The Slavs: Their Early History and Civilization

Francis Dvornik


8. The Russia of Kiev


I. History

1. The Eastern Slavs, the Volga Bulgars, the Khazars

2. Scandinavians discover the river route from the Baltic to the Near East

3. Origin of the name Rus

4. Discovery of the route from the Baltic to Constantinople; Norsemen and Slavic confederates

5. Askold and Dir of Kiev accept Christianity

6. Oleg, founder of the Russian State; Commercial treaties with Byzantium

7. Baptism of Olga, her relations with Byzantium and Germany

8. Svjatoslav and the Bulgars

9. Vladimir and Byzantine Christianity

10. Roman or Bulgarian origin of the Russian hierarchy?

11. Special features of Russian Christianity

12. Jaroslav the Wise

13. Vladimir Monomach, the decline of Kiev


II. Civilization

1. Commercial intercourse between East and West the basis of Kiev’s greatness

2. Importance of cities in Kiev’s growth, their “veče" - a democratic institution, the boyars, the ducal officers

3. Beginning of feudalism?

4. Byzantium’s legacy in art

5. The Bulgarian and Moravian literary legacy

6. Original Russian literary works in prose

7. Russian Belles Lettres in the Kievan period


III. Kiev, the principalities, the West and Byzantium

1. Literary relationship between Bohemia and Kiev

2. The Cult of Western saints in Kiev

3. Religious contact between Kiev, Germany and Bohemia after the schism

4. The Kievan State and Western Europe

5. Kiev’s relations with the Byzantine Emperor

6. Kiev, an intermediary between Byzantium and the West? Lost possibilities

7. Western influences in Galicia, Volynia and Novgorod

8. The Principality of Suzdal, and expansion towards the east

9. The Tatar invasion and Novgorod’s survival







Before the problems connected with the formation and development of the mighty political organization of the Eastern Slavs centering in the city of Kiev are surveyed, the political, cultural and racial situation in the eastern territories occupied by the Slavs must be examined. Successive waves of invaders had





followed one another across the steppes of southern Russia — Scythians, Sarmatians, Goths, Huns, Turkic Bulgars, Avars, and Khazars. Each of these invasions left its mark on the lands over which it rolled, a mark which could not be ignored by the Slavic tribes which had made it clear from the beginning of their penetration eastwards that they intended to stay there for good. Then the sudden appearance of the Huns came as a warning, a red light for the whole of Eastern Europe, indicating that from the human reservoir in the Asiatic steppes, teeming with fierce, nomadic tribes, a new deluge might at any time sweep over the grassy plains of southern Russia and submerge all Central Europe. Two of the floods of invaders which followed were particularly dangerous, not because of their dynamic fierceness, but because they had stopped on the fringes of the Slavic lands and because the peoples which these great waves from Asia brought with them settled securely on the boundaries of the Slav territories at a time when the Slavic masses had not yet found a strong form of leadership. The two peoples concerned were the Bulgars and the Khazars. As has been related the Turkic Bulgars had settled on the middle Volga and the Kama river and different branches of that nation extended their sway over the Russian steppes as far as the Danube. Their empire suffered a serious setback when the Avars appeared; but the Avar invasion removed the danger which threatened Central Europe from the Bulgars. Like all other invaders from Asia, the Bulgars pressed instinctively towards the frontiers of the Roman Empire. Indeed, a section of the Bulgars not only reached the Danube but, with the eventual help of the Slavs, founded a solid state in Macedonia and Thrace, that had once been flourishing imperial provinces.


The Bulgars who had established themselves on the Volga consolidated their state and soon a prosperous era opened for them. It was to be expected that their expansion from the Volga would be directed westwards into the lands which the Slavs were gradually occupying.


The Khazars, of the Turkic linguistic family, after establishing themselves in the Caucasus region in the second half of the seventh





century, were destined to play an even more important role among the Eastern Slavs than the Bulgars had done. They replaced the Avars as overlords of the Slavs on the Dnieper, and Kiev became the western outpost of their empire, the center of which was transferred, some time after the year 720, to ltd on the Volga delta.


The danger which threatened the Slavs from these two Turkic empires was the more pressing in that neither the Volga Bulgars nor the Khazars were totally lacking in culture. Each had a close relationship with the empire of Bagdad, where the Abbasid dynasty of khalifs had brought the power of the Arabs to new heights. Art and culture flourished at the court of Bagdad and the influence of this Arab renaissance was felt as far as Constantinople, especially in the first half of the ninth century. The Caspian Sea and the Volga river gave the Arabs easy access to the interior of modern Russia and even to the Baltic coast. These waterways were also a channel for Islamic propaganda among the Turkic tribes there. This propaganda was, indeed, so successful that the Volga Bulgars embraced the religion of Mohammed, probably during the ninth and early tenth centuries. Islam also penetrated into Khazaria and it is said that in the ninth century the khagan of the Khazars lent an ear to Christian, Jewish and Mohammedan missionaries alike.


Here was a serious danger for the whole of Europe. Had the Islamic civilization from Khazaria and Bulgaria reached the pagan Slavic tribes, which were drawing nearer and nearer to the Volga and the lower Don, the frontiers of Europe would have been fixed somewhere on the Carpathian Mountains. At this time, Russia was on the verge of becoming a part of the Moslem world of Asia.


The danger was averted thanks to a new factor which entered the Eastern Slavic scene: the appearance of the Scandinavians and the Byzantines. The Scandinavians came first, making their appearance among the Eastern Slavic tribes just in time to weld them into a firm political bloc, which proved able to withstand and obstruct the westward rush of the Asiatic hordes and even to





contribute in the long run, thanks to the intervention of Byzantium, to the expansion of European civilization eastward, far beyond the Volga and the Ural Mountains.





The appearance of the Scandinavians on the Baltic shore and in the interior of modern Russia is only one of the exploits of the daring sons of the fabulous Scanza in the ninth and tenth centuries. They regarded the whole continent of Europe as a field to be exploited and colonized. The deeds of the Danes and Norsemen in Frisia, in the valleys of the Seine and Loire, in Normandy and England, in Ireland and the isles of the North Atlantic, and those of the Swedes and Norwegians among the Finns in the Baltic region and among their Slavic neighbors — all these represented the last wave of the Germanic migratory movement. The settlement of the Scandinavians among the Eastern Slavs was destined to become one of the most important and decisive events among the achievements of the Germanic migratory period.


The story of their advent among the Slavs is long and fascinating and many details of it are still hotly debated by specialists. Their explorations along the east coast of the Baltic brought them into contact with the Baltic and Finnish populations settled there. Through these peoples they heard of the existence of two flourishing empires on the Volga and of the brisk trade which the Khazars were carrying on with the Arabs of Bagdad. It was not difficult to discover the easy artery provided by the Volga for these commercial transactions. In the second half of the eighth century, if not earlier, the Scandinavians were on the middle Volga. Direct relations between Swedes and Khazars began about 800. The discovery of the Volga route was most probably made, not from the Gulf of Riga and the provinces of Dvinsk, Vitebsk, Kovno and Pskov, where little evidence of Scandinavian occupation has been found, but from the Gulf of Finland which offered an easy access to the Volga via Lake Ladoga and Beloozero and where it was a comparatively simple matter for them to haul their boats





over the portage. There was another route from Ladoga via Lake Ilmen, which the Slavs had already reached in the ninth century. [1] The country between Ilmen, the Volkhov river and Ladoga is apparently the wooded and marshy island on which some Arab writers located the original habitat of the “Rus.” On these routes, two important Scandinavian colonies were founded — Beloozero and Novgorod, their establishment being attributed to Rurik (Roersk) and his brothers.


How can the sudden interest of the Norsemen in commercial intercourse with the Eastern world be explained? Here we must return to those facts which H. Pirenne attempted to set down more or less convincingly. [2] Trade with the Levant had become indispensable to Western Europe ever since Roman civilization had reached it. The products of the Near East used to find their way to the West by way of the Mediterranean; but the Arab conquest of the Near East, North Africa, Sicily, Spain and a part of southern Italy drastically changed the situation. The Arabs then had control over this easy maritime route between the Near East and the West. Moreover the consumption of eastern spices and other luxury merchandise in the Arab empire grew in direct ratio to the increasing refinement of its civilization. This left little of these wares over for export to the West. Furthermore in the ninth century Arab pirates made sea communications between the East, Byzantium and the West almost impossible. There was an urgent need to find new routes to the Orient and it was this which encouraged the Norsemen in their exploration of the eastern end of the Baltic Sea. The memory of commercial intercourse between the Baltic, the Crimea and the Near East was



1. Besides archaeological evidence — gathered by T. J. Ame, La Suède et L’Orient (Stockholm, 1914) — important philological material allows us to trace the presence of the Norsemen on the Baltic and on the Volga and the Dnieper with precision. See for details, M. Vasmer “Wikingerspuren in Russland” (Sitzungsberichte d. Preus. Ak. Phil. Hist. Kl., Berlin, 1931). Vasmer’s findings also show that the Volga route was discovered first.


2. In his book Mohammed and Charlemagne (London, 1940). See above page 44. Cf. especially the criticism of Pirenne’s theories made by R. S. Lopez ("Mohammed and Charlemagne: a Revision,” Speculum XVIII [1943], pp. 14-38).





still fresh in the minds of the peoples on the Baltic coast and by following up these clues the Norsemen found a new way by which the Near Eastern countries could be reached.





The native population found a strange name for the newcomers and many theories have been advanced to explain how it came about that they were called Rus — Russians. The most plausible theory is that the origin of Russia’s name comes from the Scandinavians themselves and the Finns. Certainly the name shows an affinity with the Old Swedish word rodi or rodhsi — in modern Swedish, ro, ros and rod — meaning “rowing” or “sculling.” There is a part of Sweden — probably the first part with which the Finns became acquainted — which is called “Roslagen,” or in older documents “Rodslagen” and it is natural to suppose that the first Swedes to come into contact with the Finns came from this part of Sweden. The Swedes are still called “Ruotsi” by the Finns and “Rootsi” by the Estonians; and it was this name which was apparently given by the Finns to the first Swedish settlers amongst them. The Slavs have transformed the name, according to their phonetic pattern, probably as early as the eighth century, into Rus, Rusi. The Byzantine form, Rhôs, is possibly an adaptation from the Septuagint version of the Holy Scriptures, where, in the prophecy of Ezekiel, a people called Rhos is erroneously mentioned. [1]





The Norsemen soon became well known on the Volga, among the Bulgars and in Khazaria, and they ventured across the Caspian Sea and reached Bagdad. Rich finds of Arab coins in



1. The Norsemen were also called Varyagi by the Slavs and Varangoi by the Byzantines. The word is a Slavic derivation from the Nordic, vaering, varing, denoting a member of a kind of brotherhood formed by a number of the Norsemen for a military expedition or commercial enterprise. The men forming the brotherhood — družina in Slavic — were bound to each other by a special oath. Cf. also what H. Paszkiewicz (The Origin of Russia [London, 1954] pp. 1-25, 107-132) says on the origin and meaning of the word "Rus.”





Sweden and on the Baltic coast still testify to the lively commercial intercourse which was carried on between Scandinavia, the Baltic countries and Bagdad.


But of even greater significance for the future was the Norsemen’s discovery of a route from Novgorod via the Dnieper and the Black Sea, to Constantinople. The region of the upper and middle Dnieper was already a Slavic country when the Norsemen reached it; but commercial traffic on the river was controlled by the Khazars, masters of the Dnieper Slavs and of Kiev, its important trading center. A strong detachment of Norsemen, led by Askold and Dir, reached Kiev (c. 856-860), and as the Khazars were unable to provide the Slavs with adequate protection against bands of nomads marauding in southern Russia — the presence in the ninth century of the Magyars amongst others is proven — the Poljane or Slavs of Kiev and the middle Dnieper welcomed the newcomers and willingly accepted them as overlords in place of the Khazars. Constantine Porphyrogennetus gives some important details, in his book on the administration of the Empire, concerning the kind of relationship which existed between the Slavs and the Norsemen. On two occasions he refers to the Rhôs and their Slavic ’’confederates." This clearly indicates that the occupation by the Norsemen of various Slavic settlements was not carried out by force, but that in many cases the Slavs accepted the Scandinavians and concluded protective treaties with them.


In this way, the Norsemen took over control of the trade between the Baltic and the Black Sea as successors of the Scythians, the Sarmatians and the Khazars. There were still Greek cities in the Crimea, now under Byzantium, and numerous settlements of Jewish merchants, which had survived for many centuries. Their citizens still made their living by trading with Byzantium, Asia Minor, the Near East and the interior of modern Russia; but the Norsemen were not content to deal only with the Greeks of





the Crimea. Peaceful trading had revealed to them the wealth of Constantinople, and with their Slavic subjects and confederates they formed a bold plan to seize these treasures by a surprise attack.


In the early summer of 860, when the Emperor Michael III and his uncle Bardas were leading an expedition against the Arabs in Asia Minor, a large fleet manned by hitherto unknown barbarian invaders appeared before Constantinople, having laid waste the shores of the Black Sea. The city “protected by God” went through some exciting moments while it watched the newcomers burning the suburbs and preparing their final assault from the sea. But Byzantium was saved even before the Emperor and his fleet, summoned in the nick of time by the commander of the city and the Patriarch Photius, had returned. The danger had been so great, however, that future generations were wont to speak of the miraculous intervention of Our Lady brought about by the prayers of the holy Patriarch.





This first Russian attack upon Constantinople had great consequences for the subsequent history of the Eastern Slavs. In order to protect themselves against another surprise of this kind, the Byzantines hastened to strengthen their friendship with the Khazars. The embassy which was dispatched to Khazaria via the Crimea for this purpose was headed by Constantine and Methodius, the future apostles of the Slavs. From the Vita Constantini valuable details may be learned concerning the nations inhabiting the Crimea and the religious propaganda carried on among the Khazars by Jews, Christians and Mohammedans. [1]



1. It is known that the khagan of the Khazars and many of his subjects had yielded to the Jewish propaganda coming mainly from the numerous Jewish colonies in the Crimea. They accepted the Jewish creed — the first case of a large part of one nation becoming Jewish at such a late period. The Khazars were otherwise a very tolerant nation. They are probably to some extent the ancestors of the eastern Jews. Driven by the Cumans and the Mongols from their homeland, many of the Jewish Khazars were settled in Poland by the Polish kings. There they mixed with western Jews. On the conversion of the Khazars, see F. Dvornik, Les Légendes de Constantin et Méthode vues de Byzance (Prague, 1933), pp. 148 ff. A complete bibliography on the Khazars to the year 1933 will be found in this book. A more recent critical bibliography has been compiled by A. Zajączkowski in “Ze studiów nad zagadnieniem Chazarskim” (Studies on the Khazar problem), published in the Memoirs of the Oriental Commission of the Polish Academy (No. 30, Cracow, 1947), with a résumé in French. The author thinks that the letters of Khazar history allegedly from the tenth century are apocryphal, probably dating from the twelfth century, but that they are based upon a national Jewish tradition. Their compiler used quite precise geographical and historical information given by Islamic writers. They are documents which are not to be neglected. On the fate of the Khazars after the eleventh century see H. von Kutschera, Die Chazaren (Vienna, 1909), pp. 162 ff.





The sealing of the friendship between Byzantium and the Khazars had its effect upon the Russian Slavs of Kiev. They soon yielded to the cultural influence coming from Byzantium and asked to be baptized and the Patriarch Photius had the satisfaction of sending missionaries to them and of establishing, some time about the year 864, a bishopric at Kiev. This first phase of Christianity did not last very long. About 878-882, Kiev was conquered by the Russian Prince Oleg (Helgi), who came from Novgorod. The Russians and the Slavs under his sovereignty were, naturally, pagan and they were bitterly jealous of the prosperity of the colony at Kiev. Because of this, Christianity in Kiev was quickly exterminated.


This was a great pity, for the whole future of Russia would undoubtedly have developed very differently had Christianity survived in Kiev. It was at that time that other Slavic nations, the Moravians and the Bulgars, were being won for the Christian faith by Byzantium but Russia had to wait another hundred years before becoming a Christian country.





Oleg is the real founder of the Russian state. It was he who united North and South in one political unit and from Kiev brought almost all the eastern tribes under his sovereignty. He





conquered the Drevljane about 883, the Severjane in 884 and the Radimiči in 885. He put a definite end to Khazar supremacy over the Slavic tribes and protected his subjects effectively against enemy incursions. He also inaugurated a period of friendly relations with the Byzantines which may have occurred after a more or less successful show of force during the second Russian attack on Constantinople in 907. [1] His new state received a kind of international recognition in 911 with the conclusion of a commercial treaty with Byzantium.


Oleg also applied his statesmanship successfully to the task of fusing the Scandinavian upper class with the Slavic elements and his name therefore deserves to rank with those of two other great Norse conquerors who altered the course of European history — William the Conqueror and Robert Guiscard.


There was a temporary rift in the good relations between the Russians and the Byzantines during the reign of Oleg’s successor Igor’ (Ingvar), who organized an expedition against Constantinople in 941. The Russian Primary Chronicle describes the attack, which ended in disaster for the Russians. The same source refers to another expedition which led in 944 to the conclusion of a further commercial treaty but the report of the chronicler should be read with caution. One thing does appear to be clear, however: that peaceful relations between Igor, and the Byzantines were restored, and that the Russian Prince renewed the commercial treaty concluded by his predecessor. But if the text of this new treaty, as given in the Russian Primary Chronicle is compared with that of the old one, [2] it becomes clear that the rights of the Russian merchants were curtailed because of Igor’s defeat by the Byzantines. There is no provision in Igor’s treaty for the



1. The historical authenticity of this attack, recorded in detail in the Russian Primary Chronicle, is still questioned by many specialists. For details and bibliographical notices see A. Vasiliev, “The Second Russian Attack upon Constantinople," published in Dumbarton Oaks Papers VI (1952), pp. 161-225.


2. A new edition of the text of the Russo-Byzantine treaties was published, with commentaries and bibliographical data by A. A. Zimin in Pamjatniki prava Kievskago gosudarstva (Legal documents of the Kievan State) I (Moscow, 1952), pp. 1-70.





Russian merchants to be excused from customs duties, nor, under this treaty, were the Russian traders allowed to move about freely on Byzantine territory. The Russians had to promise to repatriate slaves escaping from Greece and were prohibited from intervening in affairs concerning Byzantine possessions in the Crimea. They were allowed to fish near the mouth of the Dnieper; but were denied permission to spend the winter there. Both treaties give a very impressive picture of social and economic conditions in Kievan Russia and show that trade with Byzantium was the main source of the steady economic and cultural progress of that state. It seemed that the Scandinavians had at last found the new way to the riches of Byzantium and the Near East, the way which Western Europe had been seeking since the Arabs had obtained control over the maritime routes in the Mediterranean Sea.





It was Igor’s widow, Olga (Helga), who took over the regency after his death in 945, during the minority of their son Svjatoslav. She first of all crushed the revolt of the Drevljane, who were responsible for the death of her husband. Olga enforced the unity of her vast realm and through wise administration strengthened its economic basis. This energetic and intelligent woman quickly realized the importance of Byzantium to Russian progress and she decided to link her country even more closely with the Empire by introducing Christianity into the regions over which she ruled. It was only to be expected that friendly intercourse between Russia and Byzantium would prepare the way for the penetration of Christianity into Russia. We learn from the Primary Chronicle that in 945 there was a church of St. Elias in Kiev, where the Russian Christians confirmed by oath their resolve to abide by the stipulations of the commercial treaty with Byzantium. This Christian community had grown up on the ruins of the first Christian center, which had been destroyed when Kiev was conquered by Oleg. It consisted mainly of Russian





traders who had become acquainted with the Christian religion when they were quartered near the church of St. Mammas in Constantinople. It was in this small Kievan center that Olga first encountered Christianity, and it would thus be quite natural to suppose that she herself was baptized there. According to the old Russian tradition, preserved in the Primary Chronicle, however, she went to Constantinople for this rite. It is known that her voyage to Constantinople in 957 is an historical fact, because her reception there was described in some detail by Constantine Porphyrogennetus in his Book of Ceremonies.


Specialists in early Russian history still debate whether this traditional story should be accepted. Most of them have decided that Kiev was the place of her baptism, arguing that the imperial writer describes only Olga’s reception and not her baptism and that the Russian chronicler places her baptism in the year 955, that is, two years before her visit to Constantinople. In spite of these views, the tradition of the Primary Chronicle should not be lightly dismissed. The chronicler’s dates for this period are generally regarded as unreliable and should not therefore be quoted as an argument. As for Constantine Porphyrogennetus, he described in his Book of Ceremonies only those events which were likely to recur at the court of Constantinople. It could well be expected that another Russian prince might visit the city, and the masters of ceremonies were therefore given a record of all the details to be observed on such an occasion, were it to be repeated. But it could hardly be taken as likely that Russian princes, once Christianity had been accepted in their country, would make a habit of visiting Constantinople in order to be baptized. Therefore, Constantine limited himself to describing only the ceremonies performed during Olga’s reception at the court.


Moreover, Olga’s baptism in Constantinople is also mentioned in the Byzantine chronicle of Cedrenus, which was based on that of Scylitzes, not yet published, and by the continuator of the Latin Chronicle of Regino. Tin’s last source is important. The report in it was written by the German envoy to Kiev, of whom more will be heard presently, and should thus give a true impression of





Kiev in the tenth century. We should, therefore, date Olgas baptism in the year 957 and place it, not in Kiev, but in Constantinople. One thing cannot be contested: that Olga’s conversion was the work of the Byzantine missionaries who administered the church of St. Elias in Kiev. The fact that Olga received the baptismal name of Helen, which was the name of the Byzantine empress who was her godmother, also points to the conclusion that the Byzantines were responsible for her conversion.


But how is Olga’s action in requesting Otto I of Germany to send a bishop to Kiev to be explained? This fact is reported by the continuator of the Chronicle of Regino, most probably Adalbert, the very bishop whom Otto sent at Olga’s request. This has seemed so extraordinary to many Russian historians that they simply refused to admit the authenticity of the annals which reported it. It can, however, be quite easily explained. We can see here that Olga’s bold action in accepting Christianity did not apparently win the unanimous approval of the Russian aristocracy. The Scandinavian boyars were suspicious of Byzantium’s political and religious influence. Many of them still remembered Igor’s expedition against Byzantium, on which they had accompanied him, and they could not reconcile themselves to the sudden change brought about by his widow. Olga tried to allay their apprehensions and to neutralize Byzantine influence by forging a closer link with the mighty German king, whose deeds against the Magyars had won him great respect in the eyes of the fierce Scandinavian warriors at Olga’s court. There is no need to suppose that Byzantium had refused the new convert an independent religious organization and that she had therefore turned to the German ruler to obtain it. In fact, there is no evidence to support such a theory.


Olga’s request appeared to Otto as a godsend, for he dreamed of making Magdeburg into a mighty metropolis for all the Slavic lands in the East and his plan seemed to be well on the way to realization. He sent Bishop Adalbert to Kiev; but a great disappointment awaited him. Probably even before Otto’s envoy had reached Kiev, Olga had been forced to hand over all effective





authority to her son Svjatoslav, who had no use for either Byzantine or Western Christianity. This is fresh proof of the strong anti-Christian reaction in his Kievan retinue.





Svjatoslav (964-972), the first Norse ruler of Kiev to be known only under a Slavic name, [1] was a true Viking at heart, adventurous, reckless, courageous and mainly interested in battle and booty. This is the conventional picture of Svjatoslav drawn by most historians. Recently, however, Russian historians have tried to portray Svjatoslav in brighter colors. B. D. Grekov, [2] for example, sees in him not only a great warrior but also a ruler of international renown, who by his deeds profoundly influenced the history of the Moslem world and of Byzantium.


It must be acknowledged that Svjatoslav gave proof of considerable political vision when concentrating his efforts at the beginning of his reign on Russian expansion towards the East. It is difficult to establish the exact dates of Svjatoslav’s eastern campaigning, as the information given in the Russian Primary Chronicle and by the Arab writer Ibn Haukal is slightly confused. One of the results of Svjatoslav’s expeditions was the subjugation of the Vjatiči, the last Slavic tribe still subject to the Khazar khagans. Thus, the unification of all Eastern Slavs in one empire was completed. Svjatoslav’s lasting achievement was the destruction of the Khazar empire, brought about probably in two campaigns (963 and 968-?), and instead of the Khazars the Russians of Kiev became the masters of the Ossetians in the lower Don Basin and of the Circassians in the Kuban area. Svjatoslav saw, however, clearly that, if he wanted to rid his realm for good of the Khazar danger, it was imperative for him to control the middle and lower Volga and this led him to an expedition against



1. He seems to have had a Scandinavian name also. A. Stender-Peterson, “Die Varägersage als Quelle der altruss. Chronik,” Acta Jutlandica VI (1934), p. 15 thinks that Svjatoslav’s Scandinavian name was Sveinald.


2. In his work, Kievskaja Rus (The Russia of Kiev) (Moscow, 1944, 4th ed.), pp. 263 ff.





the Volga Bulgars. Probably about the year 965 he broke their resistance and sacked their capital Bulgar. This finally sealed the fate of the Khazar empire and Svjatoslav’s troops looted the Khazar capital Itil.


For the first time Russia extended its domination to the Volga, the Caspian Sea and towards the Caucasus and it seems that Svjatoslav’s influence was also strongly felt in the Crimea. All this was a great success which might have become decisive for Russia and Europe, because in the middle Volga among the Bulgars and in Itil the Russians came into direct contact with Islam. When it is recalled what a profound impression Svjatoslav’s victories had made on the contemporary Moslem world — Ibn Haukal testifies to that — it can be imagined that the Arabs would have made a great effort to win over this new and powerful ruler. For Moslem missionaries had succeeded in converting the Bulgars and in penetrating into Khazaria. As the Varyags and their Slavs were still pagans, there was a danger that the fascinating civilization of the khalifs might outshine that of Byzantium and that instead of Christianity in either the eastern or the western form, Islam would have crossed the Volga, the Dnieper and the Dniester to take firm root on Russian soil. Had this happened, it might then have crossed the Carpathian Mountains to find a warm reception among the nomad Magyars.


The danger was averted by the Byzantines, who persuaded Svjatoslav to march against the Danubian Bulgars. Here the prince showed his adventurous nature; for instead of consolidating his new conquests in the east, as would seem logical to any statesman, he accepted the offer from Byzantium. Perhaps the secret hope that once firmly established in Bulgaria he could realize the dream of his predecessors — to conquer Constantinople — influenced his decision.


There is some evidence to indicate that Svjatoslav had far-reaching plans once he was established in the eastern part of Bulgaria. The Russian Primary Chronicle attributes to Svjatoslav the intention of transferring his residence from Kiev to Perejaslavec (Little Preslav) in Bulgaria:


"Svjatoslav announced to his





mother and boyars, ’I do not care to remain in Kiev, but should prefer to live in Perejaslavec on the Danube, since that is the center of my realm, where all riches are concentrated, — gold, silks, wine and various fruits from Greece, silver and horses from Hungary and Bohemia, and from Rus furs, wax, honey and slaves.’ ”



This is an interesting declaration. If it can be taken at its face value, then we have to conclude that Svjatoslav planned to found a great Slavic empire which would comprise not only Kievan Russia but also a great part of the Balkans. The reaction of the Byzantines shows that they were well aware of the new danger and when the Pecheneg diversion engineered by them failed to deter Svjatoslav from reentering Bulgaria, the Byzantines concentrated all their efforts against the Russian Prince. After defeating him, they annexed Eastern Bulgaria and Svjatoslav’s imperial dreams were shattered for ever. All that he got out of his Bulgarian adventure was a new commercial treaty with Byzantium. On his way home he met his death at the hands of the new invaders of southern Russia, the Pechenegs (Patzinaks). [1]





The fate of the Kievan State was finally decided by Vladimir (Volodimer, Valdimar?) (c. 980-1015), Svjatoslav s son. After fleeing from Novgorod to Sweden, Vladimir defeated his brother Jaropolk of Kiev with the help of a detachment of Norsemen, whom he brought from there. Vladimir then consolidated the State by once more uniting Novgorod with Kiev and affirming his authority over some recalcitrant tribes — the Vjatiči and the Radimiči. He then opened a new gate to the West by adding to his realm the Red cities and Přemysl, territories which formerly had been part of White Croatia, and had then been occupied by the founder of the Polish State, Mieszko I.


Vladimir’s most important act was the introduction of Christianity



1. See above, page 140.





into Russia, and the Russian Primary Chronicle gives a vivid account of his conversion. According to this, he was solicited by the Mohammedan Bulgars, the Jewish Khazars, the Germans representing the Pope, and the Byzantines, each of them pressing him to embrace their respective religion. Then Vladimir decided to send envoys to the different countries to investigate their religious practices and faiths. His representatives showed no enthusiasm for the religions of the Bulgars, the Khazars or the Germans; but when they came to the Greeks, they were full of admiration. “We knew not,” they confessed, “whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty, and we are at a loss how to describe it . . . We cannot forget that beauty.” On the strength of their report, Vladimir decided to accept the Greek version of Christianity.


The account is, of course, legendary; but it reflects certain historical facts. It shows first of all that the Mohammedan danger from the Bulgars, which we mentioned above, was a reality. This influence is moreover attested by archaeological finds showing that Arab culture penetrated into Kievan Russia in its early history.


Secondly, it is known that Jewish influence in southern Russia grew stronger after the conversion of the Khazars to Judaism. It was natural for Jewish merchants to be interested in such an important commercial center and a Jewish colony certainly existed in Kiev. Mention also of the Germans in the account above may be an echo of the short episode of Olga’s reign, but the stress laid by the chronicler on Byzantine propaganda and on the deep impression made by the Byzantine liturgy reflects the prolonged peaceful penetration of Greek Christianity into Russia from Askold’s and Igor’’s times.


The Russian chronicler goes on to describe how Vladimir was baptized by the Bishop of Kherson, a city which he had conquered from the Greeks when he realized that they were delaying the fulfillment of their promise to send him a Byzantine princess, “born in the purple,” for a wife.


The facts reported by the Russian chronicler — that Vladimir





was baptized by the Greeks and that the organization of the Russian Church was the work of Byzantium — are questioned by some scholars who believe that the baptism was carried out by Scandinavian missionaries and that the establishment of the Russian hierarchy was due to the initiative of Rome. Others think that credit should be given to the Danubian Bulgars and the Patriarch of Ochrida.


The defenders of the Scandinavian theory think that Scandinavian priests had acquainted Vladimir with the principles of Christianity and that Olaf Tryggvason finally prevailed upon him to embrace the Christian faith. But it is well known that Christianity made very slow progress in Novgorod, where the Scandinavian influence was most marked, and it is to be expected that if the Scandinavians had shown such a missionary zeal their work would have left its deepest impression there. Olaf Tryggvason was in close contact with Vladimir; but his Christian influence should not be overrated. Before he recovered his throne in Norway, this Scandinavian hero was far more interested in plundering the British Isles than in preaching the Christian faith in Russia. We have no evidence that the Scandinavians, who had only recently been converted to Christianity and who certainly did not have a superabundance of priests, had developed any missionary activity at such an early stage.


Moreover, it appears that the Scandinavians were under a strong influence from Byzantine civilization. The names of the merchants mentioned in the Russo-Byzantine treaties are all Scandinavian. Trade with Byzantium was thus in their hands and most of the Russian merchants living in the quarter of St. Mammas in Constantinople were Scandinavians. They were touched by Byzantine religious propaganda. We have thus to admit that the Scandinavians were mainly responsible for the spread of Byzantine civilization and religion in the Kievan state. [1]



1. Cf., for example, what A. Stender-Peterson (Die Varägersage, op. cit., pp. 84 ff., 120 ff., 237 ff.) says about strong Byzantine influences on the origin of some Scandinavian “sages."








The partisans of the Roman theory argue that later Russian historical documents — the Chronicle of Nikon and the Stepennaja Kniga (Book of Degrees) — state that while Vladimir was in Kherson, an “ambassador from Rome came to Vladimir and brought him relics of saints.” They argue that this embassy was sent to Vladimir at his own request and had as its purpose the establishment of the Russian hierarchy in the Kievan State, after the Byzantines had refused to cooperate in this matter. But when it is examined closely, this theory is found untenable.


The Roman embassy to Vladimir at the time when he became a Christian must be regarded as an historical fact. Pope John XV, however, had very little to do with it. This embassy was sent by the Empress Theophano, widow of Otto II, who was at that time in Rome, [1] and who had special reason to be interested in Vladimir’s baptism and in his marriage. It was not difficult for Theophano to get information from Constantinople about the request sent by the Emperor Basil II to Vladimir for help against Bardas Phocas, a pretender to the imperial throne, but in order to explain this request, the Russo-Byzantine treaties of 945 and 971, by whose terms the Russian prince undertook to help the Emperor with auxiliaries whenever asked to do so must be recalled. Vladimir was pleased to oblige and, at the same time, to get rid of the Norsemen whom he had brought from Scandinavia to assist him against Jaropolk and who were growing very tiresome in their idleness. As a compensation, however, he asked for the hand in marriage of a Byzantine princess, “born in the purple,” and promised to receive baptism. The princess who was chosen to become Vladimir’s wife was Anne, daughter of the Emperor Romanos II. She was Theophano’s cousin and it seems that at one time it was Anne whom Otto I wished his son Otto II to marry. All this makes the interest which Otto’s widow took in the fate of her cousin far more comprehensible.



1. On the two other embassies to and from Russia during Vladimir’s reign see F. Dvornik, The Making of Central and Eastern Europe, pp. 179 ff.





The Byzantine princess did not relish the idea of marrying Vladimir and it is not to be wondered at that the Greeks tried to “forget” their commitment. The poor princess had, however, to make the best of it and to find consolation in the knowledge that for her sake her husband had dismissed his five other wives and 800 concubines — an extravagant number even for a Viking, but a figure probably improved upon by the chronicler anxious to demonstrate the transformation which baptism could bring about in a pagan soul. Theophano knew by experience what it meant to be married to a semi-barbarian and her sympathy for her cousin was extreme. Hence she sent her some saintly relics and some words of consolation. If the Pope had anything to do with the embassy, it was only to send his blessing to the bride and her husband and to endorse the message sent by the Empress Theophano. It certainly did not dawn upon him to establish a hierarchy in so distant a region.


It is true that in Russian Christianity in Vladimir’s time there were some Western usages, particularly the tithe, a Frankish invention, and certain canonical customs; but these could have penetrated from the West in a perfectly natural way. Intercourse with Germany was free and open. We learn, for example, that Vladimir’s predecessor, Jaropolk, had sent an embassy to Otto I in 973. The Annals of Lambert refer to the presence of Russian envoys at the Reichstag of Quedlinburg in that year. After Vladimir had opened another gate to the West through his occupation of the Red cities, Western influences could penetrate peacefully into Russia from Bohemia. [1]


As for the theory concerning Ochrida, there is no evidence for the assertion that the Patriarch of Ochrida had provided Kiev with a metropolitan, although Bulgarian cultural influences on Russian Christianity must be admitted. Let us remember that



1. According to the Russian Primary Chronicle and the Chronicle of Nikon, the relations between Bohemia and Vladimir’s realm were lively. Among Vladimir’s wives were two of Czech birth, and embassies sent to him by the Czech Duke “Andrich” (Oldřich) are mentioned. See for details A. V. Florovskij, Čechi i Vostočnye Slavjane (Czechs and Eastern Slavs, Prague, 1935), pp. 14-44.





after the death of the first Archbishop of Ochrida, John, who was a Bulgarian, the see was occupied by Greeks. [1]


The best solution of the puzzle regarding the establishment of the Kievan hierarchy will be found by taking into consideration Vladimir’s policy in the Crimea and following the lead given by the Primary Chronicle. We know that Vladimir took a lively interest in the Crimea, which was an important link between Kiev, Byzantium, the Varyago-Slav colony of Tmutorokan’ [2] on the Taman’ peninsula, the Khazars and the Near East. He surrendered Kherson, which he had occupied, to the Greeks as a token of friendship; but he was determined to keep in close touch with this eastern outpost of Byzantium. As this was also in the interests of the Emperor, it seems that a compromise was reached by establishing the Archbishop of Kherson as a kind of supervisor of the young Russian Church. An allusion to this fact is found in the statement of the Primary Chronicle that the first priests sent to Kiev were from Kherson. Moreover, at the ceremonies marking the translation of the relics of SS. Boris and Gleb, the first Russian saints, [3] it appears that the Archbishop, named John, who presided, did not reside in Kiev but came there for this special purpose. This seems to indicate that he was the autocephalous Archbishop of Kherson.





This compromise was perhaps unusual in Byzantine practice, but in the light of the circumstances, it seems perfectly natural and logical that the Byzantines should prefer to entrust the supervision of the young Russian Church to a prelate who was on good terms with Vladimir, whom he had baptized, and who was



1. Recently V. Nikolaev tried to defend the “Ochrida theory” in his book Slavjanobolgarijat faktor v christijanisacijata na Kievska Rusija (Sofia, 1949, Bulg. Academy). He brought forward no new evidence for his thesis. See the detailed review in French of his book by B. Zástěrová in Byzantinoslavica XI (1950), pp. 240-254.


2. On the theories concerning the origins of this colony see F. Dvornik, The Making of Central arid Eastern Europe, pp. 312 ff.


3. Cf. below, p. 212. The translation took place in 1020 or 1026.





also in direct communication with both Russia and Byzantium. This state of affairs lasted until the reign of Jaroslav the Wise, on whose initiative Kiev was raised to metropolitan status.


It was Vladimir then who laid the foundation of Kievan Christianity. The Primary Chronicle describes with great satisfaction the more spectacular manifestations of his Christian zeal — the beating of the statue of Perun by twelve muscular men and the mass baptism of the people in the Dnieper river. These spectacles were doubtless also organized to reassure the Byzantine princess that his feelings towards her were most laudable. Vladimir also had a new cathedral built in Kiev for the first bishop.


Although the methods chosen by Vladimir to implant Christianity were somewhat forceful, he encountered really stubborn opposition only in Novgorod. It may be that the introduction of the Slavonic liturgy in the new Church — thanks to the presence of Bulgarian priests, who brought Slavonic books with them — helped considerably to spread the new faith across the Russian lands. In spite of that, many pagan practices survived among the people as we can judge from complaints voiced in sermons of that time. Special embassies sent by Vladimir to the main Christian shrines made the fact that Russia had entered the Church known to the whole Christian world.


The introduction of the Slavonic liturgy also helped considerably in bringing about the amalgamation of the Varangian and Slavic elements. The Varangians were, of course, at a disadvantage when this transformation took place, and the political influence of the Varyag aristocracy decreased in proportion as the Prince derived increasingly powerful support from the Church and its clergy. All this explains how it came about that despite the important role they had played at the beginning of Russian history, the Scandinavians were unable to influence the evolution of the Russian language, and why words of Scandinavian origin in Old Russian are few. It is interesting in this respect to observe in the Kievan State an analogous development to that noticed in Bulgaria after the Christianization of the country and the introduction of Slavonic liturgy and letters. There also these factors





helped Boris to reduce the power of the aristocracy of Turkic origin. The Slavonic liturgy contributed also to a closer unification of the many tribes of Eastern Slavs. Thus a great new Slavonic national Church was formed which was destined to become of immense importance for the growth of national sentiment among the Eastern Slavs. From now on, the dynastic links created by the unifying action of the Varangian princes to hold the many tribes together were strengthened by new cultural and religious ties, which would prove in future even more effective than the idea of a single dynasty for the whole of Russia.


The fact that for several decades most of the Russian bishops were Greeks [1] did not interfere with this unification. On the contrary, the alien bishops were not interested in the local feuds between members of the reigning family, but only in the unity of the Church which they were governing. This unity was, of course, also in the interests of the Byzantines. Thus it happened that the Church, although under Greek supervision, rendered a great service to the Russian nation as a whole, maintaining the principle of the unity of all Russian lands.





Among Vladimir’s successors two dukes deserve special mention — Jaroslav the Wise (1036-54) and Vladimir II Monomach (1113-1125). Jaroslav was the only survivor of the fraternal strife between Vladimir’s sons lasting from 1015 to 1036 — a struggle which threatened to ruin the work of Oleg and Vladimir and which was a bad omen for the future. Two of the brothers,



1. D. Obolensky suggests that, according to an agreement concluded by the Russians with the Byzantines — probably under Jaroslav the Wise — the Metropolitan See of Kiev was to be held alternately by Greek and Russian prelates. If a native was elected, he had to be consecrated by the Patriarch of Constantinople. This suggestion is very plausible, although conclusive evidence is hardly available. Another suggestion advanced by D. Obolensky that Vladimir, when he married the Byzantine princess, was distinguished by a high Byzantine court title, perhaps even the title of Basileus, is probably correct. Both suggestions deserve detailed study.





Boris and Gleb, became victims of Svjatopolk and were afterwards venerated as martyred saints by the Russians.


Jaroslavs reign was one of the most brilliant periods of Kievan Russia. He was a great church builder, and a study of Kiev’s cultural achievements will show how great a part he played in the literary and artistic development of his country. He proved also to be a wise lawgiver, and following the example of his father, who had tried to secure the frontiers against the raids of other nations, Jaroslav tried to protect the northern part of his realm, which was menaced by the Balts and the Finnish Estonians who were trying to extend their territories. The foundation of Juriev (Dorpat or Tartu) in the first half of the eleventh century was intended to put an end to the Estonian colonization of Russian lands, and Jaroslav’s expedition of about 1040 against Lithuania, in which he cooperated with the Poles, was also designed to arrest the Balts.


The only expedition which ended in disaster for him was that against the Byzantines in 1043. This was probably provoked by a disagreement which had broken out between Russian and Greek merchants in Constantinople. It was often said that this conflict induced him to undo some of his own work, i.e., the agreement reached with the Emperor and the Patriarch concerning the reorganization of the Kievan Church. According to this agreement, Kiev was to be the see of a metropolitan, who would be the head of the whole Russian Church. The metropolitan was to be consecrated and sent to Kiev by the Patriarch. He would then ordain bishops for other cities, the nominations being made in accordance with the wishes of the princes. The first Metropolitan of Kiev, Theopemptus, was sent to Russia from Constantinople about the year 1039.


It has hitherto been thought that the metropolitan would always have been Greek and that this stipulation was infringed in 1051 when Jaroslav caused a Russian, the learned Ilarion, to be elected Metropolitan of Kiev. There is, however, no evidence of such a rift between Byzantium and Kiev ensuing from this incident. Jaroslav’s move can best be explained on the basis of the





above-mentioned suggestion concerning a special arrangement which allowed for the See of Kiev to be occupied alternately by a Greek and a Russian prelate. It may be that there is a connection between this agreement and Jaroslav s attack on Constantinople in 1043 and the peace treaty concluded between Kiev and Byzantium which followed. But subsequently Jaroslav settled the whole dispute between Kiev and Byzantium by arranging a marriage between his son Vsevolod and a Byzantine princess.


In order to preclude feuds among his successors, Jaroslav established a new order of government. He gave to each of his five sons a principality as a kind of appanage, reserving for the eldest, Izjaslav, the cities of Kiev and Novgorod. The Prince of Kiev had to guard his pre-eminence over the others, but it appears that the old Scandinavian and Germanic influences made themselves felt again in Kiev in determining the order of succession. Jaroslav seems to have adopted the Germanic system of “tanistry,” which hitherto, however, had been followed only by the Vandals in Africa. [1] According to this system, the father is not succeeded by his son but by his younger brother, and the youngest brother is followed on the throne by the eldest of his nephews.


At first, this system was observed with some regularity. Izjaslav I (1054-1073) was followed on the throne of Kiev by his brothers Svjatoslav (1073-1076) and Vsevolod I (1078-1093). Then the succession fell to Izjaslav s son Svjatopolk II (1093-1113) and after him to Vsevolod’s son Vladimir II Monomach (1113-1125). The changes on the throne were, however, disturbed by incidents of ill omen for the future. Izjaslav failed to establish the superiority which belonged to him as the senior prince holding Kiev. He had to share his authority over the whole of Russia with his brothers Svjatoslav and Vsevolod. Then Vseslav, the Prince of Polock, great grandson of Vladimir the Great, and Rostislav of Novgorod, resenting their exclusion by Jaroslav the Wise from participation in the joint rule over Russia, started to make trouble.



1. This system was followed also in Scotland until the eleventh century, when it gave rise to the struggle between Duncan and Macbeth and was finally ended by the sons of Duncan’s son Malcolm III and St. Margaret.





Rostislav occupied the principality of Tmutorokan, but because this move threatened Byzantine interests in the Crimea, he was poisoned by a Byzantine agent from Kherson. Vseslav, who in 1068 was proclaimed Prince of Kiev by the Kievan population who were in revolt against Izjaslav, [1] was captured treacherously by the three brothers and expelled from Kiev by the Poles whose help Izjaslav had implored. Izjaslav, who was himself driven away from Kiev in 1073 by his brothers, asked the Pope Gregory VII for help, offering Kiev as a papal fief; but no help came [2] and he was able to return to Kiev only after Svjatoslav’s death in 1076.





Vladimir Monomach was called to the throne of Kiev by rebellious citizens who were disgruntled at Svjatopolk’s social and financial policy. He owed his popularity to his display of energy and valor during the campaign against the new invaders of southern Russia, the Cumans, called the Polovci by the Russians. Their invasions started in the sixties of the eleventh century and were devastating, though quarrels among the ruling princes facilitated their initial success. Eventually, in 1103 Svjatopolk and Vsevolod’s son Vladimir joined forces and crushed the invading hordes. The victory was crowned in 1111 by a great Russian raid deep into the steppes, and the hero of this campaign was the young Vladimir. This popularity won him the favor of the Kievans, and the rights of Svjatopolk’s brothers and Svjatoslav’s sons to succeed in Kiev were thus ignored.


Monomach started his reign with some legislative measures in favor of the lower classes and throughout his reign he showed a deep understanding of social problems. In his Poučenie — “Admonition” to his sons — he left a kind of “mirror of a good prince” for his successors. The document shows, at the same time, how



1. Vseslav survived in the Russian epic tradition as a prince-werewolf. See R. Jakobson’s and M. Szeftel’s study, “The Vseslav Epos” in Russian Epic Studies (Memoirs of the American Folklore Society, Vol. 42, edited by R. Jakobson and E. J. Simmons, Philadelphia, 1949), pp. 13-86.


2. For details see below, pp. 275, 276.





profoundly Christian principles had penetrated the Russian soul.


Because of his popularity, Monomach was able to leave the Kievan throne to his eldest son Mstislav I (1125-1132), whose mother was Gyda, daughter of Harold II, the last Saxon king of England. Together with his brother Jaropolk, Prince of Perejaslavl’, Mstislav I made a serious effort to secure the northern and southern borders of the Russian lands, menaced by the Finnish Estonians and the Cumans.


It seemed now as if the dynasty of Monomach would stay firmly established in Kiev. After Mstislav’s death, his brother Jaropolk II succeeded him (1132-1139). Unfortunately a quarrel that broke out among the members of Mstislav’s family for the possession of the principality of Perejaslavl’ weakened Jaropolk II’s position. As a result his brother Vjačeslav, who should have succeeded him, was driven away from Kiev by a descendant of Svjatoslav, Vsevolod II (1139-1146). A prolonged struggle between the dynasties of Monomach and Svjatoslav was the result of this intrusion, but the citizens of Kiev showed their sympathies for the dynasty of Monomach when accepting Mstislav’s son Izjaslav II (1146-1154) and rejecting Vsevolod’s brother Igor’. Izjaslav II’s succession was, however, contested by his uncle George (Jurij), Prince of Rostov-Suzdal’, the new principality in the northeast, and after a protracted struggle George, called Dolgoruki — the Longhanded — emerged victorious (1154-1157). The final result of the dynastic struggles was tragic for Kiev. George’s son Andrew, called Bogoljubskij, took possession of Kiev (1169) in order to secure his right to succession against Mstislav, son of Izjaslav II. The city was pillaged and destroyed by fire, and Andrew (1157-1174) did not think it worth while to remain there. He installed his relatives in Kiev, returned to his northeastern principality and took up residence in Vladimir, a city which had superseded Rostov and Suzdal’. The decline of Kiev was accelerated during the reign of Andrews brother Vsevolod III (1176-1212), who not only continued to reside in Vladimir but took the title of Grand-Prince of Vladimir instead of Kiev.


Contemporaneously with these dynastic struggles the Kievan





15. Slavic Settlements ca. 990





State was being completely transformed. The center of national wealth and political power was steadily moving from Kiev towards the northeast and the southwest. The principalities of Smolensk, Cemigov, Polock, Perejaslavl’, which were set up on the territories of the primitive tribes — the Radimiči, Drevljane, Severjane and Vjatiči — gradually increased in importance as their population grew, and Rjazan and Murom on the Oka were soon surpassed by the most northeasterly principality of Rostov-Suzdal’, between the rivers Volga, Oka and Moskva.


The territories of the southwest were also becoming more important as factors in the national development. The primitive tribes there were amalgamated under the common name of Volynjane, and the territory they occupied was called the principality of Volhynia. The westernmost Russian outpost was the fortified place of Galie (Halicz), founded by Prime Vladimir about 1140, from which the whole region derived its name — Galicia. The temporary union of Galicia with Volhynia at the beginning of the thirteenth century seemed to open new possibilities for further Russian development, although in the event they were to be frustrated.


At the same time in the north, Novgorod was developing into a great colonial power. It was sending colonists and pioneers as far as the White Sea, the basin of Pečora and the upper Volga.


What was the reason for this transformation? The dynastic struggles of the Rurik dynasty for the possession of Kiev do not explain such a massive exodus of the population towards the northeast and the southwest. Similar struggles were occurring also in the new principalities. The main reason may have been the invasions of the Cumans which were particularly devastating. The Russian Primary Chronicle registered fifty invasions between the years 1061 and 1210, besides many local raids. For this reason, and anxious to find more security, the population moved from the Kievan principality to the new lands in the northeast and the southwest where colonization had begun.


Thus ended one glorious phase in Russian history: that of the Kievan State. The new period which followed was one of





independent principalities held together by a common tradition and a common faith. This stage of evolution was interrupted by another Asiatic invasion, that of the Mongols, and darkness fell over the Russian lands for two long centuries. When new hope dawned in Russian hearts, all eyes turned not towards the south where stood Kiev, the cradle of Russian glory, but to the north, where on the territory of the principality of Suzdal’-Vladimir, Moscow had arisen. And it was from this new center that the idea of the unity of the Russian lands, bom in Kiev and blessed by the Church, began to be realized anew.







A survey of the main features of Kievan civilization and an examination of the inner evolution of Kievan Russia are necessary in order to analyze the reasons responsible for the rise and fall of Kiev. The problems which should be studied in this respect are many; and it is impossible to touch upon them all. Attention must therefore be concentrated upon those which seem particularly relevant.


The main source of the wealth and importance of Kiev in Europe lay in its commerce with the East. It seemed that Europe had, at last, discovered a new access to the treasures of Byzantium and the Middle East, an access which was not subject to Arab intervention. This does not mean that the Arabs did not pay any attention to what was to them an important problem; but probably the continuous struggle which they were waging with Byzantium and the Christian world in Italy and Spain prevented them from seeing the advantages of commercial intercourse with the West and from developing it more fully. In years of peace they did trade with Byzantium and some Western countries. It was, however, left to the Scandinavians to seek new ways by which commercial relations between Western Europe and the Middle East could be restored and freed from the interference of Arab pirates in the Mediterranean and Adriatic. This was achieved by the Scandinavian discovery of the Volga route to





the Caspian Sea and Bagdad and later by the even more important discovery of the put’ iz Varyag v Greki — the route from Scandinavia to the Greeks, following the Dnieper and the coast of the Black Sea. Because of this, Kiev became one of the most important commercial centers in Europe. From there the Scandinavian conquerors also secured the trade route leading to Central Europe, which seems to have been used earlier by the Goths. This explains the interest which Vladimir and his successors took in the so-called Red cities and Přemysl, uniting Kiev with Cracow and the Vistula on one side and with Prague, the Danube and Regensburg on the other. In fact, mention is made as early as the tenth century of Russian merchants on the upper Danube and in Prague.


These commercial relations would have become of immense and lasting importance for Russia if the Kievan princes had been able to obtain complete control of the mouths of the rivers forming the main commercial channels — the Dnieper, Dniester, Don and Volga. Unfortunately, the continual invasions of nomadic tribes coming from the interior of Asia prevented them from doing this, and their failure proved the main handicap to Kievan trade. The Khazars, however, understood the importance of commercial intercourse. After some time, even the Pechenegs were brought to see reason, and they concluded special trading arrangements with the Russians; but the Cumans and, after them, the Mongols extinguished all hopes that normal commercial intercourse would be continued.


This was all the more serious because, in the meantime, the West had on its own initiative opened a new Mediterranean route towards the Middle East by establishing a number of Christian states in Syria and Palestine after the First Crusade (1096-1099). In spite of this, there was still the possibility of trade with Byzantium in the south and with Scandinavia, the Baltic countries, Flanders and England in the north. The conquest of Constantinople by the Latins in 1204, however, put a definite end to a prosperous relationship with what was left of Byzantium. In the north, only Novgorod was left in a position to trade with northern





Europe, Germany and the interior of Russia — a circumstance which saved this city from the sad fate which overcame the rest of Russia.


Russian exports were largely limited to raw materials — furs, wax, honey, flax, hemp, tow, burlap, hops, tallow, fats and hides, not to mention, especially in the tenth century, slaves. There was also a certain amount of transit trade, the Russian merchants re-exporting to Central and Northern Europe goods which they had obtained from Byzantium such as precious stones, spices, rugs, silks and satins and weapons of Damascus steel.


At first, foreign money was used in commercial transactions. This is illustrated by numerous finds of Arab, Byzantine and Scandinavian coins in many different places, which are particularly numerous for the ninth and tenth centuries. Apart from these, especially in the markets of the interior, certain kinds of furs were used as currency. Later, there appeared a form of metal currency — grivna — the value of which, however, was not very stable. In the reign of Vladimir, silver and gold coins were minted bearing the Duke’s emblem. This was the beginning of the Russian monetary system, although furs continued to be favored in barter.





It was natural that commercial relations should exercise an important influence on the economic, social and political evolution of Russia. There is, in fact, a great difference in this respect between Russia and that part of Central Europe which was transformed by the Germanic migrations. In the Carolingian period and afterwards, the national economy of Central Europe was centered in the manors of the aristocratic landowners. Cities began to spring up only in a much later period, the twelfth century, when artisans and merchants had found their place in the national economy. In Kievan Russia, the situation was different. Trade could develop only in cities, and the market place was the center where townsfolk and country people met. It soon





became associated with political life and administration. All public announcements were made in the public market, and judges would open their enquiries into, say, a case of theft only after the plaintiff had proclaimed the details of the incident in the market place.


The most important citizens were, naturally, the merchants, who frequently exerted a considerable influence on the economic and political life of the nation. They formed companies and guilds for their own purposes. Their example was followed by artisans who united in cooperative associations. The importance of the city in national life is illustrated by the existence of the veče, the city assembly, an institution which was a characteristic of Kievan Russia. It developed from the old council of family chiefs common to all Indo-European nations. As, thanks to the merchants, national life became centralized in the cities, these assemblies of family heads grew in importance. In minor cities the assemblies limited their activities to dealing with purely local matters, but the veče in the capital cities became a weighty political institution. It was presided over by the mayor, who called its members together whenever the necessity arose. The veče would meet near the ducal palace, or in the square before the cathedral church, or in the market place. Sometimes it had a voice in deciding the succession to the throne. Sometimes it claimed the right to voice dissatisfaction with the ruling prince, even going so far as to call for his abdication. Usually, it supported the prince and his council in matters of legislation and administration. The dukes of Kiev generally succeeded in keeping the assembly under control; but in Novgorod the veče achieved the zenith of its power.


Thus it came about that the city inhabitants became a significant element in the state, although they were far fewer than the free peasantry, called smerdi. [1] These latter continued to live in the zadruga (great families) and regarded the soil which they



1. On the low social position of the smerdi see the study by Y. Blum “The Smerdi in Kievan Russia," The Amer. Slavic and East Europ. Review XII (1953), pp. 122-130.





tilled as being the common property of all members of the great families. On this basis the verv’, a local community similar to the Anglo-Saxon guild, developed and was superseded later by the peasant commune (obščina, mir). In addition to the free peasantry there were also peasants who worked on the estates of the boyars, and slaves.


The upper classes were formed from the natives — Slavs, muži, leaders of clans and tribes — or from aliens — Scandinavians. From the second half of the eleventh century, however, the distinction between them began to disappear, and both merged into one class of the privileged boyars. The melting pot for this transformation was the družina — the retinues of the princes, composed at first of Scandinavian warriors and servants. From the old members the duke chose his posadniks, or representatives in the provincial administration. From the members of the retinue the duke also chose the tysjatsky, the city governor, who was also the commander of the city militia. At the beginning, he must have been elected by the people and was considered to represent the people before the ruler. This practice was continued in Novgorod. The prince also chose the members of his private council, the duma, from among the older members of his družina. Besides them, the native boyars, bishops and representatives of the merchants were also regarded as the duke’s councillors.





There is a problem which is still debated by specialists in early Russian history: the question of feudalism in the Kievan period. There is no room to discuss this in detail, but it is pertinent to recall what happened in this respect in Byzantium. Feudalism was not a Byzantine institution, and the emperors struggled hard to prevent the disappearance of the free peasantry and the concentration of landed property in the hands of a powerful aristocracy. But they were unable to arrest the course of evolution. The impoverishment of the free peasantry, due to high taxation and foreign invasions, played into the hands of the landed aristocracy,





who promised protection and help in return for the surrender of the free use of the peasants’ land. A similar evolution had occurred in Bulgaria, and the same symptoms can also be observed in Kievan Russia during the period of its decline and before the onslaught of the Mongols. The deti boyarshie (sons of the boyars) and the zakladničestvo, which we find in the later Kievan period, were a Russian version of the Greek and Bulgarian paroikoi — free peasants who sought the help and protection of the rich and mighty. [1]


It is thus evident, even from this short review of the economic, social and political conditions of Kievan Russia, that there was a basic difference in this respect between the Kievan State and the rest of Europe. The main reason for this difference was economic — the flourishing trade that went on between the North and the East. This circumstance enhanced the importance of cities in the national life and helped to replace the old tribal organization by a regional grouping of the population around cities as centers of administration. Nowhere else in Europe do we find the coexistence of city states and monarchic institutions such as developed in Kievan Russia. This was the basis of Kiev’s strength — and also of its weakness. This special social structure delayed the evolution of feudalism, which dominated the scene in contemporary Europe; but the crisis in trade, brought about by the invasions and by the activities of the Crusaders, combined with the lack of monarchic strength, brought about the collapse of Kiev.





The high level of Russian civilization in the Kievan period and its character are indicated by what we have learned about the economic evolution of the country and its relations with the rest of Europe. The vast incomes which the princes gathered from tribute paid by their subjects and from their personal participation



1. On the further evolution of Russian feudalism see G. Vernadsky’s study “Feudalism in Russia," Speculum XIV (1939), pp. 300-323.





in trade enabled them to indulge a remarkable activity in the field of architecture. The artistic inspiration naturally came from Byzantium but also from the West and from the Near East; but Russian artists soon learned the secrets which their masters revealed to them, and they improved upon them.


Another important feature of Kievan civilization is that it was not closed to Western influences. These can be traced in its literary achievements, its juridical evolution and its religious life, and the stepping stone for these influences was eleventh-century Bohemia.


First of all, Byzantium’s legacy to Russia in art was particularly generous, and the first dukes of Kiev spent lavishly to take advantage of it. In 989, Vladimir built a church of the Assumption in Kiev which was destroyed by the Mongols in 1240. The church of the Holy Wisdom (St. Sophia), begun in Kiev by Jaroslav the Wise and built during the years 1037-1100, is a jewel of Byzantine art, erected and embellished by Greek artists; and to obtain a correct impression of Greek art and architecture of the eleventh century, it is necessary to study the church in Kiev. Later the church of the Holy Wisdom in Novgorod (1045-1054) — as well as the Nereditsa church (1198)—followed the pattern of the Holy Wisdom of Kiev, and its bold lines converging on a crown of thirteen cupolas must have appealed strongly to the tastes of the Russians since they made it one of the characteristic features of all their subsequent ecclesiastical architecture. Unfortunately little remains of Byzantine architecture and art of the same period on the soil of the Empire itself.


Kiev had its second school of arts, founded by Byzantine masters, who introduced the new architectural style of which the church of Our Lady’s Assumption in the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev was the first typical example. It was constructed in 1089, but was almost completely destroyed in the second World War. Two other churches, those of the monasteries of St. Cyril (1140) and of St. Michael with the Golden Cupola (1108), followed the pattern of the church of the Assumption, and this style also found its way north of Kiev to Černigov.





Besides architecture, the decorative arts also received inspiration from Byzantium. The mosaics and frescoes of St. Sophia of Kiev were discovered in 1843 and have since attracted much attention from historians of art. They are of singular beauty, some of them exceptionally striking for their vigorous design and expressive reality. Native artists soon began to imitate their Byzantine masters. Amongst them, Olympius, a monk of the Monastery of the Caves, was especially gifted, and the mosaics of St. Michael with the Golden Cupola are attributed to him. He lacks the dexterity and refinement of technique of his Creek masters; but shows remarkable originality in the conception of his figures which, less rigid than those of St. Sophia, are much more lifelike and varied. His work is one of the finest examples of medieval Russian religious art.


From the twelfth century there are also the frescoes of Novgorod and Vladimir, which are in part the production of native artists.


The practice of painting icons also owes its origin to Byzantine inspiration. In this respect, the famous icon, Our Lady of Vladimir, deserves special mention. Painted in the eleventh or very early twelfth century and of Byzantine origin, it has inspired millions of Russians and was from the first admired and imitated because of its touching and unaffected beauty. The painting of icons developed into a special Russian form of religious art, in which native originality found a remarkable expression.





In the sphere of literature, Kievan Russia was most fortunate in that, from the very beginning of its Christian life, it was in possession of all the treasures of the Old Slavonic literature bequeathed to Moravia by SS. Cyril and Methodius. These were salvaged by their disciples, when the Moravian Empire collapsed, and brought by them to Bulgaria. The Bulgarians considerably enriched this heritage before they transmitted it to the Russians. Thus the catastrophe which befell Bulgaria in the





tenth century, when it became a Byzantine province, proved to be of inestimable benefit to Russia, for many Bulgarian refugees fled there carrying with them copies of Old Slavonic literary works.


Another agency, so far overlooked, which was instrumental in introducing Slavonic letters into Kievan Russia was Bohemia. Historians were not clear about the extent of the Přemyslide State and the spread of the Slavonic liturgy in the Czech lands; but it is now known that Slavonic literature flourished in Bohemia throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries. As to the extent of the Přemyslide State, it is also known that, after the loss of Cracow and what remained of White Croatia, the Přemyslides held Moravia and Slovakia until the beginning of the eleventh century, when these two countries were occupied by Boleslas the Great of Poland. Then, in the tenth century, Poland, Kievan Russia and Bohemia met in the Carpathian Mountains. This made access from Bohemia into Kievan Russia very easy and explains, for example, how the manuscript of Vita Methodii found its way into Russia. Indeed, the preservation of this literary treasure is due to that happy circumstance.


A short notice on Vladimir the Great in Thietmar’s Chronicle seems to indicate that Czech missionaries were active in Kiev during Vladimir’s reign, if not before. After recalling (Book VII, Chap. 72 in R. Holtzmann’s edition) the adventures of the Polish Bishop Reinbern in Kiev — he was imprisoned by Vladimir because of his intrigues with Vladimir’s son Svjatopolk, who had married a Polish princess — Thietmar admits that Vladimir atoned for his many sins by generous charities. Then he continues: “When he was weakened by age and after having reigned in the above-mentioned realm for long, he died. He was buried in the great city of Kiev, in the church of Christ’s martyr and Pope, Clement, beside his wife mentioned above. Their sarcophagi are visible there, standing in the middle of the church.”


Thietmar’s information about Kiev seems reliable. He had no reason for inventing the existence of an imaginary church in Kiev. He evidently gathered his information on Boleslas’s Russian





expeditions from German — most probably Saxon — mercenaries who were in the Polish army. [1] Thietmar speaks of the presence of Germans in Boleslas’s army during his first expedition in 1013 (Book VI, Chap. 91, ed. R. Holtzmann) and provides particularly precise information on Germans in Kiev in Boleslas’s army in 1018 (Book VIII, Chaps. 31, 32, ed. R. Holtzmann). They numbered 300 and were probably commanded by Henry (Henricus) the Proud, who lost his life during the encounter with the Russians. It can readily be imagined that the Germans who volunteered to help Boleslas reinstate his son-in-law Svjatopolk in Kiev and who were so much impressed by all that they saw there were eager to visit the grave of Svjatopolk’s famous father.


It should be stressed, moreover, that the passage on Vladimir’s burial in the church of St. Clement was added to the manuscript of the Chronicle by Thietmar himself and written by his own hand. As R. Holtzmann pointed out in the introduction to his critical edition of Thietmar’s Chronicle, the original manuscript of the Chronicle, now in the Landesbibliothek in Dresden, was written by eight scribes who put down in writing what the Bishop dictated. Thietmar, however, made many corrections with his own hand and added short passages to supplement information which he had omitted when dictating to his scribes. He seems then to have been convinced of the genuineness of the above information since he took pains to add it to his scribe’s copy with his own hand.


At the same time, it is a known fact that St. Clement was the patron saint of the Slavonic liturgy, and the existence of a church of St. Clement in Kiev would thus indicate that priests of the Slavonic liturgy -from Bulgaria or from Bohemia — were present in Kiev in Vladimir’s time.


Thietmar’s information, however, is contradicted by the Russian Primary Chronicle, which say that Vladimir was buried in the church of Our Lady, which he had founded. The same source, however, helps to explain this apparent contradiction.



1. Cf. P. Schmitthenner, Das freie Söldnertum im abendländischen Imperium (München, 1934), p. 20.





The Chronicle describes how Vladimir, after surrendering the city of Kherson to the Byzantines, transported the relics of St. Clement from there to Kiev. It can thus be surmised that Vladimir deposited the relics in the church of Our Lady, where a special chapel was dedicated to St. Clement. [1]


The fact that Vladimir wanted to be buried in the chapel of St. Clement shows that he harbored a special veneration for the Saint, whose relics had been discovered, as it was thought at that time, by SS. Cyril and Methodius, the founders of the Slavonic liturgy, during their stay in Kherson. If so, they evidently left part of the relics in that city.


It is thus possible that the cult of St. Clement helped Bulgarian and perhaps also Czech missionaries, who regarded him as the patron saint of the Slavonic liturgy introduced by SS. Cyril and Methodius, to penetrate to Kiev in Vladimir the Great’s time. If this is so, they naturally brought with them their treasures of Slavonic literature.


The Russians built their own literature upon these Bulgarian and Czech materials, adapting to their own needs the many translations from the Greek which were brought to them from Bulgaria. To a young nation on the threshold of its intellectual life, this rich store of letters was indeed a godsend and a blessing which was denied to the young Western nations.





It should also be stated that the Russians made very good use of the gift. In this respect Jaroslav the Wise did for the Russians what Symeon the Great did for the Bulgarians. The Russian Primary Chronicle pays deep homage to Jaroslav’s merits for the advancement of learning in Kiev:



1. Cf. N. Zakrevskij, Opisanie Kieva (Moscow, 1868), vol. I, p. 281. Already I. M. Karamzin, in his History of Russia (Istorija Gosudarstva Rossijskago [St. Petersburg, 1844], 5th ed., vol. I, footnote 488 to ch. II, col. 136) gave detailed information on the treatment of the sarcophagi and of the relics of St. Vladimir during the Tataric invasion and in the seventeenth century.





“He applied himself to books, and read them continually day and night. He assembled many scribes and translated from Greek into Slavic. He wrote and collected many books through which true believers are instructed and enjoy religious education. . . . His father Vladimir plowed and harrowed the soil when he enlightened Rus through baptism, while this prince sowed the hearts of the faithful with the written word, and we in turn reap the harvest by receiving the teaching of books. . .”


In another passage the Chronicle says that Jaroslav had deposited the books written on his orders in the church of the Holy Wisdom. It is permissible to suppose that this library formed the basis of a kind of academy founded by Jaroslav in Kiev. Another Russian chronicle relates that, about 1030, Jaroslav founded a school in Novgorod for both clergy and laymen, and in the Life of St. Theodosius the existence of a school in Kursk is attested (about 1023). Casual remarks in other similar writings authorize the conclusion that these schools were not the only educational institutions and that ladies were not excluded from learning.


Because the knowledge of reading and writing was widespread, the production of books increased. Specialists think that at least forty new translations of Greek works were made in the Kievan State before the Tatar invasion. Among them were: commentaries on the Epistles of St. Paul and on the Canticle of Canticles, the lives of some popular Greek saints (Andrew the Fool in Christ, Stephen of Surož, Theodore of Studion, the Miracles of St. Nicholas, Cosmas and Damian and St. Demetrius), the sermons of St. Theodore of Studion and the statutes of his monastery, the Letter of Peter of Antioch, Nicetas’s commentary on the sermons of St. Gregory of Nazianzus, and an account of the construction of the church of the Holy Wisdom in Constantinople.


It was in Kievan Russia that Old Slavonic literature reached its highest level and inspired many original writings of great value. In particular, mention should be made of the discourse by the metropolitan Ilarion (Hilarion) “On the Law and Grace.” The author gives a rhetorical description of the Old Testament





— the Law — and of the New Testament — the Grace — which is not without originality. Then he stresses the universal role of Christianity, “the religion of grace which has spread over the whole earth” and has in the end also reached new nations among whom “is the people of Rus.” And then also for the Rus “the lake of the Law dried out while the fount of the Gospel welled up” . . . and after covering the whole earth, “overflowed upon us."


With these words Ilarion expresses his joy over the entry of the Russian nation into the Law of Grace, swelled with a patriotic pride that Rus, which is known and celebrated to all the ends of the earth, had become a member of the universal Christian commonwealth. Therefore, as all countries honor the teachers who had acquainted them with the Orthodox faith — Rome, St. Peter, Asia and Ephesus, St. John, India, St. Thomas, Egypt, St. Mark —so should the Russians praise their great khagan, Vladimir, their teacher and instructor. Then follows a panegyric on St. Vladimir, who is pictured, together with his son Jaroslav the Wise, in the Byzantine fashion as the ideal Christian ruler. The work ends with a long “Prayer for Russia” full of deep sentiment.


The work is written, according to Ilarion, not for the simple people, but for those “who had feasted to their fill on the sweetness of books.” Its style is highly rhetorical, full of symbolical parallels, of metaphors, antitheses and other oratorical figures. The treatise shows the strikingly high level of civilization reached by the new Christian nation during the earliest period of its Christian life. It gives ample evidence of a rapid assimilation of Greco-Byzantine culture and of the Cyrillo-Methodian inheritance by the Russians of Kiev.


Another original work, showing that the literary élite of the Kievan period had reached quite a high cultural level, is the y famous Russian Primary Chronicle, formerly called Nestors Chronicle after one of its supposed compilers, [1] which was given



1. For more details see S. H. Cross’s introduction to his English translation of the Laurentian version in Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature XII (1930), pp. 77-135; new edition by O. P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Cambridge, Mass., 1953), pp. 3-50. Cf. also N. K. Gudzy, History of Early Russian Literature (New York, 1949, translated by S. W. Jones), pp. 117-146.





its final shape at the beginning of the twelfth century. This Chronicle — called in Russian Povest’ vremennych let — the "Tale of Bygone Years," is preserved in two versions: the Laurentian (written in 1377) and the Hypatian (written about 1420). In the Laurentian version it is followed by a North Russian chronicle which goes down to the year 1305 and in the Hypatian by a South Russian chronicle recording events in Kiev, Galicia and Volhynia down to the year 1292.


The authors of the Chronicle used numerous Greek, Russian and other sources. Among the Greek sources, the most important are the Chronicle of George Hamartolus and those of John Malalas and George Syncellus. The Greek Life of Basil the Young and the Revelations of Methodius of Patras were also known to the compilers. The account of the origin of Slavic literature is taken from a Moravian source. [1] Included in the narrative of the Chronicle are many Russian and Varangian tales, both oral and written, monastic legends, [2] biographies,



1. It may have been a manuscript, since lost, in defense of St. Methodius’s right of jurisdiction over his metropolis of Sirmium, which extended over Pannonia, Great Moravia and a part of Illyricum. The Russian Primary Chronicle (6396-6406 : 888-898) stresses that Methodius was the successor of Andronicus, one of the seventy disciples of Christ, whom St. Paul appointed bishop of "Illyricum, whither Paul first repaired and where the Slavs originally lived." St. Paul was thus promoted to be the Apostle of the Slavic race, and from this race — says the chronicler — "we Russians too, are sprung." Moreover, in the introduction the author stresses the Slavic character of Noricum. R. Jakobson rightly points out that these affirmations could have been found by the chronicler in a Moravian apology of Slavonic letters and of Methodius’s metropolitan rights. It should be noted that these details are not mentioned in the Vita Methodii which the Russian chronicler might also have known. For details see Jakobsons study (Olaf Jansen) "Český podíl," in the Czech publication Co daly naše země (Prague, 1940), p. 16 and his “Sources for Early History of the Slavic Church" in Harvard Slavic Studies II (1954), pp. 61 ff.


2. See, for example, the recent study by D. Čyžewskij, “Studien zur russischen Hagiographie. Die Erzählung worn hl. Isaakij," Wiener Slavist. Jahrbuch II (1952), pp. 22-49 on the story of four monks from the Monastery of the Caves, told by the chronicler ad annum 1074.





martial stories and popular sayings. Some of these were independent writings and their preservation is due to the Chronicle.


The Chronicle is a remarkable literary achievement. Its style, although lacking in unity because of the miscellaneity of its sources, is fluent, vigorous, fresh, often laconic and delightful to the reader. It is no exaggeration to classify the Chronicle as one of the best produced in Europe during the Middle Ages by virtue of its literary qualities and historical documentation.


The Chronicle does not start with the creation of the world as do Byzantine chronicles, but with the division of the earth among Noah’s sons and goes straight to the history of Japheth and the confusion of the tongues, insisting that “the Slavic race is derived from the line of Japheth.” It further stresses the unity of all Slavic nations, a rare instance of national consciousness at so early a period.


Unlike the Serbs and the Bulgarians, the Russians made full use of the annalistic training they obtained from their Byzantine masters. The Russian Primary Chronicle became the basis of numerous other local annalistic compilations which continued its tradition. During the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries the following cities and principalities had their annalists: Perejaslavl’ in the South, Černigov, Volhynia, Kiev, Novgorod, Rostov, Suzdalian Perejaslavl’, and Vladimir even boasted three chronicles. [1] Numerous other works in later periods also drew on these compilations.


To this historical literature should be added the Slavonic translation of Josephus’s History of the Judaic War. [2] It is another document testifying to the taste of the Kievan Russians for historical literature.



1. A good survey of Russian chronicles is given by D. S. Lichačev in his study Russkie letopisy, ich kulturno-istorič. značenie (Russian chronicles and their importance for Russian History and Civilization), published by U.S.S.R. Academy (Moscow, 1947).


2. See the edition and translation by V. M. Istrin, A. Vaillant and P. Pascal, La Prise de Jerusalem de Joseph le Juif (Paris, 1934-38).





At the beginning of the twelfth century, the Kievan Prince Vladimir Monomach, who died in 1125, left to his children and subjects his Poučenie, a book of “Instruction” which was also called his “Testament.” It is again a remarkable literary document which gives impressive evidence of a high cultural level at the princely court of Kiev. The author, a layman and ruler, is very familiar with the Holy Writ and the service books. He had, also read the different “Instructions” which were so popular in Byzantium and some of which, for example, those of Xenophon and Marius, were included in Svjatoslav’s Sbornik of 1076. [1] In a terse and effective style Monomach sketches his experiences of life, and the advice he gives to his children discloses the high moral qualities of this extraordinary prince. There are few Western princes who could have produced such a work in the vernacular. [2]


Equally original is the account which the Prince’s contemporary, Abbot Daniel, wrote of the pilgrimage to the Holy Land and of conditions in Jerusalem during the reign of the Latin King Baldwin, [3] whom the Russian monk accompanied on his campaign against Damascus. There are in this book many pages of unusual charm and beauty, which make it an outstanding example of early Russian literature.


In respect of original work, St. Theodosius, Abbot of the Caves Monastery, who died in 1074, may be compared with the Metropolitan



1. Cf. the short study by T. Čyževska, “Zu Vladimir Monomach und Kekaumenos,” Wiener Slavistisches Jahrbuch II (1952), pp. 157-160, in which the author shows some parallel passages between Monomach s admonitions and those of the Greek Kekaumenos.


2. I. M. Ivakin, Kniaz Vladimir Monomach i ego Poučenie (Prince Vladimir Monomach and his Instruction), Moscow, 1901. New edition by A. S. Orlov (Vladimir Monomach, Moscow, 1946) with Russian translation. See also S. H. Cross, “The Testament of Vladimir Monomach," Harvard Studies and Notes in Philology and Literature XII (1930).


3. A. de Noroff, Pélérinage en Terre Sainte de l’Igoumène Russe Daniel au commencement du XIIe siècle (St. Petersburg, 1864, French translation and Russian text). The English translation was made from the French version by C. W. Wilson — The Pilgrimage of the Russian Abbot Daniel in the Holy Land, 1106-1107 (London, 1888, Library of the Palestine Pilgrims Text Society, vol. IV).





Ilarion. His sermons to the monks are simple and reveal that the Saint was well acquainted with the sermons of St. John Chrysostom, of Theodore of Studion and of Basil the Great. In some homilies Theodosius complained bitterly about the lack of discipline among the monks. His extreme humility and charity seem to have been partly responsible for that. He rejected all visible signs of his abbatial authority, refused to punish erring monks, and was too ready to receive the runaway brethren back into the community.


In spite of this, Theodosius has the great merit of having introduced order and discipline into the young Russian monastic life. His ideal was not the excessive asceticism of the Syrian and Egyptian hermits whose example had inspired his own teacher St. Anthony, but rather the community life, divided between prayer, ascetic practices, manual work and service to the world. [1] He obtained a copy of the Greek rule of the Monastery of Studion in Constantinople, had it translated into Old Slavonic, and introduced this Rule of St. Theodore of Studion, the great reformer of Greek monasticism, into Kiev.


Besides Theodosius’s homilies, there exist a certain number of original sermons from the eleventh and twelfth centuries, written by anonymous authors, which would merit special study. Two other prelates, the Metropolitan Clement Smoljatič and Cyril, Bishop of Turov, deserve special mention. In one of Clement’s letters which has been preserved, he defends himself against accusations of quoting Homer, Aristotle and Plato in his sermons. This shows that the Greek classics were known in Kiev at that early period, if not in originals, at least from anthologies. Cyril, who died in 1185, provides evidence in his sermons, letters and prayers that very soon after the nation’s conversion its clergy mastered the works of the Greek Fathers and adapted them with skill and understanding. His contemporaries and followers did



1. Cf. C. P. Fedotov, The Russian Religious Mind (Cambridge, Mass. 1948), pp. 110 ff. (Russian kenoticism). See also the introduction (by W. Fritze) to the translation of Theodosius’s Life in E. Benz, Russische Heiligenlegenden (Zürich, 1953), pp. 76-81. Cf. also R. P. Casey, “Early Russian Monasticism," Orient. Christ. Periodica 19 (1953), pp. 372-423.





not hesitate to compare him with considerable justification with St. John Chrysostom. There were other writers in the Russia of this period who composed original works; but their productions have survived only in fragments. Two Bishops of Novgorod, Luke Židjata and Elias, are the best known.


There are numerous translations of Greek hagiographic writings: at least five so-called Paterika (collections of Lives of Saints); that of Palladius, from Sinai, the “Egyptian Paterik,” that of Jerusalem, an alphabetical Paterikon and the Roman Paterikon, which were translated into Old Slavonic and read in Kiev. Several original works of this character came from Kiev, such as the Life of St. Vladimir by the monk Jacob, the Lives of St. Boris and St. Gleb (died 1015), one anonymous, ascribed to Jacob and the other by Nestor, a monk of the Monastery of the Caves, a Life of St. Theodosius, one of the founders of Russian monasticism (died 1074), also by Nestor of the Monastery of the Caves, and a Life of St. Mstislav of Kiev (1132).


One important contribution to early Russian literary activity was the Pečerskij Paterik, or collection of lives of saints, compiled in the famous Monastery of the Caves in Kiev. Besides some original items of information on this celebrated center of ascetic life, this work contains about thirty biographical sketches of local saints together with many legends. Some of this material had been written in the eleventh century, but most of it belongs to the thirteenth century when the whole collection was put together.


The Paterik is a very important source for the study of the spiritual life of Kievan Russia. Most of the local saints — Nicholas Svjatoša, one of the princes of Černigov, Prochorus the pigweed-eater, Spyridon the wafer-maker, Agapit the healer, Gregory the wonder-maker, Isaac the “holy fool in Christ,” Moses the Hungarian, a war prisoner in Poland, Eustratius, a war prisoner in the Crimea where he was crucified by the Jews, Nicon the Dry, captive among the Cumans, Kukša, martyred by the pagan Vjatiči, Mark the cave-dweller, and others — were disciples or followers of the ascetic practices introduced into Kiev





by Anthony and Theodosius, the founders of the Monastery and of Russian monastieism. In the lives and legends of the Paterik, Eastern ascetic traditions from Syria and Palestine can be traced which became familiar to the Russians through the intermediary of the Monastery of Studion in Constantinople and of Mount Athos.


The influence of Theodosius and his monastic ideas on Russian monasticism was more lasting than that of Anthony. His biography, one of the best works of this kind written in the Kievan period, [1] became a pattern for other Russian hagiographers and was a source of inspiration for many centuries to come to Russians who desired to embrace the religious life. It is not surprising that Theodosius was the first monk to be canonized by the Russian Church.


Juridical literature is also well represented by some original works such as the Greek and Russian “Ecclesiastical Rule” (Tserkovnij Ustav — about 1089), by the Metropolitan John II, and Voprošanie of Kirik (about 1130-1156), of which we possess only a few quotations. The first codification of Russian customary law, attributed to Jaroslav the Wise and called Russkaja Pravda, also belongs in its original form to the eleventh century. [2] Besides this original composition, there existed early in the Kievan period translations of handbooks of Byzantine law — especially the Ecloga and Procheiron. These reached Kiev from Bulgaria, together with the canonical Collection of XIV Titles, to which they were added. The “Agrarian Law” (Nomos Georgicos) was translated in the twelfth or thirteenth century. The Collection of Canon Law of John Scholasticus also



1. It was translated into English by G. P. Fedotov (A Treasury of Russian Spirituality, London, 1950, pp. 14-49). Cf. the last edition of the Paterik by D. Abramovič (Kievsko-Pečerskij Paterik, Kiev, 1930). See the German translation of a great part of the Paterik in Benz’s Russ. Heiligenleg., op. cit., pp. 169-243 with a very instructive introduction by D. Cyževskij. Ibid., pp. 76-156 a complete translation of Theodosius’s Life.


2. See the English translation of the Pravda, with bibliographical notices in G. Vernadsky’s Medieval Russian Law (Columbia Univ. Press, New York, 1947), pp. 26 ff.





reached Kiev from Bulgaria soon after its Christianization. It contained some important Novellae of Justinian.


Such are the outstanding works of early Russian literature written, of course, in the Russian version of Old Slavonic, the only literary language of the Slavs at that time, with a strong and growing infiltration of vernacular elements. It should be noted that all these works were written in the vernacular, a remarkable achievement at that time, since we know that most of the Western nations did not start writing in vernacular prose until the thirteenth century at the earliest, and most of them only in the fourteenth.





In the field of belles-lettres, the Russians of the Kievan period showed the same taste as other nations of the time. Like the Bulgarians, they liked Old Testament stories mixed with tales from the Apocrypha and condensed in the so-called Paleia. Among the apocryphal writings which they obtained from the Bulgarians, “The Virgin Mary’s Journey through the Inferno“ and “The Story of Solomon and the Kitovras“ were extremely popular. So also was “The Story of Barlaam and Josaphat,“ which was a variation of the life of Buddha adapted to the Christian mentality of the eighth century. Of course, the legendary Life of Alexander the Great, a product of the late Hellenistic age, appealed greatly to the Russians, as it did to all nations in the Middle Ages. This was translated in the eleventh or twelfth century, and also the great epic of the Byzantine frontiersmen in Asia Minor and of their fight against the Arabs — known as the Digenis Akritas — was translated in the twelfth or thirteenth century.


Besides the translations, original epic poems glorifying the deeds of national heroes must also have existed. These poems were transmitted orally before they were written down. The most original epic poem in manuscript, of which the Russians are justly proud, is The Lay of Igor’s Campaign. It describes the disastrous expedition made in 1185 against the Cumans by Prince Igor’ with some relatives and their retinues. The poet’s words echo the sadness felt by all patriotic Russians when they





learned about the defeat and witnessed new invasions of Russian land by the pagans. The poem reflects also in its vocabulary the lively intercourse the Russians of Kiev had with the Turkic nomads and describes better than the account of an annalist what the people had to suffer from the devastating nomadic invasion into the lands of Rus. The work seemed to many too beautiful and too perfect to have been composed at so early a period. Professor R. Jakobson, [1] however, definitely proved that it originated in the Kievan period soon after Igor’s unfortunate expedition against the Polovci.


Many epic poems which were transmitted orally and known in the Middle Ages, as for instance byliny or stariny, must have originated in the Kievan period to judge by their contents. [2] For some of them recall the deeds of Russian heroes fighting the nomads and the Jews, that is, the Khazars. The Kievan epic songs mostly glorified the heroes of Vladimir’s družina. Ilja of Murom was their senior, and they reflect the rather democratic spirit which characterized the relationship between the duke and his retinue. Some poems originated in Polock and in Galicia about the twelfth century. Probably in the same period there appeared the early version of "Sadko the Rich Merchant,” the famous poem, so typical of Novgorod with its commercial activity and its respect for wealth. In another Novgorodian epic — “Vaska Buslaev” — the restless and troublesome youth of the rich city is well portrayed.



1. "Le Geste du Prince Igor" Annuaire de l’Institut de Philologie et d’Histoire Orientales et Slaves VIII (New York, 1948), in collaboration with H. Grégoire and M. Szeftel. An English translation of the Tale, made by S. H. Cross, will also be found there. A. Mazon (Le Slovo d’Igor. Paris, 1940) and H. Paszkiewicz (The Origin of Russia, London, 1954, pp. 330-353) are the latest opponents of the authenticity of the work. Cf. also R. Jakobson "The Puzzles of the Igor Tale on the 150th Anniversary of its First Edition," Speculum XXVII (1952), pp. 43-66, and K. H. Menges, "The Oriental Elements in the Vocabulary of the Oldest Russian Epos, The Igor’s Tale," Word VII (1951), Supplement Monograph, No. 1.


2. For details see R. Jakobson, E. J. Simmons, Russian Epic Studies (Philadelphia, American Folklore Society, 1949, vol. 42) pp. 14 ff.; R. Trautmann, Volksdichtung der Grossrussen (Heidelberg, 1935); N. K. Chadwick, Russian Heroic poetry (Cambridge, 1932).










So far original works and translations from the Greek have been analyzed; but Kievan Russia was also open to works coming from the West such as original Slavonic works and translations from the Latin. As was stated above, Vladimir opened a gate to Western Europe when he occupied the eastern part of modern Galicia. Recent discoveries have shown that Slavic literary activity continued in the Přemyslide Empire throughout the tenth and eleventh centuries; and it was from there that translations from the Latin and Slavonic original works found their way into Russia, not only to Kiev but also to Novgorod. The earliest was the original Life of St. Wenceslas, written in Bohemia in Old Slavonic soon after 929. The text has been preserved only in manuscripts copied in Russia. Another Life of St. Wenceslas, written in the tenth century in Latin by Gumbold of Mantua, was translated into Slavonic in Bohemia and at the same time considerably enlarged. The preservation of this work is due to the fact that it was taken to Kiev. [1] A Latin Life of St. Vitus, patron saint of Saxony and Bohemia, was also translated in Prague and is found in a Russian collection dating from the twelfth century, called the Uspenskij Sbornik. The Slavonic Life of Wenceslass grandmother, St. Ludmila, now lost, was known in Kievan Russia and is preserved in its abridged form by the Russian Church in the Lessons of the Saints feast.


Besides these works, the Czech origin of which is incontestable,



1. It appears that the author of the Life of St. Theodosius (Feodosi) knew this Legend of St. Wenceslas and was inspired by this writing when composing Theodosius’s biography. See for details the study by D. Čyževskyj “Anklänge an die Gumpoldslegende des Hl. Václav in der altrussischen Legende des Hl. Feodosij und das Problem der ’Originalität’ der slavischen mittelalterlichen Werke’’ (Wiener Slavisches Jahrbuch I [1950], pp. 71-86). A detailed account of the numerous Western literary elements in Kievan literature and of their origins in Bohemia will be found in the following study: F. Dvornik, “Les Bénédictins et la christianisation de la Russie,” L’Eglise et les Eglises, 1054-1954 (Ed. de Chevetogne, 1954), pp. 323-349. Cf. also P. Devos, “Chronique d’hagiographie slave,” Analecta Bollandiana, 72 (1954), pp. 426-438.





there exist a number of texts in Russian manuscripts dating from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries which are certainly translations from the Latin into Slavonic. They were studied by A. I. Sobolevskij at the beginning of the present century, but the importance of these finds has, so far, been overlooked by most Slavic philologists. Some of these texts were almost certainly translated into Slavonic in Bohemia, whence they found their way into Kievan Russia. Among them are the Life of St. Benedict of Nursia, the Martyrdom of Pope St. Stephen, a short homily on the Baptism and Ascension of Jesus Christ, works on St. Cosmas and Damian and a sermon by St. Gregory the Great. Others, such as the sermons of SS. Peter and Paul on John the Baptist, and an Easter sermon, may be attributed to St. Methodius’s favorite disciple, St. Clement, who fled to Bulgaria. [1]





But there is even more. Kievan Russia was open to more than literary influences from the West, and the Russian Church accepted the cult of Western saints. This explains how the cult of SS. Wenceslas and Ludmila, two Czechs, but of the Latin Church, came to be popular in Russia in the eleventh century. There are indications that the cult of St. Adalbert (Vojtěch), Bishop of Prague, the great friend of Otto III and Boleslas the Great of Poland, was known in Russia at the same period.


An interesting document in this connection is a prayer to the Blessed Trinity. It is of Western origin and could have found its way into Kievan Russia from nowhere but the Premyslide Empire. It lists a number of Western saints and asks for their intercession: SS. Magnus, Canute, Olaf, Alban, Botulf, Martin, Victor, the Popes Linus, Anacletus, Clement and Leo, the saintly brothers Cyril and Methodius, Wenceslas and Adalbert.



1. See R. Jakobson “Kernel of Comparative Slavic literature," Harvard Slavic Studies I (1953). The same author under the pseudonym "Olaf Jansen" gives a short and stimulating account of this literary intercourse in Czech Symposium (Co daly naše země Eyropě a lidstvu — What our lands gave to Europe and humanity — Prague, 1940, pp. 9-20).





This prayer must have been composed at the end of the eleventh century and seems to have been popular in medieval Russia. It is found in different versions in Russian manuscripts dating from the fourteenth to the sixteenth century. The choice of saints is remarkable for its cosmopolitan character. SS. Magnus, Columban, Gall and Alban were held in great veneration in Germany; St. Canute is Danish; Olaf was a Norwegian ruler; Botolf, an Anglo-Saxon; St. Martin of Tours, a Gaul; St. Victor was popular in Switzerland, and the others are Slavic patron saints. The invocation of the Popes is also characteristic.


Another Old Slavonic prayer, for protection from the devil, has also a curious miscellany of saints, some of them taken from the prayer to the Blessed Trinity, together with SS. Lucy, Cecilia and Walpurga. There are other prayers in the collection which seem to be translated from a Latin original, especially those attributed to St. Gregory the Great and to St. Ambrose.


Perhaps the most characteristic evidence of the friendly religious intercourse that was carried on between Kievan Russia and the West is the inclusion of the feast of the translation of St. Nicholas’s relics in the liturgy of the Russian Church. These relics were stolen in 1087 from Myra in Asia Minor by some Italian merchants, who brought them in triumph to their native city of Bari. The joy over the acquisition of the relics of so famous a miracle worker was so general in the Western Church that the Pope instituted a special feast commemorating the “translation of the relics of St. Nicholas.” Of course, this feast does not exist in the Byzantine Church, which regarded that “translation” as an act of robbery; but it was introduced into Kievan Russia. An office of the translation was composed in Kiev in Old Slavonic soon after 1091, and thus the Russian Church joined eloquently with the Church of the West in celebrating the translation of the relics from the East. [1] It may be



1. Here is a particularly telling passage from the Russian office: “The city of Bari rejoices and with it the whole universe exults in hymns and spiritual canticles . . . Like a star the relics have gone from the East to the West . . . And the city of Bari has received divine grace by thy presence. If now the country of Myra is silent, the whole world, enlightened by the holy worker of miracles, invokes him with songs and praise.”





that this translation considerably enhanced the popularity of St. Nicholas in the West, a popularity which is still echoed in the Anglo-Saxon world at Christmas, for Santa Claus is none other than the Greek miracle worker, St. Nicholas.





Another illustration of this friendly religious intercourse between the West and Russia is to be found in the Life of St. Marianus, abbot of a monastery in Regensburg, which was a Scottish foundation. We read there that a monk of the Abbey, named Mauricius, went to Kiev in order to ask “the king of the city” for a contribution towards the cost of completing the Abbey. Vladimir Monomach (died 1125) was the “king” referred to, and he gave the visiting monk a handsome donation in the form of a number of valuable furs. The Scottish monks of Regensburg must have been in frequent contact with Kiev, for probably towards the end of the twelfth century, they built a church and a monastery there to minister to the German colony and other foreign merchants who were trading with Russia. Later their foundation in Kiev was destroyed by the Mongol invaders.


Another document, written after 1132, describes how Western pilgrims returning from Russia were attacked by robbers and rescued by St. Godard. It seems clear from the context that the expedition was a religious pilgrimage to the shrines of Kiev. The party was not armed and was accompanied by a priest.


The main link in this intercourse with the West was the Abbev of Sázava near Prague, founded by St. Procopius (died 1053), a foundation which kept its Slavonic character until 1096. Among its treasures was a relic of SS. Boris and Gleb, who were canonized by the Russian Church in 1072 and there are some indications that even Olga, the first Kievan saint, was venerated in Bohemia.


All this intercourse took place at a time when the Eastern and





Western Churches were supposed to be in schism, brought about in 1054 by the excommunication of the Patriarch Cerullarius by the legates of the Pope. The Russian case shows that prevailing conceptions of the importance of this break in its effect upon the relations between East and West will have to be modified. The Russian Church, at least, did not attach too great an importance to this “schism,” although it was governed by a Greek metropolitan and although anti-Latin polemical literature began to circulate in Russia from the end of the eleventh century.


Nor did the West seem aware of any religious rupture with Russia, as is proved by the frequent intermarriages between members of the Rurik dynasty and members of the principal European ruling families.


The consequences of the rift between Western and Eastern Christianity are to be observed in Russia’s relations with the West only from the beginning of the twelfth century onwards. At that time the centralizing and Latinizing tendencies introduced by Gregory VII began to be more and more strongly felt in Bohemia and to penetrate into Poland. The result was the suppression of the Slavonic liturgy in Bohemia and a growing hostility towards the Slavonic rite in Croatia. [1] On the other



1. In the Life of Moses the Hungarian (see the German translation in E. Benz’s, Russ. Heiligenleg., p. 199) there is an allusion to the persecution of monks being initiated by Boleslas the Great in Poland before his death in 1025. It is thought by some scholars that this persecution should be interpreted as a hostile action by the Polish King against monks of the Slavonic liturgy in Poland because it coincides with the first outburst of hostility against Slavonic monks in Bohemia. Such an interpretation is not impossible but highly hypothetical. Boleslas the Great was not hostile to the Slavonic liturgy. The first Polish historian. Anonymous Gallus, mentions, among the mourners at Boleslas’s death, the clergy of the Slavonic liturgy. It is possible that the author of the Life confused this incident with what happened after Boleslas’s death. The Russian Primary Chronicle mentions a revolt during which bishops and priests and boyars were killed in the year 1030. This may have occurred in connection with the intrigues of Bezprym who enlisted Russian support against his brother, Mieszko II, Boleslas’s successor. In 1031 Bezprym became master of Poland. It may also be that Izjaslav s Polish wife, when admonishing her husband not to do any wrong to the monks of the Caves Monastery, had this incident in mind. According to the Life of Theodosius she is supposed to have said to her husband that, when monks had been expelled in Poland, the country had "to suffer much evil.” Izjaslav’s hostility against the Monastery cannot be interpreted as the Prince’s reaction against the monks who opposed his pro-VVestem policy. In his Life of St. Theodosius, Nestor gives a plausible reason for the Prince’s animosity, namely the admission, by the Abbot Anthony, of one of his boyars and one of his eunuchs to the monastic status without securing the Prince’s permission. Anthony’s successor, St. Theodosius, is said to have been a staunch supporter of Izjaslav in spite of the latter’s pro-Western policy. It seems that only in later tradition was this incident interpreted as representing opposition by the monks to Izjaslav’s attempts to obtain the Pope’s help for the recovery of his lost throne (see below, p. 276). Cf. R. Jakobson and J. Simmons, Russian Epic Studies (Philadelphia, 1949), pp. 37, 38, 45 ff.





hand, the animosity against Western Christians which arose from the contact of the Greeks with the Crusaders inflamed anti-Latin sentiments in Byzantium. At the same time, anti-Latin propaganda was intensified by the Greek clergy in Kiev.


This growing antagonism is illustrated by the attitude of two of the best Slavic historians of the period. On the one hand, the Czech historian Cosmas, writing in Latin, ignored the work of the two men who were mainly responsible for the Christianization of Moravia and Bohemia — SS. Cyril and Methodius — because of their connection with the schismatic East. On the other hand, the anonymous monk of the Monastery of the Caves, when preparing the definitive edition of the Russian Primary Chronicle, minimized the role of the Czechs in the growth of Kievan Christian civilization, because they belonged to the Latin cultural world. When speaking of the founders of Slavonic letters — SS. Cyril and Methodius — he avoids stressing the role of the Popes in their activity. In this atmosphere, another Czech saint St. Adalbert — whose cult existed in Kiev in the eleventh century, appeared to the Russians in a distorted light, as a man who was responsible for the suppression of the Slavonic liturgy. It is no wonder then that the name of another Czech saint, a staunch supporter of the Slavonic liturgy, St. Procopius, was not included in the calendar of the Russian Church; for he was canonized by Rome only in 1204. The change in the Polish mentality towards the Russians is echoed in the invitation addressed by the Bishop of Cracow to St. Bernard, when he was preaching the Second





Crusade, not to forget the schismatic Russians in his efforts. Only then did the estrangement between Kiev and the Western Slavs become apparent, and the cultural intercourse between Kiev and the West came to a stop.





This change was discernible at first only among the educated classes. It took more time before this mistrust reached the ordinary people on both sides. It is no wonder, therefore, that Russia was regarded as a fabulously rich country and the home of valiant knights. From the allusions to Russian exports in the chansons de geste, a very clear picture may be obtained of what constituted trade with Russia. Furs, horses, precious cloths, gold and silver are mentioned — the last objects being evidently of Byzantine origin, but re-exported to the West by Russian traders. In one version of the romance of Beuve de Hamtoun, the old maritime Varangian route to Russia and the Black Sea from England, through the North Sea and the Baltic, is explicitly mentioned. The same poem relates that merchants from “great Russia” bought Beuve in Hungary as a slave and sold him in Armenia. This suggests that the wide connections of Russian merchants were notorious in Europe.


Another description of the old Varangian route, although it is not altogether clear, can be read in the ecclesiastical history of Hamburg written by Adam of Bremen. There he describes the route over the Baltic and Lake Ladoga to Novgorod, called by him Ostergard, and thence over Lovat and the Dnieper to Kiev and the Black Sea. Gervase of Tilbury also knew that the Russia of Kiev could be reached from Britain by way of the Baltic. The same Varangian route also figures on the first medieval maps — that of Henry of Mainz (1110) and the famous Hereford map of the world (1270-83). Finally, references to Russia are to be found in some English chronicles which echo the catastrophe which befell the Kievan State during the Mongol invasions — for example, in the continuation of Gervase of Canterbury’s Gesta Regum,





in the Annals of Burton, in Matthew of Paris’s Chronica Maiora. This catastrophe also made a great impression upon Chaucer, for he alludes to it in his Canterbury Tales, but after that, Russia disappeared from the accounts of Western chroniclers.





The frequent contacts between Kievan Russia and the countries of the West and the friendly relations which developed between them seem to puzzle many who think that, as an Orthodox land, Russia should have restricted her dealings to Byzantium alone. Some go so far as to contend that the princes of Kiev were vassals of the emperor, but this conception is quite false. Russia was never Byzantium’s vassal. It is true that the metropolitan in Kiev was often a Creek prelate. Even when a Russian was elected, he had to be consecrated by the patriarch of Constantinople and confirmed in his office by the emperor. Such a situation was possible in Russia because the Russians had taken from Byzantium, besides the Christian faith, also the Byzantine and Christian version of the Hellenistic notion of the divinized king — the Law Incarnate or animate, the Basileus, successor of Constantine the Great, the only representative of God on earth, who wielded supreme power over all Christians. This alone explains the kind of subordination to Constantinople in which Russia was held during the first four centuries of her existence.


The supreme authority of the Orthodox Basileus was perfectly compatible with the political independence of the Grand Prince of Kiev and other Russian princes. The supreme legislative power of the Basileus over the whole of Christendom was expressed in Russia by the fact that the basic principles of Russian legislation — especially in religious matters — were Byzantine. [1]



1. On the reception of Byzantine laws by the Slavs sec the study by T. Saturník, Přípěvky k šíření byzantského práva u Slovanů (Contributions to the spread of Byzantine jurisprudence among the Slavs, Prague, 1922). In another study the author came to the conclusion that even the Pope Nicholas had sent Boris of Bulgaria a copy of the main parts of the Codex of Justinian and not the Lombard Law, as has been generally thought. (“Které zákony světské poslal papež Mikuláš I Bulharům r. 866?“ — What kind oř civil laws did the Pope Nicholas I send to the Bulgarians in 866?) in Slovanské studie (Prague, 1948), pp. 120-129. The problem deserves a special monograph.





This helped both Byzantines and Russians to reconcile the idea of a supreme legislator in Constantinople with an independent growth of Russian law, in which sufficient allowance was made for the gradual absorption of Western principles after the first codification of the Russkaja Pravda, or “Russian Law,” started by Jaroslav the Wise.


The Byzantine conception of the emperor as the representative of God on earth and the head of all Christians became the principle of all Russian religious and political life, and the Hellenistic-Byzantine notion of monarchy, as popularized by the Russian clergy under Greek tuition, lies at the very root of Russian political thought. We can trace the first stages of its growth in the Izbornik of Svjatoslav (1076) and in the Russian chronicles.


Geographical reasons explain why this conception was so readily adopted by the Russians and why it was able to take such deep root in Kiev. Russia was not an immediate neighbor of Byzantium, and therefore the Kievan princes were less tempted than the Bulgarian khagans to become masters of Constantinople and to replace the Basileus in his leadership of Christendom. On the other hand, the distance which separated both states minimized the danger of direct imperial intervention in the internal affairs of Russia.


Nevertheless, the fact that it was often a Greek who stood at the head of the Russian Church and was the country’s cultural leader eventually proved to be somewhat beneficial to Russia, and the Kievan princes must have been well aware of it. It proved helpful when the state first came to be divided among the members of the Rurik dynasty. Because many metropolitans, and many bishops also, were foreigners, they were but faintly interested in local politics, but preferred to concentrate upon maintaining





peace and preserving unity rather than to take sides. The fact that he had to be confirmed in his office by Constantinople secured even to a metropolitan of Russian nationality more freedom of action. So it came about that the idea of the unity of the Russian nation and of Russian lands was saved and preserved by the Greek Church.





From the description of the relations of Kievan Russia with Byzantium and with the West, it becomes clear that the new Slav empire was in quite a good position to become an intermediary for Byzantine culture to penetrate Central and Western Europe. There were signs that Kievan Russia received from Byzantium not only theological learning but also the literary and philosophical treasures of the classical and Hellenistic periods, and it has been seen that Clement Smoljatič, Metropolitan of Kiev from 1147 to 1155, was accused of quoting Homer, Plato and Aristotle in his sermons more often than the Fathers of the Church. In Kievan Russia there certainly was a small élite of natives who were able to read classical works in Greek. The Greek metropolitans and the bishops who were sent to Russia were accompanied by secretaries, so that in every Russian diocese there may have been a small circle acquainted with Greek literature and philosophy. Besides, it is known that Russians developed the habit of visiting Byzantine centers of learning, Mount Athos being a favorite place of pilgrimage, and from such places Byzantine monastic traditions were transplanted into Russia. Russian artists sent for training to Byzantium brought back, in addition to the technical knowledge which they had acquired, a knowledge of Greek and of Greek manuscripts. There is also some evidence that Kiev made a start in carrying Greek culture to Central Europe, and it is surprising to see that Poland was the first country to benefit by this. A letter written in 1027 by Matilda, daughter of Hermann, Duke of Swabia, to Mieszko II of Poland, has been mentioned in which she praises the King’s knowledge of Greek:





“Who ever mastered so many languages to God’s glory? Though able to worship God worthily in your own tongue and in Latin, you did not consider this enough and chose to add Greek.” This Polish prince could have learned Greek only from Greeks or Slavs living in Kievan Russia. In the Life of St. Moses the Hungarian, we learn, on the other hand, that monks from Mount Athos visited Poland.


These were promising indications of hopes which, unfortunately, never materialized, for there are no Slavic translations of complete classical works. A Russian who did not know Greek could acquaint himself with only a few fragments of Greek philosophical lore by reading the Slavic translation of Dialectics and similar collections, and also “Philosophical Chapters,” written by John of Damascus, are based upon Aristotle. He could read some excerpts from Democritus, Plato, Aristotle, Philo, Epictetus and others in the collection of aphorisms translated into Slavonic in the twelfth century under the name Pčela, from Melissa — “Bee” (XIth century). The translation of two old Byzantine works on natural science, the Christian Topography by Cosmas Indicopleustes and the Physiologus, a popular handbook of natural history may also be mentioned.


This was, however, not enough. Russia needed more time to acquire from Byzantium all the heritage of classical and Hellenistic lore; but this was denied her. Before she could obtain what she needed, or even digest what she had already acquired, the decadence of Kiev, due to internal troubles, the decline of commerce and the Mongol invasion, had begun and steadily worsened. It was indeed Russia’s greatest misfortune that she never had time to acquire and digest the full spiritual inheritance of Byzantium.





The division of Kievan Russia into principalities governed by members of the Rurik dynasty did not stop all cultural evolution, nor did it cut Russia off from contact with Western Europe. The cultural evolution developed in general in the direction which it





had been given by Kiev, and contact with the West was even intensified in the principalities of Galicia-Volhynia and Novgorod. The principality of Suzdal’, on the other hand, looked towards the East, in the direction of the Volga river and the world of Islam. Besides Kiev, these were the main new centers of Russian political life, the most prominent among the numerous principalities whose number grew steadily as fathers divided their appanages among their children.


The lands forming the principality of Galicia and Volhynia grew in importance only in the twelfth century when the population from the Kievan principality began to migrate towards the West where there was more security from the invasions of the nomads. In 1199, they were united in the hands of a single member of the Rurik dynasty, Roman Mstislavič. Polish and Hungarian influences were particularly strong here and made themselves felt not only in the political field but also in the social structure of the principality. Western feudal institutions soon replaced the native democratic system of veče, and the powerful aristocracy claimed its part in government in imitation of its counterparts in other Western countries.


The principality of Novgorod, however, developed further the native institution of the veče and became a kind of republic. From the end of the twelfth century it elected its prince, who ruled with the help of administrators appointed by the veče. Only one of its princes became a military leader and a great national figure — Alexander Nevskij, who in 1240 defeated the Swedes on the Neva river when they were menacing Novgorod. The principality extended its territory considerably towards the northeast and took control of the upper region of the trade route down the Volga to the Near East. It became an important intermediary in commercial relations with the West, the bulk of the commerce being in the hands of the German Hansa, and for several centuries the city remained susceptible to cultural influences coming from the West.







The evolution of the principality of Suzdal’ followed quite different lines. It was largely inhabited by Finns, most of whom had been assimilated by Russian colonists from Novgorod and the South. The Novgorodians introduced their democratic institutions into the cities which they founded; but the princes of Suzdal’ kept them on a tight rein and did not permit the veče to attain any real importance. Andrew Bogoljubskij (1157-1174) was particularly adept in developing this policy. The principle of hereditary succession within the family was also introduced, and the basis laid for a strong and autocratic regime. In the period from the twelfth to the fifteenth century, a new ethnical type slowly developed here, and the differences in language, culture and outlook from that of the rest of Russia became more and more marked. The mixture of Slavic and Finnish stock and the climatic conditions of the principality gave this new ethnical type some characteristic features which still distinguish the Great Russians: endurance and patience tempered with a kind of fatalistic outlook. Nevertheless, the ethnical differentiation of the Eastern Slavs into Ukrainians, Byelorussians (White Russians) and Great Russians was not yet perceptible at this stage, although dialectical differentiation was already perceivable.


In the cultural sphere, Galicia and Volhynia were, of course, the lands which came most under Western influence. This influence made itself felt most in architecture, art and social conditions. From here Western influences also penetrated into Cemigov, where they produced a combination of Romanesque and Byzantine features which in due course reached the principality of Vladimir-Suzdal’. Here, the new school flourished from 1157 to 1212 under the Grand Prince Andrew and his brother, Vsevolod III, the ancestor of the Grand Princes and Tsars of Moscow. The frescoes of the cathedral of Vladimir and those of the beautiful church of St. Demetrius were discovered only in recent years.


This territory was the eastern limit of Russian expansion during the Kievan period, and at a later stage in its evolution it became





the meeting place of Western elements coming from Galicia through Černigov and from Novgorod and Eastern elements coming from Georgia, Armenia, Asia Minor and Persia. This blending of different cultural elements is mirrored most clearly in Suzdalian art. For example, the bas reliefs in the church of St. George in Iur’ev Polskij provide most interesting features of this combination, the Byzantine element predominating. Many of them have a definitely Oriental character; while others betray the strong influence of Western Romanesque. They best illustrate the role which the principality of Suzdal’ played in the thirteenth century — for the church was built in 1230-1237 — as a meeting place of Byzantine, Oriental and Western influences.


In this principality can also be seen the first results of Russian expansion towards the East, which later assumed such amazing proportions. New cities arose — Tver’, Jaroslavl’, Moscow and Nižni’ Novgorod. Moreover, a brisk trade with the Bulgars on the Volga and the countries beyond brought much wealth and prosperity. The Volga and the Caspian Sea reassumed their importance as trade arteries and links with the civilized Arab world, and the white stone of the new churches mentioned above was quarried in the Urals. With the West lying open, through the gateways provided by Černigov, Galicia and Novgorod, and the East beyond the Volga through Suzdal’ and Vladimir, Russia seemed destined to carry her hybrid culture, enriched as it was by the influences of Byzantium and the West, far into the interior of Asia.





The prospects seemed hopeful for the future of Russia. A prince of Suzdal’, Jaroslav (from 1222), also controlled Novgorod and was cooperating with his brother George (Iuri) II, Grand Prince of Vladimir-Suzdal’ (from 1217). But these high hopes were not to be realized. They were dashed by the Mongol invasion. Already the first encounter with a reconnoitering force of Mongols in 1223, on the river Kalka near the Black Sea, proved disastrous





for the Russians and their last-minute allies, the Cumans. The main invasion, led by the Mongolian Khagan Batu, the grandson of Genghis-Khan, took place in 1237. First the Bulgars on the Volga were routed. Then followed the attack on the principality of Suzdal’. Rjazan’, Suzdal’ and Vladimir were destroyed, and in the following winter all the Russian principalities were subdued one after the other. In 1240 Kiev was burned down and Galicia devastated. In vain Daniel of Galicia looked to the West for help, even making the Pope the offer of union with the Western Church, but all he received was a royal title conferred upon him by Pope Innocent IV in 1253. It was a tide which was used afterwards by all the rulers of Galicia down to Francis Joseph and Charles, Emperors of Austria. A new Tatar invasion in 1283 put an end to all Daniel’s hopes, and the country drifted more and more into the orbit of Polish interests. It fell completely under Polish domination in the years 1340 to 1349 and shared Poland’s destiny until the year 1772.


Novgorod was the only principality to survive the onslaught. Its flourishing trade with the West brought it into lively contact with the German cities of the Hanseatic League. It grew rich and retained sufficient independence to call itself Lord Novgorod the Great. Here Western influences were more tangible than in any other Russian city, without prejudice, however, to its Byzantine character. In arts and architecture Novgorod, with its dependency of Pskov, followed at first the tradition of Kiev; but its new school of architecture in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries produced architects who showed great originality in their transformations of the cupola model (e.g. the churches of St. Nicholas at Lipna, St. Theodore Strateilates, the Holy Savior in Kovaljovo and the church of Volotovo).


These churches exhibit fresh Byzantine influences which they owe to the Greek artists of the period of the Paleologi, whose contribution enabled Novgorod to take the lead in Russian art throughout the fourteenth century; and as the tradition of the artists of Novgorod was passed on to Moscow in the fifteenth century, it suffered no interruption. There also the Russian art of





icon painting was carried on without a break, achieving its peak in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.


Novgorod thus succeeded in saving and even in improving upon some cultural, social and political traditions, which it had inherited from Kiev. But this was not enough. The rest of Russia remained largely cut off from all Western influences for more than two centuries. This was the first Iron Curtain separating the main part of Russia from the rest of Europe. To Russia’s further misfortune, it was also difficult to preserve close relations with Byzantium, for the Mongols’ Empire of the Golden Horde controlled access to the Black Sea. Thus Russia could not add to what she had inherited from Byzantium, which was indeed but a small part of all that she might have acquired. The Emperor of Byzantium still acted as the head of the Orthodox Church in Russia and his final decisions in religious matters were law there. The Mongols did not interfere with the Church; on the contrary, they respected the established religious institutions and exempted the clergy from paying tribute and confirmed all their rights and privileges. This, however, did not facilitate contact with the tottering Byzantine Empire, whose influence steadily declined in Russia.


The Tatars did not even dispossess the princes of their principalities. Instead of sending governors to the subjected lands, they governed them through the intermediary of the native rulers. The latter had to obtain their jarlyk — the confirmation by the khans of their dignity. In order to get the jarlyk, they had to appear at Sarai, the residence of the khans, bearing generous gifts for the khans and their entourages. The Mongol rulers expected, however, an absolute loyalty from the Russian princes. Every time they suspected disloyalty, they called them to Sarai and inflicted heavy punishment upon them, often torturing them and sometimes putting them to death. In order to ensure a regular payment of the tribute, called vykhod, the khans organized on four occasions a census of the population. The memory of their devastating invasions kept the terrified people in a state of submission for two hundred years.





In the meantime, Western Europe was making enormous progress in civilization. The West found its own route to Byzantium and the East, discovered their cultural treasures and began to assimilate them, with the result that, when Russia emerged from the darkness in the fifteenth century, she could hardly recognize the rest of Europe, transformed as it was by a new renaissance. Moreover, Russia herself appeared as a stranger to the West, and it is from this time that the distrust can be dated which she has often shown towards her neighbors. It was only in the tenth, eleventh and part of the twelfth centuries that Russia felt herself to be a full partner with others in the evolution of Europe.


[Previous] [Next]

[Back to Index]