bari: Laterza.

Shevcenko, I. (1954). А neglected Byzantine source of Muscovite political ideology. Harvard Slavic Studies, 11, 27–34.

Uhlmann, W. (1961). Principles of Government and Politics in the Middle Ages. London: Methuen.

Veinstein, G. (1994). État et Société dans l’Empire ottoman, XVIe–XVIIIe siécles. Aldershot, Hampshire, Great Britain; Brookfield, Vt ., USA: Variorum.

Viterbo, G. da. (1901). Liber de regimine civitatum. In G. Salvemini (Ed .). Biblioteca jurídica medii aevi. (Vol . 3). Bologna.

Barsov, E. V. (1883). Drevne-russkie pamyatniki svyashhennogo venchaniya czarej na czarstvo [Old Russian monuments of sacred coronation of tsars]. In CHOIDR [Readings in the society of history and antiquities of Russia], 74. (Vol. 1) .

Great Lives of Saints gathered by All-Russian matropolitan Makarius. September, 1–3 . St . Petersburg.

Karskij, I. F. (Ed .). (1962). Polnoe sobranie russkih letopisej. Lavrent′evskaya letopis′. [Complete Edition of Russian Chronicles. Laurentian Chronicle]. (Vol. 1). Moscow: Izd-vo AN SSSR.

Lihachev, D. S. (Rewrite). (1950). Povest′ vremenny′h let [The Tale of Bygone Years]. (D. S. Lihachev, B. A. Romanova, Trans.). Part 1. Series “Literaturnye pamyatniki”. Mos- cow; Leningrad: Izd. AN SSSR .

Lihachev, D. S., Lurie, J. S. (Rewrite). (1951). Poslanie Ivana Groznogo [Letter of Ivan the Great]. (J. Lurie, Comm., Tran .) . Series “Literaturnye pamyatniki”. Moscow; Lenin- grad: Izd . AN SSSR .

Polnoe sobranie russkih letopisej (PSRL). Polovina 1-ya. Kniga Stepennaya czarskogo rodosloviya (1–10 stepeni grani) [Complete Edition of Russian Chronicles . 1st half . The Book of Royal descent (1–10 degree verge). (1908). (1st ed.). St. Petersburg.

Poslanie Novgorodskogo arhiepiskopa Makariya velikomu knyazyu Vasiliyu Ivanovi- chu, ob uchrezhdenii obshhezhitiya v Novgorodskih monasty′ryah [Letter of Novgorod archbishop Makarius to grand prince Vasily Ivanovich on hostel initiation in Novgorod monasteries]. In DAI, I, 25 (p. 22–23).

Shtamm, S. I. (1955). Sudebnik 1497 goda: ucheb. posobie po istorii gosudarstva i prava SSSR [Law Book of 1497: study guide on history of state and law of the USSR] . Moscow: Yurid. lit.

Sinicy′na, N. V. (1998). Tretij Rim: istoki i e′volyuciya russkoj srednevekovoj koncepcii (XV–XVI vv.) [The third Rome: the origins and evolutions of Russian medieval concept (XV–XVI cc.)] . Moscow: Indrik.

Voloczkij, I. (1904). Prosvetitel′ [Enlightener]. In Slovo IX [Word IX]. Kazan.

Zimin, A. A. (Rewrite). (1956). Sochineniya I. Peresvetova [Works by I. Peresvetov]. Moscow; Leningrad: Izd-vo AN SSSR.

Zimin, A. A. (1958). I. S. Peresvetov i ego sovremenniki. Ocherki po istorii russkoj obshhestvenno-politicheskoj my′sli serediny′ XVI veka [I . S . Peresvetov and his contemporaries. Essays on the history of Russian socio-political thought in the middle XVI century]. M. N. Tihomirov (ch. ed.). Moscow: Izd-vo AN SSSR.



  • There are currently no refbacks.

ISSN 2311-911X (Print)
ISSN 2310-757X (Online)


BASE Search eLibrary WorldCat