Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv

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Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv with Lybid (miniature of the Radziwiłł Letopis)
Commemorative coin "Kyi" denomination of 10 hryvnias is dedicated to Kniaz Kyi
Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv and Lybid on the obverse of the NBU silver coin "900 years of the Primary Chronicle", 2013

Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv (Ukrainian: Кий, Щек, Хорив [ˈkɪj ˈʃtʃɛk xoˈrɪu̯]; Old East Slavic: Кии, Щекъ, Хоривъ, romanized: Kii, Ščekǔ, Xorivǔ) were three legendary brothers—often mentioned along with their sister Lybid (Ukrainian: Либідь [ˈlɪbidʲ]; Old East Slavic: Лыбѣдь)—who, according to the Primary Chronicle,[1] founded the medieval city of Kyiv, which eventually became the capital of Kievan Rus' and present-day Ukraine. There is no precise and historically established information about the rule of Kyi and the establishment of the city of Kyiv.[2]

Kyi (Old East Slavic: Кии, Kiy; Ukrainian: Кий, Kyi) was the legendary founder of Kyiv and the Kyi dynasty, and the Prince (Knyaz) of the Polans. He was one of four siblings (brothers Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv, and sister Lybid), who, according to the Primary Chronicle, lived in the Dnieper mountains and built a city on the right high bank of the Dnieper, named Kyiv, after the eldest brother. Kyi was also named the founder of the town of Kyivets on the Danube. From Kyi and his brothers the chroniclers deduced the Polans tribe.[3]

Historical background[edit]

In the Primary Chronicle, which is traditionally believed to have been written by a monk of Kyiv Cave Monastery by the name of Nestor and finished in 1113, a special place is held by the legend of the foundation of Kyiv by three brothers.[2] Nestor places those brothers onto various hills of Kyiv.[2] Geographically, the old Kyiv is located on a higher right bank of the Dnieper, which is an extension of the Dnieper Upland, where remnants of the Church of the Tithes are located.

The Chronicle further states that there were people ("who did not know what they were saying") who considered Kyi a mere ferryman.[2] But it later claims that Kyi, as a prince of his gens, was visiting Czargrad and received great honors from the Emperor.[2] Dmitry Likhachov combined attestations of the Nikon Chronicle, which also recounts that Kyi with a great army marched onto Czargrad and received great honors from the Emperor.[2] During his expedition to Constantinople, Kyi also founded a city of Kyivets on the Danube.[2]

Nestor also names the approximate date of the assault on Kyiv by the Khazar Empire as "after the death of Kyi," which supports Boris Rybakov's hypothesis of the 6th–7th centuries.[2] In his chronicle Nestor does not indicate the date of Kyi's death nor the existence or absence of heirs who continued to rule after his death.[2] The chronicle does mention a meeting between local residents with the newly arrived Askold and Dir who asked them whose city Kjiv was, and received the answer that the three brothers who built it were long dead and the residents now paid tribute to the Khazars.[2] However, the Polish historian Jan Długosz points out the Przemysł Chronicle that asserts, "after the death of Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv, their children and grandchildren who descended from them by direct lineage ruled for many years."[2]

Monument to the Founders of Kyiv

Text of "Primary Chronicle"[edit]

«И быша 3 брата, единому имя Кий, а другому Щекъ, а третьему Хоривъ, и сестра их Лыбѣдь. И сѣдяше Кий на горѣ, кдѣ нынѣ увозъ Боричевъ, а Щекъ сѣдяше на горѣ, кдѣ нынѣ зовется Щековица, а Хоривъ на третьей горѣ, отнюдуже прозвася Хоривіца; створиша городокъ, во имя брата ихъ старѣйшаго, и нарекоша его Киевъ. И бяше около города лѣсъ и боръ великъ, и бяху ловяще звѣрье. Бяхуть бо мудрѣ и смыслени, и нарицахуся Поляне, отъ нихъ же суть Поляне Кияне и до сего дни.

Инии же, не вѣдуще, ркоша, яко Кий есть перевозникъ бысть; у Киева бо перевозъ бяше тогда съ оноя страны Днепра, тѣмь глаголаху: на перевозъ на Киевъ. Аще бо быль перевозникъ Кый, то не бы ходилъ къ Царюграду; но сий Кий княжаше в роду своем; и приходившю ему къ царю не свѣмы, но токмо о семъ вѣмы, якоже сказають, яко велику честь приялъ есть от царя, которого не вѣмъ и при которомъ приходи цари. Идущю же ему опять, приде къ Дунаеви, и възлюби мѣсто и сруби городокъ малъ, и хотяше сѣсти с родомъ своимъ, и не даша ему близъ живущии; еже и до нынѣ нарѣчють Дунайци городіще Киевѣць. Киеви же прішедшю въ свой городъ Киевъ, ту и сконча животъ свой, и брата его Щекъ и Хоривъ и сестра ихъ Лыбѣдь ту скончашася. И по сей братьи почаша дѣржати родъ ихъ княжение въ Поляхъ…

(Filed according to the Hypatian Codex)

Excerpt from the Ruthenian Primary Chronicles[edit]

Полѧномъ же живущиим̑ ѡ собѣ. и вла̑дѣющимъ роды своим̑ . ӕже и до сеӕ брат̑ӕ бѧху Полѧне . и живѧху кождо съ родом̑ своимъ . на своихъ мѣстехъ . володѣюще кождо родомъ своимъ ❙ И быша . г҃ . брата . а А єдиному имѧ Кии . а другому Щекъ . а третьєму Хоривъ . и сестра ихъ Лыбѣдь . и сѣдѧше Кии на горѣ кдѣ н҃нѣ оувозъ Боричевъ . а Щекъ сѣдѧше на горѣ . кдѣ ннѣ зоветсѧ Щековица . а Хоривъ на третьєи горѣ . ѿнюдүже прозвасѧ Хоривıца . створиша городокъ . во имѧ брата ихъ старѣишаго . и Києвъ . и бѧше ѡколо города лѣсъ и боръ великъ . и бѧху ловѧще звѣрь . Б бѧхуть бо мудрѣ и смыслени. и нарицихусѧ Полѧне .

— ЛѢТОПИСЬ ПО ИПАТЬЕВСКОМУ СПИСКУ, ПСРЛ. — Т. 2. Ипатьевская летопись. — СПб., 1908. — Стлб. 1–21.[4]

Translation by Dmitry Likhachov[edit]

In those times Polyans lived separately and were governed by own family clans; and so those brethren (of whom we will talk further) were also Polyans and all they lived by family clans in own places and each was governed independently. And there were three brothers: one was named Kyi, another – Shchek and third – Khoryv, and their sister – Lybid. See of Kyi was the hill where today is Borychiv Descent, and see of Shchek was the hill which today is called Shchekovytsia, and Khoryv on the hill which was named after him Khoryvytsia. And they built a city in honor of their older brother and called it Kyiv. Around the city there was a great forest and thicket and there were hunting for beasts and were those men wise and reasonable and they were called Polyans, from them the Polyans are to this day in Kyiv.

— Dmitry Likhachov, Story about establishing of Kyiv. Primary Chronicles (ПРЕДАНИЕ ОБ ОСНОВАНИИ КИЕВА. Повесть временных лет)[5]

Translation by Samuel Hazzard Cross[edit]

While the Polyanians lived apart and governed their families (for before the time of these brothers there were already Polyanians, and each one lived with his gens on his own lands, ruling over his kinsfolk), there were three brothers, Kiy (sic!), Shchek, and Khoriv, and their sister was named Lybed’. Kiy (sic!) lived upon the hill where the Borichev trail now is, and Shchek dwelt upon the hill now named Shchekovitsa, while on the third resided Khoriv, after whom this hill is named Khorevitsa. They built a town and named it Kyiv after their oldest brother. Around the town lay a wood and a great pine-forest in which they used to catch wild beasts. These men were wise and prudent; they were called Polyanians, and there are Polyanians descended from them living in Kyiv to this day.

— Samuel Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherb owitz-Wetzor, The Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text)[6]

Archaeological excavations[edit]

Graphic depiction of archaeological excavations in Kyiv by Vikentiy Khvoyka

Archaeological excavations have shown that there was indeed an ancient settlement starting with the 6th century. Some speculate that Kyi was a real person, a knyaz (prince) from the tribe of the Polans. According to legend, Kyi, the eldest brother, was a Polianian Prince, and the city was named after him.[7] In addition, the legend says that the appearance of a large city on the hilly banks of the Dnieper was predicted by Andrew the Apostle.[8]

Historiographical interpretation[edit]

Many historians consider Kyi and his rule circa the 6th century to be actual history.[2] Among such historians are Boris Rybakov, Dmitry Likhachov, Aleksey Shakhmatov, Alexander Presnyakov, Petro Tolochko, and Nataliia Polonska-Vasylenko.[2]

The names of Kyi and his brothers have equivalents in an Armenian chronicle from the 7th century, History of Taron, by Zenob Glak.[9] In it, Kyi and Khoryv have counterparts in brothers Kouar and Horian, while Polyans is paralleled in the Balounik district.[10] An explanation for this can be found both in the common source (probably Scythian) of Ukrainian and Armenian legends, and in the common mythological plot used to explain the founding of the many cows that inhabit the city.[11] The legend also has parallels in the Croatian origo gentis of five brothers and two sisters (Kloukas, Lobelos, Kosentzis, Mouchlo, Chrobatos, Touga and Bouga) from the 30th chapter of De Administrando Imperio by Constantine VII (10th century), and the Bulgarian apocryphal chronicle (12th century) about the ethnogenesis of the Bulgarians. All three speak about people who migrated to a foreign land, whose leader was of the same name (Kyi in Kyiv, Chrobatos in Croats, and Slav in Bulgarians), while Kyivan and Croatian mention a sister.[10] The female personality and number three can be found also in three daughters (youngest Libuše) of Duke Krok from Chronica Boemorum (12 century), two sons and daughter (Krakus II, Lech II, and Princess Wanda) of Krakus legendary founder of Kraków from Chronica seu originale regum et principum Poloniae (12–13th century), and three brothers Lech, Czech, and Rus from Wielkopolska Chronicle (13th century).[10]

Khoryv or Horiv, and his oronym Khorevytsia, some scholars related to the Croatian ethnonym of White Croats.[12][13][14] Paščenko related his name, beside to the Croatian ethnonym, also to the solar deity Khors.[14] Near Kyiv there is a stream where previously existed a large village named Horvatka or Hrovatka (it was destroyed in the time of Joseph Stalin), which flows into Stuhna River.[15]

Byzantine sources report that the Kievan prince Kyi (originally Kuver) was brought up at the court of Emperor Justinian I in his youth, converted to Christianity in Constantinople, and was educated there. "He had the great honor of the king," received benefits in the Lower Danube, where he founded the "town of Kiev", but due to resistance from local tribes could not gain a foothold there. That's why Kyi returned home, where he "laid" (probably rebuilt or moved from another city) his capital Kyiv.

According to other Byzantine testimonies, Kyi was a contemporary of Emperor Heraclius (575–641). As his contemporary John of Nicaea writes in detail, "by the power of the Holy and Life-Giving Baptism he received, he defeated all barbarians and pagans." The friendly ties of the ancient prince with the Byzantine imperial court is evidenced by the "Primary Chronicle".

Archaeological evidence[edit]

In the sixth to seventh centuries, the borders of three cultural groups of monuments converged on the Polans land — Kyiv OblastPrague, Penkiv and Kolochyn cultures, and in the eighth to tenth centuries — Luka-Raikovetska and Volyntsevo culture. From the very beginning, Kyiv was the center of not one, but several tribal groups.

Modern tributes[edit]

The sculpture of Kyiv's founders depicted on Ukraine's interim bank note in 1990s.

In addition to the respective hills and the river, there are Shchekavytska and Khoryva Streets in Kyiv's ancient neighborhood of Podil.[citation needed]

In 1982, Kyi, Shchek, Khoryv and Lybid were depicted (standing on an ancient riverboat) in a sculpture at the river-side of Navodnytsky Park. The Monument to the Founders of Kyiv, created by Vasyl Borodai, soon became iconic for the city and has been used as Kyiv's unofficial emblem. In the 2000s another statue was installed at a fountain of the Maidan Nezalezhnosti.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "An Armenian historian of the seventh century, Zenob Glak, knew of a similar legend concerning the founding of the city of Kuar (Kyiv) in the land of Poluni (Polianians) by three brothers Kuar, Mentery, and Kherean." [in:] Medieval Rus' epics, chronicles, and tales. 1974; "Similarly to Nestor's story about Kyi, Shchek and Khoryv, the Armenian legend of Kuar and his brothers says (in the 6th or in the 7th century). [in:] Київ, анциент анд модерн киты. 1983
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Oleh Yastrubov. "And gave it its name Kyiv". Newspaper "Den". 14 July 2006.
  3. ^ Katchanovski, Ivan; Kohut, Zenon E.; Nebesio, Bohdan Y.; Yurkevich, Myroslav (2013). "Kyi, Shcheck, Khorvy, and Lybid". Historical Dictionary of Ukraine. Scarecrow Press. p. 299. ISBN 978-0-8108-7847-1.
  4. ^ "Іпатіївський літопис. До лЂта 6414 [906]".
  5. ^ "Повесть временных лет".
  6. ^ [dead link]
  7. ^ "Kyi, Scheck, Khoryv, and Lybid / Peoples / Ukrainians in the World". Archived from the original on 2015-04-02. Retrieved 2015-03-05.
  8. ^ "Nine facts about Kyiv church to be used by Ecumenical Patriarch".
  9. ^ Sakač, S. K. (1940). Krapina-Kijev-Ararat, Priča o troje braće i jednoj sestri. Obnovljeni Život 21/3-4: 129–149, Zagreb
  10. ^ a b c Lajoye, Patrice (2019). "Sovereigns and sovereignty among pagan Slavs". In Patrice Lajoye (ed.). New Researches on the Religion and Mythology of the Pagan Slavs. Lingva. pp. 165–181. ISBN 979-10-94441-46-6.
  11. ^ Medieval Russia's Epics, Chronicles, and Tales. 1963.
  12. ^ Malyckij, Oleksandr (2006). "Hrvati u uvodnom nedatiranom dijelu Nestorove kronike "Povijest minulih ljeta"" [Croats in the introductory non-dated part of the Nestor's chronicle "History of the past years"]. In Nosić, Milan (ed.). Bijeli Hrvati I [White Croats I] (in Croatian). Maveda. pp. 106–107. ISBN 953-7029-04-2.
  13. ^ Jaroslav Rudnyckyj (1982). An Etymological Dictionary of the Ukrainian Language: Parts 12–22 (in English and Ukrainian). Vol. 2. Winnipeg: Ukrainian Free Academy of Sciences (UVAN). p. 968.
  14. ^ a b Paščenko, Jevgenij (2006), Nosić, Milan (ed.), Podrijetlo Hrvata i Ukrajina [The origin of Croats and Ukraine] (in Croatian), Maveda, pp. 99–102, 109, ISBN 953-7029-03-4
  15. ^ Strižak, Oleksij (2006). "Sorbi, Srbi, Hrvati i Ukrajina" [Sorbs, Serbs, Croats and Ukraine]. In Nosić, Milan (ed.). Bijeli Hrvati I [White Croats I] (in Croatian). Maveda. pp. 106–107. ISBN 953-7029-04-2.

Further reading[edit]

  • В. М. Ричка. Кий // Енциклопедія історії України : у 10 т. / редкол.: В. А. Смолій (голова) та ін. ; Інститут історії України НАН України. — К. : Наукова думка, 2007. — Т. 4 : Ка — Ком. — С. 284. — 528 с. : іл. — ISBN 978-966-00-0692-8.

External links[edit]