The young and energetic prince,
remembered as "Mstyslav the Brave", conducted an active policy of
expansion on his territorial holdings. Thus in 1022 he took to the
battlefield against the Kosogs. The chronicle has it that as the
two armies stood facing each other, the Kosogs' Prince Rededya asked
Mstyslav: "Why should we ruin our armies? Let us meet in man-to-man
combat, and if you overpower me, you take my possessions, my wife,
and my land. And if I overpower you, I take yours". "Let it be so!"
answered Mstyslav. As they rode together, Rededya suggested: "Let's
not fight with weapons, but wrestle instead!". They wrestled long
and hard, and Mstyslav began to weaken because Rededya was big and
strong. Afraid of losing, Mstyslav prayed for divine help, "Oh,
Holy Virgin, help me! If I overpower him, I'll build a church in
your honour". Having said this, he struck Rededya down onto the
ground, snatched out a knife and plunged the blade into his rival's
throat. With Rededya dead, Mstyslav seized his lands, took all his
possessions, including his wife and children, and laid a tribute
to the Kosogs. Upon returning to T'mutarakan', Mstyslav made good
on his impassioned battlefield promise and erected the Church of
Strengthening his positions in
the far region beyond the Sea of Azov, Mstyslav watched the rapid
development of events in the inner Rus closely. After Volodymyr's
death in 1015, Svyatopolk captured Kyiv. Because he was staying
in Vyshgorod at the time, Svyatopolk received the news of his father's
death earlier than the others. One by one, he assassinated his brothers,
Boris, Gleb and Svyatoslav, his potential rivals for the throne.
For this brutal action, he was nicknamed "the Damned", a label which
still follows him today. However, cruelty didn't help Svyatopolk
to ascend to Kyiv's great-princely throne. That honour went to the
eldest son of Volodymyr, Prince Yaroslav the Wise of Novgorod.
Having enlisted the support of
Novgorod's veche, Yaroslav, at the head of a 3-thousand strong army,
set out to conquer Kyiv. In the battle of Lyubech in the autumn
of 1015, Yaroslav utterly defeated Svyatopolk, who fled to the Pechenegs
to escape certain execution. Though Yaroslav entered Kyiv triumphantly,
his success was not a complete one. Leaning heavily on foreign support,
Svyatopolk soon recaptured Kyiv. After more warring, Yaroslav finally
took the throne at Kyiv as late as 1019 in a resounding victory
over Svyatopolk on the Alta River. However he didn't make Kyiv his
home and continued to rule the country from Novgorod, as that city
had caught his fancy.
Up until that time, the majority
of Volodymyrovychi either were killed in interim scuffles or occupied
minor thrones and didn't participate actively in all-Rus affairs.
So Mstyslav of Tmutarakan' became Yaroslav's only rival and competitor
for the great-princely throne at Kyiv. In 1019 Mstyslav wrote a
letter to his brother to request a portion of the brothers' holdings
of which the latter had taken possession of. Yaroslav offered him
Murom, but this didn't satisfy Mstyslav and he started to prepare
forces against Yaroslav. Having gathered his own troops and adding
them to the Khazar and the Kosog armies, he waited for a convenient
time to strike.
Just such a fortuitous opportunity
offered itself in 1024, when Yaroslav suppressed the uprising in
the Suzdal' land. With an enormous army, Mstyslav marched on Kyiv,
but the Kyivites refused to accept him as their prince. Mstyslav
didn't have a formulated plan with which to besiege the well-fortified
city, and so he continued northward towards Chernihiv. There, the
nobility and clergy offered him the throne because there was no
ruling prince in Chernihiv at that time. After receiving a message
about the events in Rus, Yaroslav returned to Novgorod and sent
for the Vikings, who in the Russian lands were called the Varyaggi.
Aligned with Sweden, thanks to a dynastic marriage, he often called
on their help. And at the described time, after a usual conflict
with the Novgorodvites, Yaroslav could rely only upon foreign mercenaries.
A detachment of Vikings soon arrived in Novgorod, under the command
of Prince Yakun. Annalistic sources show no record of the number
of Varyaggi involved, but it is estimated that there were scarcely
more than a thousand of them. It is interesting that this historical
chronicle, which usually accurately recorded the actions and composition
of princely armies, made not a single mention of the demography
of Novgorodvites or Kyivites in Yaroslav's army.
In the campaign, time worked against
Yaroslav. His main goal was to drive Mstyslav away from the borders
of his possessions, and to disallow him an opportunity to strengthen
his positions in Chernihiv. From Novgorod to Rus, Yaroslav traveled
the fastest way, via boats down the Dnieper, as he had done nine
years earlier when he went against Svyatopolk. This way ran through
the town of Lyubech - an important strategic point along the Dnieper,
and the northern-most gate of inner Rus. From Lyubech Yaroslav had
two options to mobilize his troops for the fray: either boat down
the Dnieper, to the mouth of the Desna River and then up the Desna
to Chernihiv (about 300 miles); or pick his way along small rivers
and lakes straight to Chernihiv (about 40 miles), getting over 0.3
to 0.5 mile with portage. In the first case Mstyslav would get an
additional two weeks of preparation for the battle, hence Yaroslav's
choice of the more direct, second route.
Determined to leave the center
of his possessions only under the assurance that it was amply protected,
Mstyslav remained in Chernihiv until the last possible moment. He
set out against his brother after receiving a message about his
approach from the West. Mstyslav's recognizance was unerring; his
army laid in wait for the forces of the opponent near the town of
Listven, situated on the Belous River roughly half-way between Lyubech
and Chernihiv. Listven was nestled in the narrowest place of the
watershed of the Belous and the Strizhen' rivers and was surrounded
by swampy lowlands and bogs. Being the key of the whole waterway,
it allowed the possibility of complete control. Mstyslav chose exactly
this place for the decisive battle with his brother for to pass
around Listven was practically impossible.
The smart choice of battle place
and his perfect sense of timing gave Mstyslav a huge advantage.
He arranged his army in the evening, placing the Severyane in the
center and filling the flanks with his druzhyna. Most likely, Mstyslav's
army attacked the Vikings as soon as they landed, thereby giving
them no time to arrange themselves in the customary battle formation.
The Tale of the Bygone Years gives a detailed description of the
A stormy night raged around the soldiers, complete with darkness,
thunder, lightning, and rain. Mstyslav entreated his army: "Let
us go against them!" And the Varyaggi struggled against the
Siveryane forehead to forehead. The Varyaggi toiled, gaining ground
against the Siveryane. Then, after a while, Mstyslav joined the
battle with his druzhina and cut down the Varyaggi. And that battle
was strong and terrifying. Lightning flashed and glittered on the
blades of the fierce weapons. Realizing that they were loosing,
Yaroslav and Yakun turned and withdrew from the fight. During the
hasty retreat, Yakun lost his famous gold-embroidered cloak.
Despite the victory at Listven,
Mstyslav acknowledged the primacy of his elder brother and sent
an ambassador to Novgorod with a proposal for Yaroslav to take the
Kyiv throne in exchange for the Russian lands on the left bank of
the Dnieper. Yaroslav did not immediately accept Mstyslav's proposal.
After two years, the brothers finally came to terms and divided
the lands as Mstyslav had suggested. From that time onward, they
occasionally undertook campaigns together against common enemies.
Chernihiv became the capital of a great principality, the territory
of which was as vast as that of modern-day France. The rein of Mstyslav
and his successors was marked by rapid development in all spheres
of spiritual, political and economic life in Chernihiv. Since that
golden age Chernihiv became, and remains today, the main city of
a state formation or the center of a large administrative territory.
Chernihiv was the capital of a principality, and the main city of
a regiment, (a specific administrative unit at the age of Hetmanat).
It was the main city of a voyevodstvo, the main city of a namisnytstvo,
the main city of a province and now it is the main city of a region.
Upon his death, Mstyslav left
behind the majestic Cathedral of the Transfiguration of Our Savior,
which he commissioned in 1030. Sadly, he never saw the completed
structure; he died in 1036, after catching a cold while hunting.
By that time, the walls were only as tall as the up-streched hand
of a man standing on horseback. Mstyslav's wife was princess Anastasiya,
who gave birth to his son Yevstafiy. The child died 3 years before
Mstyslav's death in 1033. From 1054 the house of Svyatoslavychi,
the descendants of Yaroslav the Wise, ascended to the Chernihiv
Edited by Elaine Kornbau