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Olga

OLGA

(d. 969), Kievan grand princess and regent for her son Svyatoslav.

Under the year 903, the Primary Chronicle reports that Oleg, Rurik's kinsman and guardian to his son Igor, obtained a wife for Igor from Pskov by the name of Olga. It is unclear whether Igor was actually the son of Rurik, the semi-legendary founder of the Kievan state, but, as Igor and Olga's son Svyatoslav was born in 942, it is very likely that the chronology in the text is faulty and that the marriage did not take place in 903. Legend has it that Olga was of Slavic origin, but evidence is again lacking.

On a trip to collect tribute from an East Slavic tribe called the Derevlians (forest dwellers) in 945, Igor was killed, and the Derevlians decided that Mal, their prince, should marry Olga, who was serving as regent for her minor son. Olga pretended to go along with the plan, but then violently put down their uprising by means of three well-planned acts of revenge, after which she destroyed the Derevlian capital Iskoresten. The chronicle account of Olga's revenge is formulaic, based on folklore-like riddles that the opponent must comprehend in order to escape death. The tales are clearly intended to demonstrate Olga's wisdom. From 945 to 947, after her defeat of the Derevlians, Olga established administrative centers for taxation, which eliminated the need for collecting tribute. During her regency she significantly expanded the land holdings of the Kievan grand princely house.

Olga was the first member of the Rus ruling dynasty to accept Christianity. Scholars have debated when and where she was converted, as the sources give conflicting accounts, but there is some evidence that she became a Christian in Constantinople in 954 or 955 and was hosted by Constantine Porphyrogenitus as a Christian ruler during a subsequent visit in 957. According to the Primary Chronicle account, which is likely intended to mirror her rejection of Mal, Olga eludes a marriage proposal from Constantine by resorting once again to cunning, although this time her actions are nonviolent and motivated by Christian chastity rather than revenge.

Despite considerable effort, Olga was unable to establish Christianity in Rus, and failed to secure help to that end either from Byzantium or the West. In 959 after her Byzantine efforts had yielded no results, she requested a bishop and priest from the German king, Otto I. Although a mission under Bishop Adalbert was sent after much delay, it was not well received and departed soon afterwards. When her regency ended, Olga continued to play an influential role, as Svyatoslav was frequently away on military campaigns.

Olga died in 969 and was eventually canonized by the Orthodox Church. The Primary Chronicle does not report where she was buried, but Jakov the Monk writes in his Memorial and Encomium to Vladimir that her remains later lay in the Church of the Holy Theotokos (built in 996) and that their uncorrupted state indicated that God glorified her body because she glorified Him. One of the most enduring images associated with Olga is first encountered in the Sermon on Law and Grace (mid-eleventh century) by Metropolitan Hilarion, but repeated often in later works. In praising Olga and Vladimir, Hilarion compares them to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine, and his mother Helen, who discovered the Holy Cross.

See also: kievan rus; primary chronicle; rurikid dynasty; svyatoslav i; vladimir, st.

bibliography

Franklin, Simon, and Shepard, Jonathan. (1996). The Emergence of Rus, 7501200. London: Longman.

Hollingsworth, Paul. (1992). The Hagiography of Kievan Rus'. Cambridge, MA: Ukrainian Research Institute of Harvard University.

Poppe, Andrzej. (1997). "The Christianization and Ecclesiatical Structure of Kyivan Rus' to 1300." Harvard Ukrainian Studies 21:311392.

Cross, Samuel Hazzard, and Sherbowitz-Wetzor, Olgerd P., ed and tr. (1953). The Russian Primary Chronicle: Laurentian Text. Cambridge, MA: The Mediaeval Academy of America.

David K. Prestel

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Olga

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