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Go to Foreigners in Russia / RT projects / Russiapedia / Prominent Russians / The Ryurikovich dynasty / Vladimir Monomakh (Monomachus)

Prominent Russians: Vladimir Monomakh (Monomachus)

1053 - May 19, 1125

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Vladimir Monomakh played an important role in the development of Russia during the Middle Ages - an extremely turbulent time in Russian history. Warfare was waged not only against various Asiatic, Semitic and Caucasian tribes, which were forever making incursions into Russian territory, but also between competing Russian families and factions. It was Monomakh who eventually restored a semblance of peace and order to the country and has since been venerated for his bravery and wisdom.

Russia had suffered severely from the civil wars and the raids of the Polovtsy tribes known in Turkic as the Kipchaks. Men of small property were reduced to extreme poverty. Unable to maintain themselves on their wasted lands, they either went to live in large numbers on the estates of the rich, who sought to reduce them to absolute slavery, or they borrowed money at usurious rates and soon sank into a servile condition. To remedy this ruinous state of affairs, Monomakh reduced the rate of interest from 120 to 20 percent and decreed that whoever had paid a year's interest according to the old rate, was thereby absolved of his debt.

As far as circumstances permitted, Monomakh was a prince of peace and a number of fundamental legislative measures are attributed to him, especially laws relating to usury. He also ordered the expulsion of the Jews from all of Russia. During the Middle Ages the Jews were representatives of the power of money throughout Europe - a foreign element in the “natural economy” of the time.

But the problem could not be solved in this summary fashion. According to the regulations adopted, people were to be regarded as free men who had became bound to the soil by contract, but who retained the right to acquire property and were not subject to their master's jurisdiction. A half-free man would lose his freedom only if he attempted to escape from his master. The type of payments and services he was to render were also fixed, making it impossible for a lord to reduce a man to a condition of unrestricted serfdom.

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Vladimir Monomakh was the Grand Prince of Kiev from 1113–25. He was the son of Vsevolod Yaroslavych. He was named after his mother, who was the daughter of the Byzantine emperor Constantine Monomachus (although some 20th century historians dispute the relation, alleging that Soviet scholars invented it for their own purposes). While his father was alive, Vladimir ruled the Smolensk Principality (from 1067) and the Chernigov Principality (from 1078–94). He led 13 successful military campaigns in his father's name and participated in diplomatic missions. He became Prince of Pereyaslavl in 1094. After the death of Svyatopolk II Izyaslavovich and the Kiev Uprising of 1113, he ascended to the Kiev throne.

Enumerating his military exploits, Vladimir Monomakh wrote in his testament to his children: “My campaigns were in all eighty-three; the other smaller ones I do not remember. I concluded nineteen treaties of peace with the Polovtsy, took prisoners more than a hundred of their chief princes and let them go free, and I had more than two hundred put to death and drowned in the rivers. Who has traveled faster than I? Starting early from Tchernigov, I was in Kiev with my parents before vespers. We loved the chase and often trapped and caught beasts with your grandfather. How many times have I fallen from my horse! Twice I broke my head, injured my arms and legs, without caring for my life in youth or sparing my head. But the Lord preserved me. And you, my children, fear neither death nor combats, nor wild beasts, but show yourselves men in every circumstance sent from God. If providence decrees that a man shall die, neither his father nor his brothers can save him. God's protection is man's hope.

If it had not been for this wisely written testament, we should not have known all the beauty of Vladimir Monomakh’s soul. He did not lay waste to other states. He was a glorious defender and none of the Russian princes has a greater right to the love of posterity, for he served his country jealously and virtuously. If once in his life Monomakh did not hesitate to infringe the law of nations and perfidiously slay the Polovtsy princes, we can apply to him the words of Cicero, “The age excuses the man.” Regarding the Polovtsy as the enemies of Christianity (for example, they had burned down many churches), the Russians thought that their destruction - no matter in what manner - was a work pleasing to God.

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Vladimir was one of the outstanding statesmen of the medieval period in what is now Ukraine. He sought to strengthen the unity of Rus’ and the central authority of the Kiev prince. He struggled against the deterioration of dynastic solidarity in Kiev and attempted to unite the princes against the Cuman threat. He initiated the Liubech Congress of Princes in 1097, during which the order of succession (rota system) was radically reformed and joint campaigns against the Cumans were agreed upon. During his tenure in Kiev, Vladimir introduced a number of legal and economic reforms. He called a meeting to address the social problems that had caused the Kiev Uprising of 1113. The reforms, including the limitation of interest on loans and the abolition of servitude as a method of debt payment, brought about radical improvements to terms of credit in Rus’.

Vladimir was also the author of “Instruction for My Children,” which was entered into the Laurentian Chronicle. His writing was a didactic and autobiographical work of high literary quality, in which he condemned the internecine struggles of princes and promoted the idea of a unified state. The narrative voice of the testament is that of a courageous warrior and a wise and judicious ruler. This is a curious paper of instructions to his sons, which dates from 1117, and includes much sound advice, reinforced with examples from his own life. It is a remarkable document worthy of quoting.

The grand prince begins by saying that his grandfather Yaroslav gave him the Russian name of Vladimir and the Christian name of Vasily, and his father and mother that of Monomakh. Because Vladimir was through his mother the grandson of the Greek Emperor Constantine Monomachus,

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in his youth he displayed a remarkable warlike valor. “As I draw near to the grave," he writes, "I give thanks to the Most High for the increase of my days. His hand has led me to a venerable age. And you, my beloved children and whosoever reads this writing, observe the rules set forth in it. When your heart does not approve them, do not condemn my intentions, but only say: The old man's mind was already weakened.” Having described in their chief features the beauty of the works of the Creator, Vladimir continues:
Oh, my children! Give praise to God and love also mankind. Neither fasting, nor solitude, nor monastic life shall save you, but good deeds. Forget not the poor, feed them; and remember that every possession is God's, and only confided to you for a time. Do not hide your riches in the bowels of the earth: this is against the laws of Christianity. Be fathers to orphans; judge the widows yourselves: do not let the strong destroy the weak. Do not slay either the righteous or the guilty: the life and soul of the Christian are sacred. Don’t invoke the name of God in vain; ratify your oath by kissing the cross, and do not transgress it. My brothers said to me: Let us drive out the sons of Rostislav and take their possessions, otherwise thou are no ally of ours! But I answered: I cannot forget that I kissed the cross. I turner to the Psalter and read with compunction: 'Why art thou so vexed, O my soul? O put thy trust in God, for I will yet thank him. Fret not thyself because of the ungodly: neither be thou envious against the evil doers.' Do not forsake the sick and do not be afraid to look upon the dead: for we shall all die; receive the blessing of the clergy lovingly; do not withdraw yourselves from them, for they shall pray to the Most High for you.”

Vladimir married Gytha, the daughter of the English king Harold II, and founded the Kiev,

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Smolensk, and Suzdal lines of the Rurik Dynasty. In 1966 Debrett's “Peerage, Baronage Knight Age, and Companion Age” published the statement that Queen Elizabeth II was descended from Vladimir Monomakh.

According to a legend, which arose under the influence of Moscow, the Emperor Alexius Comnenus, in order to put an end to the devastation of Thrace by the Russian troops, sent to Vladimir a diadem (later to be known as the “Hat of Monomakh” or “Shapka Monomakh”) and other imperial insignia through Neophyte, the Metropolitan of Epherus, who put the diadem on Vladimir's head and called him Tsar.
On 10 August the Church celebrates the feast of the Smolensk icon of the Mother of God. She is an intercessor before God for the whole world, and She has been granted special power, for in Her hands She holds the uncontainable God, Master of Heaven and Earth.

The miraculous image of the Theotokos that was named the Smolensk icon was brought to Russia in 1046 by the Greek Princess Anna. The icon was a parental blessing to her from her father, Emperor Constantine Monomachus of Byzantium, for her marriage to Prince Vsevolod Yaroslavovich of Chernigov.

In 1101 the son of Princess Anna, Prince Vladimir Monomachus, transferred the wonderworking icon from Chernigov to Smolensk. Here lay the most convenient way for invaders to pass into the interior of the land, and the Mother of God became the protector of Russian borders.

The following thoughts from Monomakh’s writings remain today an inspiration to anyone who reads them:
Do not have any pride either in your mind or heart, and think: we are but mortal; today we live, tomorrow we are in the grave. Fear every lie, drunkenness and fornication, equally pernicious for the body and the soul. Esteem old people as fathers, love the young as brothers. In your household see carefully to everything yourselves, do not depend either on your pages or bailiffs,

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that your guests may not blame either your house or your dinner. Be active in war, serve as an example to your captains - it is no time then to think of feasting and luxury. When you have set the night watch, take your rest. Man perishes suddenly, therefore do not lay aside your arms where you may meet danger; and get to horse early. When you travel in your dominions, do not let the princely pages be a cause of offense to the inhabitants, but wherever you stop give your host food and drink. Above all, respect your guests and do them honor, both the distinguished and the supplicants, both merchant and ambassador; if you cannot give them presents, at any rate regale them with food and drink, for guests spread good and evil reports of us in foreign lands. Greet every man when he passes by. Love your wives, but do not let them have an authority over you.

"Everything good that you learn, you must remember; what you do not know, learn. My father, sitting at home, spoke five languages, for which those of other lands praised him. Idleness is the mother of vices, beware of it. A man should ever be occupied; when you are on the road, on horseback, without occupation, instead of indulging in idle thoughts repeat prayers by heart - or the shortest and best prayer of all, 'Lord have mercy!' Never sleep without bowing yourself down to the earth; and if you feel unwell, bow down to the earth three times. Let not the sun find you in your bed! Go early to church to render early praise

to God: so did my father: so did all good men. When the sun shone on them, they praised God joyfully and said: 'Lighten mine eyes, Christ God, and give me thy beauteous light.' Then take counsel with the droujina, or judge the people, or go to the chase: and at midday sleep, for God has ordained that not only man but also the beasts and birds should rest at midday.

Thus lived your father. I myself did all that could be ordered to a page; at the chase and at war, day and night, in the heat of summer and the cold of winter I knew no rest. I did not put my trust in burgomasters or heralds, I did not let the strong give offense to the poor and widows, I myself supervised the church and the divine service, the domestic organization, the stables, the chase, the hawks and the falcons.”

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