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IN my history of the Mongols we have seen how Hulagu beguiled the Assassins and slaughtered them. We have seen also how he ended the Kalifat at Bagdad, showing no more regard for the heir of Mohammed than for the chief of those murderers who held that marvelous mountain-land south of the Caspian. The Kalif of Islam was trampled to death under horse-hoofs. The chief of the Assassins was treated with insult, endured for a time, and then slain like a wild beast. We are now to consider an expedition planned at that Kurultai held during Ogotai's election, and see what was done by its leader, an expedition which ruined large portions of Europe as far as the Adriatic, and made Batu, the nephew of Jinghis Khan, supreme lord of them. The Mongols retreated from all lands west of the Carpathians and confined themselves exclusively to that part of Europe which we know as Russia. The West was too narrow for them, too mountainous, too much diversified, and contained too little pastoral land. It had too much culture, and differed too greatly from that immense open region which stretches from the Dnieper, or more correctly from the Danube, to that vast ocean of water which was later called the Pacific. This region is made up of those spaces lying north of the Great Wall of China, that largest fence ever reared by man to ward off an enemy, and farther west by the greatest barrier raised upon earth through creation, and also used by man as a line of defense, a fortress of refuge, that unique mountain system extending from Eastern China to Persia, and then, with a break, to the Caspian. From the Caspian westward the immense space is bounded by the Caucasus and the Black Seat till it reaches the Danube and the mountains just north of that river...
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Copyright © 2016 by Jeremiah Curtin
Published by Perennial Press
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EARLY HISTORY OF RUSSIA
STRUGGLES FOR THE THRONE OF KIEF
VLADIMIR BECOMES THE CAPITAL OF RUSSIA
DESTRUCTION OF KIEF
PRINCE OF HUNGARY MADE KING OF GALITCH
DANIEL OF GALITCH
THE MONGOL INVASION
MICHAEL OF CHERNIGOFF
RUSSIA UNDER MONGOL RULE
DIVISION OF THE MONGOL HORDE
BATTLE Of KULIKOVO
SIEGE OF MOSCOW
SINGLE RULE ESTABLISHED
IVAN III SUBDUES NOVGOROD
DOWNFALL OF THE HORDE
IN MY HISTORY OF THE Mongols we have seen how Hulagu beguiled the Assassins and slaughtered them. We have seen also how he ended the Kalifat at Bagdad, showing no more regard for the heir of Mohammed than for the chief of those murderers who held that marvelous mountain-land south of the Caspian. The Kalif of Islam was trampled to death under horse-hoofs. The chief of the Assassins was treated with insult, endured for a time, and then slain like a wild beast.
We are now to consider an expedition planned at that Kurultai held during Ogotai’s election, and see what was done by its leader, an expedition which ruined large portions of Europe as far as the Adriatic, and made Batu, the nephew of Jinghis Khan, supreme lord of them.
The Mongols retreated from all lands west of the Carpathians and confined themselves exclusively to that part of Europe which we know as Russia. The West was too narrow for them, too mountainous, too much diversified, and contained too little pastoral land. It had too much culture, and differed too greatly from that immense open region which stretches from the Dnieper, or more correctly from the Danube, to that vast ocean of water which was later called the Pacific.
This region is made up of those spaces lying north of the Great Wall of China, that largest fence ever reared by man to ward off an enemy, and farther west by the greatest barrier raised upon earth through creation, and also used by man as a line of defense, a fortress of refuge, that unique mountain system extending from Eastern China to Persia, and then, with a break, to the Caspian. From the Caspian westward the immense space is bounded by the Caucasus and the Black Seat till it reaches the Danube and the mountains just north of that river.
This vast region, or Mongol careering ground as we may call it, began on the east at waters which are really the Pacific, and on the west touched the Danube, which finds its source very near the Rhone and the Rhine, both flowing into the Atlantic, since the North Sea, with its waters, is merely a part of that ocean.
The width of this region extends from the southern boundary just given to the Aretic, or Frozen Ocean. The entire southern part, somewhat less than Half of this entire area, was an open, treeless country, grass-growing land and sand plains. All along on the northern side of this southern division were great stretches of grass land, with small groves of trees, from one acre to one hundred in area. Lands of this kind are seen in Siberia to our day. In the center were fruitful spots, deserts and oases. In the east, next to the center, were boundless plains, with a greater proportion of forest toward the distant east and toward the north, but with clear spaces everywhere. On the south, from the Danube to the Chinese Sea, the country was open at all points.
Such was the Mongol careering ground, and after they had overrun Europe to the Adriatic and north of it they retired to the western part of this great open country of Eastern Europe, and made their capital at Sarai, just east of the Volga, and perhaps two hundred miles north of the Caspian.
But before writing of the Mongol invasion of Russia, it will be necessary to give a somewhat detailed history of Russia previous to that event.
It is, of course, not known when the Russians settled in their present territory. In the first half of the ninth century they occupied a large extent of land stretching from the Carpathians to the upper waters of the Don and the Volga, and from the neighborhood of Lake Ladoga to a point about half-way between Kief and the Black Sea. All this population lived in villages which were governed in patriarchal fashion by the heads of families. A number of village communities formed a volost, or district, which was the largest government unit in the country. The size of these volosts varied, according to the convenience or the necessities of the case, but in general they were small. As the Slavs were much attached to their village autonomy, and as there was an inexhaustible supply of land, it was quite impossible for a large community to subdue and absorb a weaker one, for the latter had always the power of removing to some unoccupied district and setting up its little republic in the wilderness.
The family system in force among the Slavs greatly favored this process, for a family was not, as in modern times, composed of parents and children only, but of two, three and even four generations. The head of this family was the oldest person in it, and its size was regulated by power of agreement among the members. There were often forty, fifty, or a hundred persons living in one family, all obeying a single head. A few such families formed a village, a few villages a volost, which was sometimes as large as one of our counties. The tendency of a society like this was altogether toward expansion. After reaching a certain size the village community divided, one part remaining in the old place, the other selecting a new field for its industry. It was only at a few points favorable for trade that a large number of people lived together — Novgorod near Lake Ilmen was the most conspicuous example of this kind. It is evident that people living in this manner had little power of combination and could offer but slight resistance to invasion.
Novgorod, situated near the confluence of the different rivers, and in direct communication with the Baltic, became a great trading point, and was not only the most populous place in the whole country, but the first in which civil government began. It was a market-place for the goods of Europe and Asia, and soon rose to a position of wealth and importance. Its government was an extension of the communal system of the country, and was in fact a confederation of villages, held together very loosely. Such a place offered an excellent point of attack to the Northmen, the most enterprising and rapacious of mankind, who at that period left no European country in peace.
In the south the Kazars, a powerful Asiatic horde, took tribute and left the inhabitants to their own devices. This tribute was simply the price of being let alone. In the north it was different; the Scandinavians, who made their presence felt wherever they went, wanted not only profit, but power. They were greedy of rule, and wished to direct the affairs of Novgorod. This was unendurable; the citizens rose up, drove out the strangers, and began to govern themselves as in the old time. Theirs was no easy task, for the place was divided into parties, or rather factions, neither one of which had the power to govern. While affairs were in this troubled state, Gostomyal, the elder or president of the city, rose on a certain occasion and addressed the assembled multitude. Reminding them of their previous condition and present peril, he said that being easily inflamed by passion they were unfit to rule, that if they continued as they were the stranger would surely come, bringing dishonor to their wives and daughters and slavery to themselves, that too late they would shed bitter tears. He closed by advising them to invite from abroad some wise, strong man to govern according to their laws.
Under the immediate influence of this speech, a deputation was chosen and sent to the chieftain Rurik. The gist of their message was: “Our lands are broad and rich, but there is no order therein; do thou come and rule over us.”
Rurik came that same year, bringing with him his two brothers, Sineus and Truvor, and a certain force of his own, which was considerably increased after his arrival by native recruits. Who Rurik was is still a question among Russian historians, but it is generally conceded that he was a Scandinavian, though efforts have been made to show that he was from some Slav tribe on the southern coast of the Baltic.
The political history of Russia begins in 862, when these three brothers came to pale over Novgorod lands. The great importance claimed for this election is that an executive power, independent of all native factions, was introduced without conquest, an event unexampled in Western Europe, where the introduction of a foreign dynasty was attended always by foreign conquest.
At first Rurik, the eldest brother, settled in Ladoga, and Sineus at Bailozero. Truvor went to Izborsk to hold the Livs in check. Two years after their coming Sineus and Truvor vanish from history, whether by a natural death or through violence is not now known to any man. Rurik then advanced from the Ladoga region to Novgorod. He founded several towns, which were simply stockaded forts, centers of settlement. He conquered Finnish tribes and sent his lieutenants to govern at needful points. At Novgorod he built a castle, and remained in that city till his death, which took place fifteen years later. During those years, he extended Novgorod rule on the west to the Upper Dvina, and on the south to the sources of the Dnieper.
Rurik died in 879 and was succeeded by Oleg, a nephew, or at least a near relative, a man of vast plans and great resources. Soon after his election Oleg, leaving a posadnik, or lieutenant at Novgorod, moved toward the south with a large force composed of Varangians, Slavs, and Fins. He had with him his ward, Igor, Rurik’s only son, then in childhood. The new prince took possession of Smolensk, Lubetch, and all other towns and villages which he found south of Novgorod. Whether these places came to him by force or by agreement no chronicler tells us. He pressed forward till he came to Kief, where he found a principality which had its origin during the lifetime of Rurik, in the following manner, —
Two of Rurik’s warriors, Askold and Dir, received permission to go to Tsargrad with the view of enrolling themselves in the guard of the Emperor. Traveling by the usual route of the Dnieper, they arrived at Kief, which so charmed them by its beauty, and the beauty of the surrounding country, that they at once decided to go no farther. The inhabitants of this place were tributary to the Kazars. The two warriors collected a number of Scandinavians and other adventurers, put themselves in the place of the Kazars, and began their rule, which was soon extended over tribes round about. The number of their adherents was increased by fugitives from Novgorod, opponents of Rurik. After a time their power became so considerable that they fitted out an expedition against Tsargrad. As their galleys approached the city, the Greeks invoked their patron saint, and dipped his image in the waters of the Bosphorus. A terrible storm came upon the invaders and destroyed the greater part of their fleet. This event, which was attributed to divine interposition, is said to have made such an impression upon Askold and Dir that they became Christians. This took place several years before Oleg’s arrival at Kief.
Finding an organized rule as an obstacle in his path, Oleg was not slow to act, and his conduct was in keeping with the Norse cunning of that age. Leaving the greater part of his fleet behind him, he sailed up to Kief with a few boats, in which warriors were concealed; then he sent messengers to the rulers of Kief, saying that some of their countrymen, merchants, were on their way to Tsargrad and would like to show them their wares. The unsuspecting princes went on board Oleg’s boat. They were seized by men-at-arms; then Oleg stepped forth and said: “You are neither princes nor of princely race. I am a prince, and with me is Igor, the son of Rurik.” And he had them put to death at once;1 then he took possession of Kief for Rurik’s son.
In Kief Oleg fixed himself firmly, declaring that thenceforth it should be called the mother of Russian towns, His first care was to build fortifications in the new territory, both to secure his own power and to defend the country from the Asiatic tribes of the steppes. He spent nearly thirty years, however, in gaining authority over tribes south, east and west of the new capital, before he fek strong enough to make an attack on Tsargrad.
In 907 he set out on his famous expedition against the Eastern Empire. A large force, composed of Slavs, Scandinavians and Fins, accompanied him. The number of his boats, perhaps overstated, is given at two thousand. Forty men went in each boat. When the fleet touched the Bosphorus, the Greeks closed the Golden Horn, and also the gates of the capital.
Oleg’s men put their craft on the shore, and then used fire and sword around the city with such vigor that the terrified Emperors were glad to buy peace dearly. With the peace was concluded a treaty of commerce, the first Russian treaty known to history. Oleg nailed his shield to one of the city gates as a mark of victory, and returned home in triumph, bringing with him such booty as no man had seen north of the Euxine till that day.
The effect of this exploit was very great. Oleg was surnamed “the Seer” by his admiring subjects, who felt proud of his, and of their own fame. He had ted many of them across the Black Sea to the capital of the Cæsars. He had roused the imagination of all. From being villagers they had become members of a political commonwealth, able to impose terms on one of the great powers of the earth.
Oleg was a keen diplomat rather than a warrior, a ruler who, by shrewd management, brought many tribes under his sway without striking a blow. He was undoubtedly the greatest politician of pagan Russia.
In 912 Oleg died. The tradition is that some years earlier he had been warned by a wizard that the horse he was riding would cause his death. The prince dismounted at once, sent this favorite steed away to be cared for, and never rode him again. On being told that the horse was dead and his bones were bleaching in the field, he resolved to go and look at them, saying: “These wizards are always lying. The horse is dead, and I am living.” When he came to where the bones were, he pushed the skull with his foot, and exclaimed: “This was to be my death!” That instant a serpent sprang out and bit him in the leg, and straightway he sickened and died.
Igor, son of Rurik, now came to power. In 903 he had married Olga, a maiden famed for wit and beauty, and said to be the daughter of that Gostomyal who first proposed the election of Rurik. Igor’s reign had no such importance as that of his predecessor. In 941, after twenty-nine years of waiting, he made an attack on the Byzantine Empire. This attack was a failure; a mere remnant of warriors came home from it, and those brought no booty with them.
Igor resolved to find a cure for this failure, and set out for Tsargrad in 944, three year later. He went by sea, with a numerous army collected from all tribes between Lake Ladoga and the Euxine, including even Petchenegs of the Southern steppe land.
The Greek Emperor sent envoys to Igor, and as he suited near the coast they met him north of the Danube, where they delivered rich presents. “Go no farther,” said they to him. “Take the same that Oleg took, even more will be given thee.” Advised by his attendants, Igor accepted the offer, and the following year envoys were sent by him to make a treaty of commerce at Tsargrad. The treaty was made and the Emperor gave oath to observe it, then he sent envoys to Kief and Igor took the oath. Those of his men who were pagans swore by Perun, the god of thunder, and by their weapons; those who were Christians gave oath in the church of Elias. This treaty, more favorable to the Greeks than that made with Oleg, contains the phrase “Russian land,” used then for the first time in history. Toward the end of that same year, 945, Igor went to the Drevlians, a forest tribe in the Northwest, to collect tribute a second time. Learning of his approach, the Drevlians counseled together and said: “If a wolf attacks sheep he will devour the whole flock, unless he is killed; so this man will ruin us, unless we destroy him.” They seized Igor, bent down two trees, tied his feet to the top of one and his head to the other, then let them go; thus he was torn asunder.
The Drevlians then sent envoys to Olga to justify their action, and propose that she should marry their prince. Olga, determined to avenge her husband, answered: “Your speech is pleasing to me. To-morrow I will receive you in the presence of all my people. When my messengers come in the morning, tell them that you will not go on horseback or on foot, — that you must be carried in your boats.” When the envoys were gene, Olga had a deep pit dug in the courtyard. Next morning she sent for her guests, who came in their boats borne on the shoulders of men. The Drevlians, from their lofty position, looked down proudly on the multitude; but when they arrived at the courtyard they, with their boats, were thrown into the pit and quickly covered with earth.
Olga, keeping secret what had taken place, sent for a guard of honor to conduct her to the Drevlians. The first men of the tribe came; these she had burned up in a bath-house. Then she sent a message, saying: “I am on the road. Bring as much mead as you can to where my husband died. I wish to weep over his grave.” She came, with a part of her army, to where Igor was buried, and there she had a great mound raised, and celebrated the funeral feast. The Drevlians asked, “Where are our men?” She replied, “They are coming with my men.” The simple foresters, satisfied with this answer, went on feasting. When they had drunk themselves into helplessness, Olga’s warriors fell upon them and slew great numbers.
This vengeful widow next attacked Korosten. Unable to take it by force, she destroyed it by cunning. She sent a message to the inhabitants saying: “You have neither mead nor skins in abundance; give me a tribute of three pigeons, and as many sparrows from each house, and I will leave yon in peace.” The Drevlians, pleased with this moderation, sent the birds at once. When evening came, Olga had rags steeped in oil tied to their wings and ignited. The terrified creatures, set free, flew to their cots and nests, and soon every house in Korosten was in flames. The inhabitants, rushing out of the place, were either killed or captured. This was a victory of far-reaching importance, for had Olga failed to conquer the Drevlians, other tribes would have revolted, and Kief would have been lost.
Olga ruled wisely and firmly till 957, when Sviatoslav, her only son, reached manhood and succeeded his father; then she made a journey to Tsargrad, became a Christian and was baptized under the name of Helen, the Greek Emperor being her godfather. It is said that upon her return she strove to introduce Christianity into Russia, but was unsuccessful, mainly because of her son’s opposition. She, however, remained a strong advocate of the new faith and has been canonized by the Church, as the first Russian who ascended to the heavenly kingdom.
Sviatoslav, whose sole delight was in war, began his stormy rule by marching against the only Slavs east of the Dnieper, who paid him no tribute, the tribe of the Vyatichi. They were at that time tributary to the Kazars, a tribe that had issued from Northern Asia and were known to the Armenian historians as early as the second century. In the ninth century they were familiar to the Byzantines as the Eastern Turks; by the eighth century they had gained the greater part of Tauris, the present Crimea. It is not known when they first met the Slavs, but in the middle of the ninth century four Slav tribes paid tribute to the Kazars. The Kazan state itself was a composite one with four religious systems, Paganism, Mohammedanism, Judaism and Christianity. The Khan was converted to Judaism in the eighth century, and in a letter written by Khan Joseph to a Rabbi in Bagdad, he claimed to be ruler ever nine nations of the Caucasus and thirteen near the Black Sea.
Sviatoslav attacked Sarkel on the Don, the chief western town and fortress of the Kazars, and captured it. Then he marched eastward to the Volga, and sailed down the river to Itil, the Kazar capital, near the northern shore of the Caspian. Itil, and all the towns of that region, were seized and plundered. Next the Russian prince marched to the foot of the Caucasus, and turned westward toward the Azoff, or “Sea Bend,” as the Russians call it. He overcame all forces that met him on the way, and established Tmutarakan, with its capital at the Greek town Tamatarche, between the Azoff and the Euxine.
On his journey home from this long expedition, Sviatoslav finished what he undertook when he started: he subjected the Vyatichi on the Okà, and forced them to pay tribute. At this juncture the Greek Emperor, Nikifor, threatened on one side by the Bulgarians and on the other by the Arabs, sent envoys to Sviatoslav with much gold and many promises. “Let the Russian prince attack the Bulgarians,” said the envoys. “Let him take their land, let him keep it if he wishes.” Following this suggestion, Sviatoslav, in 967, overran the greater part of Bulgaria, and wished to remain in the country, taking Pereyaslavets on the Danube as his capital.
But while Sviatoslav was ruling Bulgaria from his place on the Danube, the Petchenegs, who had hitherto been kept down by the Kazars, rushed to Kief and laid siege to it so closely that no man could enter the city or leave it. At last means were found to inform Sviatoslav, who hurried home with men and scattered the besiegers, driving them far out into the steppe. Olga, his mother, then in old age, died three days after his coming.
Sviatoslav now instated his sons as princes in Russia. He established his eldest son, Yaropolk, in Kief; his second son, Oleg, he sent to the Drevlians; Vladimir, the third and youngest son, went to Novgorod at the request of its citizens, who were advised by Dobrinya, his uncle, to demand him of his father.
Sviatoslav, now free, went back to Bulgaria, but he did not meet the same fortune as before. The Bulgarians received him with weapons in their hands and gave battle immediately, but they were defeated, after a desperate struggle, and their town was taken by storm, Then appeared a far more formidable enemy, the Byzantine Emperor, John Zimisces, with an overwhelming arroyo The Russians were terrified, but Sviatostav strengthened them, saying: “We have no escape. Whether we will or not, it has come to us to stand against the Greeks. Let us not bring an evil name upon the Russian land, but leave our bones upon the field; for the dead there is no disgrace. If we flee we shall find no hiding-place from our shame. Stand firmly together!”
A mighty struggle began. According to the Greeks, the Russians were overcome; according to the Russians, the Greeks yielded. Whoever gained the victory, Sviatoslav, before leaving Bulgaria, concluded a treaty by which he agreed not to attack Byzantine territory or permit others to do so. The Emperor sent rich gifts to Sviatoslav and had an interview with him, evidently thinking the friendship of such a man better than his enmity.
Then Sviatoslav set out for Kief, sailing down the Danube and along the Black Sea to the mouth of the Dnieper, which he ascended to the cataracts. There the Petchenegs, informed by the Bulgarians of his coming, defeated his army and killed him. It is stated that the Petcheneg chief had a drinking-cup made of Sviatoslav’s skull and ornamented with this motto: “In striving for what belonged to another, thou hast lost thy own.” Thus ended the life of a man who was, without doubt, the greatest warrior amongst the descendants of Rurik.
Sviatoslav was of medium height, robust, with broad breast, blue eyes and flat nose. He wore long moustaches and had a tuft of hair on the crown of his shaven head as a mark of his nobility. Nestor describes him as being a man of honor who, when about to make war on a people, always forewarned them by the words: “I march against you!”
There was now, for the first time since the death of Rurik’s brothers, a number of princes, descendants of Rurik, in Russia. From 864 to 972, somewhat more than a century, there had been single rule all the time, but from 972 to 1480, that is, to the victory of Moscow over the principalities and over the Mongols, a period of five hundred years, there was, with only two intervals, a continual struggle between princes for supreme power.
Sviatoslav’s three sons were born of different mothers and were soon brought to enmity by advisers. As the tale runs, Svainald, an old warrior who had served the two preceding princes, was the counsellor and confidant of Yaropolk. Lyut, the son of this confidant, while hunting in a forest, encroached on Oleg’s territory, and was killed by the order of that prince. Svainald, to avenge his son’s death, incited Yaropolk against Oleg, and two years after the death of Lyut, Yaropolk invaded Oleg’s land and defeated him. While trying to escape Oleg fell from a bridge before Ovrutch and was crushed to death by his fleeing warriors, who fell on him. When the corpse was brought before Yaropolk, he was grieved and wept over it. Vladimir, on hearing in Novgorod of the battle near Ovrutch and the death of Oleg, fled to foreign parts, but returned three years later bringing with him strong forces.
Yaropolk, meanwhile, had made himself master in Russia, and, living in Kief, ruled, through a lieutenant, or posadnik, in Novgorod. Vladimir and his uncle expelled this posadnik straightway, and sent these words by him to Yaropolk: “Vladimir is marching against thee. Be ready for battle!”
The brothers now prepared, to struggle for mastery. They began these preparations by searching out accessions of strength wherever they could find them. Southwest of Novgorod and northwest of Kief was the principality of Polotsk, which included the whole Dvina -region, at that time ruled by Rogvolod, a man not of Rurik’s descendants, or family. This prince had a daughter Rognyeda, betrothed then to Yaropolk. Vladimir, at the instance of Dobrinya his uncle and adviser sent envoys to ask for this princess. This marriage would bring with it the assistance of Rogvolod.
Rogvolod had no wish to refuse, but he would not consent When pressed, for an answer, he referred the affair to his daughter.
Rognyeda was very fond of her betrothed husband, and having no thought at that time for policy, she replied that, she would not marry the son of a bondslave. Vladimir was the son of Malusha, housekeeper of the great princess Olga, his grandmother, that wisest of women;” Dobrinya, Vladimir’s counsellor and uncle, was Malusha’s brother and a bondmam. He had already, with wise advice and assistance, won Novgorod for his nephew, and was now striving to win all Russia.
Enraged at Rognyeda’s taunt regarding his sister, Dobrinya gave answer not in words, but in action. Vladimir following his uncle’s counsel, attacked Rogvolod straightway, killing him and his two sons in battle. He then took Rognyeda, and with her Polotsk, which he joined to his own lands. Vladimir’s next step was taken against Yaropolk, who shut himself up in his capital, which he had meanwhile strengthened.
Yaropolk’s chief counsellor in Kief was one Blud, a man who in reality wished for Vladimir’s success, and worked well in secret to help him. Vladimir now laid siege to Kief. After the siege had gone on for a time, Blud proved to Yaropolk that treason was rife in the capital, and prevailed on the prince to withdraw in the night-time to Rodnya. This place was invested soon after so closely and suffered such famine that the phrase “Misery of Rodnya” was current for a long time in Russia. In these straits, Blud advised agreement with Vladimir, and Yaropolk set out for his brother’s headquarters, where the meeting was to take place, but when near the door of his tent, two Varangians with sharp swords sprang from behind it, and hewed the man’s head off.
Vladimir was now master. He was one of those powerful, determined characters who found primitive states: large in person, self-willed, shrewd, with strong impulses and limitless activity.
Russia was pagan at that time, but there were a few Christians in Kief, and some writers think Yaropolk himself was on that side. In that ease, Vladimir’s triumph over his brother was in the first instance a victory for primitive ideas. At all events, there came in with Vladimir a greater activity in the ancient religion, and for some time the new prince was its leader. After he began to reign rich statues of the gods were set up, sacrifices were more frequent and much energy was displayed in order to give the paganism of the Slavs a dignity and significance equal to that of the religions by which it was surrounded.
Though the tribes inhabiting Russia had the same pagan religion, there were many local variations. It was a religion in a more elementary stage than that of the Aryan settlers of India, when the earliest Vedas were composed. It was simply an aggregation of beliefs, superstitions, customs and festivals; the elements of religion not yet grown into a system.
Vladimir saw at last that a new religion was necessary to consolidate the tribes under his rule. His efforts to create one were in vain, for he could no more have created a religion by edict than he could have so created a language. They are both growths requiring time and certain processes. Convinced of this fact, all that was left to the Russian prince was to change the religion of the country to one of those by which he was surrounded, and this he resolved to do immediately. In religion Vladimir’s action resembled that of Peter, Russia’s modern industrial reformer, who, some centuries later, feeling that Russia must use the appliances and methods of modern activity, or others would use them against her, strove to introduce them himself. Vladimir determined to find a religion himself, to bring it in himself, so that no power outside might be master in Russia by means of it.
The account of this conversion is so characteristic that I have translated it, from Nestor, the first Russian chronicler. He says: “ About this time different missionaries came to Vladimir. First the Mohammedans in 986, and they said: ‘You are wise and full of judgment, but you do not know the law. Believe in our law, and revere Mohammed.’Vladimir asked: ‘What is your faith?’ ‘We believe in God, and Mohammed teaches us, saying: “Do not eat pork, do not drink wine.” Mohammed will give each man seventy wives.’ Vladimir listened, for he was a lover of women, and for him it was pleasant to hear this, but he did not like to hear of the prohibition of wine and of pork, and he said: “In Russia, wine is gladness; we cannot get on without that.”
“Afterward the Germans came, saying: ‘We are from the Pope, and this is his message: “Thy land is like our land, but thy faith is not like our faith. Our faith is light, and we bow down before God, who made the heavens and the earth, the stars and the moon, and created every breathing thing; but your gods are of wood.’
“ Vladimir then asked: ‘What are put commandments?’ And they answered: ‘Fasting in proportion to a man’s power, but if any one eats of drinks let it be for the glory of God, as our teacher, Paul, declared.’ Then Vladimir said to the Germans: ‘Go your way; our fathers did not receive this law.”
“ The Jews, hearing of these missions, came and said: ‘We have learned that Mohammedans and Christians have come, each teaching his own faith. Him in whom the Christians believe we crucified. We believe in the one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ Vladimir asked: ‘What is your law,’ and they said: ‘To be circumcised; not to eat pork or rabbits; to observe the Sabbaths.’ Then he asked: ‘But, where is your land?’’In Jerusalem.’’Is it indeed there?’ They answered: ‘God became angry with our fathers and scattered them through the nations on account of our sins, and our land was given to the Christians.’ Then Vladimir asked: ‘How is it that you teach others when you are yourselves outcasts rejected of God? If God loved you and your law, he would not have scattered you through strange lands. Do you think to bring this evil on us, too?’
“Then the Greeks sent a philosopher to Vladimir, who told him that the Mohammedans defiled the earth, that they were cursed above all people, and were like the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, whom God destroyed with fire from heaven and overwhelmed in the Dead Sea. That a like day of destruction awaits the Mohammedans when the Lord shall come to judge the earth and destroy all who work unlawful things. Vladimir said: ‘The Jews came to me and declared that the God of the Greeks and the Germans is the man whom they crucified.’ The philosopher replied: ‘That was foretold by the Prophets. The Lord took upon Himself death by the cross at the hands of the Jews, and arose from the dead on the third day and ascended into heaven. To His executioners forty-six years were given for repentance, but not repenting, the Romans were sent against them to destroy their cities and scatter them over the face of the earth, where they now wander.’ Vladimir asked: ‘For what cause did God come down upon the earth and suffer such torments?’ The philosopher replied: ‘If you wish, I will tell you all from the beginning.’ Vladimir answered: ‘I am glad to listen.’ And the Greek told him all from the creation of the world.
“In 987 Vladimir called a council composed of his chief men and the elders of the towns and said to them: ‘The Mohammedans came to me, saying: ‘Receive our law;’ then the Germans came and praised their law. Afterward came the Jews, and last the Greeks, with other laws; all praised their own faith. The Greeks explained everything from the beginning of the world, and spoke with great skill. It was wonderful to hear them and pleasant to listen to their words. They say there is another world, and whoever accepts their faith, after he dies he will rise from the dead, and then he shall not die again forever; but he who receives another law will burn in fire in the other world. To which do you give your mind?’ They answered: ‘You know, Prince, hat no one belittles his own, but praises it. If you wish to know all religions well, you have men, send them to examine the religion of each country, and how each people serve God.’
“Their speech was pleasing to the prince, and to the people. They chose good and sensible men, ten in number, and said to them, Go first to the Mohammedans and try their religion.’ They went and saw the foul deeds of the Mohammedans, and came home. Then Vladimir said: ‘Go to the Germans, and also to Tsargrad.’ After visiting the Germans, they arrived at Tsargrad and stood before the Tsar. He asked the cause of their coming, and they told him all that had happened. The Tsar was rejoiced, and showed them great honor that day. Next morning there was a patriarchal service. A deacon was placed near the envoys to explain the worship of God, and they wondered greatly, and marveled, praising the service.
“Upon their return to Kief, Vladimir called together his chief men, with the elders of the towns, and said: ‘Behold, the men whom we sent have returned to us. Let us hear what has taken place. Let it be spoken before the warriors.’ The envoys said: ‘We went to the Mohammedans, we saw how they prayed in the mosques, without girdles, and how, having bowed down, they looked on one side and on the other like madmen. There is no joy in their temples, but sadness and great uncleanness. Their law is not good. We went to the Germans and saw much ceremony in their churches; then we went to the Greeks, and when they led us into the place where they serve their God, we knew not whether we were in heaven, or upon earth, for in the world there is not such a sight, or such beauty. We know not how to describe it, we only know that it is there that God meets man. Their service is beyond the service of all lands. We are not able to forget that beauty. A man who has tasted the sweet will not afterward accept the bitter, hence we do not wish to remain where we are! ‘
“ Then the chief men said to Vladimir: ‘If the law of the Greeks were bad your grandmother Olga would not have received it, for she was the wisest among men.’ Vladimir asked: ‘Where shall we receive baptism?’ And they answered: ‘Where it pleaseth thee.’”
While Vladimir had deemed to embrace Christianity, he had resolved at the same time to avoid even the semblance of moral subjection to any foreign power. He therefore set about acquiring religion by conquest. Pot that purpose he led an expedition against the Crimea and captured Kerson, the capital of the ancient republic of that name, and at that time the most flourishing city on the northern coast of the Black Sea. Then he sent a message to the Greek Emperors, demanding their sister Anna in marriage. They answered that their sister could not marry a pagan. Vladimir replied that religion could be no bar, for he had long since made up his mind not only to receive Christianity himself, but to introduce it into his domains, and if the requisite number of priests were sent in the suite of the princess there need be no delay, but that if they did not consent to his proposal, he would march on Tsargrad, and treat it as he had treated Kerson. This threat had the desired effect, for at that time the Eastern Empire was torn with civil war. The Emperors hastened to avert the chance of Vladimir’s favoring their enemies, and sent the Princess Anna to Kerson. A large number of church dignitaries accompanied her. Vladimir, with his whole army, was baptized and the marriage was celebrated without delay. A part of the Russian force was despatched to assist the Emperors, and Vladimir returned to Kief, after restoring Kerson as a friendly gift to his brothers-in-law.
On his arrival at Kief, the newly converted prince overturned the ancient idols. Some were cut into pieces, others were cast into the fire, but the statue of Perun (the Vedic Parjana), the god of thunder, the Slavonic Jupiter, was tied to the tails of horses and dragged from its height to the river. Twelve men were sent to beat it with sticks, not because the wood could feel, but to insult the Devil, since by this image he had seduced man. When dragged to the river the image was hurled into the water, and Vladimir commanded men to push it out into the current, should it touch the shore anywhere. It was borne on the stream and carried over the cataracts, and the wind blew it far away toward the Black Sea.
Then heralds were sent through the city saying: “Who will not be baptized, be he rich or poor, he will be hateful to me.” Vladimir went down with all the priests to the Dnieper. Great multitudes stood in the water, and the priests prayed and baptized them. Nestor says: “There was joy upon earth and in heaven, for many souls were saved that day.” After the sacred rite the people went their way, each man to his own home. In a like manner the inhabitants of each village and settlement were brought to Christianity, and Vladimir ordered churches to be built on the places where idols had been. After Kief, the turn came for the tribes east and west, as well as north. In Novgorod, where the old beliefs had their stronghold, the opposition was greatest, and when the first church was built the people tore it down straightway, but a skilful mingling of persuasion and force, together with the adhesion of the more important citizens, carried the day, and all Russia in time became Christian. Of course paganism lived on for many a year among the common people, as it did in other countries, and traces of it are still to be found in the folk-songs and different religious beliefs, survivals which are extremely interesting to the historian and philosopher.
This sending of an embassy of wise men to examine and report on various religions, so that prince and people might have means of making the best choice, was a remarkable departure from previous methods, and stands quite alone in the history of European Christianity. It was the exact opposite of the method used south of the Baltic, — a method which gave such great proof to invaders.
All Slav tribes between the Elbe and the Nieman, the Baltic and Bohemia lost independence, language, and race through the method by which Christianity was forced on them by Germans. If there were men among the conquered and Christianized who escaped, they were men who made themselves useful as assistant oppressors, and thus were received into the foreign aristocracy.
Christianity, introduced first into Kief and then into Novgorod, extended later on the east and west of the Dnieper till, after Yaroslav’s day, it occupied all regions held by Russian princes.
Vladimir had what the Russians love in a man: a broad nature. Occupied with serious work, he still found time for feasts. The celebration of victories and the consecration of churches were always accompanied by great banquets. These festivals took the place of pagan holidays. In all the songs of Vladimir’s time the feasts of the “Bright Sun of the Russian land” are ever remembered. So firmly did these ballads fix themselves in the popular mind, that not many years ago Hilferding, the president of the Slavonic Society at St. Petersburg, collected in the course of two months enough to fill an octavo volume of eight hundred double columns.
Vladimir’s rule in Russia was firm and unconquerable; no enemy was able to shake it. On the east he extended his power to all places reached by the princes before him; on the west his possessions touched the river San, and included the Dvina region. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of this remarkable man’s activity, but it is by his greatest work that Vladimir is best remembered. Before he introduced Christianity, the different tribes had been held together by merely material bonds; thenceforth they were united by a common faith. There is no tie so strong as the tie of faith, and in no country has it shown more strength than in Russia.
Vladimir died in 1015, leaving twelve sons and also a nephew, or son, namely Sviatopolk. These sons were from various mothers, and great trouble rose quickly among them. Sviatopolk, whom people called “the sinful son of two fathers,” could claim Vladimir’s heritage as a nephew of Vladimir, and son of Yaropolk. He was the only one of the heirs who was in Kief when the prince died, and he claimed the throne at once by virtue of his seniority.
Vladimir had preferred two of his younger sons, Boris and Glaib, to the others, partly it may be because they were better, as he thought, and partly also because they were born of the Greek princess, Anna, to whom he was married as a Christian. Boris was perhaps his favorite, and this son he wished to succeed him as Grand Prince.
Sviatopolk looked on himself no doubt as the son of Yaropolk, whom he had reason to think of as done to death foully by Vladimir. His mother, who not long before his birth had been the betrothed wife of Yaropolk, may have schooled him touching his father. Of this we are not informed, though it seems very probable. In every case, Sviatopolk acted as if moved by keen hatred, though his motive might have been purely ambition. Acting swiftly, he seized the throne of Kief straightway, summoned the people, spoke fairly, and gave presents on all sides; then he found men to slay the sons of Vladimir. First they killed Boris, and then Glaib. Another son fled westward toward Hungary, but was followed and killed in the Carpathians.
Yaroslav, Vladimir’s fourth son, was prince in Novgorod. This city had been paying Kief a yearly tax of two hundred grievens. The tax, paid at all times unwillingly, was refused altogether during Yaroslav’s rule. Vladimir had been preparing to punish his son, and force payment on Novgorod, when he died rather suddenly. Varoslav, to defend Novgorod against his father, had brought in Varangians to help him. Those men, as is the wont of such persons, grew insolent quickly and were offensive to Novgorod women. Certain people rose up and slew some of those warriors. Yaroslav, to defend his men, put to death the offenders. The very night after this deed, a message came to the prince from his sister. Predslava, in Kief, giving notice of the death of his father and of all that had happened in the city.
Next morning Yaroslav summoned the people of Novgorod, and with tears in his eyes made this speech to them: “If I could, I would raise up with gold those men who felt yesterday. My father is dead and now Sviatopolk is master. He is killing my brothers. Give me help to meet Sviatopolk and avenge these murders.”
“Though some of our brothers are dead, we have men enough yet to stand up and fight for thee,” said the people of Novgorod.
Sviatopolk, taking all of his own warriors and many Peichenegs, hurried northward to strike down Yaroslav if possible. The two armies met near Lubetch, and Yaroslav gained a great victory.
Sviatopolk fled to Poland, where his wife’s father, Boleslav the Brave, was then sovereign, and Yaroslav marched into Kief, and began rule there. The Polish king took the part of his son- in-law, and after various efforts, in which Petchenegs of the steppe were on Sviatopolk’ side and Henry of Germany on Yaroslav’s, Boleslav, adding to his own ‘men German and Hungarian mercenaries, ted in a great force against Kief defeated Yaroslav, and the fratricide was in power again. The king now sent home one half of his army, but lingered behind with the rest of it which was scattered about for subsistence in different towns and villages. Sviatopolk soon fired of his ally. and then the people on whom Boleslav’s warriors were quartered rose up and slew many of them. The Polish king left at last, bearing with him much treasure. On the way to his own lands, he took Galitch1 as the price for ridding trier of his presence. Not sooner was Boleslav fairly at home, than a fierce northern storm rushed down upon Sviatopolk
Expecting no good to their city from Sviatopolk the Accursed, who would surely exact the old tribute, the Novgorod people rallied round Yaroslav, and, hiring foreign troops, took the field themselves. Sviatopolk was beaten in the first battler and fled to the Petchenegs, from whom he obtained a large army. A second battle was fought and, as fate would have it, at the place where Boris had been slain. Three times the armies paused in the struggle, and three times they closed in mortal combat, but, before the sun went down, Yaroslav had become master of the field. This battle ruined Sviatopolk. He fled straightway toward the Polish boundary, and after miserable wanderings perished. It is unknown where death came to him, or in what manner.
Of Vladimir’s twelve sons, only three were now living, Yaroslav, Mystislav, and Sudislav. There was also a nephew, Bryacheslav. The throne of Kief came to Yaroslav without a rival, for since Bryacheslav’s father had never sat on the throne, his son could not hold it. Mystislav and Sudislav were younger brothers and were excluded till Yaroslav’s death, unless he should give place to them. Younger brothers, however, claimed equal shares in the common inheritance, but these were held back by Yaroslav. He kept for himself the shares of his brothers who were dead, and gave nothing to the survivors.
The youngest, Sudislav, took no action, but Mystislav came promptly from Tmutarakan with an army to ask for the share that belonged, as he thought, to him. While Yaroslav was absent in Novgorod, Mystislav appeared before Kief, but the people there closed the gates firmly against him. He went then to Chernigoff and took it. Yaroslav hired warriors immediately, and with them and those he already had set out to find and punish Mystislav.
The two brothers met at Listven, somewhat west of Cheringoff, where Mystislav made an attack. He forced the battle at night during a terrible thunder-storm, and, knowing his ground well, defeated Yaroslav, who fled to Novgorod.
Though Mystislav had won, he sought only that which he held to be his own, and which he had demanded at first; he would not take Kief from an elder brother. He sent this message to Yaroslav: “Remain in thy Kief. Give me what is east of the Dnieper.” On that basis they settled, and the following year Yaroslav entered Kief with a large army.
Mystislav of Chernigoff had one son, who died in 1032. He himself died in 1035, while out hunting.
Sudislav, Yaroslav’s youngest brother, ruled in Pskoff and did nothing to win more dominion. But in 1035, Yaroslav put him in prison and kept him there. The chronicler states that men calumniated Sudislav, asserting that he was dissatisfied at not receiving a share in the lands of his dead brothers. The nephew, Bryacheslav of Polotsk, was more fortunate; he made himself unendurable, nay, dangerous, and, in view of this, Yaroslav added to Polotsk the two cities of Vitebsk and Usvyat.
While ruling in Novgorod, Yaroslav had struggled against tribute to Kief. Now, as Grand Prince, he gave that city a charter of freedom from tribute, and sent there as prince Vladimir, his eldest son. When Vladimir died, some two years later, he sent Izyaslav, another son. Because of these sons, Yaroslav quarreled with Kosnyatin, his grand-uncle, son of Dobrinya. We have seen how Dobrinya, the uncle of Vladimir, had made this son of Malusha, his sister, prince in Novgorod, and somewhat later Grand Prince of Russia.
Kosnyatin was a man of distinction in Novgorod, who fought devotedly for Yaroslav during his struggles with Sviatopolk. Kosnyatin was now imprisoned by Yaroslav who put him to death two years later. The cause of this seemingly ungrateful treatment is not known, but doubtless Kosnyatin, demanding too much for himself and for Novgorod, opposed the prince as energetically as he had formerly fought for him. In other words, he encroached on the sovereignty of Yaroslav, and his actions became of the kind which rulers of states treat as criminal, and which they meet with one answer at all times and places, — that answer is permanent removal.
Yaroslav the Lawgiver, the man who completed the foundation of the ancient Russian state, ascended the throne in 1016 and ruled for thirty-eight years. This was the most prosperous period of ancient Russia. The hordes of the steppes were kept in subjection, and about one third of Finland added to Russia, who thus held both sides of the water highway on the north. But Yaroslav’s claims to the title of a great ruler rest on another basis. He was a legislator, an administrator, a founder of cities. He framed the first code of laws, the famous Russkaya Pravda, or Russian Right; he carried on the most orderly government known till that day. In the restoration of boundaries and in internal improvements his activity was not less important. He recovered Galitch, which Boleslav of Poland had seized on his way home from his campaign with Sviatopolk the Accursed. He founded many towns and cities, two of which are well known in our time, Yaroslavl on the Volga, and Yurieff, now Dorpat. Wishing Kief to rival Tsargrad, he spent much of the revenue exacted from tributary peoples in adorning his capital. He established the first school in the north, at Novgorod, a school for three hundred students. He concluded more alliances and maintained a more extended intercourse with European sovereigns than any prince of ancient Russia. His later wars were mostly with the Petchenegs, those robbers of the steppe who had made a drinking-cup of his grandfather’s skull, and he at last succeeded in crushing them so completely that they never again took up arms against him, and even their name finally disappeared. All his children were from one mother, Ingigerd of Sweden. One of his daughters married King Andrew of Hungary; another became the wife of Harold Hardrada, King of Norway; a third, Anna, married Henry I of France and took with her the beautiful missal afterwards used in the Cathedral of Rheims at the coronation of the French kings. When Peter the Great visited that city in 1717, the missal was shown him as of the rarest antiquity, no one even knowing the language in which it was written. To the astonishment of all present, the Emperor exclaimed: “Why, this is my own Slavonic,” and he began to read in a loud voice. This missal, a masterpiece of penmanship, and one of the most ancient specimens of Slavonic writing, was copied no doubt under the supervision of Yaroslav himself.
Yaroslav died in 1054. He was not such a favorite with the multitude as his father, Vladimir, had been. He was more austere in character, a subtle-brained ruler of men, wise and far-seeing, but unbending, better fitted to inspire respect than love. The chronicler says of him: “ Yaroslav was in his place. He was lame, but his mind was not halt. He was brave in war, he was a Christian, and read books.” He built many churches, among them Saint Sophia, the admiration of Kief, and Saint Sophia of Novgorod, a precious monument of ancient Russia.
Yaroslav, knowing well the evils of civil war, arranged the succession as follows. The eldest son was to rule at Kief, with the title of Grand Prince; the other sons were to have each a principality, proportioned in accordance to his age. On the death of the Prince of Kief, he was to be succeeded by his next brother, who, on his decease, would be followed by the next to him, and so on to the youngest, whose heir was the eldest son of the eldest brother, or first Prince of Kief. In the second generation, the succession was to continue as in the first. This system was evidently copied from that of the Slavonic households, where it might operate well enough, because a younger brother held no position during the life of the elder. But in the ruling family each member governed a certain territory, and when the Prince of Kief died, there was a change all around, each ruler moving a step higher in the scale. The result was continual shifting, disorder, and civil war.
Yaroslav left five sons, and a number of grandsons, whose fathers were dead. To the sons he gave principalities; to the grandsons he left nothing; they must depend upon the kindness of their uncles; they were really excluded from sovereignty, and became in fact common people.
Before death Yaroslav enjoined mutual love on all his sons, and on the younger obedience to Izyaslav, the eldest, who would be to them in the place of a father. To Izyaslav he gave Kief, saying to him: “If any of thy brothers offend another, do thou protect the offended man.”
Besides Kief, Izyaslav was prince also in Novgorod, hence the road from the Baltic to the Greeks was at his command.
Sviatoslav, the second son, received Chernigoff with Ryazan, Murom, and Tmutarakan, beyond the Sea of Azoff. Vsevolod, the third son, received Pereyaslavl, Suzdal and Bailo-Ozero; the fourth son, Vyacheslav, got Smolensk, and the fifth, Igor, Volynia with its capital, Vladimir. Rostislev, son of Vladimir, Yaroslav’s eldest son, who died before his father, received from his uncles Rostoff, situated in the middle of Vsevolod’s territory.
In this division of Russia the best principality, Kief, went to the eldest son; the second in value, Chernigoff, to the second son, and so on. The idea was to give each prince a place whose income corresponded to his rank in the scale of seniority. Kief, besides its superior income, carried with it the sovereignty of Russia.
Let us follow the working of this system. In 1057, three years after Yaroslav’s death, died the fourth brother, Vyachestav of Smolensk, leaving one son. Igor of Volynia was transferred to Smolensk by his brothers, and Rostislav, the nephew, was moved from Rostoff to Volynia. In 1060 Igor died in Smolensk, leaving sons also. The remaining three brothers gave Smolensk neither to Igor’s sons, nor to Rostislav, to whom, by the established order, it would belong.
Rostislav, enraged at his uncles, found daring spirits in Novgorod to help him, among others Vyshata, son of Ostromir, the posadnik. With these men he set out for Tmutarakan to find warriors and win by the sword that which, as he thought, belonged to him.
In 1058 the four surviving brothers freed their uncle Sudislav from prison, where Yaroslav, his brother, had kept him for eighteen years. They took from him an oath to act in no way against them. Old and childless, he entered a monastery, and died five years later.
Rostislav now took Tmutarakan from Glaib, son of Sviatoslav. Sviatoslav hurried to help his son, and, as Rostislav did not resist his uncle, Glaib was put back into power very promptly. No sooner was Sviatoslav at home, however, than Glaib was driven out a second time by Rostislav, who now settled down firmly and with a purpose. He began at once to extend his dominion along the Caucasus, and was rapidly gaining power to use against his uncles, when the Greeks of the Chersonese poisoned him, and Glaib took his old place again unhindered.
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