Russia demands tribute for Tartu (Dorpat)

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In 1551, the truce between Livonia and Russia, that had been made for 20 years, ended. The Livonian Order and other political forces in Livonia hoped that they will be able to negotiate another truce for similar period, but things had began to change in Moscow.

Most of the khanates had been defeated and Russia began to take interest in the areas to its west. Mainly due to the interest of the merchants, in 1551, the truce was not renewed for more than a year. After that, no agreement existed between Livonia and Russia.

In 1554, the Livonian ambassadors arrived to arrange a new peace. By that time, czar Ivan the Terrible had concentrated all the power to his hands, and began to fiercely demand a tribute for Tartu, a claim that was established as the main guarantee of the peace treaty. According to the czar, the bishopric of Dorpat was a perpetual Russian dominion (pointing to the fact that in 1030-1061 it had been part of Old-Russia), for which the Germans had had to pay annual tribute, but lately had failed to fulfill that agreement. Therefore, he wanted to receive tax for past 50 years.

The Livonian ambassadors were, naturally, against this, but they were threatened and eventually the ambassadors from Tartu gave in. Actually, in their minds they complied to "check" whether such tribute has ever existed, but the czar took it as an assent to pay the tribute. In 1555 new, 15 years long peace treaty was confirmed between Livonia and Russia in Tartu, where the Russians reminded the Livonians about the tribute.

Several ideas have been expressed about the tribute of Dorpat, but since 1970, it is widely thought that the demand was related to some real tax, dating back to the XV century. It is known, that in the treaty made between Pihkva and Tartu, Tartu is mentioned to have had some sort of tax obligation to Pihkva. As the respective treaty has not preserved, no one knows what the tax was about. Later treaties simply pointed to the treaty, without repeating what the tax or tribute had been. It is presumed to have been a payment in truck system, for either fishing permits on Pihkva Lake or bee hives in Setumaa. Lately, the latter is considered more likely. Some tribute demands appeared in the agreements between Livonia and Russia on the XVI century, but those remained unclear and were not followed. It can be presumed that Tartu did not pay for Setumaa bee hives either. Therefore, the Russians had some base for demanding the tribute, but not on the pretense and extent that they did.

The Tartu tribute is often deemed to have been unrealistic for Livonia, therefore the war with Russia was unavoidable, as the latter was looking for a reason to launch a campaign. Reality, however, seemed to have been more complicated than that, because Ivan the Terrible had not yet established his absolute reign, but some officials of the state still held some power: Ivan Mikhailovich Viskovatiy, Alexei Adachev and Andrei Kurbsky. These men preferred Russia to expand to the south, on the expense of the khanates, rather than picking fight with the west. But there were people who preferred Livonia to be conquered.. These two parties had to compromise, and this was seen in making Livonia Russia's dependent via diplomatic means. The amount of the tribute was not overwhelming, as one successful merchant in Tartu could have gained the amount of goods needed to pay the annual tribute during one year. But together with other demands, at least the bishopric of Dorpat would have become the vassalof Russia, and the Livonians did not want that.

Source: Mati Laur. Eesti ajalugu varasel uusajal 1550-1800. Tallinn: Eesti Entsüklopeediakirjastus, 1999.

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