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date: 03 July 2022

Moscow: The Third Romelocked

Moscow: The Third Romelocked

  • Nick MayhewNick MayhewDepartment of Slavic Languages and Literatures, Stanford University

Summary

In the mid-19th century, three 16th-century Russian sources were published that alluded to Moscow as the “third Rome.” When 19th-century Russian historians discovered these texts, many interpreted them as evidence of an ancient imperial ideology of endless expansion, an ideology that would go on to define Russian foreign policy from the 16th century to the modern day. But what did these 16th-century depictions of Moscow as the third Rome actually have in mind? Did their meaning remain stable or did it change over the course of the early modern period? And how significant were they to early modern Russian imperial ideology more broadly?

Scholars have pointed out that one cannot assume that depictions of Moscow as the third Rome were necessarily meant to be imperial celebrations per se. After all, the Muscovites considered that the first Rome fell for various heretical beliefs, in particular that Christ did not possess a human soul, and the second Rome, Constantinople, fell to the Turks in 1453 precisely because it had accepted some of these heretical “Latin” doctrines. As such, the image of Moscow as the third Rome might have marked a celebration of the city as a new imperial center, but it could also allude to Moscow’s duty to protect the “true” Orthodox faith after the fall—actual and theological—of Rome and Constantinople. As time progressed, however, the nuances of religious polemic once captured by the trope were lost. During the 17th and early 18th centuries, the image of Moscow as the third Rome took on a more unequivocally imperialist tone. Nonetheless, it would be easy to overstate the significance of allusions to Moscow as the third Rome to early modern Russian imperial ideology more broadly. Not only was the trope rare and by no means the only imperial comparison to be found in Muscovite literature, it was also ignored by secular authorities and banned by clerics.

Subjects

  • Middle Ages and Renaissance (500-1600)
  • Enlightenment and Early Modern (1600-1800)
  • 19th Century (1800-1900)
  • Slavic and Eastern European Literatures
  • Cultural Studies

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