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In the year 1113 Svyatopólk II Izyaslávič died. Like his uncle, Vsévolod I he had been maintained on the throne by Vladímir.

The citizens of Kíev insisted on Vladímir resuming the office of Grand-Prince and passing over the claims of the Svyatosláviči, the next eldest branch of the Yarosláviči, whose record had been none of the best during the previous reigns. Svyatopólk left no brothers, and his sons were mere lads. Vladímir Monomákh [his baptismal name] ascended the throne; by so doing, he incurred the hostility of the envious Ólgoviči, who were now sovereigns in the independent domain of Černígov.

There had, as yet, been three great rulers in Kíevite Russia. The first of these, Svyatosláv I, was the great conqueror, a Bayard, who worked with the statesmanlike object of giving his country intelligible frontiers, to protect it against the nomads and secure the trade-routes

p. xxi

down the Dněpr and on the Black Sea. He shattered the Khozars, and shook off the Asiatic yoke. His was a romantic figure that compels admiration.

The second is his son Vladímir I. His was a passionate and sensuous nature, but his impulsiveness was directed to great ends. He re-created Russian unity; gave Russia a new religious purpose, and, with this end in view, even attempted to formalize and institute Paganism. He ruled with vigour and concentrated authority in his own hands at Kíev within those huge confines (which Svyatosláv could not enlarge).

After him there came the great administrator and law-giver, Yarosláv I. This monarch had less initiative than his father Vladímir; but he was just and strong and did all he could to build enduringly on the foundations laid by Svyatosláv and Vladímir. Yarosláv I made Russia known to foreign states: one of his daughters married Henry I of France: another, the King of Hungary.

But the many sons of Yarosláv were unequal to the stupendous task of maintaining in unity a realm with no defined boundaries, without even the loose bond of a feudal system, and pertinaciously, relentlessly, attacked by swarms of nomads from the steppes. During the anarchy of the succeeding reigns, the natural lines of fissure asserted themselves and developed; Nóvgorod split off, to enjoy till 1478 (when she was conquered and destroyed by Moscow) virtual independence, electing and rejecting what prince she would: Polotsk parted from Russia; and at last the independence of Smolénsk, Volhynia, Černígov and Galicia had to be conceded. The domain of Černígov included Moscow, Ryazáń, Vyátka and the Rádimiči.

At this point of history, medieval Russia's last great ruler steps in, a man trained to arms, which he had never used except against rebels or the enemy, the faithful lieutenant of his father Vsévolod I and his cousin Svyatopólk II, the statesman who adhered to the rules of succession, imperfect as they were, so as to preserve some safeguard against arbitrary force. The dismemberment of Russia was inevitable: he accepted and tried to rebuild on this assumption. But the dilemma was hopeless. Unless the great estates were made heritable, there would be no stability, and no contentment of princely ambition: if they were made heritable, there could be no concerted common action, save by casual consent. If the old scheme obtained of grants of military posts for life, the holders would be always dissatisfied, and their sons always in rebellion. There was no middle course of feudal vassal tenure with a sovereign overlord.

To a state racked with anarchy within, with its morale broken by living precedents of treachery and alliance for selfish ends with the Pagan foe, Vladímir II  at last succeeded; he left Russia organized enough for common action, so as to subsist a century longer.


xxi:† He is generally known as Vladímir Monomákh; so called after his maternal grandfather Constantine Μονόμαχος, Emperor of Constantinople. His descendants were the Мономаховичи.

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