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Vladimir I – #8 On The Best List

St. Vladimir

Vladimir the Great

Vladimir I, also known as Vladimir the Great (Norse – Volodmyr) was one of the most influential Russian rulers in history. Born in 958, he was the son of Sviatoslav who died in 972. Vladimir’s brother Yaropolk assumed the throne violently by killing their other brother Oleg. Forced to flee to Novgorod, Vladimir hired a band of Varangian mercenaries to help him overthrow Yaropolk.

In June of 980, Vladimir seized the capital in Kiev with the help of the boyar Blud who turned on Yaropolk who was eventually captured and killed. Once settled in his role as Grand Prince, he began to expand Kievan influence by attacking the Bulgars, pushing towards the Polish border in  Galicia and northwest towards Lithuania. On his way, the Grand Prince attacked the land of Polotsk, whose Prince refused Vladimir’s request for his daughter Rogneda in marriage. Not one to be told no, the Kievan prince took the young woman anyway.

This was not to be the only wife or concubine that the pagan Prince had. Some estimates believe he had over 800 women in his service. While the country had a smattering of Christians throughout the land due to his grandmother Olga’s influence, paganism was still the religion of the land. Vladimir promoted the Perun, who was the god of thunder as the lead diety. Human sacrifice was the norm until the Grand Prince began to see a growing population of Christians. He saw a political opening to expand his power base but he had to act prudently and wisely.

According to the Primary Chronicle, he sent emissaries to the centers of a number of religions to bring back information about each. The reports on the Jewish, Catholic, Muslim and Orthodox religions were brought back. At the time, Constantinople was the seat of the Orthodox religion as well as being the capital of the most powerful civilization in the world, Byzantium.

It is said that Vladimir chose Orthodoxy because of divine inspiration but it is likely because of political benefits of being allied with such a great power. He decided to press the issue by attacking the Byzantine city of Chersonesos and demanded the hand of the Emperor Basil II’s sister, Anna. This was an impossible request as the Grand Prince was still a pagan. To make the deal, Vladimir was baptized in Cherson, taking the name Christian name Basil and Anna was sent to be his wife.

On his return to Kiev, the Grand Prince ordered all pagan statues destroyed and the people mass converted to Orthodox Christianity under threat of death. His conversion of the people was one of the most important events in Russian history. Vladimir’s rule marks the end of the Varangian era and the beginning of the Christian era which was to last until 1917.

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Russian Rulers – The Worst – #10

Sviatopolk Coinage

Coinage from the era of Sviatopolk I

Starting today, I will be listing the best and the worst Russian Rulers (and Soviet) of all time. Top ten lists often times illicit controversy and argument but that is what I’m looking for. My overall hope is that it makes you think and will further everyone’s enjoyment of Russian history.

My #10 pick for the worst of the Russian Rulers is Sviatopolk the Accursed. Sviatopolk I was sandwiched between two of the better Russian rulers of all time, Vladimir the Great and Yaroslav the Wise. His rule, while not that bad, was marked by the murder of his two brothers, Boris and Gleb. These two were considered among the earliest Russian Orthodox saints.

Sviatopolk’s reign was a relatively short one, from 1015-1019. The people of Kiev did not receive his leadership with any real warmth. His murder of his brothers, the third one being Sviatoslav made him quite disliked. This was why history knows him as Sviatopolk the Accursed.

After the murders of his three brothers, the remaining one, Yaroslav, one of the better future Russian rulers, decided to take action. At the time, Yaroslav, then Prince of Novgorod, defeated his brother near the town of  Lubech, near the  Dnieper river. Sviatopolk fled to Poland where his father-in-law was based. With his help, Sviatopolk returned to defeat Yaroslav, causing him to flee back to Novgorod.

Back and forth they went, Yaroslav returning to defeat Sviatopolk. When the defeated Grand Prince headed towards the steppe, he recruited one of the early Russian rulers most hated enemy, the Pecheneg peoples. His initial foray was successful but eventually he was soundly defeated and on his way back to Poland, he died at the age of 39.

There is some controversy surrounding Sviatopolk and whether he truly killed his three brothers. Some historians believe it was Yaroslav who ordered the murders. We will never really know but I will go along with the version from the Primary Chronicles and that my choice of Sviatopolk as one of the worst Russian rulers is justified.

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Persian Interactions with Russia

One of the greatest praises one can get is when someone takes your idea and runs with it. Mike Rakshan did just that with his new podcast, The History of Persia. His obvious passion for the subject is likely due to his being of Persian descent like mine being because of my Russian descent. You can tell in his voice that this is a project that comes from the heart which makes it a great listen. Also, thanks for the shout out at the beginning of the podcast. Much appreciated.

Interactions between Russia and the Persian’s (present day Iran) have persisted from the time that people inhabited the land of the Rus until present day. Through Persia the Russians were exposed to the religion of Islam and it is thought that Persian emissaries came to the court of Vladimir the Great to present their religion to him although some believe it was Bulgarian Muslim’s who made the presentation.

Persian merchants were major trading partners with the Kievan Rus back in the late 10th and early 11th century. While Constantinople was the biggest partner, Persians were not far behind. Through the time of the Samanid dynasty 819 – 999, Ghaznavids 963–1186 and the shared invasion of the Mongols in the 13th century trading continued.

Now under the thumb of the different Mongol Hordes, there was still some trade going on but because of how devastated the Persian population was, it went down to a trickle. As both countries struggled to shake off the domination, they began to evolve in different ways. But they did have a common enemy, the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman-Persian Wars were fought from about 1514-1823.

The Russians began to come into conflict with the Ottoman’s as they began their expansion south, beginning with the ascension to the throne by Peter the Great. His Great Embassy through Europe was to gather allies in his fight to take Ottoman territories (Episode 31)  like the base at Azov. When he saw the threat of the Swedes under Charles XII he signed a treaty with the Ottoman’s much to the dismay of the Persian leaders who were themselves were fighting wars with the Ottomans.

Moving to the more recent dealings,things between the USSR and the Shah of Iran were cool. Under Gorbachev, better relations with Iran were tried as a buttress against American influence in the Middle East. With Putin, conflicts arose between the Persian Iranians and Russia die to conflicts in the Caspian Sea. Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan, former members of the USSR were developing their independent energy resources which was opposed by Iran.

I look forward to hearing more about Persian history from Mike as it seems to be a long and interesting one.

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Kiev Captured by the Mongols

Viking Arriving in Russia

On December 6, 1240, a Mongol invasion force led by Batu Khan, captured the city of Kiev. It has generally been acknowledged as the end of the era of Kievan Rus. Once a flourishing mecca whose rulers children married into the houses of many European leaders, it would be centuries before it would regain its luster.

While this was the death blow to Kiev as a center of Russia it was already in a state of decline. The reasons for the decline are numerous but some were more important that others. The first reason was the appanage system of the passing of lands to multiple sons following the passing of their father. It caused a splintering of the lands, especially in Kiev as brothers battled brothers for control of the countryside. Civil war was common after the death of the last unifying Grand Prince, Yaroslav the Wise in 1054.

After the Grand Prince’s death, Iziaslav I took over but he was overthrown a few years into his reign in 1068. With the help of the Polish Army, he retook Kiev in 1069 but was thrown out again, this time by his brothers in 1068. Returning in 1076 he only lasted two more years until he was finally killed in battle in 1078. All this warring was wearing down the people and caused a general financial recession to hit the region.

Subsequent rulers kept Kiev as the main city of Russia but its influence was slowly eroding to other cities especially Novgorod but another issue was causing it to lose its economic strength and that was the deterioration of it main trade partner the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople was losing its power as attacks from the Crusaders and pressure from the Muslims were shrinking their territories. Since Kiev was a main center of trade to the Byzantines from the Vikings in the north a slowing economy meant that the Varangian traders went looking for other more lucrative areas. Gradually, Kiev began to slide downward in influence and prestige.

The next near fatal blow was delivered by Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky of Vladimir when he sacked Kiev in 1169. This caused Kiev to lose its perception as the center of the people of the Rus. By now cities like Vladimir-Suzdal had surpassed Kiev. Then as if to just heap more misery on the once bustling town, the Mongols arrived and destroyed what was left of Kiev. It was not to be until the 19th century, during the Industrial Revolution that the city was to thrive again. Today it is a thriving and vibrant city of 2.8 million inhabitants in the Ukraine.

 

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Alexander Nevsky Day

Saint Alexander Nevsky

Icon of Saint Alexander Nevsky

Today is the feast day for Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky (Episode 5)  in the Russian Orthodox Church. Nevsky is one of the heroes of the early years of Russian history. He was both Grand Prince of Novgorod and Vladimir during the 1200’s.

From 1228 to 1233, Alexander Yaroslavich ruler Novgorod together with his brother Fyodor. When his brother died in 1233, Alexander enlisted his brother Andrei to help expand Novgorod’s lands. Quickly they began to encroach upon Finnish lands which caused the Swedes, Teutonic Knights and Livonian Swordbearers to challenge Alexander. In 1240, the Swedes attacked at the Neva River but were defeated by Alexander’s small army. This is how he came to acquire the name Nevsky.

After winning the battle, he quarreled with the citizens of Novgorod and left, heading to Pereyaslavl Zalessky. In short order, a German army seized nearby Pskov and threatened Novgorod which cause the populace to beg Alexander to return. After coming back in 1241, he began to recapture lost territory including Pskov.

In 1242 the famous “Battle on the Ice” occurred between Nevsky’s army and the main force of the Teutonic Knights on Lake Peypus (aka Lake Chud). This legendary battle increased Alexander Yaroslavich’s stature among his people but especially with the Khan of the Golden Horde. The Mongols admired military courage so when Alexander went to Sarai to visit Khan Batu he was sent all the way to Mongolia to see the Great Khan in Karakorum. There, he received the title of Grand Prince of Kiev and of all the Rus in 1249.

He served the Mongols well, often times putting down rebellions within his lands. While some felt that this was a traitorous act, he was able to prevent mass executions which was the preferred method of meting out punishment by the Horde.

After his fourth visit to the Golden Horde in 1262, Alexander Nevsky fell ill. On his way home, he became a monk and died on November 14, 1263 in the town of Gorodets. He was canonized as saint in the Russian Orthodox Church during the reign of Ivan IV (the Terrible).

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Mikhail of Tver

Prince Mikhail of Tver

Prince Mikhail of Tver presenting himself to the Khan of the Golden Horde

Prince Mikhail of Tver, the second son of Grand Prince Yaroslav III of Kiev was born on November 22, 1318. Mikhail Yaroslavich was the Prince of both Tver and had two rules over the principality of Vladimir (1304-14 and 1315-18). He was made a saint of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Prince Mikhail had alienated the Russian Orthodox Church during his reign. Metropolitan Petr came to power despite Mikhail’s nomination of another person. The hostility between the church and Mikhail carried on for the rest of his life which makes his elevation to sainthood quite curious.

The time of his rule was the period in which Russia was ruled by the Golden Horde of the Mongols who were based in Sarai.  It was also a time where Tver battled Moscow as a dominant city in the eyes of the Khan. Prince Yuri of Moscow (Episode 5)  was his main rival. At the time the rivalry was fought out not just on the battle field but at the court of the khan of the Golden Horde. At first, Mikhail had a good relationship with Tokhta khan and his successor Uzbeg but Yuri was able to circumvent this by marrying Uzbeg’s sister.

Uzbeg then decided that he would take back Tver and Vladimir from Mikhail by sending troops to aide Yuri in his fight. Mikhail was able to defeat the combined forces and captured Yuri’s wife and Uzbeg’s sister. Unfortunately for Mikhail, his hostage died while in his custody. This obviously infuriated the khan. He sent recalled his general Kavgadii to Sarai who accused Mikhail of murdering the khan’s sister and warring against the Horde. This was to be Mikhail death sentence.

 

Mikhail had no choice but to go to Sarai to face the charges but his plea that he was not guilty and that his hostages death was accidental was of little help. He was summarily executed.

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Primary Chronicle

Page from the Primary Chronicle

Tale of Bygone Years in Radzivill Chronicle

The Primary Chronicle also known as the Tales of Bygone Years is the history of Kievan Russia  from the year 850 to about 1110. It is the best guide to the history of Russia during this time. Without it, we would have little knowledge of how Russia came to being as well as how the Varangians (Episode 1) came to the land of the Rus.

The monk Nestor is believed to have put together the original compilation in 1113. He worked at the court of Grand Prince Sviatapolk II of Kiev. Sviatapolk’s reign was marked by his battles with his cousin, Vladimir Monomakh. While he was unchallenged as Grand Prince (Veliki Knaiz), he was deeply disliked.

In 1116, the head of the Vydubetsky Monastery in Kiev, hegumen Sylvester of Kiev is said to have updated the Primary Chronicle while some believe he may have compiled it instead of Nestor. Grand Prince Monomakh was a patron of Sylvester’s and helped him to create the works. This version is the first one that we have access to although very little of it has passed on to us in the present day.

While we don’t have the original manuscripts, we do have two versions that were written a few centuries afterwards. This first one, written in the 1300’s, is called the Laurentian codex and was compiled by the Nizhni Novgorod monk Laurentius for Mikhail of Tver. The years 898–922, 1263–83 and 1288–94 are missing for unknown reasons.

The third version is known as the Hypatian codex and it was compiled in the 1500’s and is the most complete one we have. It was written in Old Church Slavonic and provides us much of the missing information that was not included in the older Laurentian codex.

There are many versions of the Primary Chronicle, each with corrections and revisions. What is so unique about the Primary Chronicle is that it is the only information we have about life in Kievan Rus. Throughout Europe, we have numerous tales about Medieval times from multiple sources.

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