Gvozdev, Egor
#Krom, Mikhail M.
#Grand Duchy of Lithuania
#Grand Duchy of Moscow
#Military History
#Sigismund I.
#Vasilij III.
#Early Modern
Krom, The Starodub War, 1534–37: From the History of Russian-Lithuanian Relations
Annotation author: Gvozdev, Egor
Book author: Krom, Mikhail M.

Mikhail M. Krom, Стародубская война (15341537). Из истории руссколитовских отношений [The Starodub War, 153437: From the History of Russian-Lithuanian Relations], Moscow 2008

Mikhail M. Krom has been working as a Professor of Comparative Studies at the European University at St. Petersburg (EUSP) since 2011. From 1996 to 2010, he worked as an Associate Professor in the Department of History at the EUSP, and also served as its dean from 2002 to 2011. Mikhail Krom was a Fellow Researcher at the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, and he received two fellowships from the Max-Planck-Institut für Geschichte in Göttingen. Prof. Krom’s research focuses on the Muscovy and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Early Modern period.

The book is dedicated to the Starodub war of 1534–1537 between the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The author aims to reconstruct the military conflict from its beginning to the armistice phase and the exchange of prisoners. The monography comprises an introduction, six chapters, and an appendix. In the introduction, the author provides a brief historiographical overview of the topic. Prof. Krom notes that previous historiography focused mainly on the narrative sources (Polish chronicles or Russian letopysi). The author highlights other types of sources which are important for the reconstruction, including the correspondence between Hetman Radziwill and Sigismund I, Lithuanian metrics, instructions to Russian ambassadors to the Crimean Khanate, and the correspondence of Albrecht of Prussia.

Chapter 1 (p. 13–23) focuses on Russo-Lithuanian relations at the end of the reign of Vasilij III, Grand Duke of Moscow (1505–1533). The author suggests that tensions between the principalities had existed since 1528, including a ‘war of titles’ in diplomatic correspondence and local conflicts in the border areas, especially in the Severia region.

Chapter 2 (p. 24–36) gives an account of the changes in relations between the principalities after Vasilij III’s death on 3 December 1533. According to the author, rumours of political instability in Moscow were the main trigger for the outbreak of war. Nevertheless, the process of preparing for war took the Grand Duchy of Lithuania quite a long time – from April to August, when the situation in Moscow had already stabilised.

Chapter 3 (p. 37–58) focuses on the autumn campaign of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in 1534 and Muscovite campaigns in the winter of 1535. The author suggests that the Lithuanians planned to intimidate Moscow into making a profitable peace, so their tactics included raids, burning lands and taking prisoners. A counter-campaign took place in winter, during which Muscovite troops almost reached Vilna; the tactics of the campaign were similar, but the size of the Muscovite army was several times larger.

Chapter 4 (p. 59–83) deals with the summer campaign of 1535 that was like the winter campaign, albeit on a smaller scale. The main success of the Muscovite army was the construction of a fortress on the shores of Lake Sebezh in the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The Lithuanians responded by attacking the Severia region. The main success was the capture of Gomel, in which the local boyar families passed into the allegiance of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. The main battle unfolded in Starodub, which was destroyed.

Chapter 5 (p. 84–96) focuses on the last year of the war (1536) and the peace negotiation process. The author shows that the negotiation process began with the correspondence of the captive Muscovite voivode Fyodor Ovchina-Obolensky to his relatives. Once communication had been established, negotiations reached the official diplomatic level and lasted for a year, during which there were occasional forays. As a result, the negotiations ended in 1537 with a five-year truce.

Chapter 6 (p. 97–111) is devoted to the fate of the prisoners of war in Starodub. The prisoner exchange was a stumbling block in the negotiation process. According to the author, conditions of detention depended on nobility. Nobles were allowed to write letters and receive parcels from relatives, but they themselves were under great surveillance. On the other hand, the process of exchanging ordinary prisoners of war was much more likely.

The value of this small 140-page book lies in the fact that it offers a convincing reconstruction of the war process in the Starodub war. The historian reconstructs not only the course of events, but also illustrates the day-to-day difficulties of war, including gathering soldiers or holding conquered territory. The work is particularly successful in analysing rumours in the correspondence of the Lithuanian chancellery and other international agents and the impact of such information on the course of the war. Prof. Krom also describes how the social composition in a border area affects the success or failure of territorial expansion. The most exciting part is the analysis of the correspondence between prisoners of war and their relatives. On the one hand, this analysis allows the author to show successfully the mechanisms of prisoner-of-war exchange and, on the other hand, to demonstrate the concerns and worries of prisoners of war.

Prof. Kroms’ book is fascinating and sheds new light on the Russo-Lithuanian relationship in the 1530’s. The monograph is essential for researchers of the history of the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the Early Modern period and all the more for military history specialists.