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Ivan The Terrible, Russia’s first Tsar really did bring terror with him. His madness and brutality are legendary – from torturing peasants to throwing animals from the Kremlin roof, from boiling people alive to killing his own son, his sadism, rage and paranoia knew no bounds.
1. It is fair to say he had a bad start in life. By the age of eight his father was dead, his mother had been poisoned and he was sent to the dungeon.
2. The violence of the court rubbed off on him fast. As a child he tortured animals, tore feathers off birds and chopped animals to pieces. He was reported to have thrown cats and dogs from the top of the Kremlin’s walls.
3. He had his first rival executed when he was only thirteen years old and got his teenage kicks from hunting, beating and raping the peasants in the surrounding countryside.
4. He flew into fits of rage which were so extreme that he is described as having: “foamed at the mouth like a horse.”
5. Working for him never ended well. He ordered his treasurer, Nikita Funikov, to be boiled to death in a cauldron while he had Ivan Viskovaty hung, so that he could hack his body to pieces slowly.
6. He didn’t treat his own family well either. He beat his pregnant daughter-in-law for wearing immodest clothes. When his son complained he lost control so completely that he struck his son with his iron staff and killed him.
7. Very occasionally he would feel remorse. Then he would dress up as a monk, throw himself before the altar and bash his head on the floor over and over to repent his sins. He did this so hard he was reported to have cut his head.
8. He took the name Tsar from ‘Caesar’ and proclaimed that Russia was new Rome and tried to force everyone to believe that he was genuinely descended from Julius Caesar.
9. Stories of his brutality to the peasants were endless, he had people hanged, strangled, buried alive, used as target practice, tied to sleighs and thrown in the icy rivers.
10. He set up a quasi-Monastic order called the Oprichniki. He used them as instruments of terror and they engaged in orgies and torture and the Massacre of Novgorod where they killed thousands.
11. Marrying him was unlikely to end well. His 5th wife foolishly took a lover – when Ivan found out he impaled him under her window. When he realized his 7th wife was not a virgin, he drowned her.
12. He kept a cauldron of Mercury in his room, and was reported to be addicted to it. The exhumation of his body showed that he had been suffered from mercury poisoning.
13. His extraordinarily violent reign of terror ended peacefully. He reportedly fell back in his chair when playing a game of chess, took to his bed dressed as a Monk and died quietly.
You can watch the classic film on Ivan by Sergei Eisenstein here: