Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

How a Threatening Cloud
Descended upon Kazan

Two hostile factions were always struggling to control the rich and splendid city of Kazan. Some of the citizens preferred the overlordship of Moscow; others and probably the larger number claimed the protection of the Krim Kan.

Ivan at last decided to make an end of this Mussulman city, and free himself from his Eastern foes. He had hardly finished his preparations when he was checked by the news that the Krim Kan was invading Russia. He at once sent Prince Kurbski with fifteen thousand men, who met double that number of Tartars at Tula, and forced them to retire leaving their captives and their camels.

Then Ivan, with one hundred and fifty thousand men and one hundred and fifty cannon, went down the Volga in boats and encamped under the walls of Kazan. The Tartars said among themselves, "This is not the first time that we have seen the Russians come against us. They always have to retreat and now we laugh them to scorn." Their magicians too came upon the walls at sunrise with their garments close girt, and wove incantations, and the Russians had some reason to believe that their shrieks and gestures availed, for a terrible tempest demolished many tents and ruined the provisions. But Ivan sent to Moscow for the sacred cross given to Saint Vladimir at his baptism; and thus the incantations were supposed to be counteracted. At any rate fair weather came; Ivan got fresh provisions; he built movable towers and placed cannon upon them; he completely hemmed in the city so that none could get in or out. Kazan was defended by thirty-two thousand five hundred Tartars, who made many sorties, and fought desperately to hinder the Russians and capture the towers. Ivan frequently offered them honorable terms of surrender. Finally he had some of their prisoners hung up on poles before the walls to frighten the Kan into surrendering, but the men of Kazan poured a storm of arrows upon these hapless wretches, saying, "It is better for them to receive death from the pure hands of their Mussulman friends than be killed by these uncircumcised giaurs."  Water began to grow scarce, the people died of thirst in the city; famine stared them in the face; discords broke out; many wanted to surrender. Meanwhile the siege went on; the towers were brought nearer and nearer to the walls; the Streltsi, or "Archers," of the Tsar's body-guard picked off the watchmen on the walls; the German engineer sprung new mines and destroyed the terraces behind which the Tartars hid. The Tsar himself came to see the fight and encourage his men.



Ivan gave them one final offer of mercy, but they said, "We will not beat the forehead. If the Russians climb the walls or take the towers we will build another wall, and there we will all die rather than yield."

Then the Tsar made preparations for the assault.

"He laid a mine under the Kazanka,

Under the city he dug a mine;

There he buried barrels,

Barrels of oak,

Filled with black, forceful powder.

He lighted the fuse of yellow wax.

The Tartars of Kazan

Were standing on the walls."

It was early morning; the sunbeams were just beginning to gild the tapering minarets where stood the muezzin to call the Mussulmans to prayer; in the Russian camp the soldiers were taking the communion and preparing for the great struggle. In the chapel tent the Tsar was listening to the words, "There shall be one fold and one shepherd." Suddenly there came a sound as of thunder, and the earth shook,—

"The Tsar had time to say never a word

When the city of Kazan began to crumble,

To crumble, to fall, to leap forth,

To fall thundering into the river."

The priest with a voice of triumph went on to read how the Lord would subdue every foe, when a second explosion came louder than the first. The Russians, with the cry, "God with us!" hurled themselves into the town. The streets were narrow; the Tartars fought for every inch of ground; from the house-tops they poured boiling water and rolled down heavy beams; the Russians seeing the rich booty forgot themselves and began to pillage; it was a critical moment. The Tartars came on in fresh numbers. Suddenly the Tsar brought help; the Tartars were driven back; they took refuge in the mosques; the Russians pursued them; there was a fearful battle; the head Molla was killed. The Kan at first shut himself into his palace, and then, seeing the idleness of resistance, tried to escape with ten thousand men. Prince Kurbski completely cut him off. The Tartars shouted,—

While the mosque and the palace where the throne is stood, we would fight to the death for the Kan and the mosque, but now Kazan is yours; we give you the Kan alive and well. Take him to your Tsar; as for us, we are going to the open field to drink with you our last cup of life."

Deserting their Kan, they leaped down the walls toward the Kazanka, pursued by Prince Kurbski, who cut them to pieces.

Meantime Ivan, his rich armor glittering with gold and plumes, and surrounded by his nobles, rode into the captured city. He bade his soldiers kill all who had arms and save only the women and children. It is said that at the sight of the Tartar dead he wept over them: "They are not Christians," said he, "yet they are men." He ordered the town to be cleaned, and on the spot where the Kan's standard was captured he built a Christian church. He destroyed all the mosques and minarets and built churches and monasteries. He repeopled the town with Russians.

Ivan distributed among the army the treasures and slaves; for his own share he took the Kan and his standard, "his crown and sceptre and his purple robe." The Kan went to Moscow, was baptized under the name of Simeon, and became a great lord at court. A poem, long current among the people, tells how the wife of the Tsar of Kazan was troubled by a dream. "Wake up," said she, "and arise, Tsar Simeon, for this night I have slept but little; much have I seen in dreams. I have seen a blue-black eagle flying, a threatening cloud flying and descending from Moskva on our kingdom." Thus her dream came true.

As Ivan made his triumphal return up the Volga a messenger came with the news that his first son, Dimitri, was born; and as he drew nigh to Moscow all the people went forth to meet him, and from a thousand throats went up the cry,—

"Long life to the holy Tsar, the conqueror of the barbarians, the defender of the faith!"

Two years later an expedition of thirty thousand men descended the Volga and established Derbish Alei on the throne of Astrakan. Derbish swore to pay a large tribute in fish and money, but he soon after drove the Russian envoy out of the city and entered into relations with the Krim Kan. Afterwards the city of Astrakan was conquered and united to Russia. Thus the Volga, "that grand artery of eastern commerce, now flowed in the whole of its course, from its source to its mouth, through the land of the Tsars."

All these events made a great impression upon the Russian people; the capture of the Tartar city forms the subject of many epic poems. Kazan was the first fortress which the Russians had taken after a regular siege.

The Turk saw the consequences of this victory and was mightily troubled. His ambassadors came to Moscow and protested. The Sultan wrote to the Kan of the Nogg: "The days of Ivan, the Russian Tsar, are numbered."