Oleksandr Palii, A History of Ukraine, 07.01.2018
The rule of Volodymyr the Great (980–1015) was of great importance for Ukraine. He introduced Christianity to Ukraine and extended it to the subordinated lands in Eastern Europe. He built many cities around Kyiv along the rivers Desna, Oster, Trubizh, Sula, Stuhna and others for protection against nomads. Under his rule, Ukraine developed written law, similar to that in other civilized states. Ancient chronicles always have his name in its Ukrainian pronunciation — Volodymyr.
Volodymyr increased Kyiv’s control over the lands in modern Central Muscovy (now aka Russia): at the beginning of his reign the Vyatichi tribe stopped paying tribute, but he exacted it again in 981, this time “from the plough”, i.e. from each household. In a battle on the Pishchana River, his voivode Vovchy Khvist (Wolf’s Tail) scattered the Radimichs.
Prince Volodymyr, whose mother was a Slav from the city of Liubech in the Chernihiv region, no longer felt much affinity with Varangian mercenaries and the opinion of Kyiv residents was more important to him. He drove out those Varangians who wanted to impose additional tribute on the people.
A gold coin of Prince Volodymyr the Great, c. 1000 AD.
In 987 AD, Volodymyr sent a 6,000-strong force to aid Byzantium in internal struggles. When he realized that the emperors were not going to give their sister in marriage to him as they had promised to do, he besieged Chersonesos Taurica and seized it after nine months in 988 with the help of local residents who knew how to disrupt the city’s water supply. Volodymyr the Great became the first conqueror of the city in its 1,500-year-long history at the time. After seizing Chersonesos Taurica, he founded his palace there and exchanged the city for marriage with the Byzantine princess. A condition of the marriage was Volodymyr’s baptism. According to the chronicle, the prince had 12 official wives and 800 concubines before the baptism. He renounced them all. Meanwhile, the Tmutorokan Principality in the eastern Crimea remained under Kyiv’s rule.
Battle between the Byzantines and Rus’ people, 10th century.
After returning to Kyiv, Volodymyr ordered all pagan idols to be dismantled — some were chopped up and others were burned. According to his orders, the idol of the chief god Perun was tied to a horse’s tail and dragged from Starokyivska Hill along Borychiv rise and thrown into the Dnipro. Men were dispatched to push it away from the banks until it reached the Dnipro rapids.
Volodymyr baptized only Kyiv and its neighborhood in 988, while paganism retreated gradually in other lands under Kyiv’s rule. In Novgorod, pagan rebellions had to be repressed by force, while volkhves (pagan priests) in Suzdal incited people to revolt against Christianity even 150 years after the baptism of Kyivans. As late as in the 1130s, Vyatichi pagans executed Kuksha of the Kyiv Caves, a preacher from Kyiv.
In contrast, there are no known cases of heathens executing Christians in the territory of Ukraine. Kyiv residents knew about Christianity since ancient times. As early as in the first century AD, Andrew, an apostle of Jesus Christ, preached in Scythia and Pope Clement I, one of the first popes, was in exile in the Crimea.
Baptizing of Prince Volodymyr and his army, miniature from the Radziwiłł Chronicle, 14th century.
Before Volodymyr built fortresses in the southern regions of his state, the inhabitants of the steppe posed a very serious threat to Rus’. Their military forces reached the Stuhna River, 40 kilometers away from Kyiv. The chronicle relates a comic situation when the residents of the besieged town of Bilhorod near Kyiv exploited the superstitions of the Pechenegs: they dug a hole in the ground, filled it with wheat kysil (a kind of drink) and told envoys they were not afraid of the siege, because the soil produced food like that. The strangers believed this and were impressed by the fertility of Ukrainian lands.
Prince Volodymyr said: “I shall not find an army with silver and gold, but I shall find silver and gold with an army.” He also ordered that alms be handed out to the disabled and sick Kyivans at their homes. Moreover, it was Volodymyr who began to take the children of the nobility and send them to education institutions.
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