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: Yaroslav the Wise – the great ruler of Kievan Rus’ (Part I. Knyazhych)

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
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History is hardly a gateway to the knowledge of the past – it is rather a gatekeeper at these gates, cunning and self-serving, allowing most visitors only where it wants to. The gatekeeper is also because it does not need bread –  only let’s lie for the sake of the current fashion.

We are offered ready-made templates for assessing historical figures – two or three features, no more, it hurts a lot of them, how much will you remember about each? Moreover, very often such templates describe these characters in textbooks and dissertations exactly the opposite – they are used to it.

For example, Richard III, whom the great Shakespeare introduced to us, as such a villain that it is scary to read about him. In the same way, Thomas More interpreted the image of this monarch, having a reputation as an honest and truthful man. After them, many considered Richard a fiend.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
This is how Richard III was portrayed/alternathistory.com

Only recently historians have tried to figure it out. It turned out that he had improved trade, reformed the legal system, forbade levies, and even patronized art – quite a decent monarch, it is hard to find such example in medieval history!

What’s the matter? Yes, in general, it is clear that both Thomas More and Shakespeare worked at the courts of the kings of the Tudor dynasty, who overthrew and killed this very Richard, without having any special rights to the throne, here flatterers like Shakespeare painted Richard with black colors …




This is how, for the sake of current political interests, a completely decent king, no worse than other kings-contemporaries, turned into a monster, and this reputation was maintained for a century. Probably, it happened the other way around – when was that typical person represented as an angel in the flesh?

It happened! A typical example is Louis XIV, the Sun King: one nickname is worth it! Until now, there are a lot of writings in which they admire him and claim that it was under him that France reached its prime. So they write, in black letters on white paper, and do not blush.

But in fact, it was he who undermined the roots of the country, and so skillfully that it manifested itself not with him, but a hundred years later – which is much more dangerous! The lecher, in comparison with whom Casanova seems to be a Puritan, in his old age fell in love with a fanatic and for her sake began to tyrannize the Huguenots.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
The Sun King/earthgang.de

As a result, he practically survived from the country of these hard-working people, creating such a “heavenly” life for them that they wanted to emigrate, but they were forbidden to do it. 1,500 people got on the galleys for trying to escape from the country, 200,000 did run away – we know how ridiculous the prohibitions on emigration are.

There were even more dangerous things. Saint-Simon later wrote: “Absolutely without objection, Louis destroyed and eradicated every other force or authority in France, except those that emanated from him: the reference to the law, to the right was considered a crime”. And where is the country without law and right?

Even during the lifetime of the Sun King, the country got involved with almost all of Europe in a mad war for the Spanish inheritance and left it crippled. His successors took an example from the “great king”, and things got worse until everything ended with the revolution with its stupidity and atrocities.




But in fact, everything is somewhat more complicated than in high school textbooks. Everything is simple there: someone is extremely advanced, progressive, clever and handsome, and someone, on the contrary, is backward, reactionary, inert, spiteful and stupid. But it happens very rarely, almost never.

Here’s a good example for you – Peter the Great. Yes, he broadened his horizons, established contacts with the West, won the Northern War, and did not leave a dime of national debt. And the population under him decreased by 20%, he killed his own son and a bunch of people, some personally, and among the teeth pulled out by him with his own hand (stored in the Kunstkamera), many are completely healthy.

Moreover, the further a statesman is from us in time, the more difficult his more or less unambiguous assessment is. The worst thing is when there is one chronicle for the whole country – like “Kartlis Tskhovreba” for Georgians, which was edited at court and did not leave competing versions in the text.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
Peter I/pinterest

So you read there that, say, Tsar George III, the father of the great Queen Tamara, was a chick and a sweetheart. And that he ordered to blind and castrate his own nephew, the legitimate heir to the throne, and it is quite possible that he killed both his father and brother, can be learned only from the chronicles of neighbors, Armenians and Ossetians, who were set tasks by a completely different dynasty.

So we need to look at more than one source, sweep aside nonsense, figure out how interested the chronicler was in whitewashing, or, conversely, denigrating the figure we are interested in, and with great difficulty build the most probable version, without guaranteeing complete correctness.




One of the most famous historical figures not only in Ukraine, but also in Russia, Prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich, depicted on a two-hryvnia note, also appears in the educational literature quite unambiguous – the honorary nickname Wise is enough to understand which one.

But in fact, everything was not easy for him since birth. His father was the Prince of Kiev Vladimir Svyatoslavich, and his mother was the Polotsk princess Rogneda Rogvolodovna. When his parents entered into legal marriage – God knows, and it is even completely incomprehensible whether they entered at all.

Vladimir tried to woo Rogneda, but she refused him. Moreover, in a rather offensive form, referring to the fact that he is the bastard son of the housekeeper Malusha, an ordinary and unborn young lady. Moreover, she added that she would not refuse his unloved brother Yaropolk.

Then Vladimir decided to woo in a different way – he captured Polotsk together with Rogneda and her relatives. And he courted in a different way, in a princely way – he killed her father and brothers in front of her, and according to other sources, he also raped Rogneda in front of her father and brothers. It is hard to refuse …

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
A.P. Losenko. Vladimir and Rogneda. 1770

Nevertheless, Vladimir kept Rogneda with him (not giving up other women, because he is still a pagan), and she gave birth to him quite a few children – according to The Tale of Bygone Years, four sons and two daughters. His third son from Rogneda was given the name Yaroslav.

The date of his birth is still debated. It is believed that in The Tale of Bygone Years he was made older to show his seniority over his brother and serious rival Sviatopolk. Now they admit that Sviatopolk is older, but the date of birth of Yaroslav is considered close to the true one.




While Yaroslav is growing up, his father Vladimir converts to Christianity. As a result, he releases all his wives and concubines, including Rogneda, but his children remain for him legal successors with the full range of rights and obligations of potential princely heirs.

He begins to send them to the cities of Kievan Rus for an adjunct reign – under his supreme authority, but quite independent. Yaroslav also receives his inheritance, who is sent to the city of Rostov, then still only appeared, but already quite important.

We know practically nothing about his life in the role of the Rostov prince, and in fact he held this post for about 20 years! Almost no information about this period of his life has been preserved in the annals, which speaks rather in his favor – he did not bring his people to rebellions, hunger and pestilence.

It is possible to note only a certain expedition of Yaroslav, among other things, a hunting expedition, during which he personally killed a bear and ordered to build a new city on this place, called Yaroslavl (that is, Yaroslav’s city). And now the coat of arms of Yaroslavl is a bear with an ax on his shoulder.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
Coat of arms of Yaroslavl/vsbagira.spb.ru


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Around 1010, Yaroslav’s half-brother, Vysheslav Vladimirich, a prince of Novgorod, died. Vladimir transfers Yaroslav to reign from Rostov to Novgorod, which was a clear promotion. Rurik came from Novgorod to conquer Kiev, and Vladimir himself. Yaroslav will do it later.

Novgorod was a large city, the second in Rus’ after Kiev. Novgorodians annually sent 2000 hryvnias of tribute to Kiev – it was a lot. And the residents themselves from the income of the city remained half the amount, but they also kept an army, second only to the Kiev one.

In the meantime, Vladimir was getting old and the question of his heir became more and more urgent. Especially this question worried Sviatopolk. He was not his own son. Vladimir, having killed his older brother Yaropolk, captured his wife, and Sviatopolk, who was born to her, was recognized as his son.

In 1013, Vladimir married Sviatopolk, who ruled in the city of Turov, to the daughter of the Polish king Boleslav the Brave. Soon after that, Vladimir suspected Sviatopolk of a conspiracy against his power, captured him and his wife and put them in prison, where they remained until his death.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)

Whether there was a conspiracy is no longer possible to establish, but it is quite likely. It is possible that Sviatopolk felt himself to be the son of Yaropolk, while he considered Vladimir a paricide. Later, on his coins, he would not mint Vladimir’s trident, but the patrimonial mark of Svyatoslav and, perhaps, Yaropolk – a bident.

Yaroslav had real views of the inheritance of his father’s power. But the father began to bring his other son, Boris, closer. Why? It is unclear and unimportant, he liked him, and that’s it, there were no laws on succession to the throne then. And Yaroslav could not endure this.




Every single source – both benevolent to Yaroslav, and not so – note his cunning and prudence, so it seems that this is true. So he started the war with his father with a cunning move, seemingly not very dangerous, but clearly speaking about his intentions – he stopped sending tribute to Kiev.

It was enough for Vladimir to understand that Yaroslav would stop at nothing. He began to prepare for the campaign against Novgorod, but his health began to deteriorate rapidly, and they were in no hurry with the campaign. The Kiev army was led by Boris and began to prepare for a campaign against his brother.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
Boris Vladimirovich/wikipedia.org

But the Pechenegs approached Kiev, and Boris’s army came out to meet them. The Pechenegs did not accept the battle and returned to their steppes – maybe they were simply diverting Vladimir’s forces. Sviatopolk’s father-in-law, Boleslav the Brave, was traditionally in alliance with the Pechenegs – didn’t he come to an agreement with them?

Was Sviatopolk allied with Yaroslav? In any case, they had common interests. Prince Vladimir’s preference for Boris ruined the plans of both. Yaroslav himself was in no hurry – he needed to strengthen his own army.




Yaroslav went in Novgorod the same way as his father Vladimir in his campaign against Kiev – he began to hire the Varangians, in our opinion, the Normans. A mercenary army, no less than a few hundred swords, was stationed in Novgorod, and how mercenaries usually behave – we know.

Novgorodians simply did not know what to do – the mercenaries not only robbed, but also raped married women. Probably, they complained to the prince, but the mercenaries were more necessary. Novgorod was not the one at that time to endure this, – the Novgorodians decided to cope on their own.

The chronicle writes: “The people of Novgorod said:“ We cannot endure this violence ”; and gathered at night, and killed the Varangians in the Poromon court “(the place of permanent residence of the Varangians in Novgorod). Instead of a war against Vladimir, Yaroslav’s army fought among themselves.

Yaroslav addressed the Novgorodians with conciliatory speeches, saying that the killed still cannot be resurrected, but we need to think about how to live on. Believing the princely word, many prominent Novgorodians came to his country house for negotiations – and were mercilessly killed.

And just on the night of the massacre, when neither the city nor Yaroslav had moved away from the displayed meanness and atrocities yet, Yaroslav received a letter from his sister Predslava – “Your father died, and Sviatopolk is sitting in Kiev; He killed Boris and sent soldiers to Gleb. Beware of him!” What was he supposed to do now?




Yaroslav’s position seemed terrible. There were significantly fewer hired Varangians, the Novgorodians were eager for revenge for the blood of like-minded people – it seemed that there was no way out. And Yaroslav found the only saving option: he turned to Novgorodians with sincere repentance.

He told them: “My beloved and honest squad, I fought with you yesterday in my madness! Now I can’t redeem that even with gold! My father died, and Sviatopolk is sitting in Kiev, beating up his brethren. I want to overthrow him. Will you join me?” And imagine – he managed to change the mood of the crowd.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
Novgorod veche/historicaldis.ru

His actions were in line with the recommendations of modern psychologists. In addition, this role and a hint of “gold” – the payment of vira, which was possible only after the victory.

As a result, the conflict was overcome and drawn up through several thousand Varangians and a larger number of Novgorodians. And what was going on in Kiev at that time?




It was Sviatopolk who was the first to know about the death of Vladimir. So he filled the power vacuum – Yaroslav is in Novgorod, Boris is on the march with the army, and he is nearby. He easily freed himself and took the throne, generously gifting the people of Kiev.

Boris with his army hastened to Kiev, but stopped at the Alta River and did not enter Kiev. This indecision cost him dearly – the squad left him. His life says that he recognized the seniority of Sviatopolk and waited for negotiations – but why did he go to Kiev?

It was then that Sviatopolk, apparently, decided not to stand on ceremony anymore. His envoys captured the defenseless Boris and killed him mercilessly. The life says that he accepted death with Christian humility, which actually happened – we no longer know. Fratricide is always terrible.

Prince of Murom Gleb was practically not dangerous to Sviatopolk. But who knows exactly? Sviatopolk beckons Gleb to Kiev with a false letter that his father is seriously ill and wants to say goodbye, and meanwhile his mercenaries intercept Gleb and brutally kill him right on his ship.

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
Gleb Vladimirovich/wikipedia.org

Less is known about the fact that Sviatopolk ordered to kill the third brother – Svyatoslav, the prince of the Drevlyans. He tried to flee to Hungary, but Sviatopolk’s mercenaries overtook him in the Carpathians and killed him. Even his body was not found – perhaps because he, unlike Boris and Gleb, was not canonized.

How did Sviatopolk decide to commit a triple fratricide? It is believed that he considered himself the son of Yaropolk, and Boris, Gleb and Svyatoslav – the sons of his killer, that is, his bloodlines. I don’t think this is so – Vladimir raised him on an equal footing with his other sons, but everything is possible.




Yaroslav, with the Novgorodians and the Varangians, was rapidly advancing towards Kiev, where Sviatopolk was already waiting for him with his army and hired Pechenegs. Near the fortress Liubech, north of Kiev, he went to the Dnieper and settled down with an army on its bank. Sviatopolk was on the other side.

For most of the fall, they stood there, exchanging only insults. Yaroslav, however, did not limit himself to abuse – he established reconnaissance and seized the moment when the troops of Sviatopolk were located disadvantageously: the Pechenegs were fenced off by a lake and could not go into battle on the move.

Yaroslav quickly ferried his army across the Dnieper, and the Novgorodians themselves pushed their boats away from the coast as a sign that they would not run away – they would win or die. With a decisive blow, they drove Sviatopolk’s army onto the unstable ice of the lake (as in the Battle of the Ice), and many died.

The warriors of Yaroslav who were fleeing the Pechenegs cut down, and the Kievites were not killed or captured – they simply advised them to go home. Yaroslav believed that after the victory they were no longer enemies, but his people, and it was pointless and unprofitable for him to exterminate them – this would only reduce taxes.

Sviatopolk fled to the west, to Boleslav’s father-in-law, leaving even his daughter, his wife, in the hands of the victors. The Pechenegs tried to take revenge, attacked Kiev, but were repulsed by Yaroslav’s troops and suffered considerable damage. Is that all with the question of the Kiev reign? I will tell later…

ROOTS AND WINGS with Boris Burda: Yaroslav the Wise - the great ruler of Kievan Rus' (Part I. Knyazhych)
Boleslav the Brave/naszapolska.pl


Read Part II

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