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Sviatoslav I of Kiev
Sviatoslav I, Prince of Kiev (c.945 - 972) was the warrior Varangian prince of Kiev, who carved out for himself the largest state in Europe and finally moved his capital to Pereyaslavets in Bulgaria in 969.
We have no information about Svyatoslav's minority and youth, which he spent reigning in Novgorod. His mother, Saint Olga, ruled as Kievan regent until his majority (c.963). Sviatoslav was notorious as a stubborn pagan who rejected the Christianity, which had been embraced by his mother ca 945.
Svyatoslav's life was spent with his druzhina in permanent warfare against neighbouring states. During his reign, he created an empire that stretched from the Volga to the Danube. His greatest success was the conquest of Khazaria, which for centuries had been one of the strongest states of Eastern Europe. By 965 he also defeated the Volga Bulgars, thus bringing under Kievan control the entire area of the Volga River. Then, as an ally of the Byzantine Empire, which was at war with the Bulgars, Sviatoslav decisively defeated the Bulgars of the Danube (968), thereby paving the way for victories of Basil the Bulgar-Slayer.
In moving his capital to Bulgaria, Svyatoslav intended to make it the center of his extensive empire. He was forced to give up the Balkan lands (971), however, in a war with the Byzantine Emperor John I. His unorthodox appearance was noted by the Greeks, who described him as having shaved one side of his head, and having a single large gold earring. During his return from the abysmal Byzantine campaign, Sviatoslav was ambushed and killed by the Pechenegs (972). According to the Primary Chronicle, his skull was made into a chalice by the Pecheneg khan.
Edward Gibbon upon Svyatoslav's war with Byzantium
The Russian traders had seen the magnificence, and tasted the luxury of the city of the Caesars. A marvellous tale, and a scanty supply, excited the desires of their savage countrymen: they envied the gifts of nature which their climate denied; they coveted the works of art, which they were too lazy to imitate and too indigent to purchase; the Varangian princes unfurled the banners of piratical adventure, and their bravest soldiers were drawn from the nations that dwelt in the northern isles of the ocean. The image of their naval armaments was revived in the last century, in the fleets of the Cossacks, which issued from the Borysthenes, to navigate the same seas for a similar purpose. The Greek appellation of monoxyla, or single canoes, might justly be applied to the bottom of their vessels. It was scooped out of the long stem of a beech or willow, but the slight and narrow foundation was raised and continued on either side with planks, till it attained the length of sixty, and the height of about twelve, feet. These boats were built without a deck, but with two rudders and a mast; to move with sails and oars; and to contain from forty to seventy men, with their arms, and provisions of fresh water and salt fish.
Yet the threats or calamities of a Russian war were more frequently diverted by treaty than by arms. In these naval hostilities, every disadvantage was on the side of the Greeks; their savage enemy afforded no mercy: his poverty promised no spoil; his impenetrable retreat deprived the conqueror of the hopes of revenge; and the pride or weakness of empire indulged an opinion, that no honour could be gained or lost in the intercourse with Barbarians.
At first their demands were high and inadmissible, three pounds of gold for each soldier or mariner of the fleet: the Russian youth adhered to the design of conquest and glory; but the counsels of moderation were recommended by the hoary sages. "Be content," they said, "with the liberal offers of Caesar; it is not far better to obtain without a combat the possession of gold, silver, silks, and all the objects of our desires? Are we sure of victory? Can we conclude a treaty with the sea? We do not tread on the land; we float on the abyss of water, and a common death hangs over our heads."
The memory of these Arctic fleets that seemed to descend from the polar circle left deep impression of terror on the Imperial city. By the vulgar of every rank, it was asserted and believed, that an equestrian statue in the square of Taurus was secretly inscribed with a prophecy, how the Russians, in the last days, should become masters of Constantinople. In our own time, a Russian armament, instead of sailing from the Borysthenes, has circumnavigated the continent of Europe; and the Turkish capital has been threatened by a squadron of strong and lofty ships of war, each of which, with its naval science and thundering artillery, could have sunk or scattered a hundred canoes, such as those of their ancestors. Perhaps the present generation may yet behold the accomplishment of the prediction, of a rare prediction, of which the style is unambiguous and the date unquestionable.
By land the Russians were less formidable than by sea; and as they fought for the most part on foot, their irregular legions must often have been broken and overthrown by the cavalry of the Scythian hordes. Yet their growing towns, however slight and imperfect, presented a shelter to the subject, and a barrier to the enemy: the monarchy of Kiow, till a fatal partition, assumed the dominion of the North; and the nations from the Volga to the Danube were subdued or repelled by the arms of Swatoslaus, the son of Igor, the son of Ruric. The vigour of his mind and body was fortified by the hardships of a military and savage life. Wrapped in a bear-skin, Swatoslaus usually slept on the ground, his head reclining on a saddle; his diet was coarse and frugal, and, like the heroes of Homer, his meat (it was often horse-flesh) was broiled or roasted on the coals. The exercise of war gave stability and discipline to his army; and it may be presumed, that no soldier was permitted to transcend the luxury of his chief.
By an embassy from Nicephorus, the Greek emperor, he was moved to undertake the conquest of Bulgaria; and a gift of fifteen hundred pounds of gold was laid at his feet to defray the expense, or reward the toils, of the expedition. An army of sixty thousand men was assembled and embarked; they sailed from the Borysthenes to the Danube; their landing was effected on the Maesian shore; and, after a sharp encounter, the swords of the Russians prevailed against the arrows of the Bulgarian horse. The vanquished king sunk into the grave; his children were made captive; and his dominions, as far as Mount Haemus, were subdued or ravaged by the northern invaders.
But instead of relinquishing his prey, and performing his engagements, the Varangian prince was more disposed to advance than to retire; and, had his ambition been crowned with success, the seat of empire in that early period might have been transferred to a more temperate and fruitful climate. Swatoslaus enjoyed and acknowledged the advantages of his new position, in which he could unite, by exchange or rapine, the various productions of the earth. By an easy navigation he might draw from Russia the native commodities of furs, wax, and hydromed: Hungary supplied him with a breed of horses and the spoils of the West; and Greece abounded with gold, silver, and the foreign luxuries, which his poverty had affected to disdain. The bands of Patzinacites , Chozars , and Turks, repaired to the standard of victory; and the ambassador of Nicephorus betrayed his trust, assumed the purple, and promised to share with his new allies the treasures of the Eastern world. From the banks of the Danube the Russian prince pursued his march as far as Adrianople; a formal summons to evacuate the Roman province was dismissed with contempt; and Swatoslaus fiercely replied, that Constantinople might soon expect the presence of an enemy and a master.
Nicephorus could no longer expel the mischief which he had introduced; but his throne and wife were inherited by John Zimisces, who, in a diminutive body, possessed the spirit and abilities of a hero. The first victory of his lieutenants deprived the Russians of their foreign allies, twenty thousand of whom were either destroyed by the sword, or provoked to revolt, or tempted to desert. Thrace was delivered, but seventy thousand Barbarians were still in arms; and the legions that had been recalled from the new conquests of Syria, prepared, with the return of the spring, to march under the banners of a warlike prince, who declared himself the friend and avenger of the injured Bulgaria. The passes of Mount Haemus had been left unguarded; they were instantly occupied; the Roman vanguard was formed of the immortals (a proud imitation of the Persian style), the emperor led the main body of ten thousand five hundred foot; and the rest of his forces followed in slow and cautious array, with the baggage and military engines. The first exploit of Zimisces was the reduction of Marcianopolis, or Peristhlaba, in two days; the trumpets sounded; the walls were scaled; eight thousand five hundred Russians were put to the sword; and the sons of the Bulgarian king were rescued from an ignominious prison, and invested with a nominal diadem.
After these repeated losses, Swatoslaus retired to the strong post of Drista, on the banks of the Danube, and was pursued by an enemy who alternately employed the arms of celerity and delay. The Byzantine galleys ascended the river, the legions completed a line of circumvallation; and the Russian prince was encompassed, assaulted, and famished, in the fortifications of the camp and city. Many deeds of valour were performed; several desperate sallies were attempted; nor was it till after a siege of sixty-five days that Swatoslaus yielded to his adverse fortune. The liberal terms which he obtained announce the prudence of the victor, who respected the valour, and apprehended the despair, of an unconquered mind. The great duke of Russia bound himself, by solemn imprecations, to relinquish all hostile designs; a safe passage was opened for his return; the liberty of trade and navigation was restored; a measure of corn was distributed to each of his soldiers; and the allowance of twenty-two thousand measures attests the loss and the remnant of the Barbarians.
After a painful voyage, they again reached the mouth of the Borysthenes; but their provisions were exhausted; the season was unfavourable; they passed the winter on the ice; and, before they could prosecute their march, Swatoslaus was surprised and oppressed by the neighbouring tribes with whom the Greeks entertained a perpetual and useful correspondence. Far different was the return of Zimisces, who was received in his capital like Camillus or Marius, the saviours of ancient Rome. But the merit of the victory was attributed by the pious emperor to the mother of God; and the image of the Virgin Mary, with the divine infant in her arms, was placed on a triumphal car, adorned with the spoils of war, and the ensigns of Bulgarian royalty. Zimisces made his public entry on horseback; the diadem on his head, a crown of laurel in his hand; and Constantinople was astonished to applaud the martial virtues of her sovereign.
- Chertkov A. D. Opisanie voiny velikago kniazya Svyatoslava Igorevicha. Moscow, 1843.
- Sakharov, Andrey. The Dyplomacy of Svyatoslav. Moscow: Nauka, 1982.
- Subtelny, Orest. Ukraine: A History. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1988. ISBN 0-8020-5809-6.
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