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Genesis: Historical research

On the question of polygamy and debauchery of Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich

Polyakov Aleksandr Nikolaevich

PhD in History

Associate Professor, Department of History, Orenburg State University

460018, Russia, Orenburgskaya oblast', g. Orenburg, pr. Pobedy, 13, of. 20




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Abstract: The subject of this study is the family ties of Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich. The object is the personality of Prince Vladimir. The purpose of this article is to establish, based on a comparative analysis of sources, the degree of reliability of the facts they contain about promiscuity, the number of marriages and children of Vladimir. A materialistic approach to history is used as a methodological basis. Within its framework, the article applies: the comparative historical method, the method of critical analysis, the principles of historicism and objectivity. The source base is the data of the Russian chronicles ("The Tale of Bygone Years", the Laurentian Chronicle), the Chronicle of George Amartol, biblical texts, the writings of Titmar of Merseburg, Leo the Deacon, John Skilitsa, Ibn Haukal. The article discusses the controversial issue of Prince Vladimir's family ties. The author comes to the conclusion that Vladimir Svyatoslavich, contrary to the instructions of the chronicle on the prince's polygamy in the pagan era, was married only twice Ч the first time by a pagan marriage to the Polotsk Princess Rogneda and the second time by a Christian marriage to the Byzantine princess Anna. The number of the prince's children exceeded the figure indicated in the chronicle Ч about 8 sons and 9 daughters. The main "antihero" of ancient Russian history, Prince Svyatopolk, according to the author, was the legitimate son of Vladimir, not Yaropolk. At the same time, the author believes that Vladimir was distinguished by intemperance in relationships with women and kept many concubines.


Vladimir, Russia, The Tale of Bygone Years, Titmar of Merseburg, Skilica, The Bible, Rogneda, Anna, Svyatopolk, polygamy

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.

The image of Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich in scientific and fiction literature goes back to the stories of our first chronicles Ч the Initial Arch, partially preserved as part of the Novgorod First Chronicle of the Younger Izvod, and the "Tale of Bygone Years". As a rule, researchers treat these descriptions with confidence, only repeating or commenting on the words of the chroniclers. From the time of V. N. Tatishchev to the present, Vladimir has been portrayed as a polygamist and a sensualist in the pagan era and a model of virtue in the Christian era. We can see a similar view in the major works of famous historians (V. N. Tatishchev, M. V. Lomonosov, N. M. Karamzin, S. M. Solovyov, D. I. Ilovaisky) and in biographical works dedicated to Vladimir (N. I. Kostomarov, A. Y. Karpov). The maximum that the authors of Vladimir's biographies allow themselves is to doubt the reliability of the chronicle data without subjecting the sources to a deep analysis. N. I. Kostomarov, for example, writes: "Our chronicler portrays Vladimir as cruel, bloodthirsty, and womanizing in general, but we cannot trust such an image, since it is evident that the chronicler with With the intention, he wants to impose as many black colors as possible on Vladimir the pagan, in order to more clearly indicate the miraculous effect of the grace of baptism, presenting the same prince in the lightest form after the adoption of Christianity" [13, p. 14]. There are similar statements in general works on the history of Ancient Russia. So, P. P. Tolochko notes: "Before the adoption of holy baptism, he [Vladimir] lived in debauchery, overcome by female lust... After the adoption of Christianity, Vladimir is a solid virtue" [20, p. 56]. A certain distrust of the chroniclers is expressed by the modern biographer of Prince A. Y. Karpov. Agreeing with the chronicler in essence, he doubts the extent of Vladimir's promiscuity. "This "insatiability" of the prince is by no means a fiction of a later Christian author," he writes, "who sought to emphasize the sinfulness of Vladimir the pagan and contrast it with the height of his Christian feat, as is sometimes believed. If the chronicler exaggerated, comparing Vladimir with the biblical king Solomon, who, according to legend, had up to 700 wives and up to 300 concubines, he exaggerated in numbers, and not in essence" [11, p. 115]. At the same time, the prince's polygamy in the pagan period of his life, neither Karpov nor any other researcher questions. This is due to the general ideas of researchers about the nature of marriages among the Slavs in the pagan era. "... The existence of the institution of concubinage and polygamy," emphasizes A. L. Nikitin, "which the Church constantly struggled with throughout the XЦXI centuries. the Czechs, Bulgarians, Hungarians and Poles, not to mention the Baltic Slavs, have been noted in many chronicles ... Therefore, we can assume that the description of Vladimir's morals preserved real features that are quite consistent with the mores of that era ..." [15, p. 240]. The historiographical situation on this issue shows that we still do not have a full-fledged analysis of the available sources that reveal Vladimir's family life. The purpose of this article is to establish, based on a comparative analysis of sources, the degree of reliability of the facts contained in them (about promiscuity, the number of marriages and children of Vladimir).

Several sources report on the personal and family life of Prince Vladimir. First of all, the chronicle works mentioned above are the Initial Set (according to the list of the XV century of the Novgorod First Chronicle of the younger Izvod and the "Tale of Bygone Years" (Lavrentievsky list of the XIV century and Ipatievsky XV century). Both chronicle texts report the same thing. In full agreement with them is the later life of the prince. The degree of reliability of these stories is quite difficult to assess. On the one hand, the chroniclers' reports are far from the events described in time and rely on contradictory sources (when describing the era of Vladimir Ч oral legends, biblical books, the alleged "Chronograph according to the great exposition" or "public reading", on the basis of which the "Philosopher's Speech", "Korsun Legend" was written). In addition, the chroniclers allow themselves to edit the texts at their disposal depending on their own preferences (a characteristic example is the correction of the phrase of the Life of Basil the New about Igor's first battle with the Greeks in 941). On the other hand, information from other sources, including contemporary events, partially converge with these stories. The chronicle version of Vladimir's image is close to the German chronicler Titmar of Merseburg, who wrote literally in the wake of events. However, unlike the chroniclers, the German author does not see any merit of the Russian prince in spreading piety after the adoption of Christianity, considering him an incorrigible libertine throughout his life. To understand which of the medieval scribes is right, in my opinion, if we involve other sources that are not directly related to the data on Vladimir's family life: the Chronicle of George Amartol, biblical texts, the "History" of Leo the Deacon, the Chronicle of John Skilica, the work of Ibn Haukal.

In The Tale of Bygone Years, the story of Vladimir's lust, his wives and children, stands under the year 980. "Vladimir was defeated by lust..." writes the chronicler [17, p. 174]. And he had wives: Rogneda, who bore him four sons (Izyaslav, Mstislav, Yaroslav, Vsevolod) and two daughters; a Greek woman (Yaropolk's exЧwife) with her son Svyatopolk; a Czech woman who bore him Vysheslav; a Bulgarian woman - Boris and Gleb; and another wife, unknown by nationality, who gave birth to Svyatoslav and Mstislav. Vladimir had many concubines: in Belgorod Ч 300, in Vyshgorod Ч 300 and in Berestov Ч 200. But even that wasn't enough for him. He brought married women and young girls to him [17, p. 174].

This story (under the same 980th year) is preceded by information about Vladimir's return to Novgorod from across the sea (where he fled after learning about the death of his brother Oleg), his matchmaking to the Polotsk Princess Rogneda, a campaign to Yaropolk and the construction of the sanctuary of Perun. The same article contains a message about the birth of Svyatopolk, Vladimir's successor. The chronicler reports that together with the Kiev princely table, Vladimir captured Yaropolk's wife, with whom he began to live "like an adulterer." Her name is not called, it is only said that she was a nun. Earlier, under the year 977, the chronicler noted that Svyatoslav brought her from a Greek campaign and gave her to Yaropolk, "for the beauty of her face" [17, p. 172]. By the time Vladimir took Yaropolk's wife to himself, she was, according to the chronicler, "not celebrated" (that is, pregnant), and later gave birth to Svyatopolk, whom Vladimir did not like Ч "by a cousin" [17, p. 37]. This phrase, strange for a modern reader (from two fathers), most likely means that the chronicler considers Yaropolk to be the real father, and Vladimir, under whom Svyatopolk was born, the second father (that is, stepfather).

The story about the birth of Svyatopolk, the main antihero of ancient Russian history, looks like an attempt by the author of the chronicle to point out the roots of his "damnation" Ч he was born of two fathers, in fornication, from a forcibly married nun. It turns out that he had no other way but to kill his brothers and die in the "desert". The degree of reliability of this story can be judged on the basis of data on Svyatoslav's war in the Balkans. According to the reports of Lev Deacon and John Skilitsa, events there developed quite differently from what our chronicler describes. P. O. Karyshkovsky, after studying all available sources, came to the conclusion that the Kalokir embassy, which persuaded Svyatoslav to invade Bulgaria, was sent to Russia in the autumn of 967 or early spring of 968. Svyatoslav's first campaign began in the summer of 968, in August. The departure from Bulgaria, which Skilitsa tells about (and Leo the Deacon is silent), falls in the spring or early summer of 969. The second campaign took place in early August 969 and lasted until the end of the summer of 971 [12, pp. 130, 132, 138]. Ibn Haukal makes it possible to understand where Svyatoslav was at the time when he left Bulgaria. According to him, the Russian army then went to Khazaria. The Rus, according to Ibn Haukal, attacked the Khazar Khaganate in 358 (that is, in the period between November 25, 968 and November 13, 969). If we take into account the information of the Byzantine authors, the time of the hike can be clarified. According to T. M. Kalinina, the most suitable time for a hike is the time of spring, summer and autumn of 969 [10, p. 97]. After the defeat of Khazaria, according to Haukal, the Russian army again went to Byzantium (partly to Andalusia). According to the Skilica, it was August 969. Consequently, the Russian army was in Khazaria from spring to summer of the same year. All this suggests that Svyatoslav, after he went on a Bulgarian campaign, did not return to Russia anymore. Because of this, he could not bring a nun "from the Greeks", and Yaropolk could not marry her (or even use her as a concubine), and Vladimir could not take possession after the murder of his brother. Who then gave birth to Svyatopolk? Apparently, it's still the same Rogneda. In any case, a contemporary of the events, Titmar of Merseburg, considers Svyatopolk to be the legitimate son of Vladimir, and not Yaropolk. A. L. Nikitin comes to the same conclusion [15, p. 252].

Vladimir's polygamy, as already mentioned above, is usually not in doubt, since the information in the chronicle about this is consistent with the customs of the Slavs and Russ, known from other sources. This is evidenced by the "Church Rule of Metropolitan John", compiled in the second half of the XI century, the Church Charter of Yaroslav Vladimirovich, the "Questioning of Kirik" (XII century) and many other sources. At the same time, the chronicles know only one wife of Igor Ч Olga. Vladimir's father Svyatoslav also lived with one wife who gave birth to two sons (Vladimir's mother is called the housekeeper Malusha, who, apparently, was Svyatoslav's concubine, which does not exclude the assumption that he had only one wife). Doubts about Vladimir's polygamy arise if you pay attention to the complete lack of information about the time of marriage with most of the wives of the prince noted in the chronicle list. Apart from Rogneda's first wife, an unnamed Greek woman (who did not actually exist) and the Christian wife Anna, the chronicler does not say when he got all the others. Nor does he know when they gave birth to 12 children. According to the chronicle, the most prolific was the first wife, Rogneda, to whom the chronicler attributes 4 sons and 2 daughters. It turns out, starting from 981 (approximately) she gave birth annually until the choice of the faith in 986. Two children (but what!) a Bulgarian woman gave birth. It is strange that the chronicler does not know her name, because she gave Vladimir the first Russian saints Ч Boris and Gleb. The rest of the wives gave birth, according to the chronicler, to one child each. E. E. Golubinsky at one time wondered: "Why on earth would Christian fathers be willing to give their daughters, and Christian daughters [Czech and Bulgarian] why on earth would they be willing to marry a zealous pagan?" [4, p. 152] Answering his question, the researcher inclines to the idea that the prince was disposed to Christianity from the very beginning of his reign and even from childhood. E. E. Golubinsky does not believe the chronicler that Vladimir was a "rude sensualist". He, like N. I. Kostomarov, considers the news about numerous concubines to be invented in order to sharply contrast two periods in the prince's life Ч pagan (when he was allegedly a libertine) and Christian (shrouded in piety) [4, p. 145].

A. A. Shakhmatov, paying attention to the inset nature of the text, believes that the story of lust-polygamy and children was taken by the chronicler from the Korsun legend, which the researcher himself reconstructs [21, p. 136]. In his opinion, references to Vladimir's children (especially Boris and Gleb) in the plot about the prince's prodigal life are inappropriate. Shakhmatov believes that only the wives of the prince were originally described in the chronicle, and the children were entered there by the author of the Initial Code [21, p. 137].

In addition to the "Tale of Bygone Years", sources do not report about Vladimir's polygamy. Unless, of course, we take into account the later life of the prince (based on the data of the story), in which the number of wives increases from 5 to 12. The number of sons and daughters mentioned in other sources does not coincide with the chronicle. Titmar of Merseburg knows 3 sons of Vladimir and 9 daughters [14, p. 140]. The first son, according to his information, was Svyatopolk, the second Ч Yaroslav. He does not call the third son by name. A.V. Nazarenko assumes that it was Boris [14, p. 167]. A. L. Nikitin thinks that it is Sudislav [15, p. 250]. It is believed that the three sons of Vladimir are mentioned by John Skilitsa: "The archons of the Roses Nesislav and Hieroslav died and a relative of the deceased Zinislav was elected to rule the roses" [1, p. 100]. By "Nesislav", says A.V. Nazarenko, it is necessary to understand Mstislav. This is "proved by a similar transcription of this name on the seal from Belgorod Ч MESI?LAVOS ..." [14, p. 167]. Yaroslav's name is quite recognizable. He calls "Zinislav" "incomprehensible" and refuses to identify him with any prince known in the annals [14, p. 167]. M. V. Bibikov also considers this question difficult. In my opinion, Izyaslav Yaroslavich may be hiding under Zinislav here. Firstly, it was he who ruled in Kiev after Yaroslav. Secondly, his name is most consonant with the corrupted Greek version. Thirdly, the Skilica does not say that he was their brother, but only a relative. The Scandinavian saga of Eimund also speaks about Vladimir's three sons. She calls: Burislav, Yaritsleiva and Vartilava [19, p. 91]. Among them, only Yaroslav lends himself to reliable interpretation. Of the daughters, Predslava (The Tale of Bygone Years [17, p. 60]), Premislava [16, p. 50, 312] and Dobronega (Annals of the Krakow Chapter, Gal Anonymous [3, p. 173]) are known by name.

The change in the number of children in the chronicle is most likely not accidental. In the list of Vladimir's children, I. N. Danilevsky sees a comparison with biblical characters that point to some secret meaning. The very number of children Ч 12 Ч is considered by him as a "signal" about the connection with the Bible, where it has a sacred character (12 tribes of Israel, 12 gates of heavenly Jerusalem, 12 sons of Jacob and 12 Ishmael, 12 apostles) [6, p. 83]. The list of children, in his opinion, goes back to the following fragment of the Book of Genesis: "Jacob had 12 sons. The sons of Leah: Jacob's firstborn Reuben, after him Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun. Rachel's sons: Joseph and Benjamin. The sons of Bilhah, Rachel's maidservant: Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah, Leah's handmaid: Gad and Asher" (Gen. 35:22-26). According to Danilevsky, the chronicler, through biblical images, sought to characterize the sons of the Grand Duke (first of all, participants in the events of 1015) [6, p. 85]. It is not clear why the chronicler mentioned only 10 sons, replacing the remaining 2 daughters, because the second list, which is in article 988, tells exactly about 12 sons, and does not remember daughters at all. "The comparison of Vladimir himself with Jacob," Danilevsky believes, "could be based on the fact that both of these characters illegally seized the right to power that belonged to their older brother" [7, p. 172]. A. L. Nikitin also considers this (as well as the second) list of Vladimir's children to be unreliable [15, p. 247].

The situation with the number of Vladimir's children, in my opinion, can be clarified by further chronicle narration, unrelated to the previously presented lists of children. Besides Yaroslav, the chronicle definitely knows Svyatopolk (he is also known to Titmar of Merseburg), Izyaslav Ч he became the ancestor of the princes of Polotsk, Mstislav Ч Prince of Chernigov and Tmutarakan (he is mentioned by Skilitsa), Boris and Gleb Ч the first Russian saints whose cult is known not only in Russia (in 1072 the Yaroslavichi reburied their relics), Sudislava (the second Mstislav replaces him in the first list) Ч in 1036 Yaroslav put him in a log cabin, in 1059 the Yaroslavich brothers released him from there (although his name is not called this time), and in 1063 he died [18, stb. 151, 162, 163]. Svyatoslav is mentioned only once more, as the third victim of Svyatopolk, who, for some reason, was not canonized. The other sons of Vladimir Ч Vysheslav, Vsevolod, Stanislav and Zvizd Ч are not found anywhere except in the second list of the prince's children (988). Moreover, Zvizd and Stanislav are replaced in the first list by Rogneda's nameless daughters.

Apparently, Vladimir did not actually have 12 or 10 (as it turns out according to the first list), but 7 or 8 (if you count Svyatoslav) sons, and 9 daughters (judging by the data of Titmar of Merseburg), that is, at least 16 or 17 children. The eldest, apparently, was Izyaslav, who did not live to see his father's death, then came Svyatopolk, Yaroslav, Mstislav, Boris, Gleb and the youngest Ч Sudislav (who outlived Yaroslav by 10 years) or Svyatoslav (if he wasn't a daughter). It is unlikely that all of them were children of Rogneda Ч 16-17 children in 7 years, perhaps, too much. Most likely, some of them were the children of concubines, not mythical wives. From Rogneda probably went Izyaslav and the main rivals in the struggle for Kiev Ч Svyatopolk, Yaroslav and Mstislav (they, apparently, were recognized by Titmar of Merseburg for legitimate sons), as well as the daughter of Predslav. It is possible Ч Premislava and Dobronega. Boris and Gleb were probably the children of Anna, Vladimir's Christian wife, as later sources tell us (the Bulgarian woman who allegedly gave birth to them according to the 980 list, most likely was not). It is unlikely that the Greek bishops would have agreed to classify them as saints if they had been born by the pagan Vladimir in fornication and some Bulgarian woman (either a former Christian, or a Muslim), or, even worse, a concubine. There are no small things here. ЂFrom sinful roots, the fruit will be... ", Ч the chronicler notes [17, p. 37]. For the first Russian passion-bearers, only the origin from the Baptist of Russia and the Byzantine princess is suitable. The rest Ч Svyatoslav and Sudislav Ч were born, most likely, from unknown concubines, and did not apply for the Kiev table. From Anna (or partially from concubines), the other 6 daughters were born.

Only two marriages of Vladimir (pagan Ч on Rogneda and Christian Ч on Anna) do not cancel the dissolute lifestyle of the baptist of Russia. According to the data of Titmar of Merseburg, whose information is recognized as very valuable (since it was recorded from the words of eyewitnesses in the hot wake of the events in 1014-1018), he really "was a great and cruel libertine", both before and after baptism [14, p. 140]. According to him, the Prince of Kiev "wore a venereal loincloth, which aggravated [his] innate propensity for fornication" [14, p. 141]. It is not known what exactly Titmar means by "Venus's loincloth". A. V. Nazarenko considered it most expedient to give a literal translation of the Latin "lumbare venereum". A. Y. Karpov suggests that we are talking about a kind of bandage similar to the chains of ascetic monks, which was not supposed to excite, but to pacify Vladimir's lust. In his opinion, the author learned about this intimate detail from the Rus themselves, who found themselves in the West during the civil strife of 1015-1018 [11, p. 289]. Maybe it is. The only question is, why did Titmar call these chains "Venus's loincloth"? In my opinion, Titmar of Merseburg could have meant the "Venus belt", which, according to Homer, contained "love and desires, whispers of love, explanations, flattering speeches that more than once caught the mind and the reasonable" [5, p. 199]. The "belt of Venus" or "belt of Aphrodite" is one of the main attributes of the ancient goddess of love. No one could resist his charms, neither gods nor people. It was worn just on the hips. In the dictionary of I. H. Dvoretsky, "lumbare" is translated precisely as "a bandage on the loins" [8, p. 604]. The only strange thing is that Vladimir wore it. In ancient Greece, it was a cult item that women gave to the goddess of love.

The chronicler, listing the number and locations of Vladimir's concubines, actually confirms the correctness of the German chronicler that after the baptism the prince did not change his lifestyle. A. Y. Karpov drew attention to the fact that among the places where the concubines were, the chronicler called those that he founded after baptism. "So, three hundred concubines were kept in Belgorod," he writes, "but this city, according to the chronicle, was founded by the prince only in 991" [11, p. 287].

The meaning of the plot about Vladimir's polygamy and lust, which possessed the prince so much that he had few concubines, and he raped married women and young girls, helps to understand the comparison of Vladimir with Solomon. The enumeration of Vladimir's wives by nationality goes back, apparently, precisely to the list of Solomon's wives (taken by the author, as well as the entire text about Solomon from the Chronicles of George Amartol [2, p. 14]): "... and the wives [Solomon] drink from Moabites, from Amanites, from Sourians, from Idomeans, from Heteyan, from Amoryan... " [9, p. 148]. The appearance of five wives of Vladimir (with a subsequent increase in later sources to 12) is associated with the desire of the chronicler to bring the Russian prince closer to the image of the biblical king Solomon, who was revered by Christians as a pious and wise ruler, a prototype of the Wisdom of the Lord and the creator of the "City of God". "Be a lover of women, just like a Strawman: be bo, reche, Soloman has 700 wives, and concubines 300. Be wise, but finally perish; this is not good, but finally you will find salvation " [17, p. 37]. There is no condemnation in these words of the chronicler. Bringing the Russian prince and the biblical tsar closer together, the chronicler tries to justify Vladimir, and not to contrast the two periods in his life. Thus, he seems to recognize that the prince was a libertine and a polygamist, but the wise Solomon was like that. The chronicler Vladimir even surpasses the biblical tsar in the description of the Old Russian scribe. In the chronicle, he follows the path of Solomon, but in reverse order. If Solomon, the builder of the temple and the sage, was defeated by female lust at the end of his life, then Vladimir in his story, on the contrary, moves from lust to the construction of the temple. The belated beatification of Vladimir to the face of saints (at the end of the XIII or the beginning of the XIV century) may be due to the fact that the prince's debauchery (before and, most importantly, after baptism) was well known to the Greek patriarchs. The fame of the unrestrained sensualist stuck so firmly to Vladimir that it was impossible to deny it, even a hundred years later Ч at the time when the chronicler wrote. By and large, the justification of Vladimir contains the meaning of the entire narrative about him. Vladimir's fame as a libertine and rapist was the main obstacle to recognizing him as a saint, as Hilarion and our first chroniclers wanted.

Thus, the habitual image of Prince Vladimir, who baptized Russia as a polygamist (in the pagan era), can be questioned. Most likely, he was married only twice Ч to Rogneda by a pagan marriage and to Anna by a Christian one. The prince really had a lot of children, but not 12, but much more Ч 16 or 17. At the same time, there is no doubt about Vladimir's wild lifestyle, propensity for fornication and lust. Probably, a wide range of girls and wives seduced by him is also true Ч from his own concubines to married women and young girls. One can also admit that the German chronicler is right that the Russian prince used some magical attributes, such as the "belt of Venus", which, according to eyewitnesses, aroused his passion even more. However, it is impossible to be sure of this.

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