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Novgorodians. A Selection of Biographies

Yaroslav the Wise

978 — 1054

Yaroslav the Wise was Grand Prince of Kiev, the son of Vladimir Svyatoslavovich and Rogneda, Princess of Polotsk. Under his father he was put in charge of Novgorod. Every year, as the ruler of Novgorod, Yaroslav had to pay Kiev 2,000 silver hryvnias. In 1014, Yaroslav felt strong enough to confront Kiev and refused to pay the tribute. His decision was strongly supported by the Novgorodians who had always grudged the dependence on Southern Russia and the tribute. Wild with anger, Yaroslav’s father began to raise troops to punish the disobedient son. And, only the death of Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavovich prevented Yaroslav from the war with his father.

The death of Vladimir ignited a violent internecine struggle for the Kievan throne among his sons. The elder brother Vladimir Svyatopolk assassinated his brothers Boris, Gleb and Svyatoslav and at the cost of their lives became Grand Prince of Kiev.

Yaroslav’s murder was also envisaged by the plot of Svyatopolk, styled the Accursed. And, when the sister of Yaroslav Predslava revealed Yaroslav the intentions of the brother, he advanced the troops towards Kiev. After three-month confrontation near Lyubech, Yaroslav defeated Svyatopolk, and he fled to his father-in-law, Boleslaus the Brave, King of Poland.

In 1018, the troops of Boleslaus and Svyatopolk intruded the Russian lands and came close to Kiev. After a short siege of the city, Kiev surrendered. Thereupon, Yaroslav raised new forces composed of the Varangians and the Novgorodian militia and marched towards Kiev again in order to regain the Grand Prince throne and to punish “the blasphemer and murderer of brothers”. The decisive battle between Yaroslav and Svyatopolk took place on the river Alta in 1019. Svyatopolk was defeated there. Ascending the Kievan throne, Yaroslav went to struggle with another brother Mstislav, Prince of Tmutarakan. In 1023, Mstislav intruded the lands of Yaroslav and waged a war which lasted three years. In 1025, upon mutual agreement, Mstislav took possession of the left bank area of Dnieper, making Chernigov the capital of his principality. After this partition of the lands the brothers lived in peace with each other.

Later, Yaroslav restored the integrity of the Old Russian state.

Grand Prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich was named the Wise by the folk, and he is rightfully considered a great enlightener of Russia. He established the first public school in Novgorod and laid the foundations of the Grand Princely library. As a lawmaker, Yaroslav promulgated the first code of civil laws known as Russkaya Pravda. The Kiev-Pechersk Lavra, which was Russia center of chronicle keeping, was founded under Yaroslav the Wise. And it was Yaroslav who introduced the office of and elected the first Metropolitan of Kiev independent of the Patriarch of Constantinople.

The office was taken by Illarion, a great Old-Russian writer and one of the fathers of Russian literature.

Loved and respected by the folk, Grand Prince Yaroslav Vladimirovich the Wise passed away on February 20, 1054. He is buried in the St. Sophia Cathedral of Kiev.


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