Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky
Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky (b.1220-d.1263) inherited the title of grand prince of Vladimir from his father. In addition to that, in 1236 Alexander was elected princea figure of the 'free' city of Novgorod, who functioned as rather military commander. In 1239 he married the daughter of the Prince of Polotsk and became the most powerful figure in desintegrated Russian lands.
When in 1240 the Swedes invaded Russia to punish the Novgorodians for encroaching on Finnish tribes and to bar Russia's access to the sea, Alexander defeated the Swedes at the confluence of the Rivers Izhora and Neva. For that he got a name Nevski, meaning "of the Neva." His standing enhanced by his victory, he apparently began to intervene too much in the affairs of the 'free' city and was expelled a few months later.
When, urged by pope Gregory IX to 'Christianize' the Baltic region, the Teutonic Knights shortlythereafter invaded Russia, Novgorod invited Alexander to return. After a number of battles, Alexander decisively defeated the Germans in the famous "massacre on the ice" in April 1242 on Chudskoe lake. Alexander not only stoopped the Swedes and Germans, but also won many victories over the pagan Lithuanians and the Finnic peoples.
In the east, however, savage and countless Mongol armies had conquered most of the politically fragmented Russian lands and imposed havy taxes. After a period of deliberation and hesitation, Alexander finally decided to collaborate with the Mongols and agreed to pay the taxes too. It was a controversial decision, but many historians reckon it saved Russia from desctruction as Mongol armies outnumbered the Russian ones at least 5 to 1 at that time. Instead, the Mongols destroyed the entire Muslum civilisation to the South.
In 1257 the Mongols, in order to levy taxes, took a census in most of Russia. It encountered little opposition, but when the news reached Novgorod an uprising broke out. In 1258 Alexander convinced Novgorod to submit to the census. Yet, in 1262 uprisings broke out in many towns against the tax farmers of the Golden Horde. Alexander made a journey to Mongol's Saray to avert reprisals. He succeeded in his mission, as well as in obtaining exemption for Russians from a draft of men for a planned invasion of Iran.
Under Mongols' yoke Alexander proceeded to building fortifications and churches, promulgating laws and uniting Russian lands. Along with rulling Vladimir as the grand prince, he continued to rule Novgorod as well through his son Vasily, thus changing the constitutional basis of rule in Novgorod from complete sovereignty to just institutional sovereignty.
Alexander's efforts led to the formation of a centralised state, which, long after his death, eventually defeated the forces of Mongol's Golden Horde in a bloodiest battle at Kulikovo Pole ("Snipes' Field") in 1380, after which the Mongols never recovered.
For that reasons, by 1381 Alexander was elevated to the status of a local saint and was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 1547. His image was popular in northwestern Russia in succeeding centuries. During World War II (in July 1942), when Germany had deeply penetrated into the Soviet Union, Stalin pronounced Alexander Nevsky a national hero and established a military order in his name.