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Mykola Zharkikh (Kyiv)

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Nicholas Zharkikh

The period of 80 years, from 1198 to 1278, chosen by me as the chronological frame of the presentation, is divided exactly in half by the tragic year 1239, when the Tatars destroyed Chernihiv.

In the first 40 years, before the attack of the Tatars, we have a relatively abundant series of news about Chernihiv princes (more precisely, about members of the Olgovychs family) and the Chernihiv principality. All of them come from sources external to Chernihiv (Vladimir, Novgorod, and Volyn chronicles) and relate mainly to the participation of the Olgovychs in the political affairs of other principalities or all of Rus’.

Rus’ chronicles of the 13th century acquired a distinctly regional character: chroniclers were mainly interested in the affairs of their own lands, and no one could cover Rus’ as a whole. In addition, the Volyn annals show systematic hostility towards the Olgovychs as enemies of the Volyn princes and, at every opportunity, complain about the latter.

Because of these features of the sources, the inner life of the Olgovychs dynasty and the Chernihiv principality is almost unknown, and this cannot be overcomed. We do not know the exact dates of the stay of the princes even at the Chernihiv throne. We have no information about the smaller princely centers of Chernihiv region. We do not have complete data on the composition of the princely families, instead we have mentions of some princes who could belong to the Olgovychs, but their exact genealogical position was not outlined in the sources, was not known even to their contemporaries. But all this is not a reason to fill the void with fantasies, as "academic historians" like to do.

The high status of the Chernihiv principality until 1239 stems from the fact that no significant political enterprise of southern Rus’ was complete without the participation of the Olgovychs princes and Chernihiv principality.

When at the end of the 12th century prince Volodymyr Yaroslavich died (the last representative of the Galician Rostislavichs dynasty) – the idea immediately arose to fill the empty Galician throne with one of his relatives – the sons of the Seversky prince Igor Svjatoslavych and Volodymyr’s sister (Yaroslavna). During the life of the brave (more precisely, indiscriminate in means) prince of Volyn, Roman Mstislavich, who captured the Galician throne, the war for the Galician heritage was successful for Roman.

But everything changed after his death in 1205. As a result of the next war in 1206 all the principalities of southern Rus’ – Chernihiv, Pereyaslav, Kyiv, Volyn and Galicia – were occupied by members of the Olgovychs dynasty.

This hegemony of the Olgovychs – a kind of "Chernihiv Empire" – was not to the liking of the neighboring princes, and this configuration of power did not last very long. But it should be noted that no one else managed to achieve even such an ephemeral unification of the Old Rus’ principalities.

The political biography of prince Vsevolod Svjatoslavych Chermny lasted only 7 years (1206-1212) and was filled with his attempts to assert himself at the Kyiv throne.

During the 6 years of their rule in the Galician principality (1206-1211), princes Igorovychs managed to arouse the strong hatred of the local boyars towards themselves. This hatred was fueled by external influences (Polish princes and especially the Hungarian king), who were interested in maintaining constant (stable) instability, hoping to get some benefits for themselves from such a situation. As a result, in 1211, Galician boyars rebelled, captured princes Roman and Svyatoslav Igorovychs and hanged them. Their brother – Volodymyr Igorovych – escaped, and we no longer know anything about him, or about the younger branch of the Olgovychs family as a whole.

This Galician disaster indirectly affected the position of the Kyiv prince Vsevolod Chermny. The princes of Smolensk – the traditional rivals of the Olgovychs in the struggle for Kyiv – together with the Novgorod army, waged a war against him, which Vsevolod lost and was forced to retreat from Kyiv. Somewhere during these adventures, he died, but we do not know exactly where, when and under what circumstances it happened, we do not know where he was buried.

From 1210, it is possible to trace the political union of Chernihiv and Vladimir principalities, cemented by several dynastic marriages.

In 1223, the princes of Chernihiv took part in the campaign against the Tatars, which ended in the battle of Kalka, which was unfortunate for Rus’. Our sources do not know what specific role Chernihiv troops played in this battle, they do not provide the circumstances of the death of Chernihiv prince Mstislav Svyatoslavich, they do not know the name of his son, who also died during the escape.

From 1225, our sources relatively fully cover the activities of Chernihiv prince Michael Vsevolodovich, son of Vsevolod Chermny. But this completeness again concerns only his external activities, so we do not know exactly when he became the prince of Chernihiv, when he got married, when his children were born.

We know, on the other hand, about his friendly relations with prince Yury Vsevolodovich of Vladimir, as a result of which Michael occupied the princely throne in Novgorod the Great three times during the years 1225-1230. We know that with this he incurred the hatred of prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich (from Pereslavl-Zalesky), who himself wanted to gain a foothold in Novgorod.

We know about Michael’s attempt to capture Kyiv (1233), the counteroffensive of the Volyn-Kyiv coalition, the successful defense of Chernihiv against the attackers, the defeat of the Galician-Volyn-Kyiv forces near Torchesk, and – as a result – the capture of Halych throne by Michael (1235). But at the same time, we do not know who remained to rule in Chernihiv!

In 1238, Michael managed to occupy Kyiv, leaving his son Rostislav as prince in Galicia. Once again, we see that the three main principalities of southern Rus’ – Chernihiv, Kyiv and Galicia – came under the rule of the Olgovychs, and again for a very short time.

In all the listed political enterprises, a significant, sometimes decisive role of princes from the Olgovychs family was due to the own significant forces of the Chernihiv principality.

All this changed radically with the arrival of the Tatars. In 1239 (the exact date is unknown!) they attacked Chernihiv. Prince Mstislav Glibovych’s attempt to repel the attackers turned out to be unsuccessful – his army was defeated in the battle near Chernihiv. We do not know anything about Mstislav’s further fate, nor do we know if he had any sons.

At one time, the large family of the Olgovychs was reduced to two people – prince Michael Vsevolodovych and his son Rostislav. They no longer had their own armed forces and traveled through Hungary, Mazovia, Silesia and Rus’ as fugitives, vagabond princes.

Rostislav’s attempts to win back the Galician principality ended with his defeat at Yaroslav (1245). Rostislav refused further political struggle in Rus’ and took the position of a Hungarian nobleman, son-in-law of King Béla IV.

Michael Vsevolodovych’s attempt to regain "power" over Chernihiv at the cost of subordination to Batu turned out to be even worse. Batu ordered Michael to be executed (September 20, 1246), and several other princes related to Chernihiv were also executed. Batu clearly wanted to show that he would not tolerate any prince in Chernihiv.

The same system – to prevent princes from coming to power in ancient capitals and (thereby) reviving ancient Rus’ political units – was applied by Batu to the principalities of Pereyaslav, Kyiv and (in a less brutal way) Galicia. Kyiv began to regain its independent political role as the capital of the new state in 1917, while Chernihiv, Pereyaslav and Halych lost their independent political role forever.

Theoretically, one could think that the Rostov princes (Boris or Gleb) will take over the power in the Chernihiv principality – as the grandsons (relatives) of Michael Vsevolodovych. But this did not happen, and we do not even know whether the princes of Rostov made any attempts in this direction. Their descendants automatically lost the right to the Chernihiv throne, since their parents did not rule in Chernihiv.

Despite the fact that all the main sources from the history of the 13th century, mentioned above, continued to tell about the events of the following decades, the Chernihiv dynasty and the Chernihiv principality simultaneously and unanimously disappear from their pages. This means the disappearance of the very subject of reference – a political unit centered in Chernihiv.

Talks about "Chernihiv princes of the Tatar era" have no support in historical sources, and they should be considered manifestations of historical and patriotic fiction.

The mythical "sons of prince Michael Vsevolodovych" are not recorded by any source, contemporary events themselves (the middle to the 3rd quarter of the 13th century, when these "sons" could theoretically act – if they existed). All of them, as one, were invented by the authors of Moscow genealogical books, and all genealogies of numerous princely families of the Russian Empire, which derived their origin from these "sons", should be considered mythical in their early part. In fact, they come from self-proclaimed princes of the end of the 13th – 14th century, who had small estates in the upper Desna and upper Oka basins.

"Princes of Chernihiv" from the "List of prince Constantine" (Ljubech synodikon) is also the result of a successful hoax created in Moscow in the middle of the 16th century, using materials from the same genealogical books. In 1654, "List" got to Kyiv and was entered into the Vvedensky synodikon of the Kyiv-Pechersk Lavra, and from it it was transcribed (with omissions and errors) in 1753..1755 into the Ljubech synodikon.

It is not possible to identify any source older than the middle of the 16th century in the text of the List. Thus, all the extravagances of the "List", which do not find independent confirmation, should be considered fictions of the middle of the 16th century.

The attempt of R. V. Zotov (1892) to comment on the "List" and, in particular, to determine the sequence of "Chernihiv princes of the Tatar era" consists of unbridled fantasies and must be completely rejected. Instead, modern studies should be used, which, in particular, show in detail the instability of Zotov’s inventions.

The legacy of the Old Rus’ Chernihiv principality manifested itself not in real politics, but in the plane of ideas. Prince Michael Vsevolodovich and his boyar Fedor, killed in the Horde by order of Batu, are glorified as saints in northeastern Rus’, later the Muscovite state. Their cult is widespread in Great Russia in the form of literary texts, church services, icons and murals. Since 1580, false "relics" of these saints, "found" by order of Tsar Ivan the Terrible, have been venerated in Moscow. In Ukraine, the cult of these saints did not take root, being limited to one church in Chernihiv itself, built by order of the St. Petersburg church authorities.

The most concise conclusion from the conducted review can be formulated as follows: Chernihiv and the Tatars are things that are incompatible with each other. The Chernihiv principality existed until there were no Tatars. When the Tatars appeared, the Chernihiv principality disappeared.