Yaroslav the Wise and Svyatopolk the Accursed

Yaroslav the Wise and Svyatopolk the Accursed

Yaroslav the Wise and Svyatopolk the Accursed both had reigns of power in Kiev centuries ago. Though brothers, the two men captured and then wielded their power in very different ways. Both Yaroslav and Svyatopolk were sons of Vladimir the Great, but the relationship among members of this family was not one of love and trust. Instead, the relationship among the brothers and their father was filled with fighting and bloodshed.

Yaroslav The Wise

Even though both were sons of Vladimir the Great, the offspring did not share the same mother. It was believed that Yaroslav, one of Vladimir’s youngest children, was the son of Vladimir’s third wife, Rogneda of Polotsk; however there was speculation that Yaroslav was actually born out of wedlock after Vladimir and Rogneda divorced.

Early in his life, Yaroslav was sent to rule the lands to the North which were located near Rostov the Great. Shortly after, Yaroslav was transferred to Novgorod the Great. Even though entrusted by his father with these responsibilities, the relationship between Vladimir and Yaroslav became strained. It is believed the turmoil first began when instead of Yaroslav, Vladimir named Boris, another of his sons, as his successor to the throne. The situation escalated when after this announcement Yaroslav refused to recognize and pay tribute to Kiev. There is speculation that Vladimir’s death soon after was the sole reason a war did not break out between father and son.

Despite the issues with his father, Yaroslav went on to become ruler of Kiev. His reign was filled with many military victories, including several against his own brother Svyatopolk. The course of his rule was also marked by the spread of Christianity throughout Kiev and the transforming of Kiev into a major center for trade.

The practices of translation as well as book writing flourished under Yaroslav, who employed a number of scribes whose job was to translate Greek religious texts. Yaroslav died in 1054 and was buried in the Saint Sofia Cathedral in Kiev. While dubbed a saint throughout most of his life, Yaroslav the Wise was officially canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church in 2005.

Svyatopolk the Accursed 

Sviatopolk I of Kiev was born to a Greek nun who was believed to have been raped by Vladimir, resulting in the birth of Svyatopolk. Like Yaroslav, Svyatopolk was also given control over land at a young age. He was given control of Turov at the age of eight. Vladimir also arranged the marriage between Svyatopolk and the daughter of a Polish king. It was not long after the marriage that Svyatopolk grew dissatisfied with Vladimir’s leadership. With the support of his wife, and assuming support and cooperation from his father-in-law, Svyatopolk began to prepare for a war against Vladimir. Upon hearing of this, Vladimir had his son put in prison.

After completing his prison sentence, Svyatopolk was then sent to and put in charge of the town of Vyshgorod. It was shortly after this that Vladimir died. While Vladimir’s death prevented war between himself and Yaroslav, it set into action a series of battles between the brothers. Upon hearing news of his father’s death, Svyatopolk staked his claim to power in Kiev. Once in command, Svyatopolk sought to eliminate all possible threats to his power. Svyatopolk orchestrated the deaths of his brothers Boris, Gleb, and Sviatoslav.

While the murder of family members for power may sound Shakespearian, it was not uncommon. However, many felt the actions of Svyatopolk were incredibly harsh, and it was believed that that was what led to him receiving the nickname “The Accursed.”

It was hearing the news of Svyatopolk’s actions, and the death of his other brothers that prompted the violence between Yaroslav and Svyatopolk. The first battle between the brothers occurred in 1016. Yaroslav emerged victorious, and Svyatopolk was forced to flee to Poland. Svyatopolk returned to Kiev in 1018, furnished with troops supplied by his father-in-law, and this time was victorious and again took control in Kiev. However, his victory was short -lived, as Yaroslav returned and banished Svyatopolk shortly after.

Attempting one last grab for the throne, Svyatopolk mounted another attack in 1019. However, Yaroslav was victorious, and while fleeing from the battle, Svyatopolk died in an attempt to retreat back to Poland. Because Svyatopolk did not have what could be considered an extended reign, he was not able to leave behind a legacy or accomplishments by which to remember him as his brother Yaroslav did.

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