Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

Family Quarrels Among the Princes

The number of churches and monasteries in Kief in the time of Fiery Fame shows how fast Russia was changing from a pagan to a Christian state. But the fact that its religion came from Constantinople and not from Rome had a great influence upon its history.

The Roman Church, intrenched behind its secular power, and furnished with the keys of heaven and earth, armed with the thunderbolt of excommunication, and counting kings and emperors its humble vassals, was able to help the Spaniards in their struggle with the Moors or to lead crusades against the impious Turks. Russia, on the other hand, was left to grapple single-handed with the barbarian hordes of Asia. The princes of the Roman faith were dependent upon the Pope for their crowns; the higher classes of European society were sharply marked from the lower by their knowledge of the church language, the Latin tongue. In Russia the Church was independent of the civil power, was purely national; its services were conducted in a language known as well to the peasant as to the grand prince.

The Greek religion gave the Russian princes an idea of royal power which finally reached its full development in the tsars of Moscow. The princes of Kief were by no means sovereigns in the modern sense of the word, but rather powerful chiefs of bands who at any time were free to leave them and take service elsewhere. But the priests from Constantinople brought a new ideal: this was the emperor, "the heir of Augustus and Constantine the Great, the Vicar of God on earth, the typical monarch on whom the eyes of the barbarians of Gaul, as well as those of Scythia, were fixed."

Pope Sylvester II


"He did not consider his states as an inheritance to be divided among his children, but handed over to his successor the empire in its entireness. His power came to him not only from the people but from God himself; his imperial ornaments like his person had a sacred character, and if ever the barbarian kings came to Constantinople and begged for one of his jewelled crowns, his purple robe, his sceptre, or his brodekins, their answer was that when God gave the empire to Constantine he sent these vestments by the angels, that they were not the work of man, that they were laid upon the altar and worn by the emperor himself only on solemn occasions, and that Leo the Kozar was visited with a mortal ulcer because he put on the crown without the Patriarch's permission."

Whatever advantages of morals or civilization Christianity brought in its train, it did not secure the blessings of peace. The hundred and seventy years from the death of Fiery Fame till the Tartar invasion were filled with a varying succession of domestic and foreign wars. During this time sixty-four states rose and fell, two hundred and ninety-three princes disputed the throne of Kief, eighty-three civil wars wasted the country, and innumerable campaigns were fought with the barbarians. As the ruin of the civilized empire of the Kozars broke the barriers against the Petchenegs, so Fiery Fame's defeat of the Petchenegs opened the way for the Kumans, who alone invaded Russia forty-six times during these troublous years. The end of the world seemed to be at hand: there were terrible disasters on every side; fires, earthquakes, eclipses, comets, famines, and locusts. The chronicle says:—

"Cities were deserted; you might see on all sides villages on fire, churches, houses, barns, reduced to ash-heaps, and the wretched citizens either dying beneath the lashes of their enemies, or waiting death with horror. Prisoners, barefoot and naked, were dragged in chains to the far-off lands of the savages, and they said to one another, weeping, 'I am from such a Russian village, and I am from such a city.' On our plains no more cattle or horses were to be seen; the fields were full of weeds, and wild beasts ranged the places where Christians had lately dwelt."

If Greece and Switzerland by their mountains and valleys are countries meant by nature to be cut up into petty kingdoms or principalities, Russia, composed of one vast plain with hills nowhere more than three hundred and sixty meters above the level of the sea, and crossed by great rivers, those "roads that run," was equally fitted to be one united empire. That this empire was not sooner formed was due to the custom of the princes to divide their domain among all their sons. During the two centuries of family quarrels which followed Fiery Fame's death, Kief, "the mother of Russian cities," continued to be a goal for the ambition of all the descendants of Rurik. The Prince of Kief was the grand prince, and according to the Eastern or patriarchal idea the eldest of the family, whether uncle, brother, or son, always claimed the fair city as his seat; it was there that Olga and Oleg had gloriously reigned, that St. Vladimir had held his epic court, that Fiery Fame had built his numberless churches with their golden domes.

Fiery Fame's eldest son therefore mounted the throne of Kief, but, says the chronicle, "the devil sowed strife among his brethren," and they took up arms against him and forced him to seek refuge among the Poles, who treacherously robbed him of his furs and his cups of silver and gold, and refused to aid him. Henry IV., King of Germany, gave him asylum and sent an embassy to Kief bidding the usurper restore the throne to the rightful prince. The envoys were received with such civility and were so dazzled by the display of riches that they forgot their errand. The unfortunate grand prince did not return to his inheritance until the death of his rival; even then his reign was interrupted after two years by his death in battle with his nephew. He was an ideal of the princes of the sunny land of Kief: he was tall of stature and of goodly favor; his heart was tender and right before God. He was brave in war and merciful after the fight. He hated lies and the workers of deceit, and he returned good for evil. He loved the faithful soldier and scorned gold. He was a boon companion and liked good cheer and jovial feasts.



It was not his son Michael, called Holy Host, but his brother, the eldest of the family, who succeeded him on the throne of Kief, and reigned for fifteen years. He in turn was succeeded not by his son, Vladimir, surnamed Monomak, but by his nephew, Michael Holy Host. Vladimir was just and generous; he stepped down from the seat of power which he had shared with his father, and resigned the throne to his cousin, saying,—

"His father was older than mine and reigned first in Kief."

One of his cousins, angry at the loss of certain rich lands, brought a terrible army of Kumans and began to lay waste the regions around Kief. Vladimir Monomak called a congress of his nephews and cousins to talk over the evils of their common country. Sitting on the same carpet they swore to cease from civil war and to unite against the barbarians, and they kissed the cross, saying,—

"If any one break this oath and arm himself against his brother, let this holy cross and let all of us and let all Russia become his enemy."

But hardly had each gone to his newly allotted principality when a fresh trouble arose. Prince David of Galitch, in Red Russia, went to the grand prince and persuaded him that his nephew, Vasilko, was plotting against his life. The grand prince lured Vasilko to Kief on the occasion of a religious feast, and threw him in chains and brought him before the citizens and nobles, who said,—

"Prince, thou hast the right to watch over thy safety. If Prince David tells the truth, Vasilko is a traitor and deserves death, but if he lies, may the judgment and wrath of God fall upon him."

The grand prince lent too ready an ear to these libels, and gave Vasilko into the hands of his uncle David, who shut him up in a chamber in the White City and sent his men to punish him. They threw the wretched young man on the floor, bound him and tore out his eyes with a sharp knife. Vladimir was angry at this horrible crime, and uniting with his cousins, and forcing the grand prince to join with them, they marched against David and took away his principality.

When this affair was settled, Vladimir led the army of the princes against the Kumans. A great battle took place; the barbarians advanced in serried ranks like a forest, but suddenly they were filled with fear; they turned and fled, followed by the Russians. Twenty of their chiefs were left dead on the field, and one taken alive offered as a ransom gold, silver, and horses, and swore never again to take up arms against Russia. Vladimir distrusted his oath and had him hewn in pieces and seized his horses and cattle, his sheep and his camels, his embroidered robes, his slaves, and all his wealth.

When Michael Holy Host died the men of Kief swore that no one else but Vladimir should be their grand prince. Vladimir refused, and it was only after a riot broke out, followed by a general mobbing of the Jews, that he consented to mount the throne. He fought many successful battles against the barbarians on the shores of the Baltic, in the wilds of Finland, and in the Bulgarian lands of the Volga. The legend says that he sent an army against the Grecian Empire and Invaded Thrace. The Emperor in alarm sent the Bishop of Ephesos with costly gifts,—a cup of cornelian that once belonged to Augustus Caesar, the golden chain and necklace of his grandfather, Constantine Monomochos, a crucifix made of the wood of the true cross, and a crown and throne which are kept among the curiosities of the arsenal at Moscow.

Vladimir also made his power felt in many parts of Russia. Glieb, Prince of Minsk, went on a marauding expedition and carried off as slaves a host of men, women, and children to the banks of the Dvina, but Vladimir promptly sent his son against him and dethroned him, and took him to Kief, where he died in prison. Vladimir also meddled in the affairs of Novgorod and kept the turbulent city under control by requiring its chief boyars to be sent as hostages to his court.

Ravages of War


Vladimir left a curious will on parchment for the instruction of his sons. It gives a sort of autobiography of his long and eventful life, his labors, and his character:—

"All my great campaigns were eighty-three, and those of less account were without number. Twenty times less one I made peace with the Polovtsui, even while my father lived, and afterwards by myself alone. One hundred of their princes I have taken and freed, and two hundred I have hewed in pieces and drowned; Much pleasure also I took in the chase. I have captured a hundred wild bulls in a summer; bound together in the thickest forests tens and dozens of wild horses with my own hands. Twice, wild bulls with their horns have thrown me from my saddle. A reindeer gored me; an elk trampled me under its hoofs while its mate gored me. A wild boar tore away my knife from my belt. A bear tore through the blanket under my very knee. A fierce beast leaped upon me and threw my horse under me, but God preserved me in safety. Twice I broke my head. How many times I have fallen in my youth! I used to hurt my hands and my legs and my head. How my men had to work, but I also worked in war and in peace, night and day, in heat and cold, never giving myself rest. I never waited for officials or heralds, but I myself did the thing needful to be done. No one ever made swifter journeys than I. If I left Tchernigof at early morn I reached Kief before vespers. But think not, children, that I mean to boast. No, I praise God alone and glorify his grace that he kept so many years such a sinner as I from all mortal ills and made me active for every deed.

The cap of Monomakh


"Thus may you also, my children, fear death neither in war nor in peace, but do everything proper for man as God gives to you to do. If God think best, you will die not in battle, nor by wild beasts, nor by water, nor by stumbling horses; but if death is destined by God neither father nor brother will save you. Never forget the Lord in any place. Penitence, tears, and alms are not hard commands of the Lord; by them you will escape from your sins and gain the kingdom of heaven. Better than all, forget not the poor, feed them when you can; give to the orphan, and judge the cause of the widow, lest they come into the power of the violent man. Condemn to death neither the innocent nor the guilty; order no one to be put to death even though he be worthy of it; do not destroy a single Christian soul. Do not swear lightly, but when you have taken an oath keep it strictly. Love your wives, but beware lest they get the upper hand. Be not puffed up. We are all mortal; to-day alive, to-morrow in the tomb. Nothing that we have is ours, but all is a gift from God and for a day. Hide not your wealth in the earth; that is a grievous sin. Look upon the old man as your father, upon the young man as your brother.

"What you know forget not; what you do not know that learn. My father sitting at home learned five strange tongues. By our knowledge we are known in foreign lands; but the lazy forget even what they know. Let not the sun find you in bed. Thus did my father: having heard matins before the sunrise he praised the Lord and sat down with his men, or gave counsel to his people or went hunting. At noon he took a nap, since sleep, he said, was granted by God at noon, and at noon sleep birds, beasts, and men."

Such, in the early part of the twelfth century, while Louis VI. and Henry III. were fighting with their proud barons in France and England, was the pattern of a grand prince of Russia.