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Short biography

Vladimir the Great
Vladimir the Great
Even before his baptism, Prince Vladimir was known as the “great debauchee” – in addition to numerous concubines (some historians give numbers up to 800), he was in several official pagan marriages, and after baptism he was supposedly in two Christian ones.

During his reign, he expanded the influence of Kievan Rus in the western and southern directions, organized the construction of defensive structures and border towns to repel the invasions of the Pechenegs, and also made a radical cultural breakdown – he carried out the Baptism of Rus.

The father of Yaroslav the Wise left behind at least thirteen sons from different wives, which laid the foundation for future civil strife and fratricide among his heirs.

Parentage and upbringing

Vladimir was the son of the Grand Duke of Kyiv Svyatoslav Igorevich from Malusha (Malka) – the housekeeper-slave of Princess Olga. According to the customs of the pagans, he could inherit from his father-prince.

According to the assumption of the historian D. I. Prozorovsky, Malusha violated the commandment “do not commit adultery” with Svyatoslav, and this is what caused the anger of Olga, who exiled her to the village of Budutino (Budyatino):

Prince Svyatoslav Igorovich
Prince Svyatoslav Igorovich

«Volodymyr was born from Malka, Olzhina’s housekeeper; Malka is Dobrynya’s sister, and Dobrynya is Volodymyr’s uncle; and after news the birth of Volodymyr in Budutin, there, in anger, Olga sent her away, the village of her name was there, and when she dying gave it to the holy Mother of God» (Nikon chronicle).

The chronicles do not report on the further fate of Malusha, and the young Vladimir was sent to Kyiv, where he was under the supervision of Princess Olga. His maternal uncle, Voivode Dobrynya, was probably engaged in his upbringing, since in the customs of Old Rus it was customary to entrust the upbringing of heirs to senior combatants.

Seizure of the Kyiv throne

After the death of Prince Svyatoslav in 972, Yaropolk ruled Kyiv. In 977, an internecine war broke out between Yaropolk and his brother Oleg, in which Oleg died, and Vladimir, being afraid, fled across the sea, to the Varangian lands. Having recruited an army there, he returned to Novgorod, driving out the posadnik of Yaropolk.

According to the Laurentian Chronicle, Princess Rogneda of Polotsk was declared the bride of the Kyiv prince Yaropolk. Vladimir also wooed her, but the princess considered it unacceptable to marry the son of a concubine, and answered:

«I don’t want to take off shoes from the slave son’s ».

(meaning the Slavic rite of undressing the spouse by the bride)

Insulted by the refusal, Vladimir gathered an army of Novgorodians, Varangians, Chuds and Krivichi. He came under the walls of Polotsk, when Rogneda was about to be taken to Yaropolk. Rogneda’s father, the ruler of Polotsk, Rogvolod, came out against him, but was defeated in the battle and closed in the city.

In the spring of 978, the city was taken by storm, and in retaliation for the insult, Prince Vladimir decided to humiliate and dishonor the Rogneda family and, on the advice of his uncle and mentor Dobrynya, raped Rogneda in front of her parents, after which Prince Rogvolod, his wife and sons were killed.

Rogneda of Polotsk
Rogneda of Polotsk

Then Vladimir laid siege to Kyiv, where Yaropolk locked himself. According to the chronicle, Blud (the voivode of Yaropolk) was bribed by Vladimir, intimidated Yaropolk by rebellion of the people of Kiev and forsed him to flee to the small town of Roden. In Roden, Vladimir lured Yaropolk into negotiations and ordered two Vikings to raise “his swords under his bosoms.” The pregnant wife of Yaropolk, a former Greek nun, Vladimir took as a concubine.

Murder at the behest of Vladimir of his brother Yaropolk (Radzivilov Chronicle)
Murder at the behest of Vladimir of his brother Yaropolk
(Radzivilov Chronicle)

The Tale of Bygone Years conveys Vladimir’s way of life before baptism:

«Vladimir was defeated by lust, and he had wives […], and he had 300 concubines in Vyshgorod, 300 in Belgorod and 200 in Berestov, in a village that is now called Berestovoye. And he was insatiable in fornication, bringing married women to him and corrupting girls».

The Baptism of Prince Vladimir

The choice of faith by Vladimir the Baptist (art. Isaev S.)
The choice of faith by Vladimir the Baptist
(art. Isaev S.)

The chronicle narrative about the “choice of faiths” (“testing of faiths”) by Vladimir is legendary. Preachers of Islam, Judaism, Western “Latin” Christianity (Catholicism) were called to the court, but after a conversation with the “Greek philosopher”, Vladimir settled on Orthodoxy.

The details of the chronology – where and when Vladimir was baptized, whether it happened in Kyiv, in the city of Vasiliv or Korsun – were lost in Kievan Rus at the beginning of the 12th century, at the time of compiling the Tale of Bygone Years. The date of the Baptism of Kievan Rus is traditionally considered to be the chronicle year 988.

In Kyiv, the baptism of the people passed relatively peacefully, while in Novgorod, where Dobrynya led the baptism, it was accompanied by uprisings of the people and their suppression by force. In the Rostov-Suzdal land, where the local Slavic and Finno-Ugric tribes retained a certain autonomy due to remoteness, Christians remained a minority even after Vladimir (until the 13th century, paganism dominated the Vyatichi).

“The Baptism of Prince Vladimir in Korsun” (Artist Ivanov)
“The Baptism of Prince Vladimir in Korsun” (Artist Ivanov)

The trampling of the ancient Russian gods on the orders of Vladimir (art. E. Shtriko)
The trampling of the ancient Russian gods on the orders of Vladimir (art. E. Shtriko)

Vladimir’s rule

Historical Atlas - The Old Russian state (in light green) in the era of Prince Vladimir the Great
Historical Atlas – The Old Russian state (in light green) in the era of Prince Vladimir the Great

Last years and death of Volodymyr the Great

Prince Vladimir was going to change the principle of succession to the throne and bequeath power to his beloved son Boris. In the last years of Vladimir’s life, Svyatopolk plotted against him, which was revealed, and for some time Svyatopolk was imprisoned. Yaroslav stopped transferring tribute and church tithe from Novgorod to Kyiv, after which Vladimir gathered with his squad to go to his son, but death did not allow him to do this.

Vladimir died in the country residence of Berestovo on July 15, 1015. In secret from Svyatopolk, the servants of Vladimir carried out the body and, wrapping it in a carpet, took it to Kyiv, to the Church of the Tithes of the Most Holy Theotokos. Despite an attempt to hide the death of Vladimir, the next morning, countless people in tears gathered at the cathedral church.

«He died on Berestovo, and they hid it, since Svyatopolk was in Kyiv. At night, a platform was placed between two cages from the windows, the body was hidden in the carpet and lowered to the ground on ropes. And they put it on a sled, and carried it, and delivered it to the Church of the Holy Mother of God, which he himself built».

Hiding the death of Prince Vladimir From Svyatopolk (Fragment of Chronicles)
Hiding the death of Prince Vladimir from Svyatopolk (Fragment of Chronicles)

Beginning of civil war

After the death of Prince Vladimir the Baptist, Prince Svyatopolk, with the support of his supporters, seized power in Kyiv. According to the established historical tradition, it was Svyatopolk, wanting to protect himself from claims to the Kyiv throne from other heirs of Vladimir, who sent the killers to his brothers, princes Boris and Gleb.

Upon learning of the death of Boris and Gleb, Svyatoslav Drevlyansky left his capital and tried to flee to the Carpathians, but was overtaken by the troops of Svyatopolk sent after him and died in battle.

Scheme - the second strife in Old Rus
Scheme – the second strife in Old Rus

In addition, Polotsk, which was under the control of Prince Vladimir’s nephew Bryachislav Izyaslavich, and Tmutarakan, where Vladimir’s son Mstislav the Brave reigned, refused to obey Kyiv.

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Опубликовано: 07.08.2022
Изменено: 09.08.2022