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Biography of Svyatoslav Igorevich

Svyatoslav Igorevich was Prince of Novgorod from 945 to 969, and Grand Duke of Kiev from 945 to 972. Svyatoslav became known as a superb commander.

Svyatoslav officially became Grand Duke at the age of three, following the death of his father, Grand Duke Igor, in 945, although independent reign began about 964. Svyatoslav’s mother, Princess Olga, administered the Old Russian kingdom mostly throughout his youth and later due to his continual attendance in military battles. Svyatoslav was murdered by the Pechenegs on the Dnieper rapids in 972, while returning from a battle against Bulgaria.


According to ancient Russian chronicles, Svyatoslav was the sole son of the Grand Duke of Kiev, Igor and Princess Olga. His birth year is not known properly. According to the Ipatiev list, Svyatoslav was born in 942, although other Tale of Bygone Years compilations, such as the Lavrentiev list, do not have such an entry. Researchers are worried by census takers’ suppression of such critical information, even if it does not contradict previous signals.

In literature, 920 is also claimed as Svyatoslav’s birth year, however this contradicts what is known about his reign.

Childhood and reign in Novgorod

Svyatoslav is first mentioned in a synchronized historical source in the Russian-Byzantine pact of 944 by Prince Igor.

According to the chronicle account, the Drevlyans murdered Prince Igor Rurikovich in 945 because he demanded an extravagant tribute. His widow, Olga, who became regent for her three-year-old son, led an army to Drevlyan territory the next year.

Svyatoslav, a four-year-old, initiated the struggle.

Igor’s group beat the Drevlyans, and Olga compelled them to submit before traveling over Rus’ and establishing a government.

According to the chronicle, Svyatoslav spent his whole infancy with his mother in Kyiv, contradicting Byzantine Emperor Constantine Porphyrogenitus’ assertion.

In Nemogarda, Constantine is commonly referred to as Novgorod, which the Kyiv princes’ sons typically inherited later. When reporting Olga’s arrival to Constantinople (957), Constantine cites Svyatoslav’s name but not his rank.

Beginning of independent rule

Princess Olga was baptized between 955 and 957 and attempted to persuade her son to Christianity. However, Svyatoslav remained a pagan to the end, reasoning that a Christian would not have authority among the squad. The chronicler quotes Apostle Paul.

During Olga’s trip to Constantinople, her delegation comprised “Svyatoslav’s people,” who got even less presents at the first reception than Olga’s slaves and were not listed in the second reception protocol. According to A.V. Nazarenko, one of Olga’s negotiations was for Svyatoslav to marry a Greek princess, and that when such a marriage was refused, “Svyatoslav’s people” were offended and left Constantinople after the first reception, and Svyatoslav decided to remain a pagan.

In 959, the Western European chronicle of the Successor Reginon writes on the emissaries sent by Olga, the “Queen of the Rugs,” to the King of Germany Otto I the Great on the topic of Rus’ baptism. However, in 962, Otto I’s trip to Kyiv failed due to Svyatoslav’s opposition.

Khazar campaign

According to the Tale of Bygone Years, in 964, Svyatoslav “went to the Oka River and the Volga, and met the Vyatichi.” It is conceivable that at this time, when Svyatoslav’s main purpose was to attack the Khazars, he did not enslave the Vyatichi, meaning he did not force tribute on them. Then Svyatoslav traveled south to the Kuban area and entered Tmutarakan. According to the prior deal between Svyatoslav and the Crimean peoples, he was to be acknowledged in Tmutarakan as the Russian Kagan.
After defeating the armies of both republics and ravaging their cities, Svyatoslav vanquished the Yasses and Kasogs, seizing and destroying Semender in Dagestan. According to one story, Svyatoslav seized Sarkel on the Don (in 965) before moving east to take Itil and Semender in 968 or 969. M.I. Artamonov thought that the Russian army was marching down the Volga, and that Itil had been captured before Sarkel.

Svyatoslav not only defeated the Khazar Kaganate, but also attempted to keep the acquired regions for himself. The Russian village of Belaya Vezha replaced Sarkel, and Tmutarakan fell under Kyiv’s control.

Following the fall of the Khazars in 966, the Tale of Bygone Years narrates a victory over the Vyatichi and the imposition of tribute.

Greek sources stay mute about happenings in Rus’. Byzantium was interested in the annihilation of Khazaria, and Russian forces participated in Emperor Nicephorus Phocas’ invasion to Crete, confirming its alliance with the Kyiv ruler.

Bulgarian campaigns

In 967, Byzantium and the Bulgarian monarchy engaged in a fight, the cause of which varies depending on the source. In 967/968, the Byzantine Emperor Nicephorus Phocas dispatched an embassy to Svyatoslav. Kalokir, the chief of the embassy, was handed 15 centinarii of gold (about 455 kg) to coordinate the Russians’ invasion on Bulgaria. According to the most frequent narrative, Byzantium sought to destroy the Bulgarian kingdom with the wrong hands while also weakening Kievan Rus, which, after defeating Khazaria, might turn its attention to the empire’s Crimean territories.

Kalokir agreed with Svyatoslav to form an anti-Bulgarian coalition while also requesting assistance in removing Nikephoros Phocas from the Byzantine throne. According to Byzantine chroniclers John Skylitzes and Leo the Deacon, Kalokir offered “great, countless treasures from the state treasury” in exchange for the seized Bulgarian territory.

Svyatoslav invaded Bulgaria in 968 and resided near the mouth of the Danube, in Pereyaslavets, where a “tribute from the Greeks” was given to him. During this time, ties between Russia and Byzantium were most likely strained, yet the Italian ambassador Liutprand witnessed Russian ships as part of the Byzantine navy in July 968, which appears unusual.

The Pechenegs invaded Kyiv in 968-969. Svyatoslav and his cavalry returned to protect the capital, driving the Pechenegs to the steppe. According to historians A.P. Novoseltsev and T.M. Kalinina, the Khazars contributed to the nomads’ attack (though there are reasons to believe that this was no less beneficial to Byzantium), and Svyatoslav responded by organizing a second campaign against them, during which Itil was captured and the Kaganate was completely defeated.

During the prince’s stay in Kyiv, his mother, Princess Olga, who governed Russia in his absence, passed away. Svyatoslav reorganized the state’s government: he appointed his son Yaropolk to the Kiev reign, Oleg to the Drevlyan reign, and Vladimir to the Novgorod reign. Following this, in the autumn of 969, the Grand Duke returned to Bulgaria with an army.

Pereyaslavets’ chronicle has not been exactly recognized. It is sometimes referred to as Preslav or the Danube port of Preslav Maly. According to unknown sources (given by Tatishchev), while Svyatoslav’s absence, his governor in Pereyaslavets, Voivode Volk, was compelled to endure a Bulgarian siege. The fight between Svyatoslav and the Bulgarians is described sparsely in Byzantine sources. His troops on boats reached the Bulgarian Dorostol on the Danube and, after a struggle, took it from them. Later, the Bulgarian kingdom’s capital, Preslav the Great, was taken, forcing the Bulgarian ruler to form an alliance with Svyatoslav.

War with Byzantium

Faced with Svyatoslav’s onslaught, the Bulgarians turned to Byzantium for support. Emperor Nikifor Phokas was deeply frightened about the Rus’ invasion, therefore he chose to strengthen the connection with the Bulgarian realm through a dynastic marriage. Brides from the royal Bulgarian family had already arrived in Constantinople when Nikephoros Phocas was assassinated on December 11, 969, leaving John Tzimiskes on the Byzantine throne (the marriage preparations were never realized).

In 969, Bulgarian Tsar Peter I abdicated the throne in favor of his son Boris, and Preslav’s power over the western provinces was lifted. While Byzantium hesitated to lend direct armed help to its long-time adversaries, the Bulgarians formed an alliance with Svyatoslav and later fought against Byzantium on the side of the Rus.

John attempted to persuade Svyatoslav to leave Bulgaria by offering tribute, but to no effect. Svyatoslav sought to firmly establish himself on the Danube, therefore enlarging Rus’ territories. Byzantium quickly deployed troops from Asia Minor to Bulgaria’s borders and established castles.

In the spring of 970, Svyatoslav, allied with the Bulgarians, Pechenegs, and Hungarians, invaded the Byzantine territories in Thrace. Leo the Deacon, a Byzantine historian, believed that the number of allies was above 30,000, while Byzantine commander Bardas Skleros had between 10,000 and 12,000 warriors on hand. Varda Sklir avoided open conflict, preferring to keep his soldiers in fortified positions. Svyatoslav’s army arrived at Arcadiopolis (120 kilometers from Constantinople), where a massive fight took place. According to Byzantine records, all of the Pechenegs were cornered and slaughtered, after which Svyatoslav’s major army were destroyed. The Old Russian chronicle narrates events in numerous ways: according to the chronicler. Svyatoslav approached Constantinople, but left only after paying a hefty tribute, including for the fallen warriors.

Major military activities on Byzantium’s territory came to an end in the summer of 970, when Bardas Sklerus and his army were summoned to Asia Minor to put down Bardas Phocas’ insurrection. The Rus’ assaults on Byzantium continued, and after the insurrection was successfully suppressed in November 970, Varda Sklir was given back to Bulgarian territory.

In April 971, Emperor John I Tzimiskes personally confronted Svyatoslav at the head of a ground force, deploying a fleet of 300 ships to the Danube to cut off the Russian withdrawal. On April 13, 971, the Bulgarian capital Preslav was conquered, along with Bulgarian Tsar Boris II. Part of the Russian soldiers, headed by Governor Sfenkel, were able to break through to the north to Dorostol, where Svyatoslav was with the main army.

On April 23, 971, Tzimiskes approached Dorostol. During the fight, the Rus were forced back into the stronghold, and a three-month siege started. The forces lost in a series of conflicts; Russian leaders Ikmor and Sfenkel were slain, while Byzantine military chief John Kurkuas fell. Another big combat occurred on July 21, and Svyatoslav was wounded, according to the Byzantines. The combat ended in a draw for both sides, but Svyatoslav thereafter went into peace discussions.

John Tzimiskes unconditionally accepted the Russian requirements. Svyatoslav and his army were forced to depart Bulgaria; the Byzantines supplied his men (22 thousand) with grain for two months. Svyatoslav also formed a military alliance with Byzantium, and economic connections were resumed. Under these circumstances, Svyatoslav departed Bulgaria, which had been severely damaged by conflicts on its borders.

Bulgarian Tsar Boris II established royal power and was promoted to the status of master by John Tzimiskes. Byzantium seized all of eastern Bulgaria, leaving just the western provinces independent.


Russian historian N.M. Karamzin dubbed him “Alexander of our ancient history.” According to Soviet historian Academician B. A. Rybakov, Svyatoslav’s campaigns from 965 to 968 “represent, as it were, a single saber strike that drew a wide semicircle on the map of Europe from the Middle Volga region to the Caspian Sea, and further along the North Caucasus and the Black Sea region to the Balkan lands of Byzantium.”


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