Young Folks' History of Russia - Nathan Dole

Sviatoslaf, the Pagan Warrior

When Holy Fame became of age he relieved his mother of the government, and to the people who dwelt round about he sent the warning:—

"I am coming to fight you."

He defeated the Kozars and their prince, and captured their "White City "on the Don. He exacted tribute from the tribes of the distant Caucasus. At the instigation of the Greek Emperor, who sent him rich gifts, he made war with sixty thousand men against the Bulgars, captured eighty of their cities and established himself at their capital.

While he was there the Petchenegs, "a greedy people, who devoured the bodies of men, corrupt and filthy, bloody and cruel beasts," whose progress had been favored by the decline of the civilized Kozars, suddenly appeared with an immense army under the walls of Kief, which they closely besieged. Olga and her three grandsons were reduced to terrible straits.

A young man offered to save the city. By a bold ruse he succeeded in passing through the line of the savages and reached the other shore. At daybreak the Petchenegs heard the sound of trumpets and the shouts of warriors, and saw a host of boats drawing near to Kief. Thinking it was Holy Fame himself, they quickly raised the siege and departed.

As soon as they had disappeared the men of Kief sent messengers, who said,—

"Prince, thou seemest to prefer foreign lands to thine own which thou hast deserted, and it has almost chanced that thy mother and thy children have fallen into the power of the barbarians. Haste to return, lest we be again attacked." Holy Fame came back and pursued the Petchenegs and avenged himself upon them; but the next year, forgetting this lesson, he said to his mother and his captains,—

"I weary of living at Kief. I prefer the Bulgarian capital on the Danube. That is the centre of my domain and abounds in wealth. From Greece come gold and precious stuffs, wine, and every kind of fruit; from the country of the Cheks and Huns come silver and horses; from Russia are sent furs, wax, honey, and slaves."

Three days later Olga died. "She was in Russia," says the Monk of Kief, "the omen of Christianity, like the morning-star which shines before the sun, like the dawn which heralds the day. She shed abroad a glory like the moon; amid a faithless generation she gleamed like a pearl amid ordure. She was the first in Russia to mount to the kingdom of heaven."

Holy Fame left his three sons to administer the affairs of his realm, and again set out against the Bulgars who had broken from his sway. When, after many bloody battles, he had them again in his power, he determined to attack the Greeks, and they, wishing to test his temper, sent gold and silken fabrics. The prince looked upon them with disdain, and said,—

"Take them away."

The deputies then brought him a sword and other weapons, and he seized upon them with admiration and kissed them as he would have kissed the Emperor himself. The Greeks were afraid, and said to each other,—

"This must be a ferocious man, since he scorns wealth and accepts a sword, a glaive, for tribute." And they were glad to make peace with him, for he was at their very gates.

If Holy Fame, supported by the disciplined legions of Bulgaria, the Northmen of Sweeden, the Russian Finns and Slavs, and the light cavalry of the Petchenegs, had been able to found a great empire, extending from Thrace and Macedonia to the Baltic, with its capital on the Danube, the Greeks would have been driven from Constantinople, and the history of Europe have been changed. But a great emperor mounted the throne of the Grecian empire, and seeing the danger which threatened, he ordered Holy Fame to evacuate the country. Holy Fame, who had just captured Philippopolis, replied that he hoped soon to be at Constantinople.

The Emperor sent a fleet to the mouth of the Danube, and at the head of his "Immortals "marched against the Russian prince. He took the Russians by surprise in the defiles of the Balkans, defeated their army under the walls of the Bulgarian capital, and assaulted the city. Eight thousand Russians threw themselves into the royal citadel, supposed to be impregnable, but were forced by the flames to leap from the rocks or be suffocated.

The Balkan Mountains


When Holy Fame heard of the loss of his new capital he was not discouraged nor chagrined, but advanced against the victorious tsar with seventy thousand men. A bloody battle took place; before sunset a dozen times the victory shifted from side to side. At last, "as the star of Venus was setting," the Greek cavalry, the Iron-sides, made a desperate charge. The Russians gave way and took refuge in the city of Dorostol, where the Emperor closely besieged them with battering-rams and all sorts of machines of war: The Russians defended themselves by hurling rocks and darts and logs upon the heads of the besiegers, and often they made wild sallies. Even their women, like the Amazons of old, took part in these epic conflicts. Rather than yield, the Russians preferred to stab themselves. After the day was done they would leave the city and burn their dead under the light of the moon, sacrificing over their ashes prisoners of war, and drowning in the Danube fowls and little children. At last provisions began to grow scarce, and Holy Fame took advantage of a stormy night and stole out with a fleet of canoes manned by two thousand of his bravest warriors. He escaped the watchmen of the Greeks and collected corn and millet from all the villages round about. Then falling suddenly upon his enemies he fought his way victoriously back to the city.

The Emperor proposed to decide the war by a single combat, but Holy Fame replied,—

"Better than my enemy I know what lies before me. If the Tsar is weary of life there are a thousand means by which he can end his days."

A few days after this Holy Fame gathered his men about him, and said,—

"Comrades, we must fight or die lest our common country be brought to shame. Disgrace is not for the dead but for cowards. As for me, I am willing to die."

His captains and his men shouted,—

"The place of thy death shall be our tomb."

So he issued with all his forces from the gates, and there was a bloody battle. A baptized Arab, a son of the Emir of Crete, dropping his reins, dashed up to Holy Fame and felled him to the ground with his broadsword; but the Russians rallied to the assistance of their prince and quickly despatched the Emir's son. When the battle seemed to favor the troops of the prince, the Emperor himself rushed into the thick of the fight followed by his Immortals. A storm arose and blew the dust into the eyes of the Russians, and they were pelted with great hail-stones. And suddenly there appeared among them St. Theodore the martyr, in the guise of a horseman on a white horse, calling the Greeks to victory.

The Russians gave way, leaving on the battle-field fifteen thousand dead and twice ten thousand shields. Holy Fame retired into the town once more and sued for peace. He swore by Perun and Volos never again to invade the empire, but to help defend it from all enemies. "If we break our vows," said he, "may the curse of God fall upon us, may we become yellow as gold, and perish by our own weapons."

The Greek Emperor granted peace to the Russians, and let them depart. He even sent deputies to the Petchenegs, begging them to give free passage to the little remnant of the prince's army. When Holy Fame reached the rapids of the Dnieper these ferocious barbarians were lying in wait for him. He was obliged to winter there, and endure the horrors of famine.

Russian Cavalry


When spring returned and Holy Fame tried to pass the cataracts, the Petchenegs fell upon his army and made great carnage. They killed Holy Fame, and their prince took his skull and had it fashioned into a drinking-cup, with the inscription in gold,—

"He who covets the wealth of another often loses his own."

Thus perished this brave, cunning, and ambitious Norman. He was agile as a panther, and cared only for the riot of war. His army marched without baggage or train. His meat was horse-flesh half broiled on the coals. He slept in the open air, on the bare ground, with a saddle for his pillow and a horse-blanket for a mattress. One who saw him after his defeat has left us this portrait of him as he came to converse with the Greek Emperor:—

"John, in shining armor, on horseback, and surrounded by a countless escort with golden cuirasses, approached the bank of the Danube. And Holy Fame drew near in a long boat, handling the oar like his companions. He seemed to be of middle height, and very robust. He had a broad chest, a thick neck, a flat nose, bushy eyebrows, long, shaggy mustaches, a thin beard; the hair on his head was close shaven except one tuft, the mark of his nobility. He wore a single gold earring, ornamented with a ruby and two pearls. His whole appearance was rough and gloomy, and he was distinguished from the other Russians only by the cleanness of his white raiment. And not disembarking from his boat he spoke a few words with the Emperor and then returned as he came."