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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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Avvakum – Archpriest leader of the Old Believers

The Burning at the Stake of Archpriest Avvakum

The Burning at the Stake of Archpriest Avvakum

Archpriest Avvakum, was one of the most influential of the Old Believers movement which was started in opposition to the reforms of Patriarch Nikon between the years 1652-66. Avvakum believed that the changes were abominations in the eyes of God and would not agree to them. The following of the old ways continues to present day where there is an estimated 2 million followers in Russia.

The schism, known as the raskol (which means cleaving apart) caused great consternation within the Church and Russia. The reforms were caused by findings that the Russian Orthodox rituals and writings had deviated from the Greek Church over the centuries. It was thought that the changes were due to poor transcription and translation from the original Greek.

Patriarch Nikon had full support from Tsar Alexis I (Episode 25) who called a synod (meeting of the church hierarchy). It was agreed that major deviations occurred which led to an over 400 page report making the changes law of the church. Many church goers refused to follow the changes. Many fled Russia and headed to the north and east. Those that remained were harassed and persecuted. The leaders were arrested and sent to exile in Siberia.

Avvakum was imprisoned countless times for the rest of his life after first opposing the changes. He began to write an autobiography which has been reprinted and translated numerous times over the centuries. His final 14 years were spent in a sunken, log-framed hit in the ground in the town of Pustozyorsk which was above the Arctic Circle before he burned at the stake.

Over the years, the Old Believers were persecuted. Peter the Great double taxed them for refusing to shave their beards. Nicholas I viewed them as a threat to his rule and harassed them mercilessly.

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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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