The Origins of Ukraine-Rus'
There exist many theories as to the origins of the name Rus'. Some historians attribute it to the old Slavic tribe (rusy, rosy, ros') which inhabited the current territory of Kyiv in the 7th-8th centuries between the rivers Dnipro, Irpa and Ros'. Accordingly, this name spread to all of the Kyivan state. Other historians are inclined to ascribe it to Norman (Scandinavian) origins. To this day, western Fins still call Sweden Rus' and the names Rurik, Oleh, Olha, Ihor, Askold, Rohnid and Kindrat to name a few are thought to be Scandinavian by the West European writers of the 9th-10th centuries. (Zastavny, 1994, p.8) The name Ukraine is widely used throughout the 12th-13th centuries to mean Rus’. Ukraine is first mentioned in 1187 in the oldest Rus’ and Ipatian chronicles. Rus’ is not to be confused with Russia. The latter did not exist then. The name Russia only came about in the early 18th century under Peter I. Old Russia has its unpretentious origins in the kingdom of Muscovy which came into being several hundred years later in the northern lands of Vladimir-Suzdal. On October 22, 1721, the ever-expanding Muscovite state was officially renamed into the Russian Empire and its people were called Russians instead of the earlier known names that the world knew them by “Moscovites”, “Moskali” and “Moscvyny.” As such, all references to Ukraine’s ancient literary masterpiece, The Tale of Ihor’s Armament, take place on Ukrainian territory, in Putivl (Sumska oblast or province), Novhorod Siversk (Chernihiv oblast), Kyiv (Ukraine’s capital), and Sula (a river in Ukraine). (Zastavny, 1994, pp.6-7, 10, 23-24)
Historians believe that the city of Kyiv (a.k.a. Kiev) was founded sometime in the middle of the first millennium A.D. The conveniently positioned river Dnipro (Dnieper) was by it. This trans-European road “from the Varangians [a.k.a. Normans, Vikings or Variahy in Ukrainian] to the Greeks,” became an important center of economic life in the area. Kyivan-Rus’ (a.k.a. Velyka Rus' or Greater Rus'), is the first Ukrainian state, which was founded in the late 9th century. The city of Kyiv was its main focal point that turned into a political center of the entire state. Kyivan Rus’ made quite an impact on European destinies. First, it protected Europe from the raids of Polovtsians (a.k.a. Cumans) and Pechenihy (Pechenegs). Then, having joined Christianity in 988, it maintained closer ties between East and West. The emergence of new cities extended the humble realms of Kyivan Rus’ and alongside culture and law developed an education. More than once, the druzhynas (men-at-arms) would deflect the attacks of foreign invaders.
However, as separate principalities gained strength within the Rus’ empire, they started separating from it. The great power broke up into many semi-independent state-like formations. Its successor state, the Halych (Galicia)-Volhynian Rus' (or Little Rus') Kingdom managed to last yet another 100 years before it too succumbed to foreign domination. The princes of Kyivan Rus’ were constantly disputing among themselves that eventually developed into internal hostilities. Their kindred history was all designated in the "litopys" or chronicle, Primary Chronicle, written by various writers such as Nikon, Nestor and others. They wrote it during some eighty years. The final form was completed in 1118. However, it was not the only chronicle written. Clerics, monks or the princes’ retinues have written others like the Kyivan Chronicle (the continuation of the Primary Chronicle) and the Halych -Volhynian Chronicle.
It was in the twelfth century, only two hundred years after accepting Christianity that they created the masterpiece of Old Ukrainian culture, Slovo o polku Ihorevi (The Tale of Ihor’s Armament or The Tale of Ihor's Campaign, a.k.a. the Lay or Slovo). It was an ardent call for patriotic unification. Unfortunately, they preserved The Tale of Ihor’s Armament in only one copy. A. I. Musin-Puskin discovered it at the end of the eighteenth century, and this was destroyed in a fire in Moscow in 1812. Though, before its first publication in 1800, they made a copy of the Lay for Catherine II. Pekarski found it later and published it in 1864. Many scholars still today misinterpret many portions of the Lay and the manuscripts. They still have not deciphered many places. In this article, the author attempt’s for a general understanding of the military vocations, activities and arms used then. These are all pertinent to Ihor’s expedition. The text used, here is mostly from the Primary Chronicle, translated by Samuel H. Cross, and the History of the Ukrainian Armed Forces (1st published in L'viv, 1936) by Professor Ivan Krypyakevych, Lieut. - Gen. Mykola Kapustiansky of the General Staff, Capt. Sviatoslav O. Shramchenko of the Ukrainian Navy, Capt. Bohdan Hnatevich, Capt. Osyp Dumin, Lieut. Zenon Stefaniv, Professor Lev Shankovsky, and Dr. Stephan Rosocha, along with other sources. Historians have written incomplete and fragmentary material about military events. Therefore, historians sometimes arrive at conclusions about the organisation of the armies, tactics and other important factors on the assumption of erratic sources. Sometimes they turn to the analogies of war life in other nations.
Medieval Protective Armour and Weapons
Accoutring protective oruzhia in the old days for military duty consisted of the armour, helmet, shield and the weapons that they apparently somehow hitch or hook onto a person or the horse. In the very ancient times, the Slavs did not use protective armour, it probably came to them through the Varangians who knew many makes of iron arms. The protective armour was a type of scale armour where they covered their bodies with a harness, like a shirt, with a head opening and short sleeves. Usually, the shirt stretched down to the knees. The helmet was an iron head cover of Germanic origin. It probably came to us through the Varangians. Sometimes they made the front of the helmet such that an iron piece was covering the nose or a piece was added to cover the whole face. To the helmet could also be added protection for the neck and ears. On the princes’ helmets figures of saints would sometimes appear. The helmets of Iziaslav Mstislav in 1151 and Yaroslav Vsevolod in 1200 had one. Shields served to protect the body for the ancient Slavs. Prokopius says that the shields of the Slavs were not very big. Larger ones probably got to us through the Varangians. Sviatoslav’s army, in their expedition to Bulgaria, had long shields right down their legs for protection. When they went to war, they carried their shields on their backs and then brought them to the front. Some of them were wooden and painted on the top. The Tale of Ihor’s Armament calls them the red ones (cherlenymy). They covered some shields with aluminium so that they reflected the sun. Others had many assorted decorations on them, or even some coat-of-arms.
The weapons that they either hitched or hooked on varied. They were the sword, sabre, axe and bow with poison-tipped arrows. All these typical arms belonged to the heavily armed warriors, such as the infantry and cavalry. They also knew three varieties of spears. The “kopia” which comes from the word to dig, to hit, the “sulytsia,” to move, to attack or the "oskep.". The ancient Slavs borrowed the name “mech” (sword) from the Goths. They hardly used them for they were rarely found in the ruins on the territory of Rus’. It became more known only when the Varangians appeared and they took it from the Franks. Some swords were sharpened on both sides. Sabres, however, were sharpened on one end. The sabre came to Rus’-Ukraine from the east, probably from the inhabitants of the Steppes. It was longer than the sword and curved. The sword, though, was more popularly used in those days. A sword only became prevalent in the time of the Kozaks in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. It appears that the "sokyra" (axe) and later the "topir" (improved axe), came from the Iranians and was predominantly used at the time of the Varangians. The ancient Slavs knew the bow as a weapon, but the inhabitants of the Steppes knew how to handle these weapons better. (Krypyakevych, I., Kapustiansky, M., Shramchenko, O.S., Hnatevich, B., Dumin, O., Stefaniv, Z., Shankovsky, L. and Rosocha, S., 1953)
Occupational Ranks and Activities in the Military
The druzhyna and voyi were the two main formations used in the army between the eleventh and fourteenth centuries. A druzhyna consisted of heavily armed knights and the voyi who were the people’s (community) home guard. Rus’ druzhynas of the Rus’ princes organized themselves after the strictly disciplined Scandinavian model of the Varangian druzhyna. In time they adapted it to the benefit of the Rus’ princes. They did not characterize the druzhyna as a common people’s army. It existed specifically for the upper classes, for the boyars. Boyars were a class of people that held many portions of land. They benefited in the joint expeditions with the prince for their economic and social interests. They linked defence strategies and trade with the prince’s. This is why the boyars in time of battle fought hard, understanding well that they were defending their own interests and land as well. The boyars belonged to the army voluntarily and going to war was another means of getting more land. “From the chronicles we know that whole dynasties of boyars, from generation to generation, occupied the higher governmental positions and were members of the Princes’ druzhina.” (Krypyakevych, et.al., 1953, p.14) The main duty of the members of the druzhyna was to be faithful to their prince. If ever a boyar deceived his prince, he would pay dearly for it. The easiest punishment was to expel them beyond the state borders. The druzhyna divided itself into two categories, the elderly first (lucha, bigger) and the second category consisted of the younger people (otroki or sons of boyars).
Alongside the druzhyna stood the second formation of the army lines known as the voyi. Simple townsfolk and peasants sometimes known as smerdi or black people entered the ranks of voyi. Also, those residing in the Rus’ area entered the ranks of the voyi since they were members of the poorer class. At first the voyi were not all that well organized. In time of war the peasants would seize their arms in defence of their land and only later did the prince use them in organized expeditions. For example, Oleh waged war on the Greeks between 880 and 882. When he attacked them in 907, the Chronicle stipulates that he took with him many “ . . . Varangians, Slavs, Chuds, Krivichians, Merians, Polyanians, Severians, Derevlians, Radimichians, Croats, Dulebians and Tivercians.” (Cross, 1953, p.64) Another important group in warfare were the archers, or as they called themselves “luchnyky.” The bow was very well known to the Slavs for a long time. Yet, the Polovtsians not only transmitted to the Slavs this type of weapon, but also were the actual creators of the light cavalry that they armed with archers. Not only did the Polovtsians come to the aid of the Kyivan princes but they also entered the ranks of the archers. This, in turn, helped the Kyivites understand better their enemies and their weapons.
Old Ukraine-Rus’ Warrior Tactics
From the earliest times the Kyivan army consisted of the infantry. The Varangians were not different in their battles. The heavily armed infantry in their harness of chain nail, helmets and swords formed the prevalent type of army in Kyiv Rus’ until the end of the eleventh century. Later, the heavily armed warriors relied on their horses and the heavy cavalry turned out to be the main force of the period. Then the infantry took a second seat and was flooded with simple townsfolk. The cavalry, like the infantry, divided itself into two groups - the heavily armed cavalry and the light cavalry. They armed the heavy cavalry to the teeth with their heavy equipment while the light cavalry, known as the archers, armed themselves with the bow and arrow. Although the Rus’ warriors had their own horses, they did not train many to fight on them and often descended from the horses to continue the battle. It was out of sheer necessity that the mounted Rus’ warriors saw that horses could benefit them in time of war. The Primary Chronicle tells us that in 1068 the Polovtsians pillaged the countryside. “Svyatoslav was meanwhile at Chernigov. When the pagans raided around Chernigov itself, Svyatoslav collected a small force and sallied out against them to Snovsk. The Polovcians remarked the approaching troop and marshalled their numbers, he said to his followers, “Let us attack, for it is too late for us to seek succor elsewhere.” They spurred up their horses, and though the Polovcians had twelve thousand men, Svyatoslav won the day with his force of only three thousand.” (Cross, 1953, pp. 148-149)
Therefore, the mounted Rus’ warriors had to find a way of obtaining horses and more often than not relied on campaigns against the Polovtsians to get them. Fortune favoured Sviatopolk and Volodymyr (Vladimir) in the campaign against the Polovtsi in 1095. “Svyatopolk and Vladimir arrived at the Polovcian encampment, captured it and thus seized and led off their own country the barbarians’ cattle, horses, camels and slaves.” (Cross, 1953, p. 181)
Most of the time they divided the order of the battles into three formations, unlike the six of Ihor’s armies. The druzhyna usually in the middle and voyi placed to the left and right wings. Other combinations could have been also used - the voyi center and the druzhyna on each of its wings or the druzhyna and voyi together in each of the three ranks. The disastrous foray made against the Polovtsians by the Severian prince Ihor, son of Sviatoslav, with his brother Vsevolod from Trubchevsk, and his son Volodymyr from Putivl, and his nephew Sviatoslav, son of Oleh from Rylsk, set out for the prairies in late April of 1185 to fight the Polovtsians. The historical Ihor set out for the Steppes beyond the river Donets to fight the Kumans. He intended to go as far as Tmutorokan' but did not get farther than the prairie south of Donets, Ihor met the army of the Polovtsi at noon that Friday. He arranged his six companies as follows: up front went his light armoured warriors, Ihor’s son Volodymyr up front center, Yaroslav with Olstin and his Kovui to the left, the third regiment of archers to the right. Behind them followed the most important part of the army, Ihor’s own company in the middle, Vsevolod’s on the right and Sviatoslav, his nephew, to the left of him. After their clash with the Kumans, Sunday, after three days of fighting, the Kumans completely defeated the army of the four princes.
Historical facts often played a minor role in Slovo, sometimes just to suit the literal argument of the author’s work. Thus, in the Hypatian Chronicle the eclipse occurred at the Donets. Ihor’s army was already on the march. To return home would have been inexpedient from the military point of view. However, in the Slovo (Tale) it occurs when Ihor is but only in process of launching the campaign. Accordingly, Ihor could easily have let the projected undertaking await more favorable portents. From this shifting of the eclipse, the figure of Ihor gains in knightliness. The Epic Tale by that emphasizes his fearlessness, his scorn of threatening danger (Gudzy, 1949, p. 167). The Rus’ princes were not even adequately prepared for war when they marched off. They did not even notify their godfather, the great Prince of Kyiv, hoping that they themselves would stop the Polovtsi. Consequently, the Chronicle recalls the sufferings endured by Ihor’s army. It states that in this three-day battle they lacked water “and where he had joy, now we had discouragement, and wailing spread afar . . . and there was wailing and groaning.” (Magnus, 1915, p.xxxv).
Little has really been said here of the Polovtsi. Mentioning that the Polovtsians using the spirit of horseback-riding ability would only be fair, had the most brilliant cavalry known to history. They first appear on the Steppes in 1054 and took an active part in the wars of the Kyiv Rus’ princes. They established themselves between the Lower Dnipro, the northern shore of the Black Sea and the Lower Don. From this base the Polovtsi invaded and pillaged the land of Rus’. The Polovtsi made more than fifty-three attacks on the Rus’ state during their stay leading up to the battle in 1185. “Thus, one year before Ihor’s campaign, the southern Rus princes, uniting together with the Kievan prince Svyatoslav, inflicted severe damage to the Polovcians. Of this the chronicle proceeds to tell us, one of seven thousand prisoners were taken, amongst them four hundred and seventeen Polovcian princes. Even Kobiak was amongst the prisoners.” (Academy of Ukrainian Sciences, 1954, pp. 43-44) Though this battle benefitted the Rus’ princes, others did not, for they had developed the tactical skill of the Polovtsians under the stress of war. They had learned to keep track of the enemy’s movements while concealing their own. In manoeuvring for battle, they had learned not to depend upon commands given by a voice. Very often they could not hear in the uproar of the moving mounted men. Regiments signalled their movements by raising black or white flags during the day and by similar use of coloured lanterns at night. Whistling arrows that emitted sound through hollow, pierced heads were other signals. They hid their formations, at times, behind drifting smoke screens. They crossed rivers on ice or in leather boats. Although they knew that they had the heavy infantry or cavalry they fought mainly with arrows. They avoided close struggles and strove to destroy their enemies from afar with projectile weapons. Their secret of victory was as follows: they marched without preconceived plans and the host of wild men was hardly ever drilled, the armies were constantly ready to manoeuvre. The secret was to keep the forces in motion while the Polovtsi waited to profit by an enemy’s mistake. They could throw their stronger units against the weakness of their adversaries. However, the coming of the Tatars destroyed their rule in the year of 1224.
The smaller Old Ukrainian 9th century state of Kyivan Rus’ transformed itself and its Rus' territories into a civilised medieval state and the leading power in Eastern Europe. Christianity was instrumental in destroying traditional tribal differences and in uniting the ruling class (the princes and their retinues) with its people. Paradoxically, this development of a unified people from a previous collection of tribes in the end helped to destroy Kyivan Rus’. As the local Rus' princes became more concerned with their own principalities, their allegiance to the Grand Prince of Kyivan Rus' and their desire to preserve a unified Rus’ state declined.
By the twelfth century, new and semi-independent principalities arose on the former territory of the Kyivan realm; the Halych-Volhynian principalities in the West; the principality of Novhorod in the North, and the principality of Vladimir-Suzdal. This latter principality expanded into the Grand Duchy of Moscow or Muscovy (the first Old Russian 14th century state) - in the Northeast. The new principality in the Northeast reached such proportions that by the twelfth century the prince of Suzdal attacked and devastated Kyiv in 1169. The Rus’ princes busied in their useless quarrels were unable to put up united resistance, such as described in Slovo. The courageous Chernihiv warriors, who went on military campaigns against the Kasogs, Bulgars, Khazars and Polovtsians, were of little avail for neither time, nor the Mongol hordes had mercy on ancient Kyiv. The Tatar invasion in the mid-thirteenth century further weakened and ultimately destroyed the unity of Kyivan Rus’, already undermined by sectional strife. In 1240, the Tatars delivered the final blow to the disintegrating medieval state of Kyivan Rus’ by capturing and sacking the city itself. With the fall of Kyiv, the Halych-Volhynian Rus' Kingdom became the new political, economic and cultural centers on the adjacent territories of Rus'. (See Zastavny, p.38) This successor state managed to last yet another 100 years before it too succumbed to foreign domination.
About the Author
Ihor Cap holds an Education Specialist degree and Ph.D. in Comprehensive Vocational Education from the Florida State University and a Masters of Education in Instructional Technology from the University of Manitoba. Ihor is also a Slavic Studies graduate from the University of Ottawa and a member of the Ukrainian Academy of Arts and Sciences in Canada. This article was first published March 27, 2008 in the http://articlesandblogs,ezreklama.com website.
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