Alexander Nevsky – Medieval King Turned Russian Propaganda Tool

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The envoys of the Roman Pope attend Alexander Nevsky by Henryk Siemiradzki (1870) (Public Domain)

Alexander Nevsky – Medieval King Turned Russian Propaganda Tool

Nestled deep within an obscure crevice of Russian history, the tale of Prince Alexander Nevsky and his battle against Western crusaders at first appears as a highly interesting if half-forgotten turn of events, tracing the resilience and mettle of a lesser-known Slavic kingdom located on the fringes of Europe and Asia. Yet this story, at least the official version, is known to millions of Russians today, and has over the last few centuries embedded itself deeply within the narrative of the Russian State as a powerful metaphor, representing their eternal struggle against the West.

13th-century Novgorod as represented in Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938). (Public Domain)

13th-century Novgorod as represented in Sergei Eisenstein's Alexander Nevsky (1938). (Public Domain)

Even today, Alexander Nevsky, a commander of valor and honor who repelled the Mongolians, Swedes, and Germans from the lands of Novgorod, is invoked by Russians fighting in Ukraine who believe their aggression is actually a form of defense against the further incursions of the Western world. Yet a closer examination of his story, and the thrilling sagas of the Battle of the Neva and the Battle on the Ice, reveals a man more concerned with bravely resisting the advances of foreign forces than warmongering.


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