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Chapter 3

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 5

 p59  Chapter IV

* * * *

(The numbers link directly to the sections.)

(17) Political, (18) Social and (19) Economic Conditions in the Kievan State.

* * * *

(17) Political Conditions in the Kievan State.

The political organization of the State was based on two principles: the power of the prince and the opinion of the population represented in the viche, a popular assembly akin to the Anglo Saxon "Folk moot". All the princes belonged to the Scandinavian dynasty of Rurik, local tribal dynasties previous to the Northmen having, at least in Ukraine, disappeared very early. Though the princes considered all East Slavic lands as lands of the "Rus" belonging to their clan or family, still they had to reckon with an old institution like the viche. Undoubtedly the viche as an organ of the sovereign people embodied a principle much older than the monarchic power, but at the period of the organization of the State by the Scandinavians the monarchic power took the uppermost place because of the armed force the princes had at their disposal, their military followers being called druzhina, corresponding to the Anglo Saxon Gesith. Under Vladimir the Great and Yaroslav the Wise, the Kievan State was comparatively centralized, and the viche was left in the background, having only local importance and the functions of local self-government. But with the weakening of centralization after Yaroslav's death, meetings of the viche again became customary. This is most apparent in the question of the succession. There was in existence a practice rather than actual law of succession to the throne, especially that of Kiev, up to the end of the Eleventh century, showing that the clan principle was at least partly observed by the sons and descendants of Yaroslav. The deceased prince was followed by his brother next in age, or in default of a brother, by the eldest son, who in his turn was followed not by his son but by his brother.  p60 This practice was, however, as often broken as observed. At the same time there was growing in importance the principle of succession in a direct line, the eldest son succeeding his father and disregarding his uncles. It was this principle that the viche or local representatives of the people supported, when they were given or had seized sometimes power. Certainly, the expulsion by the viche of an unpopular prince and invitation of another is to be considered as abnormal proceedings and rather of exceptional or revolutionary character. We know, however, of several such occurrences, as for instance, the expulsion in 1068 of the Prince Iziaslav Yaroslavich by the viche of Kiev, when in his stead they set up Vseslav, a prince of the local dynasty of Polotsk. Or for instance, when the Kievan viche in 1113 elected Vladimir Monomach, and later on gave constant support to his house. Princes invited by the viche had to accept certain conditions on oath. The communities inviting the prince and negotiating with him were indifferent as to whether he were entitled to occupy that throne or not, according to the rule of succession. Having elected a prince the community did not, however, interfere with his foreign or home policy of which he was complete master. Generally speaking, the viche in the Ukraine never had the importance which it acquired, for instance, in Novgorod, or Pskov, and other northern towns which strictly speaking were republics. According to the Chronicles, the most important viche on Ukrainian territory was the viche of Kiev, but even its functions were of an extraordinary character: such as the expulsion of a prince or election of another, a disastrous war, an imminent danger, express necessity of reforms, financial difficulties, and such like exceptional events.

At the end of the Eleventh century and during the whole of the Twelfth century when the Kievan State was practically broken up into several princedoms with their own dynasties at the head, the old clan practice of succession was upheld in Chernigov longer than elsewhere, though also not exclusively. The supremacy of the Kievan  p61 crown lost, of course, its significance with the breaking up of its central power, and the title of the Great Prince of Kiev carried with it only an honorary meaning. Still "the golden throne of Kiev", as it is phrased in the Chronicle, had a historical tradition and continued to attract princes, though its political importance had long ago disappeared.

The princes of the Scandinavian dynasty were immediately surrounded by a class of men that ranked above the population. These were their military followers, called "druzhina". At first they lived in the palace, and sharing with the prince "fire and bread" belonged thus to his household. At that time they were almost exclusively Scandinavians, as is seen from the names that have come down to us. From the last half of the Eleventh century the followers (druzhina) were mostly of local origin. The eldest or more important among them besides being warriors, also held offices in the State, and if assembled, constituted the political Council of the prince. The composition of this Council was not regulated by any law, but seems to have depended purely on local usages and customs. Sometimes besides these councillors, or as they began to be called "boyars", municipal and local representatives sat in the prince's council. Vladimir Monomach in his "Instruction to his children" advises them "to sit down and take counsel with the 'druzhina'."

The court of a prince, besides being the monarch's household, had also the functions of State, as was usually the case in primitive forms of State organization everywhere in Central and Western Europe. We have records about the officials of a court of the prince from the Twelfth century. At their head was the "dvorski" which corresponded to "palatinus" or "comes palatii" and "maire du palais" (Steward). There was also a Keeper of the Seal or Chancellor, Gentlemen of the Bedchamber and others. The property of the prince and the necessities of his household were administered by his keykeepers and "tiuns" who, although often of obscure origin, as for example  p62 liberated slaves, carried out administrative and judicial functions as his lieutenants.

All the power, administrative, military, and juridical, was concentrated in the hands of the prince, and theoretically he was expected to carry out personally all the functions, and only in his absence, confer them on others. Vladimir Monomach advised the prince not to rely on the officials, and as far as possible do everything himself. With the growth and development of the State, this became, of course, impossible, and the prince was forced to rely on appointed officials, military and administrative, and on judges. The druzhina of the prince alone were of course insufficient for the defence of the land and for wars and campaigns. For that purpose military forces furnished by the population were put at his disposal. This popular army was divided into "hundreds" and "thousands" with corresponding leaders at their head, who although elected at first, became appointed by the prince and were then his officials.

18. Social Conditions in the Kievan State.

The druzhina of the prince and his officials constituted a small class of "prince's men". With the exception of this class and a small class of "church men", men who stood under the protection of the church, the rest of the free population were either country people or town people according to their way of living. There was an upper class consisting of great landowners and rich merchants who were closely connected with the prince's boyars. They were known under the name of "best men" or "town elders", or simply boyars. They were the land and town aristocracy whose position depended on their wealth, consisting of land, possessions or trade. Between this upper class and the rest of the free population there was no unsurmountable barrier, that is to say, these classes were in no case castes: every free man according to his personal merit or good fortune, was entitled to become follower of the prince, and the lower classes of the free population according to their changed circumstances  p63  could rise to the boyar group. All free men enjoyed political rights and had a voice in the "viche". This equality of rights did not prevent economic differences, which were very striking. Rich boyars oppressed and exploited the poorer classes of small traders and artisans, and we know of grave discontents and violent disorders such as the uprisings of 1068 and 1113 in Kiev.

The peasants at this period were small freeholders occupying and cultivating their own land. There was also a class of land tillers who though free, had no land of their own and worked for other landowners for a share of the harvest. They were often liable to become slaves through debts.

Quite by itself was the class of "serfs" or "slaves". The chief source of slavery was war, but in addition to prisoners of war who became slaves, debt and bankruptcy carried with them a loss of personal freedom. A slave had no rights whatever; he could not, for example, bear witness in court. If someone killed a slave he had to make good the loss to his owner for any material damage, but he remained otherwise unpunished. Christianity contributed to the amelioration of the situation of serfs and slaves.

The organization of the Church brought with it the formation of a special small class known as "men of the Church" which consisted not only of the clergy, priests and monks and servants of the Church, but also of serfs and slaves bequeathed or given to the Church as well as beggars, cripples, orphans and homeless old people who sought the protection and charity of the Church. This was not a distinct, well defined class: it comprised people of different social classes and their belonging to this group was often accidental.

The introduction of Christianity and intercourse with Byzantium also influenced legislation and jurisprudence. Byzantine influence was especially felt in the ecclesiastical legislation, in the so‑called Church Statutes of Vladimir the Great and Yaroslav.

 p64  In the domain of the secular law, however, old Ukrainian law remained practically independent. We possess the first attempts to set down the old custom in writing in the first half of the Eleventh century. This is the so‑called "Ruska Pravda". The text of this code was discovered in 1738 and first published in 1767. Later on a great number of different copies of this interesting document were found. There exist four different versions of the "Ruska Pravda". The first and the shortest is drawn up under 17 heads, and is attributed to Yaroslav the Wise. The second version, much more elaborate and far‑reaching, dates from the time of the Kievan prince Iziaslav Yaroslavich. The third, the most elaborate with its 135 paragraphs is also the best known, more than 40 copies having been found. It belongs to the reign of Vladimir Monomach. Finally, the fourth version is a short compilation of the last two. "Ruska Pravda" was not, as it would seem, the official code of law in use, but was set down probably by some clerical persons. This fact, however, does not diminish the historical value of the document, which is very important for the study of old Ukrainian law. It contains the code of Civil and Penal law. Fines for different crimes and offences against the law are therein set forth. The fines in money were paid by the offender and the amount was divided between the prince, as representing the offended law, and the victim. In a case of murder, for instance, part of the money paid by the murderer, the so‑called "vira" went to the prince, the rest to the kinsmen of the slain man. The same procedure was known among the Anglo-Saxon as "wer‑gild". In case of lesser offences part of the fine was given to the injured party as his damages. The chief source of the "Ruska Pravda" was the practice in the courts. Along with the practice of fines "Ruska Pravda" recognizes the older custom: the right of the kinsmen to avenge the murder. Corporal punishment was given only to serfs and slaves. Very high fines are set for offences against private honor, which is significant as showing the high conception of honor. In the portions on the Civil law  p65 there are sections about rights of property, its succession, sales, and acquisition, about money-lending and the like.

19. Economic Conditions in the Kievan State.

Economic affairs in the Ukraine of the Tenth to the Thirteenth centuries were based on the primitive natural economy of production and distribution, with preponderance of extraction of raw material for export and exchange, over manufacturing, or generally speaking, of extensive economy over intensive. Finally, hunting, fishing and primitive bee‑keeping gradually gave place to cattle-breeding and agriculture. In the Tenth century, however, agriculture was already highly developed. We have records of wheat, rye, barley, oats, flax, peas, poppy (for seed) being cultivated. In the Eleventh and Twelfth centuries we know of landed property being sold, given, or inherited, as well as confiscated. For the "Ruska Pravda" we know of heavy fines being inflicted for encroachment of the bounds of landed property. The origin of property in land was by the occupation of free areas and the introduction of culture on them. Stretches once cultivated could be sold or otherwise disposed of, as they had now a market value. Land property where serf or slave labor was provided was the most valuable. Some economists think that the conception of land as private property grew out of slavery, land being plenti­ful and labor scarce. "This is my land because my serfs till it".

Examining the conditions of landed property in Ukraine in the Tenth to the Thirteenth centuries we find a complete analogy with the social structure in Central and Western Europe: feudalism was the system that prevailed throughout the Ukraine. Especially it was developed in the Galician-Volynian princedom.

As in Western Europe land property constituted in the Ukraine the economic basis of national wealth as well as the basis of the political and social structure of the State. The whole was based upon the feudal principle of rendering military service and obedience by lesser vassals in the feudal hierarchy to their tenants-in‑chief  p66 for the possession of land. The difference between the feudal system in the Ukraine and that in Western Europe was only in the historical process of feudalisation. In Western and Central Europe great barons came immediately after the king in the feudal scale, whereas in the Ukraine the numerous lesser princes were tenants-in‑chief and vassals to the Great Prince of Kiev, and their own immediate vassals were their military followers, or the boyars, who in their turn had their vassals and followers who held land from them.

Another important feature lay in the fact that the great mass of Ukrainian peasants were at that time not serfs but small freeholders engaged in agriculture in peace time and bound to military service in wartime, something like the English yeomen.

Besides the feudal social structure of Ukraine the towns and the town population played a very important part in the historical development. Ukrainian historians in studying the early mediaeval culture of our country are unanimous in attributing the creative and organizing part to the town aristocracy whose wealth was derived from foreign trade. Indeed, it was through the trade with foreign lands that the principal Ukrainian towns such as Kiev, Chernigov, Pereyaslav and others came into existence, and grew, and prospered. From time immemorial these towns were central and convenient points where foreign merchants brought their goods to be bartered for local products. Local merchants were supported and protected by the Northmen, military adventurers, who also were traders. It was through the Scandinavians that Slavic and strictly speaking Ukrainian merchants were introduced into the wider international trade which the Scandinavians organized with the daring and adventurous spirit wholly lacking in the Slavs. The principal achievement of the Scandinavian dynasty was that of organization and the regular protection of international trade by military power.

The foreign trade of the Ukraine was, as we have  p67 said, carried on with Byzantium and the East, and the Balkans, and with Poland, Hungary, Bohemia and Germany in the West. The most important trade routes were of course, the rivers. The Dnieper, which used to be the main trade route of the country, was even called in the Kievan Chronicle "the route from the Scandinavians (Variags) to the Greek". The river Desna on the left and the Pripet on the right were important inner trade channels as well as other lesser tributaries of the Dnieper river system in which Kiev occupied a most convenient and central place. The Dniester served also as a trade route. It was navigable then from the town Halich down to the Black Sea. As well as water routes, there were also routes across the land. We read in the Chronicle about three of the most important roads. The Greek road led from Kiev down to the south and ended in the Crimea, where important Greek (Byzantine) colonies lay. The Zalozny road led from Kiev eastwards to the river Don and down to the Azov Sea. The Salt road led to the salt lakes in Northern Crimea. There were, of course, also other roads and Kiev lay at their junctions. In order to pass over from one river system to another there were portages. For example, going up the river Samara, the southernmost left tributary of the Dnieper, the boats were portaged to the river Kalmius that flows into the Azov Sea. More striking still, the boats going up the Dnieper were carried overland to the river Lovat, that flows into the lake Ilmen and thence down to the Baltic. Rivers at that time used to be deeper and carried far more water. In our day, at the bottom of small rivers, remnants of boats have been found, so large that we can hardly believe they were used on these streams.

The chief exports to Byzantium were slaves, bees wax, honey, hide and cattle, furs, dried fish and corn. Imported from Byzantium were woven materials, wines, and other luxuries. From the East, the Ukraine imported fine woven materials, spices and perfumes, precious stones and jewelry, such as, plate, rings, bracelets, earrings, pins, and buckles, all being artistically wrought  p68 objects that are now abundantly found in the archaeological excavations in the Ukraine.

Commercial relations with Byzantium were regulated, as we have seen, by special commercial and peace treaties very elaborately drawn up.

In addition to trade with Poland and Hungary, the nearest neighbors, Western European trade was carried on with Prague, Regensburg on the Danube, Vienna and other cities. Regensburg, for example, had in Kiev, in the Twelfth century, its own commercial court of representatives. The west European traders exported from the Ukraine hides, furs, corn, cattle, horses, Byzantine and Oriental goods. They imported weapons, wrought metal and objects of wood, woven materials and so on. An important part in the trade was played by German Jews. In Kiev, numerous foreigners were settled, such as, Poles, Greeks, Jews, Armenians, not only merchants, but artisans and small traders.

The inland trade was also very fully developed. Northern provinces brought to Kiev, principally furs, and took from Kiev, grain and foreign goods. From Kolomya in Galicia, salt was brought into the Ukraine. Polovtsi sold horses and cattle to the Ukrainians and bought grain from them.

The trade was carried on by caravans because of the insecurity of roads due to the robbers. Trading required commercial capital and credit which was very expensive, as interest rates were excessive. It was constantly regulated by the princes; for instance, Vladimir Monomach limited it to 40% per year. "Ruska Pravda" gives an important place to commercial relations and sometimes it was called, not without reason, "the code of commercial capital".

From abundant archaeological numismatical finds we have exact knowledge of the old Ukrainian coinage. There are also many references to it in the "Ruska Pravda" and occasionally in the Chronicles. Owing to flourishing foreign trade, foreign money was also current. In the archaeological excavations from the Seventh to the  p69 Ninth centuries Arabic, Byzantine and Scandinavian coins are found in great quantities. The first local monetary system was in valuable furs, a marten skin or "kuna" being used as the unit. It was replaced by a silver unit called "hrivna". Its weight was ⅓ pound in silver and it had the form of a silver bar. It was also cut into smaller weights. In the reign of Vladimir the Great, stamped gold and silver coins appear, of a weight of about 6 grams, respectively. The coins were stamped with the likeness of the prince and his coat of arms, a trident.

Commercial relations with the East were soon interrupted by the invasion of the nomads which obstructed the road leading to the Caspian and the Caucasus. Relations with Byzantium were also rendered difficult. Nevertheless, the Eleventh and Twelfth centuries are considered to be the flourishing period of Kievan trade.

Economic development produced a rich material and spiritual culture, the centre of which was Kiev. In order to present a true picture of the Kievan State in the Tenth to the Twelfth centuries, some of the more important of these features must be considered.

Thietmar of Merseburg, in Germany, who visited Kiev in 1018, left a description in which he relates that there were in Kiev, 400 churches, 8 market places and "countless numbers of people". Adam of Bremen speaks of Kiev in 1072 as a rival to Constantinople and "a jewel of Greece". The records of the travellers are corroborated by the remains in Kiev of the monuments of that time. If we take into consideration only a few, the beauti­ful Saint Sophia built by Yaroslav the Wise, finished in 1037; the convents Pecherski, Saint Michel and Saint Cyril; the remnants of other buildings with their sculptures, frescoes and mosaics; and consider the objects excavated, especially jewelry and the well known Kievan enamel; we will not think the information left to us by contemporary travellers is exaggerated. Architectural monuments of the same time are also to be found in  p70 Chernigov. The cathedral of Chernigov was begun in 1024 and is thus contemporary with Saint Sophia in Kiev. In Kaniv, Pereyaslav, Volodimir in Volynia, Ovruch, Bilhorodka, Halich and other towns on the wide plains of the middle Dnieper, are found similar remains.

Contemporary Ukrainian literature also shows a brilliant development of original local growth. There is also evident, foreign literary influences, chiefly Byzantine. Thirty original Ukrainian literary relics of the Eleventh century, incorporated in manuscripts of later time, have come down to us, and sixty-five of the Twelfth century. Among these there are works of great historic and literary value, such as Sermons of the Metropolitan Hilarion, Epistles of Cyril, Bishop of Turiv, of Clement Smolyatich, the Chronicle of Kiev; and finally a precious fragment of the more extensive epics of the Twelfth century, the "Tale of the Expedition of Igor" (Slovo o polku Igoreve), which relates the historic campaign led by the princes of Siveran territories in 1187 against the Polovtsi. Together with fragments of tales of military exploits of the princes' druzhina that have come down to our time inserted in the Kievan and Galician and Volynian Chronicles, this epic poem is the greatest literary monument of the old Ukrainian Golden Age. So much for the original works of the old Ukrainian literature, which, with the exception of this heroic epic and the Chronicles, took the form, here as elsewhere, of works of religious and moral edification.

Translations, mostly from the Greek, constituted, also, an important part of the literary relics of the Kievan period. Religious works prevail here also. Besides the translation of the Gospel and Bible, liturgical and other church books, lives of Saints and works of the Fathers of the Church, we have, also, contemporary fiction, such as, tales of Barlaam and Josaphat, the Destruction of Troy, the Tale of Alexander, a rich literature of Apocrypha, and a series of translations and compilations of popular works on geography, and astronomy, complete the literary inheritance of the Kievan period.

 p71  Prof. Platonov says that Kiev, at this time, was the trading post, not only between the south and the north, Scandinavia and Byzantium, but also, between the East and the West, between Europe and Asia. In the city were Polish, Jewish, German, Greek and Armenian quarters. Quiet agricultural pursuits mingled here with the noise and activity of commercial traffic. Life here was many-sided. Through trading, the population came into touch with different nations and this contributed to the accumulation of wealth and knowledge. Conditions were favorable here for the growth and development of culture, which soon flourished to a high degree. Enlightenment brought about by the introduction of Christianity was sheltered and flourished in numerous convents, acquiring many friends and protectors. We know that the new Christian moral teaching was most success­ful in overcoming the pagan coarseness and barbarity. We meet here princes who read and collect books, who order translations of foreign works. We see here the development of schools and teaching under the protection of the Church. We admire works of art, frescoes and mosaics made by local artists after the Greek fashion and read works of enlightened Ukrainian theologians.

Kiev, the capital of the Kievan State, was then the oldest and most important centre of culture in the whole of Eastern Europe. Its influence was decisive for the growing towns in Great Russia, such as Novgorod, Suzdal, Vladimir on the Kliazma, Rostov and later Moscow. Churches and palaces and public buildings were built and adorned after the Kievan fashion. In all these new centres literary works were indebted to Kievan authors, whose works were copied and imitated. The influence of Kiev was also felt in the West, in Poland and Bohemia and Ukrainian works of arts and crafts were known and admired in France and in Germany. When the prince of Kiev, Iziaslav Yaroslavich, banished from the Ukraine, fled to Germany and appeared at the court of the German Emperor Henry IV, in Mainz, the wealth and magnificence of his clothes, his weapons, and the treasures he brought  p72 with him from Kiev were greatly admired and commented on by German Chroniclers.

The standard of culture in the Ukraine of the Tenth, Eleventh and Twelfth centuries was by no means below that of the other new nations in Western Europe. As for their nearest neighbors, Poles, Hungarians and others, historians investigating their early relations with the Ukraine recognize without hesitation the superiority of the latter.

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