Ilya Muromets

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Ilya Muromets (1914) by Viktor Vasnetsov

Ilya Muromets or Murometz,[1][a] also known as Ilya of Murom,[2] is a bogatyr in byliny set during the time of Kievan Rus'.[1] He is often featured alongside fellow bogatyrs Dobrynya Nikitich and Alyosha Popovich,[3][1] the three collectively known in Russian culture as "the three bogatyrs [ru]".

Attempts have been made to identify a possible historical nucleus for the character. The main candidate is Ilya Pechersky [ru], a 12th-century monk in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra who was canonized in 1643. His relics are preserved in the monastery.

Ilya in byliny[edit]

Ilya Muromets is a major figure in byliny, a type of Russian epic folklore collected in the 18th and 19th centuries.[4]

The son of a peasant, Ilya was born in the village of Karacharovo, near Murom.[1][5] He suffered a serious illness in his youth and was unable to walk until the age of 33.[3] He could only lie on a Russian stove, until he was miraculously healed by two pilgrims.[3] He was then given super-human strength by a dying knight, Svyatogor, and set out to liberate the city of Kiev from Idolishche to serve Vladimir I of Kiev. Along the way, he single-handedly defended the city of Chernigov from nomadic invasion (possibly by the Polovtsi) and was offered knighthood by the local ruler, but Ilya declined to stay. In the forests of Bryansk, he then killed the forest-dwelling monster known as Nightingale the Robber (Solovei-Razboinik), who murdered travelers with his powerful whistle.[3]

In Kiev, Ilya was made the chief bogatyr by Vladimir and he defended the country from numerous attacks by the steppe people, including Kalin-tsar [ru] of the Tatars. Generous and simple-minded but also temperamental, Ilya once went on a rampage and destroyed all the church steeples in Kiev after Vladimir failed to invite him to a celebration. He was soon appeased when Vladimir sent for him.[3]

Ilya Pechersky[edit]

Some suggest that his prototype was Ilya Pechersky [ru], a 12th-century monk in the Kiev Pechersk Lavra who was born in Karacharovo, near Murom, and canonized in 1643. According to hagiography, before taking his monastic vows, Ilya Pechersky was a warrior famous for his strength. His nickname was "Chobotok", meaning "(small) boot", given to him after an incident when Ilya Pechersky, caught by surprise, fought off enemies with only his boot.[6][better source needed]

In 1988, Soviet archeologists exhumed Ilya Pechersky's remains, which were stored in the monastery, and studied them. Their report suggested that at least some parts of the legend may be true: the man was tall, and his bones carried signs of spinal disease at early age and marks from numerous wounds, one of which was fatal.[6]

Legendary status[edit]

Bogatyrs [ru] (1898), a famous painting by Viktor Vasnetsov. Ilya Muromets is in the center, with Dobrynya Nikitich on the left, and Alyosha Popovich on the right

His character probably does not represent a unique historical persona, but rather a fusion of multiple real or fictional heroes from vastly different epochs. Thus, Ilya supposedly served Vladimir I of Kiev (r. 980–1015); he fought Batu Khan, the founder of the Golden Horde (c. 1205 – c. 1255); he saved Constantine the God-Loving, the tsar of Constantinople, from a monster (there were a number of Byzantine emperors named Constantine, one of them a contemporary of Vladimir I, named Constantine VIII (r. 962–1028); it could also be a reference to Constantine VII Porphyrogennetos (r. 913–959), who encountered Olga of Kiev in the 950s; but the one emperor in Constantinople with this name most likely to be called "God-loving" was Constantine XI, r. 1449–1453).


The cycle of tales around Ilya Muromets (including the fight against villainous Nightingale the Robber and monster Idolishche) is classified under its own type in the East Slavic Folktale Classification (Russian: СУС, romanizedSUS): SUS -650C*, Russian: Илья Муромец, romanizedIlya Muromets, closely placed with other tale types about strong heroes.[7] The East Slavic Classification registers variants from Russian, Belarusian and Ukrainian sources.[8]



  1. ^ Russian: Илья Муромец, romanizedIlya Muromets; Ukrainian: Ілля Муромець, romanizedIllia Muromets


  1. ^ a b c d Sherman, Josepha (26 March 2015). Storytelling: An Encyclopedia of Mythology and Folklore. Routledge. pp. 234–235. ISBN 978-1-317-45938-5.
  2. ^ Chadwick, H. Munro; Chadwick, Nora K. (31 October 2010). The Growth of Literature. Cambridge University Press. p. 137. ISBN 978-1-108-01615-5.
  3. ^ a b c d e  "Илья Муромец" . Brockhaus and Efron Encyclopedic Dictionary (in Russian). 1906.
  4. ^ Honko, Lauri (20 July 2011). Textualization of Oral Epics. Walter de Gruyter. p. 318. ISBN 978-3-11-082584-8.
  5. ^ Dixon-Kennedy, Mike (8 December 1998). Encyclopedia of Russian and Slavic Myth and Legend. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 120. ISBN 978-1-57607-487-9.
  6. ^ a b "Страсти по Илье", Vokrug Sveta, Magazine, January 1994
  7. ^ Barag, Lev. "Сравнительный указатель сюжетов. Восточнославянская сказка". Leningrad: НАУКА, 1979. p. 169.
  8. ^ Barag, Lev. "Сравнительный указатель сюжетов. Восточнославянская сказка". Leningrad: НАУКА, 1979. pp. 169-170.
  9. ^ Afanas'ev, Aleksandr (2013-01-02). Russian Fairy Tales. Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. ISBN 978-0-307-82976-4.
  10. ^ Bohatier #1: Ocelové žezlo [Steel Scepter]

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