Siege of Pskov, August 1581-January 1582

Pskov was an important Russian base on the eastern border of Livonia. After a successful campaign in Livonia in 1577, Ivan IV of Russia had found himself on the defensive. In 1579 and 1580 he lost Polock, Velikie Luki and Kholm. In 1581 Stephan Batory led his army into Russian territory, and in August 1581 established a siege of Pskov.

The city was defended by a garrison of 7,000 strel’tsy (a force of professional infantry established by Ivan earlier in his reign), 2,000 cavalry and 10,000 local levies but its greatest defence was the barren nature of the countryside and the bitter winter weather. Stephan Batory’s forces had to forage for supplies over an increasingly wide area – by January 1582 foraging parties needed to travel up to 250 miles to find supplies, with round trips taking a month. Fortunately for Batory the campaigns of the previous two years had weakened the Russian army, and the Polish-Lithuanian cavalry dominated the areas around Pskov.

Despite a shortage of cannons and a lengthy supply route that made it almost impossible to get sufficient gunpowder to Pskov, Batory’s men were able to breach the city walls. However, the Russian defenders were able to either repair the breaches or create new lines of defences inside the city and fight off the Polish-Lithuanian attacks.

The siege of Pskov was still a success. Unable to intervene to relieve the city, and aware that it would eventually fall, Ivan was forced to come to terms with Poland-Lithuania. At the Peace of Iam Zapolskii (15 January 1582), he agreed to surrender all of his conquests in Livonia in order to retain control of Pskov.

How to cite this article: Rickard, J (24 July 2007), Siege of Pskov, August 1581-January 1582 ,

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