Halperin, Charles. The Double Standard: Livonian Chronicles and Muscovite Barbarity during the Livonian War (1558–1582)

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Title of the article The Double Standard: Livonian Chronicles and Muscovite Barbarity during the Livonian War (1558–1582)

Halperin, Charles – Ph. D., Research Associate, Russian and East European, Indiana University, Bloomington, Unated states of America, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. Scopus ID 26033131400

In the section Miscellanea/ Miscellanea
Year 2018 Issue 1 Pages 126-147
Type of article RAR Index UDK; BBK

UDK 929.713+94(47).043+94(474.2);

BBK 63.3(0)4, 63.3(2)44

Index DOI https://doi.org/10.21638/11701/spbu19.2018.106

This article analyzes the image of Ivan IV (Ivan the Terrible) and Muscovites in the chronicles written by Livonian Germans during the Livonian War: Johannes Renner’s Livonian History, Balthasar Russow’s Chronicle, and Salomon Henning’s Chronicle of Courland and Livonia. Although these authors came from different backgrounds, supported different policies, and disagreed with each other in many ways, they all presented Ivan IV and Muscovites in extremely negative terms, focusing on the atrocities committed by the despot and tyrant Ivan IV and the barbaric Muscovites, consistent with the sixteenth-century Muscovite Discourse of German pamphlets identified by Cornelia Soldat, a stereotype copied directly from the fifteenth-century discourse about the Ottoman Turks. However, in addition each chronicler presents fewer and less graphic incidents in which Livonians committed atrocities and equally rare instances in which Ivan IV and Muscovites acted virtuously or honorably. Such positive portrayals of Ivan and Muscovites , were inconsistent with that Muscovite Discourse. This constitutes the first level of the Livonian chroniclers’ double standard in describing Ivan IV and Muscovites. The second level of the double standard of the chronicles consists in not letting episodes of “good” behavior by Ivan or Muscovites influence their identity as barbarians, and not letting episodes of “bad” behavior by Livonians or other peoples influence their identity as civilized. Warfare between Livonians and Muscovites was a contest between civilization and barbarism, between good and evil. Evidence of Livonian vice or Muscovite virtue by definition could not overturn the essentialist stereotypes, propagated without qualification in the anti-Muscovite pamphlets, underneath the chroniclers’ perception of Ivan and the Russians. This essentialist argument finessed behavioral ambiguities and permitted the chroniclers to present in their narratives examples of virtuous behavior by Ivan and the Muscovites without sacrificing their prejudices. The bias of the Livonian chroniclers was more complicated than has been appreciated, but its two levels permitted the chroniclers to include in their narratives a modest number of episodes which show Ivan and the Russians in a favorable light. Just as these episodes do not make the numerous atrocity stories from the chronicles deriving from the same anti-Muscovite discourse that informed the pamphlets any more credible, they do not transform the chroniclers from biased partisans into unbiased objective observers.


Ivan IV, Livonia War, Johannes Renner, Balthasar Russow, Salomon Henning, Muscovites

Full text version of the article. Article language English
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Tags: Ivan the Terrible, Muscovites, Salomon Henning, Balthasar Russow, Johannes Renner, Baltic wars, MISCELLANEA / MISCELLANEA