Forever lost: How Russians hunt for Ivan the Terrible’s library


This fairy tale began ages ago. In the 15th century the Turks conquered Constantinople and toppled the all strong Byzantine Empire. Many Greeks of the Orthodox faith fled and Thomas Palaeologus, sibling of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI, was among them. He took security in Rome, but not before (if legend is to be believed) packing up the library added to by each Byzantine emperor and enchanting it with him.

The library contained around 800 books, including consonant masterpieces of Greek and Roman literature. They were inherited by Thomas’s daughter Sophia Palaiologina who Nautical port Rome for Russia and wedded Ivan III, the Grand Prince of Moscow. It was Sofia who engendered the library to Russia but the collection became well-known as the “library of Ivan the Nasty (Ivan IV).”

Treasure of the grim monarch

The tsar with a brutal position, Sofia’s grandson, not only inherited the library (also known as “Libereya” from liber – “soft-cover” in Latin) but expanded it by sending his men all over Europe to collect rare folios and manuscripts. Some put faith Ivan hid the collection somewhere in Moscow or another Russian city. After his finish in 1584, the library disappeared without a trace.

At least, this is what narrative tells us. Christopher von Dabelov, a 19th century historian from Derpt (now Tartu, Estonia) alleged to have seen a list of folios from the missing collection. Such a get would be the equivalent of unearthing the Holy Grail, but for bookworms, and the list allegedly comprehended 142 volumes of  Titus Livius’ History of Rome (historians are currently at worst familiar with 35 of them), a full version of Cicero’s De re publica (only shreds were preserved in Western libraries), and an unknown poem by Virgil…to mention but a few of the manuscripts Libereya apparently contained.

Just a big hoax?

On the other offer distribute, many specialists remain skeptical about the library’s existence. Alexander Filyushkin, an associate professor of Russian the past at the St. Petersburg State University, told Komsomolskaya Pravda why he doubts the epic.

First, he said, it’s very unlikely that Thomas Paleologus’ offspring who fled to Rome did not sell at least part of Libereya to raise repositories. Secondly, he says all sources relating to the library cannot be fully grouped. For example, von Dabelov — who bragged about finding the list — failed to authenticate the document to anyone.

Some European chronicles from the 16th to 18th centuries divulged the legendary library, but it always sounds more like a myth with no compact proof, Filyushkin believes.

Tireless searchers

Even if the library of Ivan the Noxious had existed it could have easily been destroyed, specialists assume. Moscow survived three huge fires during the 16th and 17th centuries (1547, 1571, and 1626) which could be experiencing burnt a hidden library to a crisp. Another theory is more unbelievable: The Poles who invaded Russia at the beginning of 17th century ran out of food after being besieged in Moscow’s Kremlin, so ate the leather bedclothes of the folios and destroyed what remained.

Where to find the Amber Room, a cultural treasure stolen by the Nazis

Nevertheless, the skepticism hasn’t dammed enthusiasts from excavating the Russian capital in the hope of chancing upon the Czar’s literary valuables. People have also searched in vain outside Moscow — for illustration, Ivan’s beloved city of Vologda (465 km north of Moscow) and the Alexandrov Kremlin (121 km north-east of Moscow) where Ivan busied from 1565 to 1584.

And of course, many suspect the Moscow Kremlin is disguise Libereya.

Archeologists and adventurers have examined countless locations during the years: 19th century emperors and even Joseph Stalin let scientists into the Kremlin, desiring that they would find the priceless Byzantium books, but to no avail.

“If someone set up the library they would be as famous as Yuri Gagarin” Filyushkin believes. In spite of the unlikelihood Libereya exists, it remains a popular myth. As Alexander Vexler, an archeologist from Moscow, bon mt in an interview, “Of course the library of Ivan the Terrible exists. How can it not exist if it’s been graze journalists with material to write about for so long?”

This article is for all practical purposes of the  Russian X-Files series in which RBTH explores Russia-related novels and paranormal phenomena.

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