Sviatopolk I of Kiev

From Academic Kids

Sviatopolk I Vladimirovich (c. 980 - 1019) was the Prince of Turov (988 - 1015) and Grand Prince of Kiev (1015-1019) whose paternity and guilt in the murder of brothers are disputed.

Missing image
Reverse of Svyatopolk's coin contains a fork image, interpreted as a sign of his descendance from two fathers.

Sviatopolk's mother was a Greek nun captured by Svyatoslav I in Bulgaria and married to his lawful heir Yaropolk I. When Yaropolk was murdered by his brother Vladimir's agents, the new sovereign raped his wife and she soon (some would say, too soon) gave birth to a child. Thus, Sviatopolk was probably the eldest of Vladimir's sons, although the issue of his parentage has been questioned.

At the age of eight Vladimir put him in charge of Turov and later arranged his marriage with the daughter of the Polish king Boleslaus I. The young princess came to Turov together with Reinbern, the Bishop of Calabria, whose intentions are believed to have been to split the Russian Orthodox Church and the Greek Orthodox Church and subdue the former to the Roman Catholic Church. Dissatisfied with his father and instigated by his own wife and Reinbern, Sviatopolk began preparations for war against Vladimir, probably counting on support from his father-in-law. Vladimir soon found out about Sviatopolk's intentions and threw him, his wife and Reinbern in prison.

Domestic sources

Not long before Vladimir's death, Sviatopolk was freed from prison and sent to govern the town of Vyshgorod several miles from Kiev. When Vladimir died in 1015, Sviatopolk's retinue concealed his death from him due to the fact that he, being Vladimir's oldest son, could claim the Kievan throne. It didn't take long for Sviatopolk to find out about his father's demise and he seized power in Kiev almost immediately.

Missing image
Coins of Yaroslav and his descendants represent the trident, recently adopted as a state emblem of Ukraine.

The citizens of Kiev did not show much sympathy for Sviatopolk and, therefore, he decided to distribute presents in order to win them over. Then, he decided to rid himself of his brothers' claims for the Kievan throne. Boris was the one who presented most danger to him, because he had been in charge of Vladimir's druzhina (personal guards) and army and enjoyed the support of the citizens. Sviatopolk sent his men to assassinate Boris, then Gleb and Sviatoslav.

Even though family feud wasn't something unusual back then, Sviatopolk's cold-blooded reprisal earned him the nickname of the Accursed. The news of this triple murder reached Sviatopolk's younger brother Yaroslav, Prince of Novgorod, who decided to go to war against Sviatopolk with the support from the citizens of Novgorod and the varangians. The battle took place not far from Lubech. Sviatopolk was defeated and fled to Poland.

Later, he returned to Rus, defeated Yaroslav with the help from his father-in-law and seized Kiev in 1017. Boleslaus I and his army remained in Rus for several months, but later had to retreat to Poland due to the increasing number attacks on the part of the Russians. On his way to Poland, Svyatopolk seized some of the Cherven towns.

Meanwhile, the citizens of Novgorod persuaded Yaroslav to go to war against Kiev once again. Sviatopolk was defeated and fled to the steppes. Soon he returned with the Pecheneg army and attacked Yaroslav on the Alta River, but was once again defeated and fled to Poland, eventually dying on his way there.

Foreign sources

During the last century, the traditional account of Svyatopolk's career has been somewhat modified. It has been argued that it was Boris who succeeded Vladimir in Kiev, while Svyatopolk was still in prison. One Norse saga, with remarkable details, puts on Yaroslav the blame of his brother Burizlaf's murder. This Burizlaf, however, may be Svyatopolk (whose troops were commanded by the Polish king Boleslaus I; the latter name is also rendered as Burizlaf in some sagas) as well as Boris.

Therefore it has been suggested that Svyatopolk ascended the throne after Boris's assassination and tried to fence off Yaroslav's attacks as well as to punish his agents guilty of Boris's murder.

The chronicle of Thietmar who died in 1018 could be regarded as the only contemporary and unbiased account of events, if not for the fact that Thietmar's data could have been supplied by Svyatopolk himself during his brief stay at the Polish court. Unfortunately it can be interpreted ambiguously as far as the question of Svyatopolk's guilt is concerned. One place in his chronicle can be understood (although this is not necessary) as telling that Svyatopolk escaped from Kiev to Poland immediately after his father's death. But Thietmar states that Boleslaus I of Poland firstly supported his son-in-law against Yaroslav in 1017, which is the date, according to the Russian Primary Chronicle, of Svyatopolk's first defeat by Yaroslav. Preparing a campaign against Kiev, Boleslaus abruptly stopped a successful war against the German Emperor Henry II. So, it is unlikely that Svyatopolk had been present at his court since 1015, which is often supposed by the historians that consider Yaroslav guilty of Boris and Gleb's murders.

Preceded by:Prince of KievSucceeded by:
Vladimir IYaroslav

Template:Livedde:Swjatopolk I. (Russland) it:Sviatopolk I di Kiev pl:Świętopełk I (kniaź Rusi) ru:Святополк Окаянный uk:Святополк Володимирович


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