Sacred Texts  Legends/Sagas  Index  Previous  Next 
Buy this Book at


The Chronicle for the year 1185 contains very full details of the events in the Slóvo, but it is evident that the poet did not borrow his facts from the sources, as we now have them.

On the 1st of March 1185 Svyatosláv Vsévolodovič and Ryúrik Rostíslavič defeated Končák, and pursued beyond the River Khorol, but did not succeed in tracing or capturing him.

p. xxx

Yarosláv Vsévolodovič, the prince of Černígov, declined to accompany this expedition, contenting himself with sending his man Olstin Oveksič. Ígoŕ resented not being invited to take his share in this foray, and without consultation, on Thursday, the 23rd April, went to Nóvgorod Sĕverski, where he was joined by his brother Vsévolod of Trúbeč`, and his nephew Svyatosláv Ólgovič of Rylsk, and also by his son Vladímir from Putívl’. Yarosláv Vladímirkovič, the ruler of Galicia, and father-in-law of Ígoŕ was also asked to send contingents, and the Ковуи of Černígov [Turanian tribes attached to the Russian princelets] were summoned as auxiliaries.

With this army, Ígoŕ set out to the River Donéts. "He looked up at the sky and saw the sun standing like the moon, and said to his boyárs and druižna:--'Do ye see what this portent is?' They gazed and saw it and bowed their heads. But the men spoke--'This portent bodes no good!' [The importance attached to astronomical portents in the Chronicles is very great, and every event of the sort is closely and accurately described]. . . . . . . Ígoŕ forded the Donéts and Ígoŕ marched on to the Oskol and there waited two days for his brother Vsévolod, who was coming by another road, from Kursk; thence the two proceeded to the River Salnitsa.

Their scouts advised them--"We have seen the array of your enemies; they advance at evil speed: let us move swiftly, or return home; the time is not our own.' Ígoŕ spoke with his brothers,--'If we do not fight, but retreat, then our disgrace will be more than death; be it as God will.' 

And, with this premonition, they marched on all the night through; and on the morning of that Friday, at noon-time they met the army of the Pólovtsy.

When they reached the enemy, the Russians left their tents behind them; and the enemy young and old were all standing on the further bank of the River Syuurli. Ígoŕ ranged his six companies; his own in the middle, Vsévolod's on the right, that of his nephew Svyatosláv on the left; in front of him, his son Vladímir, and a company kept by Yarosláv (with Olstin and his Kovúi), and in front a third regiment of archers drawn from all the princes' troops. This was the order of battle.

"And Ígoŕ said to his brothers,--'We have sought this: let us push on!' and so they advanced, putting their hope in God. As they reached the River Syuurli, the archers in the Polovsk host advanced and shot an arrow each at the Russians: and galloped back again. The Russians had not yet crossed the River Syuurli; the Polovétski forces, who stood farther from the river also galloped away.

p. xxxi

Svyatosláv Ólgovič and Vladímir Ígoŕevič and Olstin with the Kovúi and the archers pursued them; but Ígoŕ and Vsévolod advanced slowly, keeping their men in hand; but the Russians in the van struck the enemy down and captured them. The Pólovtsy fled beyond their tents, and the Russians reached the tents and plundered them, whilst others came back to camp at night loaded with booty.

When all the Pólovtsy had been gathered together, Ígoŕ said to his brothers and his men:--"Thus hath God by his might given us victory over our foes and honour and glory to us; we have seen the companies of the Pólovtsy, how many they are, but have they all yet met? So, if we now march through the night, who will follow us till the morning, will they all follow us? Our best horsemen, may-be, will he cut down and we shall fare as God wills it." Then Svyatosláv Ólgovič spoke: "I have pursued the Pólovtsy far, and my horses can do no more; if I now continue, I shall have to fall behind on the march." And Vsévolod confirmed him in his resolve to stay there.

Ígoŕ said: "It is unprofitable, knowing this, brothers, that we should perish thus." So they encamped on the spot.

When the Saturday dawned, the regiments of the Pólovtsy came forward, like a forest; the Russian princes were bewildered; whom should they assail first; for the multitude of them was numberless. And Ígoŕ said:--"Thus we know we have collected against us all the land; Kontsák and Kozá Burnovič and Tóksobits Kolobič and Etebeč and Tertrobič." And, understanding this, they dismounted from their horses, for they wished to fight their way to the River Donéts and said: "If we flee, we shall ourselves escape, but we shall desert the Black folk [i.e. the serfs or servants; here the hired soldiers] but in the eyes of God we shall pass bearing the sin for them; so, let us die or remain alive in one place!"

With these words they all dismounted and set out to the fight; and, by the dispensation of God, Ígoŕ was wounded in the hand; and his left hand was as though it were dead; and there was great grieving in his host; and his general was taken, after receiving a wound in the front.

So the fight went on steadily all that day until nightfall, and there were many wounded and dead in the Russian forces; and on the Saturday night they continued fighting.

The Sunday was dawning, when the Kovúi became disordered, and fled in panic. Ígoŕ at that time was on horseback, on account of his wound, and rode to their company, wishing to make them return to the army. Then realizing he had left his own people some way behind, he took his helmet off and galloped back to his regiment, in order that he might be recognised as their prince and they might rally. But none returned, except Mikhálko Gyúrgovič who recognised his prince and-came back. For the men were not well mingled with the Kovúi, except a few of the privates or some of the boyárs' champions [отрокъ]. For the

p. xxxii

good men were fighting on foot, and amid them Vsévolod showed no little valour.

And as Ígoŕ was approaching his regiments, [the Pólovtsy] crossed his way, and took him captive within an arrow's shot from his own men.

When he was a prisoner, Ígoŕ saw his brother Vsévolod fighting stoutly; and, in his soul, he implored his own death, that he might not witness the fall of his own brother. Vsévolod went on fighting until he had not a weapon left in his hands, and they were fighting round a lake.

Thus, on Holy Sunday, the Lord poured forth his wrath upon us; and, in the stead of mirth, he gave us wailing, and instead of gladness grief [желю], on the River Kayála [now the Kagál’nik; v. note to Каяла]. And Ígoŕ said:--"I recollect my sins before the Lord my God, that I have wrought many to die, and shed much blood in the Christian land; how I showed no mercy to the Christian folk, and took by storm the city of Glěbov near Pereyáslavl’, For there no little evil befell the innocent Christians; fathers  were parted from their offspring, brother from brother, friend from friend, women from their betrothed and daughters from their mothers, and all was confounded in the captivity and sorrow that then arose; so that the living envied the dead and the dead rejoiced, as holy martyrs who had undergone their trial by fire in this life; old men were swept aside and youths received wounds cruel and ruthless; grown men were hewn and mutilated and the women violated; and all this I have done" Ígoŕ said "I am unworthy to live, and now I see the vengeance of the Lord my God. Where is now my beloved brother? Where is my brother's son? Where is the son I have born me? Where are the nobles of my Council, where my valiant warriors, the file of my men? Where are my steeds and my priceless muniments? Am I not parted from it all; has not the Lord given me as a captive to these lawless foes?". . . . . . . .

One of the Targols, a man named Čilbuk had captured Ígoŕ; Vsévolod his brother had been taken prisoner by Román Kzič, and Svyatosláv Ólgovič by Eldečyuk of the Voburčeviči, and Vladímir by Kopti of the Ulaševiči.

On the battlefield then Kontsák took charge of Ígoŕ, his kinsman [сватъ], as he was wounded. . . . . . . .

Out of the many captives few could escape; for it was impossible for those who ran away to evade because they were encompassed by the powerful armies of the Pólovtsy as though by stout walls. About fifteen of the Russians escaped, and fewer of the Kovúi, the rest were drowned in the sea [i.e. the river].

At this time the Grand-Prince Svyatosláv Vsévolodovič had gone to Koráčev and was collecting an army from the Uplands, wishing to

p. xxxiii

march against the Pólovtsy on the River Don all the summer. Svyatosláv on his return, was at Nóvgorod-Sĕverski when he heard of his brothers; how they had marched against the Pólovtsy, and concealed their movements from him; and he was displeased at the news.

Svyatosláv was travelling and when he arrived at Černígov, Běloyolod Prosóvič came and told him what had happened with the Pólovtsy. When Svyatosláv heard of it, he heaved a sigh and wiped his tears and said:--"Oh my beloved brethren and sons and men in the Russian Land! Would that God had allowed me to conquer the Pagans: but, not casting away their youthfulness, they have opened wide the gates to the Russian land [ворота на Русьскую землю]". . . . .

Svyatosláv sent his son Olég, and Vladímir [Glěbovič] into the Posémye : and hearing the news, the cities of the Posémye were stricken and there was grief and bitter wailing, such as had never been in the Posémye or in Nóvgorod-Sěverski or in all the domain of Černígov. . . .

Svyatosláv sent for help to David Rostíslavič of Smolénsk, and there arrived other help, but Yarosláv [of Černígov] collected troops at Černígov.

But the Pagan Pólovtsy having conquered Ígoŕ and his brothers were seized with great pride and gathered all their tribes [языкъ] on to Russian soil. Strife ensued amongst them; for Končák said:--"Let us go to the Kíev country where our brothers and our Grand-Prince Bonyák were defeated" [i.e. in the year 1185 ]; whereas Kza spoke:--"Let us go by the River Seĭm where their wives and children are left, a ready booty for us; for we shall capture the cities, without incurring risks" and so they parted their armies into two. . . . . . . .

Končák proceeded to Pereyáslavl’, which was defended by Vladímir Glĕbovič; this prince was himself wounded in a sally from the walls. Vladímir Glěbovič sent word to Svyatosláv, Ryúrik and David, and the relief was despatched.

But the Pólovtsy hearing of this, retired from Pereyáslavl’ and on their way attacked Rimov [or perhaps Rim]. But the men of Rim shut themselves up in their city, and climbing up to the ramparts, when, by Divine judgment, two defences fell down with the men, into the enemy, and the rest of the citizens were overcome with panic. Some citizens quitted the town and fought as they betook themselves into the Rimov swamps and thus escaped capture; those who lingered in the town were all taken prisoners.

. . . The Pólovtsy, after capturing Rimov, looted it and went on their ways. But the Russian princes returned home, and were sorrowful. . .

p. xxxiv

But the other Pólovtsy went by another road to Putívl’. Kza had a powerful army: and they waged war in their districts and burned the castle at Putívl’ and then returned home again.

But Ígoŕ Svyatoslávi that year remained among the Pólovtsy and said:--"I, fitly with my merit, have received defeat at Thy command. . . . . . . ." The Pólovtsy showed awe for his generalship and did him no offence; but set to guard him fifteen men from out of their sons and five from their chieftains' sons, in all twenty. And they gave him freedom to betake himself where he would, and he went hunting with his sparrow-hawk, five or six of his servants accompanying him. His guards obeyed him and honoured him, and wherever he sent anyone, willingly that one did his bidding.

He had also brought a priest with him from Russia for the Holy Office; for he knew not the will of God and was readying himself to stay there a long time.

But the Lord rescued him for the prayers of the Christians, many of whom grieved for him and shed tears for him.

Whilst he was there among the Pólovtsy, a man by birth a Polovčín, named Lávor, had found his way there; he had a goodly thought and said:--"I will go with thee to Russia." But Ígoŕ at first gave him no confidence,  but held to the lofty reasoning of youth,--and did not intend taking the man and fleeing with him to Russia,------: and he said:--"For the sake of glory I did not run away from the družína before, and now I will not depart by a dishonourable road." With Ígoŕ there was the son of the thousandman and his groom and they persuaded him and said:--"Prince, go back to Russia, if God desires to rescue thee." But such an occasion came to point as Ígoŕ sought for himself. But, as we said before, the Pólovtsy were returning from Pereyáslavl’; so Ígoŕ's counsellors said to him:--"Thou cherishest a haughty thought within thee and one mispleasing to God; thou seekest to take this man and to flee to Russia; but of this thou dost not take heed, that the Pólovtsy will be returning from the war; and we have heard this that our princes have been beaten by them, that they will slay the prince and you and all of Russia. Then thou wilt have neither fame nor life!"

Prince Ígoŕ took this word to his heart, for he was afraid of their return and he tried to flee. He considered were it better for him to flee by day or night. It was not possible for him to escape by day or night: for his guards watched him; but he secured a suitable time at sunset.

So Ígoŕ' sent to Lávor his groom, and told him:--"Cross to the farther bank of the river Tor with a led horse," for he had decided to escape to Russia with Lávor.

p. xxxv

At this time the Pólovtsy were drinking kumys and evening was approaching; the groom came to Ígoŕ his prince and acquainted him that Lávor was waiting for him.

Ígoŕ got up in terror and trembling, and bowed low to the Divine image and the venerable cross and prayed;--"Lord of Mercy. . . . . . ."

The guards were playing and making merry, and thought the Prince was asleep. The Prince advanced to the river and forded it, mounted his horse and thus passed through their tents.

This rescue the Lord wrought on Friday evening. Ígoŕ then walked a-foot eleven days to the town of Donéts and thence to his own Nóvgorod; and they rejoiced to see him; from Nóvgorod he went to his brother Yarosláv at Černígov to ask for help in the Posémye. He travelled thence to Kíev to the Grand-Prince Svyatosláv and Svyatosláv was glad to see him, as was also Rúrik."

From the Lavrentíski MS. the following supplementary facts can be taken; as almost always, this text is much terser and less detailed.

"This year the grandsons of Olég decided to march against the Pólovtsy, because they had not gone that year with the rest of the princes. They went by themselves, saying,--"Are we not princes too? So we too shall gain ourselves renown."

Ígoŕ with two of his sons from Nóvgorod-Sěverski set out from Pereyáslavl’, and his brother Vsévolod from Trúbeč, and Svyatosláv Ólgovič from Rylsk and the Černígov mercenaries joined them.

The Chronicle proceeds to tell how at the three days' battle Ígoŕ's army suffered through lack of water, and the two following phrases occur, which recall passages in the Slóvo.

"Where he had had joy, now we had discouragement, and wailing spread afar . . . . . and there was wailing and groaning." [Гдѣ бо бяше бъ насъ радость, нынѣ же въздыханье и плачь распротранися . . . и быстъ плачь и стенаніе].


xxx:† Ígoŕ in all his speeches is very pious: a tone of resignation and humility.

xxxii:† C.f. the description of the sack of Kíev in 1169 supra.

xxxiii:† The country round the upper Seĭm near Kuŕsk.

xxxiii:‡ Not the Bonyák of 1096.

xxxiv:† The escape was a breach of honour: Ígoŕ would be cheating his captors of their just ransom.

Next: The Construction of the Poem