Alexander Nevsky

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Image:Alexander Nevsky Pereslavl.jpg
Statue in Pereslavl, just in front of the cathedral Alexander was baptised in.

Saint Alexander Nevsky listen  (Алекса́ндр Яросла́вич Не́вский in Russian; transliteration: Aleksandr Yaroslavich Nevskiy) (May 30, 1220? – November 14, 1263) was the Grand Prince of Novgorod and Vladimir during some of the most trying times in the country's history. Commonly regarded as the key figure of medieval Russia, Alexander was the grandson of Vsevolod the Big Nest and rose to legendary status on account of his military victories over the Western aggressors against the background of shrewd conciliatory policies towards the powerful Golden Horde.


[edit] Great victories

Born in Pereslavl-Zalessky, Alexander was the fourth son of Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich and seemed to have no chance of claiming the throne of Vladimir. In 1236, however, he was summoned by the Novgorodians to become kniaz' (or prince) of Novgorod and, as their military leader, to defend their northwest lands from Swedish and German invaders. After the Swedish army had landed at the confluence of rivers Izhora and Neva, Alexander and his small army suddenly attacked the Swedes on July 15, 1240 and defeated them. The Neva battle of 1240 saved Russia from a full-scale enemy invasion from the North. As a result of this battle, 19-year-old Alexander was given the name of “Nevsky” (which means of Neva). This victory, coming just a year after the disastrous Mongol invasion of Russia, strengthened Nevsky’s political influence, but at the same time it worsened his relations with the boyars. He would soon have to leave Novgorod because of this conflict.

After Russia had been invaded by the crusading Teutonic Knights, the Novgorod authorities sent for Alexander. In spring of 1241 he returned from his exile, gathered an army, and drove out the invaders. Alexander and his men stood up against the Teutonic cavalry led by the Magister of the Order, Hermann, brother of Albert of Buxhoeveden. Nevsky faced the enemy on the ice of the Chudskoye Lake and crushed the Teutonic Knights during the Battle on Lake Peipus on April 5, 1242. German attempts to invade Russia were effectively stopped for many centuries to come.

Image:Alexander Nevsky 2.jpg
Monument in St. Petersburg.

Alexander’s victory was a significant event in the history of the Middle Ages. Russian foot soldiers had surrounded and defeated an army of knights, mounted on horseback and clad in thick armor, long before Western Europeans learned how foot soldiers could prevail over mounted knights. Nevsky's great victory against the Teutonic Order apparently involved only a few knights killed rather than hundreds claimed by the Russian chroniclers; decisive medieval and early modern battles were won and lost with forces small to modern eyes. The cultural value of the victory greatly outshone its strategic value, at the time and since.

[edit] Politician

After the Teutonic invasion, Nevsky continued to strengthen Russia’s Northwest. He sent his envoys to Norway and, as a result, they signed a first peace treaty between Russia and Norway in 1251. Alexander led his army to Finland and successfully routed the Swedes, who had made another attempt to block the Baltic Sea from the Russians in 1256.

Nevsky proved to be a cautious and far-sighted politician. He dismissed the Papal curia’s attempts to cause war between Russia and the Golden Horde, because he understood the uselessness of such war with Tatars at that time since they were still a powerful force. Historians seem to be unsure about Alexander’s behavior when it came to his relations with Mongols. He may have understood that Catholicism presented a more tangible threat to Russian national identity than paying a tribute to the Khan, who had little interest in Russian religion and culture. It could also be argued that he intentionally kept Russia as a vassal to the Mongols in order to preserve his own status and count on the befriended Horde in case someone challenged his authority (he forced the citizens of Novgorod to pay tribute, but this was to prevent a possible Mongol occupation of Northern Russia). Nevsky tried to strengthen his authority at the expense of the boyars and at the same time suppress any anti-feudal uprisings in the country (Novgorod uprising of 1259).

Image:Korin nevsk1.jpg
The Nazi German invasion of the USSR in 1941 reestablished Alexander Nevsky as a major symbol of Russian patriotism.

According to the most plausible version, Alexander’s intentions were to prevent Russia from ruinous invasions of the Mongol army. He is known to have gone to the Horde himself and achieved success in exempting Russians from fighting beside the Tatar army in its wars with other peoples.

[edit] Alexander's legacy

Thanks to his friendship with Sartaq Khan, Alexander was installed as the Grand Prince of Vladimir (i.e., the supreme Russian ruler) in 1252. A decade later, Alexander died in a town of Gorodets-on-the-Volga on his way back from Sarai, the capital of the Golden Horde. He was buried in Vladimir and canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547. Some of Alexander's policies on the Western border were continued by his grandson-in-law, Dovmont of Pskov, who was also beatified in the 16th century.

In the late 13th century, a chronicle was compiled called Alexander Nevsky’s Life (Житие Александра Невского), in which he is depicted as an ideal prince-soldier and defender of Russia. By order of Peter the Great, Nevsky’s remains were transported to the Alexander Nevsky Monastery in St. Petersburg where they remain to this day. On May 21, 1725, the empress Catherine I introduced the Order of Alexander Nevsky as one of the highest military decorations. During the Great Patriotic War (July 29, 1942) the Soviet Order of Alexander Nevsky was introduced to revive the memory of Alexander's struggle with the Germans.

Sergei Eisenstein made one of his most acclaimed films, Alexander Nevsky, on Alexander's victory over the Teutonic Knights. Music for the film was written by Sergei Prokofiev, who also reworked the score into a concert cantata. Alexander's phrase from the movie, "Whoever will come to us with a sword, from a sword will perish," (a paraphrasing of the biblical phrase "He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword") has become a slogan of Russian patriots. A nuclear ballistic missile Borei class submarine currently being built for the Russian Navy bears his name.

[edit] See also

[edit] Further reading

  • Isoaho, Mari. The Image of Aleksandr Nevskiy in Medieval Russia: Warrior and Saint (The Northern World; 21). Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006 (hardcover, ISBN 90-04-15101-X).
Preceded by:
Andrew II
Grand Prince of Novgorod and Vladimir Succeeded by:
Yaroslav III
bg:Александър Невски

cs:Alexandr Něvský de:Alexander Jaroslawitsch Newski es:Alejandro Nevski fr:Alexandre Nevski ko:알렉산드르 넵스키 it:Aleksandr Nevskij nl:Alexander Nevski ja:アレクサンドル・ネフスキー pl:Aleksander Newski pt:Alexandre Nevsky ru:Александр Невский fi:Aleksanteri Nevalainen sv:Alexander Nevskij uk:Олександр Невський zh:亚历山大·涅夫斯基

Alexander Nevsky

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