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Saint Vladimir of Kiev
Golden coin of Vladimir, with his portrait and personal emblem
Prince of Novgorod
Grand Prince of Kiev
Born c. 958
Died 1015
Venerated in Roman Catholicism
Eastern Orthodoxy
Feast July 15
Attributes crown, cross, throne
Vladimir the Great
Grand Prince of Rus
Reign 980-1015
Coronation 11 June 1015 (6524 from world creation)
Full name Vladimir Sviatoslavovich
Titles Prince of Novgorod (969-977)
Born 958?
Birthplace near Pskov
Died 15 July 1015 [aged ~57]
Place of death village of Berestove (today a part of Kiev)
Buried Church of the Tithes, Kiev
Predecessor Yaropolk I
Successor Sviatopolk the Accursed
Wives Allogia (Varangian)
Rogneda of Polotsk
Adela (Bulgarian)
Malfrida (Czech)
a granddaughter of Otto the Great
Offspring see Family
Dynasty Rurik Dynasty
Father Sviatoslav I
Mother Malusha (possibly a princess of Drevlians)

Vladimir Svyatoslavich the Great, also sometimes spelled Volodymer Old East Slavic: Володимеръ Святославичь (c. 958 – 15 July 1015, Berestovo) was the grand prince of Kiev who converted to Christianity in 988[1][2][3], and proceeded to baptise all of Kievan Rus'. His name is spelt variously: in modern Ukrainian, for example, as Volodymyr (Володимир); in Old Church Slavonic and modern Russian, as Vladimir (Владимир); in Old Norse as Valdamarr; and, in modern Scandinavian languages, "Valdemar".


Way to the throne

Vladimir and Rogneda (1770).

Vladimir was born in 958 and was the youngest son of Sviatoslav I of Kiev by his housekeeper Malusha, described in the Norse sagas as a prophetess who lived to the age of 100 and was brought from her cave to the palace to predict the future. Malusha's brother Dobrynya was Vladimir's tutor and most trusted advisor. Hagiographic tradition of dubious authenticity also connects his childhood with the name of his grandmother, Olga Prekrasa, who was Christian and governed the capital during Sviatoslav's frequent military campaigns.

Transferring his capital to Pereyaslavets in 969, Sviatoslav designated Vladimir ruler of Novgorod the Great but gave Kiev to his legitimate son Yaropolk. After Sviatoslav's death (972), a fratricidal war erupted (976) between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg, ruler of the Drevlians. In 977 Vladimir fled to his kinsmen Haakon Sigurdsson, ruler of Norway in Scandinavia, collecting as many of the Viking warriors as he could to assist him to recover Novgorod, and on his return the next year marched against Yaropolk.

On his way to Kiev he sent ambassadors to Rogvolod (Norse: Ragnvald), prince of Polotsk, to sue for the hand of his daughter Rogneda (Norse: Ragnhild). The well-born princess refused to affiance herself to the son of a bondswoman, but Vladimir attacked Polotsk, slew Rogvolod, and took Ragnhild by force. Actually, Polotsk was a key fortress on the way to Kiev, and the capture of Polotsk and Smolensk facilitated the taking of Kiev (980), where he slew Yaropolk by treachery, and was proclaimed konung, or khagan, of all Kievan Rus.

Years of pagan rule

Vladimir continued to expand his territories beyond his father's extensive domain. In 981, he conquered the Cherven cities, the modern Galicia; in 983, he subdued the Yatvingians, whose territories lay between Lithuania and Poland; in 985, he led a fleet along the central rivers of Kievan Rus' to conquer the Bulgars of the Kama, planting numerous fortresses and colonies on his way.

Though Christianity had won many converts since Olga's rule, Vladimir had remained a thoroughgoing pagan, taking eight hundred concubines (besides numerous wives) and erecting pagan statues and shrines to gods. He may have attempted to reform Slavic paganism by establishing the thunder-god, Perun, as a supreme deity. "Although Christianity in Kiev existed before Vladimir’s time, he had remained a pagan, accumulated about seven wives, established temples, and, it is said, taken part in idolatrous rites involving human sacrifice." [4]

“In 983, after another of his military successes, Prince Vladimir and his army thought it necessary to sacrifice human lives to the gods. A lot was cast and it fell on a youth, Ioann by name, the son of a Christian, Fyodor. His father stood firmly against his son being sacrificed to the idols. More than that, he tried to show the pagans the futility of their faith: ‘Your gods are just plain wood: it is here now but it may rot into oblivion tomorrow; your gods neither eat, nor drink, nor talk and are made by human hand from wood; whereas there is only one God — He is worshipped by Greeks and He created heaven and earth; and your gods? They have created nothing, for they have been created themselves; never will I give my son to the devils!’”

An open abuse of the deities, to which most Russians bowed in reverence in those times, triggered widespread indignation. Rampant crowds killed the Christian Fyodor and his son Ioann (later, after the overall christening of Russia, people came to regard these two as the first Christian martyrs in Russia and the Orthodox Church set a day to commemorate them, July 25).

Immediately after the murder of Fyodor and Ioann, early mediaeval Russia saw persecutions against Christians, many of whom escaped or concealed their belief.

However, Prince Vladimir mused over the incident long after, and not in the last place, for political considerations too. The chronicles have it that different preachers came to the Prince, each offering a particular faith. Vladimir spoke to Muslims, Catholics, and Jews, but for different reasons rejected all the religions. Finally, a Greek philosopher told the prince of the Old and New Testaments and presented him with a canvas depicting Doomsday. When he learned of the fate of the unrepentant were in for, Prince Vladimir was benumbed by terror and after a short pause said with a sigh: “Blessed are the doers of good and damned are the evil doers!”" [5]

Baptism of Rus'

The Baptism of Saint Prince Vladimir, by Viktor Vasnetsov (1890)
Icon of Saint Vladimir, Novgorod, 16th century

The Primary Chronicle reports that in the year 987, as the result of a consultation with his boyars, Vladimir sent envoys to study the religions of the various neighboring nations whose representatives had been urging him to embrace their respective faiths. The result is amusingly described by the chronicler Nestor. Of the Muslim Bulgarians of the Volga the envoys reported there is no gladness among them; only sorrow and a great stench. They also said that the Bulgars' religion was undesirable due to its taboo against alcoholic beverages and pork[citation needed]; supposedly, Vladimir said on that occasion: "Drinking is the joy of the Rus'."[citation needed] Russian sources also describe Vladimir consulting with Jewish envoys (who may or may not have been Khazars), and questioning them about their religion but ultimately rejecting it, saying that their loss of Jerusalem was evidence of their having been abandoned by God[citation needed]. Ultimately Vladimir settled on Christianity. In the churches of the Germans his emissaries saw no beauty; but at Constantinople, where the full festival ritual of the Byzantine Church was set in motion to impress them, they found their ideal: "We no longer knew whether we were in heaven or on earth," they reported, describing a majestic Divine Liturgy in Hagia Sophia, "nor such beauty, and we know not how to tell of it." If Vladimir was impressed by this account of his envoys, he was yet more so by political gains of the Byzantine alliance.[citation needed]

A mid-19th century statue overlooking the Dnieper at Kiev, by Peter Klodt and Vasily Demut-Malinovsky

In 988, having taken the town of Chersonesos in Crimea, he boldly negotiated for the hand of the emperor Basil II's sister, Anna. Never before had a Byzantine imperial princess, and one "born-in-the-purple" at that, married a barbarian, as matrimonial offers of French kings and German emperors had been peremptorily rejected. In short, to marry the 27-year-old princess off to a pagan Slav seemed impossible. Vladimir, however, was baptized at Cherson, taking the Christian name of Basil out of compliment to his imperial brother-in-law; the sacrament was followed by his wedding with Anna. Returning to Kiev in triumph, he destroyed pagan monuments and established many churches, starting with the splendid Church of the Tithes (989) and monasteries on Mt. Athos.

Arab sources, both Muslim and Christian, present a different story of Vladimir's conversion. Yahya of Antioch, al-Rudhrawari, al-Makin, al-Dimashki, and ibn al-Athir[6] all give essentially the same account. In 987, Bardas Sclerus and Bardas Phocas revolted against the Byzantine emperor Basil II. Both rebels briefly joined forces, but then Bardas Phocas proclaimed himself emperor on 14 September 987. Basil II turned to the Kievan Rus' for assistance, even though they were considered enemies at that time. Vladimir agreed, in exchange for a marital tie; he also agreed to accept Orthodox Christianity as his religion and bring his people to the new faith. When the wedding arrangements were settled, Vladimir dispatched 6,000 troops to the Byzantine Empire and they helped to put down the revolt.[7]

Christian reign

Modern statue of Vladimir in London

He then formed a great council out of his boyars, and set his twelve sons over his subject principalities.

It is mentioned in the Primary Chronicle that Vladimir founded the city of Belgorod in 991.

In 992 he went on a campaign against the Croats, most likely the White Croats (an East Slavic group unrelated to the Croats of Dalmatia) that lived on the border of modern Ukraine. This campaign was cut short by the attacks of the Pechenegs on and around Kiev.

In his later years he lived in a relative peace with his other neighbors: Boleslav I of Poland, Stephen I of Hungary, Andrikh the Czech (questionable character mentioned in A Tale of the Bygone Years).

After Anna's death, he married again, most likely to a granddaughter of Otto the Great.

In 1014 his son Yaroslav the Wise stopped paying tribute. Vladimir decided to chastise the insolence of his son, and began gathering troops against Yaroslav. However, Vladimir fell ill, most likely of old age and died at Berestovo, near Kiev.

The various parts of his dismembered body were distributed among his numerous sacred foundations and were venerated as relics.


The fate of all Vladimir's daughters is uncertain whose number is around nine.

  • Olava or Allogia (Varangian), speculative she might have been mother of Vysheslav while others claim that it is a confusion with Helena Lekapena
    • Vysheslav (~977-~1010), Prince of Novgorod (988 - 1010)
  • a widow of Yaropolk I, a Greek nun
  • Rogneda (the daughter of Rogvolod), later upon divorce she entered a convent taking the Christian name of Anastasia
    • Yaroslav the Wise (no earlier than 983), Prince of Rostov (987-1010), Prince of Novgorod (1010–1034), Grand Prince of Kiev (1016–1018, 1019–1054). Possibly he was a son of Anna rather than Rogneda. Another interesting fact that he was younger than Sviatopolk according to the words of Boris in the Tale of Bygone Years and not as it was officially known. Also the fact of him being the Prince of Rostov is highly doubtful although not discarded.
    • Vsevolod (~984-1013), possibly the Swedish Prince Wissawald of Volyn (~1000)
    • Mstislav, other Mstislav that possibly died as an infant if he was ever born
    • Mstislav of Chernigov (~983), Prince of Tmutarakan (990-1036), Prince of Chernigov (1024–1036), other sources claim him to be son of other mothers (Adela, Malfrida, or some other Bulgarian wife)
    • Izyaslav of Polotsk(~979, Kiev), Prince of Polotsk (989-1001)
    • Predslava, a concubine of Bolesław I Chrobry according to Gesta principum Polonorum
    • Premislava, (? - 1015), some source state that she was a wife of the Duke Laszlo (Vladislav) the Bold of Arpadians
    • Mstislava, in 1018 was taken by Bolesław I Chrobry among the other daughters
  • Bulgarian Adela, some sources claim that Adela is not necessarily Bulgarian as Boris and Gleb were born from some other wife
    • Boris (~986), Prince of Rostov (~1010-1015), remarkable is the fact that Rostov Principality as well as the Principality of Murom used to border the territory of Volga Bolgars
    • Gleb (~987), Prince of Murom (1013–1015), as Boris, Gleb is being also claimed the son of Anna Porphyrogeneta
    • Stanislav (~985-1015), Prince of Smolensk (988-1015), possible of another wife and a fate of whom is not certain
    • Sudislav (?-1063), Prince of Pskov (1014–1036), possible of another wife, but he is mentioned in Nikon's Chronicles. He spent 35 years in prison and later before dying turned into a monk.
  • Malfrida
    • Sviatoslav (~982-1015), Prince of Drevlians (990-1015)
  • Anna Porphyrogeneta
    • Theofana, a wife of Novgorod posadnik Ostromir, a grandson of semi-legendary Dobrynya (highly doubtful is the fact of her being Anna's offspring)
  • a granddaughter of Otto the Great (possibly Rechlinda Otona [Regelindis])
    • Maria (~1012), the Duchess of Poland (1040–1087)
    • Agatha, a theoretical daughter according to Jette
  • other possible family
    • a out-of-marriage daughter (?-1044), a wife of the Nordmark Margrave Bernard
    • Pozvizd (prior to 988-?), a son of Vladimir according to Hustyn Chronicles. He, possibly, was the Prince Khrisokhir mentioned by Niketas Choniates.

Vladimir's significance and historical footprint

One of the largest Kievan cathedrals is dedicated to him. The University of Kiev was named after the man who Christianized Kievan Rus. There is the Russian Order of St. Vladimir and Saint Vladimir's Orthodox Theological Seminary in the United States. The Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate the feast day of St. Vladimir on 15 July.

His memory was also kept alive by innumerable Russian folk ballads and legends, which refer to him as Krasno Solnyshko, that is, the Fair Sun. With him the Varangian period of Eastern Slavic history ceases and the Christian period begins.

See also



Preceded by
Yaropolk I
Prince of Kiev and Novgorod
Succeeded by
Sviatopolk I


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