Prince Yaroslav the Wise
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Short biography

Portrait from Tsar titular list, 1672г.
Yaroslav the Wise
Portrait from Tsar titular list, 1672г.

Detailed biography

Yaroslav Vladimirovich (nicknamed the Wise) was one of the sons of Grand Duke Vladimir Svyatoslavich the Grand (the Baptist) and the Polotsk princess Rogneda Rogvoldovna, whom he had forced to marry him. After Vladimir’s death in 1015, an internecine war broke out between his sons from different wives over the right to the throne of Kiev. As a result of several years of confrontation, Yaroslav the Wise emerged victorious in 1019 and became the ruler of Kiev.

During his reign, he once again forced the Chud, Yem, Yatvyagov, and Lithuanian tribes to pay tribute to Kiev, strengthened the north-western borders of Kievan Rus, reclaimed the Cherven cities, repelled the Pecheneg raid on Kiev in 1036, and concluded several dynastic marriages with the ruling dynasties of European countries.

Only one large-scale event ended in serious failure: a campaign against Constantinople in 1043.

In the domestic politics of Prince Yaroslav the Wise, several key points should be highlighted: the publication of the first surviving Russian set of laws – the Russian Truth, the Church Statute (drawn up jointly with Metropolitan Hilarion), the development of education, and the construction of new cities and temples.

Before his death, Yaroslav the Wise divided power between his sons – Izyaslav, Svyatoslav, and Vsevolod. The period of peaceful rule of the brothers is called the “Triumvirate of Yaroslavsons” by historians, which lasted for 19 years, after which it collapsed, and the princes resumed their internecine conflict.

The reign of Yaroslav the Wise – the flourishing of Kievan Rus

The Rostov period (c. 988-1010) and the beginning of the Novgorod period (from 1010 to 1014) of Prince Yaroslav’s reign left very little evidence, which is not surprising as he was sent to reign in Rostov by his father when he was about 9 years old, and most of his administrative functions were performed by specially assigned people.

During this time, the “Legend of the construction of the city of Yaroslavl” originated. According to the legend, Yaroslav traveled along the Volga from Novgorod to Rostov, and while hunting on the shore, he was attacked by a bear, which the prince killed with an ax. After that, on an inaccessible cape above the Volga, Yaroslav ordered to build a small wooden fortress, named after him.

Monument to Yaroslav the Wise in Kyiv
Monument to Yaroslav the Wise in Kyiv

Power struggle and holding Kiev throne

In 1014, Prince Yaroslav refused to pay tribute to his father, Kiev Prince Vladimir the Great. This was presumably due to Vladimir’s intention to transfer the throne to one of his younger sons, Prince Boris, who was previously entrusted with the command of the Kiev guard squad. Yaroslav began to prepare for armed confrontation with his father and hired the Vikings.

Prince Vladimir intended to punish his son and even prepared troops for the march, but he fell ill and died in 1015.

After Prince Vladimir’s death, his eldest son Svyatopolk, who had previously been imprisoned by his father for an attempted coup and was released shortly before these events, was supported by his followers and declared himself the new Kiev prince.

Scheme - the path of Yaroslav the Wise to the throne of Kyiv
Scheme – the path of Yaroslav the Wise to the throne of Kyiv

Internecine between Yaroslav the Wise and Svyatopolk the Cursed

During the further struggle for power between the heirs of Vladimir the Great, Kievan Rus plunged into internecine wars. The main opponents, Yaroslav and Svyatopolk, fought each other with varying success:

  • 1015 – Princes Gleb, Boris and Svyatoslav are killed
  • 1016 – Battle of Lyubech (Yaroslav wins)
  • 1017 – Svyatopolk, together with the mercenaries from Pechenegs, besieged Kiev (Unsuccessfully)
  • 1018 – Svyatopolk, together with the Polish king Boleslav I, defeated Yaroslav in a battle on the Bug River and occupied Kiev
  • 1019 – Jaroslav wins the battle on the Alte River
Scheme - the second strife in Old Rus
Scheme – the second strife in Old Rus

As a result, Yaroslav the Wise won and drove out Svyatopolk, later called the Accursed, but the price of victory was high – the Cherven cities were lost, many Kiev residents, including Yaroslav’s sisters, became Polish captives, and the lands on which the brothers fought each other, came to desolation.

Conflict with Bryachislav Polotsky

In 1021, Yaroslav’s nephew, Prince Bryachislav Izyaslavich of Polotsk, attacked Novgorod, taking many people and much booty captive.

According to official history, Yaroslav caught up with his nephew on the Sudome River and was able to take away the loot and rout his relative. The following year, the princes made peace, in which the cities of Vitebsk and Usvyat were transferred under Bryachislav’s control.

According to the Eidmund Saga, everything happened much less favorably for Prince Yaroslav the Wise: Bryachislav’s soldiers were able to capture Yaroslav’s wife, Ingigerd, and as a result, the Kiev prince was forced to give several cities to his nephew.

More about the conflict

Conflict with Mstislav Tmutarakansky

In 1023, Yaroslav left Kiev to pacify the insurrection that had broken out near Suzdal. His brother, Mstislav, the prince of Tmutarakan, decided to take advantage of this and, together with a large army, first approached the walls of Kiev. However, he did not besiege the city for long and instead took Chernigov.

Yaroslav gathered his troops and confronted his brother, but was defeated. Mstislav proposed making peace and dividing the land along the Dnieper River.

In 1026, the princes made peace in Gorodets, and together they regained control of the Cherven cities from Poland in 1031.

More about the conflict

Briefly about foreign policy

After making peace with his brother Mstislav, Yaroslav the Wise began to assert his claim for tribute from the tribes that had stopped paying during the civil strife of 1015-1019, and also paid closer attention to the western and southern directions.

Special attention should be paid to the defeat of the Pechenegs during the siege of Kiev in 1036 and the unsuccessful march on Constantinople (also known as the war with Byzantium) in 1043. Additionally, Yaroslav entered into marriages with the rulers of neighboring countries, which helped to strengthen the influence of Kievan Rus in Europe.

The main foreign policy events are listed in the table below:

Foreign policy of Prince Yaroslav the Wise - map
Foreign policy of Prince Yaroslav the Wise – map

Table “The main events of Yaroslav the Wise’s foreign policy”

Brief description of domestic policy

According to various sources, in 1016 or 1036, Yaroslav the Wise compiled a set of laws and judicial norms called the “Truth of Yaroslav”. This document is one of the oldest Russian codes of criminal law that has come down to us.

In addition, together with Metropolitan Hilarion, whom Prince Yaroslav appointed without the consent of the Patriarch of Constantinople, the Church Statute was issued.

The prince paid attention to the promotion of education – a school was opened in Novgorod, a translation and census of books was organized at the Sofia Cathedral (founded in honor of the defeat of the Pechenegs near Kiev in 1036), and an extensive library later appeared.

The general scheme of domestic policy of Yaroslav the Wise
The general scheme of domestic policy of Yaroslav the Wise

As military campaigns were carried out successfully, the prince strengthened the borders by building new fortress cities on the border territories.

Results of the reign

  • The price of receiving the Kiev throne for Prince Yaroslav was the land of Red Rus lost during the civil strife of 1015-1019, which were later returned after a truce with Prince Mstislav and joint campaigns to Poland in 1030-1031.
  • The development of education became another cornerstone in the foundation of future Slavic culture.
  • The construction of new cities in the acquired territories and the fortresses of the Poros line provided additional state protection against future invasions of nomads.
  • “The Truth of Yaroslav” and “The Church Statute” were new milestones in the development of civil and ecclesiastical law.
  • The influence of Kievan Rus in the north and northeast was strengthened.
  • Relations with Poland were renewed, and the captives and the cities of Cherven, captured by Boleslaw I, were returned.
  • Dynastic marriages were concluded with the kings of France, Poland, Hungary, and Norway, as well as the family of the Byzantine emperor, increasing the prestige of Kievan Rus in Europe.
  • The Pecheneg raid on Kiev was repelled, and these tribes no longer disturbed the southeastern borders of the state.

Family and personal life

Ingigerd, daughter of Sweden’s first Christian king Olaf Shyotkonung and Queen Astrid, became the wife of Yaroslav in 1019.

Children of Ingigerdy and Yaroslav the Wise

Some sources claim that Ingigerda taught her children Scandinavian languages, and they knew the sagas. In total, nine children were born in the Ingigerdy and Yaroslav family:

Kievan Rus after Yaroslav the Wise
Triumvirate Yaroslavsons

Before his death in 1054, Prince Yaroslav instructed his children to live peacefully, without quarrels and strife, and also divided the land among them, appointing Izyaslav as the elder. Soon, two younger sons, Igor and Vyacheslav, died, and actual power was concentrated in the hands of Svyatoslav, Izyaslav, and Vsevolod (the eldest son Vladimir died before Yaroslav’s death).

Until 1073, the brothers ruled together. This period was called “The Triumvirate of Yaroslavichi” by historians. Unfortunately, like the two generations of rulers of Kievan Rus before them, Yaroslav’s children did not preserve peace within the state. From 1073, they began internecine wars again.

The image in the culture and memory of generations

The personality of Yaroslav the Wise left a more than significant mark in the history of modern Russia and Ukraine. Over the past centuries, many paintings, films and monuments dedicated to the prince were created.

Why and for what Yaroslav was called Wise?

Old Russian chroniclers often discussed the theme of Yaroslav’s wisdom, beginning with “praise for the books,” placed under the year 1037 in the Tale of Bygone Years. According to their legends, Yaroslav was considered wise because he built the Saint Sophia cathedrals in Kiev and Novgorod, dedicating the main temples of these cities to Sophia – the wisdom of God, to which the main temple of Constantinople is also dedicated. This showed that Yaroslav considered the Russian church to be on par with the Byzantine church. When discussing Yaroslav’s wisdom, the chroniclers often referred to the Old Testament figure of Solomon.

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Опубликовано: 17.07.2019
Изменено: 17.06.2023