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End of the 11th century. The Russian land is drowning in blood due to the endless raids of the Polovtsians. But instead of fighting the nomads, the rulers of Russia, fragmented into many independent principalities, slaughter each other in continuous internecine wars. The state needs a hero capable of reconciling warring princes, rallying them into a single force and repelling foreign hordes. Such a hero was Vladimir, the son of the Grand Duke of Kiev Vsevolod. Many have heard the famous nickname of Vladimir - Monomakh, but few know why the prince was called that …
In 1043, Yaroslav the Wise sent his son Vladimir on a military campaign against Byzantium. Russian boats arrived at Constantinople, where they were met by the fleet of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomakh. The battle began to boil. Armed with stone-throwing machines and Greek fire, the Byzantine ships began to crowd out the Russians. And if the latter had a chance to take revenge, it was only until a storm struck the sea.
Greek triremes withstood the fury of the elements. Russian rooks are not. The Byzantine monk-philosopher Michael Psellus later wrote: “Some ships were immediately covered by the surging waves, while others were dragged along the sea for a long time and then thrown onto rocks and a steep bank”. The boat of Vladimir died, but the prince himself miraculously escaped, having climbed onto the ship of the voivode Ivan Tvorimirich.
The defeated son of Yaroslav with the remnants of the squad on a handful of surviving boats returned to Kiev, on the way repelling the attack of the triremes sent in pursuit by Konstantin Monomakh. And six thousand escaped Russian soldiers, who did not have enough space on the ships, were captured, and, according to Psellus, the Byzantines "… then arranged a true bloodletting for the barbarians, it seemed as if a stream of blood poured out of the rivers painted the sea."
Three years later, Byzantium, interested in cooperation with Russia, agreed to conclude peace. The union was sealed by marriage, by marrying another son of Yaroslav, Vsevolod, to the daughter of Emperor Constantine. And in 1053 they had a son, Vladimir, who simultaneously became a descendant of both the Russian Rurikovichs and the Byzantine Monomakhs.
When the Polovtsians first invaded Russia, Vladimir Monomakh was eight years old. His father, Prince Vsevolod, set out on a campaign to stop the foreigners, but suffered a crushing defeat.
Since then, nomads have become a real disaster for the ancient Russian state. Their hordes came in a sudden deadly wave: they plundered and burned villages, and sometimes entire cities, and left just as quickly, driving many prisoners into the steppe.
The Rusichi defended their lands as best they could, but there were no more victories than defeats. The situation was further complicated by the fact that some princes during the strife often called the Polovtsians into allies, thereby contributing to the ruin of the Russian lands. Throughout his life, Vsevolod, being the ruler of Kievan Rus, waged a struggle with the nomads. He died in 1093. His son, Vladimir Monomakh, was to continue his work.
But he decided otherwise. Russia should have made peace with the nomads, not fight. Moreover, the Polovtsians themselves wanted peace. Perhaps it would have happened if Monomakh sat on the throne of his father. But it turned out differently: Vladimir decided to voluntarily cede the Kiev throne to his cousin Svyatopolk, believing that he had more rights to do so.
Svyatopolk was thirsty for war. This led to a new multi-year massacre with the Polovtsians, in which the Russian princes suffered many defeats.In 1097, the Russian princes realized that they should stop civil strife and concentrate all their power on the nomads. They gathered in the city of Lyubech and decided: from now on, everyone will "keep his fatherland."
Prior to this, the distribution of principalities in Russia took place according to seniority: the largest went to the oldest of the Rurikovichs, and so on in descending order. Of course, not every prince was satisfied with the allotment he received and tried to restore justice with a sword.
After the Lyubech Congress, lands, except for Kiev, began to be assigned directly to childbirth and passed from father to son and from brother to brother, which, on the one hand, split Rus into feudal allotments, on the other, significantly reduced the territorial disputes of the princes and, accordingly, the number reasons for internecine wars.
Finally, the reconciled princes could unite and repulse foreigners. But as soon as the congress ended, a new conflict occurred: Svyatopolk blinded one of the princes - Vasilko, believing the slander that he was going to seize power. In Russia, a new strife was about to break out. Then Vladimir Monomakh intervened.
- There has never been such evil in the Russian land either under our grandfathers or under our fathers! - exclaimed Monomakh, learning about the act of Svyatopolk, and immediately sent a message to the princes: - If we do not correct this, an even greater evil will arise among us, and the brother of the brother will begin to slaughter, and our land will perish, and the Polovtsy will come and take it.
Several more princes joined Vladimir, and together they went to punish Svyatopolk. He tried to justify himself: he sent messengers with a message that the blindness of Vasilko was not his fault, but the slanderer - the Volyn prince Davyd Igorevich. To which he was answered:
- Not in Davydov's city was Vasilek captured and blinded, but in yours.
When the united army under the leadership of Monomakh approached Kiev, Svyatopolk tried to escape from the city, but the Kievites detained him. They hoped for Vladimir's kind heart and sent his stepmother, the widow of Vsevolod, to negotiate with him. She began to tearfully ask her stepson not to destroy her cousin.
The princess's pleas pity Monomakh, he agreed to forgive Svyatopolk, but only if he promises to get even with the slanderer. Svyatopolk agreed and, having concluded peace with his brother, advanced with a squad against Davyd Igorevich. The Volyn prince was forced to flee to Poland.
In 1103, Vladimir and Svyatopolk gathered for a council in Dolobsk. They decided that it was time to unite the armies of the Russian princes and all their army to go to the Polovtsian steppes. Messengers were sent out with the message: "Go to the Polovtsians, so we will either be alive or dead." Many princes responded to the call of Vladimir and Svyatopolk.
Having learned that the united Russian army was marching on them, the Polovtsians gathered for a council of war. Their khan Urusoba suggested to his fellow tribesmen:
- Let's ask for peace from Russia. They will fight hard with us, for we have done a lot of evil on the Russian land.
To which the young warriors answered him:
- You are afraid of Russia, but we are not afraid! Having killed these, let us go into their land and take possession of their cities!
The general battle took place on April 4, 1103 on the Dnieper near the town of Suten. The Polovtsi put up all their forces and prepared for battle. When the Russian regiments appeared, the nomads realized that they had underestimated the size of the army advancing against them.
Seeing how the squads rushed at them, the Polovtsians wavered and began to retreat in panic. But most of them fell under the swords of their pursuers, including 20 noble khans. This was the largest defeat of the Polovtsians since 42 years ago, their hordes first invaded Russia. The Polovtsian Khan Belduz, who was captured, offered any ransom, as long as his life was spared, but Monomakh did not spare him either, saying:
- You, repeatedly swearing, never kept your promises, but always, attacking, people were captured and killed. Much Russian blood has been shed, but now you have to pay with yours. - And ordered to chop the captive into pieces and scatter them across the field.
After the defeat of 1103, the Polovtsians made repeated attempts to invade Russia, and each time a united army stood up against them. As a result, the Polovtsian rulers resigned themselves and for a long time stopped their raids on the Russian lands.
We wish Vladimir
In 1113, Prince Svyatopolk died of illness. The Kievans, after consulting, decided that it was Monomakh who was most worthy to occupy the Russian throne. But Vladimir, having received an invitation to sit on the throne of his father, refused. He believed that the Svyatoslavichs - David and Oleg - had more rights to this in terms of seniority. However, the people of Kiev did not want to see anyone as their prince, except for Vladimir Monomakh.
An uprising broke out in the city. First of all, the people destroyed the houses of those who supported the candidacy of Svyatoslavichs, including the house of the city's thousand Putyata. This brand also went to local Jews, with whom the Kievites had a conflict for a long time. Those had to lock themselves in the synagogue and hold the line for several days.
The Kiev elite again sent a message to Vladimir, stating that if he did not come urgently, the pogroms would destroy the city. Hearing this, Monomakh urgently hit the road. Moreover, the Svyatoslavichs were not opposed to ceding the throne to him. As soon as Vladimir approached Kiev, the rebellion subsided.
And yet, even the arrival of the new prince could not extinguish interethnic strife. The Kievans demanded to immediately resolve the issue of the position of the Jews in Kiev, who "under Svyatopolk had great freedom and power," because of which many Russian merchants and artisans went bankrupt. Engaged in usury, they "oppressed the debtors with excessive growth."
People also accused the Jews of "deceiving many into their faith and settling in houses between Christians, which had never happened before." Vladimir replied that he did not dare to make such decisions on his own, and summoned the princes and the most noble people of Kiev to a council.
As a result, Russkaya Pravda was supplemented by the first law of the new ruler, the Charter on Cuts, which restricts usury in Russia.
In addition, as the Joachim Chronicle reports, at the same council, a verdict was also passed: "Now from all the Russian land, all Jews with all their estate should not be expelled and henceforth not allowed in, and if they secretly enter, freely rob and kill them." This was the first manifestation of anti-Semitism officially registered on Russian soil.
The prince ruled the state for 12 years. He became famous not only as a wise ruler who significantly strengthened the position of Kievan Rus, but also as an educator. He died a natural death in the 73rd year of his life in 1125, leaving to descendants the famous "Testament of Vladimir Monomakh."
Vladimir Monomakh's testament to children, 1125. Lithograph after drawing by artist Boris Chorikov for the publication "Picturesque Karamzin" (St. Petersburg, 1836).