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Three of the most famous bogatyrs, Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich, appear together in Victor Vasnetsov's 1898 painting Bogatyrs.

A bogatyr (Russian: богатырь, IPA: [bəɡɐˈtɨrʲ] (About this soundlisten)) or vityaz (Russian: витязь, IPA: [ˈvʲitʲɪsʲ]) is a stock character in medieval East Slavic legends, akin to a Western European knight-errant. Bogatyrs appear mainly in Rus' epic poems - bylinas. Historically, they came into existence during the reign of Vladimir the Great (Grand Prince of Kiev from 980 to 1015) as part of his elite warriors (druzhina[1]), akin to Knights of the Round Table.[2] Tradition describes bogatyrs as warriors of immense strength, courage and bravery, rarely using magic while fighting enemies[2] in order to maintain the "loosely based on historical fact" aspect of bylinas. They are characterized as having resounding voices, with patriotic and religious pursuits, defending Rus' from foreign enemies (especially nomadic Turkic steppe-peoples or Finno-Ugric tribes in the period prior to the Mongol invasions) and their religion.[3] In modern Russian, the word bogatyr labels a courageous hero, an athlete or a physically strong person.[4]


Photo of bogatyr definition from Oxford Russian-English Dictionary, depicting the derivations

The word bogatyr is not originally Russian. There have been different theories[5] about the origin of the word but researchers agree that bogatyr is not of Slavic origin.[6] Many researchers suspect[6] the word bogatyr is derived from a Turco-Mongolian word: baatar, bagadur, baghtur, bator, batyr, and batur, all with meanings along the lines of hero, warrior, and brave. This reasoning originates from noted interactions between Turco-Mongols and Rus-Kievan people in the form war and battle, the chance of one influencing the other and vice versa being high. The word bogatyr is used similarly in other modern languages such as Polish (bohater), Hungarian (bator) and Persian (bahadur), meaning hero and/or athlete.

The first time bogatyr is used to denote "hero" and subsequently becoming synonymous with each other was recorded in Stanisław Sarnicki's book Descriptio veteris et novae Poloniae cum divisione ejusdem veteri et nova (A description of the Old and the New Poland with the old, and a new division of the same), printed in 1585 in Cracow (in the Aleksy Rodecki's printing house), in which he says, "Rossi… de heroibus suis, quos Bohatiros id est semideos vocant, aliis persuadere conantur."[5] ("Russians... try to convince others about their heroes whom they call Bogatirs, meaning demigods.")


Knight at the Crossroads, Viktor Vasnetsov (1882)

Many Rus epic poems, called Bylinas, prominently featured stories about these heroes, as did several chronicles, including the 13th century Galician–Volhynian Chronicle. Some bogatyrs are presumed to be historical figures, while others, like the giant Svyatogor, are purely fictional and possibly descend from Slavic pagan mythology. The epic poems are usually divided into three collections: the Mythological epics, older stories that were told before Kiev-Rus was founded and Christianity was brought to the region, and included magic and the supernatural; the Kievan cycle, that contains the largest number of bogatyrs and their stories(IIya Muromets, Dobrynya Nikitich, and Aloysha Popovich); and the Novgorod cycle, focused on Cadko and Vasily Buslayev, that depicts everyday life in Novgorod.[7]

Andrei Ryabushkin. Sadko, a rich Novgorod merchant, 1895.

Many of the stories about bogatyrs revolve around the court of Vladimir I of Kiev (958–1015) and are called the Kievan Cycle. The most notable bogatyrs or vityazes served at his court: the trio of Alyosha Popovich, Dobrynya Nikitich and Ilya Muromets. Each of them tends to be known for a certain character trait: Alyosha Popovich for his wits, Dobrynya Nikitich for his courage, and Ilya Muromets for his physical and spiritual power and integrity, and for his dedication to the protection of his homeland and people. Most of those bogatyrs adventures are fictional, and often included fighting dragons, giants and other mythical creatures. However, the bogatyrs themselves were often based on real people. Historical prototypes of both Dobrynya Nikitich (the warlord Dobrynya) and Ilya Muromets are proven to have existed.

The Novgorod Republic produced a specific kind of hero, an adventurer rather than a noble warrior. The most prominent examples were Sadko and Vasily Buslayev who became part of the Novgorod Cycle of folk epics.[7]

Mythological epics rooted in the supernatural and shamanism, and related to paganism.[7] The most prominent heroes in these epics are Syvatogor and Volkh Vseslavyevich; they are commonly called the "Elder Bogatyrs".

Later notable bogatyrs also include those who fought by Alexander Nevsky's side, including Vasily Buslayev and those who fought in the Battle of Kulikovo.

Bogatyrs and their heroic tales have influenced many figures in Russian Literature and Art, such Alexander Pushkin, who wrote the 1820 epic fairy tale poem Ruslan and Ludmila, Victor Vasnetsov, and Andrei Ryabushkin whose artworks depict many bogatyrs from the different cycles of folk epics. Bogatyrs are also mentioned in wonder tales in a more playful light as in Foma Berennikov,[8] a story in Aleksandr Afanas'ev's collection of tales called Russian Fairy Tales featuring Alyosha Popovich and Ilya Muromets.

Female Bogatyr[edit]

S.S. Solomko. Russian bogatyr, Nastasya Korolevichna.

Though not as heavily researched, the female bogatyr or polianitsa (Поленица [ru]) is a female warrior akin to the Amazons. Many of the more well known polianitsas are wives to the famous male bogatyrs, such as Nastas'ya Nikulichna,[9] the wife of Dobrynya Nikitich. The female bogatyr matches the men in strength and bravery with stories detailing instances where they save their husbands and outwit the enemy.[9] They are often seen working with the heroes in tales that mention their presence.

Nastasya Mikulichna, daughter of Mikula Selyaninovich (art by A. Ryabushkin,1898)

Famous bogatyrs[edit]

Most bogatyrs are fictional, but are believed to be based on historical prototypes:

Some of the historical warriors also entered folklore and became known as bogatyrs:

Bogatyrs in films[edit]

Bogatyrs in books[edit]

  • Books by Jennifer Estep
    • Crimson Frost (2013)
    • Midnight Frost (2013)
    • Killer Frost (2014)
  • Books By Robin Bridges
    • The Katerina Trilogy(The Gather Storm(2012), The Unfailing Light(2012), The Morning Star(2013))

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Pronin, Alexander (1719). Byliny; Heroic Tales of Old Russia. Possev. p. 26. Retrieved 2019-01-05. '"Stay in my druzhina and be my senior bogatyr, chief above all the others.'
  2. ^ a b Bailey, James; Ivanova, Tatyana (1998). An Anthology of Russian Folk Epics. New York: M.E. Sharpe.
  3. ^ "Богатыри". Archived from the original on 2013-02-06. Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  4. ^ Translators, interpreters, and cultural negotiators : mediating and communicating power from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era. Federici, Federico M.,, Tessicini, Dario,. New York, NY. ISBN 9781137400048. OCLC 883902988.CS1 maint: others (link)
  5. ^ a b "Богатыри". Retrieved 2018-03-21.
  6. ^ a b Translators, interpreters, and cultural negotiators : mediating and communicating power from the Middle Ages to the Modern Era. Federici, Federico M.,, Tessicini, Dario,. New York, NY. ISBN 9781137400048. OCLC 883902988.CS1 maint: others (link)
  7. ^ a b c Bailey, James; Ivanova, Tatyana (1998). An Anthology of Russian Folk Epics. New York: M.E. Sharpe.
  8. ^ 1826-1871., Afanasʹev, A. N. (Aleksandr Nikolaevich),. Russian fairy tales. Guterman, Norbert, 1900-1984., Jakobson, Roman, 1896-1982., Alexeieff, Alexandre, 1901-1982., Rouben Mamoulian Collection (Library of Congress). [New York]. ISBN 0394730909. OCLC 166025.
  9. ^ a b 1958-, Dixon-Kennedy, Mike, (1998). Encyclopedia of Russian & Slavic myth and legend. Santa Barbara, Calif.: ABC-CLIO. ISBN 1576070638. OCLC 39157488.
  10. ^ Всеслав Брячиславич // Биографический справочник — Мн.: «Белорусская советская энциклопедия» им. Петруся Бровки, 1982. — Т. 5. — С. 129. — 737 с.