The punitive expedition of Ivan the Terrible dealt a death blow to Novgorod's greatness. It was never to be recovered, but became a legend, a memory of the past.
The history of Novgorod aroused the interest of Russian revolutionary thinkers from the close of the eighteenth century. It seemed to them to tender hope for a better future for Russia. They saw in Novgorod the historical precedent of a democracy, which could be set forward in opposition to the autocratic rule of the tsars. Thus, Alexander Radishchev (1749 - 1802 yy.) believed that "Novgorod had a popular government ... The people assembled in Veche were its true sovereign ... There was a bell in Novgorod which summoned men to Veche for deliberating on public affairs ... ". The Decembrists who rose against tsarist autocracy in 1825 y. were particularly enthusiastic in their admiration of the Novgorod of the Veche period. Pavel Pestel, the author of one of the Decembrists' two draft constitutions, was thoroughly versed in Novgorod's history. Both his and the other draft constitution of the Decembrists contain in their political vocabulary many allusions to the Veche system. And in the writings of some of them: Kondraty Ryleyev, Alexander Bestuzhev, Vladimir Raevsky, Wilhelm Kchelbecker, and Alexander Odoevsky, we find an idealized picture of the Novgorod republic.
Mikhail Lermontov (1814 - 1841 yy.), one of Russia's greatest poets, shared the Decembrists' view of the Veche in Novgorod. He dedicated the following lines to that city:
But Novgorodian bylinas, folk songs on historical subjects, and verses by skomorokhs - travelling folk clowns - belong to a different chapter of Novgorod's artistic life, and form an independent aspect of its culture to be dealt with separately.
Old Novgorod's significance to Russian cultural history is exceptionally great. Novgorodian painting was the first to attract the attention of art collectors and art historians by its outstanding aesthetic merits. Novgorodian frescoes made the public realize the value of all ancient Russian art. Novgorodian church architecture, though simple in its outward form, has an artistic impact of enormous power. Novgorodian manuscript books, works of literature, legends, and bylinas brilliantly exemplify the high literary culture of ancient Rus. Birch - bark documents of the eleventh to fifteenth centuries, found by archaeologists in large numbers, testify to widespread literacy among the population of Novgorod and its territories.
And finally, having escaped devastation by Mongol - Tatar invaders, Novgorod played a part of immense importance to the history of Russian culture as a repository of the spiritual treasures of Kievan Rus, and as a guardian of the ancestral cultural traditions of the Russian people.