Vladimir I

views updated May 14 2018

Vladimir I

Vladimir I (died 1015), also called Vladimir the Great and St. Vladimir, was grand prince of Kievan Russia from about 980 to 1015. His reign represents the culmination in the development of this first Russian state.

The youngest son of Grand Prince Sviatoslav Igorevich of Kiev and a servant girl, Vladimir distinguished himself first as his father's governor in Novgorod, where he had been appointed in 969. In a civil war that followed Sviatoslav's death (972 or 973), Vladimir fled to Scandinavia, leaving the reign to his oldest brother, laropolk (976). But in 978, aided by a large force of the Varangians (Normans), he resumed the struggle and by about 980 became grand prince of Kiev.

Vladimir's first goal seems to have been to recover his father's conquests, lost during the civil war, and add to them conquests of his own. Although Vladimir stayed out of the Balkans, he regained the territory of the Viatichi and Radimichi in the east (981-982, 984) and thus reunited all eastern Slavs under Kiev. In the west he recovered a number of Galician towns from Poland (981) and conquered the territory of the Lithuanian latvigs (983). But his campaign against the Volga Bulgars in 985 was indecisive and ended his intentions to recover the Volga Basin. In the south he was similarly barred by the Turkic tribe of the Pechenegs (Patzinaks), who had captured the control of the Black Sea steppes, but he did regain some of the steppelands and secured them by a system of earth walls, forts, and fortified towns. The quest for unity and security was also the goal of Vladimir's domestic policy. He substituted his sons and lieutenants for the too independent tribal chieftains as governors of individual sections of the state and subjected them to a rigid supervision.

Even religion seems to have been employed by Vladimir in the service of this goal. At first he made an attempt to create a pagan creed common to his entire realm by accepting all gods and deities of local tribes and making them an object of general veneration. In the end he turned to Christianity, probably because a faith believing in a single God appeared better suited to the purposes of a prince seeking to entrench the government of a single ruler in his realm. The exact circumstances of this event, however, are not completely known. It seems that in 987 Byzantine emperor Basil II, in return for Russian assistance against uprisings in Bulgaria and Anatolia, agreed to give Vladimir the hand of his sister Anna if he became a Christian. Vladimir was baptized about 988, received the Byzantine bride, and proceeded to make Christianity the official religion of his state. He ordered, and eventually forced, his subjects to accept baptism too, destroyed pagan idols, built Christian churches and schools and libraries, kept peace within and without the realm, and indulged in charities for the benefit of the poor and sick.

The baptism of Russia was not, of course, an immediate success. It took several decades before Christianity struck roots in Russia firmly and definitely. Nor was Vladimir completely successful in checking the danger of feudal disintegration. In fact, he died in 1015 in the midst of a campaign against the revolt of his son laroslav. A civil war resulting from it ended only in 1026 in a division of Russia between laroslav and his brother Mstislav, and the country was not reunited again until 1036, following the latter's demise.

Vladimir I completed unification of all eastern Slavs in his realm, secured its frontiers against foreign invasions, and—by accepting Christianity—brought Russia into the community of Christian nations and their civilization. He was remembered and celebrated in numerous legends and songs as a great national hero and ruler, a "Sun Prince." Venerated as the baptizer of Russia, "equal to Apostles," he was canonized about the middle of the 13th century.

Further Reading

A concise and popular sketch of Vladimir's life is in Constantin de Grunwald, Saints of Russia (trans. 1960). For varying interpretations of the disputed segments of his life and work consult these standard surveys of early Russian history: Vasilii O. Kliuchevskii, A History of Russia, vol. 1 (trans. 1911); George Vernadsky and Michael Karpovich, A History of Russia, vol. 2: Kievan Russia (1948); Boris D. Grekov, Kiev Rus (trans. 1959); and Boris A. Rybakov, Early Centuries of Russian History (1964; trans. 1965).

Additional Sources

Volkoff, Vladimir, Vladimir the Russian Viking, Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1985, 1984. □

Vladimir I

views updated Jun 08 2018


VLADIMIR I (d. 1015), founder and saint of the Russian Orthodox church. Vladimir (Volodimir, Valdimar?; meaning "he who rules the world") was the Varangian, or Scandinavian, prince of Kiev who established Christianity in the lands of Rus' and is thereby recognized as the founder of the Russian (and Ukrainian) Orthodox church. According to the legends recorded in the Russian Primary Chronicle (c. 1111), Vladimir, in his search for a religion for his pagan people, was courted by Latin Christians from the West as well as Jewish Khazars and Muslim Bulgars. He chose Greek Christianity when, the chronicle declares, his ambassadors reported to him after visiting the Cathedral of the Holy Wisdom (Hagia Sophia) in Constantinople: "We knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty. We cannot forget that beauty" (quoted in Dvornik, 1956, p. 205).

Vladimir married the Byzantine princess Anna and was baptized, with the Byzantine emperor as his godfather, by the bishop of the Greek city of Kherson, whose clergy came, at Vladimir's command, to christen the Kievan peoples in the Dnieper River in the year 988. Vladimir was partly motivated in his choice of religions by the political, military, and economic advantages of an alignment with the Byzantines, and he is also considered to have been influenced by the baptism of his grandmother Olga, who had become Kiev's ruler in 945 upon the death of her husband, Igor. Olga was a committed Greek Christian baptized in 957, perhaps in Constantinople with the empress Helen as her godmother.

Russian legends magnify the radical change in Vladimir after his conversion and the establishment of Christianity in Kiev, both in the prince's personal life and in his public policies. He is said to have abolished torture and the practice of capital punishment, an unheard-of action for his time and one allegedly opposed by the Greek bishops. He also gave up his five wives and hundreds of concubines (the Primary Chronicle speaks of eight hundred) in favor of monogamous fidelity to his Christian bride. He publicly desecrated statues to Perun and the other local gods and constructed a new cathedral for his Christian bishop. He also introduced the use of the Slavonic language into church worship, using the literary language developed a century earlier by the Greek missionary brother-saints, Cyril and Methodius, for their Slavic converts in Moravia and Bulgaria. The introduction of this language is considered to be the single most important factor in guaranteeing the Christian unity and development of the various peoples under his rule.

Vladimir was succeeded by his son Iaroslav the Wise (10361054) after a bloody war between Vladimir's sons from 1015 to 1036, during which his son Sviatopolk, who was ultimately defeated by Iaroslav, killed two other younger sons, Boris and Gleb. Boris and Gleb, who, in order to save the lives of their followers, refused to enter into battle against Sviatopolk, became the first canonized saints of the Russian church, known in tradition as the "passion-bearers." Vladimir, with his grandmother Olga, is a canonized saint of the Russian Orthodox church with the liturgical title of "equal to the apostles" because of his role in Christian conversion.


The Russian Primary Chronicle contains the story of the reign of Vladimir and the beginnings of Christianity in "the land of Rus'." The Laurentian text has been translated by Samul Hazzard Cross and Olgerd P. Sherbowitz-Wetzor as the Medieval Academy of America's Publication no. 60 (Cambridge, Mass., 1953). A critical study of Vladimir's time focusing on the conversion of the Kievan peoples is provided in Nicolas de Baumgarten's Saint Vladimir et la conversion de la Russie (Rome, 1932). This work contains 310 bibliographical items. A general study of the period is given in Francis Dvornik's The Slavs: Their Early History and Civilization (Boston, 1956). This work contains an extensive bibli-ography.

Thomas Hopko (1987)

Vladimir I (the Great)

views updated May 23 2018

Vladimir I (the Great) (956–1015) Grand Duke of Kiev and first Christian ruler of Russia (980–1015). Vladimir raised an army of Viking mercenaries in 979, and conquered Polotsk and Kiev. Proclaimed Prince of all Russia, he extended Russian territories, conquering parts of Poland and Lithuania. Impressed by accounts of Constantinople, he became a Christian and married a Byzantine princess (988). St Vladimir, as he is also called, established the Greek Orthodox faith in Russia.

Vladimir, St

views updated May 17 2018

Vladimir, St (d. 1015). Prince of Kiev and ‘apostle of Russia’. Brought up a pagan, he invited Greek missionaries to his realm and became a Christian in 988. His motives cannot have been unconnected with the desire for an alliance with Byzantium, and he married Anne, sister of the emperor Basil II, shortly after. Vladimir set about the conversion of his people by enforcing baptism by law. He is remembered as pious and even scrupulous, wondering whether the death penalty could be used by a Christian prince. Feast day, 15 July.