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The Birth of the Captive Autocracy: Moscow, 1432

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Relying on Russian chronicle sources of the fifteenth century, this paper argues that beginning with Vasilii II in 1432, the grand principality of Moscow mirrored the political structure of its overlords, the Golden Horde. The most recent work by Mongolists and Turkologists on ruling traditions and state structures of the Mongol khanates show that the successor states to the Chingisid empire were ruled not by an autocratic khan but by a council of four qarachi beys, heads of the four leading clans. The selection of the teenager, Vasilii II, as grand prince of Moscow in 1432 was a decision made by a coalition of three of the four qarachi beys in order to weaken a rival bey, and simultaneously also weakened the rulership of the grand prince of Moscow by increasing the power of the boyar and princely clans surrounding him. However, the political model the princely clans-plus-grand prince was effective and flexible and later facilitated the rise of Moscow over its former rivals and overlords.

Affiliations: 1: New Haven, CT

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