Princess Olga - year 955

One of the most interesting legends depicted in chronicles concerning those times is connected with the wife of Oleg’s successor, Prince Igor. Igor was killed when he tried to get an extra tribute from one of Slavonic tribes submitted to Kiev, the Drevlyans. 

When Olga learned about the death of her beloved husband, she was overwhelmed with despair and rage. The princess buried alive Drevlyans’ ambassadors who offered her a dynastic marriage with their prince, but it was not enough to heal Olga’s pain. 

The princess culminated her revenge in burning to the ground Drevlyans’ capital city, Iskorosten. The way she did that startled chroniclers of the time so much, that we have a detailed description of those events. 

Olga asked the Drevlyans to bring her 3 pigeons and 3 sparrows from each of their houses as a token of reconciliation. However, her intentions were far from peaceful: the princess ordered to tie burning branches to the legs of the birds and let the poor creatures go. The birds returned to their old nests bringing killing flames to all the houses [they had thatched roofs at that time]. All Drevlyans’ territories were finally incorporated into Rus. However precise the legend is, Olga left the state notably extended and the system of tributes thoroughly reorganized. 

In order to promote trading and political relations with Byzantium Princess Olga visited Constantinople in 955 to be baptized. Olga was canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church and is one of the most honored saints of the Russian people. 

The Varangians thus established Russia's first political legacy. Although the first Viking rulers were men, their female relatives were also considered to be part of the ruling elite and could inherit the throne from a male relative. The princes of Kiev called the land their votchina, or patrimony, from the Slavic word otec, "father." They fought to conquer neighboring tribes, and collected a preordained amount of tribute from their subjects. When Kievan prince Igor tried to collect tribute from the Drevlanians, a Slavic tribe on the periphery of his realm, they killed him. With this event our real story begins.

Prince Igor left behind a five year old son Sviatoslav and a widow, Princess Olga. Olga became ruler of Kiev. The Drevlanians, having no respect for the idea of a female ruler, sent ambassadors to Olga with the suggestion that she marry their leader, who would then rule Kiev too.

http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/russ110/htm_images/slide_19.htm Image: Olga burning Drevlanian ambassadors in a bathhouse

But Olga had other ideas. First, she buried the ambassadors alive in a pit. Then she sent word to the Drevlanians to send over their best men to persuade the people of Kiev to let her marry. Thinking that Olga was willing to marry, the Drevlanians sent a large number of men.

In Kiev Olga treated them to a ceremonial steambath, and burned the bathhouse down.

Then she led her army against the Drevlanians, who, finally realizing that she wanted revenge, took refuge in their capital. Olga besieged the city but could not capture it. Spring wore on into summer. Still Olga would not give up. Finally, the Drevlanians offered to pay tribute if Olga would go home. To their great relief, she agreed to withdraw for the mere price of three doves per household. The townspeople happily complied and that evening there was great celebration. But as the sun set, Olga set the doves free with bundles of burning grass tied to their claws. The birds returned home and the town burned down [because of the thatched roofs]. Olga rounded up the surviving inhabitants and had them distributed as slaves among her subjects. 

So Olga became the first woman ruler of Russia in the year 945. She ruled Kievan Rus' for the next 27 years. [Olga's comment: The Russians appropriated the Rus name, since Kievan Rus was Ukrainian - 988-11690- before Russia grew up. They were called Muskovy when that country was a mere child.]


The Grand Duchy of Moscow,[2][3] Muscovite Russia,[4]  Muscovite Rus'[5] or Grand Principality of Moscow[6][7] (Russian: ??????? ????????? ??????????, romanizedVelikoye knyazhestvo Moskovskoye; also known in English simply as Muscovy from the Latin Moscovia)[8]

http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/russ110/htm_images/slide_24.htm Image: Sophia cathedral in Vladimir

Olga's reign was very different than her bloody revenge might suggest. She made peace with all her neighbors and never fought again. She converted to Christianity, which paved the way for a highly profitable alliance with Constantinople. She also traded peacefully with the powerful Khazar State to the east. During these three decades Kiev became one of the most prosperous states in Europe.

 http://pandora.cii.wwu.edu/vajda/russ110/htm_images/warrior.htm Image: Vasnetsov painting "Warrior at the Crossroads"

When Olga died in 962, her son Sviatoslav took the throne. She had begged him to accept Christianity and to follow her program of peaceful development. But Sviatoslav, like most other Kievites, continued to worship Perun and the other Slavic deities. He said he was afraid that if he accepted Christianity, his soldiers would laugh at him. Utilizing all of the resources stored up during his mother's peaceful reign, Sviatoslav embarked on a 10-year period of warfare and conquest, which left the Kievan Rus lands weakened and vulnerable to invasions from the steppe nomads.