Where did the expression “whoever comes to us with a sword, die by the sword” come from?


After the legendary film by Sergei Eisenstein «Alexander Nevsky», everyone is convinced that this phrase was uttered by our Grand Duke and commander, referring to the German knights captured during the Battle of the Ice. This is the magical power of art, and at the same time the Mandela effect, since in fact Nikolai Cherkasov says from the screen “will enter”, and not “come”. But something else is more important!

This quote, of course, has nothing to do with Prince Alexander Nevsky. It is not a fact that he spoke with the prisoners at all after the Battle of the Ice, at least the chronicles did not preserve any description of such a conversation, much less specific words. The phrase came out from the pen of screenwriter Pyotr Pavlenko and turned out to be so biting that it was even placed in the credits at the end of the film.

Eisenstein’s cinema generally did not come out too close to historical reality. Suffice it to mention one Nikolai Cherkasov. No doubt, he brilliantly played some kind of abstract Russian prince-commander, wise with experience and seasoned in battles, but this is definitely not a twenty-year-old youth, which Alexander Yaroslavich was on Lake Peipus.

Here it would be appropriate to recall the history of the creation of the legendary film. When the great director, who fell into disgrace and «took the path of correction», was offered as a test a picture on one of the patriotic plots, the Time of Troubles with folk heroes Minin and Pozharsky seemed the most promising topic.

It is said that Eisenstein asked his colleague Mikhail Romm what scenario he would choose. He replied: “Of course, Minin and Pozharsky! It’s still the 17th century, it’s already known what happened and how people looked. And what is known about Alexander Nevsky? To which Eisenstein retorted: “That’s the point! Therefore, we must take Nevsky! As I do, so shall it be.»

Maestro can not refuse modesty, but in fact he was right. And the massacre itself, and the image of Alexander, and the dogs-knights, several generations of Soviet people imagined exactly the way Eisenstein made them. What can we say about the only, albeit catchy phrase.

The search for the prototype of this quote is very entertaining! The version closest in time to the creation of Pyotr Pavlenko sounds from Dmitry Merezhkovsky in the historiosophical novel “The Resurrected Gods. Leonardo da Vinci». The hero, talking about the well-known concept of «Moscow — the Third Rome», notes that the first one gathered peoples with the help of weapons, «but he who took the sword will die from the sword.»

Around the same time, Count Leo Tolstoy also quoted a similar phrase. “Is it really possible to practice the sword when the Lord said that everyone who takes up the sword will die by the sword?” — he exclaims in his religious-philosophical work «The Kingdom of God is within you.» We can also recall the great master of parables, Nikolai Leskov. In his “Legend of the conscientious Danilo” he has: “you sharpen your sword, you destroy it with a sword, and you yourself can die from a sword.” The context there, by the way, is also Christian, and it is no coincidence.

This is almost impossible to believe, given that we know about censorship in the USSR and the difficult relationship between Soviet power and religion, but Alexander Nevsky from the screen almost quotes … Christ. The Gospel of Matthew describes how, after the betrayal of Judas, one of the apostles tries to offer armed resistance to those trying to seize Jesus, to which the Lord says: “Return your sword to its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

There is a similar saying among the ancient Romans — «Qui gladio ferit, gladio perit». It’s even hard to say here whether Christ quoted the proverb, whether the Evangelist Matthew brought it for persuasiveness (three others, by the way, also describe this episode, but do without eloquent words) or whether this formula became a popular expression thanks to Jesus. But in any case, Christ uttered this phrase with a much greater probability than Alexander Nevsky.