​2. The Byzantine connection and the lifting of the Tartar yoke

Sophia Paleolog arrived in Moscow in 1472 with a large body of retainers. She was a woman who weighed about twenty-five stone. According to the letopis' [chronicle], she was 'very ugly, intelligent and scheming'. On the night of her arrival in Moscow the magnificent bed of the grand duchesses of Moscow broke down under her weight. During an intimate talk with Prince Odoevsky, Ivan III expressed doubts of his ability to father a child of the huge Byzantine princess, but as he already had several children by his first wife the problem was of secondary importance. The marriage was solemnized without delay.

The new Grand Duchess had brought with her from Rome some architects: Fioravanti, Aleviso, Giuliani and Masconi. It was they who built in the Kremlin

the Grand Duke's new palace of brick and stone instead of the usual wooden palace. They also constructed the new cathedrals of Blagoveschensky, Uspensky, Arkhangelsk, and the Palace of Facets, the place where foreign ambassadors were received.

After his marriage to Sophia, Ivan III devised a new coat of arms, with the Byzantine double-headed eagle and the addition of the figure of St. George slaying the dragon.

The new Grand Duchess asked Ivan III to be rid of the Volga khan with all speed. Ivan, supported by Menghli-Girey, the Crimea khan, declared war on Akhmet Than, nicknamed TS usishica ['the timid one'). The latter and his army were camped for more than a month by the Ugra, a tributary of the Oh, waiting for the attack to come from the Russian force on the opposite bank. Neither side was eager to open the fighting. One morning, at dawn, a host of birds came screaming out of the dense fog. Each of the two armies imagined that the other was launching an attack and took to flight, the Tartars making for the Volga and the Russians for the Moskva. So, in the most incredible fashion, was lifted the Tartar yoke that had bound Russia for more than 200 years.