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Parents and parentage

Yaroslav Vladimirovich (Wise) – was born, according to the most common version, around 978. By origin, he belonged to the Rurik family, was the grandson of the famous Svyatoslav the Brave, who defeated the Khazars and was subsequently killed by the Pechenegs on the Dnieper. Yaroslav became the father, grandfather and uncle of many rulers of Europe. At baptism he was named George. His biography intersects with epic tales and legends.

Father – Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich (who has the nickname “The Baptist” and is often identified with the character of the epic epic Vladimir the Red Sun).

Mother – Princess Rogneda of Polotsk, who, in addition to Yaroslav, gave birth to seven more children: the sons of Izyaslav, Vsevolod, Mstislav; daughters Predslava, Premislav, Mstislav. The fate of Rogneda is tragic – she was kidnapped by Prince Vladimir, who killed her father Rogvold and forcibly took her as his wife.

Yaroslav the Wise. Portrait from the Tsar’s titular, 1672
Yaroslav the Wise.
Portrait from the Tsar’s titular, 1672

Short biography


Vladimir the Great
Vladimir the Great

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Rogneda of Polotsk
Rogneda of Polotsk

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Childhood and youth

Board in Rostov

The beginning of the description of the life of Yaroslav can be considered a mention in the Tale of Bygone Years in article 6488 (980), which tells about the marriage of his father, Vladimir Svyatoslavich, and Rogneda.

For the year 6496 (988) it is reported that Vladimir Svyatoslavich appointed his sons to various cities. Among the listed sons is Yaroslav, who received Rostov.

Since Yaroslav received the Principality of Rostov as a child (at the age of 9), the real power was in the hands of the mentor sent with him “the breadwinner and voivode named Buda (or Budy)”. Helping the young prince to rule at the beginning of his journey, later the voivode is mentioned during the reign of Yaroslav in Novgorod.

Yaroslav the Wise at the Monument to the 1000th Anniversary of Russia in Veliky Novgorod
Yaroslav the Wise at the Monument to the 1000th Anniversary of Russia in Veliky Novgorod

During the reign of Yaroslav in Rostov, historians attribute the foundation of the city of Yaroslavl. However, there are legends that attribute the foundation of the city to Prince Yaroslav.

According to one of them, Yaroslav traveled along the Volga River from Novgorod to Rostov. According to legend, on the way he was attacked by a bear, which Yaroslav, with the help of his retinue, hacked to death with an axe. After that, the prince ordered to cut down a small wooden fortress on an impregnable cape above the Volga, and called it Yaroslavl. These events are reflected on the coat of arms of the city. This legend was reflected in the “Legend about the construction of the city of Yaroslavl”, published in 1877.

Memorial sign on the legendary place of foundation of Yaroslavl Caption: “At this place in 1010 Yaroslav the Wise founded Yaroslavl”
Memorial sign on the legendary place of foundation of Yaroslavl
Caption: “At this place in 1010 Yaroslav the Wise founded Yaroslavl”

Yaroslav reigned in Rostov until the death of his elder brother Vysheslav, after which he took his place.

Reigning in Novgorod

After the death of Vysheslav, Svyatopolk was considered the eldest son of Vladimir Svyatoslavovich. However, according to Titmar of Merseburg, he was imprisoned by Vladimir on charges of treason.

The next oldest son, Izyaslav, also died by that time, but even during the life of his father he was actually deprived of the right to inherit – Polotsk was allocated to him. And Vladimir put Yaroslav in Novgorod.

In terms of status, the reign of Novgorod immediately followed Kyiv – Novgorod has always been a key trading center and gave its ruler a big profit.

Yaroslav the Wise. Bas-relief of the work of M.M. Antokolsky
Yaroslav the Wise. Bas-relief of the work of M.M. Antokolsky

The Novgorod prince annually paid tribute to Kyiv in 2000 hryvnias in silver, which was 2/3 of the tribute collected in Novgorod and the lands subordinate to the Novgorod prince. The remaining money went to the maintenance of the prince and his squad, the size of which was second only to the size of the troops of the Kyiv prince.

The period of the Novgorod reign of Yaroslav until 1014 is as little described in the annals as the Rostov one. The princely court of Yaroslav in Novgorod was located on the Trading side of the Volkhov, this place was called “Yaroslav’s court”.

View of Yaroslav's Court
View of Yaroslav’s Court

During excavations in Novgorod, archaeologists found the only copy of the lead seal of Yaroslav the Wise, once hung from the prince’s charter. On one side of it, the holy warrior George with a spear and shield and his name are depicted, on the second – a man in a cloak and helmet, relatively young, with a protruding mustache, but without a beard. The inscriptions on the sides of the chest figure were also deciphered: “Yaroslav. Prince of Rus”. Apparently, the seal contains a rather conditional portrait of the prince himself, a strong-willed man with a hooked, predatory nose, whose dying appearance was reconstructed from the skull by the famous scientist, archaeologist and sculptor Mikhail Gerasimov.

Seal of Prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich, found in Novgorod in 1994
Seal of Prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich, found in Novgorod in 1994

Yaroslav the Wise. Reconstruction M.M. Gerasimov
Yaroslav the Wise. Reconstruction M.M. Gerasimov

Rebellion against father

In 1014 Yaroslav refused to pay his father, Prince of Kyiv Vladimir the Baptist, an annual fee of two thousand hryvnias. Historians suggest that these actions of Yaroslav were connected with Vladimir’s desire to transfer the throne to one of his younger sons, Prince Boris of Rostov. In recent years, he brought this son closer to himself and handed over the command of the prince’s squad, which in fact meant the recognition of Boris as heir. It is possible that this is precisely why the eldest son Svyatopolk the Accursed rebelled against Vladimir, who, together with his wife, was subsequently imprisoned. And it was this news that could push Yaroslav to break the established way of life.

Boris Vladimirovich - a fragment of the icon
Boris Vladimirovich – a fragment of the icon

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Svyatopolk Vladimirovich "The Cursed" (Art. V. Sheremetiev. 1867)
Svyatopolk “The Cursed”
(Art. V. Sheremetiev. 1867)

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In order to resist his father, Yaroslav, according to the chronicle, hired the Varangians overseas, who arrived led by Eimund Ringsson, a descendant of the first king of Norway, Harald the Fair-Haired.

“We ask to be the Defenders of this realm, (want) to meet with you on terms and receive gold and silver from you…” – Eimund’s Saga

Vladimir, who in recent years lived in the village of Berestovo near Kyiv, ordered “to pave a path and build bridges” to march on his rebellious son, but fell ill. In addition, in June 1015, the Pechenegs invaded and the army assembled against Yaroslav, led by Boris, was forced to set off to repel the raid of the steppes. Pechenegs having heard about the approach of Boris and turned back.

Boris goes to the Pechenegs (1015). "The Tale of Boris and Gleb".
Boris goes to the Pechenegs (1015). “The Tale of Boris and Gleb”.

At the same time, out of boredom, the Vikings hired by Yaroslav began to riot in Novgorod. According to the Novgorod First Chronicle:

“…the Vikings began to do violence to married wives”

As a result, the Novgorodians, unable to withstand the violence, rebelled and in one night killed part of the Varangians. Yaroslav at that time was in his country residence in Rakoma. Upon learning of what had happened, he summoned representatives of the Novgorod nobility who had taken part in the rebellion, promising them forgiveness, and when they arrived at him, he severely dealt with them. It happened in July-August 1015.

After that, Yaroslav received a letter from his sister Predslava, in which she reported on the death of her father and on the events that happened after that. This news forced Prince Yaroslav to make peace with the Novgorodians. He also promised to pay vira for each one killed. And in subsequent events, the Novgorodians invariably supported their prince.

The struggle for the throne of Kyiv

The death of his father and the murder of the brothers Boris and Gleb

Version 1 (according to Russian chronicles)

July 15, 1015 Vladimir Svyatoslavich died in Berestovo, who did not have time to punish his son for the rebellion. On the same night, Yaroslav received a message from Kyiv from his sister Predslava:

“Your father is dead, and Svyatopolk is sitting in Kyiv, he killed Boris and sent for Gleb, beware of him very much.”

Prince Boris, sent by Vladimir against the Pechenegs, did not meet the enemy anywhere and, returning back, stopped on the Alta River. Here he learned about the death of his father and about the occupation of the throne by his brother Svyatopolk. The squad offered to go to Kyiv and seize the throne, but Boris did not want to violate the sanctity of tribal relations and indignantly rejected this proposal. His father’s warriors left him and he stayed with the closest people.

Meanwhile, Svyatopolk, who, notifying Boris of the death of his father, offered to be with him in love and increase his inheritance, wanted to eliminate rivals in the possession of the principality by killing the sons of Vladimir.

Svyatopolk sent Putsha and the boyars from Vyshegorod to kill his brother, since the sympathy of the people and the squad for Boris made him a dangerous rival. Putsha and his comrades came to Alta, to the tent of Boris, on the night of July 24th. Hearing the singing of psalms coming from the tent, Putsha decided to wait until Boris went to bed. As soon as Boris, doubly saddened by both the death of his father and the rumors of his brother’s villainous intention, finished his prayer and went to bed, the killers burst in and speared Boris and his Hungarian servant George, who was trying to protect the master with his own body.

Boris, still breathing, was wrapped in a tent canvas and taken away. Svyatopolk, having learned that he was still alive, sent two Varangians to kill him, which they did, piercing him with a sword in the heart.

The murder of Boris and his servant Georgy Ugrin in the tent. Stamp of the icon from the Borisoglebsk church
The murder of Boris and his servant Georgy Ugrin in the tent. Stamp of the icon from the Borisoglebsk church

The murder of Gleb

After the murder of Boris, Svyatopolk called Gleb to Kyiv, fearing that he might want revenge. When Gleb stopped near Smolensk, he received news from Yaroslav about the death of his father, about the occupation of Kyiv by Svyatopolk, about the murder of Boris by him and about the intention to kill him, Gleb; while Yaroslav advised him not to go to Kyiv.

Goryaser, who came to him, who was at the head of the assassins sent by Svyatopolk, ordered the prince to be slaughtered by his own cook. The murder of Gleb took place on September 5, 1015. The body of Gleb was buried by the killers “in an empty place, on a gap between two decks” (that is, in a simple coffin consisting of two hollowed-out logs).

Gleb Vladimirovich - a fragment of the icon
Gleb Vladimirovich – a fragment of the icon

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The murder of Gleb in the boat. Stamp of the icon from the Borisoglebskaya church in Zaprudy in Kolomna
The murder of Gleb in the boat. Stamp of the icon from the Borisoglebskaya church in Zaprudy in Kolomna

Upon learning of the death of Boris and Gleb, Svyatoslav Drevlyansky left his capital and tried to flee to the Carpathian mountains. The pursuit caught up with Svyatoslav on the banks of the Opir River near the present city of Skole – in the battle with the troops of Svyatopolk, seven sons of Svyatoslav and the Drevlyansky prince died.

Yaroslav, as the chronicles say, gathered a thousand Varangians, and forty thousand other warriors, and went to Svyatopolk, and, calling on God, said:

“It was not I who began to beat my brothers, but he, may God be an avenger for the blood of my brothers, because he shed the righteous blood of Boris and Gleb without guilt. Or should I do the same? Judge me, O Lord, in truth, so that the evil deeds of the sinner cease.”

Version 2 (according to “Eimund’s Saga”)

In 1834, Osip Senkovsky, a professor at St. Petersburg University, translating the “Eymund’s Saga” (“Eymund’s Strand”) into Russian, discovers that the Varangian Eymund, along with his retinue, was hired by Yaroslav the Wise. The saga tells how King Yarisleif (Yaroslav) fights with King Burisleif, and in the saga Burisleif is killed by the Vikings by order of Yarisleif. Some researchers assume under the name “Burisleif” Boris, others – the Polish king Boleslav, whom the saga confuses with his ally Svyatopolk.

“I won’t do any of this: I won’t set anyone up for a (personal, chest to chest) battle with King Burisleif, nor will I blame anyone if he is killed.” – Yarisleif sends Eimund to kill Burislaf.

F. A. Bruni The murder of Boris.
F. A. Bruni The murder of Boris.

In the Scandinavian sagas, Yaroslav appears as Yarisleif the Miser. Actually, if we analyze the constant disputes about payment for the services of the Varangians that appeared in these sagas, it is not surprising.

The tragic fate of Boris and Gleb (in the baptism of Roman and David) made them the first Russian saints, canonized as martyrs-passion-bearers. The Church made them the patrons of the Russian land and the “heavenly helpers” of the Russian princes.

One of the first monuments of ancient Russian literature is dedicated to the history of Boris and Gleb: the “Tale” by Jacob Chernorizets and the “Reading” by Nestor the Chronicler. Many temples and monasteries were built in honor of the brothers.

Monument to Boris and Gleb near the walls of the Borisoglebsky Monastery in Dmitrov (2006, sculptor - A. Yu. Rukavishnikov)
Monument to Boris and Gleb near the walls of the Borisoglebsky Monastery in Dmitrov
(2006, sculptor – A. Yu. Rukavishnikov)

Internecine strife between Yaroslav and Svyatopolk

Having received news from his sister, Yaroslav went to Novgorod and, having called all the nobles on the field, he made a council, saying to them with weeping:

“Oh, my dears, I know that you are furious, that yesterday, in a rage from a great offense inflicted on me, I beat your brethren and relatives. And now I am very sorry about that, but I can’t help. Especially now, they would be very useful to me, since my father died, and Svyatopolk, against the will of our father, took possession of Kyiv and beats our brethren. He can do more evil if he is not restrained by force, for which reason I think to go against him and avenge his offense, and defend my other brethren, if you do not deny it.

Novgorodians, seeing Yaroslav in deep sorrow, answered unanimously:

“Although our brothers were beaten, and this is not sorrowless for us, but leaving that, everyone is ready with you, and there will be so many more of us.”

In 1016 Yaroslav, at the head of the 3,000th Novgorod army and mercenary Varangian detachments, moved against Svyatopolk, who called for help from the Pechenegs. Two troops met on the Dnieper near Lyubech and for three months, until late autumn, neither side risked crossing the river.
Voivode Svyatopolk, by the name of Wolf’s Tail, riding near the coast, reproached the Novgorodians, saying:

“Why did you come with this lame, because you are essentially carpenters, not warriors. If you want, we will determine for you the work of chopping a mansion in Kyiv, so that you don’t mess around.”

Hearing these insults, the Novgorodians were very offended and began to ask Yaroslav to go across the river in the morning, declaring:

“If someone does not go with us, we ourselves will beat those as enemies.”

In the meantime, frosts have come. Svyatopolk’s troops were located between two lakes. Among the noble warriors of Svyatopolk, Yaroslav had his own man, to whom the prince sent a youth at night and ordered to ask:

“I have a lot of troops, but not enough honey, tell me when is the best time to drink.”

And the nobleman answered him:

“When you don’t have enough honey in the day, prepare it for the night and spend less.”

Yaroslav realized that it was necessary to attack at night and ordered the troops to quietly prepare, while Svyatopolk had fun and drank with his people all night. Having armed the army, Yaroslav ordered everyone to bandage their heads with white scarves, and at dawn, having crossed, landed the army. Then he ordered the boats to be taken away from the shore, announcing that there was no way to run back, so they had to either win or die with honor.

The battle between the brothers Yaroslav and Svyatopolk near Lyubech (1016). Radziwill Litopis.
The battle between the brothers Yaroslav and Svyatopolk near Lyubech (1016). Radziwill Litopis.

Svyatopolk did not have time to line up all the troops and there was a very fierce battle between them. The Pechenegs stood behind the lakes and could not come to the rescue, so Svyatopolk tried to retreat to the lake, where the still fragile ice broke off from many people and many drowned.

Battle of Lyubech (1016). Pechenegs, cut off by the lake from the allies. Radziwill Chronicle.
Battle of Lyubech (1016). Pechenegs, cut off by the lake from the allies. Radziwill Chronicle.

Yaroslav generously rewarded the Novgorod squad, giving each warrior ten hryvnias. From chronicles:

“… And let them all go home—and giving them the “truth” and writing off the statute, taco told them: live according to this charter, observe as I wrote to you”

The victory at Lyubech did not end the struggle with Svyatopolk: soon he again approached Kyiv with the Pechenegs. This siege is mentioned by Academician Rybakov B.A. and is described in detail in the Eymund Saga.

In 1017 Svyatopolk with the Pechenegs approached Kyiv, on the walls of which crowns of trees were strengthened to protect against arrows, and a moat with water was dug around the city, covered from above with logs and earth. Part of the besiegers fell into a trap. The two gates of Kyiv were left open, and the warriors of Yaroslav and the Vikings of Eymund settled down in them, respectively. During the battle, the Pechenegs even managed to get inside the city, but then they were driven out. The besieged undertook a sortie and, in the course of the pursuit, captured the banner of Svyatopolk.

Svyatopolk and Boleslav the Brave capture Kyiv

In 1018 the Polish king Bolesław the Brave, who had previously married his daughter to him, supported Svyatopolk. The Pole pursued two goals – to place a relative in Kyiv and to capture the Cherven cities, through which the most important trade route of Eastern Europe passed, connecting Kyiv with Krakow and Prague.

Boleslav’s army, in addition to the Poles, included 300 Germans, 500 Hungarians and 1000 Pechenegs. Yaroslav, having gathered his squad, moved towards Boleslav. Opponents met on the Western Bug in July. For two days the opponents stood facing each other, not daring to cross the river and exchanging courtesies. Yaroslav conveyed to the Polish prince:

“Let Boleslav know that he is like a wild boar driven into a puddle by my dogs and hunters.”

Boleslav I the Brave (art. Ya. B. Jacobi, 1828)
Boleslav I the Brave
(art. Ya. B. Jacobi, 1828)

Boleslav replied:

“It’s good that you called me a pig in a swamp puddle, because with the blood of your hunters and your dogs, that is, princes and knights, I will stain the feet of my horses, and I will destroy your land and cities, like an unprecedented beast” .

The next day, the governor Yaroslav Buda (Fornication) taunted the obese Boleslav:

“Look, will stab your fat belly with a stake.”

Boleslav decided to use this impudence and turned to his squad:

“If this insult does not humiliate you, then I will die alone”

He mounted a horse and into the river, and all his soldiers and mercenaries rushed after him. Yaroslav did not have time to prepare his troops, who were not expecting a surprise attack, they were confused and defeated.

Boleslav the Brave and Svyatopolk at the Golden Gates of Kyiv
Boleslav the Brave and Svyatopolk at the Golden Gates of Kyiv
August 14, 1018 Boleslav and Svyatopolk entered the capital of Kievan Rus, which surprised the Poles and Germans. Boleslav captured rich booty and many prisoners in Kyiv. Also, according to the Chronicle of Titmar of Merseburg, he took Predslava Vladimirovna, Yaroslav’s beloved sister, as a concubine.

The circumstances of Boleslav’s return from the campaign are vague. The Tale of Bygone Years speaks of the expulsion of the Poles as a result of the uprising of the people of Kiev, but Titmar of Merseburg and Gall Anonymous write the following:

“Boleslav put in his place in Kyiv a Russian who became related to him, and he himself, with the remaining treasures, began to gather for Poland.” 

According to the records of Gall Anonymus in the Chronicle of the Deeds of the Princes or Rulers of Poland, Boleslav, without meeting any resistance, entered the city, large and rich, with a naked sword struck at the golden gate. To his companions, who wondering why he did this, he said with a caustic laugh:

“As in this hour my sword strikes the golden gates of the city, so next night will be dishonored the sister of the most cowardly of kings who refused to marry her to me; but she will unite with Boleslav not by legal marriage, but only once, as a concubine, and this will avenge the insult inflicted on our people, and for the locals it will be a shame and dishonor.

Meanwhile, Yaroslav prepared to run “over the sea.” But the Novgorodians, led by the posadnik Konstantin Dobrynich, cut down his ships and told the prince that they wanted to fight for him with Boleslav and Svyatopolk. They collected money, concluded a new agreement with the Varangians of King Eymund, and armed themselves.

In the spring of 1019 Svyatopolk fought Yaroslav in the decisive battle on the Alta River. The chronicle did not preserve the exact location and details of the battle. It is only known that the battle went on all day and was extremely fierce. Svyatopolk fled through Berestye and Poland to the Czech lands. On the way, suffering from illness, he died.

Battle of Alta (1019). Radziwill Chronicle.
Battle of Alta (1019). Radziwill Chronicle.

Retention of political power

Wife – Ingigerda

In the summer of 1018 Olaf Shetkonung was visited by ambassadors from the Novgorod “King Yaritsleiva” – the Swedish king married his daughter to the future Kyiv prince and ruler of Russia Yaroslav the Wise. Ingigerda arrived in Novgorod in the summer of 1019.

According to the Sagas of Saint Olaf, under a marriage contract, Princess Ingigerda received as a dowry the city of Aldeigaborg (now the village of Staraya Ladoga) with the surrounding lands, which have since received the name Ingria (the lands of Ingigerda, in Finnish pronunciation – “Inkerinmaa”). At the request of Ingigerda, Jarl Rognvald Ulvsson, her relative, was appointed as the mayor of Ladoga.

In Novgorod, Ingigerda converted to Orthodoxy under the name Irina.

A.I. Trankovsky. Yaroslav the Wise and the Swedish Princess Ingigerda
A.I. Trankovsky. Yaroslav the Wise and the Swedish Princess Ingigerda

It is logical to assume that Princess Ingigerda herself arrived in the summer of 1019, because. By that time, Yaroslav had already inflicted a final defeat on his brother Svyatopolk the Accursed. No less logical is the possibility of the arrival of additional regiments of Swedish troops along with the returning matchmaker ambassadors. Thus, this dynastic marriage could be of very strategic importance.

Conflict with Bryachislav

Bryachislav Izyaslavich, Prince of Polotsk (art. A. Kryvenka)
Bryachislav Izyaslavich, Prince of Polotsk (art. A. Kryvenka)

In 1021 Yaroslav’s nephew, Prince of Polotsk Bryachislav Izyaslavich, made a surprise attack on Novgorod. On the way back, loaded with loot, he was overtaken by Yaroslav on the Sudoma River and, after the defeat in the battle, fled, leaving the prisoners and booty to the winner.

Yaroslav pursued him and forced him to agree to peace terms the following year, assigning him the two cities of Usvyat and Vitebsk as inheritance. Despite this peace, hostilities between uncle and nephew did not stop: the latter “all the days of his belly,” as the chronicle says, continued to fight with Yaroslav.

Battle on the Sudoma River. Radziwill Chronicle
Battle on the Sudoma River. Radziwill Chronicle

The version following from the Scandinavian “Eimund’s Saga” looks completely different: the troops converged, but the battle never happened. Norman mercenaries from the Bryachislav detachment made their way to the enemy camp and managed to kidnap the wife of the Kyiv prince, Ingigerda, when she was driving along a forest road with guards. Upon learning of this, Yaroslav was forced to enter into negotiations and agree to the conditions of Bryachislav, although he had an advantage in strength. The prince of Polotsk freed the captive Novgorodians, returned Ingigerda, in return achieving peace, retaining all his possessions and additionally receiving two important cities that stood on the trade route – Vitebsk and Usvyat. The outcome of this confrontation was not in favor of Yaroslav.

Conflict with brother Mstislav

In 1023 a rebellion broke out near Suzdal. In this difficult situation, the Kyiv prince had another rival – his brother, Prince Mstislav, who ruled in Tmutarakan. This remote ancient Russian colony on the shores of the Sea of ​​Azov has existed since the campaigns of Svyatoslav.

While Yaroslav pacified the rebellion in Suzdal (because of the drought and crop failure, the pagan Magi went against the governors of the prince, who demanded excessive collections of already meager provisions), Mstislav approached Kyiv with his allies, the Khazars and Kasogs, however, the city he did not give up. Mstislav did not besiege Kyiv and occupied Chernigov. Having extinguished the rebellion in Suzdal, Yaroslav returned to Novgorod, hired the Varangians and moved against Mstislav.

Mstislav Vladimirovich - Prince of Tmutarakansky and Chernigov
Mstislav Vladimirovich the Brave


The battle of Yaroslav and Mstislav near the village of Listven in 1024
The battle of Yaroslav and Mstislav near the village of Listven in 1024
The battle of Yaroslav and Mstislav near the village of Listven in 1024
The battle of Yaroslav and Mstislav near the village of Listven in 1024

In 1024 the troops of Yaroslav and Mstislav met near Chernigov near the town of Listven. The battle took place at night in a strong thunderstorm. Yaroslav’s squad was led by the Varangian Yakun Slepoy, he was opposed not only by the knights of Mstislav, but also by the hired Varangians of the Tmutarakan prince, who occupied the center of the battle order and took the main blow of the enemy. The Varangians of Yaroslav fought in a continuous line, while Mstislav, for the first time in the history of Kievan Rus, used a battle formation divided along the front (later this formation became the main one, used by Yaroslav in 1036 against the Pechenegs, and by his grandchildren in 1093 against the Polovtsy). The squad of Mstislav hit the enemy from the flanks and defeated him. Yaroslav with the remnants of the soldiers fled to Novgorod.

Mstislav moved his capital to Chernigov and sent ambassadors to Yaroslav who had fled to Novgorod. He offered to share the lands along the Dnieper with him and stop the wars:

“Sit down in your Kyiv, you are the elder brother, and let this side be for me.”

Yaroslav ruled Kyiv through governors until 1026, until he gathered a large army, after which he returned to Kyiv, and made peace at Gorodets with Prince Mstislav. The brothers divided the lands along the Dnieper. The left bank remained for Mstislav, and the right bank for Yaroslav. Yaroslav, being the Grand Prince of Kyiv, preferred to stay in Novgorod until 1036 (the time of Mstislav’s death).

In 1028, the first large school was founded in Novgorod, in which about 300 children of priests and elders were gathered.

B.A. Chorikov. Yaroslav the Wise teaches children. Engraving.
B.A. Chorikov. Yaroslav the Wise teaches children. Engraving.

Map showing the influence of the princes after the conclusion of peace between Yaroslav the Wise and Mstislav the Brave
Map showing the influence of the princes after the conclusion of peace between Yaroslav the Wise and Mstislav the Brave

Help to Olaf II

In the same year 1028 the Norwegian king Olaf II (later called the Saint), attacked Denmark, but was defeated and was forced to flee to Sweden and then to Old Rus. He fled there with his young son Magnus, leaving his wife Astrid in Sweden.

In Novgorod lived Ingigerda, the half-sister of Magnus’s mother, Yaroslav’s wife and Olaf’s ex-fiancee. She insisted that Magnus stay with Yaroslav after the king returned to Norway in 1030, where he died in the battle for the Norwegian throne.

Olaf II the Saint, King of Norway (art. Pius Welonski, 1893)
Olaf II the Saint, King of Norway
(art. Pius Welonski, 1893)

The death of Olaf II at the Battle of Stiklastadir
The death of Olaf II at the Battle of Stiklastadir

Help to Bezprim in seizing the throne of Poland

Polish King Mieszko II Lambert (artist A. Malaya)
Polish King Mieszko II Lambert
(artist A. Malaya)

Polish campaigns of
Yaroslav the Wise

In 1030 Yaroslav defeated the Chud tribes and founded the city of Yuryev (now Tartu, Estonia). In the same year, he decided to support Prince Bezprim, who had previously fled to Kyiv. Bezprym wanted to seize the Polish throne, but as a result of the campaign, Yaroslav was able to take only the city of Belz in Galicia. At this time, an uprising arose against King Mieszko II in the Polish land, the people killed bishops, priests and boyars.

In 1031 Yaroslav attracted Mstislav, they gathered a large army and invaded Poland. The brothers retook the cities of Przemysl and Cherven, and, having captured many Poles, divided them up between each other. Yaroslav resettled his prisoners along the Ros River.

Mieszko II tried to enlist the help of the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, but the emperor did not send help and Mieszko II was forced to flee to the Czech lands. Bezprym, with the support of Russian and German armed detachments, seized the throne of Poland.

Bezprim’s reign did not last long. The cause of his downfall was extreme cruelty. According to the Annals of Hildesheim, he was killed by his own people no later than the spring of 1032. Mieszko II managed to restore his power, but not for long – on May 10, 1034, he was apparently killed by conspirators from among the Polish feudal lords. His death marked the beginning of a period of return of paganism, chaos and unrest in Poland, which resulted in the peasant uprising of 1037-1038, which, in terms of scope, was one of the largest popular uprisings of that time. Pomerania and Mazovia separated from Poland.

The future king of Norway in the service of Yaroslav the Wise

Shortly before this, in 1031, Harald III, half-brother of Olaf the Holy, fled to Yaroslav the Wise and served in his squad.

As is commonly believed, he participated in Yaroslav’s campaign against the Poles and was a co-leader of the troops.

When the future king of Norway for the first time asked the daughter of a Russian prince as his wife, Yaroslav considered him not rich enough and status enough to become Elizabeth’s husband.

Harald III Hardrada, King of Norway, mosaic window in St. Magnus Cathedral
Harald III Hardrada, King of Norway, mosaic window in St. Magnus Cathedral

Then Harald began to win both wealth and status. He entered the service of the Byzantine emperor, fought in Africa, Sicily and Palestine. He mined a huge amount of gold and precious stones, some of which he sent to Yaroslav the Wise for storage during his service. At the same time, he did not forget about Elizabeth and his feelings for her in visa songs, of which he wrote about sixteen during the years of wandering.

The final approval of Yaroslav the Wise in Kyiv

Porub - a dungeon made of logs, in the form of a well.
Porub – a dungeon made of logs, in the form of a well.
In 1036 Mstislav suddenly died while hunting. Yaroslav, apparently fearing any claims to the Kievan reign, imprisoned his last brother, the Pskov prince Sudislav, in prison (porub).

Sudislav spent 23 years in prison, outliving Yaroslav the Wise and by that time turned out to be the last surviving son of Vladimir the Baptist.

His nephews, the “triumvirs” Izyaslav, Svyatoslav and Vsevolod, released their uncle from prison in 1059, on condition that he renounce the right to the throne of Kyiv. Sudislav became a monk in the Kiev St. George Monastery, where he died in 1063.

Only after these events, Yaroslav decided to move with the court from Novgorod to Kyiv.

The reign of Yaroslav in Kyiv

Defeat of the Pechenegs

In the same year 1036 the Pechenegs, after a fifteen-year truce, invaded Russian lands and laid siege to Kyiv. This attack was a big surprise for Prince Yaroslav, who at that moment was in Novgorod. Kyiv, accordingly, was left without significant protection.

The Pechenegs only managed to burn the towns and suburbs, the locals managed to leave for the city and carry away their property, and the cattle were driven into ravines. Kyiv held out until the arrival of Yaroslav the Wise, who gathered a large army of Varangians and Novgorodians. With these forces, he broke through into the besieged Kyiv, and together with the local forces undertook a general sortie.

The defeat of the Pechenegs by the troops of Yaroslav the Wise at the wall of Kyiv in 1036
The defeat of the Pechenegs by the troops of Yaroslav the Wise at the wall of Kyiv in 1036
The defeat of the Pechenegs by the troops of Yaroslav the Wise at the wall of Kyiv in 1036
The defeat of the Pechenegs by the troops of Yaroslav the Wise at the wall of Kyiv in 1036

Yaroslav used the battle formation divided into three regiments along the front, which Mstislav used in the battle of Listven, which was unsuccessful for Yaroslav. A fight began that lasted all day. Despite the numerical superiority of the Pecheneg army, the victory of Yaroslav the Wise was unconditional. The remaining nomads fled in panic: many Pechenegs drowned in Setoml River and other rivers, some went to the borders of Byzantium, some went to the Don River, where they became dependent on stronger tribes.

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Library of Yaroslav the Wise

Model of the primary appearance of the St. Sophia Cathedral
Model of the primary appearance of the St. Sophia Cathedral
In honor of the victory under the Pechenegs, the Cathedral of St. Sophia of Kyiv was built, and artists from Constantinople were called to paint the temple.

The only historical mention of the prince’s library dates back to 1037 and is contained in the Tale of Bygone Years:

“Yaroslav loved books, and put many manuscripts in the church of St. Sophia, which he created himself”

In the 18th century, the first serious historians of the Russian Empire became interested in the library, including Mikhail Lomonosov. They conducted a series of studies and hypothesized that the library contained ancient Russian manuscripts, as well as books and scrolls from the Library of Alexandria and ancient texts of later times. Their studies mentioned “the letters brought from India and East Asia in ancient times, when European people did not know these lands”.

Library of Yaroslav the Wise. (Art. O. Galchinska)
Library of Yaroslav the Wise. (Art. O. Galchinska)

Expansion of the influence of the Old Rus state – diplomacy and wars.

Many years of the reign of Yaroslav the Wise are characterized only by brief lines in the annals.

Help for the Polish King Casimir I

In 1038-39, the Polish king Casimir I, with the help of mercenary German troops, restored his power and extinguished the peasant revolt. However, on the Vistula right bank, in Mazovia, the local nobility refused to recognize Casimir and named a certain Maslav their prince.

It was beyond Casimir’s strength to fight alone with such a powerful opponent. Meanwhile, there was no longer any hope for German help: the re-establishment of a united strong Poland was not in the interests of the German Empire.

"Casimir the Restorer returns to Poland" (artist V. Gerson)
“Casimir the Restorer returns to Poland”
(artist V. Gerson)

Map of Poland. In the upper part, Mazovia is highlighted in a lighter tone.
Map of Poland. In the upper part, Mazovia is highlighted in a lighter tone.

Then Casimir asked for assistance in the fight against Maslav from the Old Russian prince, whose possessions bordered on Mazovia. The Polish king doubted that his proposal would be accepted.

Over the previous half century, Poland has shown itself to be the worst enemy of the Russian land. The Polish hand led the Pechenegs to Kyiv, devastated the treasury of the Russian princes, captured the cities of Cherven, took the Russians prisoner. It would seem that instead of helping, The Old Russia should have tormented a weakened enemy, as the Czech did, which also suffered a lot from the Poles.

Casimir I the Restorer
Casimir I the Restorer

However, Yaroslav did not begin to recall the former grievances to the Poles. As a result of negotiations with Casimir, the Russian prince decided to support the Polish monarch and show good neighborliness. The Russian-Polish union, concluded in 1038/1039, was sealed by two dynastic marriages at once: Casimir then married Yaroslav’s sister (possibly niece), Maria Dobronega, and married his sister, Gertrude, to Izyaslav, son of Yaroslav the Wise. As a sign of complete reconciliation with Russia, the Polish prince released all the Russian prisoners captured in Kyiv by his grandfather, Boleslav I.

Maria Dobronega
Maria Dobronega

But to cope with the pagan coalition was not easy even for the two largest states of Eastern Europe. In the winter of 1038/39, Yaroslav went to the Lithuanian tribe of the Yotvingians, “and can’t take them”, as the Tale of Bygone Years reports. The repeated campaign of 1040, apparently, also did not bring tangible success, since the chronicler limited himself to a brief note: “Went Yaroslav to Lithuania”. With the same suspicious brevity, PVL under 1041 speaks of a campaign against Maslav:

“Went Yaroslav on Mazovshan by boats”
(probably, the Russian army sailed to Mazovia along the Western Bug River).

Faced with the stubborn resistance of the Lithuanians and the prince of Mazovia, Yaroslav made an attempt to strengthen the Russian-Polish alliance, supplementing it with a similar bilateral agreement between Russia and Germany. In medieval German chronicles, news of two embassies of Yaroslav to Emperor Henry III in the early 40s of the 11th century has been preserved. However, the goals of the first of them remain unclear. The anonymous “Saxon Annalist” wrote only that on November 30, 1040, while in Thuringia, “the emperor received ambassadors from Russia with gifts”.

But at the end of 1042, Yaroslav had already directly proposed a dynastic union to the German emperor. According to the Annals of Lampert of Hersfeld, this year Henry III celebrated Christmas in Goslar, one of his Thuringian residences:

“among the ambassadors from many countries there were the ambassadors of Russia, who left in sorrow, for they received a clear refusal about the daughter of their king, whom they hoped to marry the emperor Henry.”

Henry III returns from campaign in Italy
Henry III returns from campaign in Italy

The young German emperor, who had been widowed in 1038 (his first wife Cunegilda had died of pestilence), was indeed looking for a bride. But his preference was given to the French princess. Nevertheless, Henry III tried to soften his refusal so that it would not look insulting to the Russian prince. As the “Altaikh Annals” clarify:

“the ambassadors of Russia brought great gifts, but set off on the return journey with even more”.

In 1043, Yaroslav twice “went by boats to Mazovshan”, the next year he fought with Lithuania, and again to no avail. The chain of military and diplomatic failures was broken only in 1047:

“Yaroslav go to the Mazovshans, and defeat them, and kill their prince Moislav [Maslav], and subdue them to Kazimir.”

March on Constantinople

Tensions between the two states began to manifest themselves after the accession in June 1042 of Emperor Constantine Monomakh. The beginning of the reign of Constantine was marked by a mutiny of troops under the command of George Maniac in Italy, it is known that Russian-Varangian detachments also fought under his command.

According to Academician G.G. Litavrin, Konstantin disbands the military detachments that enjoyed the special favor of the former Emperor Michael V, possibly trying to disband the Varangian-Russian corps. The manifestation of this was the desire of the Viking Harald the Severe to return to his homeland. However, Constantine not only refuses, but, according to the sagas, throws Harald into prison. Tom manages to escape to Kyiv, to Yaroslav the Wise.

Constantine IX Monomachos - Byzantine emperor, fresco fragment
Constantine IX Monomachos – Byzantine emperor, fresco fragment

The cause of the war, according to the testimony of the Byzantine chronicler Skylitsa, was the murder of a noble Russian merchant (“noble Scythian”) in the Constantinople market. Emperor Constantine sent ambassadors with apologies, but they were not accepted.

Yaroslav sent his son Vladimir, along with Harald III and the voivode Vyshata, on a campaign against Constantinople. Skylitsa estimates the Russian army at 100,000 soldiers, another Byzantine historian Michael Attaliates indicated the size of the Russian fleet at 400 ships. The Russian “Lodean army” descended the Dnieper, entered the Black Sea (in those years, the Russian Sea) and headed for the mouth of the Danube. Here, according to the chronicle, the warriors stopped and began to decide how they should continue the campaign – by land or by sea. The opinion of the Varangian warriors prevailed, and the Russian ships continued to move towards Constantinople.

View of Constantinople. Drawing from the Nuremberg Chronicle. 1493
View of Constantinople. Drawing from the Nuremberg Chronicle. 1493

Constantine found out about the upcoming campaign in the spring of 1043 and took measures: he sent Russian mercenaries and merchants from Constantinople, and ordered the strategist (commander) Kekavmen to guard the western shores of the Black Sea. In June 1043, the fleet of Prince Vladimir passed the Bosphorus and stood in one of the bays of Propontis, not far from Constantinople. According to Psellos, the Russians entered into negotiations, requesting 1,000 coins per ship. According to Skylitsa, Emperor Konstantin Monomakh was the first to start negotiations, which did not lead to anything, since the Russians requested 3 liters (almost 1 kg) of gold per warrior.

Old Russian commanders landed some of their soldiers on the shore and organized a camp. The naval forces of Vladimir on the morning of the battle, lined up, were ready for battle.

Constantine IX at noon gave the order to attack. Three of his dromons from the sea and simultaneously two legions from land attacked the Russian fleet and camp. Byzantine ships were armed with Greek fire, they set fire to Russian boats, which brought confusion to the actions of Vladimir’s soldiers. However, the princely warriors fought bravely, threw spears and arrows at the enemy, tried to break through the sides of enemy ships with logs suspended on chains.

Byzantine dromon attacks the battle boats of the Slavs (art. José Daniel Cabrera Peña)
Byzantine dromon attacks the battle boats of the Slavs
(art. José Daniel Cabrera Peña)

Greek fire in those days was a truly ultimatum weapon – imperial ships began to gain the upper hand. According to Skylitsa, Vasily Theodorokan burned seven Russian ships and sank three with his crew. The main fleet of the Byzantines set out from the harbor. The russian boats had to retreat. At that moment, a storm broke out, the consequences of which were described by Michael Psellos:

«Some ships were immediately covered by the rearing waves, while others were dragged along the sea for a long time and then thrown onto the rocks and onto the steep coast; our dromons set off in pursuit of some of them, they launched some boats under water along with the crew, and other warriors with dromons made holes and half-submerged delivered to the nearest shore. And then they staged a true bloodletting for the barbarians, it seemed as if a stream of blood poured out of the rivers colored the sea.»

The Tale of Bygone Years begins the story of the unsuccessful campaign with a storm, silent about the naval battle that took place. The east wind threw up to 6 thousand soldiers ashore, the prince’s ship also crashed. Prince Vladimir was taken to his boat by the voivode Ivan Tvorimirich, he and his squad decided to make their way home by sea. Governor Vyshata, on the contrary, landed on the shore to the soldiers with the words:

“If I live, then with them, if I die, then with the squad”

The emperor sent 24 dromons in pursuit of the Russians. In one of the bays, Vladimir attacked the pursuers and defeated them, possibly during the coastal parking, after which he returned safely to Kyiv. A group of 6 thousand soldiers of Vyshata, who trying their way to Rus on foot along the Black Sea coast, was overtaken and destroyed near Varna by the troops of the strategist Katakalon Kekavmen. Vyshata, along with 800 soldiers, was taken prisoner. Almost all the prisoners were blinded.

Peace was concluded three years later.

Dynastic marriages

In addition to the marriages described above between members of the families of the Russian and Polish states, Yaroslav the Wise concluded a number of other, no less important and profitable dynastic unions, which seriously strengthened the country’s position in the foreign policy arena.

On the map, Russia and the states with the rulers of some of the dynastic coats are marked with color areas
On the map, Russia and the states with the rulers of some of the dynastic coats are marked with color areas

Daughter Anastasia and King of Hungary

Around 1038, Anastasia Yaroslavna married the Hungarian duke Andras (Andrew), who, fleeing persecution from King Stephen I, fled to Kyiv. In 1046, András returned to Hungary with Anastasia and, after seizing the throne, became king. The Queen founded several Orthodox monasteries in Hungary.

Monument to King Andras and his wife Anastasia of Kyiv
Monument to King Andras and his wife Anastasia of Kyiv

Daughter Elizabeth and King of Norway

In the winter of 1043/1044 Harald Hardrada returned to Kyiv. The accumulated wealth and fame during long wanderings and service to various rulers made him a worthy son-in-law for Yaroslav. He married Elizabeth Yaroslavna (Ellisif in the sagas). And then, with a significant number of people loyal to him, he returned to Norway, where he became king from 1046. It was he who founded Oslo in 1048, which is now the capital of Norway.

The daughter of Harald and Elizabeth, Ingigerda married the Danish king Olaf Sveinsson and became queen of Denmark.

Bas-relief of Elizabeth Yaroslavna - Queen of Norway.
Bas-relief of Elizabeth Yaroslavna – Queen of Norway.

Son Vsevolod and relative of the emperor of Byzantium

In 1046, three years after the unsuccessful campaign against Constantinople, in honor of the conclusion of peace between Byzantium and Russia, Emperor Constantine Monomakh gave one of his relatives (most likely she was his daughter) for the son of Yaroslav the Wise – Vsevolod.

From this marriage Vladimir II Monomakh was born – the Grand Prince, who played a key role in the development of the Old Russian state.

Vsevolod Yaroslavich (history of Russia in engravings)
Vsevolod Yaroslavich (history of Russia in engravings)

Daughter Anne and the King of France

In 1048, the ambassadors of Henry I of France arrived in Kyiv to ask for the hand of the youngest daughter of Yaroslav Anna.

Henry was originally betrothed to the daughter of the Holy Roman Emperor, but she died in 1034. In 1043, Henry married for the first time, also unsuccessfully – a year later, his wife died as a result of an unsuccessful caesarean section.

At the age of forty-three, Heinrich married a second time. The marriage took place in the Cathedral of Reims in 1051. Anna bore Henry four children, including the future King of France, Philip I. She was known in France as Anna of Russia or Anna of Kyiv.

Anna Yaroslavna - Queen of France Degree work of Ilya Tomilov.
Anna Yaroslavna – Queen of France Degree work of Ilya Tomilov.

Last years of life

In 1051, having gathered the bishops, he himself appointed Hilarion as metropolitan, for the first time without the participation of the Patriarch of Constantinople. Hilarion became the first Russian metropolitan. Intensive work began on the translation of Byzantine and other books into Church Slavonic and Old Russian. Huge amounts of money were spent on copying books.

V. Nagornov, “Yaroslav the Wise and Sons”
V. Nagornov, “Yaroslav the Wise and Sons”

The reign of Yaroslav the Wise lasted 37 years. Yaroslav spent the last years of his life in Vyshgorod.

Testament of Yaroslav the Wise to his sons

Yaroslav the Wise, before his death, divided the Russian land between his children, and from that time on, an appanage system began to develop in Kievan Rus. Yaroslav gave his sons a testament of how they should treat each other, and this testament served as the basis for the mutual relations of the princes in the specific period.

«My son, may it be good for you, because I hear and see your meekness and pious living, and I rejoice that you give rest to my soul. If God deigns for you to accept my throne after your brothers with truth, and not with violence, then I know that prosperity will be in all the Russian land. When the Almighty deigns to relocate you from this life, I command you to lie near my coffin, where I will be laid, because I love you more than all your brothers»

Yaroslav’s instruction to his sons, 1054. Lithograph by B.A. Chorikov. 1836 year
Yaroslav’s instruction to his sons, 1054. Lithograph by B.A. Chorikov. 1836 year

Death of Yaroslav the Wise

The exact date of the death of Yaroslav the Wise is still a matter of controversy. On February 17 or 20, 1054, in Vyshgorod, he died in the arms of his son Vsevolod, having outlived his wife Ingigerda by four years and his eldest son Vladimir by two years. If we consider the approximate date of birth of Yaroslav 978, at the time of his death he was about 76 years old. For that time (the average life expectancy was about 35-40 years), it was a very old age.

Grave and missing remains

Yaroslav was buried in St. Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv. In a six-ton tomb made of proconessian marble, which was once the last refuge of the holy Roman Pope Clement and taken out by Yaroslav’s father, Vladimir Svyatoslavich, from the Byzantine Chersonese conquered by him.

According to Newsweek magazine, when opening the box with the remains of Yaroslav the Wise on September 10, 2009, it was found that it contained, presumably, only the skeleton of Yaroslav’s wife, Princess Ingegerda. In the course of an investigation conducted by journalists, a version was put forward that the remains of the prince were taken out of Kyiv in 1943 during the retreat of German troops and are currently possibly in the United States.

Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise XI century. Marble. Kyiv, St. Sophia Cathedral
Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise XI century. Marble. Kyiv, St. Sophia Cathedral

Such is the Biography of Yaroslav the Wise, one of the most famous ancient Russian princes.

Section “Yaroslav the Wise”

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Опубликовано: 12.05.2019
Изменено: 28.02.2023