Page images

[920-944 A.D.] the tenth to the twelfth century. They were a nomad people, of the Turcoman stock, whose only wealth consisted in their lances, bows and arrows, their flocks and herds, and their swift horses, which they managed with astonishing address. The only objects of their desires were fat pastures for their cattle, and rich neighbours to plunder. Having come from the east they established themselves along the northern shores of the Black Sea. Thenceforth occupying the ground between the Greek and the Russian empires, subsidised by the one for its defence, and courted by the other from commercial motives for the cataracts of the Dnieper and the mouths of the Danube were in the hands of those marauders — the Petchenegs were enabled for more than two hundred years to indulge their ruling propensity at the expense of their neighbours. Having concluded a treaty with Igor, they remained for five years without molesting Russia; at least Nestor does not speak of any war with them until 920, nor had tradition afforded him any clue to the result of that campaign.

The reign of Igor was hardly distinguished by any important event until the year 941, when, in imitation of his guardian, he engaged in an expedition against Constantinople. If the chroniclers do not exaggerate, Igor entered the Black Sea with ten thousand barks, each carrying forty men. The imperial troops being at a distance, he had time to overrun and ravage Paphlagonia, Pontus, and Bithynia. Nestor speaks with deep abhorrence of the ferocity displayed by the Russians on this occasion; nothing to which they could apply fire or sword escaped their wanton lust of destruction, and their prisoners were invariably massacred in the most atrocious manner - crucified, impaled, cut to pieces, buried alive, or tied to stakes to serve as butts for the archers. At last the Greek fleet encountered the Russian as it rode at anchor near Pharos, prepared for battle and confident of victory. But the terrible Greek fire launched against the invaders struck them with such dismay that they fled in disorder to the coasts of Asia Minor. Descending there to pillage, they were again routed by the land forces, and escaped by night in their barks, to lose many of them in another severe naval defeat. By the confession of the Russian chronicles, Igor scarcely took back with him a third part of his army.

Instead of being discouraged by these disasters, Igor prepared to revenge them. In 944 he collected new forces [which included a large number of Scandinavians collected for this special purpose by Igor's recruiting agents], took the Petchenegs into his pay, exacting hostages for their fidelity, and again set out for Greece. But scarcely had he reached the mouths of the Danube when he was met by ambassadors from the emperor Romanus, with an offer to pay him the same tribute as had been exacted by Oleg. Igor halted and communicated this offer to his chief men, whose opinions on the matter are thus reported by Nestor: "If Cæsar makes such proposals," said they, "is it not better to get gold, silver, and precious stuffs, without fighting? Can we tell who will be the victor, and who the vanquished? And can we guess what may befall us at sea? It is not solid ground that is under our feet, but the depths of the waters, where all men run the same risks."

In accordance with these views Igor granted peace to the empire on the proposed conditions, and the following year he concluded with the emperor a treaty, which was in part a renewal of that made by Oleg. Of the fifty

['This treaty was not so favourable to the Russians as the one concluded with Oleg-a result, evidently, of the former defeat. Another point of importance is that it makes mention of Russian Christians, to whom there is no allusion in the treaty of 911. From this we may conclude that Christianity had spread largely during this interval.]

[948 A.D.]

names attached on the part of Russia to this second treaty, three are Slavonic, the rest Norman.

Igor, being now advanced in years, was naturally desirous of repose, but the insatiable cupidity of his comrades in arms forced him to go to war. From the complaints of his warriors it appears that the Russian, like the German princes, furnished their faithful band with clothing, arms, horses, and provisions. "We are naked," Igor's companions and guards said to him, "while the companions of Sveneld have beautiful arms and fine clothing. Come with us and levy contributions, that we may be in plenty with thee. It was customary with the grand prince to leave Kiev every year, in November, with an army, and not to return until April, after having visited his cities and received their tributes. When the prince's magazine was empty, and the annual contributions were not sufficient, it became necessary to find new enemies to subject to exactions, or to treat as enemies the tribes that had submitted. To the latter expedient Igor now resorted against the Drevlians. Marching into their country he surcharged them with onerous tributes, besides suffering his guards to plunder them with impunity. His easy success in this rapacious foray tempted him to his destruction. After quitting the country of his oppressed tributaries, the thought struck him that more might yet be squeezed out of them. With this view he sent on his army to Kiev, probably because he did not wish to let his voyevods or lieutenants share the fruit of his contemplated extortions, and went back with a small force among the Drevlians, who, driven to extremity, massacred him and the whole of his guard near their town of Iskorost.


Olga, Igor's widow, assumed the regency in the name of her son Sviatoslav, then of tender age. Her first care was to revenge herself upon the Drevlians. In Nestor's narrative it is impossible to separate the historical part from the epic. The Russian chronicler recounts in detail how the Drevlians sent two deputations to Olga to appease her and to offer her the hand of their prince; how she caused their death by treachery, some being buried alive, while others were stifled in a bath-house; how she besieged their city of Iskorost and offered to grant them peace on payment of a tribute of three pigeons and three sparrows for each house; how she attached lighted tow to the birds and then sent them off to the wooden city, where the barns and the thatched roofs were immediately set on fire; how, finally, she massacred part of the inhabitants of Iskorost and reduced the rest to slavery.

But it was this vindictive barbarian woman that was the first of the ruling house of Rurik to adopt Christianity.d We have seen before how Christianity was planted in Kiev under the protection of Askold and Dir, and how the converts to the new religion were specially referred to in the commercial treaty between Oleg and the Byzantine emperor. There existed a Christian community at Kiev but it was to Constantinople that Olga went to be baptised in the presence of the patriarch and the emperor. She assumed the Christian name of Helena, and after her death she was canonised in the Russian church. On her return she tried also to convert her son Sviatoslav, who had by this time become the reigning prince, but all her efforts were unavailing. He dreaded the ridicule of the fierce warriors whom he had gathered about himself. And no doubt the religion of Christ was little in consonance with the martial character of this true son of the vikings. The chronicle of Nestor gives the following embellished account of Olga's conversion: a


Nestor Tells of the Baptism of Olga

[948 A.D.]

In the year 948 Olga went to the Greeks and came to Tsargorod (Constantinople). At that time the emperor was Zimischius,' and Olga came to him, and seeing that she was of beautiful visage and prudent mind, the emperor admired her intelligence as he conversed with her and said to her: "Thou art worthy to reign with us in this city." When she heard these words she said to the emperor: "I am a heathen, if you wish me to be baptised, baptise me yourself; otherwise I will not be baptised." So the emperor and patriarch baptised her. When she was enlightened she rejoiced in body and soul, and the patriarch instructed her in the faith and said to her: "Blessed art thou


among Russian women, for thou hast loved light and cast away darkness; the sons of Russia shall bless thee unto the last generation of thy descendants." And at her baptism she was given the name of Helena, who was in ancient times empress and mother of Constantine the Great. And the patriarch blessed Olga and let her go.

After the baptism the emperor sent for her and said to her: "I will take thee for my wife."

She answered: "How canst thou wish to take me for thy wife when thou thyself hast baptised me and called me daughter? for with the Christians this is unlawful and thou thyself knowest it."

And the emperor said: "Thou hast deceived me, Olga," and he gave her many presents of gold and silver, and silk and vases and let her depart, calling her daughter.

She returned to her home, going first to the patriarch to ask his blessing on her house and saying unto him: "My people are heathen and my son, too; may God preserve me from harm!"

And the patriarch said: "My faithful daughter, thou hast been baptised in Christ, thou hast put on Christ, Christ shall preserve thee as he preserved Enoch in the first ages, and Noah in the Ark, as he preserved Abraham from Abimelech, Lot from the Sodomites, Moses from Pharaoh, David from Saul, the three young men from the fiery furnace, and Daniel from the lions; thus shall he preserve thee from the enemy and his snares!" Thus the patriarch blessed her and she returned in peace to her own land and came to Kiev.

Olga lived with her son Sviatoslav and she repeatedly tried to induce him to be baptised, but he would not listen to her, for if any one then wished to be baptised it was not forbidden, but people mocked at him. And Olga often said, "My son, I have learned wisdom and rejoice; if thou knewest it, thou too wouldst rejoice." But he paid no heed to her, saying: "How

['According to another Ms., Constantine, son of Lev.]

[964-971 A.D.]

[ocr errors]

should I alone adopt a strange faith, my droujina (followers, men-at-arms) would mock at me.' She said: "If thou art baptised, all will do likewise,' but he would not listen to his mother and persisted in the heathen customs, not knowing that who does not hearken to his mother shall fall into misfortune, for it is written, he that does not hearken to his father or mother, let him die the death. And he was angered against his mother. However, Olga loved her son Sviatoslav, and said: "God's will be done! If God wills to have mercy on my race and on the Russian land, he will put into their hearts to turn to God, even as He did unto me." And having thus said, she prayed for her son and for the people night and day, and she brought up her son until he was grown to be a man.

[ocr errors]


Sviatoslav assumed the reins of government in 964, and he ruled only till 972, but this short period was filled with warlike expeditions. He crushed the power of the Volga Bulgarians and of the Chazars, and he incorporated the Viatitchi in the empire- thus destroying the danger ever menacing from the east, and uniting all the Slavs under one dominion. In 968 he marched at the instigation of the Greek emperor, who furnished him the means with an army of sixty thousand men against the Bulgarians of the Danube, conquered Pereiaslavl (the location of which is unknown) and Durostorus (the modern Silistria), and began to form the project of erecting for himself a new empire on the ruins of the Bulgarian power, when tidings reached him of a raid of the Petchenegs against Kiev and of the imminent danger to his mother and children who were beleaguered in that town. Leaving garrisons in the conquered towns he hurried back by forced marches and drove the Petchenegs back into the steppe. He divided his Russian dominions among his three young sons, giving Kiev to Iaropolk, the land of the Drevlians to Oleg, and Novgorod to Vladimir; while he himself went back to Bulgaria, for "Pereiaslavl is dear to him, where all good things meet, fine stuffs, wine, fruits, and gold from Greece, silver and horses from Bohemia and Hungary, furs, wax, honey, and slaves from Russia."

In 970 he conquered Bulgaria and crossed the Balkans with an army of thirty thousand men. Defeated before Arcadipole (the present Lüle Burpas), his barbarian followers gave way to their plundering instincts, ravaged Macedonia, and scattered in all directions, while the emperor John Tzimiskes was making extensive preparations for their annihilation. Thus the year 971 was spent. In March of the next year the Russian garrison was almost annihilated at Pereiaslavl, which the Greeks took by storm, and only a small remnant reached Sviatoslav. In this hour of need Sviatoslav exhibited a tremendous energy. By recalling his roving bands he soon found himself at the head of sixty thousand men, and a pitched battle was fought. Twelve times the victory wavered from one side to the other, but finally their lack of cavalry and their inferior armament decided the day against the Russians, and they were forced back upon Drster. For three months they held the town against a regular siege, until, reduced in numbers by hunger and numerous sorties, Sviatoslav decided on a last desperate effort to break through the Greek lines. The battle is described in great detail by the Byzantine historians, in whom Sviatoslav's bravery excited admiration. Fifteen thousand Russians were left on the field, the survivors were forced

1 Ex. XXI, 17.

[977 A.D.]

back into Durostorus. Surrounded on all sides, Sviatoslav sued for peace, and Tzimiskes granted an honourable retreat to a foe so gallant and withal dangerous. He renewed with him the old treaties, undertook to supply his army with provisions on its retreat, and also to induce the Petchenegs to grant a free passage into Russia. But at the rapids of the Dnieper these sons of the steppe surprised Sviatoslav and killed him, and only a small remnant of his force, led by the voyevod Svenedl, reached

Sviatoslav's overthrow was, after all, a fortunate event for the Russian empire. Kiev was already a sufficiently eccentric capital; had Sviatoslav established the seat of government on the Danube, his successor would have gone still further; and Rurik, instead of being the founder of a mighty empire, would have been nothing more than the principal leader of one of those

vast but transient irruptions of the northern barbarians, which often ravaged the world without leaving behind any permanent trace of their passage. But in the Greek emperor Tzimiskes, Sviatoslav met with a hero as pertinacious as himself, and with far more talent, and the Russians, driven back within the limits of Russia, were compelled to establish themselves there.i

Sviatoslav's death seems to have left no perceptible influence on the destinies of Russia, for his three young sons were in the undisputed possession of authority while he and his warriors were fighting for a new empire in the Balkan peninsula. But his division of Russia among his sons, as if it were his private estate, soon showed its mischievous effects. In 977 civil war broke out between Iaropolk, who was at Kiev, and Oleg, who was in the Drevlian country. The latter was defeated in battle, and in his flight met death by the breaking down of a bridge thronged with fugitives. His territory was thereupon annexed by Iaropolk to his own dominions.

(Died 1015)

Vladimir, prince of Novgorod, the youngest of the three brothers, now became alarmed for his own safety and fled across the sea to seek refuge among the Scandinavian Varangians. After two years he returned with a numerous force of Norse adventurers, expelled from Novgorod the voyevods whom Iaropolk had installed there during his absence, and led his army against Kiev. On his march he conquered Polotsk on the Dvina, an independent Varangian principality, killing its prince by the name of Rogvolod (Scand. Rangvaldr) and forcing his daughter Rogneda to marry him. Iaropolk, betrayed by his chief men, surrendered Kiev without offering any resistance and finally delivered his own person into the hands of Vladimir, by whose order he was put to death. Vladimir now became sole ruler of Russia.

The victory of Vladimir over Iaropolk was achieved with the aid of Northmen and Novgorodians. It was, therefore, a victory of the Russian north over the Russian south, of Novgorod, where paganism was still unshaken, over Kiev, which was permeated with Christian elements. Vladimir was brought up in Novgorod, and during his two years' stay in Sweden

« PreviousContinue »