Vladimir the Great

Vladimir the Great


Vladimir Sviatoslavich the Great was a
prince of Novgorod, grand prince of Kiev, and ruler of Kievan Rus’ from 980
to 1015. Vladimir’s father was prince Sviatoslav
of the Rurik dynasty. After the death of his father in 972, Vladimir, who was
then prince of Novgorod, was forced to flee to Scandinavia in 976 after his
brother Yaropolk had murdered his other brother Oleg and conquered Rus’. In
Sweden, with the help from his relative Ladejarl Håkon Sigurdsson, ruler of
Norway, he assembled a Varangian army and reconquered Novgorod from Yaropolk.
By 980 Vladimir had consolidated the Kievan realm from modern-day Ukraine to
the Baltic Sea and had solidified the frontiers against incursions of
Bulgarian, Baltic, and Eastern nomads. Originally a follower of Slavic
paganism, Vladimir converted to Orthodox Christianity in 988 and Christianized
the Kievan Rus’. Rise to the throne
Born in 958, Vladimir was the natural son and youngest son of Sviatoslav I of
Kiev by his housekeeper Malusha. Malusha is described in the Norse sagas as a
prophetess who lived to the age of 100 and was brought from her cave to the
palace to predict the future. Malusha’s brother Dobrynya was Vladimir’s tutor
and most trusted advisor. Hagiographic tradition of dubious authenticity also
connects his childhood with the name of his grandmother, Olga Prekrasa, who was
Christian and governed the capital during Sviatoslav’s frequent military
campaigns. His place of birth is identified by different authors either
as Budyatychi or Budnik. Transferring his capital to
Pereyaslavets in 969, Sviatoslav designated Vladimir ruler of Novgorod
the Great but gave Kiev to his legitimate son Yaropolk. After
Sviatoslav’s death in 972, a fratricidal war erupted in 976 between Yaropolk and
his younger brother Oleg, ruler of the Drevlians. In 977 Vladimir fled to his
kinsman Haakon Sigurdsson, ruler of Norway, collecting as many Norse
warriors as he could to assist him to recover Novgorod. On his return the next
year, he marched against Yaropolk. On his way to Kiev he sent ambassadors to
Rogvolod, prince of Polotsk, to sue for the hand of his daughter Rogneda. The
high-born princess refused to affiance herself to the son of a bondswoman, so
Vladimir attacked Polotsk, slew Rogvolod, and took Ragnhild by force.
Polotsk was a key fortress on the way to Kiev, and capturing Polotsk and Smolensk
facilitated the taking of Kiev in 978, where he slew Yaropolk by treachery and
was proclaimed knyaz of all Kievan Rus. Years of pagan rule
Vladimir continued to expand his territories beyond his father’s
extensive domain. In 981, he seized the Cherven towns from the Poles; in 981-982
he suppressed a Vyatichi rebellion; in 983, he subdued the Yatvingians; in 984,
he conquered the Radimichs; and in 985, he conducted a military campaign against
the Volga Bulgars, planting numerous fortresses and colonies on his way.
Although Christianity spread in the region under Oleg’s rule, Vladimir had
remained a thoroughgoing pagan, taking eight hundred concubines and erecting
pagan statues and shrines to gods. He may have attempted to reform Slavic
paganism by establishing the thunder-god, Perun, as a supreme deity.
Open abuse of the deities that most people in Rus’ revered triggered
widespread indignation. A mob killed the Christian Fyodor and his son Ioann.
Immediately after the murder of Fyodor and Ioann, early medieval Rus’ saw
persecutions against Christians, many of whom escaped or concealed their belief.
However, Prince Vladimir mused over the incident long after, and not least for
political considerations. According to the early Slavic chronicle called Tale
of Bygone Years, which describes life in Kyivan Rus’ up to the year 1110, he sent
his envoys throughout the civilized world to judge first hand the major
religions of the time, Islam, Roman Catholicism, Judaism, and Byzantine
Orthodoxy. They were most impressed with their visit to Constantinople, saying,
“We knew not whether we were in Heaven or on Earth… We only know that God
dwells there among the people, and their service is fairer than the ceremonies of
other nations.” Christianization of the Kievan Rus’
The Primary Chronicle reports that in the year 987, after consultation with
his boyars, Vladimir the Great sent envoys to study the religions of the
various neighboring nations whose representatives had been urging him to
embrace their respective faiths. The result is described by the chronicler
Nestor. Of the Muslim Bulgarians of the Volga the envoys reported there is no
gladness among them, only sorrow and a great stench. He also reported that
Islam was undesirable due to its taboo against alcoholic beverages and pork.
Vladimir remarked on the occasion: “Drinking is the joy of all Rus’. We
cannot exist without that pleasure.” Ukrainian and Russian sources also
describe Vladimir consulting with Jewish envoys and questioning them about their
religion, but ultimately rejecting it as well, saying that their loss of
Jerusalem was evidence that they had been abandoned by God. His emissaries
also visited Roman Catholic and Orthodox missionaries. Ultimately Vladimir
settled on Orthodox Christianity. In the churches of the Germans his emissaries
saw no beauty; but at Constantinople, where the full festival ritual of the
Byzantine Church was set in motion to impress them, they found their ideal:
“We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth,” they reported,
describing a majestic Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, “nor such beauty, and we
know not how to tell of it.” If Vladimir was impressed by this account of his
envoys, he was even more attracted by the political gains of the Byzantine
alliance. In 988, having taken the town of
Chersonesos in Crimea, he boldly negotiated for the hand of emperor Basil
II’s sister, Anna. Never before had a Byzantine imperial princess, and one
“born in the purple” at that, married a barbarian, as matrimonial offers of
French kings and German emperors had been peremptorily rejected. In short, to
marry the 27-year-old princess to a pagan Slav seemed impossible. Vladimir
was baptized at Chersonesos, however, taking the Christian name of Basil out
of compliment to his imperial brother-in-law; the sacrament was
followed by his wedding to Anna. Returning to Kiev in triumph, he
destroyed pagan monuments and established many churches, starting with
a church dedicated to St. Basil, and the Church of the Tithes.
Arab sources, both Muslim and Christian, present a different story of Vladimir’s
conversion. Yahya of Antioch, al-Rudhrawari, al-Makin, Al-Dimashqi,
and ibn al-Athir all give essentially the same account. In 987, Bardas Sclerus
and Bardas Phocas revolted against the Byzantine emperor Basil II. Both rebels
briefly joined forces, but then Bardas Phocas proclaimed himself emperor on 14
September 987. Basil II turned to the Kievan Rus’ for assistance, even though
they were considered enemies at that time. Vladimir agreed, in exchange for a
marital tie; he also agreed to accept Christianity as his religion and to
Christianize his people. When the wedding arrangements were settled,
Vladimir dispatched 6,000 troops to the Byzantine Empire, and they helped to put
down the revolt. Christian reign
Vladimir then formed a great council out of his boyars and set his twelve sons
over his subject principalities. According to the Primary Chronicle, he
founded the city of Belgorod in 991. In 992 he went on a campaign against the
Croats, most likely the White Croats that lived on the border of modern
Ukraine. This campaign was cut short by the attacks of the Pechenegs on and
around Kiev. In his later years he lived in a
relative peace with his other neighbors: Boleslav I of Poland, Stephen I of
Hungary, and Andrikh the Czech. After Anna’s death, he married again, likely
to a granddaughter of Otto the Great. In 1014 his son Yaroslav the Wise
stopped paying tribute. Vladimir decided to chastise the insolence of his son and
began gathering troops against him. Vladimir fell ill, however, most likely
of old age, and died at Berestovo, near Kiev. The various parts of his
dismembered body were distributed among his numerous sacred foundations and were
venerated as relics. Family
The fate of all Vladimir’s daughters, whose number is around nine, is
uncertain. Olava or Allogia, speculative she might
have been mother of Vysheslav while others claim that it is a confusion with
Helena LekapenaVysheslav, Prince of Novgorod
a widow of Yaropolk I, a Greek nun Sviatopolk the Accursed, possibly the
surviving son of Yaropolk Rogneda, later upon divorce she entered
a convent taking the Christian name of Anastasia
Izyaslav of Polotsk(~979, Kiev), Prince of Polotsk
Yaroslav the Wise, Prince of Rostov, Prince of Novgorod, Grand Prince of
Kiev. Possibly he was a son of Anna rather than Rogneda. Another interesting
fact that he was younger than Sviatopolk according to the words of Boris in the
Tale of Bygone Years and not as it was officially known. Also the fact of him
being the Prince of Rostov is highly doubtful although not discarded.
Vsevolod, possibly the Swedish Prince Wissawald of Volyn, was perhaps the
first husband of Estrid Svendsdatter Mstislav, other Mstislav that possibly
died as an infant if he was ever born Mstislav of Chernigov, Prince of
Tmutarakan, Prince of Chernigov, other sources claim him to be son of other
mothers Predslava, a concubine of Bolesław I
Chrobry according to Gesta principum Polonorum
Premislava,, some source state that she was a wife of the Duke Laszlo “the Bald”
of Arpadians Mstislava, in 1018 was taken by Bolesław
I Chrobry among the other daughters Bulgarian Adela, some sources claim that
Adela is not necessarily Bulgarian as Boris and Gleb were born from some other
wife Boris, Prince of Rostov, remarkable is
the fact that Rostov Principality as well as the Principality of Murom used
to border the territory of Volga Bolgars Gleb, Prince of Murom, as Boris, Gleb is
being also claimed the son of Anna Porphyrogenita
Stanislav, Prince of Smolensk, possible of another wife and a fate of whom is
not certain Sudislav, Prince of Pskov, possible of
another wife, but he is mentioned in Nikon’s Chronicles. He spent 35 years in
prison and later before dying turned into a monk.
Malfrida Sviatoslav, Prince of Drevlians
Anna Porphyrogenita Theofana, a wife of Novgorod posadnik
Ostromir, a grandson of semi-legendary Dobrynya
a granddaughter of Otto the Great Maria Dobroniega of Kiev, the Duchess of
Poland, married around 1040 to Casimir I the Restorer, Duke of Poland
Agatha, a theoretical daughter according to Jette
other possible family an out-of-marriage daughter, a wife of
the Nordmark Margrave Bernard Pozvizd, a son of Vladimir according to
Hustyn Chronicles. He, possibly, was the Prince Khrisokhir mentioned by Niketas
Choniates. Significance and legacy
The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the feast day of St.
Vladimir on 15 July. The town Volodymyr-Volynskyi in
north-western Ukraine was founded by Vladimir and is named after him. The
foundation of another town, Vladimir in Russia, is usually attributed to
Vladimir Monomakh. However some researchers argue that it was also
founded by Vladimir the Great. St Volodymyr’s Cathedral, one of the
largest cathedrals in Kiev, is dedicated to Vladimir the Great, as was originally
the University of Kiev. The Imperial Russian Order of St. Vladimir and Saint
Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary in the United States are also named
after him. The memory of Vladimir was also kept
alive by innumerable Russian folk ballads and legends, which refer to him
as Krasno Solnyshko. The Varangian period of Eastern Slavic history ceases
with Vladimir, and the Christian period begins. The appropriation of Kievan Rus’
as part of national history has also been a topic of contention in
Ukrainophile vs. Russophile schools of historiography since the Soviet era.
=Gallery=See also
List of Russian rulers List of Ukrainian rulers
Family life and children of Vladimir I List of people known as The Great
Saint Vladimir Monument Prince Vladimir, Russian animated
feature film References
Golden, P. B. “Rus.” Encyclopaedia of Islam. Eds.: P. Bearman, Th. Bianquis,
C.E. Bosworth, E. van Donzel and W.P. Heinrichs. Brill.
This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain:
Chisholm, Hugh, ed.. Encyclopædia Britannica. Cambridge University Press.
Some historical analysis and political insights on the state affairs of
Vladimir the Great Moss, Walter G. “A History of Russia
Volume I: To 1917”. Notes

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *