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Susanin () Ivan
(?1613)

Susanin () Ivan(?1613)

Ivan Susanin was a Russian folk hero and martyr of the early 17th century's Time of Troubles.

In 1619, a certain Bogdan Sobinin from Domnino village near Kostroma received from Tsar Mikhail one half of Derevischi village. According to the extant royal charter, these lands were granted him in reward for his father-in-law's exploits. The latter's name was given as Ivan Susanin.

Subsequent charters (from 1641, 1691, and 1837) diligently repeated the 1619 charter's phrases about Ivan Susanin being "investigated by Polish and Lithuanian people and subjected to incredible and great tortures in order to learn the great tsar's whereabouts but, though aware about that and suffering incredible pains, saying nothing and in revenge for this being tortured by Polish and Lithuanian people to death".

In the early 19th century the charters attracted attention of nascent Russian historiography and Ivan Susanin was proclaimed a Russian national hero and a symbol of Russian peasants' devotion to the tsar. Gradually, there evolved the following legend about Ivan's life and death.

The village of Domnino used to be owned by Xenia Shestova, wife of Fyodor Romanov and mother of Mikhail Romanov. Upon the latter's election to the Russian throne in 1612, the Zemsky Sobor sent Prince Vorotynsky and several other boyars to inform Mikhail, then living in Domnino, about his election.

There were many Polish detachments still roaming Russia, however. They supported Sigismund III Vasa, who refused to accept defeat and still laid claim to the Russian throne. One of these discovered the news and sent troops to Kostroma to find and kill the young tsar.

It is said that they did not know the road to Domnino very well, so they started to ask the locals for directions. In a wood near the village they met a logger, Ivan Susanin, who promised to take them via a "shortcut" through a forest directly to the Ipatiev Monastery, where Mikhail apparently was hiding. The enemies followed him and were never heard from again. It is presumed that Susanin led them so deep into the forest that they could not find a way out, and they perished in the bitter cold February night.

Susanin's grandson, whom Susanin secretly sent ahead via a different route, warned Mikhail Romanov, and the monks concealed him from further Polish raids. Mikhail was crowned tsar and ruled Russia for 32 years, founding the Romanov dynasty.

The Susanin legend became a cornerstone of tsarist propaganda. Kondraty Ryleyev glorified his exploit in a poem, and Mikhail Glinka wrote the first Russian opera, A Life for the Tsar, on the same subject. In the Soviet Union the opera was officially known as Ivan Susanin, and the emphasis of Susanin's deed was placed on the demise of the Poles, rather on the saving of the Tsar. The name was reverted after the dissolution of the Soviet Union.

In 1838, Nicholas I ordered a monument built to Susanin in Kostroma, but this was destroyed by the Bolsheviks, who were offended by the tsar's statue which the monument incorporated. Later they erected another monument to the hero, this time executed in ponderous Soviet style (see photo at the top of the page).
Nikolay Kostomarov, a historian opposed to Nicholas's regime, was the first to raise the issue of the legend's doubtful historicity. He was nonplussed by the fact that it was in the Ipatiev Monastery and not in the village of Domnino that Mikhail Romanov was residing in 1612. His arguments were dismissed by the more orthodox scholars, most notably Mikhail Pogodin and Sergey Solovyov.

The name "Susanin" has become an ironic cliché in the Russian language for a person who leads somewhere claiming to know the way, but who eventually proves not to.


Russia, 2004, Scene from opera Life for Tsar

Russia, 2006, Kostroma. Susanin's monument

USSR, 1957, Scene from opera Ivan Susanin

Russia, 1996, Monumemt to Ivan Susanin in Kostroma

USSR, 1969, Susanin monument in Kostroma

USSR, 1972, Susanin monument in Kostroma

USSR, 1977, Susanin monument in Kostroma

USSR, 1977, Susanin monument in Kostroma

USSR, 1980, Susanin monument in Kostroma

USSR, 1981, Susanin monument in Kostroma

USSR, 1971.06.03, Susanin monument in Kostroma

USSR, 1972.09.26, Susanin monument in Kostroma

USSR, 1983.04.05, Susanin monument, The Hypatian Monastery

USSR, 1986.02.28, Susanin monument in Kostroma

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