Alexander Nevsky

Portrait Grand Prince Alexander Nevsky from Cyclopaedia of Univeral History, published in 1884.
Public Domain

The son of an important Russian leader, Alexander Nevsky was elected prince of Novgorod on his own merits. He succeeded in driving invading Swedes from Russian territory and fending off the Teutonic Knights. However, he agreed to pay tribute to the Mongols rather than fight them, a decision for which he has been criticized. Eventually, he became Grand Prince and worked to restore Russian prosperity and establish Russian sovereignty. After his death, Russia disintegrated into feudal principalities.

Also Known As

Prince of Novgorod and Kiev; Grand Prince of Vladimir; also spelled Aleksandr Nevski and, in Cyrillic, Александр Невский

Alexander Nevsky was noted for

Stopping the advance of the Swedes and the Teutonic Knights into Russia

Occupations & Roles in Society

  • Military Leader
  • Prince
  • Saint

Places of Residence and Influence

  • Russia

Important Dates

  • Born: c. 1220
  • Victorious in battle on the ice: April 5, 1242
  • Died: Nov. 14, 1263


Prince of Novgorod and Kiev and Grand Prince of Vladimir, Alexander Nevsky is best known for stopping the advance of the Swedes and the Teutonic Knights into Russia. At the same time, he paid tribute to the Mongols instead of attempting to fight them off, a position that has been attacked as cowardly but which may have been simply a matter of understanding his limits.

The son of Yaroslav II Vsevolodovich, grand prince of Vladimir and foremost Russian leader, Alexander was elected prince of Novgorod (primarily a military post) in 1236. In 1239 he married Alexandra, the daughter of the Prince of Polotsk.

For some time the Novgorodians had moved into Finnish territory, which was controlled by the Swedes. To punish them for this encroachment and to bar Russia's access to the sea, the Swedes invaded Russia in 1240. Alexander scored a significant victory against them at the confluence of the Rivers Izhora and Neva, whereby he got his honorific, Nevsky. However, several months later he was expelled from Novgorod for interfering in city affairs.

Not long afterward, Pope Gregory IX began urging the Teutonic Knights to "Christianize" the Baltic region, even though there were Christians already there. In the face of this threat, Alexander was invited to return to Novgorod and, after several confrontations, he defeated the knights in a famous battle on the frozen channel between Lakes Chud and Pskov in April 1242. Alexander eventually stopped the eastward expansion of both the Swedes and Germans.

But another serious problem prevailed in the east. Mongol armies were conquering portions of Russia, which was not politically unified. Alexander's father agreed to serve the new Mongol rulers, but he died in September 1246. This left the throne of the Grand Prince vacant, and both Alexander and his younger brother Andrew appealed to Khan Batu of the Mongol Golden Horde. Batu sent them to the Great Khan, who violated Russian custom by selecting Andrew as Grand Prince, probably because Alexander was favored by Batu, who was out of favor with the Great Khan. Alexander settled for being made the prince of Kiev.

Andrew began to conspire with other Russian princes and western nations against the Mongol overlords. Alexander took the opportunity to denounce his brother to Batu's son Sartak. Sartak sent an army to depose Andrew, and Alexander was installed as Grand Prince in his place.

As Grand Prince, Alexander worked to restore Russian prosperity by building fortifications and churches and passing laws. He continued to control Novgorod through his son Vasily. This altered the tradition of rule from one based on a process of invitation to institutional sovereignty. In 1255 Novgorod expelled Vasily, and Alexander put together an army and got Vasily back on the throne.

In 1257 a rebellion broke out in Novgorod in response to an impending census and taxation. Alexander helped forced the city to submit, probably fearing that the Mongols would punish all of Russia for Novgorod's actions. More uprisings broke out in 1262 against the Muslim tax farmers of the Golden Horde, and Alexander succeeded in averting reprisals by journeying to Saray on the Volga and speaking to the Khan there. He also obtained an exemption for Russians from a draft.

On the way home, Alexander Nevsky died in Gorodets. After his death, Russia disintegrated into feuding principalities -- but his son Daniel would found the house of Moscow, which would eventually reunite northern Russian lands. Alexander Nevsky was supported by the Russian Orthodox Church, which made him a saint in 1547.

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Snell, Melissa. "Alexander Nevsky." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Snell, Melissa. (2023, April 5). Alexander Nevsky. Retrieved from Snell, Melissa. "Alexander Nevsky." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).