Ivan III., who had for some time been associated with his father in the government, was now recognized as the undisputed prince of the grand principality, though his sway over the other provinces of Russia was very feeble, and very obscurely defined. At twelve years of age, Ivan was married to Maria, a princess of Tver. At eighteen years of age he was the father of a son, to whom he gave his own name. When he had attained the age of twenty-two years, his father died, and the reins of government passed entirely into his hands. From his earliest years, he gave indications of a character of much more than ordinary judgment and maturity. Upon his accession to the throne, he not only declined making any appeal to the khan for the ratification of his authority, but refused to pay the tribute which the horde had so long extorted. The result was, that the Tartars were speedily rallying their forces, with vows of vengeance. But on the march, fortunately for Russia, they fell into a dispute among themselves, and exhausted their energies in mutual slaughter.
According to the Greek chronology, the world was then approaching the end of the seven thousandth year since the creation, and the impression was universal that the end of the world was at hand. It is worthy of remark that this conviction seemed rather to increase recklessness and crime than to be promotive of virtue. Bat the years glided on, and gradually the impression faded away. Ivan, with extraordinary energy and sagacity, devoted himself to the consolidation of the Russian empire, and the development of all its sources of wealth. The refractory princes he assailed one by one, and, favored by a peculiar combination of circumstances, succeeded in chastising them into obedience.
The great Mogol power was essentially concentrated in three immense hordes. All these three combined when there was a work of national importance to be achieved. The largest of the hordes, and the most eastern, spread over a region of undefined extent, some hundreds of miles east of the Caspian Sea. The most western occupied a large territory upon the Volga and the Kama, called Kezan. From this, their encampment, where they had already erected many flourishing cities, enriched by commerce with India and Greece, they were continually ravaging the frontiers of Russia, often penetrating the country three or four hundred miles, laying the largest cities in ashes, and then retiring laden with plunder and prisoners. This encampment of the horde was but five hundred miles east of Moscow; but much of the country directly intervening was an uninhabited waste, so great was the terror which the barbarians inspired.
Ivan resolved to take Kezan from the horde. It was the boldest resolve which any Russian prince had conceived for ages. All the mechanics in the great cities which lined the banks of the upper Volga and the Oka, were employed in constructing barges, which were armed with the most approved instruments of war. The enthusiasm of Russia was roused to the highest pitch by this naval expedition, which presented a spectacle as novel as it was magnificent and exciting.