Alexander Nevsky

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Alexander Nevsky

Alexander Nevsky (nĕvˈskē) [Rus.,=of the Neva], 1220–1263, Russian hero, grand duke of Vladimir-Suzdal. As prince of Novgorod (1236–52) he earned his surname by his victory (1240) over the Swedes on the Neva River. He successfully defended N Russia against its western neighbors by defeating the Livonian Brothers of the Sword (1242) and the Lithuanians (1245). After the Tatar invasion of Russia Alexander submitted to Tatar rule and was appointed (1252) grand duke by the khan. His submissive attitude toward the Tatars and his suppression of the anti-Tatar movements in Novgorod and other cities provoked much resentment among the local princes and the common people. However, he saved the principality from ruin by his cooperation with the invaders. Russian popular tradition made him a national hero, and he was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church. The Order of Alexander Nevsky was instituted (1725) by Catherine I of Russia. Although abolished in 1917, it was revived by the Soviet government in 1942.
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The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Alexander Nevsky


Born circa 1220; died Nov. 14, 1263. Russian political figure and military leader. Prince of Novgorod from 1236 to 1251. Grand prince of Vladimir from 1252. The son of Prince Iaroslav Vsevolodovich, he led Russian troops in the defense of northwestern Rus’ against Swedish and German feudal lords.

On July 15, 1240, Alexander Nevsky led his small band, joined by the Ladogans, in a surprise attack against the Swedish troops, who had debarked at the confluence of the Izhora and Neva rivers. He completely demolished their large force, showing extraordinary courage in the battle. The Neva Battle of 1240, which forestalled the threat of a hostile invasion from the north, was the source of Alexander’s epithet “Nevsky.” The victory strengthened his political influence, but at the same time it worsened his relations with the boyars. As a result of his conflict with them, Alexander Nevsky was forced to leave Novgorod.

When the Livonian Knights invaded Rus’, the people of Novgorod sent representatives to Alexander Nevsky. He returned in the spring of 1241 and quickly organized an army to expel the invaders from Russian cities. His stormings of Kopor’e and Pskov are examples of outstanding military art in the seizure of fortresses. The Master of the Order raised a large mounted force against Alexander Nevsky; it was decisively defeated on Apr. 5, 1242, on the ice of Chudskoe Lake. In the history of medieval military art Alexander Nevsky’s victory on Chudskoe Lake was extremely significant: the Russian infantry had surrounded and destroyed both the Knights’ detachments of foot soldiers and their cavalry long before infantries in Western Europe learned how to defeat the Knights. This victory placed Alexander Nevsky in the ranks of the greatest military leaders of his time and halted the aggression of the German Knights against Rus’.

Alexander Nevsky continued to strengthen the northwestern borders of Rus’. He sent an embassy to Norway, which resulted in 1251 in the first peace treaty between Rus’ and Norway. He was responsible for the successful campaign in 1256 into Finland against the Swedes, who had once again attempted to block Russia’s access to the Baltic Sea. Alexander Nevsky showed himself to be a careful and farsighted politician. He rebuffed the attempts of the Papal Curia to provoke a war between Rus’ and the Golden Horde, because he understood that war with the Tatars was bound to be unsuccessful at that time. His skillful policy helped prevent destructive Tatar raids against Rus’. He traveled to the Horde on several occasions and was able to free Russians from the obligation to serve in the armed forces of the Tatar khans in their wars with other nations. Alexander Nevsky devoted much energy to strengthening the office of grand prince to the detriment of the power of the boyars; at the same time, he resolutely suppressed anti-feudal outbursts—for instance, the uprising in Novgorod in 1259.

Alexander Nevsky died in Gorodets on the way back from the Golden Horde. He was canonized by the Russian Church. At the end of the 13th century, in the Life of Alexander Nevsky, he was depicted as an ideal warrior-prince and the defender of the lands of Rus’. By order of Peter I, his remains were brought to Petersburg. In prerevolutionary Russia, the Order of Alexander Nevsky was established on May 21, 1715. On July 29, 1942, the Soviet military Order of Alexander Nevsky was established in his honor.


Pashuto, V. T. Geroicheskaia bor’ba russkogo naroda zanezavisimost’ (xiii v.). Moscow, 1956.
Sutt, N. I. Aleksandr Nevskii. Yaroslavl, 1940.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.
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