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This webpage reproduces a section of

Survey of Ukrainian Historiography
by Dmytro Doroshenko

published by
The Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences
in the U. S., Inc.,

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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West Rus′ Chronicles

 p21  Ukrainian Chronicles:
Chronicles from XI‑XIII Centuries

The oldest monuments of Ukrainian historiography are chronicles, the chronological records of current events kept mostly by monks in monasteries. The writing of the chronicles in the Ukraine began in Kiev in the first decades of the eleventh century. Ukrainian chronicles occupy a prominent place in the European historical literature of that time because of their rich content, depth of historical view, critical approach to the sources, and high artistic quality.

The Oldest (Primary, Original, Nestorian) Chronicle was compiled in Kiev at the beginning of the eleventh century. It has not come down to us in a separate form, and has only been preserved as part of later chronicles which have survived.

There are two variants of the oldest chronicle: 1) Southern, in the Volynian Symposium, completed at the end of the thirteenth century, 2) Northern, in the Suzdal Symposium, completed at the beginning of the fourteenth century.

The oldest texts (codices) of the first variant are:

a) Hypatian (named after Hypatian Monastery near Kostroma, in Rostov-Suzdal Rus′ from approximately 1425.

b) Khlebnikovsky (of Galician origin) written in the sixteenth century, which has several copies.

The oldest texts of the second variant are:

a) Laurentian (after the monk Lavrenti in Suzdal) from approximately 1377.

b) Radyvylivsky or Königsbergian, from the fifteenth century.

c) Troyitsky, from the fifteenth century (burned in 1812 and extant only in copies).

The question of the origin, composition and author­ship of these chronicles is one of the most important. For over one hundred and fifty years Russian and Ukrainian scholars have been working to clarify them. Perhaps the greatest single success  p22 has been achieved in the works of the Russian scholar, A. Shakhmatov.​7

A. Schlötzer was the first to publish the Oldest Chronicle in the Radyvylivsky codex in Rossiiskaya istoricheskaya biblioteka (Russian Historical Library), 1767. Schlötzer believed that the Chronicle was written by Nestor and that there was a basic original text which should be found and reconstructed. Later, however, he admitted that this was a very difficult task and that it was hardly possible to establish where the "Nestorian Chronicle" began and where it ended.

In 1775 G. Miller called attention to the note by Sylvester in the year 1116, which read "Abbot Sylvester of St. Michael's Monastery wrote the book of this chronicle," as indicating the boundary of Nestor's chronicle.

In 1824, the Ukrainian scholar I. Tymkovsky began a new edition of the Chronicle but he only brought it up to 1019.

In the 1820's the Moscow Professor M. Kachenovsky published a whole series of articles in which he attempted to prove that the Chronicle as a whole is a later work and that it contains many forgeries. The writings of Kachenovsky and his pupils, who formed the so‑called "sceptical school" of Russian historical scholar­ship, had this positive effect, that they forced other scholars to study and analyze the chronicles more deeply. Studies by Pogodin, Butkov, Sreznevsky, Gedeonov, Kunik, and the Ukrainian scholar Kostomarov appeared, which shed fresh light on the composite character of the Chronicle, revealing its sources and advancing toward a solution of the problems of author­ship and editor­ship of the individual sections.

The publication of the entire texts was of great assistance to further research. In 1846‑1871 the Russian Imperial Archeographic Commission published Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisei (Complete Collection of the Russian Chronicles) which was reissued in the XX century. In 1871‑72 the same Commission  p23 published phototype editions of the full texts of the Hypatian and Laurentian codices. The Ukrainian scholars M. Kostomarov (Lektsii po russkoi istorii, Lectures on Russian History, St. Petersburg, 1861) and O. Markevych (O letopisyakh, About the Chronicles, Odessa, 1883‑1885) helped a great deal in researches into the earliest as well as later chronicles.

The writings of A. Shakhmatov (1864‑1920) had a profound influence on the study of the chronicles. The first of them, O nachal'nom letopisnom svode (About the Primary Chronicle Compilation) appeared in 1897 in Chteniya rossiiskago obshchestva istorii i drevnostei, and later separately. The results of his work which continued over a period of twenty years are collected in the Razyskanie o drevneishikh russkikh letopisnykh svodakh (Investigation into the Oldest Compilation of Russian Chronicles), St. Petersburg, 1908, a reprint from vol. XX of Letopis' zanyatii arkheographischekoi kommissii. On the basis of his studies Shakhmatov published Povest' vremennykh let (The Tale of Bygone Years), vol. I, introduction, text, notes, St. Petersburg, 1916 (reprint from vol. XXIX of Letopis' zanyatii arkheografischekoi kommissii). Shakhmatov repeated his conclusions in an article "Letopisets Nestor" (The Chronicler Nestor) published in Zapyski Naukovoho Tovarystva im. Shevchenka,​8 Vol. CXXVII‑CXXVIII dedicated to Ivan Franko.​9

A valuable contribution to the study of the chronicles was offered by M. Hrushevsky in the article "Nestor i Litopys" (Nestor and the Chronicle) published in Pryvit, a symposium in honor of Franko, Lviv, 1898, and also in the chapter on the "Oldest Chronicle" in the first volume of the History of Ukraine‑Rus′.

On the basis of research by Shakhmatov and other scholars the following conclusions were reached:

1. The Oldest Kiev Chronicle compilation appeared around 1039, almost simultaneously with the founding of the Metropolitanate  p24 in Kiev and with the erection of the Cathedral of St. Sophia.

The Kievan text begins with an account of the origin of Kiev. Further, the narrative describes the reign of Oleh in Kiev, his campaign against Tsarhorod (Constantinople) where he put his boats on wheels and reached the very walls of the city; the murder of the second prince of Kiev, Ihor, by Derevlyane; the revenge of Olha; the campaigns of Svyatoslav against the Khazars, Vyatychi and the Bulgars; the attack by the Pechenegs on Kiev and their defeat; the war of Svyatoslav against the Greeks in Bulgaria and his death upon his return at the hands of the Pechenegs; the internecine strife between the sons of Sviatoslav and the accession of Volodymyr; the death of the first Christian martyrs in Kiev; the campaigns of Volodymyr; the conversion of the Bulgarian Tsar Borys to Christianity by Cyril the Philosopher; Volodymyr's tests of faith and his baptism; the campaign against Korsun and the construction in Kiev of the Tithe Church; the death and funeral of Volodymyr; the internal struggle between his sons; the murder of Borys and Hlib, their glorification and their miracles; the reign of Yaroslav the Wise up to the time of the consecration of the Cathedral of St. Sophia in Kiev.

2. This Kievan Chronicle was continued from 1039 to 1073 by the monk Nikon the Great (deceased 1088) in the Pechersky Monastery. Bulgarian and Byzantine chronicles, as well as oral historical tradition, sometimes even in the form of versified legends, were the sources of the Kievan Chronicle. In this way the First Kiev-Pechersky Compilation was created.

Nikon, for a time the abbot of Tmutorokan, supplemented this Kievan Compilation with accounts of the activities of Prince Mstyslav Volodymyrovych of Tmutorokan and Siveria; about his war against the Yasy and Kasohy; his fight with the Kasoh chieftain, Rededya; the erection of the Church of Bohorodytsa in Tmutorokan; and the fight between Mstyslav and Yaroslav at Lystven in 1024 giving, at the same time, a general characterization of Prince Mstyslav. Apart from the additions relating to Mstyslav's reign, Nikon extended the Oldest Kievan Compilation. He told of the death of Yaroslav and the legacy to his  p25 children; the distribution of the Kievan State among the sons of Yaroslav; the wars against the nomads — the Torki and the Polovtsi; he inserted a lengthy account of the Pechersky Monastery and of miracles worked by its celebrated monks; narrated the events in Tmutorokan (1064‑1066) and also some local events (the birth of a deformed child which was then drowned in the river); and he ended his work with the year 1073.

3. In 1095 the First Kiev-Pechersky Compilation was supplemented by accounts covering the period 1073‑1093. A new redaction of it was called the Second Kiev-Pechersky Compilation. The compiler of this text used as his sources Greek chronicles, Novgorod and Chernihiv chronicles, the lives of saints and folk legends. In an interesting introduction he told of his deep love of his country and its past glories, mingled with sorrow caused by the evil circumstances present when Rus′-Ukraine was ravaged by wild nomad tribes, while the princes quarreled among themselves and spent their time in the pursuit of pleasure and luxury. The Second Kiev-Pechersky text ends with a sombre reflection on the Polovtsian ruin of the Ukrainian lands. The compiler introduced many new details of the baptism of Volodymyr, borrowed from the so‑called Korsun Legend (of Greek origin), and about the murder of Prince Borys. [. . .] The folk tale of Olha's vengeance against the Derevlyane is also included.

4. According to Shakhmatov, about the year 1112 a new compilation was begun by the monk Nestor, the author of the life of Saint Theodosius Pechersky. He based his work on the Second Compilation but drew his material from new sources also (the chronicle of George Hamartolos and other Greek monuments, and folk legends), and he included in it four treaties concluded between the Kiev princes and the Greeks. The final product was the well-known Povest' vremennykh let (The Tale of Bygone Years), the oldest history of the Ukrainian land, permeated with deep patriotism and most valuable because of its rich political, geographic and ethnographic information (especially about the ethnographic distribution of the Rus′ tribes).

5. In 1116 the abbot of the Vydubetsky Monastery in Kiev, Sylvester, re­edited the Povest' vremennykh let. This second redaction  p26 of Nestor's work was made with the help of a version of the same work by a certain priest Vasyl' from Peremyshl in 1113‑1116. This Vasyl' introduced a dramatic account of the blinding of Prince Vasyl'ko of Terebovlya and some notes on the events of 1097‑1099. All this material was used in the new redaction of Nestor's work by the abbot Sylvester.

6. A year later, in 1117, a third redaction of the Nestorian Povest' appeared which devoted much attention to the contemporary heroic prince — Volodymyr Monomakh — and introduced into the text his famous Pouchenie dityam (Advice to Children), written sometime between 1100 and 1101.

Povest' vremennykh let became the basis of many later chronicles written in Kiev, Chernihiv, Pereyaslav, and also in the Rostov-Suzdal' Rus′ (later Muscovy) and in Byelorussia.

Among these chronicles the following deserve to be mentioned:

1. Kievsky Litopys (The Kiev Chronicle) extends up to the year 1200. It is characterized by dramatic treatment, good literary style, and contains many traces of the living spoken language of the Ukraine. It has come down to us in the Hypatian text (1425).

Apart from events of a country-wide nature, the Kiev Chronicle gives details of local Kievan affairs, the lives of princes, and ecclesiastical activities. The chronicler shows special liking for the Prince Izyaslav Mstyslavych, and dwells in particular on the events which took place in Kiev between 1146 and 1154. There is also a detailed description of events between 1175 and 1185, the war against the Polovtsi (with a statement on their ethnography), and the famous campaign of the Siverian Princes against the Polovtsi in 1185, which became the subject of the Slovo o polku Ihoreve (The Tale of Igor's Host). The Kiev Chronicle ends with a panegyric devoted to Prince Ryuryk on the occasion of the erection of the wall in the Vydubetsky Monastery. M. Hrushevsky regards the author of this panegyric as the last editor of the Kiev Chronicle.

2. Of even greater literary value is the Halyts'ko‑Volynsky Litopys (Galician-Volynian Chronicle) which covers the period from 1201 to 1292. Its author was well acquainted not only with Greek sources and literature (e.g., his knowledge of Homer)  p27 but also with West European sources. He is fond of adorning his narrative with poetical legends (e.g., on Yevshan zillya) and is a master of storytelling. Sincere patriotism and a heightened national consciousness characterize the unknown author of the Galician-Volynian Chronicle. This chronicle gives an accurate picture of internal and external conditions in the Western Ukraine during the entire thirteenth century.

The Galician-Volynian Chronicle is divided into two parts. The first (up to 1261) is pragmatic in character. The author's favorite hero is Prince Daniel; his virtues as a man and statesman are highly extolled and his enemies, mainly the rebellious Galician boyars and troublemakers among the "Tatar peoples," are severely condemned. The second part, composed in all likelihood in Volodymyr, devotes much attention to Prince Vasyl'ko Romanovych, the brother of Daniel. This part resembles more closely the usual chronicle with a yearly record of events, and contains many additions borrowed from various sources, among them the Pinsk Chronicle which has not been preserved.​10

Editions of Chronicles: Povest' vremennykh let po Ipatievskomu spisku (The Chronicle of the Bygone Years According to the Hypatian Text), St. Petersburg, 1871 (phototype edition); Povest' vremennykh let po Laurentievskomu spisku (The Chronicle of the Bygone Years According to the Laurentian Text), St. Petersburg, 1872 (phototype edition); Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisei (Full Collection of Russian Chronicles): vol. I, Lavrentievskaya letopis' (Laurentian Chronicle), Leningrad, 1926‑1927; vol. II, Ipatievskaya letopis' (Hypatian Chronicle), St. Petersburg, 1908; Radzivilovskaya ili Kenigsbergskaya letopis'; izdanie obshchestva lyubitelei drevnei pismennosti t. 98 (Radyvylivsky or Königsbergian Chronicle; Edition of the Society of Amateurs of Old Literature), St. Petersburg, 1902; L. Leibovich, Svodnaya letopis' sostavlennaya po vsem izdannym spiskam (Compiled Chronicle, Edited on the Basis of All Published Texts), vol. I, Povest' vremennykh let, St. Petersburg, p28  1876; A. Shakhmatov, Povest' vremennykh let, t. I (Introduction, Text, Commentaries), St. Petersburg, 1916 (reprint from vol. XXIX of Letopis' zanyatii Arkheographicheskoi Kommissii za 1916 god; A. Petrushevich, Galitsko-volynskaya letopis', Lviv, 1871.


D. I. Abramovich, "K voprosu ob istochnikakh Nestorovogo zhitiya prep. Feodosiya Pecherskago," Izvestiya otdeleniya russkago yazyka i slovesnosti Akademii Nauk, 1898, I; D. Abramovich, Neskol'ko slov v dopolnenie k izsledovaniyu A. A. Shakhmatova "Kievo-Pecherskii Paterik i Pecherskaya letopis'," Izvestiya otdeleniya russkago yazyka i slovesnosti Akademii Nauk, 1898, II; A. Arkhangelsky, "Pervye trudy po izucheniyu nachal'noi russkoi letopisi." Kazan, 1886 (Uchenyya Zapiski Kazanskago universiteta); B. Barvinsky, "Homer v Halyts'kiy litopysi," ZNTSH, vol. CXVII‑CXVIII; K. Bestuzhev-Ryumin, "O sostave russkikh letopisei do kontsa XIV v.," Letopis' zanyatii arkheograficheskoi kommissii, St. Petersburg, 1868, vol. IV; P. Bitsilli, Zapadnoe vliyanie na Rusi i nachal'naya letopis', Odessa, 1914; I. Belyaev, "Khronologiya Nestora i ego prodolzhatelei," Chteniya obshchestva istorii i drevnostei, 1896, II. P. Butkov, Oborona letopisi russkoi ot naveta skeptikov, St. Petersburg, 1840; M. Hrushevsky, "Naydavnisha litopys'," Istoriya Ukrayiny-RusyI; M. Hrushevsky, "Khronolohiya podiy Halyts'ko‑Volynskoyi litopysi," Lviv, 1901, ZNTSH, vol. XLI; M. Hrushevsky, "Do spravy khronolohiyi podiy v Halyts'ko-Volynskiy litopysi," ZNTSH, vol. LII; M. Hrushevsky, "Nestor i litopys'," Pryvit, zbirnyk v chest' Ivana Franka, Lviv, 1898; P. Zabolotsky, "K voprosu ob inozemnykh pis'mennykh istochnikakh Nachal'noi letopisi," Russkii filologicheskii vestnik, 1901; E. Zamyslovsky, "K voprosu o sostave Povesti vremennykh let," Zhurnal ministerstva narodnago prosveshcheniya, kniga 263; V. Istrin, "Letopisnaya povestvovaniya o pokhodakh russkikh knyazei na Tsargrad," Izvestiya otdeleniya russkago yazyka i slovesnosti Akademii Nauk, 1916, II; V. Istrin, "Khronograf Ipatskago spiska letopisi pod 1114 godom," Zhurnal ministerstva narodnago prosveshcheniya,  p29 kniga 314; A. Kirpichnikov, "K literaturnoi istorii russkikh letopisnykh skazanii," Izvestiya otdeleniya russkago yazyka i slovesnosti Akademii Nauk, II, 1; N. Kostomarov, Lektsii po russkoi istorii, St. Petersburg, 1861; A. Markevich, O letopisyakh, Odessa, 1883‑85; A. Nikol'sky, "K voprosu ob istochnikakh letopisnago skazaniya o sv. Vladimire," Khristianskoe Chtenie, 1902, VIII; [. . .] M. Pogodin, Nestor, istoriko-kriticheskoe razsuzhdenie o nachale russkikh letopisei, Moscow, 1839; P. Potapov, "K voprosu o literaturnom sostave Letopisi," Russkii filologicheskii vestnik, vol. LXIII; P. Potapov, "Letopis' i 'Ispovedanie very' Mikhaila Sinkella," "Letopis' i pannonskaya zhytiya," "Letopis' i otkrovenie Mefodiya Patarskago," Russkii filologicheskii vestnikLXV; A. Sobolevsky,"Drevnyaya peredelka Nachal'noi letopisi," Zhurnal ministerstva narodnago prosveshcheniya, 1905, III, kniga 358; A. Sobolevsky, "Neskol'ko mest Nachal'noi letopisi," Chteniya obshchestva Nestora letopistaVIII; I. Sreznevsky, "Pamyatniki X veka do Vladimira Svyatogo," Izvestiya Akademii Nauk, 1854, III; I. Sreznevsky, Stat'i o drevnikh russkikh letopisyakh," Zapiski Akademii Nauk, II; M. Sukhomlinov, "O drevnei russkoi letopisi kak pamyatnike literaturnom," Sbornik otdeleniya russkago yazyka i slovesnosti Akademii Nauk, vol. LXXXV; M. Sukhomlinov, "O predaniyakh v drevnei russkoi letopisi," ibid.; I. Franko, "Dvi zamitky do tekstu Naydavnishoyi litopysi," ZNTSH, vol. LXXXIII; M. Khalansky, "K istorii poeticheskikh skazanii ob Olege Veshchem," Zhurnal ministerstva narodnago prosveshcheniya, knigi 342, 350; I. Khrushchov, "Skazanie o Vasyl'ke Rostislaviche," Chteniya obshchestva Nestora letopistaI; I. Khrushchov, drevne-russkikh istoricheskikh povestyakh i skazaniyakh XI‑XII stoletii, Kiev, 1878; I. Scharanevych, Die Hypatios-Chronik als Quellen-Beitrag zur österreichischen Geschichte, Lviv, 1872; A. Shakhmatov: 1) O nachal'nom kievskom letopisnom svode, Moscow, 1897 (Reprint from Chteniya obshchestva istorii i drevnostei); 2) "Kievo-Pecherskii Pateryk i Pecherskaya letopis'," Izvestiya otdeleniya russkago yazyka i slovesnosti Akademii Nauk, 1897, III; 3) "Khronologiya drevneishikh russkikh letopisnykh svodov," Zhurnal  p30 ministerstva narodnago prosveshcheniya, kniga 310; 4) "Drevneyshiya redaktsii Povesti vremennykh let," ibid., Kniga 313; 5) "Zhitie Antoniya i Pecherskaya letopis'," ibid., Kniga 316; 6) "Obshcherusskie letopisnye svody XIV‑XV vekov," ibid., Knigi 331, 332, 338; 7) "Korsunskaya legenda o kreshchenii Vladimira," Sbornik v chest' V. LamanskagoII, St. Petersburg, 1906; 8) "Odin iz istochnikov letopisnago skazaniya o kreshchenii Vladimira," Sbornik v chest' M. S. Drinova, Kharkiv, 1904; 9) "Do pytannya pro pivnichni perekazy za knyahynyu Olhu," Zapysky Ukrayins'koho Naukovoho Tovarystva, Kiev, 1909, II; 10) "Nachal'nyi letopisnyi svod i ego istochniki," Yubileynyi sbornik V. F. Millera, St. Petersburg, 1900; 11) "Letopisets Nestor," ZNTSH, vol. CXVII‑CXVIII; 12) "Skazanie o prizvanii varyagov," Izvestiya otdeleniya russkago yazyka i slovesnosti Akademii Nauk, 1904, IV; 13) "Razyskaniya o drevneishikh russkikh letopisnykh svodakh," Letopis' zanyatii arkheografischekoi kommissii, St. Petersburg, 1908, vol. XX, and separately.

P. Klepatsky, Ohlyad dzherel do istoriyi Ukrayiny, v. I, Kamyanets', 1920; D. Bahaliy, Narys ukrayins'koyi istoriohrafiyiI, Dzhereloznavstvo, LitopysyI, Kiev, 1923; A. Orlov, "K voprosu ob Ipatievskoi letopisi," Izvestiya Otdeleniya russkago yazyka i slovesnosti AN SSSR, v. 31, 1926; S. H. Cross, "The Russian Primary Chronicle," Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature, vol. XII, Cambridge, 1930, pp77‑320;​a R. Trautmann, Die altrussische Nestorchronik, Leipzig, 1931; A. Shakhmatov, Obozrenie russkikh letopisnykh svodov XIV‑XVI v.v., Moscow-Leningrad, 1938; T. Kostruba, Halyts'ko‑Volynsky Litopys, vol. 1, II, Lviv, 1936; M. Prisyolkov, "Lavrentievskaya letopis'," Uchenye Zapiski Leningradskogo Gos. Universiteta, No. 32, 1939; M. Prisyolkov, Istoriya russkogo letopisaniya XI‑XV v.v., Leningrad, 1940; M. Prisyolkov, "Letopisanie Zapadnoi Ukrainy i Belorussii," Uchenye Zapiski Leningradskogo Gos. Universiteta, No. 67, 1941; L. Cherepnin, "Letopisets Daniila Galitskago," Istoricheskie Zapiski AN SSSR, v. 12; A. Shakhmatov, "Kievskii nachal'nyi svod 1905 goda," Akademik A. A. Shakhmatov. Sbornik statei i materialov pod red. S. P. Obnorskogo, Moscow, 1947;  p31 D. Likhachev, Russkie letopisi i ikh kulturno-istoricheskoe znachenie, Moscow-Leningrad, 1947; A. Orlov, "O galitsko-volynskom letopisanii," Trudy otdela drevne-russkoi literatury Instituta literatury AN SSSR, v. V, Moscow-Leningrad, 1947; D. Likhachev, "O letopisnom periode russkoi istoriografii," Voprosy istorii, 1948, No. 9; V. Pashuto, "Kievskaya letopis' 1238 g.," Istoricheskie zapiski AN SSSR, v. 26; V. Pashuto, Ocherki po istorii Galitsko-Volynskoi Rusi, 1950; M. Prisyolkov, Troitskaya letopis'. Rekonstruktsiya teksta, Moscow, 1950; Povest' vremennykh let, parts III, Moscow-Leningrad, AN SSSR, 1950.

The Author's or the Editor's Notes:

7 We should mention that recent studies of chronicles from XI‑XIII centuries brought certain corrections of Shakhmatov's conclusions, e.g., M. Prisyolkov, Istoriya russkogo letopisaniya XI‑XV vv. (History of Origin of Russian Chronicles from XI‑XV Centuries), Leningrad, 1940.

[decorative delimiter]

8 Abbreviated in the future as ZNTSH.

[decorative delimiter]

9 See also posthumous work of Shakhmatov, Obozrenie russkikh letopisnykh svodov XIV‑XVI v.v. (A Survey of the Compilations of Russian Chronicles from XIV‑XVI Centuries), Moscow-Leningrad, 1938.

[decorative delimiter]

10 Recent studies showed that the Galician-Volynian Chronicle is composed of a certain number of compilations made in the XIII century by different individuals and in different regions of the Ukraine.

Thayer's Note:

a A revised edition of the English translation of "The Russian Primary Chronicle", which its preface declares to be in accordance with Prof. Cross's wishes, was published by Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor in 1953. A photostatic reproduction of the book is online as a PDF file. (If, as so often happens, it vanishes off the Web, I've kept a copy: contact me.)

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