« PreviousContinue »
he must have become still more strongly impregnated with heathen ideas. Accordingly we find that no sooner was he firmly seated on his throne at Kiev than he tried to restore the heathen worship to more than its pristine strength among the Russian Slavs. Statues of the gods were erected: Perun, Dashbog, Stribog, Simargla, Mokosh - all of them, with the exception of Perun, known to us hardly more than by name. Human sacrifices were introduced, and two Christians, a father and his son, who resisted this bloodtax, were killed by a fanatical mob- the first and only Christian martyrs on Russian soil. One is tempted to assume that the Russian Slavs had originally no representations of the gods, and that it was their Norse princes who introduced them at any rate there is no mention of images before the arrival of the latter; while the mode of worship introduced by Vladimir bears a bloody character, quite alien to the eastern Slavs. It is evident that he is making a last effort to impart to the colourless paganism of his subjects a systematic character which would enable it to resist the growing new religion.
But the circumstances of this prince soon underwent a change. His Norse auxiliaries, whose rapacity he could not satisfy, he was soon obliged to dismiss. According to northern sagas he was even involved in a war with Sweden, the stronghold of heathenism. His new capital was in constant commercial intercourse with Byzantium, and the reports that reached him of its gorgeous worship made a deep impression on the imagination of the barbarian. But if he was to accept the religion of the Caesars, he was determined to do it not as a suppliant, but as a conqueror.ga In what follows we give in full the circumstantial account of Nestor.
NESTOR'S ACCOUNT OF VLADIMIR'S CONVERSION
In the year 987, Vladimir called together his boyars and the elders of the town, and said to them: "Behold, the Bulgarians have come to me saying: Receive our law; then came Germans and they praised their laws; after them came the Jews, and finally came the Greeks, blaming all other laws, but praising their own, and they spoke at great length, from the creation of the world, of the history of the whole world; they speak cunningly, and it is wonderful and pleasing to hear them; they say that there is another world, and that whosoever receives their faith, even though he die shall live to all eternity; but if he receive another law he shall burn in another world amidst flames. What think ye of it, and what will you answer?"
And the boyars and elders answered, "Thou knowest, prince, that nobody finds fault with his own, but on the contrary praises it; if thou desirest to test this matter deeply, send some of thy men to study their various faiths and see how each one serves God." And the speech pleased the prince and all the people; ten wise and good men were chosen and were told to go first to the Bulgarians and study their faith. So they went, and coming saw infamous doings, and how the people worshipped in their mosques, and they returned to their own country. And Vladimir said to them: "Go now to the Germans, and observe in the same manner, and afterwards go to the Greeks." They came to the Germans, and after having watched their church services, they went on to Tsargorad (Constantinople) and came to the emperor; the emperor asked them what brought them there, and they told him all that had happened. When he had heard it, he was glad and did them great honour from that day. The next day he sent to the patriarch saying: "There have come certain Russians to study our faith, prepare the church and thy clergy,
[988 A.D.] and array thyself in thy episcopal robes that they may see the glory of our God." When the patriarch heard this, he called together his clergy and they celebrated the service as for a great festival, and they burned incense and the choirs sang. And the emperor went with the Russians into the church and they were placed in a spacious part so that they might see the beauty of the church and hear the singing; then they explained to them the archiepiscopal service, the ministry of the deacons and the divine office. They were filled with wonderment and greatly admired and praised the service. And the emperors Basil and Constantine called them and said, "Return now to your country." And they bade them farewell, giving them great gifts and showing them honour.
When they returned to their own country, the prince assembled the boyars and elders and said to them: "These are the men whom we have sent; they have returned, let us listen to what they have seen." And he said: "Speak before the droujina." And they said: "First we went to the Bulgarians and we observed how they worship in their temples, they stand without girdles, they sit down and look about them as though they were possessed by the demon, and there is no gladness amongst them, but only sorrow and a great stench; their religion is not a good one. We then went to the Germans, and we saw many services celebrated in their temples, but we saw no beauty there. Then we came to the Greeks, and they took us where they worship their God, and we no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth, for there is nothing like it on earth, nor such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it; we only know that it is there, that God dwells among men, and their service surpasses that of any other land. We can never forget its beauty, for as every man when he has tasted sweetness cannot afterwards endure bitterness, so can we no longer dwell here." The boyars answered: "If the Greek religion were evil, then thy grandmother Olga, who was wiser than all men, would not have adopted it." And Vladimir replied: "Where then shall we be baptised?" They answered: "Where thou wilt." And the year passed by.
In the year 988 Vladimir marched with his troops against Kherson, a Greek town, and the inhabitants shut themselves up in the town. So Vladimir established himself on the other side of the town, in the bay, at an arrow's throw from the town. And the people of Kherson fought hard against him, but he blockaded the town and they were exhausted, and Vladimir said to them: "If you do not surrender I will stay three years if necessary." But they would not listen to him.
Then Vladimir ranged his men in battle array and commanded them to build a trench towards the town. And a man of Kherson, by name Anastasius, threw out an arrow, on which he had inscribed: "To the east of thee lie springs, the waters of which come into the town through pipes; dig there and thou shalt intercept the water." When Vladimir heard this he looked up to heaven and said: "If this comes to pass I will be baptised." He commanded his soldiers to dig above the pipes, and he cut off the water, and the people, exhausted by thirst, surrendered.
So Vladimir with his droujina entered into the town. And he sent messengers to Basil and Constantine, saying: "Behold I have conquered your famous town. I have heard that you have a maiden sister; if you will not give her to me, I will do with your capital even as I have done with this town.' The emperors were grieved when this message was brought to them and sent back the following answer: "It is not meet to give a Christian maiden in marriage to a heathen. If thou art baptised thou shalt receive what thou
askest, and the kingdom of heaven besides, and thou shalt be of the same faith as we, but if thou wilt not be baptised we cannot give thee our sister."
When he heard this, Vladimir said to the emperor's messengers, "Tell your emperor thus: I will be baptised, for I have already inquired into your religion, and your faith and rites please me well as they have been described to me by the men whom we have sent." And when the emperors heard these words they rejoiced and persuaded their sister, who was named Anna, and sent to Vladimir saying: "Be baptised and we will send thee our sister." Vladimir answered: "Let them come with your sister to baptise me." When the emperors heard this they sent their sister with some dignitaries and priests; and she did not want to go and said: "I am going like a slave to the heathen, it would be better for me to die." But her brothers persuaded her saying: "It is through thee that God shall turn the hearts of the Russian people to repentance, and thou shalt save the land of Greece from a cruel war; seest thou not how much harm the Russians have already done to the Greeks? And now if thou goest not they will do more harm." And they persuaded her with difficulty. So she took ship, kissed her parents, and weeping went across the sea to Kherson.
When she arrived, the people of Kherson came out to greet her, led her into the town, and took her to the palace. By the will of God Vladimir's eyes were then sore and he could not see anything, he was greatly troubled. And the czarina went unto him saying: "If thou desirest to be delivered from this malady, be baptised as quickly as possible, or otherwise thou wilt not be cured." When Vladimir heard this he said: "If this is accomplished, truly the God of the Christians is great:" and he was baptised. The bishop of Kherson after having announced it to the people, baptised Vladimir together with the czarina's priests, and as soon as he laid his hands on him, he saw. When Vladimir perceived how quickly he was healed, he glorified God, saying: "Now only do I know the true God." And when his droujina saw it, many were also baptised. Vladimir was baptised in the church of St. Basil, which is in Kherson in the midst of the town, where the people hold their market.
After the baptism Vladimir was wedded to the czarina. And when he had been baptised the priests expounded to him the Christian faith. After this Vladimir with the czarina and Anastasius and the priests of Kherson took the relics of St. Clement and St. Theba, his disciple, as well as the sacred vessels and relics, and he built a church on an eminence in the middle of the town, which had been raised with the earth taken from the trench, and this church still exists. As a wedding present to the czarina he-gave back Kherson to the Greeks, and himself returned to Kiev. When he came there he commanded all the idols to be overthrown, some to be chopped in pieces, others cast into the flames. Then Vladimir had the following proclamation made throughout the town. "Whosoever to-morrow, rich or poor, mendicant or artisan, does not come to the river to be baptised, will be as an alien to me,' When the people heard these words, they came joyfully saying: "If this faith were not good, the prince and the boyars would not have adopted it." The next day Vladimir came with the czarina's priests and those of Kherson to the banks of the Dnieper, and an innumerable multitude of people were assembled and they went into the water, some up to their necks, others to their breasts; the younger ones stood on the banks, men held their children in their arms, the adults were quite in the water, and the priests stood repeating
['In the original Nestor always calls thus the sister of the emperors.]
[1015 A.D.] the prayers. And there was joy in heaven and on earth to see so many souls saved. When they were baptised the people returned to their homes and Vladimir rejoiced that he and his people knew God. He ordered that churches and priests should be established in all the towns, and that the people should be baptised throughout all the towns and villages; then he sent for the children of the chief families and had them instructed in book learning. Thus was Vladimir enlightened with his sons and his people, for he had twelve sons. And he henceforth lived in the Christian faith.h
The Death of Vladimir the Christian
The chronicler then goes on to describe the changes wrought in Vladimir's character by his conversion: how this prince, who had hitherto been an oriental voluptuary and maintained in several places numerous harems with hundreds of wives, suddenly changed into the faithful husband of his Christian wife; and how he who had murdered his brother (whose wife he appropriated) and the father and brother of another of his wives, now became fearful of punishing offenders and criminals lest he commit a sin, so that it became the duty of his priests to admonish him to enforce justice and punish the guilty. All this, whether true or false, shows in what deep veneration the founder of Russian Christianity was held by subsequent generations.
On the other hand, his acceptance of Christianity does not seem to have diminished his love of war, which in those days, surrounded as the agricultural Russians were by semi-nomadic and marauding tribes, was indeed a social necessity. Throughout his reign he was engaged in suppressing revolts, reconquering territory lost during the reign of the weak Iaropolk - Galicia or Red Russia had then been lost to Poland - and punishing Lithuanians, Volga Bulgarians, and Petchenegs. To secure the southern frontier against these last, he erected a line of fortifications at strategical points and transplanted a large number of colonists from the north to the borders of the steppe.a
Vladimir died in 1015, leaving a large number of heirs by his numerous wives. From the division that he made among them of his states we learn what was the extent of Russia at that epoch. To Iaroslav he gave Novgorod; to Iziaslav, Polotsk; to Boris, Rostov; to Gleb, Murom-these last two principalities being in the Finn country; to Sviatoslav, the country of the Drevlians; to Vsevolod, Vladimir in Volhynia; to Mstislav, Tmoutarakan1; to his nephew Sviatopolk, the son of his brother and victim Iaropolk, the principality of Tourov, in the country of Minsk, founded by a Varangian named Tour, who, like Askold and Rogvolod, was not of the blood of princes.i
This division of the territories of the state among the heirs of the prince was in entire accord with the ideas of the Norse conquerors, who regarded their conquests as their private property. It was, moreover, dictated by the economic conditions of the time. Money being but rarely employed and all payments being made in service and in kind, it was indispensable, in making provision for the members of the ruling house, to supply them with territories and subjects. The immense extent of Russia, the lack of adequate means of communication, and its subdivision among a large number of tribes without any national cohesion, were further reasons for the introduction of this system of government.a
['An antiquarian inquiry instituted by Catherine in 1794 resulted in proving that Tmoutarakan was situated on the isle of Taman, forming a key to the confluence of the sea of Azov with the Black Sea.*]
SVIATOPOLK IS SUCCEEDED BY IAROSLAV (1019 A.D.) Sviatopolk, who claimed a divided parentage between Vladimir and Iaropolk - being the son of the widow of the latter, who on the murder of her husband was forced to live with the former, she being already pregnant was at Kiev when the news of Vladimir's death arrived. He had long indulged in a project for seizing the throne, which was favoured in its formation by the increasing imbecility of his father, whose death now ripened it into action. His ambitious schemes embraced a plan for securing the sole monarchy, by obtaining the grand princedom first, and then by artifice or treachery to put his brothers out of the way, so that he might thus reorganise under the one head the divided and independent governments. The moment had now arrived when this violent scheme was to be put into execution. His brother Boris, who was employed with the army against the Petchenegs, was the first object of his hate and fear, because his good qualities had so strongly recommended him, that he was the most popular of the brothers, and the most likely to gain the ascendency through the will of the people. There was but one sure method to get rid of this formidable rival, and Sviatopolk did not hesitate to adopt it. When the intelligence of his father's decease reached Boris, he declared that the throne devolved properly upon the elder brother, and rejected the unanimous offer of the soldiery to assist in placing him upon it. This noble insensibility to the general wish alienated his troops, and exposed him to the designs of his treacherous rival. The assassins who were commissioned to despatch him found easy access to his tent, and having first slain a faithful Russian who threw himself before the person of his master, they soon effected their horrible purpose.
Two other brothers met a similar fate. Gleb was informed by letter that his father was ill, and desired his return. On his way he was so injured by a fall from his horse as to be forced to continue his journey in a litter. In this state he learned that Sviatopolk had issued orders for his murder, which, tempted probably by the reward, were carried into effect by his own cook, who stabbed him with a knife in the breast. Both Gleb and Boris were afterwards sainted, which appears to have been the last compliment paid by the Russians to their ill-used princes. These villainies alarmed a third brother, who fled to Hungary; but the emissaries of the triumphant assassin seized him in his flight, brought him back to the capital, and put him to death.
The way to the throne was now tolerably well cleared. Sviatopolk I found no further difficulty in assuming the government of Kiev, and calling in such of the tributary provinces as his recent excesses either terrified into submission or reduced within his control. But the most powerful opponent yet remained to be subjugated.
Iaroslav, prince of Novgorod, alarmed and outraged by the cruelties of his brother, and apprehending that, unless they were speedily arrested, they would spread into his own principality, determined to advance upon Kiev and make war on the usurping fratricide. The Novgorodians, to whom he was greatly endeared by the wisdom and mildness of his sway, entered so warmly into the expedition, that the tyrant was driven out of Kiev without much cost of blood, and obliged to flee for refuge to his father-in-law, the duke of Poland. At that period Poland was resting from the ruinous effects of a disastrous and straggling campaign in Germany which had considerably reduced her power, and curtailed her means of satisfying the ambition of her restless ruler. The representations of Sviatopolk rekindled the ardour of the Poles, who, animated as much by the desire of recovering those provinces which