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Olga of Kiev

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Dec 15, 2021

Olga (Church Slavonic: Ольга;[lower-alpha 1]Old Norse: Helga; Christian name: Elena; c. 890–925 – 969) was a regent of Kievan Rus’ for her son Sviatoslav from 945 until 960. Following her baptism, Olga took the name Elenа.[1] She is known for her subjugation of the Drevlians, a tribe that had killed her husband Igor of Kiev. Even though it would be her grandson Vladimir that would convert the entire nation to Christianity, because of her efforts to spread Christianity through Rus’, Olga is venerated as a saint in the Eastern Orthodox Church with the epithet “Equal to the Apostles” and her feast day is 11 July.[2]

Grand Princess of Kyiv

Olga of Kyiv

Saint Olga by Mikhail Nesterov
Equal to the Apostles
Born c. 890–925
Pleskov, Kievan Rus’
Died 11 July 969
Kyiv, Kievan Rus’
Venerated in Eastern Orthodoxy
Roman Catholicism
Feast 11 July
Patronage Widows, converts
Grand Princess of Kyiv
Grand Princess of Kyiv
Reign 945–960
Predecessor Igor of Kyiv
Successor Sviatoslav the Brave
Spouse Igor of Kyiv
Issue Sviatoslav the Brave
Dynasty Rurik
Religion Chalcedonian Christianity
prev.Slavic pagan

. . . Olga of Kiev . . .

While Olga’s birthdate is unknown, it could be as early as 890 AD and as late as 925 AD.[3] Olga was probably of Varangian origin, and according to the Primary Chronicle was born in Pleskov.[4][5] Little is known about her life before her marriage to Prince Igor I of Kyiv and the birth of their son, Sviatoslav.[6] According to Alexey Karpov, a specialist in the history of ancient Russia, Olga was no more than 15 years old at the time of her marriage. Igor was the son and heir of Rurik, founder of the Rurik dynasty. After his father’s death, Igor was under the guardianship of Oleg, who had consolidated power in the region, conquering neighboring tribes and establishing a capital in Kyiv.[7][8] This loose tribal federation became known as Kievan Rus’, a territory covering what are now parts of Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus.

The Drevlians was a neighboring tribe with which the growing Kievan Rus’ empire had a complex relationship. The Drevlians had joined Kievan Rus’ in military campaigns against the Byzantine Empire and paid tribute to Igor’s predecessors. They stopped paying tribute upon Oleg’s death and instead gave money to a local warlord. In 945, Igor set out to the Drevlian capital, Iskorosten, to force the tribe to pay tribute to Kievan Rus’.[7] Confronted by Igor’s larger army, the Drevlians backed down and paid him. As Igor and his army rode home, however, he decided the payment was not enough and returned, with only a small escort, seeking more tribute.[9] Upon his arrival in their territory, the Drevlians murdered Igor. According to the Byzantine chronicler Leo the Deacon, Igor’s death was caused by a gruesome act of torture in which he was “captured by them, tied to tree trunks, and torn in two.”[10] D. Sullivan has suggested that Leo may have invented this sensationalist version of Igor’s death, taking inspiration from Diodorus Siculus‘ account of a similar killing method used by the robber Sinis, who lived near the Isthmus of Corinth and was killed by Theseus.[10]

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