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Volodymyr the Great

Volodymyr the Great, born about 956, died on July, 15, 1015, in Vyshhorod, near Kyiv. Grand Prince of Kyiv from 980; son of Sviatoslav I Ihorevych and Malusha and father of 11 princes by five wives, including Sviatopolk I, Yaroslav the Wise, Matyslav Volodymyrovych, and Saints Borys and Hlib Volodymyrovych. In 969 Grand Prince Sviatoslav I named his son Volodymyr, the prince of Novgorod; In 977, a struggle for power broke out among Sviatoslav's sons. Yaropolk I forced Volodymyr to flee to Scandinavia. In 980, Volodymyr returned to Rus, and expelled Yaropolk from Novgorod. Later that year he captured Kyiv and had Yaropolk murdered, thereby becoming the grand prince, and married Yaropolk's Greek widow.

Over the next 35 years Volodymyr expanded the borders of Kyiv Rus and turned it into one of the most powerful states in Eastern Europe. He united the East Slavic tribes, divided his realm into lands, and installed his sons or viceroys to govern them, and collect tribute.

In 983 Volodymyr waged war against the Yatvingians and thereby gained access to the Baltic Sea. In 985 he defeated the Khazars and Volga Bulgars and secured his state's eastern frontier. He had lines of fortifications built along the Irpin, the Stuhna, the Trubizh, and the Sula rivers and founded fortified towns (e. g., Vasyliv, Voin, and Bielhorod) that were joined by eastern ramparts.

Volodymyr attributed his victory over Yaropolk to the support he received from pagan forces, and had idols of the deities Perun, Khors, Dazhboh, Stryboh, Simarhl, and Mokosh erected on a hill overlooking his palace in Kyiv. Later he became convinced that a monotheistic religion would consolidate his power, as Christianity and Islam had done for neighboring rulers. His choice was determined after the Byzantine emperor Basil II turned to him for help in defeating his rival, Bardas Phocas. Volodymyr offered military aid only if he was allowed to marry Basil's sister, Anna, and Basil agreed to the marriage only after Volodymyr promised to convert himself and his subjects to Christianity.

Volodymyr, his family, and his closest associates were baptized in December 987, when he took the Christian name Vasylii (Basil). Soon afterward he ordered the destruction of all pagan idols. The mass baptism of the citizens of Kyiv took place on August 988 and the remaining population of Rus was slowly converted, sometimes by force. In 988 Volodymyr sent several thousand warriors to help Basil regain power and married Anna.

The Christianization of Rus was essentially engineered by Byzantium. Byzantium supplied the first hierarchs and other clergy in Rus and introduced Byzantine art, education, and literature there. During Volodymyr's reign the first schools and churches were built, notably the Church of the Tithes in Kyiv. The adoption of Christianity as the official religion facilitated the unification of the Rus tribes and establishment of foreign dynastic, political, cultural, religious, and commercial relations, particularly with the Byzantine Empire, Bulgaria, and Germany.

After Anna's death in 1011, Volodymyr married the daughter of Count Kuno von Enningen. Toward the end of his life his sons Sviatopolk of Turiv and Yaroslav of Novgorod challenged his rule. Having defeated Sviatopolk, Volodymyr died while preparing a campaign against Yaroslav and was buried in the Church of the Tithes. He was succeeded briefly by Sviatopolk.

The Rus clergy venerated Volodymyr because of his support of the church, but he was canonized only after 1240. Thereafter he was referred to as "the holy, equal to the Apostles, grand prince of Kyiv".


 
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