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.