Thursday, February 25, 2010

famous russian military leaders part 1

This is hopefully the beginning of a string of blogs about famous Russian military heroes. Included is a bit about their lives, their exploits, and their legacies.

Early life: This is a statue of St. Alexander Nevsky. He was born in central Russia in 1219 to Prince Yaroslav in a town called Pereaslval. His family was very devout and he was thrust into political intrigue at a very young age. At the age of three his father was elected to rule over the prosperous town of Novgorod. He was placed under control of his older brother back home. However, at the age of nine his brother died on his wedding night and his father was uplifted to the title of Prince of Kiev and ruler of all Russia. By right of succession he was given the fief of Novgorod. In 1238 the Mongols invaded although they were lucky they were halted at the city gates.

Major accomplishments: Nevsky is known for two things: beating back the advance of the Teutonic knights and sacrificing his pride and nobility to secure the borders of Russia. By the late 1230's the German order of the Teutonic knights, a holy order equivalent of the Knights Templar, and the kingdom of Sweden engaged in a holy crusade to forcibly "convert" the Slavs around the Baltic Sea and Northern Russia. Alexander first defeated the Swedes at the Battle of the Neva River, earning the name "Nevsky", after a forced march through the swamps and joining battle at sunrise. He then defeated the Teutonic Order his most famous battle, the Battle on the Ice. After engaging the Teutons on Lake Chudskoye Alexander's army of shop keepers and Russian boyars or knights managed to beat off the Teuton charge and rout them. It was the first time in history foot soldiers had beaten the armored knight. After stalling the German advance Alexander campaigned in Lithuania, preventing an Lithuanian expansion. After dealing with opponents in the West he turned his attention to the East. Here he committed what is widely regarded as his most selfless act. After his father was supposedly assassinated by the Mongol khan Alexander assumed the duties of the Ruler of the Russian people and turned to his Eastern enemies for help. This was a moment of historical necessity since there was no way he could deal with incursions from two great powers at once and the Mongols could provide much needed military strength to combat the Europeans. However, the Mongols were impressed that a man with such a great reputation would surrender to them and allowed him to continue to rule and to maintain his Christian beliefs. He managed to maintain a tenuous peace and died in 1263 after renouncing his princely title and adopting the habit of a monk.

Legacy: Alexander Nevsky was hailed as the savior of the Russian people and as their greatest hero. He was cannonized as a saint in 1547 and after Peter the Great defeated the Swedes again in 1721 his remains were moved to St. Petersburg and laid in a glorious tomb that can still be seen today. In 1725 Peter created the Order of St. Alexander Nevsky, which is now the most important medal awarded for bravery in battle second only to the Order of St. Andrew (trust me most of these military heroes have medals named after them). Alexander Nevsky's life is widely remembered as a life of dedicated service, devout faith, and selfless sacrifice for Mother Russia. In a recent poll native Russians named him as the most popular historical Russian figure and his influence continues to inspire people today.

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