Olga of Kiev
|Holy Equal-to-the-Apostles Olga|
Orthodox icon of St. Olga.
|Grand Princess of Kiev|
|Died||11 July 969 (aged 79)
|Honored in||Russian Eastern Orthodoxy
|Canonized||1146, Rome by Clement II|
Olga was born in c. 890, daughter of Gostomisle. According to the Primary Chronicle "The Tale of Bygone Years", Olga was a native of Pskov (Old Russian. Pleskov, Plskov). The Life of Saint Princess Olga explains that she was born in the village Vybuty (Russian: Выбуты), Pskov Oblast, 12 km south of the city Pskov on the river Vilikoye, into a family of Varyag origin. By some accounts, she was the daughter of Oleg of Novgorod
The other hypothesis is that Olga was born in Pliska, Bulgaria (or in Plisnensk near Lviv). Her father was knyаz Vladimir of Bulgaria. His first grandson was named Vladimir I the Great named after his grandfather, respectively one of his sons Boris was named after his great-grandfather. Olga was the granddaughter of kan/knyaz Boris I.
|This section needs additional citations for verification. (July 2013)|
Princess Olga was the wife of Igor of Kiev, who was killed by the Drevlians. Upon her husband's death, their son, Svyatoslav, was three years old, making Olga the official ruler of Kievan Rus until he reached adulthood. The Drevlians wanted Olga to marry their Prince Mal, making him the ruler of Kievan Rus, but Olga was determined to remain in power and preserve it for her son.
The Drevlians sent twenty of their best men to persuade Olga to marry their Prince Mal and give up her rule of Kievan Rus. She had them buried alive. Then she sent word to Prince Mal that she accepted the proposal, but required their most distinguished men to accompany her on the journey in order for her people to accept the offer of marriage. The Drevlians sent their best men who governed their land. Upon their arrival, she offered them a warm welcome and an invitation to clean up after their long journey in a bathhouse. After they entered, she locked the doors and set fire to the building, burning them alive.
With the best and wisest men out of the way, she planned to destroy the remaining Drevlians. She invited them to a funeral feast so she could mourn over her husband's grave, where her servants waited on them. After the Drevlians were drunk, Olga's soldiers killed over 5,000 of them. She returned to Kiev and prepared an army to attack the survivors. The Drevlians begged for mercy and offered to pay for their freedom with honey and furs. She asked for three pigeons and three sparrows from each house, since she did not want to burden the villagers any further after the siege. They were happy to comply with such a reasonable request.
Now Olga gave to each soldier in her army a pigeon or a sparrow, and ordered them to attach by thread to each pigeon and sparrow a piece of sulfur bound with small pieces of cloth. When night fell, Olga bade her soldiers release the pigeons and the sparrows. So the birds flew to their nests, the pigeons to the cotes, and the sparrows under the eaves. The dove-cotes, the coops, the porches, and the haymows were set on fire. There was not a house that was not consumed, and it was impossible to extinguish the flames, because all the houses caught on fire at once. The people fled from the city, and Olga ordered her soldiers to catch them. Thus she took the city and burned it, and captured the elders of the city. Some of the other captives she killed, while some she gave to others as slaves to her followers. The remnant she left to pay tribute.
In 947, Princess Olga launched a punitive expedition against the tribal elites between the Luga and the Msta River. Following this successful campaign, a number of forts were erected at Olga’s orders. One of them is Gorodec in the Luga region a fortification dated to the middle of the tenth century. Because of its isolated location, Gorodec does not seem to have been in any way associated with the pre-existing settlement pattern. Moreover, the fort produced another example of square timber frames designed to consolidate the rampart that was seen at Ryurik’s Stronghold. The same building technique was in use a century later in the Novgorod fortifications.
Olga remained Regent ruler of Kievan Rus with the support of the army and her people. She changed the system of tribute gathering (poliudie) in the first legal reform recorded in Eastern Europe. She continued to evade proposals of marriage, defended the city during the Siege of Kiev in 968, and saved the power of the throne for her son.
She was the first Rus' ruler to convert to Christianity, either in 945 or in 957. The ceremonies of her formal reception in Constantinople were minutely described by Emperor Constantine VII in his book De Ceremoniis. Following her baptism she took the Christian name Yelena, after the reigning Empress Helena Lekapena. The Slavonic chronicles add apocryphal details to the account of her baptism, such as the story how she charmed and "outwitted" Constantine and how she spurned his matrimonial proposals. In truth, at the time of her baptism, Olga was an old woman, while Constantine had a wife.
Olga was one of the first people of Rus' to be proclaimed a saint, for her efforts to spread the Christian religion in the country. Because of her proselytizing influence, the Orthodox Church calls St. Olga by the honorific Isapóstolos, "Equal to the Apostles". However, she failed to convert Svyatoslav, and it was left to her grandson and pupil Vladimir I to make Christianity the lasting state religion. During her son's prolonged military campaigns, she remained in charge of Kiev, residing in the castle of Vyshgorod together with her grandsons. She died soon after the city's siege by the Pechenegs in 969.
Relations with the Holy Roman Emperor
Seven Latin sources document Olga's embassy to Holy Roman Emperor Otto I in 959. The continuation of Regino of Prüm mentions that the envoys requested the Emperor to appoint a bishop and priests for their nation. The chronicler accuses the envoys of lies, commenting that their trick was not exposed until later. Thietmar of Merseburg says that the first archbishop of Magdeburg, Saint Adalbert of Magdeburg, before being promoted to this high rank, was sent by Emperor Otto to the country of the Rus' (Rusciae) as a simple bishop but was expelled by pagan allies of Svyatoslav I. The same data is duplicated in the annals of Quedlinburg and Hildesheim, among others.
- Christianization of Kievan Rus'
- List of Ukrainian rulers
- Rulers of Kievan Rus'
- List of Russian rulers
Igor of Kiev
|Princess of Kiev
Sviatoslav the Brave
|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Olga of Kiev.|
- In saga of Olaf Tryggvason mother of Vladimir I, Olga was called Allogia.
- von Strahlenberg, Philipp Johann (1738). An Historico-geographical Description of the North and Eastern Parts of Europe and Asia: But More Particularly of Russia, Siberia, and Great Tartary; Both in Their Ancient and Modern State: Together with an Entire New Polyglot-table of the Dialects of 32 Tartarian Nations, and a Vocabulary of... W. Innys and R. Manby, at the West-End of St. Paul's. p. 109.
- Prominent Russians: Princess Olga of Kiev
- Vladimir of Bulgariа
- Russian Primary Chronicle
- Lavrent’ievskaia letopis’ (1997:60)
- Lebedev 1982:225-238; Zalevskaia 1982:49-54
- extracts of the Primary Chronicle in English translation, University of Oregon
- Primary Sources - A collection of translated excerpts on Medieval Rus, University of Washington Faculty Web Server (November 6, 2004)