Борис Бурда
Author: Boris Burda
Journalist, writer, bard. Winner of the «Diamond Owl» intellectual game «What? Where? When?»
Liberal ArtsNomina
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ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great – Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus’ (Part II. Christian)

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus’ (Part I. Pagan)
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Meanwhile, these same Greeks entered another political crisis. The military leader Varda Foka raised an uprising against the co-rulers Basil II and Constantine VII who occupied the throne. At first, Foka was successful, and the emperors needed any help.

Vladimir agreed to provide this assistance, but on what conditions and how they were then carried out – they say different things. Basically, everyone agrees that one of the conditions set by Vladimir was to marry the sister of the co-rulers Anna, and for this Vladimir undertook to be baptized.

Further, some historians claim that the prince was first baptized, then married and went on a campaign against Barda Phocas, and some object to them, saying that Vladimir had already helped Byzantium and defeated the rebels, but they were in no hurry to fulfill those obligations.

The fact remains that Vladimir went on a campaign against the Byzantine city in the Crimea Korsun (Chersonesos), either in order to force the emperors to fulfill their obligations or to take possession of certain shrines and put pressure on their partners.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus' (Part II. Christian)
Ruins of Chersonesos. Source: wikipedia.org


There is another version – according to it, the siege of Korsun was not a manifestation of some kind of conflict between Rus’ and Byzantium. The city simply took the side of the rebels, and its siege and capture were Vladimir’s contribution to the victory over them. It could be so …

In the end, everyone agreed, Anna came to Vladimir and became his wife, and he was baptized. In what order these events took place, where Vladimir was baptized, near Korsun or near Kiev, the information was lost in the 11th century. But he married Anna, and left Korsun.

They also argue about the time of the baptism of Vladimir, but the date on which everyone more or less agreed is 987. He chose the baptismal name, most likely, in honor of one of the emperors of Byzantium – Vasily. And the next year – 988 – is considered the official date of the baptism of Rus’.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus' (Part II. Christian)
“Baptism of Prince Vladimir”. Fresco by Viktor Vasnetsov in the Vladimir Cathedral in Kiev. Source: wikipedia.org




Vladimir decided whether to be baptized or not. His subjects, undoubtedly, had to help make this decision – they were accustomed to the old religion and saw no reason to abandon it. It was already Vladimir’s task – to make them have such reasons.

He was an experienced ruler and roughly understood how these mechanisms work – he сontacted first the city nobility, the “old men of the city”, people with life experience, who already knew what Vysotsky later repeated – “you can’t joke with the princes!” They didn’t mind.

Then it was easier – the rest could simply declare that we are all, they say, becoming Christians. In order noone wants to argue, Vladimir ordered to destroy the recently built sanctuary of Perun – let everyone understand his power … Nobody dared to object.

The princely servants were ordered to throw the statue of Perun to the ground, tie it to the horse’s tail and drag it from the “mountain” to the banks of the Dnieper River, pounding the defeated idol with rods. Throwing the idol into the water, the servants escorted him to the Dnieper rapids, and there they let him go downstream.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus' (Part II. Christian)
E. Shtyrov. “Trampling on ancient Russian gods”


This did not raise any noticeable objections – it was more difficult in Novgorod. There events came to a real battle, with murders and arson, that in wooden Rus’ was always feared and considered an extreme measure. They scattered the bridge over the Volkhov, put stone throwers on the bank – as in the war …

Nevertheless, the voivode Dobrynya and Tysyatsky Putyata won a victory, destroyed the sanctuaries and dragged the Novgorodians to be baptized by force – “pull and baptize, men are above the bridge, and women are below the bridge”. Then they said for a long time: “Putyata baptized with a sword, and Dobrynya with fire”.




The baptism of Vladimir brought on him quite the expected difficulties. If a pagan with 800 wives is baptized, this, among other things, also means at least 799 divorces. Of course, the status of these wives was very different, but for some of them  it was very high.

For example, the Rogneda, despite all the terrible circumstances of her relationship with Vladimir, is nevertheless the mother of a man who inherited the country he ruled from him. She has seven children from Vladimir, and they are quite noticeable in history. And how did you break up with her?

Of course, their relationship left much to be desired – how else with such a background? Around 987, she even tried to kill Vladimir with a knife, but he woke up and managed to ward off the blow. Everything would have ended very badly if their firstborn Izyaslav had not stood up for Rogneda.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus' (Part II. Christian)
Rogneda’s assassination attempt on Vladimir. Source: wikipedia.org


The Tver chronicle says that before the adoption of Christianity, Vladimir offered Rogneda a divorce and marriage with any of his boyars (he was clearly not going to ask them). But she replied: “I was a queen and I don’t want to be a slave,” and took monastic vows under the name Anastasia.

By the way, Anna turned out to be not the only Christian wife of Vladimir – she died in 1011 and, according to some chronicles, he managed to marry again. He was no stranger to – where there are 800 wives, there is still room for a dozen or so …




The dissolution of a harem is a formal thing, as a Christian is supposed to. What other changes were there? The chronicles answer that they were, moreover, so good that it is even difficult to believe. But it is difficult to believe or simply impossible – decide for yourself. I don’t want to impose my opinion …

According to the chronicles, having heard the Gospel words “Blessed are merciful, for they will be pardoned,” he ordered all the poor and the poor to come to the prince’s court and take everything they need there: drink, food and money from the treasury. If you believe that it was, let’s read on …

Here is another almost exact quote – “Having said,“ the weak cannot get to my yard, ”he ordered to equip the carts and, putting on them all kinds of food and drink, carry them around the city, asking:“ Where is the sick, beggar, or who cannot walk? ” And they distributed everything they needed”. Believe it too?

Then listen further. Robberies increased greatly, and the bishops said to Vladimir: “Behold, robbers have multiplied; why don’t you execute them?” He answered: “I am afraid of sin”. They told him: “You should execute the robbers, but after investigating”. Well, in general it was so …

It goes on to say that Vladimir rejected the vira and began to execute the robbers, and the bishops and elders said: “We have many wars; if we had vira, she would have gone to arms and horses”. And Vladimir said: “So be it” – that is, he allowed the penalty to be substituted for the execution. There is confirmation of this.

Most likely, there were indeed alms distributions and legislative changes. But, obviously, not everyone was fed free of charge, and obviously not always. It’s just that the chroniclers always wrote about the princes, as the Latins ordered to write about the dead – either good, or nothing.


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Vladimir’s grandmother Olga has already begun the process of building a normally functioning state out of her possessions. Svyatoslav did not really make any effort to this – he went on campaigns and fought. But Vladimir continued the work of his grandmother, and not without success.

He began minting his own money – gold and silver, usually with the legend “Vladimir on the table” (that is, on the throne). There were not so few minted of them – they are in many collections, and the portrait of Vladimir on them with a small beard and long mustache is quite recognizable.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus' (Part II. Christian)
Zlatnik Vladimir from the Hermitage collection. Source: wikipedia.org


There were enough coins in Russia – and Arab dirhams, nicknamed “the dollar of the Middle Ages” for their common use and convertibility, together with Byzantine solidi and millisarii, were perfectly accepted for payment. But as a symbol of statehood, they needed their own money.

The princely sign of Vladimir is also well known from the coins – a trident, almost the same as on the modern coat of arms of Ukraine. This sign has been known for a long time, it can be seen, for example, on the coins of King Mithridates Eupator, and not only on them.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus' (Part II. Christian)
Srebrenik of the Great Kiev Prince Vladimir. Odessa Museum of Numismatics. Source: wikipedia.org


Vladimir also led an active international policy – the time went on energetic and difficult. He concluded treaties with Stephen I of Hungary, and with Boleslav I of Poland, and with Boleslav II of Bohemia, and with Pope Sylvester II, and we have already spoken about the Byzantine emperor Basil II.

It was impossible to come to an agreement with the nomadic Pechenegs, who were accustomed to living by robbery – Vladimir fenced off from them by the fortresses he built, earthen trenches and outposts. In general, Tsar Vladimir was quite energetic and active, always at work.




The final years of Vladimir’s life could not help be but overshadowed by the problem, which in those days was not regulated by laws and little help to solve customs – who will inherit the throne that belongs to him? Let me remind you that he himself had to conquer the inheritance with arms in hand.

It’s not even clear whether he had children from his married wife Anna. Some historians believe that yes, and these are Boris and Gleb. But a number of their colleagues consider Boris and Gleb to be the children of the Bulgarian (or Bulgar – this is a significant difference) Princess Milolika, and it has not been possible to find out exactly yet.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus' (Part II. Christian)
“Grand Duke Vladimir Svyatoslavich with his sons”. Painting on the eastern wall of the Faceted Chamber. 1882. Source: wikipedia.org


His eldest son, Vysheslav, was directed by him to reign in Novgorod, but he died before his father’s death, and he was replaced by Yaroslav, the son of Rogneda. Not the eldest – her firstborn Iziaslav has already become the prince of Polotsk. Received local reigns under the patronage of his father and his other sons.

The greatest concern was given to him by Svyatopolk, it is not clear whose son – either himself, or Yaropolk, this was already mentioned above. He even arranged a conspiracy, and after its disclosure was imprisoned. It was clear that he would try to seize power after Vladimir’s death.

Yaroslav, not sure of his future, also rebelled, refusing to send tribute and church tithes to Kiev. Vladimir was about to overthrow him, but did not have time, for he died suddenly. His death was hidden, because they were afraid that Svyatopolk would try to usurp the throne.

I will probably tell you about the fascinating events between the death of Vladimir and the accession of his successor later, when I write about Yaroslav – this is also a very significant figure and deserves a separate story about his difficult and interesting life.




Vladimir still remains one of the most popular rulers of Rus’. Both Russia and Ukraine consider him one of the founders of their statehood – they are both right, but the current state of Russian-Ukrainian relations prevents them from agreeing with this, and in vain.

For believers, Vladimir is not only an outstanding historical figure, but also a revered saint equal to the apostles. Moreover, you should know that he is also a saint for Catholics – after all, he managed to die about half a century before the split of the churches into Orthodox and Catholic.

Both in Ukraine and in Russia, the day of the baptism of Kievan Rus’ is a state memorable date, celebrated according to the Julian calendar on July 15, and according to the Gregorian calendar – on July 28. There are dozens of Vladimir cathedrals and Vladimir chapels in the world – you can’t list everything here.

The first monument to Prince Vladimir was opened in 1853 in Kiev, and in the 21st century many of them were erected, and not only in Ukraine and Russia – Ukrainian communities erected monuments to him in Gdansk, London, Edinburgh, Toronto, and even in Australian Brisbane.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus' (Part II. Christian)
The oldest monument to Vladimir the Great was installed in Kiev in 1853. Source: wikipedia.org


There are more than thirty streets named after him, four schools – one is already in Bishkek, the city of Vladimir-Volynsky is named in his honor (Russian Vladimir – most likely in honor of Vladimir Monomakh), his name is the Bay of the Sea of Japan, a submarine and a Moskvich car model …

Well, they do not forget to depict coins on the money of the minter of the first in the territory of Rus’ – there is a commemorative Soviet hundred ruble, and Ukrainian coins in 1 and 10 hryvnias, and four different Ukrainian banknotes with a denomination of one hryvnia. So seeing Vladimir is money!

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Vladimir the Great - Prince of Kiev, who baptized Rus' (Part II. Christian)
One Ukrainian hryvnia 1995, 2005, 2006 Obverse. Portrait of Prince Vladimir the Great of Kiev. Source: wikipedia.org


And in general, if you think about it – the actions of which rulers in influencing the history and culture of the country can be compared with the decision of Vladimir to accept Christianity, introducing Rus’ into the cultural space of European peoples? In many ways, it was the event that made us who we are.

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