Sophia (Zoe) Palaiologina Grand Princess of Moscow from November 12, 1472 to April 7, 1503.
Wedding between Sophia Palaiologina and Ivan III in a temporary Church on the spot of the future Cathedral of the Dormition. Miniature from the Illustrated Chronicle of Ivan the Terrible, 1560-1570.

Sophia (Zoe) Palaiologina Grand Princess of Moscow from November 12, 1472 to April 7, 1503.


  • Thomas Palaeologus, Despot of Morea [XXVIII, p. 281]


  • Catherine, daughter of the last Prince of Achaia, Centurione II Zaccaria [19, p. 15-16; 32, p. 10]


She was born at the turn of 1450s [19, p. 13] in the Peloponnese (in Patras or, possibly, Leontarion) to the family of Thomas Palaiologos, the youngest brother of the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI. Sophia had an older sister Helena (b. 1431, married to the Despot of Serbia Lazar III Branković), as well as two younger brothers, Andreas (01.17.1453-1502) and Manuel (b. 02.01.1455). In 1460, when the Turks took the Peloponnese, Thomas Palaiologos’ family moved to Corfu [XXXV, p. 231]. In 1461, the family took refuge from a plague epidemic in Chlomos, a village in the southern part of the island [XXXV, p. 233]. On August 28, 1462 Sophia’s mother Catherine died (of the plague?). She was buried in the church of St. Jason and Sosipatra in Kerkyra, but her tombstone has not survived [XXXV, p. 233]. Before her death, Thomas had left for Rome, where would die on May 12, 1465 [XXXV, p. 234] and would be buried in the old St. Peter Cathedral; his tombstone was lost during the reconstruction thereof. By the Fall of 1465 [28, p. 123], Sophia and her younger brothers Andreas and Manuel reached Rome, where they were received by Cardinal Bessarion. He was one of the main supporters of the of reunion with Eastern Churches, an ardent fighter for the restoration of Byzantine statehood and an organizer of resistance to the Turks. Short before Thomas’ death, Bessarion made him a symbol of this project, because by the beginning of the 1460s, Thomas was the only heir to the throne of the Palaiologos alive. After Thomas’ death, Bessarion began to pin his hopes of restoration of Byzantium with the Thomas’s children [54, p. 269-271, 326-327, 341-342 and many others. etc.]. He developed an education program for them [48, p. 73-76]. However, Thomas’ sons led an inappropriate life, and Bessarion bet on Zoe in his struggle for the liberation of his homeland. He considered the success of her marriage to be a crucial element in organizing resistance to the Turks. In 1468, by sending Yuri the Greek (Tarchaneiotes?) and later Ivan Fryazin (Gianbattista Della Volpe) from Rome to the Moscow, Bessarion hoped that they would persuade Ivan III of Russia to fight for the legacy of his wife that had been recently taken by the Ottomans, as well as to make Russian lands to join the union of 1439. On November 12, 1472 Sophia married Ivan III, Grand Prince of Moscow [XX, col. 215; XXVIII, p. 299; XXVI, p. 193; XXVII, p. 193; XXXI, p. 135]. The ceremony was preceded by an in-absentia engagement held in Vatican [XIV, p. 215-217; 32, p. 60-64; 54, p. 376-379; 51, p. 27-33; XLII, p. 74-76; 19, p. 96-97]. With a suite consisting of about 100 persons [56, p. 162], Sophia travelled to Russia through Northern Italy, the Alps, Nuremberg, Lubeck, Livonia, Pskov and Novgorod [XL, p. 212; XXXIX, p. 231-232; XIV, p. 214-215, 221-225; 32, p. 70-88; 54, p. 374-375; XXXVIII, p. 85-89; 47, p. 27-33; XLIV, p. 168-174; 59; 28, p. 127-129; 3, p. 45-47; XVIII, p. 74; XVII, p. 189-192; XXIII, p. 236-237, 243-245; XXVIII, p. 296, 298; XXIX, p. 248-249, 243-244; XXX, p. 136; XXXI, p. 129, 132, 134, 299, 302, 304].

An account about Sophia’s appearance in the summer of 1472 has long attracted scholarly attention. The reason for this was a rather provocative description made by a Florentine humanist Luigi Pulci, who sketched an almost caricature portrait of Sophia depicting her as an extremely ugly woman [32, p. 58-59]. There are, however, other descriptions. First, the one made by a Bolognese chronicler of the second half of the 16th century Cherubino Ghirardacci. He reports that Sophia was not only extremely richly dressed, but also that she had a delicate white face and unusually beautiful eyes [XL, p. 212]. Later, a similar description was made by Negri [32, p. 222-223; 54, p. 374-375; 58].

Sophia was born to family of the Latinophile Thomas Palaeologus [15, p. 111-112; 55, p. 135-152; 19, p. 15-16, 29]; she was later brought up by Cardinal Bessarion. It is thus unlikely that she was Orthodox, as the chronicles claim [XXVIII, p. 281 and more. etc.]. However, it is also unlikely that any ceremony was held in Moscow to mark Sophia’s conversion to Orthodoxy [4, p. 333]. The only piece of evidence is that she received a benediction from Metropolitan Philip [XXXI, p. 135, 305].

For the first few years, only girls were born in the family of the Grand Prince. There is a 16th-century account, according to which Sophia made a pilgrimage to the Trinity Monastery wishing to beg for a son. According to a legend, saint Sergius of Radonezh appeared to her and put a baby into her womb [XXII, p. 190-191; XXV, p. 554-555,582]. Less than a year later, on March 25, 1479, Sophia gave birth to a boy, the future Vasili III of Russia [XXVIII, p. 323]. Seemingly, it was precisely due to Sophia’s intention to keep the baby away from a possible danger that Sophia’s “flight” to Beloozero in the Fall of 1480, when there was a potential threat of invasion of Muscovy by Khan Akhmat’s army. This act was severely blamed by Moscow chroniclers [XX, col. 310-311; XXIV, p. 346-347; XXVI, p. 182-183; XXVII, p. 201-202; XXVIII, p. 328; XX, p. 284; XXXI, p. 150-151, 315-316]. There is a reason to believe that this escape was organized by Ivan III himself, who obviously worried about both his new-born heir and the treasury, which was also sent to Beloozero with Sophia, V. B. Tuchko-Morozov, A. M. Pleshcheev and V. Dolmatov [XXIV, p. 339]. Probably, Sophia also shared the mindset of her Greek entourage, which had adopted Cardinal Bessarion’s ideas: it was important for them to secure and protect the baby in whose veins ran the blood of the Palaiologoi. These sentiments were generally typical of “Italian” Greeks. These hopes were expressed, among others, in the diaries of Venetian patrician Domenico Malipiero: “It is expected that this king [Ivan III. - TM] will soon go to fight the Turks, because he is the son-in-law of the despot Thomas Palaiologos ...” [XXXVII, p. 106]. Later Maxim the Greek would call Vasili III “Vasily Ivanovich Palaeologus" [XXXII, p. 119].

In 1490 Sophia received the ambassador of the “King of Rome” Maximilian (son of the Holy Roman Emperor) Georg von Thurn (an Italian born Giorgio della Torre, or Yuri Delator, as he is mentioned in Russian chronicles). On behalf of Maximilian, he presented to Sophia “a bird of papagal [sic!] and a grey broadcloth” [XIII, p. 30].

In 1495-1503 Sophia was maintaining contacts with her daughter Elena, married to the Lithuanian prince Alexander Jagiellon [XXXIV, p. 181, 201, 205, 220, 235, 236, 237, 239-242, 244, 250, 253, 274, 292, 294; 43]. One of the letters, dated October 15, 1497, is full of very personal details and enables us to penetrate the world of intimate conversations between mother and daughter, which is a unique document from this relatively early period [XXXIV, p. 241].

One of the most mysterious episodes of Sophia’s life is her implication in the dynastic crisis of 1498-1499 and in the affaire of coronation of Dmitry the Grandson. It is known that before that Sophia and her eldest son Vasili (the future Vasili III) were removed from the court [XX, col. 352; XXI, p. 234; XXXI, p. 330]. According to some reports, Sophia fell into Ivan’s disgrace due to her attempts to poison her political opponents [XIX, p. 279]. Some indirect accounts suggest that it was Sophia who had been involved in the subsequent removal from the court of Elena Voloshanka and her son already crowned son Dmitry (1498). Sophia (and the Greeks faction that backed her) had its own motive for participating in the struggle for power: it was important for them to clear the way to the throne of Vasili “Palaiologos”. It is also worth mentioning that the report of the arrival in Moscow in 1490 of “magister (mistro) Leon the Jew (Zhidovin)” (who came from Italy accompanied by Andreas Palaiologos and the Ralev brothers) to treat Ivan the Young, who suffered from podagra, is followed by the story of the death of this latter. [XX, col. 327; XXI, p. 219; XXIV, p. 354; XXVI, p. 186-187; XXVII, p. 206; XXX, p. 273, 289; XXXI, p. 154-155, 320]. Perhaps, the attention the chroniclers pay to this fact and to “Greek tinge” of this story can be interpreted as indirect accusations against Sophia of her possible implication into the death of Ivan the Young, a direct concurrent of Vasili.

There is no evidence, however, that would confirm Sophia’s active involvement in the struggle for Vasili’s right to the throne. The silence of sources may indicate that Sophia might not have played the main role in the political confrontation. However, her concern about the fate of Vasili’s power is undeniable.

Sophia went on a pilgrimage to the Trinity Monastery to ask Vasili for victory in the struggle for the throne. Researchers rightly associate the donations of an embroidered shroud, as well as several epimanika made by Sophia to the Trinity monastery in 1499 with the resolution of the crisis of the end of the 15th century in favour of Vasili. Sophia’s gifts are distinguished by a special style: embroideries are decorated with small colourful bright specks [37, p. 52-61; 21, p. 20-22; 44]. These items were made in a gold embroidery workshop that Sophia founded in the Kremlin. The inscription on the shroud of 1499 is noteworthy: “In the year of the Lord 7007, this shroud was confectioned under the noble Grand Prince Ivan Vasilievich of All Russia and under his son Grand Prince Vasili Ivanovich and under Archbishop Siman, the metropolitan, by the intention and by request of the Tsargorod princess, the Grand Princess of Moscow, the Grand Princess Sophia of Moscow; I venerated the Life-Giving Trinity and Sergius the Wonderworker and donated this shroud”[26, p. 347].

Sophia died on April 17, 1503 [XX, col. 369; XXIX, p. 296; XXXI, p. 336]. She was buried in the tomb of the Ascension Convent in the Kremlin in a white-stone sarcophagus next to the grave of Maria Borisovna Tverskaya [25, p. 262-324]. Now her coffin rests in the crypt of southern extension of the Archangel Cathedral.


* By the 1480s, two factions had been formed at the grand prince’s court. The first consisted of old Moscow aristocracy, which did not accept the Greeks and the “Roman” Sophia. They supported, first, Ivan the Young — the firstborn of Ivan III — and later his widow Elena Stefanovna of Moldavia (Elena of Wallachia, daughter of the Moldovan ruler Stephen III the Great) and son Dmitry Ivanovich (the Grandson). This aristocratic faction included Grand Princess consort Maria Yaroslavna of Borovsk, Metropolitan of Moscow Gerontius, Archbishop Vassian of Rostov (Rylo, “the Snout”), voyevoda Daniel of Kholm, S. I. Ryapolovsky and I. Yu. Patrikeev (both were executed short before the removal of disgrace from Sophia and Vasily and their rehabilitation in 1499). In the 16th century, this group’s negative opinion about Sophia’s role in Russian political life was also shared by Ivan Bersen-Beklemishev [I, p. 142] and Andrey Kurbsky [III, p. 456]. The idea of this group were most vividly expressed in the accounts of the Sofia Second and Lvov Chronicles.

These sentiments were opposed by the other faction, Greek (or rather Greco-Italian), which consisted of Sophia’s Greek entourage who faithfully served Ivan III. Among the members of this group were many outstanding diplomats and translators; some of the worked not only in Moscow, but also in Novgorod within the circle of the Archbishop of Novgorod the Great and Pskov Gennady. Some of them arrived with Sophia, while others joined her court later. The descendants of the Tarchaneiotes, Aggeloi, Ralevs, Laskaris incorporated into the Russian aristocracy [43, p. 125-127, 141-142; 6, p. 66-68; 21]. Seemingly, some if Italian immigrants who settled in Moscow were also close to Sophia. It was, for example, the case with the founder of Spasitelev (Savior) family, Ivan Spasitel (the Savior) Fryazin, ‘arganny igrets’ (the Organist), who arrived in 1490 with Andreas Palaiologos, converted to Orthodoxy in 1492 and was granted a village [XXIII, p. 272-273,276]. Sophia’s Greek and Italian entourage played an important role in the formation of the court of Ivan III as a multicultural organism [12, p. 143].

Apparently, many Moscow aristocrats were close to this group. In addition to the aforementioned V. B. Tuchko Morozov, A. M. Pleshcheyev and V. Dolmatov, Grigory Popleva Vasilyevich Morozov (V. B. Tuchko Morozov’s cousin) could also be closely related to Sophia’s circle. It was him who was left with Sophia in Moscow during the Tver campaign of 1485 [13, p. 331-332]. One can also suppose that the decapitated on the ice of the Moskva River in December 1498 were Sophia’s associates.

In the razriad containing a description of the wedding of Prince Vasily Danilovich Kholmsky (1500) and Theodosia, one of the daughters of Ivan III and Sophia Palaeologus, in addition to mentions of Dmitry Manuilovich, Yuri Manuilovich, Manuil Dmitrievich Tarchaneiotes one finds a very long list of noblemen who walked “by [Sophia’s] the sleigh” on the wedding day: “okol’nik Danilo Ivanov (cousin of G. A. Mamon [13, p. 347]), and Grigory Mamon (...), Prince Ivan Smola, Prince Ondrei Mikhailovich Obolensky, Prince Dmitry Volodimirovich, his son Prince Peter, Prince Dmitry Kurbsky, Prince Fyodor Yukotskoy, Fyodor Bezzubov, Prince Ivan Kubenskoy the Great, Semyon Vorontsov, Ivan Gavrilov, Prince Ivan Kemsky, Yuryata Tovarkov, Skryaba Travin, Klyapik Eropkin, Yakov Zmeev, Grivka Matveev Denisieva, Olferey Filipov, Yushko Vladykin, Fyodor Golokhvastov, Ivan Vasilchikov, Fyodor Vasilchikov, Ivan Chepets Kushelev, Vaska Pushechnikov, Ignat Slobodkin, Ondrey Shok, Oleshka Ogrofenin, Ivan Romodanov, Ivan Kropotov, Tin’ko Likharev, Fyodor Koverya Umrykha, and Tyuvesh’ Vasilyevs, children of Zinoviev, Nashchoka Motyakin, Mishka Ofremov, clerk (d’yak) Sukhoi, Timofey Mikhailov Ofonasyeva, Obliaz Tritorkov, son of Nemoy, Fedor Belyanina, Mikhailo Beklemishev, Zakhar Shchulepnikov, Volodya and Mitya Zverevy, Burets Pikin, Sukman Toporkov, Samara and Rozlada and Pishchal Rodionov, Ondrey Chupa Horoshev, Timofey Vasilyev son of Chelyustkin, Volk Borisov (...) clercs (d’yaks) Ivan Kobyak, and Vasily Nefimonov” [IV, p. 4-5].

The “shortened version” of this razriad mentioned only several names from the longer list: “Grand Duchess Sophia had by her sleigh boyars Dmitry and Yury, and Yushko Maly (the Junior), and okol’nichijs Danilo Ivanov and Grigory Mamon. Prince Ivan Smola, Prince Ondrey Mikhailovich Obolensky, Prince Dmitry Volodimerovich and his son prince Peter, Prince Dmitry Kurbsky, Prince Fyodor Yukhottskoi, Fyodor Bezzubtsov, Prince Ivan Kubenskoy Bolshoi (the Great), Semyon Vorontsov [XXXIII, p. 16-17].

The sentiments of Sophia’s entourage were presented in the Vologda-Perm chronicle. This is clear in the description Sophia’s actions in 1480. It is emphasized that Sophia was not the only to flee Moscow; the chronicle reports that Princess consort Maria Yaroslavna did the same, and it was only Metropolitan of Moscow Gerontius, Archbishop Vassian of Rostov and Vladika Prokhor Podrelsky who persuaded her to return [XXIX, p. 264]. The account blaming Sophia for “flight” is omitted in the text. Even more significant is the lack of information about the execution of Vladimir Gusev in December 1498. On the contrary, two significant episodes were added: a brief account of the “putting on the Grand Prince’s throne” (and not the “crowning”!) of Dmitry the Grandson and a detailed description of the reprisals against I. Yu. Patrikeev and S. I. Ryapolovsky [XXIX, p. 291].

Many researchers rightly believed that one of the most important results of the very fact of Ivan III’s marriage to Sophia was that “Russia became better known in Europe” [11, p. 70]. E. F. Shmurlo also noted that the union of Ivan III and Sophia “opened to Moscow Prince a way to Rome and to Italy in general (...) Moscow regarded Rome on the same scales as Venice, Milan: these two city-states seemed to be providers of “artisans”, all kinds of specialists, architects ... ”[49, p. 93]. Protopresybter Georges Florovsky emphasized that “this marriage led rather to the rapprochement of Muscovy with Italian modernity, rather than to the revival of Byzantine legends and memories” [42, p. 12-13].


  • Vasily, the future Vasili III (born 03/25/1479)
  • Yuri (born 03/23/1480)
  • Dmitry (born 06.10.1481)
  • Ivan (b. 13.02.1485)
  • Simeon (b. 03/21/1487)
  • Boris (born 1488 or 1489)
  • Andrey (born 05.08.1490)
  • Elena (born 04/18/1474)
  • Feodosiya (born 05/28/1475)
  • Elena (born 04/19/1476)
  • Eudoxia (born February 1483)
  • Elena (b. 8.04.1484)


In 1482/1483 she owned land in the Pacheozero volost near Vychegodskaya Salt, in 1487 in villages in the Kuzemsky stan (literally, “camp”) in Murom [II, No. 109, p. 146-147; No. 285, p. 300].


Dmitry Manuilovich, Yuri Manuilovich, Manuil Dmitrievich Tarchaneiotes [IV, p. 4; VI; XII, p. 240; XI, p. 106; XX, p. 328, 331, 333, 339, 360, 365; XXVIII, p. 331-333; XXIX, p. 225, 279, 280, 287, 292; XXX, p. 126, 288, 289, 294, 359, 360, 362; XXXI, p. 155-157, 159, 320-322, 324;  XXXIII, p. 16; XXXVIII, p. 90-95; 30, p. 69; 40, p. 124-126; XV, с. 51-75; XVI, с. 105–112 [published with error; should be read Dmitry Tarchaneiotes – Т.М.]; 50, р. 32-33; 38, с. 33-57; 20, с. 294-308].

Manuel and Dmitry Ralev (Larev) [X, p. 115; XI, p. 107; XII, p. 239; XX, p. 327, 337, 341, 357-358, 371; XVI, p. 186-187; XXVII, p. 206; XXVIII, p. 299, 303; XXIX, p. 288, 290, 296; XXX, p. 287, 288, 289, 294, 365, 366; XXX, p. 154-155, 320; XXXIII, p. 25, 36; XLIII, p. 49, 61, 278, 300; 35; 43, p. 129–130; 6, p. 64]

Mikula and Dmitry Angelovs (Aggeloi, Angilovy) [IV, p. 2; XX, p. 337, 341; XXIX, p. 278-279; XXX, p. 293, 365, 366; XXXIII, p. 16, 26, 44; XXXIV, p. 239-242; 17; 43, p. 126–127; 6, p. 66–67].

Cassian Mangupsky (venerable Cassian of Uchema) [VIII, p. 118-120; 31, p. 69]

Ivan Maksimov, son of Glyadyashchiy, a landlord from Kuzema stan of Murom (1487) [II, № 109, p. 146]

Terenty Semichev, posel’skij of the Grand Prince Ivan III and the Grand Princess Sofia in 1482/1483 [II, № 285, p. 300]

Fyodor and Dmitry Laskaris [XII, p. 240: XX, p. 397, 404; XXVII, p. 241, XXIX, p. 289, 372, 296, XXI, p. 160, 347, 350]

Probably also:

Danil Terentyev, son of Kozel Miloslavsky. According to S. B. Veselovsky, at the end of the XV century, he was posel’skij of the Grand Duke Ivan III and the Grand Duchess of Sofia Paleolog in Solvychegodsk.

Vasily Borisovich Tuchko Morozov, Andrei Mikhailovich Plescheev and Vasily Dolmatov [XXIV, p. 339]

Grigory Vasilyevich Popleva Morozov [13, p. 331-332]

Vladimir Elizarov son of Gus’, prince Ivan Ivanovich Chrul’ Paletsky, Poyarok, brother of Ivan Dmitrievich Run, Shyavey Timofeev, son of Skryaba Travin, Afanasy Dmitrievich Yeropkin, Fyodor Stromilov [XX, col. 352; see also: XXIV, p. 366; XXXI, p. 330].


Seemingly, Sophia brought from Rome many relics and religious items. Some of them are preserved:

1)     An encased cameo of Christ Pantocrator with a double eagle on the top of the case [V, p. 207-209]

2)     An encased carved icon of St. John the Forerunner; probably, with a monogram of Palaeologoi [V, p. 294-297].

3)     Acheiropoieta [V, p. 26-27]

4)     Virgin Hodegetria with a frame [V, p. 28, 340-346; catalogue number 82]

5)     Reliquary [V, p. 185-189]

6)     A piece of the True Cross [34, p. 379-380]

Around 1499 Sophian granted to the Trinity Monastery many items produced in her own gold-embroidery workshop. There were six items in all: embroidered podeai, epimanikia and aër. These objects are distinguished by a special style of their embroidery which is speckled with different colours [37, p. 52-61; 21, p. 20-22; 44].

She also granted the Theotokos of Bogolyubovo to one of the monasteries in Kremlin. [27, p. 350-353


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