Oleg of Novgorod

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Image:Oleg's shield.jpg
Fyodor Bruni. Oleg Has His Shield Fixed to the Gates of Constantinople.

Prince (or konung) Oleg (Slavic: Олег, Old Norse: Helgi, Khazarian, possibly Helgu) was a Varangian ruler who moved the capital of Rus from Novgorod the Great to Kiev and, in doing so, founded the powerful state of Kievan Rus. According to East Slavic chronicles, he was a supreme ruler from 879 to 912, which dates do not comply with the Schechter Letter mentioning the activities of certain khagan HLGW of Rus in the 940s.


[edit] Oleg of East Slavic chronicles

A relation (likely brother-in-law) of the first ruler, Rurik, the Varangian Helgi was entrusted by Rurik to take care of both his kingdom and his young son Ingvar, or Igor. Oleg gradually took control of the Dnieper cities, captured Kiev (previously held by other Varangians, Askold and Dir) and finally moved his capital from Novgorod there. The new capital was a convenient place to launch a raid against Tsargrad (Constantinople) in 911. According to the chronicle, the Byzantines attempted to poison Oleg, but the Rus' leader demonstrated his oracular powers by refusing to drink the cup of poisoned wine. Having fixed his shield to the gate of the imperial capital, Oleg won a favourable trade treaty, which eventually was of great benefit to both nations. Although Byzantine sources did not record these hostilities, the text of the treaty survives in the Primary Chronicle.

The Primary Chronicle's brief account of Oleg's life contrasts with other early sources, specifically the Novgorod First Chronicle, which states that Oleg was not related to Rurik, and was rather a client-prince who served as Igor's army commander. The Novgorod First Chronicle does not give the date of the commencement of Oleg's reign, but dates his death to 922 rather than 912.<ref>Nasonov ___; cf. Kloss 337-343.</ref> Scholars have contrasted this dating scheme with the "epic" reigns of roughly thirty-three years for both Oleg and Igor in the Primary Chronicle.<ref>Shahmatov xxxii-xxxiii.</ref> Besides, the Primary Chronicle and other Kievan sources place Oleg's grave in Kiev, while Novgorodian sources identify a funerary barrow in Ladoga as Oleg's final resting place.<ref>The earliest and most believable version seems to have been preserved in the Novgorod First Chronicle, which says that Oleg departed "overseas" (i.e., to Scandinavia) and was buried there.</ref>
Image:Trizna 1899.jpg
Viktor Vasnetsov. Oleg being mourned by his warriors (1899).

In the Primary Chronicle, Oleg is known as the Prophet (вещий), an epithet nodding to the sacred meaning of his Norse name ("priest"), but also ironically referring to the circumstances of his death. According to this legend, romanticised by Pushkin in his celebrated ballad, it was prophesied by the pagan priests that Oleg would take death from his stallion. Proud of his own foretelling abilities, he sent the horse away. Many years later he asked where his horse was, and was told it had died. He asked to see the remains and was taken to the place where the bones lay. When he touched the horse's skull with his boot a snake slithered from the skull and bit him. Oleg died, thus fulfilling the prophecy. In Scandinavian traditions, this legend lived on in the saga of Orvar-Odd.

[edit] Helgu of the Schechter Letter

According to the Primary Chronicle, Oleg died in 913 and his successor, Igor of Kiev, ruled from then until his assassination in 944. The Schechter Letter<ref>The text of the Schechter Letter is given at Golb 106-121. It is cited herein by folio and line (e.g. SL Fol. x:x)</ref>, a document written by a Jewish Khazar, a contemporary of Romanus I Lecapenus, describes the activities of a Rus warlord named HLGW (Hebrew: הלגו), usually transcribed as "Helgu".<ref>SL Fol. 2r, 15-16; 17. The author of the letter describes Khazaria as "our land". SL Fol. 1r:19, 2v:15,20.</ref> For years many scholars disregarded or discounted the Schechter Letter account, which referred to Helgu (often interpreted as Oleg) as late as the 940's.<ref>No less a personage than Mikhail Artamonov declared the manuscripts' authenticity beyond question. Artamonov 12. Nonetheless, other scholars expressed scepticism about its account, due in large part to its contradiction of the Primary Chronicle. E.g., Gregoire 242-248, 255-266; Dunlop 161. Novoseltsev, noting the discrepancy, admits the document's authenticity but declares that the author "displaces the real historical facts rather freely." Novoseltsev 216-218. Brutskus asserted that HLGW was in fact another name for Igor. Brutskus 30-31. Mosin proposed that HLGW was a different person from Oleg and was an independent prince in Tmutarakan; the existence of an independent Rus state in Tmutarakan in the first half of the tenth century is rejected by virtually all modern scholars. Mosin 309-325; cf. Zuckerman 258.</ref>

Recently, however, scholars such as David Christian and Constantine Zuckerman have suggested that the Schechter Letter's account is in sync with various other Russian chronicles, and suggests a struggle within the early Rus polity between factions loyal to Oleg and to the Rurikid Igor, a struggle that Oleg ultimately lost.<ref>Zuckerman 257-268. Zuckerman cites, inter alia, to the Novgorod First Chronicle. Cf., e.g., Christian 341-345.</ref> Zuckerman posited that the early chronology of the Rus had to be re-determined in light of these sources. Among Zuckerman's beliefs and those of others who have analyzed these sources are that the Khazars did not lose Kiev until the early 900's (rather than 882, the traditional date<ref>Pritsak 60-71; Shahmatov xxxii-xxxiii;</ref>), that Igor was not Rurik's son but rather a more distant descendant, and that Oleg did not immediately follow Rurik, but rather that there is a lost generation between the legendary Varangian lord and his documented successors.<ref>Pritsak 60-71. Pritsak placed the "lost generation" between Oleg and Igor. Zuckerman dismisses this as "outright speculation"; and places both as contemporaries in the early to mid tenth century.</ref>

Of particular interest is the fact that the Schechter Letter account of Oleg's death (namely, that he fled to and raided FRS, tentatively identified with Persia<ref>Pavel Kokovtsov, when publishing a Russian translation of the letter in 1932, argued that FRS may refer to Thrace, where the Rus forces were defeated by the armies of Lecapenus (online).</ref>, and was slain there) bears remarkable parallels to the account of Arab historians such as al-Miskawaihi, who described a similar Rus attack on the Muslim state of Arran in the year 944/5.<ref>Miskawaihi 67-74; cf. SL Fol. 2v:3 et seq.</ref>

[edit] Attempts to reconcile the accounts

Prince Oleg Approached by Pagan Priests, a Kholuy illustration to Pushkin's ballad.

In contrast to Zuckerman's version, the Primary Chronicle and the later Kiev Chronicle place Oleg's grave in Kiev, where it could be seen at the time when these documents were compiled. Furthermore, scholars pointed out that, if Oleg succeeded Rurik in 879 (as the East Slavic chronicles assert), he could hardly have been active almost 70 years later, if his was not a case of longevity unheard of in medieval annals. To solve these difficulties, it has been proposed that "helgu", standing for "holy" in Norse language, was a hereditary title of the pagan monarchs-priests of Rus and that this title was held by Igor, among others.<ref>Parkhomenko 24 et seq.</ref>

It has also been suggested that Helgu-Oleg who waged war in the 940s, was distinct from both of Rurik's successors. He could have been one of the "fair and great princes" recorded in the Russo-Byzantine treaties of 911 and 944 or one of the "archons of Rus" mentioned in De administrando imperio. Regrettably, the Primary Chronicle does not specify the relations between minor Rurikid princes active during the period, although the names Rurik, Oleg, and Igor were recorded among the late-10th-century and 11th-century Rurikids.

Georgy Vernadsky even identified Oleg of the Schechter Letter with Igor's otherwise anonymous eldest son, whose widow Predslava is mentioned in the Russo-Byzantine treaty of 944.<ref>Vernadsky 41 et seq.</ref> Alternatively, V. Ya. Petrukhin speculated that Helgu-Oleg of the 940s was one of the vernacular princes of Chernigov, whose ruling dynasty maintained especially close contacts with Khazaria, as the findings at the Black Grave, a large royal kurgan excavated near Chernigov, seem to testify.<ref>Petrukhin 226-228.</ref> Neither of these theories has been endorsed in the academic mainstream, however.

[edit] References

<references />

[edit] Sources

  • Artamonov, Mikhail. Istoriya Khazar. Leningrad, 1962.
  • Brutskus, Julius D. Pismo Hazarskogo Evreja Ol X Veka. Berlin 1924.
  • Christian, David. A History of Russia, Central Asia and Mongolia, Vol. 1. Blackwell, 1998.
  • Dunlop, D.M.. History of the Jewish Khazars. Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1954.
  • Gregoire, H. 'Le "Glozel' khazare." Revue des Études Byzantines 12, 1937.
  • Golb, Norman and Omeljan Pritsak. Khazarian Hebrew Documents of the Tenth Century. Ithaca: Cornell Univ. Press, 1982. [Note:as each author was responsible for separate sections of the work, they are referenced separately above.]
  • Kloss, B.M. "Letopis' Novgorodskaja pervaja". Slovar' Kniznikov i Knizhnosti Drevnej Rusi, vol. 1. Leningrad 1987.
  • Kokovtsov P.S. Еврейско-хазарская переписка в X веке. Leningrad 1932.
  • al-Miskawaihi. The Eclipse of the 'Abbasid Caliphate. D.S. Margoliouth, trans. Oxford 1921.
  • Mosin, V. "Les Khazars et les Byzantins d'apres l'Anonyme de Cambridge." Revue des Études Byzantines 6 (1931): 309-325.
  • Nasonov, A.N., ed. Novgorodskaja Pervaja Lelopis Starshego i Mladshego Izvodov. Moscow, 1950.
  • Novoseltsev, Anatoli P. Hazarskoe Gosudarstvo i Ego Rol' v Istorii Vostochnoj Evropy i Kavkaza. Moscow 1990.
  • Parkomenko V.A. У истоков русской государственности. Leningrad, 1924.
  • Petrukhin V.Ya. "Князь Олег, Хелгу Кембриджского документа и русский княжеский род". Древнейшие государства Восточной Европы. 1998. Памяти А.П. Новосельцева. Moscow, Russian Academy of Sciences, 2000: 222-230.
  • Shahmatov, A.A. Ocherk Drevnejshego Perioda Istorii Russkogo Jazyka. Petrograd, 1915 (reprinted Paris 1967).
  • Zuckerman, Constantine. "On the Date of the Khazar’s Conversion to Judaism and the Chronology of the Kings of the Rus Oleg and Igor." Revue des Études Byzantines 53 (1995): 237-270.
  • Vernadsky, Georgy. Kievan Rus. Moscow, 1996.
Preceded by:
Rurik (Novgorod) Askold and Dir (Kiev)
Prince of Kiev and Novgorod Succeeded by:

cs:Oleg de:Oleg (Russland) et:Oleg es:Oleg fr:Oleg le Sage it:Oleg di Kiev nl:Oleg van Kiev no:Oleg av Novgorod pl:Oleg Mądry ru:Вещий Олег sk:Oleg (Kyjevská Rus) cu:Ѡлегъ fi:Oleg Viisas sv:Oleg av Kiev uk:Олег zh:奥列格

Oleg of Novgorod

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