Yaroslav the Wise – Prince of Kyiv – Kiev Private Tours
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Yaroslav the Wise of Kiev
20 Jun

Yaroslav the Wise – Prince of Kyiv

This year Ukraine at the state level celebrates the 1000th anniversary of the reign of Yaroslav the Wise.

The millennial jubilee since the beginning of the reign of Yaroslav the Wise, the Grand Duke of Kievan Rus is on the top of the list of anniversaries approved by the Verkhovna Rada; in 2019, Ukraine celebrates it at the state level.

The Birth of the Grand Duke of Kiev Russia

However, the very story of Yaroslav’s birth – although typical for the early Middle Ages resembles adventurous knight’s novel. Before joining the battle with his elder brother Yaropolk, Volodymyr, father of Yaroslav who will later be called the Great, sought to secure the support of strong Polotsk Principality. Therefore, he went to Rogneda, the daughter of Polotsk prince Rogvoloda. When the father asked her: “Do you want to get married to Volodymyr?” the proud beauty replied: “I do not want a son of a slave, but I want to get married to Yaropolk!”, states the chronicler Nestor. In this way, Volodymyr was reminded of his “illegal” origin: his mother was a slave Malashka. Volodymyr revenge was fierce: he killed the prince of Polotsk, and Rogneda became his wife without her desire to. Later Yaroslav was born…

From the Lame to the Wise

Rogneda never managed to love Volodymyr, and he later sent his wife to a manor near Kiev, where the first years of Yaroslav’s life had passed. As the Lawrence Chronicle says, once when Volodymyr visited Rogneda to see the children (Volodymyr had four sons and two daughters with her!), his wife tried to kill a sleepy prince with a knife. He was angry and wanted to kill her, but the small Izyaslav entered the room and did not allow his father to make it. Volodymyr reckoned, built a new city in Volyn region, named the city Izyaslavl and sent Rogneda with his eldest descendant there…

The rebuilding of the Kievan state was started by princes Oleg and Igor. Later, Svyatoslav I the Conqueror tried to expand the state borders to the Volga and the Caucasian mountains. However, only during the reign of princes Volodymyr the Great (979-1015) and Yaroslav the Wise (1019-1054), this state gained the greatest power. Volodymyr the Great “united and ravaged lands, Yaroslav healed them and sowed.” Not to mention that during Yaroslav reign Kiev became the largest city in Europe – 50 times bigger than London (!) and ten times bigger than Paris…

However, this was preceded by titanic efforts and many defeats and victories both above cruel circumstances, and, above all, over the prince himself! The examination of the sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise, carried out in 1939-1940, confirmed that although he was tall as for that time (at the time of death he was172-176cm, and in his youth he was even taller), hereditary disease was complemented by fracture of the bones. Therefore, it is not without reason that the chronicles, in particular Tver and Gustinsky, testified that the prince could not walk until  he became 2 years old, and healing took place shortly before the baptism – his personal and baptism of Rus-Ukraine in general. By the way, during baptism he received the name Georgy (Yuriy). It should be also said that his contemporaries never called him the Wise – Yaroslav got this name only in the second half of the nineteenth (!) century. During his life, he was called Lame. “The prince was lame of his right foot,” explains Professor Volodymyr Rychko, Doctor of Historical Sciences. “Those days physical disorders were serious obstacle on the way to power: as a rule, who could not become a brave warrior were never allowed to come to power. However, Yaroslav managed to overcome his lameness with his will power: he learned to ride and perfectly fought with the sword, becoming a man who surpassed himself.”

It all happened much earlier than he could have hoped – for already in 988 father sent the boy, who according to various data was from 5 to 10 years old (scientists still argue about his date of birth, stating both 978, 983 and even 987!) to reign in the Rostov-Suzdal land. Obviously, in Rostov someone from the faithful nobles of Volodymyr rules instead of Yaroslav, but the latter reigned there for as long as 12 years!

Moreover, in 1010 after the death of his eldest brother Vysheslav, his father has taken a decision to make him the prince of Novgorod, the second important city of Kievan Rus! There he was not greeted and welcomed. According to the “Legend of the construction of the city of Yaroslav”, local gentiles were hostile to Christian prince Yaroslav and let… a bear on him. Although Yaroslav won the battle with the beast, the next time he came with priests and masters, in order not only to baptize the inhabitants of the Bearing Corner, but also to build a temple of God for them, the locals tried to greet him with more s and dogs!

Despite this, he reigned the Novgorod throne for 24 years – even when he headed the capital city of Kiev. There he grew up; this is where he started his first military campaigns.  However, in 1014 Yaroslav refused to pay Kiev, that is, his father, annual tribute of 2 thousand hryvnia. Volodymyr the Great commanded: “Clear the paths and bridges,” because he wanted to go to war with Yaroslav.



The situation developed rapidly and dramatically. According to the chroniclers, “when Volodymyr was going to start military campaign against Yaroslav, Yaroslav asked for help from the overseas and brought the Varangians.” Nobody knows now how the conflict between father and son would end, but the fate decided otherwise: when the army had already left Kiev for Novgorod, Volodymyr suddenly died. It happened in the summer of 1015.

The unexpected death of the Grand Duke has led to unprecedented flash of bloody struggle between his descendants. After the mysterious assassination of the princes Boris and Hlib, in 1018 Svyatopolk the Accuser persuaded his father-in-law, the Polish king, to fight against Yaroslav, who at that time had a grand prince’s seat in Kyiv. The general battle ended with the defeat of the Yaroslav army, and he had to flee to Novgorod with a few militants. Svyatopolk and Boleslav Polski entered Kyiv. However, the Prince of Novgorod did not lose his faith and courage.

At the end of the 1018, Svyatopolk had big argument with his father-in-law, and Boleslav and his army left for Poland. According to “The Tale of Bygone Years”, in the winter of 1018/19 Yaroslav started another military campaign against Svyatopolk, and Svyatopolk fled to the Pechenegs.” However, in the spring of 1019 Svyatopolk with his new army and Pecheneg horde attempted to revenge, which became his last march to Kiev. As the Nestor Chronicler writes, “the battle of the enemies started with the sunrise, and the fight was the cruelest Rus has ever seen… The warriors were coming back to the battlefield three times, so that there was blood in the lowlands. And on the evening Yaroslav army occupied the mountain and Svyatopolk fled.” Soon after Svyatopolk died…

In 1026, Prince Yaroslav made agreement with his brother Mstyslav and divided the Rus land along the Dnieper River: he received Kiev from the Right Bank, and Mstyslav ruled Chernihiv with the Left Bank. After Mstyslav’s death in 1036 Yaroslav became the sole ruler of Rus-Ukraine.

Yaroslav depicted on Ukrainian money

Great builder

However, genuine state work of the Prince was only beginning. Rus was ruined by a four-year fratricidal war. During the brutal struggle between the descendants of Volodymyr, the city of Kiev was destroyed by a major fire and was plundered by the Polish army. Yaroslav had to concentrate his efforts on the reconstruction of the country and the capital. First, he extended his possessions to the Caucasus Mountains. Having restrained his nephew Prince Bryachislav, who ruled in Polotsk, the Kyivan Prince strengthened the western frontiers of Rus. In the year 1030, Yaroslav conquered the land in the north between the Chudski Lake and the Baltic Sea, where he founded the city of Yuriiv (now – Tartu, Estonia). In 1030-1031, the armies of Yaroslav and Mstislav captured the cities that Bolslav I captured in 1018. At the same time, Yaroslav got a piece of land between the rivers Syan and Bug from the kingdom of Poland, regained the city of Belz, and in 1031 he founded the city of Yaroslav.

It was Yaroslav who finally defeated the Pechenegs hordes in 1036; since then Pechenegs forever left Rus. To protect the state against the attacks of the nomads, Yaroslav strengthened the southern border, building cities over the rivers – Korsun, Kaniv, Pereyaslav and reinforcing the fortification line between Lubny, Lukoml, and Warin.

Therefore, he later focused on internal affairs. During his reign in Kiev, the first written set of laws of Kievan Rus – Russkaya Pravda was created in Kyiv. Yaroslav rebuilt Kyiv and decorated it with majestic buildings. Surrounded by grandiose earthen ramparts over 25 meters high, which had strong oak walls and mighty towers, the territory of the “city of Yaroslav” seven times exceeded the “city of Volodymyr”! The gates of the city were also impressive: Golden with the church of the Virgin on top, as well as Sofia, Lyadsky, and Pechersk Gate. Famous German chronicler of XI century Adam Bremen called Kiev the decoration of Rus and even the competitor of Constantinople itself.

It was during Yaroslav reign in Kyiv in 1037-1039 that the first chronicle collection was created. Thus began the written history of the Rus people.

He introduced his own money with the state coat of arms depicted – a trident. He founded several cities in the western lands, and named one of them Volyn in the name of his father.

He built the Churches of the Annunciation and the Holy Mother of God, named Desyatinna, because he gave 10% of all his property to construct it. Yaroslav ordered to decorate Church of St. Sophia with bright frescoes with mosaic, and it was with him that Sofia became a symbol of the unity of the divine principle and state power. Thus, he also built the monastery of St. George and the monastery of St. Irene (in honor of his wife). During the time of Yaroslav in Kiev, the Pechersk Lavra was founded, which at the end of XI century became the main ideological, cultural and educational center of the Kiev state. Monks of the Kyiv-Pechersk Monastery were appointed bishops to all lands of the Kievan state. In 1051 he appointed Slavonian monk Hilarion (and not the Greek, as was done before) as Metropolitan of the Kyivan Rus.

On his initiative in Kiev and other cities of Rus they built scriptoriums – book workshops, where they rewrote church books, treatises on history, philosophy, law and natural sciences. During the reign of Yaroslav on the ancient lands, many schools arose.

Daughters of Yaroslav

Father-in-law of Europe

He was called “father-in-law of Europe”, because he organized a series of dynastic marriages. Yaroslav married daughter of the Swedish King Ingigerd, who became the mother of ten of his children. He initiated the marriage of his sister Maria-Dobronig with issued the Polish king Casimir I, which resulted in securing the western border of Rus for many years.

In particular, three daughters of Prince Yaroslav became queens: Anna – Queen of France, Anastasia – Queen of Hungary, and Elizabeth – at first Queen of Norway, and later – Queen of Denmark. The enmity between Rus and Constantinople ended in peace caused by marriage of his beloved son Vsevolod to the Byzantine princess (this couple became the parents of Volodymyr Monomakh). His son Izyaslav married the daughter of the Polish prince Miesch II; his son Svyatoslav, who became Prince Chernigiv married the granddaughter of the German Tsissar Henry II. Vyacheslav and Ihor married the Dutch princesses Oda Staden and Kunigunda of Germany.

Since the foreign princesses came to Kiev with their court, library and traditions, multilingualism arose at the Kiev court. For example, Vsevolod, son of Yaroslav the Wise and father of Volodymyr Monomakh, knew five languages: Polovtsian, Greek, Swedish, English and language of Rus. In Swedish, he spoke with his mother, in Greek – with his wife, in English – with his daughter-in-law, the wife of VolodymyrMonomakh.

Usually, such marriages were pragmatic. However, there were also romantic stories. For example, 15-year-old Harald, who lived for a long time at the Kiev court fall in love with Elizabeth. Harald even wrote a song to honor “Rus princess with golden hair”. Viking proposed her, but Prince Yaroslav refused, because he could not let his daughter marry “just someone”. As a result, for the next fifteen years Harald was winning maritime campaigns and was sending gold and precious stones to Yaroslavov. Only after those 15 years, Elizabeth and Harald got married.

Sarcophagus of Yaroslav the Wise in St. Sophia Cathedral

Agatha, another daughter of Yaroslav the Wise, became the wife of Edward the Exile, the successor to the English throne.

It is believed in particular that the first Duke of Bourbon, Lyudovik I, was the direct descendant of Anna Yaroslavna in the eighth generation and Yaroslav the Wise in the ninth. The King of France and Navarre Henry IV was the descendant of Ludovik I – he also had genes of Yaroslav. The Scottish and English Stuarts were also his descendants. Even the last king of Russian Empire Nicholas II is the descendant of Yaroslav the Wise in the twenty-eighth generation!

When health of Prince Yaroslav got worse, he brought togetherall his sons and divided the state between them. Izyaslav was entrusted to reign in Kiev, Sviatoslav was given Chernihiv, Vsevolod was sent to Pereiaslav, Igor was offered Volyn. Yaroslav ordered his sons to respect Izyaslav and listen to him.

Jaroslav hands the crown to his sons

However, after the death of Yaroslav the Wise, a violent struggle for power unfolded between his five sons. As a result, the collapse of Kievan Rus began, which, after a century and a half, actually ceased to exist as sovereign state…


On July 11, 2008, during the Jubilee Church Council Prince Yaroslav was recognized one of the Cloud of Saints. He is considered the heavenly patron of public figures, lawyers, prosecutors, and builders of the temples, librarians, scholars, teachers and students.

To learn more about the period of Kievan Rus, when Yaroslav lived, and visit his sarcophagus in the Sofia Cathedral, go on a journey through the Old Town with Guide me UA.

Contact Guide me UA to order private city tours in Kyiv:

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Kate Dobromishev

Tour Guide in Guide me UA / English language / Private Tours in Kyiv

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