Sviatopolk I of Kiev

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Sviatopolk the Accursed
Grand Prince of Rus'
Sviatopolk I of Kiev.jpg
Sviatopolk the Accursed by V.Sheremetiev, 1867
Reign 1015–1019
Predecessor Vladimir the Great
Successor Yaroslav the Wise
Prince of Turov
Reign 988–1019
Born ~980
Died 1019 [aged ~39]
Spouse a daughter of Bolesław I Chrobry
Full name
Sviatopolk Vladimirovich
Dynasty Rurikid
Father Yaropolk I
Sviatopolk (in red) with Boleslaw the Brave at the Golden Gate in Kiev

Sviatopolk I Vladimirovich (Sviatopolk the Accursed, the Accursed Prince) (Old East Slavic: Свѧтоплъкъ, Svętopŭlkŭ; Ukrainian: Святополк Окаяний; Russian: Святополк Окаянный, Svyatopolk[1]) (c. 980 – 1019) was the Kniaz' (Prince) of Turov (988–1015) and Velikii Kniaz (the Grand Prince) of Kiev (1015–1019) whose paternity and guilt in the murder of brothers are disputed.

Early life[edit]

Sviatopolk's silver srebrenik (silver coin)

Sviatopolk's mother was a Greek nun captured by Sviatoslav I in Bulgaria and married to his lawful heir Yaropolk I, who became Prince of Rus in 972. In 980, Yaropolk's brother Vladimir had him murdered, and the new sovereign raped his predecessor's wife, who soon gave birth to a child. Thus, Sviatopolk was probably the eldest of Vladimir's sons, although the issue of his parentage has been questioned.

When Sviatopolk was eight years old, Vladimir put him in charge of Turov and later arranged his marriage with the daughter of the Polish king Boleslaus I. The young princess came to Turov together with Reinbern, the Bishop of Kołobrzeg. Dissatisfied with his father and encouraged by his own wife and Reinbern, Sviatopolk began preparations for war against Vladimir, probably counting on support from his father-in-law. Vladimir soon discovered Sviatopolk's intentions, however, and threw him, his wife and Reinbern in prison. Reinbern died in prison.

Biography according to domestic sources[edit]

Not long before Vladimir's death, Sviatopolk was freed from prison and sent to govern the town of Vyshgorod several miles from Kiev. When Vladimir died in 1015, Sviatopolk's retinue concealed his father's death from him to prevent him from claiming the Kievan throne. When Sviatopolk learned his father's demise, he seized power in Kiev almost immediately.

Coins of Yaroslav and his descendants represent the trident.

The citizens of Kiev did not show much sympathy for Sviatopolk and, therefore, he decided to distribute presents in order to win them over. Then, he decided to rid himself of his brothers, Boris, Gleb, and Sviatoslav, whose claims for the Kievan throne threatened his power. Boris presented most danger to him because he had been in charge of Vladimir's druzhina (personal guards) and army, and enjoyed the support of the citizens. He sent the boyars of Vyshgorod to execute his brother. Boris and his manservant were stabbed to death when sleeping in a tent. The prince was discovered still breathing when his body was being transported in a bag to Kiev, but the Varangians put him out of his misery with the thrust of a lance.

Sviatopolk's cold-blooded reprisal earned him the nickname of the Accursed. The news of this triple murder reached Sviatopolk's younger brother Yaroslav, Prince of Novgorod, who decided to go to war against Sviatopolk with the support from the citizens of Novgorod and the Varangians. The battle took place in 1016 not far from Lubech, near Dnieper river. Sviatopolk was defeated and fled to Poland.

In 1018, he returned to Rus', defeated Yaroslav with the help from his father-in-law and seized Kiev. Boleslaus I and his army remained in Rus' for several months, but later left for Poland. On his way to Poland, Boleslaus seized some of the Cherven towns.

Meanwhile, the posadnik Konstantin Dobrynich and other citizens of Novgorod persuaded Yaroslav to go to war against Kiev once again. Sviatopolk was defeated and fled to the steppes. Soon he returned with the Pecheneg army and attacked Yaroslav on the Alta River, but was once again defeated and fled to Poland, eventually dying on his way there. Sviatopolk's death could have been procured by a descendant of Valuk Conqueror (Wallux dux Winedorum)[2] who in 1018 helped him and his step-father Boleslaus I in expedition against Yaroslav.

Biography according to foreign sources[edit]

Sviatopolk I Forgiven

During the last century, the traditional account of Svyatopolk's career has been somewhat modified. It has been argued that it was Boris who succeeded Vladimir in Kiev, while Svyatopolk was still in prison. One Norse saga called Eymund's saga (a part of Yngvars saga víðförla), with remarkable details, puts on Yaroslav the blame of his brother Burizlaf's murder. This Burizlaf, however, may be Svyatopolk (whose troops were commanded by the Polish king Boleslaus I; the latter name is also rendered as Burizlaf in some sagas) as well as Boris. Therefore it has been suggested that Svyatopolk ascended the throne after Boris's assassination and tried to fence off Yaroslav's attacks as well as to punish his agents guilty of Boris's murder.

The chronicle of Thietmar of Merseburg, who died in 1018, could have been regarded as the only contemporary and unbiased account of events, if it were not for the fact that Thietmar's data could have been supplied by Svyatopolk himself during his brief exile at the Polish court. Unfortunately it can be interpreted ambiguously as far as the question of Svyatopolk's guilt is concerned. One place in his chronicle can be understood (although this is not necessary) as telling that Svyatopolk escaped from Kiev to Poland immediately after his father's death. But Thietmar states that Boleslaus I of Poland firstly supported his son-in-law against Yaroslav in 1017, which is the date, according to the Russian Primary Chronicle, of Svyatopolk's first defeat by Yaroslav. Preparing a campaign against Kiev, Boleslaus abruptly stopped a successful war against the German Emperor Henry II. So, it is unlikely that Svyatopolk had been present at his court since 1015, which is often supposed by the historians that consider Yaroslav guilty of Boris and Gleb's murders.


"Wedding of Sviatopolk" by Jan Matejko, 1892

See also[edit]


  1. ^ The Old Slavonic is Свѧтопълкъ in the Cyrillic alphabet, the modern Ukrainian is Святополк, Polish is Świętopełk, Czech is Svatopluk, and Slovak is Svätopluk. Reconstructed, his name is Svętopŭlkŭ, from svętŭ, holy, and pŭlkŭ, host. More commonly, his name is given in its Latin and Frankish equivalents: Suentopolcus, Suatopluk, Zventopluk, Zwentibald, Zwentibold, Zuentibold, or Zuentibald.
  2. ^ Słownik starożytności słowiańskich. T. 2. Wrocław: Zakład Narodowy im. Ossolińskich, 1965, s. 382.
Sviatopolk I of Kiev
Born: 979 Died: 1019
Regnal titles
Preceded by
Prince of Turov
Succeeded by
Preceded by
Vladimir I
Grand Prince of Kiev
Succeeded by
Yaroslav I
Titles in pretence
Preceded by
Vysheslav Vladimirovich
Grand Prince of Kiev
Succeeded by
Yaroslav the Wise
Preceded by
title established
2nd in line Grand Prince of Kiev
Succeeded by
Yaroslav the Wise