Mission of the INFO.FAN
Головна » Yaroslav the Wise » Foreign policy » Wars and campaigns » War with Byzantium and campaign to Constantinople
25 мин

The campaign to Constantinople (Tsargrad) in 1043 as part of the war with Byzantium – was organized by order of Prince Yaroslav the Wise and was led by his son Vladimir. Ended in complete failure. The abundant use of Greek fire, as well as the storm that broke out during the battle, gave the Byzantines a decisive advantage. The storm swept the Russian fleet in different directions, many ships perished, up to 6 thousand soldiers were killed or captured. Vladimir was forced to retreat.

Causes and background

The formal reason for Yaroslav was the murder of a “noble Scythian” in the market of Constantinople.

Map of Vladimir Yaroslavich's campaign to Constantinople in 1043
Map of Vladimir Yaroslavich’s campaign to Constantinople in 1043

In addition, there is a version according to which the cause of the conflict was the desire of the Kyiv princes and ministers of the Christian religion to get out of subordination to the Byzantine patriarchs – according to the official imperial doctrine, the Byzantine emperor was the supreme ruler over all peoples who adopted Christianity from Byzantium.[1]https://sergeytsvetkov.livejournal.com/63558.html

Chronology and detailed description of events

Events before the start of the conflict

The Byzantine historian Michael Psellus indicates that the Rus were preparing for the campaign even during the reign of Michael IV in Constantinople, who was placed on the throne by the dowager Empress Zoe (who reigned as the sister of the last Byzantine emperor of the Macedonian dynasty, Constantine VIII):

«they cut down a forest somewhere in the depths of their country, cut out boats, small and larger, and gradually, having done everything in secret, gathered a large fleet and were ready to move on Mikhail».

Zoë Porphyrogenita - Mosaic of Hagia Sophia, Constantinople
Zoë Porphyrogenita

It is probable that the military training was preceded by negotiations (presumably in 1041.), which ended unsuccessfully for the Russian side. We do not know exactly what requirements Yaroslav presented to Michael IV. It is only clear that it was about some form of political and ecclesiastical independence of Russia from Byzantium. Psellos in this regard writes the following about the Rus:

«This barbarian tribe has always harbored a fierce and rabid hatred of the hegemony of the Romans; at every opportunity, inventing one or the other accusation, they created a pretext for war with us».

By the beginning of the summer of 1042 a fully equipped Russian flotilla was ready to sail from Kyiv. But the campaign had to be postponed – power changed in Constantinople. At the end of 1041, Michael IV fell seriously ill and died on December 10, having taken tonsure before his death. The throne passed to his nephew Michael V, who was adopted by Empress Zoe. The new emperor tried to get rid of Zoe, but after five months in the position of emperor, he was deposed and blinded. The newly widowed Zoya married one of her former lovers, the rich and noble senator Konstantin Monomakh. According to Psellos, in those years he was a man of “incomparable appearance”, whose face “bloomed with beauty”.
Constantine IX Monomachos - Byzantine emperor, fresco fragment
Constantine IX Monomachos – Byzantine emperor, fresco fragment

In the summer of 1042 an embassy of Yaroslav the Wise arrived in the Byzantine capital of Constantinople. However, instead of negotiating with the new emperor, the Russian ambassadors had to deal with the entourage of Empress Zoe – the same people who failed last year’s negotiations.

The situation in Constantinople was tense with the expectation of an imminent war. The urban common people did not hide their hostility towards the northern “barbarians”, and one day these sentiments turned into a mass brawl with Russian merchants who traded in the Constantinople market. According to the records of Skylitsa, the reason for the subsequent war was the murder of a noble Russian merchant (“noble Scythian”) in the market of Constantinople. Emperor Constantine apologized, but it was not accepted. Negotiations were interrupted, and the Russian embassy, irritated by the reception, left the capital of Byzantium.

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

Konstantin Monomakh, attempted to disband the Varangian-Russian corps in preparation for the upcoming clash with the Rus.

“The Scythians [Rus], who were in the capital,,” writes John Skilitsa, , were dispersed in the provinces. This was done in order to destroy the possibility of any war movement or attempt uprising from within of city.

The manifestation of this was the desire of the famous 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 his homeland through Rus, where his friend Yaroslav reigned.

In some places, the government initiative was picked up and developed in its own way. For example, on Athos, stone buildings in the bay and boats that belonged to the monastery of Russian monks were destroyed.

The number of Russian troops

The size of the Russian army and navy can only be determined approximately. Under the command of the voivode Ivan Tvorimirich, there was a princely squad, the Kyiv “regiment” led by the thousandth Vyshata and a large detachment of mercenaries recruited in the Slavic Pomorye (“Varangian” coast of the Baltic). The Chronicle tells about “many warriors”. Michael Psellos writes that “an incalculable, so to speak, number of Russian ships” approached Constantinople. According to Skylitsa, the Russian army numbered up to 100,000 soldiers. Other figures are called by the Byzantine historian of the 11th cent. Michael Attaliat: 20,000 warriors on 400 ships. The information can be corrected as follows.

Russian prince with a retinue. First half of the 11th century. Based on materials from archaeological finds in Kyiv, Chernigov and the Voronezh region.
Russian prince with a retinue. First half of the 11th century. Based on materials from archaeological finds in Kyiv, Chernigov and the Voronezh region.
Varangian mercenaries X-XI centuries
Varangian mercenaries X-XI centuries

About 250 boats took part in the previous sea raids of the Rus on Constantinople. Let’s say that Yaroslav managed to bring their number to 300-350. But the size and capacity of these vessels was not the same: Psellus, as we remember, writes that the Rus “hewed boats, small and larger.” A large Slavic boat could accommodate 40 people, small boats – from 10 to 20 soldiers. If we assume that large boats accounted for about half of the total number of Russian ships, then we can talk about no more than 10,000 warriors who took part in the campaign of 1043.
Old Russian lod'ya (battle boat)
Old Russian lod’ya (battle boat)

Prince Yaroslav the Wise ordered his eldest son Vladimir Yaroslavich, called for this from Novgorod, to lead the campaign. By that time, Vladimir had reached twenty-three years of age and was a man of ardent disposition. He already had military victories – in 1042 he went from Novgorod to Em tribes, a Finnish tribe that lived in the area of Lake Päijanne, “and defeat them and capture many,” according to The Tale of Bygone Years. The Russian “lodean army” went down the Dnieper, entered the Black Sea (in those years, the Russian Sea) and headed towards 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 Tsargrad.
Holy Blessed Prince Vladimir Yaroslavich
Holy Blessed Prince Vladimir Yaroslavich

Preparations of Byzantium to defend from the Rus

In order to prepare Constantinople to repel the attack of the Russian fleet, Monomakh had very little time left. The situation was complicated by the fact that the squadron guarding the capital was badly damaged by a fire that broke out in the Golden Horn Bay on April 6, 1040: most of the warships then burned to the ground. Constantine ordered the ships scattered along the coastal waters and the naval forces of the provinces to be pulled to the Bosphorus.
Dromon, Byzantine warship
Dromon, Byzantine warship

This immediately increased the size of the capital’s fleet to several dozen ships. It is known that only one general of the coastal province of Kivirreotov, located in the southwestern part of Asia Minor, brought a squadron of eleven fire-bearing warships to Constantinople. Part of the fleet was moved forward to guard the distant approaches to the straits.

Constantine learned about the upcoming campaign in the spring of 1043 and took measures: he sent Russian mercenaries and merchants from Constantinople, and ordered the strategist (military commander) Katakalon Kekavmen to guard the western shores of the Black Sea. On the Danube, the Rus suffered their first losses. Katakalon Kekavmen, having gathered the soldiers at his disposal, attacked the Russian detachment, scouring the local villages in search of provisions, and forced them to return to their boats. The advanced part of the Byzantine fleet, which carried guard duty off the Bulgarian coast, in turn tried to delay the advance of the Russian boats to Constantinople, but was unsuccessful. The Rus, as Psellus reports, “broke through by force or eluded the … courts that try to stopped them”.
Byzantine Cataphract (Equestrian warrior) X Century
Byzantine Cataphract
(Equestrian warrior) X Century

In June 1043 Prince Vladimir’s fleet crossed the Bosporus and landed 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 “litry” (almost 1 kg) of gold per warrior. On the same day, Constantine IX ordered all available naval forces to be prepared for battle – not only battle triremes, but also cargo ships on which siphons with “liquid fire” were installed. Troops of cavalry were sent out along the coast. Closer to the night, the emperor solemnly announced to the Rus that tomorrow he intended to give them a naval battle.


Constantine ordered Master Basil Theodorokan to leave the bay with three dromon warships in order to draw the enemy into battle.

“They swam forward lightly and harmoniously,” says Psellos, “spearmen and stone-throwers raised a battle cry on their decks, fire-throwers took their places and prepared to act. But at this time, many barbarian boats, separated from the rest of the fleet, rushed at high speed towards our ships. Then the barbarians divided up, surrounded them on all sides and began to make holes in the Roman ships from below with their peaks; ours at that time threw stones and spears at them from above. When the fire that burned their eyes flew into the enemy, some barbarians rushed into the sea to swim to their own, others were completely desperate and could not figure out how to escape.
Map of the Battle of Constantinople in 1043
Map of the Battle of Constantinople in 1043

According to Skylitsa, Vasily Theodorokan burned 7 Russian boats, sank 3 together with people, and captured one by jumping into it with a weapon in his hands and engaging in battle with the Russians who were there, several of whom were killed by him, while others rushed into the water. Seeing the successful actions of Vasily, Constantine signaled the advance of the entire Roman fleet. Fire-bearing triremes, surrounded by smaller ships, escaped from the Golden Horn Bay and rushed to the Rus. The latter, obviously, were discouraged by the unexpectedly large number of the Roman squadron. Psellos writes that “when the triremes crossed the sea and ended up at the very boats, the barbarian system crumbled, the chain broke, but some ships dared to stay in place …”.

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)

In the gathering twilight, the bulk of the Russian boats left the Bosporus Strait for the Black Sea, probably hoping to hide from pursuit in shallow coastal waters. Unfortunately, just at that time, a strong east wind rose, which, according to Psellos, literally swept the Russian fleet:

“wind furrowed the sea with waves and drove waves of water against the barbarians. 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 triremes set off in pursuit of some of them, they launched some boats under the water along with the crew, and other warriors from the triremes made a hole and delivered half-submerged to the nearest shore “

“And then they gave the barbarians a true bloodletting,” concludes his story, Psell, “it seemed as if a stream of blood poured out of the rivers colored the sea.”.

Russian chronicles tell that the wind “broke” the “prince’s ship”, but Ivan Tvorimirich, who came to the rescue of the voivode, saved Vladimir by taking him into his boat. The extent of the disaster that had befallen the Rus became clear only in the morning, when the storm subsided. Several thousand warriors, who had lost their weapons and armor, accumulated on the shore, but there was nothing to help them, since all the surviving boats were overcrowded.

Tysyatsky-voivode Vyshata voluntarily volunteered to go ashore and lead a detachment of the doomed. The Chronicle so preserved his heroic words:

“If I live, then with them, if I perish, then with the retinue”.

Vyshata managed to bring his people to the mouth of the Varna River (in Bulgaria), but here the Russ were attacked by the strategist of Paristrion Katakalon Kekavmen. Most of the 6,000 Russian soldiers laid down their heads in a bloody massacre, and the 800 captured people, among whom was Vyshata, were sent to Constantinople, where they were subjected to the execution prescribed for state rebels: some had their eyes gouged out, others were cut off their right hand. Bloodied limbs were hung on the walls of Constantinople.

Nevertheless, many Russian boats managed to escape and even subsequently defeated the Byzantine squadron sent after them – having lured half of the enemy ships pursuing them into one of the bays, the Rus suddenly appeared behind them. Almost half of the Byzantine squadron fled. During a fierce battle, the Russians captured several enemy ships, killing everyone who was there. Vladimir and the remnants of his fleet successfully reached Kyiv.

The conflict finally ended with the signing of a peace treaty in 1046. As a sign of making peace with Russia, Konstantin approved marriage his daughter from his first marriage (or, as some authors suggest, another close relative) to son Yaroslav, Vsevolod. Born in 1053 from this marriage, the son Vladimir received from his parents the nickname after his grandfather – Vladimir Monomakh. Also released the governor Vyshata and other russian captivities.

Results and accomplishment

  • The campaign failed – about 6 thousand soldiers were killed or captured, including one of the voivods – Vyshata.
  • In 1046, peace was concluded between Kievan Rus and Byzantium, in honor of which Emperor Constantine IX married his relative to the son of Yaroslav the Wise – Vsevolod.
  • In 1051, Yaroslav the Wise himself appointed Hilarion as metropolitan, for the first time without the participation of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

Section “Yaroslav the Wise”

Список литературы

  1. https://sergeytsvetkov.livejournal.com/63558.html
Rate this article - help the project
1 Star2 Stars3 Stars4 Stars5 Stars (No Ratings Yet)

Опубликовано: 05.10.2022
Изменено: 05.10.2022