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Alfred Rambaud




WHO were these Variagi, or Varangians? To what race did they belong? No questions in the early history of Russia are more eagerly debated. After more than a century of controversy, the various views have been reduced to three  — The Variagi were of Scandinavian origin, and it was they who gave the name of Russia to the Slav countries. A most weighty argument in support of this theory is the large number of Scandinavian names in the list of Variag princes who reigned in Russia. The Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, speaking of Russia, makes a distinction between the Slavs and the Russians proper. In his description of the cataracts of the Dnieper, he gives to each the Russian and the Slav name, and these Russian names may nearly all be understood by reference to Scandinavian roots. Luitprand, speaking of the Russians, expresses himself in these terms: “Graeci vocant Russos .... nos vero Normannos”. The Annals of Saint Bertinus say that the Emperor Theophilus recommended some Russian envoys to Louis le Débonnaire, but he, taking them for Norman spies, threw them into prison. Finally, the first Russian Code of Laws, compiled by Iaroslaf, presents a striking analogy with the Scandinavian laws. The partisans of this opinion place the mother country of the Russians in Sweden, where they point particularly to a spot called Roslag, and associations of oarsmen called Roslagen. At the present day the Finns call the Swedes Rootzi.

The second theory is that the Variagi were Slavs, and came either from the Slav shores of the Baltic, or from some Scandinavian region where the Slavs had founded a colony. The word Russia is not of Swedish origin; it is applied very early to the country of the Dnieper. To come from Rus or to go to Rus are expressions to be met with in the ancient documents, and Rus there signifies the country of Kief. Arabic writers give the name of Russians to a nation they consider very numerous, and they mean in this case, not Scandinavians, but indigenous Slavs.

The last theory is that the Variagi were not a nation, but a band of warriors formed of exiled adventurers, some Slavs, others Scandinavians. The partisans of this opinion show us that the Slav and Scandinavian races, from very early times, were in frequent commercial and political relations. The leaders of the band were generally Scandinavian, but part of the soldiers were Slav. This hypothesis, which diminishes the Norman element in the Variagi, serves to explain how the establishment of these adventurers in the country but little affected the Slavs of the Ilmen and the Dnieper. It explains, too, the rapid absorption of the new-comers in the conquered race, an absorption so complete that Rurik’s grandson, Sviatoslaf, bore a Slav name, while his great-grandson, Vladimir, remains in the memory of the people as the type of a Slav prince. Whether the Variagi were pure Scandinavians, or whether they were mingled with Slav adventurers, it seems certain that the former element predominated, and that we may identify those men from the North with the sea-kings so celebrated in the West during the decay of the Carolings. M. Samokvasof has lately opened, near Tchernigof, the Black tomb containing the bones and arms of an unknown prince who lived in the tenth century, and was probably a Variag. His coat of mail and pointed helmet in all respects resemble the arms of the Norman warriors. The Russian princes that we find in the early miniatures are clothed and armed like the Norman chiefs pictured in the Bayeux tapestry of Queen Matilda. It is therefore not surprising that, in our own age, art has made almost identical representations of Rurik on the monument lately erected at Novgorod, and of William the Conqueror on the monument at Falaise. The Variagi, like the Normans, astonished the nations of the South by their reckless courage and gigantic stature. “They were as tall as palm-trees”, said the Arabs. Bold sailors, admirable foot-soldiers, the Variagi differed widely from the mounted and nomad races of Southern Russia, Hungarians, Khazarui, Petchenegi, whose tactics were always Parthian. The Russians, according to Leo the Deacon, who was an eyewitness of the fact, fought in a compact mass, and seemed like a wall of iron, bristling with lances, glittering with shields, from which arose a ceaseless clamor like the waves of the sea, — the famous barditus, or barritus, of the Germans of Tacitus. A huge shield covered them to their feet, and, when they fought in retreat, they turned this enormous buckler on their backs, and became invulnerable. The fury of battle at last made them beside themselves, like the Bersarks. Never, says the same author, were they seen to surrender. When victory was lost, they stabbed themselves, for they held that those who died by the hand of an enemy were condemned to serve him in another life. The Greeks had for many years greatly admired these heroes worthy of the Edda. Under the name of Ros or Variagi, they formed the body-guard of the emperor, and figured in all the Byzantine armies. In the expedition of nine hundred and two against Crete, seven hundred Russians took part; four hundred and fifteen in that of Lombardy in nine hundred and twenty-five; five hundred and eighty-four in that of Greece in nine hundred and forty-nine.

The Russian Variagi readily sold their services to foreign nations, to Novgorod as well as to Byzantium. This is one more feature of resemblance with the Normans of France, whom the Greek emperors also employed in their wars against the Saracens of Italy. Sometimes, instead of fighting for others, they made war for themselves. This was the case with the Danes in England, the Normans in Neustria, the descendants of Tancred in Naples and Sicily, the companions of Rurik in Russia. As they were usually a very small number, they blended rapidly with the conquered nations. Thus the descendants of Rollo quickly became Frenchmen, and those of Robert Guiscard, Sicilians. In the Variag bands Slavs were mingled with Scandinavians; but we also know that in the bands of Northmen who ravaged the country of France there was a large number of Gallo-Romans, renegades from Christianity, who thirsted more for pillage and murder than did the Vikings themselves. This mingling of the adventurers and the indigenous race explains the rapidity with which both the Normans of Russia and the Normans of France lost their language, customs, and religion. The Variagi retained one thing only, their military superiority, the habit of obeying the chosen or hereditary chief. Into the Slav anarchy they brought this element of martial order and discipline, without which a state cannot exist. They imposed on the natives the amount of constraint necessary to drag them from their isolation and division into village communities and cantons. The Slavs of the Danube in the same way owe their constitution to a band of Finno-Bulgarian adventurers under Asparukh; the Polish Slavs to the invasion of the Liakhi, or Lekhites; the Tcheki to the Frank Samo, who enabled them to shake off the yoke of the Avars.

The spontaneous appeal of the Slavs to the Variag princes may seem to us strange. We might believe that the annalist, like the old French historians, has tried to disguise the fact of a conquest, by representing that the Slavs submitted voluntarily to the Variagi of Rurik, as the Gauls are supposed to have done to the Franks of Clovis. But in reality there was no conquest, a statement which is proved by the fact that the municipal organization remained intact, that the Vetché continued to deliberate by the side of the prince, the local army to fight in conjunction with the band of adventurers. The laws of Iaroslaf established the same indemnification for the murder of either Slav or Variag, while the Merovingian laws recognize a great difference between a Gallo-Roman and a Frank. The defence of the country, the administration of justice, and the collection of the tribute were the special cares of the prince, the last being considered his legitimate reward. He played in the Slav towns a part similar to that of the Italian podestas in the fifteenth century, who were called in to administer justice impartially, or to that of the leaders to whom the cities intrusted their defence.

As early as eight hundred and fifty-nine the Variagi exacted tribute from the Slavs of Ilmen and the Krivitchi, as well as the Tchudi, Ves, and Meriane. The natives had once expelled the Variagi, but, as divisions once more became rife among them, they decided that they needed a strong government, and recalled them in eight hundred and sixty-two. Whether the name Russia, or Bus, was originally derived from a province of Sweden or from the banks of the Dnieper, the fact remains that with the arrival of the Variagi in Slavonia the true history of Russia commences. It was the one thousandth anniversary of this event that was commemorated at Novgorod in eighteen hundred and sixty-two. With the Variagi the Russian name became famous in Eastern Europe. It was the epoch of brilliant and adventurous expeditions; it was the heroic age of Russia.

The Variagi of Novgorod and Kief are not unworthy mates of the Normans of the West, — the bold conquerors who sought their fortunes from the coasts of England, Sicily, and Syria. They are to be found nearly at the same time under the walls of Constantinople and at the foot of the Caucasus, where they captured the town of Berdaa from the Arabs in nine hundred and forty-four. Nestor, the monk of the Petcherski convent at Kief, whose history extends down to the year eleven hundred and sixteen, adds to his conscientious accounts many legendary tales, which seem like an echo of Scandinavian sagas and early Russian heroic poems. His Annals, which Greek and French authorities enable us to correct, and which are tolerably exact in all essentials, seem at times, like the first books of Livy, to be epic poetry converted into prose.




At the call of the Slavs, Rurik, Sineus, and Truvor, three Variag brothers, whose Scandinavian names signify the Peaceful, the Victorious, and the Faithful, gathered together “their brothers and their families”, that is, their warriors, or drujina, corresponding to the truste of the Frank kings, crossed the Baltic, and took up their position on the borders of the territory which they were summoned to defend. Rurik, the eldest, established himself on the Lake Ladoga, near which, on the southern side, he founded the city of Ladoga; Sineus, on the White Lake or in the Ves country; Truvor at Izborsk, to hold the Livonians in check. When the two latter died, Rurik established himself at Novgorod, where he built, not a town, as Nestor would have us believe, but a castle. It is thus we must explain the pretended foundation by his orders of Polotsk and of Rostof, which had existed long before the arrival of the Variagi. What he probably did was to transform ancient villages with ramparts of mud into fortresses. Two other Variagi, Askold and Dir, who were not of the family of Rurik, went down to Kief, and reigned over the Poliané. It was they who began the expeditions against Tsargrad, or Byzantium, the queen of cities. With two hundred vessels, says Nestor, they entered the Sund, in old Slav Sud, the Bosphorus or the Golden Horn, and besieged Constantinople. But the Patriarch Photius, according to the Byzantine accounts, took the wonder-working robe of Our Lady of Blachernae, and plunged it in the waves. A fierce tempest instantly arose, and the whole Russian fleet was destroyed.

Rurik’s successor was not his son Igor, then a minor, but the eldest member of the family, his fourth brother, the enterprising Oleg. At the head of an army composed of Variagi, Slavs, and Finns he marched to the south, received the submission of Smolensk and Lubetch, and arrived under the walls of Kief. By means of treachery he took Askold and Dir prisoners, and put them to death, observing : “You are neither princes yourselves, nor of the blood of princes; this is the son of Rurik”, pointing to Igor. The tomb of Askold is still shown near Kief. Oleg was charmed with his new conquest, and took up his abode there, saying, “Let Kief be the mother of Russian cities”. The Variag chief held communication both with the Baltic and the Black Sea by means of Novgorod, Smolensk, and Kief. He subdued the Novgorodians, the Krivitchi, the Meria, the Drevliané, the Severiané, the Poliané, the Radimitchi, and thus united nearly all the Russian tribes under his sceptre. It was about this time that the Hungarians crossed the Dnieper near Kief, and invaded Pannonia. The Magyar chronicles speak of their having defeated Oleg; Nestor is silent on the subject.

In nine hundred and seven Oleg collected a large army from among the tributary races, equipped two thousand boats, and prepared to invade Tsargrad by land and sea. Russian legends have embellished this expedition with many wonderful details. Oleg built wheels to his vessels, and spread their sails; blown by the wind, they reached the gates of the city. Leo the Sixth, the Philosopher, in fright, agreed to pay tribute, but the Greeks tried to get rid of the Russians by offering them poisoned food. Oleg divined their perfidy. He imposed a heavy contribution, a commercial treaty advantageous to the Russians, and suspended his shield on the Golden Door.

To his subjects Oleg was more than a hero. Terror-stricken by his wisdom, this “foolish and idolatrous people” looked on him as a sorcerer. In the Scandinavian sagas we find many instances of chiefs, such as Odin, Gylf, and Raude, being at the same time great warriors and great magicians. It is strange that neither Greek, Frank, nor Venetian historians allude to this campaign. Nestor cites the names of the Russian envoys who negotiated the peace, and gives the text of the treaty.

A magician had predicted to Oleg that his favorite horse would cause his death. It was kept at a distance from him, and when, five years after, the animal died in nine hundred and twelve, he insisted on being taken to see its body, as a triumph over the ignorance and imposture of the sorcerers. But from the skull of the horse issued a serpent which inflicted a mortal sting on the foot of the hero.

Igor led a third expedition against Tsargrad. The Dnieper conducted, as it were of its own will, the Russian flotilla to the seas of Greece. Igor had ten thousand vessels according to the Greek historians, one thousand according to the more probable calculation of Luitprand. This would allow four hundred thousand men in the first case, and only forty thousand in the second. Instead of attacking the town, he cruelly ravaged the Greek provinces. The Byzantine admirals and generals united, and destroyed the Russian army in a series of engagements by the aid of Greek fire. Nestor has not copied the numerous details which the Byzantine historians give of this battle, but we have the evidence of Luitprand, bishop of Cremona, derived from his father-in-law, the ambassador of the King of Italy at Constantinople, who saw with his own eyes the defeat of Igor, and was present at the sacrifice of prisoners, beheaded by order of the Emperor Romanus Lecapenus. In nine hundred and forty-four Igor secured the help of the formidable Petchenegi, and organized an expedition to avenge his defeat. The Greek emperor, now seriously alarmed, offered to pay tribute, and signed a new commercial treaty, the text of which is given by Nestor. Byzantine and Western writers do not mention this second expedition of Igor. On his return from Russia, in nine hundred and forty-five, he was assassinated by the Drevliané, from whom he had tried to exact tribute. Leo the Deacon, a Greek writer, says he was torn in pieces by means of two young trees, bent forcibly to the earth, and then allowed to take their natural direction.




Olga, Igor’s widow, assumed the regency in the name of her son Sviatoslaf, then a minor. Her first care was to revenge herself on the Drevliané. In Nestor’s account it is impossible to distinguish between the history and the epic. The Russian chronicler relates in detail how the Drevliané sent two deputations to Olga to appease her, and to offer her the hand of their prince, and how she disposed of them by treachery, burying some alive, and causing others to be stifled in a bathing- house. Next, says Nestor, she besieged their city Korosten, and offered them peace on payment of a tribute of three pigeons and three sparrows for each house. Lighted tow was tied to the tails of the birds, and they were set free. They flew straight home to the wooden town, where the barns and thatched roofs instantly took fire. Lastly the legend relates that Olga massacred part of the inhabitants of Korosten and reduced the rest to slavery.

This vindictive Scandinavian woman, in spite of all, was destined to be the first apostle of Russia. Nestor relates that she went to Tsargrad to the Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus, astonished him by the strength and adroitness of her character, and was baptized under the name of Helen, the Greek Tsar being her godfather. Only two facts in Nestor’s account are historical, namely, the reception of Olga at the imperial palace of Constantinople, related in detail in the “Book of Ceremonies”, and perhaps her baptism. If the Greek historians do not mention it in the contemporary chronicles, it is because they did not perceive the important consequences of this event. If writers allude to it in the chronicles of the eleventh and twelfth centuries, it is because the consequences of the event had by that time been completely developed.

Even in Russia Olga’s conversion passed almost unnoticed. Christianity had made but little progress in that country. No doubt since Cyril and Methodius had invented the Slavonic alphabet, and translated the Holy Books for the Bulgarians, Christianity, which had already triumphed over some Slav peoples, was being handed on from one to the other. Some missions were already established in Russia. The Byzantines say, that, alarmed by the miraculous defeat of Askold and Dir, and seized with a respectful awe of the Christian talismans of the Patriarch Photius, the Russians “sent envoys to Constantinople to ask for baptism”. The Emperor Basil, the Macedonian, then gave them an archbishop, who performed a miracle before them. He threw a copy of the Gospels into a brazier, and drew it out unharmed. According to this account, Askold was the first Russian prince who became a Christian. Hence the worship rendered to his tomb and memory. In the list of Byzantine Eparchies under Leo the Sixth, the Bishopric of Russia figures, of which no doubt Kief was the metropolis. These missions, however, do not seem to have been very successful; at the time of the treaty concluded between Oleg and Leo the Sixth, the Russians still swore by their swords, by Volos, and by Perun. In the treaty concluded by Igor, when the Russians swore at Kief before the emperor’s envoy, to confirm it, some ascended the hill of Perun and performed the vows in the ancient way; others went to the chapel of Saint Elias, and laid their hand on the Gospel. There existed then, in the “mother of Russian cities” a Christian community, though a very weak one, if it is true that Olga refused to be baptized in Kief, “for fear of the pagans”. The mass of warriors kept Christianity at a distance. In their expeditions against the Byzantine provinces, we find them attacking monasteries and churches by preference, giving them up to the flames, and finding a peculiar pleasure in torturing priests and monks by driving nails into their heads. It was thus that the Normans of France, the fanatics of Odinism, treated the ecclesiastics with refinements of cruelty, boasting that they “sang them the Mass of lances”. “When one of the soldiers of the Grand Prince wished to become a convert”," says Nestor, “he was not prevented, but only laughed at”. The efforts of Olga for the conversion of her son Sviatoslaf, who had assumed the reins of government on reaching his majority, were fruitless. He did not like to expose himself to the ridicule of his soldiers by embracing a new faith. “My men will mock me”, he replied to the prayers of his mother. “And often”, Nestor affirms sadly, “he became furious with her”. Olga vainly assured him that if he would be baptized, all his subjects would soon follow his example. The public mind was not yet in a condition for the example of the prince to be all-powerful. The Christian Olga, canonized by the Church, “the first Russian who mounted to the heavenly kingdom”, remained an exception, little noticed or thought of in the midst of the pagan aristocracy.




The reign of Sviatoslaf, from nine hundred and sixty-four until nine hundred and seventy-two, though short, was signalized by two memorable events : the defeat of the Khazarui, and the great war against the Byzantine Empire for the possession of Bulgaria. About the former event the annalist gives few details; but Sviatoslaf must have gained a complete victory, if it be true that he took the White City, capital of the Khazar Empire on the Don, and that he exacted tribute from the Ias or Osetinui of the Caucasus, and the Kassogans or Tcherkesui. The Russians had no reason to rejoice in their success, for the decline of the Khazarui, who were a civilized people, favored the progress of the Petchenegi, the most ferocious of all barbarians. The Arabs spoke of them as wild beasts, and Matthew of Edessa calls them “a greedy people, devouring the bodies of men, corrupt and impure, bloody and cruel beasts”. During one of the frequent absences of Sviatoslaf, the Petchenegi suddenly appeared under the walls of Kief, where the mother and children of the Grand Prince had taken refuge, and reduced it to the last extremity. The bold manoeuvre of a voievod saved the Kievans, who were starving. On his return to his capital Sviatoslaf was horrified at the risks it had encountered. It was at the hands of these same Petchenegi that he was one day to perish.

On the subject of the Bulgarian war Nestor’s narrative is confused and incomplete. He is silent about the Russian defeats, and legend mixes largely with historical facts. Nestor relates that the Greeks wished to ascertain what sort of man Sviatoslaf was. They sent him gifts of gold and fine tissues, but the Grand Prince looked on them with disdain, and said to his soldiers, “Take them away”. Then they sent him a sword and other weapons, and the hero seized them and kissed them enthusiastically. The Greeks were afraid, and said, “This must be a fierce man, since he despises wealth and accepts a sword for tribute”. Happily the very minute account of Leo the Deacon appears both exact and impartial, and we are enabled to follow this campaign, in which a chief of the growing Russian Empire crosses that Danube which the Russian armies are not again to see till the reign of Catherine the Second and Nicholas. The Greek emperor, Nicephorus Phocas, in order to avenge himself on Peter the Tsar of Bulgaria, had recourse to the dangerous expedient so frequent in Byzantine policy. He called in the barbarians. A certain Kalokuir was sent as envoy to Sviatoslaf with a sufficient sum of money to allow him to take the field. It was thus that these two Slav races — who owed their constitutions, one to the Variag drujina of Rurik, the other to the Turanian drujina of Asparukh — were brought into conflict by Greek diplomacy. Sviatoslaf descended on Bulgaria with a thoroughly equipped fleet, reassured the Byzantines by bringing sixty thousand men to their assistance, took Pereiaslaf, the Bulgarian capital, and all their fortresses.

The Tsar Peter yielded to his evil destiny at the moment the Petchenegi were besieging Kief. This lesson was, however, lost on Sviatoslaf. He was overjoyed at his conquest, and wished to transport his capital to Pereiaslaf on the Danube, a city distinct from Pereiaslaf, or Prislaf, the modern Eski-Stambul, which was the capital of the Bulgarians in the tenth century. “This place”, he said to his mother, “is the central point of my possessions, and abounds in wealth. From Greece come precious stuffs, wine, gold, and all kinds of fruit; from the country of the Tcheki and Hungarians, horses and silver; from Russia, furs, honey, wax, and slaves”. This resolution of Sviatoslaf was fraught with immense danger to the Greek Empire. If Byzantium feared the neighborhood of an enfeebled Bulgaria, how was it to resist a power that extended from the Baltic to the Balkans, and which could add to the Bulgarian legions, disciplined after the Roman fashion by the Tsar Simeon, the Variagi of Scandinavia, the Russian Slavs, the Finnish hordes of the Ves, Tchudi, and Meria, and even the light cavalry of the Petchenegi?

The formation of a great Slav Empire so close to Constantinople would have been rendered more formidable by the ethnographical constitution of the peninsula. Ancient Thrace and ancient Macedon were peopled by Slav tribes, some of whom were offshoots from the Russian tribes; for example, Dregovitchi and Smolens were to be found there as much as at Minsk and Smolensk. Thessaly, Attica, and the Peloponnesos were invaded by these emigrants, who became the subjects of the Greek Empire. The famous mountain Taygetus, in Laconia, was inhabited by two Slav tribes, still unsubdued, — the Milingians and the Ezerites. We must not forget that Bulgaria extended as far as the Okhrid, and that the ancient provinces, under the names of Kroatia, Servia, and Dalmatia, had become almost entirely Slav. This great race extended then almost unbroken from the Peloponnesos, already called by the Slav name of Morea, to Novgorod. Thus, if the town of Pereiaslaf on the Danube had really become the centre of the Russian dominions, according to the wish of Sviatoslaf, the Greek race and the Roman domination in the Balkan peninsula would speedily have come to an end. The Greek emperors had been able to resist Askold, Oleg, and Igor. The Russians of their day had lived far from the empire, and were obliged to go by water, which limited greatly the number of their armies. With their canoes hollowed out of the trunks of trees, such as are still to be seen in the Russian villages, they had to descend the Dnieper, disembark at each of the seven cataracts, or rapids, carry their boats around till they could reembark farther on, and all the while give battle to the Petchenegi, who were in ambush behind the rocks. After they had escaped these perils, they had to brave with their frail skiffs the tempests of the Black Sea, the powerful Roman galleys manned by the best sailors of the East, and the mysterious Greek fire which filled them with terror. Few reached the walls of Constantinople, and their defeat was cer­tain. Now, on the contrary, masters of the Danube, masters of the land-route, they could bring against Constantinople all the hordes of Scythia.

Fortunately for the Greek Empire, it then chanced to be renewing its youth. A series of great captains succeeded each other on this tottering throne. In John Zimisces the Russian prince was to find an adversary worthy of him. Sviatoslaf, recalled to Bulgaria, had been obliged to reconquer it. It was at this moment that Zimisces summoned him to execute the conditions of the treaty concluded with his predecessor; that is, to evacuate the country. Sviatoslaf, who had just taken Philippopolis and exterminated the inhabitants, replied haughtily that he hoped soon to be at Constantinople. Zimisces then began his preparations. In the beginning of March, nine hundred and seventy-two, he dispatched a fleet to the north of the Danube, and himself marched to Adrianople. He surprised the Russians, who had not expected him so soon, in the defiles of the Balkans; appeared suddenly under the walls of Pereiaslaf, defeated a body of many thousand Russians, and obliged them to retire within the walls; then he gave the order for the assault, and took the town by escalade. Eight thousand Russians shut up in the royal castle made a desperate resistance, refused to surrender, and perished in the flames.

When the news of this disaster reached Sviatoslaf, he advanced with the greater part of his army to meet the emperor, and came up with him near Dorostol in Silistria. The Greek historians make the Russian army to have consisted of at least sixty thousand men; Nestor reckons only ten thousand. Here a bloody battle took place, and twelve times victory appeared to shift from one side to the other. The solidity of the Russian infantry defied the charges of the mail-clad cavalry. At last they gave way under a desperate charge, and fell back on Dorostol. There they were besieged by the emperor, and displayed a wild courage in their sallies. Even their women, like the ancient Amazons, or the heroines of the Scandinavian sagas or Russian songs, took part in the combat. The Russians slew themselves rather than ask for mercy. The night following an action they were seen to leave the town by moonlight to burn their dead. On their ashes they sacrificed prisoners of war, and drowned cocks and little children in the Danube. Provisions failed, and Sviatoslaf stole out one stormy night with canoes manned by two thousand warriors, rowed round the Greek fleet, collected millet and corn in the neighboring villages, and, falling suddenly on the Greeks, reentered the town victoriously. Zimisces then took measures to prevent any boat from getting out. This epic siege was signalized by some strange combats. One of the bravest of the Russian chiefs was slain by Apemas, a baptized Arab, son of an Emir of Crete, one of Zimisces’ body-guard.

Sviatoslaf resolved to make one last effort, and issued from the town with all his forces. Before the battle Zimisces proposed to Sviatoslaf to terminate the war by a duel between themselves. It was the barbarian who refused: “I know better than my enemy what I have to do”, said Sviatoslaf. “If he is weary of life, there are a thousand means by which he can end his days”. This battle was as obstinate and bloody as the former. Sviatoslaf came near being slain by Apemas. At last the Russians gave way, leaving on the battle-field, says Leo the Deacon, fifteen thousand five hundred dead and twenty thousand shields. The survivors retired into the town. They were forced to treat. Zimisces allowed them to retire from Bulgaria, and they swore by Perun and Volos never again to invade the empire, but to help to defend it against all enemies. If they broke their vows, might they “become as yellow as gold, and perish by their own arms”. Nestor gives us the text of this convention, which was really a capitulation, and confirms the account of the Greek historians rather than his own. These relate that Zimisces sent deputies to the Petchenegi to beg them to grant a free passage to the remnant of the Russian army. It is certain that the barbarians awaited the Russians at the Cataracts, or Rapids, of the Dnieper. They killed Sviatoslaf, cut off his head, and his skull was used by their prince, Kuria, as a drinking-cup. Sviatoslaf was, in spite of his Slav name, the very type of a Variag prince of the intrepid, wily, and ambitious Northmen. Nestor boasts his good faith. When he wished to make war on a people, he sent to warn them. “I am coming against you”, he would say.

After the surrender of Dorostol, he had an interview with his enemy Zimisces. Leo the Deacon profits by the occasion to give us his portrait. The emperor being on horseback by the shore, Sviatoslaf approached him by boat, handling the oar like his companions. He was of middle height, but very robust; he had a wide chest, a thick neck, blue eyes, thick eyebrows, a flat nose, long mustaches, a thin beard, and a tuft of hair on his shaven head as a mark of his nobility. He wore a gold ring in one of his ears, ornamented with a ruby and two pearls. Let us notice this portrait; we shall have to search far into Russian annals to find another. Between the description given by Leo the Deacon and those of the Russian annalists there is the same difference as between the image of a saint and an authentic likeness.




THE Slav tribes owe their organization to a twofold conquest, — a military conquest which came from the North, an ecclesiastical conquest which came from the South. The Variagi sent them chiefs of war, who welded their scattered clans into a nation; the Byzantines sent missionaries, who united the Slavs among themselves and to their civilized neighbors by the bond of a common religion.

The man destined to conclude the work of propagandism begun by Olga did not at first seem fitted for this great task. Vladimir, like Clovis, was at first nothing but a barbarian, — wily, voluptuous, and bloody. Only while Clovis after his baptism is not perceptibly better than he was before, and becomes the assassin of his royal Frankish relations, the Russian annalist seems to wish to establish a contrast between the life led by Vladimir prior to his conversion and the life he led after it. Sviatoslaf left three sons: Iaropolk at Kief, Oleg, ruler of the Drevliané, Vladimir at Novgorod. In the civil wars which followed, and which recall the bloody Merovingian anarchy, Iaropolk slew Oleg, and in his turn died by the hand of Vladimir. He fell in love with Rogneda, Iaropolk’s betrothed, and demanded her in marriage from the Variag Rogvolod, who ruled over Polotsk. The princess answered that she would never marry the son of a slave, in allusion to Vladimir’s mother having been a servant, though he himself had always been treated by his father as his brothers’ equal. Maddened by this insult, Vladimir sacked Polotsk, killed Rogvolod and his two sons, and forced Rogneda to marry him. After the murder of Iaropolk, Vladimir also took the wife whom Iaropolk had left pregnant, a beautiful Greek nun, captured in an expedition against Byzantium. These two women he had deprived, one of her husband, the other of her father and brothers. He had, besides, a Bohemian and a Bulgarian wife, and another, all of whom bore him sons. Finally this bastard, this “son of a slave”, was so abandoned in his profligacy, that he kept three hundred concubines at Vuishegorod, three hundred at Bielgorod, near Kief, and two hundred at Berestof. Lusting no less after war and plunder, he reconquered Red Russia from the Poles, quelled a revolt of the Viatitchi and Radimitchi, and exacted tribute from the Lithuanian Iatvagi and Livonian tribes of Letts, or Finns.

This sensual and passionate barbarian’s soul was troubled, notwithstanding, by religious aspirations. At first he turned to the Slav gods, and his reign was inaugurated by a new growth of paganism. On the high sandy cliffs of Kief, which tower above the Dnieper, he erected idols; among them one of Perun, with a head of silver and a beard of gold. Two Variagi, father and son, both Christians, were stabbed at the feet of Perun. But the day of the ancient gods was passed; Vladimir was undergoing the religious crisis in which all Russia labored. He felt that he must have another form of belief; so, according to the testimony of Nestor, he took it into his head, like the Japanese of today, to institute a search after the best religion. His ambassadors forthwith visited Mussulmans, Jews, and Catholics : the first represented by the Bulgarians of the Volga, the second probably by the Khazarui or the Jewish Kharaites, the third by the Poles and Germans. Vladimir declined Islamism, which prescribed circumcision and forbade “the wine, which was dear to the Russians”; Judaism, whose disciples wandered through the earth; and Catholicism, whose ceremonies appeared wanting in magnificence. The deputies that he sent to Constantinople, on the contrary, returned awe-stricken. The splendors of Saint Sophia, the brilliancy of the priestly vestments, the magnificence of the ceremonies, heightened by the presence of the emperor and his court, the patriarch and the numerous clergy, the incense, the religious songs, had powerfully appealed to the imagination of the barbarians. One final argument triumphed over the scruples of Vladimir. “If the Greek religion had not been the best, your grandmother Olga, the wisest of mortals, would not have adopted it”, said the boyars. The proud Vladimir did not intend to beg for baptism at the hands of the Greeks, — he would conquer it by his own arms, and ravish it like booty. He descended into the Taurid and besieged Kherson, the last city of this region that remained subject to the emperors. A certain Anastasius, possibly from religious motives, betrayed his country. Rendered prouder than ever by this important conquest, Vladimir sent an embassy to the Greek emperors, Basil and Constantine, demanding their sister Anna in marriage, and threatening, in case of refusal, to march on Constantinople. It was not the first time the barbarians had made this proposal to the Greek Caesars, and Constantine Porphyrogenitus himself teaches his successors how to get rid of these inconvenient demands. But on this occasion the emperors, who were occupied with revolts in the interior, thought themselves driven to consent, on condition that Vladimir should be baptized. It was in Kherson that the Russian prince received baptism, and celebrated his marriage with the heiress of the emperors of Rome. The priests lie brought to Kief were his captives; the sacred ornaments, the holy relics with which he enriched and sanctified his capital, were his booty. When he returned to Kief it was in the character of an apostle, but of an armed apostle, that he catechized his people. The idols were overthrown amid the tears and fright of the people. Perun was flogged and thrown into the Dnieper. They still show on the side of the Kievan cliffs the rock called “The Devil's Leap” ; and farther away, the place where Perun was thrown up by the waters on the shore. The people instantly rushed to worship him, but the soldiers of Vladimir cast him back into the river. Then, by Vladimir's order, all the Kievans, men and women, masters and slaves, old people and little children, plunged naked into the consecrated waters of the old pagan stream, while the Greek priests standing on the bank with Vladimir read the baptismal service. After a sturdy resistance, the Novgorodians were in like manner forced to hurl Perun into the Volkhof, and then be immersed in it themselves.

We have already seen that the Russians had not lost all recollections of their ancient gods, and that nature was still the home of a whole world of deities. A long time had to pass before Christianity could penetrate into their hearts and customs. M. Buslaef assures us that, even in the twelfth century, Christian rites were practised only by the higher classes. The peasants kept their old pagan ceremonies, and continued to contract their marriages “around the bush of broom”. They preserved even longer their faith in magicians and sorcerers, who were often of more authority than the priests. Vladimir, at any rate, wished to prepare the transformation. It does not appear that he persecuted the idolaters, but he occupied himself in adorning the churches of his capital, which he had shorn of its idols. On the spot where Perun stood he built the Church of Saint Basil, the Greek name which he had taken at his baptism. On the place where the two Variag martyrs had been slain by his orders he raised the Church of the Desiatina or the Tithe, embellished and ornamented with Greek inscriptions by artists who came from the South. He founded schools, where boys studied the Holy Books translated into Slavonic, but he was obliged to compel the attendance of the children, whose parents, convinced that writing was a dangerous kind of magic, shed tears of despair. Nestor cannot sufficiently praise the reformation of Vladimir after his baptism. He was faithful to his Greek wife, he no longer loved war, he distributed his revenues to the churches and to the poor, and, in spite of the increase of crime, hesitated to inflict capital punishment. “I fear to sin”, he replied to his councillors. It was the bishops who had to recall to him the fact that “criminals must be chastised, though with discretion”, and that the country must not be left a prey to the Petchenegi. Vladimir, who in his earlier life reminded us of a Northman of the type of Robert the Devil, suddenly becomes the “good King Robert” of Russia.

His wars with the Petchenegi are recorded by Nestor with all kinds of episodes borrowed from the epic poetry. There is the Russian champion who tears in pieces the furious bull, or stifles a Petcheneg giant in his arms; there are the inhabitants of Bielgorod, who, having been reduced to famine by the barbarians, let down into wells two large caldrons, one full of hydromel and the other of meal, to make the Petchenegi believe these were natural productions of the soil. We see in the popular songs of what a marvellous cycle of legends Vladimir has become the centre; but in these poems he is neither Vladimir the Baptist, nor the Saint Vladimir of the orthodox Church, but a solar hero, successor of the divinities whom he destroyed. To the people, still pagans at heart, Vladimir is always the “Beautiful Sun” of Kief.




Vladimir died in ten hundred and fifteen, leaving a large number of heirs by his numerous wives. The partition that he made among them of his states tells us what was the extent of Russia at that epoch. To Iaroslaf he gave Novgorod; Polotsk to Isiaslaf, son of Rogneda, and grandson of the Variag Rogvolod; to Boris, Rostof; to Gleb, Murom, these last two principalities being in the Finn country; to Sviatoslaf, the Drevliané; to Vsevolod, Vladimir in Volhynia; to Mstislaf, Tmutorakan, the Tamatarchia of the Greeks; finally, to his nephew Sviatopolk, the son of his brother and victim Iaropolk, the principality of Turof, in the country of Minsk, founded by a Variag named Tur, who did not belong to the “blood of princes” any more than Askold and Dir. The history of Vladimir’s successors recalls that of the heirs of Clovis. The murder of the sons of Clodomir is paralleled by the assassination of Boris and Gleb, sons of Vladimir, by the order of Sviatopolk, who usurped the throne of Kief. His two victims were canonized, and henceforth became inseparable in the orthodox calendar. The prince of the Drevliané perished by the same hand. Iaroslaf resolved to avenge his brothers and to save himself. At this moment, however, he had alienated his Novgorodian subjects, having enticed the principal citizens into his castle, and then treacherously slain them. When he learnt the crimes of Sviatopolk, he trembled for his own life, and threw himself on the generosity of those he had so cruelly outraged. He wept for his sins before them, and besought their help. “Prince”, replied the Novgorodians, with one voice, “you have destroyed our brethren, but we are ready to fight for you”. After a bloody war, in which Boleslas the Brave, king of Poland, took part, the usurper fled, and died miserably in exile. Iaroslaf had still to defend himself against the Prince of Polotsk and Mstislaf of Tmutorakan. The latter had acquired great fame from his wars with the Khazarui, whom, with the aid of the Greek emperor, Basil the Second, he finally annihilated, and with the Tcherkesui, whose chief, a giant named Rhededia, lie slew in single combat. At last, Iaroslaf remained the sole master of Russia, and reigned glo­iously at Kief. He recalls Charles the Great by some successful wars, but particularly by his code of laws, his taste for building, and his love of letters in a barbarous age. He owes part of his reputation to the anarchy which followed his death, and which caused his reign to be regretted as the climax of Kievan greatness.

In Poland Iaroslaf revenged on the son of Boleslas the Brave his father’s invasions, and took from him the towns of Red Russia. He fought a bloody battle with the Petchenegi under the walls of Kief, and in their flight part of the vanquished barbarians were drowned in crossing the rivers. It was as fatal a blow to the Petchenegi as that struck by Sviatoslaf at the Khazarui: they never recovered from it. But in the same manner as the defeat of the Khazarui opened the way to the Petchenegi, the ruin of the Petchenegi opened the way to the Polovtsui. The steppes of the Don were incessantly filled by new hordes from Asia. Iaroslaf also fought against the Finnish and Lithuanian tribes. In the country of the Tchudi he founded Iurief, or Saint George, called Dorpat by the Germans, on the Embach, near the Peipus; in the country of the Meria he founded Iaroslavl on the Upper Volga. Finally, his reign was marked by a new war with Greece, brought on by mercantile disputes. His son Vladimir, leader of the expedition, rejected proudly the propositions of the Emperor Constantino Monomachus. A naval battle was fought in the Bosphorus; Greek fire and the tempests of the Black Sea dispersed the Russian armament. Part of the army, a body of eight thousand men, which was retreating into Russia by land, was attacked and exterminated by a Greek force: eight hundred prisoners were sent to Constantinople, where their eyes were put out. Notwithstanding the "bonds of religion which had been riveted between the Byzantines and their neophytes 011 the Dnieper, the Russians were always dreaded by Constantinople. An inscription hidden in the boot of one of the equestrian statues of Byzantium announced that the day would come when the capital of the empire would fall a prey to the men of the North. The decay of Kievan Russia after the death of Iaroslaf put off to a later day or nullified the fulfillment of this prophecy.

The legislation of the Russian Charlemagne is comprised in the Code entitled Russkaia Pravda, the Russian Right or Verity. This Code strangely recalls the Scandinavian. It sanctions private revenge, and the pursuit of an assassin by all the relatives of the dead; it fixes the fine for different crimes, as well as the fine paid into the royal treasury; it allows the judicial duel; the ordeal by red-hot iron and boiling water; the oath corroborated by those of the Compurgators; it also established by the side of the judges nominated by the Prince a jury of twelve citizens. In the “Russkaia Pravda” there is not, properly speaking, any criminal law. Capital punishment, death by refinements of cruelty, corporal chastisement, torture to wring out confessions, even a public prison, were all unknown. These are Scandinavian and German principles in all their purity. At this period Russia had almost the same laws as the West.

Iaroslaf occupied a glorious place among the princes of his time. His sister Maria was married to Kasimir, King of Poland; his daughters also became the wives of kings : Elisabeth, of Harold the Brave, King of Norway; Anna, of Henry the First, King of France; Anastasia, of Andrew the First, King of Hungary. Of his sons, Vladimir, the eldest, is said to have married Githa, daughter of Harold, King of England; Isiaslaf, a daughter of Micislas the Second, King of Poland; Vseslaf, a Greek princess, daughter of Constantine Monomachus; Viatcheslaf and Igor, two German princesses. Iaroslaf gave an asylum to the proscribed princes, Saint Olaf, King of Norway, and his two sons; a prince of Sweden; Edwin and Edward, sons of Edmund Ironside, King of England, expelled from their country by Knut the Great. The Variag dynasty was thus mingled with the families of the Christian princes, and we may say of the Russia of the eleventh century, what we can no longer say of the Russia of the sixteenth century, that it was a European state.

To Kief was destined the lot of Aachen, the capital of Charles the Great, which, glorious in his life, after his death fell into decay. Under Iaroslaf, Kief reached the highest pinnacle of splendor. He wished to make his capital the rival of Constantinople; like Byzantium, it had its cathedral and its Golden Gate. The Grand Prince also founded the monastery of Saint Irene, of which only a few ruins now remain, and those of Saint George and the Catacombs, the latter made illustrious by the virtues of its first superiors, Saint Theodosius and Saint Antony. He repaired the church of the Tithe, and surrounded the city with ramparts. The population began to increase, and the lower town to grow at the feet of the upper. Kief, situated on the Dnieper, the great road to Byzantium, seemed to be part of Greece. Adam of Bremen calls it aemula sceptri Constantinopolitani et clarissimum decus Graeciaea. It was the rendezvous of the merchants from Holland, Hungary, Germany, and Scandinavia, who lived in separate quarters of the town. It had eight markets, and the Dnieper was constantly covered with merchant-ships. Iaroslaf had not enough Greek artists to decorate all the churches, nor enough priests to serve them, for Kief was at that time “the city of four hundred churches”, so much admired by the writers of the West. What it was then we may partly realize by seeing what it is still at certain seasons of the year. The Monastery of the Catacombs, with the incorruptible bodies of its ascetics and miracle-workers, some of whom bricked themselves up, while living, in the cell which was to be their sepulchre, draws annually, and especially at the Feast of the Assumption, fifty thousand pilgrims. Saint Sophia was the pride of Kief; the mosaics of the time of Iaroslai still exist, and the traveller may admire, on the “indestructible wall”, the colossal image of the Mother of God, the Last Supper, with a double apparition of Christ, presenting to six of his disciples his body, and to six others his blood, the images of Saints and Doctors, and the Angel of the Annunciation. The frescos which have been preserved or carefully restored are still numerous, and everywhere cover the pillars, the walls, and the vaulted ceilings of gold. The inscriptions are not in Slavonic, but in Greek. Iaroslaf did not forget Novgorod, his first residence, and there he built another Saint Sophia, one of the most precious monuments of Russian antiquity. Like Charles the Great, he set up schools. Vladimir had founded one at Kief; Iaroslaf instituted that of Novgorod for three hundred boys. He sent for Greek singers from Byzantium, who taught the Russian clergy. Coins were struck for him by Greek artists, with his Slavonic name, Iuri, in Slav on one side, and his Christian name, Georgios, on the other. Like all other barbarian neophytes, Iaroslaf carried devotion into superstition. He caused the bones of his uncles, who had died unconverted, to be disinterred and baptized. He died in ten hundred and fifty-four, and his stone sarcophagus is one of the most precious ornaments of Saint Sophia.




Variag-Russian society presents more than one analogy with the society which was developed in Gaul after the Frank conquest. The government of the Variag princes somewhat resembled that of the Merovingian kings.

The germ of the future state lay in the drujina, the band of warriors surrounding the prince, as in Gaul it lay in the truste. The drujinniki, like the antrustions, were the faithful followers, the men of the prince. They formed his guard, and were his natural council in all affairs, public or private. He could constitute them a court of justice, nominate them individually voievodui, or governors of fortresses, or posadniki, or lieutenants in the large towns. In the same way as the body surrounding the Merovingian kings was not composed so entirely of Franks but that shortly Gallo-Romans crept into the antrustions, so the drujina of the Russian princes admitted many different elements, not only Variag but Slav. Mstislaf, prince of Tmutorakan, had enrolled Iasui and Kassogans; a Lithuanian Iatviag is mentioned as being in the drujina of Igor, a Hungarian in that of Boris. The military class did not form at that time a close caste in Russia any more than in Gaul; Saint Vladimir took into his service the son of a leather-worker who had vanquished the Petcheneg giant; his maternal uncle, Dobruina, was not even a free man.

The prince in the midst of his drujina seems to be only the first among his equals; all that he had seems to have belonged to his men. We see them eat at the same table, and listen together to the songs of the blind poets who accompanied themselves on the gusli. It was, as it were, a family of soldiers, from which one day the Russian administration was to come. The prince had great respect for the demands of his men. Those of Vladimir complained one day that they had to eat from wooden bowls. He gave them silver ones, and added, “I could not buy myself a drujina with gold and silver; but with a drujina I can acquire gold and silver, as did my father and my grandfather”. The prince did nothing without consulting his drujinniki. It was this that prevented Sviatoslaf from listening to the exhortations of Olga; he said that “his drujina would mock him” if he became a Christian.

The administration of the Variag princes was very elementary. Let us see what the Arab writer Ibn-Dost says of the way they distributed justice : “When a Russian has a grievance with another, he summons him before the tribunal of the prince, where both present themselves. When the prince has given sentence, his orders are executed; if both parties are displeased by the judgment, the affair must be decided by arms. He whose sword cuts sharpest gains his cause. At the moment of the combat the relations of the two adversaries appear armed, and surround the space shut off. The combatants then come to blows, and the victor may impose any conditions he pleases”.

After justice, the most important of the princely functions was the collection of the tributes. The amount was fixed by the prince himself. Oleg imposed on the Drevliané a tax of a marten’s skin for every house. The levy of taxes was always very arbitrary. Nestor’s account of the death of Igor is a lively picture of the political customs of the time; we might imagine ourselves reading a page of Gregory of Tours about the sons of Clovis, for example, Thierry’s expedition in Arvernia. “In the year nine hundred and forty-five the drujina of Igor said to him, The men of Sventeld are richly provided with weapons and garments, while we go naked; lead us, prince, to collect the tribute, so that thou and we may become rich. Igor consented, and conducted them to the Drevliané to raise the tribute. He increased the first imposts, and did them violence, he and his men; after having taken all he wanted, he returned to his city. While on the road he bethought himself and said to his drujina, Go on with the tribute; I will go back to try and get some more out of them. Leaving the greater part of his men to go on their way, he returned with only a few, to the end that he might increase his riches. The Drevliané, when they learnt that Igor was returning, held council with Mai, their prince. When the wolf enters the sheepfold he slays the whole flock, if the shepherd does not slay him. Thus it is with us and Igor; if we do not destroy him, we are lost. Then they sent deputies and said to him,  Why dost thou come anew unto us? Hast thou not collected all the tribute? But Igor would not hear them, so the Drevliané came out of the town of Korosten, and slew Igor and his men, for they were but a few”.

For the government and defence of the country the prince established the chief of his drujinniki in different towns, supported by adequate forces. Thus Rurik distributed the towns of his appanage; he gave to one of his men Polotsk, to another Rostof, to a third Bielozersk. A principality was in some sort divided into fiefs, but the fiefs were only temporary, and always revocable. For the defence of the frontiers new towns were built, where native soldiers kept watch.

Social conditions from the ninth to the twelfth century were as unequal as in the West. The prince’s drujina, which speedily absorbed all the Slav and Finn chiefs, constituted an aristocracy. Still we must distinguish in it three orders of rank, the simple guards, the men corresponding to the French barons, and the boyars, who were the most illustrious of all. The freemen of the Russian soil were “the people”. The merchants were not at this period a distinct class; it was, in fact, the warriors or the princes who pursued commerce with arms in their hands. Oleg was disguised as a merchant when he surprised Kief and slew Askold and Dir; the Byzantines mistrusted these terrible guests, and assigned them a separate quarter, in Constantinople, which was strictly watched.

The rural population, on whom the weight of the growing state was beginning to rest, was already less free than in primitive times. The peasant was called smerd, a word perhaps derived from smerdief, to stink, or muzhik, the insulting diminutive of muzh, man. Later he became the Christian par excellence, krestianin.

Below the peasant, whose situation recalls that of the Roman colonus, were the slaves properly so called. The slave might have been taken in war, bought in a market, born in the house of his master, or have lost his liberty by the mere fact of filling certain offices, such as that of house-steward. War was, however, the principal source of slavery. Ibn-Dost relates that the

Russians, when they marched against another people, did not depart without having destroyed everything; they carried off the women, and reduced the men to slavery. They maintained a great slave-trade with foreign nations. “From Russia”, said Sviatoslaf, the conqueror of Bulgaria, “will be brought skins, wax, honey, and slaves”.




Russia had become Christian: it is the chief event in its primitive history. An important fact is that its Christianity was received not from Rome, like that of the Poles and other Western Slavs, but from Constantinople. Although the separation between the churches of the East and West was not yet fully consummated, it was evident that Russia would be engaged in what the Latins called “the schism”. It is usually considered in the West that this fact exercised an evil influence on Russia. But let us see the opinion of a Russian historian, M. Bestujef-Riumin, on the subject. “What is no less important is, that Christianity came to us from Byzantium, where the Church put forth no pretensions of governing the State, a circumstance which preserved us from struggles between the secular, a national, and the spiritual, a foreign power. Excluded from the religious unity of the Romano-Germanic world, we have perhaps gained more than we have lost. The Roman Church made its appearance with German missionaries in Slavonic lands; and if it did not everywhere bring with it material servitude, at least it introduced an intellectual slavery by forcing men to support foreign interests, by bringing among them foreign elements, and by establishing in all parts a sharp division between the higher classes who wrote and spoke in Latin, and the lower classes who spoke the national tongue and were without literature”.

No doubt an ecclesiastical language which, thanks to Cyril and Methodius, mingled with the national language, and became intelligible to all classes of society; a purely national Church, which was subject to no foreign sway; the absolute independence of the civil power and of national development, were the inestimable advantages that Byzantine Christianity brought into Russia. But if the Russian State was free from all obligations to Rome, it had nothing to hope for from Rome. It could not reckon in its days of peril on the help that Spain received when it grappled with the Moors; Germany in its crusades against the Slavs and Finns; Hungary in its national war with the Turks. Separated from the West by difference of faith, Russia in the time of the Mongols, like Greece at the epoch of the Ottoman invasion, saw no Europe arming in its defence.

Its princes were neither laid under the pontifical interdicts, like Robert of France, nor reduced to implore pardon at the feet of a Gregory the Seventh, like Henry the Fourth of Germany; humiliations always followed by a swift revenge, as on the day when Barbarossa expelled Alexander the Third from Italy, and Philip the Handsome caused Boniface to be arrested in Anagni. Humiliations still more cruel awaited the Russians at the Court of the Mongols. Another misfortune attending the entrance of the Russians into the Greek Church is, that they found themselves separated by religion from the races to whom they were bound by a common origin, and who spoke almost their own tongue. It was the difference of religion which inflamed their long rivalry with the Poles, and which at present deprives them of much influence over part of the Slavs. This same difference of religion delayed for them the benefits of civilization resulting from the Renaissance of the West, but it spared them the terrible crisis of the wars of the Reformation.

Oriental Christianity, with the Byzantine civilization that was inseparable from it, produced in time a considerable transformation in Russia. The first effect of Christianity was to reform society, and draw closer family ties. It condemned polygamy, and forbade equal divisions between the children of a slave and those of the lawful wife. Society resisted this new principle for some time. Saint Vladimir, even after his conversion, divided his possessions equally between the children the Church regarded as natural and those she considered legitimate. In the long run Christianity prevailed, and by the abolition of polygamy the Russian family ceased to be Asiatic, and became European.

Christianity prescribed new virtues, and gave the ancient barbaric virtues of hospitality and benevolence a more elevated character.

Vladimir Monomakh charged his children to receive strangers hospitably, because, says he, they have it in their power to give you a good or evil reputation. The hospitality of primitive peoples may often be explained by their need of merchants and foreigners. Pagan Slavs were obliged to help only those of the same association; warriors would assist the members of the same drujina; peasants, members of the same commune; merchants or artisans, members of the same union. Christianity enjoined benevolence to all the world, without hope of reward in this life. It rendered weakness, poverty, manual labor, honorable. If it prescribed excessive humility, it was useful at least as a reaction against the brutality of overweening pride. Between these two societies, aristocratic and religious, which rest on opposite and equally exaggerated principles, there would one day be room for lay and civil society.

The influence of Christian principles was rather slow among these excitable and ardent natures, but at last we see in Russia, as in the West, princes abjure their pride and seek the peace of the cloister, like the good King Robert, or Saint Henry. Ill the end it became an established custom with the Russian sovereigns that, on the approach of death, they should be tonsured, change their worldly for a monkish name, and so die in the garb of one of the religious orders.

From a political point of view the influence of Byzantine Christianity was bound in the long run to cause a complete revolution. For what was a Russian prince, after all, but the head of a band, surrounded by the men of his drujina, and in a sense a stranger in the land he governed and 011 which he levied tribute? Properly speaking, a Russian prince had no subjects. The natives had the power at any time to expel him, — his drujinniki were always free to forsake him.

The princes of Kief were no more sovereigns in the modern or Roman sense of the term than Merwig or Clodowig the Long-haired. But the priests who came from Constantinople brought with them an ideal of government; in a little while it was that of the Russians who entered the ranks of the clergy. This Greek ideal was the Emperor, the Tsar of Constantinople, heir of Augustus and Constantine the Great, God’s Vicar upon earth, the typical monarch on whom the eyes of the barbarians of Gaul as well as those of Scythia were fixed. He was a sovereign in the fullest sense of the word. He had subjects, and subjects only. He alone made the law; he was the law. He had neither drujinniki nor antrustions that he placed in such and such a town, but a host of movable functionaries, the inviolate Roman hierarchy, by means of whom his all-powerful will penetrated to the remotest parts of his dominions. He was not the leader of a band of exacting soldiers, free to quit his service for that of another, but master of a standing army, to guard both frontiers and capital. He did not consider his states as a patrimony to be divided between his children, but transmitted to his successor the Roman Empire in its integrity. He inherited his power, not only from his people, but from God. His imperial ornaments had, like his person, a sacred character: and whenever the barbarian kings demanded one of them at Constantinople, either the crown enriched with precious stones, the purple mantle, the sceptre, or the leggings, they were answered, that when God gave the empire to Constantinople, he sent these vestments by a holy angel; that they were not the work of man, and that they were laid on the altar, and worn, even by the emperor, only on solemn occasions. Leo the Khazar was said to have been smitten with a fatal ulcer for having put on the crown without permission of the patriarch.

An empire one and indivisible, resting on a standing army, a hierarchy of functionaries, a national clergy, and a body of jurisconsults, — such was the Roman Empire, and on the same model the monarchies of the seventeenth century were constructed. This was the conception of the State, unknown to both Slavs and Variagi, that the Greek priests brought to Russia. For a long time the reality showed little to corre­spond with the ideal; the princes continued in their wills to divide their soldiers and their lands among their children ; but the idea did not perish, and if it was never realized in Kievan Russia, it found a more propitious soil in Muscovite Russia. Legislation likewise felt the influence of Christianity. Theft, murder, and assassination were not looked upon by the Church as private offences, for which the aggrieved persons could take reprisals or accept money in commutation. They were crimes to be punished by human justice in the name of God.

For private revenge Byzantine influence substituted a public penalty; for the fine it substituted corporal punishment, repugnant to the free barbarian, and to the instinctive sentiment of human dignity. Imprisonment, convict labor, flogging, torture, mutilation, death itself, inflicted by more or less cruel means, — such was the penal code of the Byzantines.

The Greek bishops of the time of Saint Vladimir wished that brigands should be put to death, but it was long before popular objection to such punishment was overcome. Vladimir, after having employed this supreme means of repression, returned to the system of fines, which besides helped to fill the treasury. The Byzantine mode of procedure likewise rejected the judicial duel, the judgment of God, and the Compurgators long upheld by custom. But, as in Gaul, Roman law existed for church officers and part of the natives side by side with the Frank or Burgundian law, so in Russia the Byzantine codes of Justinian and Basil the Macedonian were established at the side of the Scandinavian code of Iaroslaf.

During many centuries the two systems of legislation existed together, each being slightly influenced by the other, until the time when they were mingled in a new code, the Ulojenie of Ivan the Great, and the Sudebnik of Ivan the Terrible.

The Byzantine literature which found its way into Russia consisted not only of the Sacred Books, but also of the Fathers of the Church, among whom we may reckon some writers of the first order, like Saint Basil and Saint John Chrysostom; lives of the saints, an inexhaustible source of new poetry; chronicles destined to serve as models to the Russian annalists; philosophical and scientific books; even romances such as “Barlaam and Josaphat”, “Salomon and Kitovras”, and others. Though this literature was partly the fruit of Byzantine decay, we may perceive how it implanted fresh ideas in the mind of a young nation, and would largely influence the moral life of the individual, and public and family life. We shall see up to what point Russian society of the Middle Ages was modelled on the examples afforded by this literature. Finally, it must not be forgotten that Christianity brought music in its train to a people whose music was highly primitive, and architecture to a people who had absolutely none. It was Christianity which, to use a Western expression, illuminated the Russian cities with magnificent churches, and caused golden cupolas to tower above the ramparts of mud that begirt the towns.






THE period that extends from ten hundred and fifty-four, the year of Iaroslafs death, to twelve hundred and twenty-four, the year of the first appearance of the Tatars, or, to take the French chronology, from the reign of Henry the First to the death of Philip Augustus, is one of the most confused and troubled in Russian history. As the barbarian custom of division continued to prevail over the Byzantine ideal of political unity, the national territory was ceaselessly partitioned.

The princely anarchy of Eastern Europe has its parallel in the feudal anarchy of the West. M. Pogodin reckons during this period sixty-four principalities which had an existence more or less prolonged, two hundred and ninety-three princes who disputed the throne of Kief and other domains, and eighty-three civil wars, in some of which the whole country was engaged. There were, besides, foreign wars to augment this enormous mass of historical facts. Against the Polovtsui alone the chroniclers mention eighteen campaigns, while these barbarians made no less than forty-six invasions of Russia. It is impossible to follow the national chroniclers in the minute details of their annals; we will only treat of the principalities which lasted some time, and of the facts which were most important.

The ancient names of the Slav tribes have everywhere disappeared, or remain only in the names of some of the towns, for example that of the Polotchané in Polotsk, and that of the Severiané in Novgorod-Severski. The elements of which Russia was now composed were no longer tribes, but principalities. We hear no more of the Krivitchi or the Drevliané, but of the principalities of Smolensk and Volhynia. These little states were perpetually dismembered at each new partition between the sons of a prince, and then were reconstituted to be divided anew into appanages.

Notwithstanding all these vicissitudes, some of them maintained a steady existence, corresponding to certain topographical or ethnographical conditions. Without speaking of the distant principality of Tmutorakan, situated at the foot of the Caucasus in the centre of Turkish and Circassian tribes, and reckoning eight successive princes, the following are the great divisions of Russia from the eleventh to the thirteenth century :

The principality of Smolensk occupied the important territory which is, as it were, the central point in the mountain system of Russia. It comprehends the ancient forest of Okof, where three of the largest Russian rivers, the Volga, the Dnieper, and the Dwina, take their rise. Hence the political importance of Smolensk, attested by all the wars to gain possession of it; hence, also, its commercial prosperity. It is noticeable that all its towns were built on one or other of these three great rivers; therefore the entire commerce of ancient Russia passed through its hands. Besides Smolensk we must mention Mojaisk, Viasma, and Toropets, which was the capital of a secondary principality, the property of two celebrated princes, Mstislaf the Brave and Mstislaf the Bold.

The principality of Kief was Rus, Russia in the strict sense of the word. Its situation on the Dnieper, the neighborhood of the Greek Empire, the fertility of the Black Land, long secured to this state the supremacy over the other Russian principalities. On the south it bordered directly on the nomads of the steppe, against whom her princes were forced to raise a barrier of frontier towns. They often took these barbarians into their pay, granted them lands, and constituted them into military colonies. The principality of Pereiaslavl was a dependence of Kief; Vuishegorod, Bielgorod, Tripoli, Torshok, were at times erected into principalities for princes of the same family.

On the tributaries of the right bank of the Dnieper, notably the Soja, the Desna, and the Seim, extended the two principalities of Tchernigof, with Starodub and Lubetch; and of Novgorod-Severski, with Putivl, Kursk, and Briansk. The principality of Tchernigof, which reached towards the Upper Oka, had therefore one foot in the basin of the Volga; its princes, the Olgovitchi, were the most formidable rivals of Kief. The princes of Severski were always engaged in war with the Polovtsui, their neighbors on the south. It was a prince of Severski whose exploits against these barbarians formed the subject of a sort of epic poem, called the Song of Igor, or the Account of Igor’s Expedition.

Another principality, whose very existence consisted in endless war against the nomads, was the double principality of Riazan and Murom, the principal towns of which were Riazan, Murom, Pereiaslavl-Riazanski, situated on the Oka, Kolomna at the junction of the Moskova with the Oka, and Pronsk on the Prona. The Upper Don formed its western boundary. This principality was placed in the very heart of the Muromians and Meshtcheraki, Finnish tribes. The reputation of its inhabitants, who were reckoned warlike in character, and rough and brutal in manners, was no doubt partly the result of the mixture of the Russian race with the ancient inhabitants of the country, and of their perpetual and bloody struggle with the nomad tribes.

The double principalities of Suzdal, with their towns of Suzdal, Rostof, Iurief-Polski on the Kolosha, Vladimir on the Kliazma, Iaroslavl, and Pereiaslavl-Zalieski, were situated on the Volga and the Oka amongst the thickest of northern forests, and in the middle of the Finnish tribes of Muromians, Meria, Vesui, and Tcheremisa. Although placed at the farthest extremity of the Russian world, Suzdal exercised an important influence over it. We shall find its princes now establishing a certain political authority over Novgorod and the Russia of the Lakes, the result of a double economic dependence; now intervening victoriously in the quarrels of the Russia of the Dnieper. The Suzdalians were rough and warlike, like the Riazanese. Already we can distinguish among these two peoples the characteristics of a new nationality. That which divides them from the Kievans and the men of Novgorod-Severski, occupied like themselves in the great war with the barbarians, is the fact that the Russians of the Dnieper sometimes mingled their blood with that of their enemies, and became fused with the nomad, essentially mobile Turkish races, whilst the Prussians of the Oka and the Volga united with the Finnish tribes, who were agricultural and essentially sedentary. This distinction between the two for­eign elements that entered the Slav blood has doubtless contributed to the difference in the characters of the two branches of the Russian race. From the eleventh to the thirteenth century, in passing from the basin of the Dnieper to the basin of the Volga, we can already watch the formation of Great and Little Russia.

The principalities of Kief, Tchernigof, Novgorod-Severski, Riazan, Murom, and Suzdal, situated on the side of the steppe with its devastating hordes, formed the frontier states of Russia. The same part to play on the northwest, opposite the Lithuanians, Letts, and Tchudi, fell to the principality of Polotsk, which occupied the basin of the Dwina; and to the republican principalities of Novgorod and Pskof on the lakes Umen and Peipus. To the principality of Polotsk, that of Minsk was attached, which lay in the basin of the Dnieper. The possession of Minsk, thanks to its situation, was often disputed by the Grand Princes of Kief. To Novgorod be­longed the towns of Torjok, Volok-Lamski, Izborsk, and Veliki-Luki, which were at times capitals of particular states.

Southeast Russia comprehended: Volhynia, in the fan-shaped distribution of rivers formed by the Pripet and its tributaries, with Vladimir-in-Volhynia, Lutsk, Turof, Brest, and even Lublin, which is certainly Polish; Gallicia proper, or Red Russia, in the basins of the San, the Dniester, and the Pripet, whose ancient inhabitants, the White Kroats, seem to have sprung from the stock of the Danubian Slavs. Her chief towns were Galitch, founded by Vladimirko about eleven hundred and forty-four, Peremuisl, Terebovl, and Zvenigorod. The neighborhood of Hungary and Poland gave a special character to these principalities, as well as a more advanced civilization. The epic songs speak of Gallicia, the native land of the hero Diuk Stepanovitch, as a fabulously rich country. The Account of Igor's Expedition gives us a high idea of the power of these princes. “Iaroslaf Osmomuisl of Gallicia!” cried the poet to one of them, “thou art seated very high on thy throne of wrought gold; with thy regiments of iron thou sustainest the Carpathians; thou closest the gates of the Danube; thou barrest the way to the king of Hungary; thou openest at thy will the gates of Kief, and with thine arrows thou strikest from afar!”

The disposition of these fifteen or sixteen principalities confirms all that we have said about the essential unity of the configuration of the Russian soil. Not one of the river-basins forms an isolated and closed region. There is no line of heights to establish barriers between them or political fron­tiers. The greater number of the Russian principalities belong to the basin of the Dnieper, but extend everywhere beyond its limits. The principality of Kief, with Pereiaslavl, is nearly the only one completely confined within it; but Volhynia puts the basin of the Dnieper in communication with those of the Bug and the Vistula, Polotsk with the basins of the Dnieper and the Dwina, Novgorod-Severski with the basin of the Don, Tchernigof and Smolensk with the basin of the Volga. Watercourses everywhere established communications between the principalities. Already Russia, though broken up into appanages, had the germs of a great united empire. The slight cohesion of nearly all the states, and their frequent dismemberments, prevented them from ever becoming the homes of real nationalities. The principalities of Smolensk, Tchernigof, and Riazan have never possessed as definite an historic existence as the duchy of Bretagne or the county of Toulouse in Prance, or the duchies of Saxony, Suabia, and Bavaria in Germany.

The interests of the princes, their desire to create appanages for each of their children, caused a fresh division of the Russian territory at the death of every sovereign. There was, however, a certain cohesion in the midst of all these vicissitudes. There was a unity of race and language, the more sensible, notwithstanding all dialectic differences, because the Russian people was surrounded everywhere, except at the southwest, by entirely strange races, Lithuanians, Tchudi, Finns, Turks, Magyars. There was a unity of religion; the Russians differed from nearly all their neighbors, for in co­trast with the Western Slavs, Poles, Tcheki, and Moravians, they represented a particular form of Christianity, not owning any tie to Rome, and rejecting Latin as the language of the Church. There was the unity of historical development, as up to that time the Russo-Slavs had all followed the same road, had accepted Greek civilization, submitted to the Variagi, pursued certain great enterprises in common, — such as the expeditions against Byzantium and the war with the nomads. Finally, there was political unity, since after all, in Gallicia as in Novgorod, 011 the Dnieper as in the forests of Suzdal, it was the same family that filled all the thrones. All these princes descended from Rurik, Saint Vladimir, and Iaroslaf the Great. The fact that the wars that laid waste the country were civil wars, was a new proof of this unity. The different parts of Russia could not consider themselves strangers one to the other, when they saw the princes of Tchernigof and Suzdal taking up arms to prove which of them was the eldest, and which consequently had most right to the title of Grand Prince and the throne of Kief. There were descendants of Rurik who governed, successively, the remotest states of Russia, and who, after having reigned at Tmutorakan on the Straits of Ienikale, at Novgorod the Great, at Toropets in the country of Smolensk, ended by establishing their right to reign at Kief. In spite of the division into appanages, Kief continued to be the centre of Russia. It was there that Oleg and Igor had reigned, that Vladimir had baptized 'his people, and Iaroslaf had established the metropolis of the faith, of arts, and of national civilization. It is not surprising that it should have been more fiercely disputed than all the other Russian cities. Russia had many princes; but she had only one Grand Prince, — the one who reigned at Kief. He had a recognized supremacy over the others which he owed not only to the importance of his capital, but to his position as eldest of the royal family. Kief, the mother of Russian cities, was always to belong to the eldest of the descendants of Rurik; this was the consequence of the patriarchal system of the Slavs, as was the custom of division. When the Grand Prince of Kief died, his son was not his rightful heir; but his uncle or brother, or whichever of the princes was the eldest. Then the whole of Russia, from the Baltic to the Black Sea, held itself in readiness to support the claims of this or that candidate. It was the same with the other principalities, where the possessors of different appanages aspired to reign in the metropolis of the region. The civil wars, then, themselves strengthened the sentiment of Russian unity. What were they, after all, but family quarrel?




The persistent conflict between the Byzantine law, by which the son inherited the possessions of the father, and the old national law of the Slavs which caused them to pass to the eldest of all the family, was an inexhaustible source of civil wars. Even had the law been perfectly clear, the princes were not always disposed to recognize it. Thus, although the eldest of Iaroslaf’s sons had in his favor the formal will of his father, giving him the throne of Kief, and though Iaroslaf 011 his death-bed had desired his other sons to respect their elder brother as they had done their parent, and look on him as their father, Isiaslaf at once found his brother Sviatoslaf ready to take up arms and overturn his throne. He was obliged in ten hundred and seventy-three to seek refuge at the Court of Henry the Fourth of Germany, who sent an embassy to Kief, commanding Sviatoslaf to restore the throne of Isiaslaf. Sviatoslaf received the German envoys with such courtesy, made them such a display of his treasures and riches, that, dazzled by the gold, they adopted a pacific policy. Henry the Fourth himself, disarmed by the liberalities of the Russian prince, spoke no more of chastising the usurper. Isiaslaf did not return to Kief till after the death of his rival in ten hundred and seventy-six.

When his own death took place, in ten hundred and seventy-eight, his son Sviatopolk did not succeed him immediately. It was necessary that all the heirs of Iaroslaf should be exhausted. Vsevolod, a brother of Isiaslaf, whose daughter married the Emperor Henry the Fourth or Henry the Fifth, — it is not quite certain which, — reigned for fifteen years, from 1078 until 1093. In accordance with the same principle, it was not the son of Vsevolod, Vladimir Monomakh, who succeeded his father; but after the crown had been worn by a new generation of princes, it returned to the blood of Isiaslaf. Vladimir Monomakh made no opposition to the claims of Sviatopolk Isiaslavitch. “His father was older than mine”, he said, “and reigned first in Kief”, so he quitted the principality which he had governed with his father, and valiantly defended against the barbarians. But every one was not so respectful to the national law as Vladimir Monomakh.

Two terrible civil wars desolated Russia in the reign of the Grand Prince Sviatopolk, between 1093 ten hundred and ninety-three and 1113 : one about the principality of Tchernigof, the other about Volhynia and Red Russia. Sviatoslaf had enjoyed Tchernigof as his share, to which Tmutorakan in the Taurid, Murom and Riazan in the Finn country, were annexed. Isiaslaf and Vsevolod, Grand Princes of Kief, had despoiled the sons of Sviatoslaf, their brother, depriving them of the rich territory of Tchernigof, and only leaving them Tmutorakan and the Finnish country. Even Vladimir Monomakh, whom we have seen so disinterested, had accepted a share of the spoil. The injured princes were not people to bear this meekly, especially the eldest, Oleg Sviatoslavitch, one of the most energetic men of the eleventh century. He called the terrible Polovtsui to his aid, and subjected Russia to frightful ravages. Vladimir Monomakh was moved by these misfortunes; he wrote a touching letter to Oleg, expressing his sorrow for having accepted Tchernigof. At his instigation a Congress of Princes met at Lubetch, on the Dnieper, in ten hundred and ninety-seven. Seated on the same carpet, they resolved to put an end to the civil wars that handed the country as a prey to the barbarians. Oleg recovered Tchernigof, and promised to unite with the Grand Prince of Kief and Vladimir Monomakh against the Polovtsui. The treaty was ratified by the oath of each prince, who kissed the cross and swore, “that henceforth the Russian land shall be considered as the country of us all; and whoso shall dare to arm himself against his brother becomes our common enemy”.

In Volhynia the prince, David, was at war with his nephews, Vasilko and Volodar. The Congress of Lubetch had divided the disputed territories between them, but scarcely was the treaty ratified when David went to the Grand Prince Sviatopolk and persuaded him that Vasilko had a design on his life. With the light faith habitual to the men of that date, the Grand Prince joined David in framing a plot to attract Vasilko to Kief on the occasion of a religious festival. When he arrived he was loaded with chains, and the Grand Prince convoked the boyars and citizens of Kief, to denounce to them the pretended projects of Vasilko. “Prince”, replied the boyars, much embarrassed, “thy tranquillity is dear to us. Vasilko merits death, if it is true that he is thine enemy; but if he is calumniated by David, God will avenge on David the blood of the innocent”. Thereon the Grand Prince delivered Vasilko to his enemy David, who put out his eyes. The other descendants of Iaroslaf the First were indignant at this crime. Vladimir Monomakh united with Oleg of Tchernigof, his ancient enemy, and marched against Sviatopolk. The people and clergy of Kief succeeded in preventing a civil war between the Grand Prince and the confederates of Lubetch. Sviatopolk was forced to disavow David, and swear to join the avengers of Vasilko. David defended himself with vigor, and summoned to his help, first the Poles, and then the Hungarians. At last a new congress was assembled at Vititchevo in the year eleven hundred, on the left bank of the Dnieper, a town of which a deserted ruin is all that now remains. As a punishment for his crime, David was deprived of his principality of Vladimir in Volhynia, and had to content himself with four small towns. After the new settlement of this affair, Monomakh led the other princes against the Polovtsui, and inflicted on them a bloody defeat; seventeen of their khans remained on the field of battle. One khan who was made prisoner offered a ransom to Monomakh; but the prince showed how deeply he felt the injuries of the Christians, — he refused the gold, and cut the brigand chief in pieces.

When Sviatopolk died, the Kievans unanimously declared they would have no Grand Prince but Vladimir Monomakh. Vladimir declined the honor, alleging the claims of Oleg and his brothers to the throne of Kief. During these negotiations a sedition broke out in the city, and the Jews, whom Sviatopolk had made the instruments of his fiscal exactions, were pillaged. Monomakh was forced to yield to the prayers of the citizens. During his reign, from eleven hundred and thir­teen until eleven hundred and twenty-five, he obtained great successes against the Polovtsui, the Petchenegi, the Torki, the Tcherkesui, and other nomads. He gave an asylum to the remains of the Khazarui, who built on the Oster, not far from Tchernigof, the town of Belovega. The ruins of this city that remain today prove that this Finnish people, eminently capable of culture, and already civilized by the Greeks, were further advanced in the arts of construction and fortification than even the Russians themselves. According to one tradition, Monomakh also made war on the Emperor Alexis Comnenus, a Russian army invaded Thrace, and the Bishop of Ephesus is said to have brought gifts to Kief, among others a cup of carnelian that had belonged to Augustus, besides a crown and a throne, still preserved in the Museum at Moscow, under the name of the crown and throne of Monomakh. It is now known that they never belonged to Vladimir, but it was the policy of his descendants, the Tsars of Moscow, to propagate this legend. It was of consequence to them to prove that these tokens of their power were traceable to their Kievan ancestor, and that the Russian Monomakh, grandson of the Greek Monomachus, had been solemnly crowned by the Bishop of Ephesus as sovereign of Russia.

The Grand Prince made his authority felt in other parts of Russia. A Prince of Minsk, who had the temerity to kindle a civil war, was promptly dethroned, and died in captivity at Kief. The Novgorodians saw many of their boyars kept as hostages, or exiled. The Prince of Vladimir in Volhynia was deposed, and his states given to a son of the Grand Prince.

Monomakh has left us a curious paper of instructions that he compiled for his sons, and in which he gives them much good advice, enforced by examples drawn from his own life. “It is neither fasting, nor solitude, nor the monastic life, that will procure you the life eternal, — it is well-doing. Do not forget the poor, but nourish them. Do not bury your riches in the bosom of the earth, for that is contrary to the precepts of Christianity. Be a father to orphans, judge the cause of widows yourself. Put to death no one, be he innocent or guilty, for nothing is more sacred than the soul of a Christian Love your wives, but beware lest they get the power over you. When you have learnt anything useful, try to preserve it in your memory, and strive ceaselessly to get knowledge. Without ever leaving his palace, my father spoke five languages, a thing that foreigners admire in us … I have made altogether twenty-three campaigns without counting those of minor importance. I have concluded nineteen treaties of peace with the Polovtsui, taken at least a hundred of their princes prisoners, and afterwards restored them to liberty; besides more than two hundred whom I threw into the rivers. No one has travelled more rapidly than I. If I left Tchernigof very early in the morning, I arrived at Kief before vespers. Sometimes in the middle of the thickest forests I caught wild horses myself, and bound them together with my own hands. How many times I have been thrown from the saddle by buffaloes, struck by the horns of the deer, trampled under foot by the lands! A furious boar once tore my sword from my belt; my saddle was rent by a bear, which threw my horse down under me! How many falls I had from my horse in my youth, when, heedless of clanger, I broke my head, I wounded my arms and legs  But the Lord watched over me! “

Vladimir completed the establishment of the Slav race in Suzdal, and founded a city on the Kliazma that bore his name, and that was destined to play a great part. Such, in the beginning of the twelfth century, when Louis the Sixth was fighting with his barons of the Isle de France, was the ideal of a Grand Prince of Russia.




Of the sons of Vladimir Monomakh, Iuri Dolgoruki became the father of the princes of Suzdal and Moscow, and Mstislaf the father of the princes of Galitch and Kief. These two branches were often at enmity, and it was their rivalry that struck the final blow at the prosperity of Kief. When Isiaslaf, son of Mstislaf, was called to the throne in 1146 by the inhabitants of the capital, his uncle, Iuri Dolgoruki, put forward his rights as the eldest of the family. Kief, which had been already many times taken and retaken in the strife between the descendants of Oleg of Tchernigof and the descendants of Vladimir Monomakh, was fated to be disputed anew between the uncle and the nephew. It was almost a war between the Old and New Russia, the Russia of the Dnieper and that of the Volga. The princes of Suzdal, who dwelt afar in the forests in the northwest, establishing their rule over the remnants of the Finnish races, were to become greater and greater strangers to Kievan Russia. If they still coveted the “mother of Russian cities”, because the title of Grand Prince was attached to it, they at least began to obey and to venerate it less than the other princes.

Iuri Dolgoruki found an ally against Isiaslaf in one of the Olgovitchi, Sviatoslaf, who thirsted to avenge his brother Igor, dethroned and kept prisoner in Kief by the Grand Prince. The Kievans hesitated to support the sovereign they had chosen; they hated the Olgovitchi, but in their attachment to the blood of Monomakh they respected his son and his grand­son equally. “We are ready”, they said to Isiaslaf, “we and our children, to make war on the sons of Oleg. But Iuri is your uncle, and can we dare to raise our hands against the son of Monomakh?”. After the war had lasted some time, a decisive battle was fought. At the battle of Pereiaslavl Isiaslaf was completely defeated, and took refuge, with two attendants, in Kief. The inhabitants, who had lost many citizens in this war, declared they were unable to stand a siege. The Grand Prince then abandoned his capital to Iuri Dolgoruki, and retired to Vladimir in Volhynia, whence he demanded help from his brother-in-law, the King of Hungary, and the kings of Poland and Bohemia. With these reinforcements he surprised Kief, and nearly made his uncle prisoner. Understanding that the national law was against him, he opposed eldest with eldest, and declared himself the partisan of another son of Monomakh, the old Viatcheslaf, Prince of Turof. He was proclaimed Grand Prince of Kief, adopted his nephew Isiaslaf as his heir, and during his reign, from eleven hundred and fifty to eleven hundred and fifty-four, gave splendid fetes to the Russians and Hungarians. Iuri returned to the charge, and was beaten under the walls of Kief. Each of these princes bad taken barbarians into his pay: Iuri, the Polovtsui; Isiaslaf, the Black Caps, that is, the Torki, the Petchenegi, and the Berendians.

The obstinate Prince of Suzdal did not allow himself to be discouraged by this check. The old Viatcheslaf, who only desired peace and quiet, in vain addressed him letters, setting forth his rights as the eldest. “I had already a beard when you entered the world”, he said. Iuri proved himself intractable, and went into Gallicia to effect a junction with his ally, Vladimirko, Prince of Galitch. This Vladimirko had violated the oath he had taken and confirmed by kissing the cross. When they reproached him, he said, with a sneer, “It was such a little cross!” To prevent this dangerous cooperation, Isiaslaf, without waiting the expected arrival of the Hungarians, began the pursuit of Iuri, and came up with him on the borders of the Rut, a small tributary of the Dnieper. A bloody battle was fought, where he himself was wounded and thrown from his horse, but the Suzdalians and their allies the Polovtsui were completely defeated in eleven hundred and fifty-one. Isiaslaf survived this victory only three years. After his death and that of Viatcheslaf, Kief passed from hand to hand. Iuri finally reached the supreme object of his desires. He made his entry into the capital in eleven hundred and fifty-five, and had the consolation of dying Grand Prince of Kief, at the moment that a league was being formed for his expulsion, in 1157. “I thank thee, great God”, cried one of the confederates on learning the news, “for having spared us, by the sudden death of our enemy, the obligation of shedding his blood!”

The confederates entered the town; one of them assumed the title of Grand Prince, the others divided his territories. Henceforth there existed no grand principality, properly speak­ing, and with the growing power of Suzdal, Kief ceased to be the capital of Russia. A final disaster was still reserved for it.

In 1169 Andrei Bogoliubski, son of Iuri Dolgoruki, and Prince of Suzdal, being disaffected to Mstislaf, Prince of Kief, formed against him a coalition of eleven princes. He confided to his son Mstislaf and his voievod Boris an immense army of Rostovians, Vladimirians, and Suzdalians to march against Kief. This time the Russia of the forests triumphed over the Russia of the steppes, and after a three days’ siege Kief was taken by assault. “This mother of Russian cities”, says Karamsin, “had been many times besieged and oppressed. She had often opened her Golden Gate to her enemies, but none had ever yet entered by force. To their eternal shame, the victors forgot that they too were Russians! During three days not only the houses, but the monasteries, churches, and even the temples of Saint Sophia and the Tithe, were given over to pillage. The precious images, the priestly ornaments, the books, and the bells, all were taken away”.

From this time the lot of the capital of Saint Vladimir, pillaged and dishonored by his descendants, ceases to have a general interest for Russia. Like other parts of Slavonia, it has its princes, but the heads of the reigning families of Smolensk, Tchernigof, and Galitch assume the once unique title of Grand Prince. The centre of Russia is changed. It is now in the basin of the Volga, at Suzdal. Many causes conspired to render the disaster of 1169 irremediable. The chronic civil wars of this part of Russia, and the multitudes and growing power of the nomad hordes, rendered the banks of the Dnieper uninhabitable. In twelve hundred and three Kief was again sacked by the Polovtsui, whom the Olgovitchi of Tchernigof had taken into their pay. On this soil, incessantly the prey of war and invasion, it was impossible to found a lasting order of things; it was impossible that a regular system of government should be established,— that civilization should develop and maintain itself. Less richly endowed by nature, and less civilized, the Russia of the forests was at least more tranquil. It was there that a grand principality was formed, called to fulfill high destinies, but which, unhappily, was to be separated for three hundred years, by the southern steppes and the nomads who dwelt there, from the Black Sea; that is, from Byzantine and Western civilization.