The preceding sections are intended to put the text here edited into historical perspective, and also to give some account, however scanty, of medieval Russian history, up to those two cardinal events, which deflected and reshaped Russia, namely, the decline of Kíev, where Russian nationality was born, and the forcible submersion of all the petty princes under the unendurable and degrading yoke of the Mongols, who left an Asiatic impress on the autocracy of the Moscovite state.
In this last section such biographical details as the Chronicles supply should be set forth of the career of the hero of the Slóvo, Ígoŕ Svyatoslávič.
He was born in the year 1151, the third son of Svyatosláv Ógovič. After 1097 the удѣлъ [or as sometimes rendered the 'appanage'] of Černígov became the inheritance [дѣдина] of the Ólgoviči, and inside this domain the lateral course of devolution in order of seniority was Černígov, Kursk, Trubeč and Nóvgorod-Sĕverski. Thus, in 1146 Svyatosláv Ólgovič succeeded to this capital [столъ] of Černigov. In 1166 Ígoŕ's brother Olég defeated the Pólovtsy and killed their leader Santuz. This Olég must have been a brave prince, for in 1161 he was invited to Kíev by Rostíslav I to serve him. Civil wars arose in the Principality of Černigov; in 1167 Olég was fighting his first cousin Svyatosláv Vsévolodovič over a matter of succession; presumably, the sons of Vsévolod Ólgovič resented their position as изгои, landless princes, (because their father predeceased Olég, the founder of the house), thus repeating history in the second generation. In 1167 Olég, Ígoŕ's brother vanquishes Bonyák, a Polovsk leader.
Ígoŕ's name first appears in the great expedition of 1169 against Kíev, together with that of Olég. He had married Evfrósyna (Εὐφροσύνη) Yaroslávna, the daughter of the Galician ruler, and had five sons by her, of whom Vladímir was born in 1173, Olég in 1175, and Svyatosláv in 1177.
In 1174 Ígoŕ collected troops and marched out towards the river Oskol [Воръсколъ] (about eighty miles from the town of Kursk down the river Seim); he was informed by a captive that Kobyák and Končâk were moving on towards Pereyáslavl’; in this unimportant engagement Ígoŕ was victorious. He was evidently acting by himself.
In the same year Ígoŕ took part in the campaign against Mstíslav Rostíslavič, who was endeavouring to recover Kíev from the usurper. The Rostíslaviči in this instance won and petitioned Andréy Yúrevič for permission to reign at Kíev. In 1175 Olég and Svyatosláv Svyatoslávič, Ígoŕ's brothers, were fighting against each other.
In 1177 the Rostíslaviči were expelled from Kíev and Svyatoslâv Vsévolodovič, Ígoŕ's first cousin installed. The Ólgoviči were now the princes of Kíev.
In 1178 Olég, Ígoŕ's brother died, and Ígoŕ succeeded to Nóvgorod-Sěverski; Černígov passing to Yarosláv Vsévolodovič who became notable for his cowardice [v. note on l. 558].
In 1180 Svyatosláv (who had meanwhile lost Kíev to Rurik Rostíslavič) assembled to Lyúbeč a conference to recover the capital; Yarosláv Vsévolodič, and the brothers Ígoŕ and Vsévolod Svyatoslávič attended.
In 1180 Ígoŕ is found advising David Rostíslavič who was being attacked by Svyatosláv Vsévolodovič. He counselled him to remain quiet and support his brother Rurik.
But in 1180 Svyatosláv Vsévolodič again expelled Rurik from Kíev. In this year Svyatosláv, in alliance with the Pólovtsy made war on Vsévolod Yúŕevič to release his own son Glěb whom the Prince of Suzdal had treacherously imprisoned. Ígoŕ was left behind to guard Černígov. A battle was fought on the Vlena, and Svyatosláv won. David Rostíslavič assailed Ígoŕ, who would not give battle.
At this time Ígoŕ was in alliance with Končák and Kobyák, formidable Polovsk chieftains. Together with them, he was defeated by Mstíslav Rostíslavič on the river Čertoryĭa, and escaped with Končák in a boat. The Chronicle gives a long list of Polovsk names; one chieftain is called Козелъ Сотановичъ--"Goat Satanson"!
In 1183 Končák invaded Russia. Svyatoslâv Vsévolodovič, and Rurik Rostíslavič set out to fight them at Olžič where they awaited Yarosláv Vsévolodovič. Ígoŕ summoned his son Olég, his nephew Svyatosláv Ólgovič and his brother Vsévolod, and was to assume the command. The Pôlovtsy declined an engagement.
Svyatosláv Vsévolodovič hereupon designed an expedition on a much larger scale, followed the Pólovtsy into the steppes, defeated them and captured Kobyák. Again we see Ígoŕ unsuccessful and acting for himself, whilst Svyatosláv concerts measures and wins.
Ígoŕ was piqued at his cousin's achievement, sent for his brother Vsévolod and his son Vladímir. Nothing immediately came of this meeting.
About this time, Ígoŕ alone of the Russians gave shelter to Vladímir Yaroslávic of Galicia, whom his father had expelled.
In 1184 Svyatosláv Vsévolodovič repelled Končák who invaded Russia, using the Greek Fire and doing more havoc than usual [v. preceding section and note Карнаижля].
In 1185 Svyatosláv Vsévolodovič and Román Rostíslavic on the 1st of March again repulsed Končák; and again his brother Yarosláv would not accompany the expedition.
Ígoŕ was never asked to share in these organized attacks; and on the 23rd of April with his brother Vsévolod, his nephew Svyatosláv Ólgovič of Rylsk and his son Vladímir of Putívl’, so as to assert himself and show what he could accomplish, set out on the foray, which has been eternalized in this poem. His impulsive character, generous but weak, is evident all through.
The story had better be told at length in the words of the Chroniclers. Their account differs in slight details which supplement, and corroborate.
At all events, this summary of Ígoŕ's career exemplifies the purposeless anarchy of Russia at this epoch. The reports are as full for all the years preceding and following; the accounts become scanty and bare only after 1240, when the Tatars enforced peace, having made a desolation.
In 1187 Svyatosláv and Rurik Rostíslavič again attacked Končák. In 1191 Ígoŕ and his brothers made another foray which proved successful. In 1194 Svyatosláv Vsévolodovič, together with Ígoŕ and his brother Vsévolod concerted an attack on the territory of Ryazáń.
In 1198, on the death of Yarosláv Vsévolodovič, Ígoŕ succeded to the principality of Černígov. He died in 1202.