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Sviatoslav I of Kiev
Jun 29, '20

My Vikings Lives

Spiritual progress is torturous business, stellar lives interspersed by period of reflection. The higher you rise, the lower you fall but always you try your best.

Sviatoslav I Igorevich (Old East Slavic: Ст҃ославъ / Свѧтославъ Игорєвичь, Svętoslavŭ Igorevičǐ; 943 – 26 March 972), also spelled Svyatoslav, was a Grand Prince of Kiev famous for his persistent campaigns in the east and south, which precipitated the collapse of two great powers of Eastern Europe, Khazaria and the First Bulgarian Empire. He also conquered numerous East Slavic tribes, defeated the Alans and attacked the Volga Bulgars, and at times was allied with the Pechenegs and Magyars.

A short but glorious life on an eternal soul journey.

Cutting the Way for Harald Hardrada

His decade-long reign over the Kievan Rus' was marked by rapid expansion into the Volga River valley, the Pontic steppe, and the Balkans. By the end of his short life, Sviatoslav carved out for himself the largest state in Europe, eventually moving his capital in 969 from Kiev (modern-day Ukraine) to Pereyaslavets (identified as the modern village of Nufăru, Romania) on the Danube. In contrast with his mother's conversion to Christianity, Sviatoslav remained a staunch pagan all of his life. Due to his abrupt death in ambush, his conquests, for the most part, were not consolidated into a functioning empire, while his failure to establish a stable succession led to a fratricidal feud among his three sons, resulting in two of them being killed.

The Primary Chronicle records Sviatoslav as the first ruler of the Kievan Rus' with a name of Slavic origin (as opposed to his predecessors, whose names had Old Norse forms). Some scholars see the name of Sviatoslav, composed of the Slavic roots for "holy" and "glory", as an artificial derivation combining the names of his predecessors Oleg and Rurik (whose names mean "holy" and "glorious" in Old Norse, respectively).

Early life and personality

Virtually nothing is known about Sviatoslav's childhood and youth, which he spent reigning in Novgorod. Sviatoslav's father, Igor, was killed by the Drevlians around 945, and his mother, Olga, ruled as regent in Kiev until Sviatoslav reached maturity (ca. 963).

Sviatoslav was tutored by a Varangian named Asmud. The tradition of employing Varangian tutors for the sons of ruling princes survived well into the 11th century. Sviatoslav appears to have had little patience for administration. His life was spent with his druzhina (roughly, "company") in permanent warfare against neighboring states.

According to the Primary Chronicle, he carried on his expeditions neither wagons nor kettles, and he boiled no meat, rather cutting off small strips of horseflesh, game, or beef to eat after roasting it on the coals. Nor did he have a tent, rather spreading out a horse-blanket under him and setting his saddle under his head, and all his retinue did likewise.

Illustration of Sviatoslav wearing a vyshyvanka, by Fedor Solntsev

Sviatoslav's appearance has been described very clearly by Leo the Deacon, who himself attended the meeting of Sviatoslav with John I Tzimiskes. Following Deacon's memories, Sviatoslav was a bright-eyed, man of average height but of stalwart build, much more sturdy than Tzimiskes. He had bald head and a wispy beard and wore a bushy mustache and a sidelock as a sign of his nobility. He preferred to dress in white, and it was noted that his garments were much cleaner than those of his men, although he had a lot in common with his warriors. He wore a single large gold earring bearing a carbuncle and two pearls.

Religious beliefs

Sviatoslav's mother, Olga, converted to Orthodox Christianity at the court of Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus in 957, at the approximate age of 67. However, Sviatoslav remained a pagan all of his life. In the treaty of 971 between Sviatoslav and the Byzantine emperor John I Tzimiskes, the Rus' swore by the gods Perun and Veles. According to the Primary Chronicle, he believed that his warriors (druzhina) would lose respect for him and mock him if he became a Christian. The allegiance of his warriors was of paramount importance in his conquest of an empire that stretched from the Volga to the Danube.

Death and aftermath

Fearing that the peace with Sviatoslav would not endure, the Byzantine emperor induced the Pecheneg khan Kurya to kill Sviatoslav before he reached Kiev. This was in line with the policy outlined by Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus in De Administrando Imperio of fomenting strife between the Rus' and the Pechenegs. According to the Slavic chronicle, Sveneld attempted to warn Sviatoslav to avoid the Dnieper rapids, but the prince slighted his wise advice and was ambushed and slain by the Pechenegs when he tried to cross the cataracts near Khortitsa early in 972. The Primary Chronicle reports that his skull was made into a chalice by the Pecheneg khan.

Following Sviatoslav's death, tensions between his sons grew. A war broke out between his legitimate sons, Oleg and Yaropolk, in 976, at the conclusion of which Oleg was killed. In 977 Vladimir fled Novgorod to escape Oleg's fate and went to Scandinavia, where he raised an army of Varangians and returned in 980. Yaropolk was killed, and Vladimir became the sole ruler of Kievan Rus'.

My Three Sons

Survival of the fittest always a problem especially when there is three.

(Earring ring should be worn in the left ear leaving the right sword arm to swing freely.)
Jun 29, '20
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