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Chapter 1

This webpage reproduces a chapter of

History of the Ukraine
By Dmytro Doroshenko

printed by
The Institute Press, Ltd.
Edmonton, Alberta,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 3

 p33  Chapter II

 * * * *

(The numbers link directly to the sections.)

(8) First Kievan Princes. (9) Christianity in Ukraine. (10) Vladimir (Volodimir) the Great. (11) Yaroslav the Wise. (12) International Position of the Kievan State.

 * * * *

(8) First Kievan Princes.

The coming of the Northmen and the formation of the Kievan princedom wrought great changes in the life of the local population. Cities on the Dnieper and the Desna became centres of political life. Tribal interests retreated into the background and gave place to state interests. The process of the formation of the Kievan Princedom was a rapid one, the necessary elements being already at hand in local organizations.

Quite naturally Kiev became the centre of the new state. The first steps taken by the new rulers led them to the south: a succession of campaigns against Constantinople. One of the first princes, Oleg (879‑914)1 appears in the Chronicles as a success­ful leader of these wars. We possess the text of his treaty with the Greeks in 911 by which he obtained a war contribution from them and the privilege of trading without the usual customs. The treaty lays down the basis of relations between the Greek and Ukrainian traders. Ukrainian merchants arriving in Constantinople had the right to stay there six months and received the necessary food supplies for the return voyage. Quarters outside the city in the precincts of the convent of Saint Mama​a were assigned to them. They were allowed to enter the city only in small groups of about fifty men, without their arms and accompanied by Greek officials. The treaty provided also a code for law suits between the Greek and Ukrainian merchants and special regulations about cases of shipwreck, about rights of succession to the belongings of an Ukrainian merchant  p34 who died on Greek territory, about permission for Ukrainians to enlist in the imperial guards and so on. This treaty being the first legal document preserved has great importance for the history of the old Ukrainian law, and a considerable number of investigators have written scholar­ly books concerning it.

Oleg's successor, the Prince Igor (914‑945), continued the policy of uniting Ukrainian tribes under the central power of Kiev. In his turn he started a campaign against Byzantium (941) but was not as success­ful as Oleg. Also he made a treaty with Byzantium (944) the text of which has been preserved. It provides regulations for the diplomatic and commercial relations of the two countries. Ukrainians were bound not to interfere with Greek colonies in Crimea, they bound themselves to protect the imperial territory from the invasions of nomadic Bulgarians, and they were allowed to fish in the mouth of the Dnieper. The treaty had to be ratified in Kiev.

Under Prince Igor the supremacy of the Kievan State over the territory was almost complete. About twenty local princes acknowledged him as their over­lord. His son Sviatoslav was his lieutenant in Novgorod.

[image ALT: A map of eastern Europe and western Asia extending from a small part of Sweden in the NW to Azerbaijan in the SE. It shows the northern two-thirds of the Black Sea, most of the Baltic and the northern half of the Caspian Sea, and the river systems flowing into them; on this territory a bold border is drawn around about half the land area, from the northern part of Crimea to a bit north of today's St. Petersburg, from slightly east of the Vistula to the westernmost bend of the Volga. Within that border, representing the Kievan State in the 10th and 11th centuries, are shown about 20 cities, including Novgorod, Pskov, Suzdal, Smolensk, Kyiv, Pereyaslav, Halich, and Novgorod-Sieversk, as well as a non-Slav tribe, the Pechenegs, in the area bordering the north of the Azov Sea. Outside the border are indicated the Finns in the far north, the Polovtsi in the far east just north of the Caspian Sea, and the nation-states of Poland and Hungary in the west, as well as one city, Bolgar on the Volga.]

The Kievan State in the Tenth and Eleventh Centuries

[A larger version, in which the placenames are more easily readable, opens here (1 MB).]

The Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus (913‑959) left us in his writings a description of how Kievan princes governed their lands. In November, he tells us, a Kievan prince with his followers started on a round of visits to the tribes who recognized his supremacy: Drevlyane, Dregovichi, Krivichi, Sieveryane and others. During the whole winter he travelled thus, taking the tribute in products of their lands and dispensing justice. In April he returned by water to Kiev, sailing down the Desna or Pripet or Dnieper. A trading fleet was then got under sail from Kiev to Constantinople in order to sell there the collected products.

9. Christianity in Ukraine

Intercourse with Byzantium was not of course limited to war or trade only. The influence of Byzantine culture very soon found its way into Ukrainian towns. Igor's wife  p35 Olga was one of the first to be converted to Christianity. She was a very active and clever princess and ruled the princedom after Igor's death for several years (945‑957). Resolved to accept Christianity, she began negotiation with the German Emperor, Otto the Great, in order to have a bishop sent to her from the West. Soon, however, she made up her mind to go to Constantinople herself to be baptized there. Constantine Porphyrogenitus left a very detailed record of this visit. Princess Olga was a proto­type of later Ukrainian women of the Cossack period who as wives of Hetmans and Colonels, in the absence of their husbands at war, ruled the country, edited Universals (manifestos) and took, on the whole, an active part in politics.

Sviatoslav (957‑972), son of Olga and Igor, was a typical Scandinavian viking. Fond of wars and military adventures he spent his life in the field carrying on warfare, conquering new lands, and finding out new trading routes and new markets. He succeeded in establishing the supremacy of Kiev over all the East Slavic tribes, and extended his authority to several Finnish tribes that lived between the upper Volga and the Oka. He defeated the Bulgarians on the Volga and destroyed their capital Bolgar (near Kazan). Then he turned against the Khazars, conquered them and destroyed their strongholds, Sarkel on the Don, and Itil at the mouth of the Volga. Now the way to the East was open to direct trade relations without any intermediaries as the power of the Khazars was broken. But the downfall of the Khazars, who during three centuries had protected the Kievan State from the pressure of nomadic hordes from the East, had fatal consequences for the Slavs: already during Sviatoslav's lifetime the hordes of Pechenegs invaded the Ukrainian steppe. They came as far as Kiev and held for a certain time the city in a close blockade. Having defeated the Khazars, Sviatoslav made war against the Caucasian tribes for the possession of the Greek colony Tamatarka, named in the Ukrainian Chronicles Tmutorokan, on the  p36 Taman peninsula,​b and established his rule in the basin of the Kuban.

In the meantime Byzantine diplomacy dragged him into their Bulgarian policy. The usual tactics of Byzantium was to set one barbarian people against another. In 968 Sviatoslav defeated the Bulgarians on the Danube and occupied East Bulgaria. He wished to remain there permanently and close Pereyaslavets (near the mouth of the Danube) as his residence. We read in the Kievan Chronicle that when asked to return to Kiev he answered: "I wish to live on the Danube. Here is the centre of my land, all goods are brought here: silks, gold, wine and fruit from the Greeks; silver and horses from the Czechs and the Hungarians; from the Rus come furs, honey, wax and slaves". But he was not allowed to remain in Bulgaria since his successes against the Bulgarians alarmed the Greeks. The emperor John Tzimisces, himself took the field against Sviatoslav. The same Chronicle has preserved for us Sviatoslav's admonition to his warriors in this battle: "Let us stand firm, let us not cover our land with shame. It is better to be slain in battle than taken prisoner, because the dead do not feel shame". In spite of his bravery, Sviatoslav was forced to abandon Bulgaria and return to Kiev. On the way there he was attacked by the Pechenegs near the rapids of the Dnieper, and slain in 972.

10. Vladimir (Volodimir) the Great.

After a short strife among Sviatoslav's sons, Vladimir (Volodimir), surnamed the Great (980‑1015), took the upper hand, having destroyed his brothers Yaropolk and Oleg. He inherited the warlike nature of his father and continued his policy in uniting about Kiev all the Eastern Slavic tribes and consolidating his power. He took back from Poland the towns of Przemysl (Peremishl), Cherven and others, uniting thus the ethnographical territory of the Ukraine.

But the chief event of Vladimir's reign was his conversion to Christianity. The Chronicle dates it in the year  p37 988. The introduction of Christianity and the organization of the Church was a step of great importance in the cultural development of the Eastern Slavs. Everything leads us to the conclusion that this change was gradually prepared by long preceding relations with the Christian Byzantium and that the official act of the prince in accepting Christianity for himself and his people was made without any opposition or relapses into heathenism, as was often the case in Western Europe. The Eastern Slavs on the whole had not an established form of cult nor a developed religious system. They had, of course, a mythology and worshipped such gods as: Dazhboh or Khors, personification of the sun; Perun, of thunder; Striboh, of the winds; Svaroh, of the moon; and many others. But these gods had no clearly defined personality nor sharply delimited functions. There is no record of temples, or organized priesthood whose place seems to have been occupied by wizards and sorcerers. Vague and undefined beliefs easily gave way to the highly organized Byzantine Christian Church.

There are historical records according to which Christian propaganda among the Eastern Slavs came not only from Byzantium, but also from Rome. We also know of the existence of a Christian cult at a very early age in the Crimea and in the present Taman. During the Eleventh century Christianity spread steadily in Kiev. Thus during Igor's reign there was a Christian church in Kiev consecrated to the prophet Elijah, and among Igor's followers were many Christians, probably Scandinavians. It is supposed that Olga and her eldest grandson Yaropolk (son of Sviatoslav) tried to initiate direct relations with Rome. Vladimir, however, decided for the Greek Church. Ukrainian Chronicles, later on influenced by the clergy, were silent concerning these relation­ships with the Western Church. About Vladimir's conversion there is a legend preserved in the Chronicle. It is told that Vladimir, dissatisfied with the heathen religion, was for a long time uncertain what faith he should accept instead, whether the Mohammedan from the Bulgarians who  p38 lived beyond the Volga, or the Jewish from the Khazars, or the Roman from the Germans, or the Greek from Byzantium. He sent delegates into different lands to report to him which faith was the best. His choice then fell on Byzantium. Not wishing, however, to be indebted to Byzantium he started a war against them by laying siege to Chersonesus, a Byzantine colony in Crimea (near Sebastopol). Having taken Chersonesus he made it a condition of peace that the Greek princess Ann, sister of the Emperors Basil and Constantine, should be given to him to wife. Vladimir's conversion was a consequence of this alliance. This legend is based on some facts, though Chersonesus was not the place where Vladimir's baptism took place. It is more probable that it was in Kiev or Vassilkiv, near Kiev.

The newly founded Ukrainian Church was dependent on Constantinople. To the metropolitan see founded in Kiev was appointed a Greek metropolitan. For several years afterward Greeks and only Greeks were appointed to this important post which, as we shall see later, led to protests from the Ukrainian clergy. Several bishoprics were founded: in Kiev, Chernigov, Pereyaslav, Turiv, Bilhorod, Volodimir and Tmutorokan. Later on bishoprics in the Great Russian lands of the Kievan state were founded in Novgorod and in Rostov.

Christian church service books had been already translated from the Greek into a Slavonic language (that adopted by the Bulgarians on the Danube) which was understood by the Eastern Slavs. These books were brought to Kiev. Herewith began the division or the duality of languages in Ukraine, the language used by the Church and the learned, though understood by the population was distinct from the language they spoke. It is probable that Bulgarian clergy from Okhrida took a certain part in organizing the Ukrainian Church.

The introduction of Christianity into the Kievan princedom opened wide the way to Byzantine influence in all branches of political, social and religious life. Conceptions of state, of law and of social relation were subjected  p39 to Byzantine influence. Churches built by Byzantine architects were followed by the introduction of Greek secular architecture. Kiev soon was adorned with churches and monasteries as well as with palaces built in the Byzantine style; streets and public places were decorated by bronze statues from Chersonesus. Byzantine architecture, arts and crafts took a firm hold in Kiev and other towns. At the end of Vladimir's reign Kiev was a rich and civilized city greatly admired by foreign travellers. Thietmar bishop of Merseburg (Northern Germany) who visited Kiev in 1018, wrote in his travels concerning the four hundred churches he saw in Kiev, the eight market places and the "countless masses of population".

After the death of Vladimir the Great (1015) his sons, by different mothers, fought among themselves for the possession of Kiev. The real meaning of this struggle for supremacy is obliterated for us by the Chronicle and the clerical tradition which glorified as martyrs the two youngest sons of Vladimir, Boris and Gleb, slain by their eldest brother Sviatopolk. He also destroyed his third brother Sviatoslav and seized Kiev. His intention, evidently, was to keep united the East Slavic lands under the supremacy of Kiev and not to let them be divided among the brothers. He was, however, defeated by another brother, Yaroslav, who was his father's representative in Novgorod.

11. Yaroslav the Wise.

Yaroslav, who received in history the surname of Wise (1019‑1054), disputed Kiev with his brother Sviatopolk. In this struggle he was supported by his ally the German Emperor, Henry II. He had also a strong army which he had collected in Scandinavia. Sviatopolk in his turn, had the support of the Polish king Boleslav, whose daughter he married. He also allied himself to the Pechenegs. At first Yaroslav occupied Kiev, but Sviatopolk with the Polish help took it from him (1018) and the city was plundered by the Polish army. Boleslav returned  p40 with a rich spoil carrying among the prisoners also a sister of Yaroslav, the princess Predslava. He also took back the northern Galician towns with Peremishl (Przemysl).

Sviatopolk was, however, not long victorious. With the help of the Northmen Sviatoslav defeated him in a cruel battle on the river Alta (1019) and took Kiev. Sviatopolk was obliged to fly "among the Lekhs and the Czechs, where he ended his wicked life," as we are told by the Kievan Chronicle, who did not approve of him and gave the surname of "Cain".

Yaroslav had, however, to fight for the supremacy with his last brother Mstislav, who during his father's life ruled the far Tmutorokan. Yaroslav was defeated by Mstislav in the battle of Listven (near Chernigov), 1024. This battle is especially dwelt upon in the Chronicle. There were probably long preserved traditions about it, and even folk songs. The brothers settled their strife amicably by dividing the Ukraine along the Dnieper. Yaroslav took the right bank with Kiev, Mstislav the left with Chernigov. They reigned henceforth in peaceful understanding. After the death in 1034 of Mstislav, who was childless, the inheritance of Vladimir the Great was once again united under the sway of Yaroslav.

12. International Position of the Kievan State.

This peaceful arrangement enabled the Kievan State to recover the losses caused during the period of unsettlement. Thus Yaroslav profiting by disorders in Poland after the death of Boleslav (1025), recovered the Galician towns. He even made alliance with the new king Casimir by giving him his sister in marriage and marrying his son Iziaslav to Casimir's sister.

He also rounded out his frontiers in the north-west by annexing the Finnish tribes in the present Esthonia, where he founded the town Yurlev (present Dorpat, or Tartu). Yaroslav's son Vladimir, whom he appointed to rule Novgorod in his name, carried on warfare with northern and north-eastern Finnish tribes in the present North Russia.

 p41  In the direction of the south and south-east only, was Yaroslav obliged to stand on the defensive. He dealt to the Pechenegs a decisive blow in a battle near Kiev, after which Ukraine had peace, for a certain time at least, on this frontier, until new nomadic hordes appeared in the steppe, those of the Polovtsi. The danger of these nomads was so real that in order to ward off the attacks Kiev was surrounded with fortifications, traces of which are seen to this time in the form of earthen mounds along the rivers Stuhna and Ros.

Yaroslav's campaign against Byzantium (1043), the last made by the Ukrainians against their church metropolis, was very unsuccess­ful. A fleet against Constantinople was sent under the prince Vladimir Yaroslavich (Yaroslav's son), and a land army under the general Vishata went along the western shores of the Black Sea. Both forces were utterly routed by the Greeks. Part of the Ukrainian fleet was burned down in the Bosporus by the famous Greek fire; the rest turned back followed by the Byzantine fleet which perished in its turn in the mouth of the Dnieper. The land army was defeated near Varna and the prisoners, among whom was Vishata, were all blinded in Constantinople. At last, though not before 1052, peace with Byzantium was concluded, and fortified by the marriage of Yaroslav's son Vsevolod with a Byzantine princess.

But this Byzantine war was only an episode in Yaroslav's, on the whole, very success­ful reign. His princedom reached now from the Baltic to the Caucasus, from the middle Volga to the Carpathians right up to Cracow. In addition to all the East Slavic tribes, quite a number of Finnish tribes in the north and north-east belonged to the Kievan State, as well as some Turkish nomadic people who, after having settled and recognized Kievan supremacy, were intrusted with the defense of those borderlands against other nomads.

Building up and maintaining order in a State of this magnitude was possible not only as the result of success­ful wars, but also of capable diplomacy. From this point of  p42 view the dynastic alliances of Yaroslav are very interesting. The net of these alliances spread over the whole of Europe.

Yaroslav's first wife was Ingigerd, daughter of the Swedish king Olaf. After her death he married Anna, daughter of the Byzantine Emperor. One of his daughters, Elizabeth, was married to the Norwegian king Harold Haardraada, who claimed the English throne as son of Cnut. He invaded England but was slain in the battle of Stamford Bridge (Yorkshire), 1066, by the English king Harold. Another of Yaroslav's daughters, Anna, was married to Henry I, king of France, and after his death and during the minority of her son, Philip I, she ruled the kingdom. There were plans for the German Emperor, Henry III, to marry another daughter of Yaroslav. Though this alliance was not carried out, a son of Yaroslav married a German princess. German Chronicles tell us of a marriage of a daughter of the Landgraf of Saxony to a "rex russorum" and of another "rex russorum" taking the daughter of the Count of Stade to wife. The marriage of the prince Vsevolod with a Greek princess of the house of Monomach has already been mentioned as well as matrimonial alliances with Casimir of Poland.

All these alliances led certainly to the consolidation of Yaroslav's international relations, and increased his importance in Europe. His court in Kiev became a place of refuge to members of European dynasties in adverse circumstances. The Norwegian king, Olaf the Saint, for instance, driven from the kingship by Cnut, the Danish king, fled with his son Magnus to Kiev. Later on Magnus recovered his throne with the help of Yaroslav. The Hungarian princes Andrew and Leventa also took refuge in Kiev and stayed until the Hungarian magnates called them back. This prince Andrew took with him as his wife Yaroslav's daughter, Anastasia.

When Cnut conquered England in 1016, grandsons of the defeated king Aethelred the Unready, and Eadward the Aetheling found refuge in Kiev, from where Eadward returned to England.

 p43  Yaroslav's State, however, was not as firmly consolidated inside as it seemed on the surface. Tendencies to particularism of certain East Slavic tribes, fostered by their geographical and ethnographical conditions, developed gradually into practical independence. The system of government which consisted in the prince-father pla­cing his sons as rulers in his name in different parts of his princedom, contributed of course greatly to it. The desire of certain members of the ruling dynasty to throw off the supremacy of the Kievan prince was favorable to the growing decentralization of the State. After Yaroslav's death in 1054, his princedom was practically divided among his seven sons, who at once started the struggle for the possession of Kiev, which would give the victor supremacy over all others.

The Author's Note:

1 It is of incidental interest to note that Oleg is the contemporary of the English king Alfred the Great.

Thayer's Notes:

a The monastery of Saint Mamas is meant, and — I suspect a translation problem with "precincts" — the reader should not get the idea that the Ukrainian merchants were housed within the grounds of the monastery; but rather, the suburb around the monastery, that had taken its name. It was a port area, clearly convenient for trading purposes. See Bury, History of the Later Roman Empire, I.86 and note.

[decorative delimiter]

b The name of the ancient Greek colony, recorded by Ammian (XXII.8.30) and Strabo (XI.2.10 [495A], XII.3.17 [548D]), was Hermonassa. Tamatarka (properly, it seems, Tamatarcha, as Doroshenko himself has it on p53) was actually the Byzantine Greek transcription of the indigenous name given in Ukrainian as Tmutorokan.

For Tmutorokan itself, see Doroshenko, p53, and especially my note with its link.

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Page updated: 13 Jun 22