What is the message of the testament of Volodymyr Monomakh, a marvelous intellectual ruler (a not so unique case in the times of Ancient Ukraine-Rus’ – suffice it to recall Monomakh’s grandfather Yaroslav the Wise and father, Prince Vsevolod, who had a command of five or six languages and devoted all his free time to books – but quite a rare case in our lumpenized era), a military leader and a masterly and experienced statesman at the same time, a prominent thinker, and a writer? What lessons can we, who live in the second decade of the 21st century, draw from his life, works, actions, doubts, and inner struggle? Why, after all, can he, of all the people, be called “our man” in the 12th century (in the spiritual, philosophical, and political senses)? Let us reflect, reader, together on the details and subtleties that in fact make a living, albeit distant in time, substance, rather than a dry overideologized pattern, out the historical process. What obliges us to do so is not only the fact that it is now 2013 which Den/The Day has declared Monomakh Year. By making an excursus into the Monomakh era, we will see an essentially moral individual, inevitably tied up with the established attitudes, gossips, prejudices, and crimes of his epoch, who is still striving, to the extent of his abilities (and Monomakh had more of these abilities when he reached the peak of power), to resist the cruelties, schemes, treasons, massacres, and plunder that dominated all around.
We will begin our discussion with the following question: what did Monomakh do when in the spring of 1113 he finally, at the age of 60, achieved his lifelong dream and became the Grand Prince of Kyiv, the head of a vast and still united (even though there were some clear signs of disintegration) Ancient Ukrainian State, and in what way he did this? Moreover, the 900th anniversary of the invitation of Monomakh to the Kyiv throne is a formal occasion for this action of Den.
Undoubtedly, Den/The Day will be publishing materials on the great statesman throughout the year (this writer also hopes to take part in this). Indeed, the life of Monomakh (1053-1125), the Prince of Rostov and Suzdal (1066-67), was turbulent – princes used to send their teenage children to the lands that became later the cradle of the Muscovite state and the Great Russian nation and, at the time, “gravitated” to Pereiaslav, where Volodymyr was in fact born. This was a clear indication of those lands’ status. The same applies to Monomakh. In the evening of his life, he sent his youngest son, the 15-year-old Yurii, later called Dolgorukii, to Rostov and Suzdal to learn to rule the state. The Prince of Smolensk (1070-72, 1077-78), the Prince of Volodymyr-Volynsky (1072-76), the Prince of Chernihiv (1076-77, 1078-94), the Prince of Pereiaslav (1094-1113), and, finally, the Grand Prince of Kyiv (1113-25) – these events are worthy of dozens of stories and novels, not only articles. Still a young man, he understood how power can turn one’s head, how power-drunk princes imagine themselves omnipotent, if not immortal, how they shed fraternal blood with the help of the Cuman, Polish, Hungarian, Czech, and Byzantine troops, and sack, burn, and plunder their own lands (the young Monomakh had to take part in two internecine fratricidal wars, in 1067 and 1077, when Minsk was burned down, which he remembered until his death). He understood very early that there was a global evil that could only be resisted with the sword (but he always believed that not a single human soul – innocent or guilty – should be destroyed, and he was sincere when he wrote about this in Poucheniie detiam (“Instruction for [My] Children”). Yet, as a politician, he had to bow to dire necessity and shed blood). Since his childhood, he was used to doing everything on his own, as far as possible, – this concerned both political and economic matters. “Laziness is the mother of all evil; what a man knows, he forgets, and what he does not know he does not learn.” (Poucheniie, 900 years ago!). And here is the main thing that the Grand Prince learned throughout his lifetime and taught his children: “Above all, admit no pride in your hearts and minds, but say, ‘We are but mortal; today we live and tomorrow we shall be in the grave. All that Thou hast given us is not ours, but Thine, and Thou hast but lent it to us for a few days.’ Hoard not the treasures of earth, for therein lies great sin.” Let us compare these words of the 65-year-old Momomakh, a head of state, the Grand Prince of Kyiv, with the ostentatious “Christianity” of our present-day powers that be, which only disguises their unlimited greed…
Besides, this was written by an individual who had seen and experienced everything in his life, including dozens of battles, when Monomakh personally wielded a sword and a spear against the Cumans, Czechs, Poles, and – in his younger years – other Rus’ princes. The prince was an avid hunter. “At Chernigov, I even bound wild horses with my bare hands or captured ten or twenty live horses with the lasso, and besides that, while riding along the Ros, I caught these same wild horses barehanded. Two bisons tossed me and my horse on their horns, a stag once gored me, one elk stamped upon me, while another gored me, a boar once tore my sword from my thigh, a bear on one occasion bit my kneecap, and another wild beast jumped on my flank and threw my horse with me. But God preserved me unharmed. I often fell from my horse, fractured my skull twice, and in my youth injured my arms and legs when I did not reck of my life or spare my head” (Poucheniie). And these are the words of a subtle (and very cunning, if you like) politician who had colossal patience, a quality invaluable for a statesman.
As was mentioned above, Monomakh’s “hour of triumph” came in the spring of 1113, when he was already 60. His cousin Sviatopolk Iziaslavych, the Grand Prince of Kyiv, suddenly died. The latter was a weak and sly ruler. He was always unstable and evasive in such cases as having to help other princes or keep a promise, but he was tough and uncompromising in the things that concerned his own interests. What is more, Monomakh came (to be more exact, was personally invited) to power in Kyiv in special, “extreme,” conditions – it was necessary to save a class-based feudal state and the property of wealthy people because Sviatopolk’s death was immediately followed by the Great 1113 Uprising. Let us dwell on this.
The point is that, with the connivance of the previous grand prince, a system of usury, profiteering, and racket flourished in Kyiv, when a prohibitive interest was charged for the loaned money, which in fact economically enslaved the poorer Kyivites, especially craftsmen. This system was protected by Sviatopolk Iziaslavych himself, his close associate tysiatsky (viceregent) Putiata Vyshatych, other well-to-do boyars,
merchants, Sviatopolk’s relatives, and top druzhyna (retinue) officers. On April 16, 1113, ten days after Easter Day, when it was announced that the grand prince had suddenly died, the Kyiv crowd took to the streets. Firstly, it was not clear who would succeed to the Kyiv Grand Prince’s throne. Undoubtedly, Volodymyr Monomakh was the most popular and respected prince. But, in accordance with “the Yaroslav lystvytsia” (the legitimate procedure of power transfer as willed by Yaroslav the Wise), Monomakh was by no means the heir apparent – among the other contenders for the Kyiv throne were Sviatopolk’s son Yaroslav and Yaroslav the Wise’s grandsons Oleh and David Sviatoslavych.
But the events unfurled very fast and thwarted, to some extent, the plans of political “players” (a buzz word among modern-day journalists, but politics is not cards). A meeting had been going on at Putiata’s manor since the morning of April 17, also “brimming” was the old Kyiv palace of Vsevolod, Monomakh’s late father, where his followers assembled. At the same time, Podil raised its formidable voice early on April 17. A rumor was spread that Putiata was secretly negotiating with Sviatopolk’s son the transfer of power to him and that he was firmly protecting the interests of usurers and rich Jews, and that Podil had been burned down on his orders two years before. The crowd terribly exploded. Hundreds, thousands of people with axes, scythes, pitchforks, stones, and clubs in hand, calling out “We’re going to Putiata’s courtyard,” “Let’s burn the usurers’ houses,” “Down with all slavery!’ and “We’re going to the Caves,” marched from Podil up to the prince’s palace. The enraged crowd filled all the streets on the Old Kyiv Hill, burst into the old “Yaroslav city,” and began to smash the households of affluent people. Putiata’s house was one of the first to be taken by storm. The rich merchants and usurers ran helter-skelter, the Jews found shelter in a synagogue, getting ready for a long siege and praying to their God – their households were looted and all the property was redistributed. There is an entry in the Rus’ Chronicle dated April 17, 1113: “The Kyivites convened a council and sent envoys to Volodymyr Vsevolodovych [Momomakh] in Pereiaslav to say to him: ‘Come and ascend, Prince, your father’s and grandfather’s throne.’ On hearing this, Volodymyr did not immediately go, grieving over his brother [was he biding his time or did he have a plan to save the situation? – Author]. Meanwhile, the Kyivites looted the household of tysiatsky Putiata Vyshatych, then took on the Jews and robbed them. And the Kyivites again sent envoys to Volodymyr, saying: ‘Come here because they will be plundering not only the households of Putiata and other officials, but also those of the Jews, and then they will attack Sviatopolk’s widow, the boyars, and the monasteries, and you, prince, will be held responsible if the monasteries are looted.’ So, hearing this, Volodymyr went to Kyiv.”
On April 20, 1113, Monomakh and his retinue came up to Kyiv. At the time, he was the only person in Ukraine-Rus’, who could pacify the uprising (pacify, not suppress in a sea of blood, – the new Grand Prince of Kyiv was very well aware that violence was not a way out). As a brilliant and outstanding politician, he understood that the best (and perhaps the only) way out was to “split” the artisans and the mutinous Kyivan rabble, by making certain concessions to what may be called “opposition” (in the 19th and 20th centuries, this political technique was deftly applied by Bismarck, Roosevelt, de Gaulle, and partially by Mussolini and Lenin). What did Monomakh in fact do? Immediately after the solemn entry to Kyiv (he was accompanied by a sizable military force, which was also a clear sign to all rebels), the city was rife with rumors that the grand prince will be a benefactor rather than a punisher – it was the new ruler himself who spread these rumors, for he was very well aware that he would not be ruling Rus’ for just one day or one year from the Old Kyiv Hill palace, so it would be better to begin with peace and harmony, not with repressions and wars. Likewise, he understood that his treasury would be topped up thanks to the work of peasants and craftsmen, so, for purely pragmatic reasons, he was prepared to ease the debt interest burden. Yet, as a son of his estate and his time, he rejected the “revolt of the rabble” as an encroachment on the “God-sent” order.
Locked in his Berestiv country retreat for a few days together with his associates – boyars, tysiatskys, senior druzhyna members, and educated monks, – Monomakh drew up the new “Statute of Volodymyr Vsevolodovych,” which set out that if an individual who has borrowed money has paid his interest twice, he was supposed to refund the total debt as well, but if he has paid his interest three times, i.e. refunded one and a half times more than he borrowed, his debt was to be canceled by the new princely law. Further on, too high interest and sheer robbery was essentially limited (to be more exact, standardized). A usurer was authorized to charge interest in three installments (Monomakh made sure that this innovation was put into practice). If he charged interest twice (two thirds of the borrowed amount), he also had the right to have the borrowed amount refunded. But if the usurer charged interests three times (i.e. 100 percent of the borrowed amount), he would lose the right to have the borrowed amount refunded. At least, this follows from the Statute’s text.
Monomakh sat on the Kyiv Grand Prince’s throne for 12 years. What is interesting to note? Ancient Rus’ remained a united state in all those years (the princes of Smolensk, Novgorod, Chernihiv, Rostov and Suzdal, etc., the vast majority of whom were direct descendants or subordinated relatives of the Grand Prince of Kyiv, would readily send their troops to where Monomakh instructed them to do so). The grand prince did not assault or ruin rebellious cities, such as Volodymyr-Volynsky or Polotsk, but laid all-round siege to them by cutting off supply lines, and demanded that the recalcitrant appanage princes come out unarmed in front of his troops, repent, and take an oath of allegiance to him as Grand Prince (which they usually did). Monomakh drew up a number of decrees aimed at easing the plight of both urban and rural “lower strata” because national stability could not but rest on a compromise of sorts. For example, if “zakupy” and “riadovychi” (the poorest categories of peasants) have paid twice the interest due to their owner for a borrowing, they did not have to work for a third time on his land as punishment for debt. It was a sober calculation rather than “peasant loving.”
A great appraiser of books and culture, the grand prince created his immortal Poucheniie in about 1117, patterned on the West European and Greek manuscripts Paternal Instruction and A Word from a Father to his Son from a very rich library of his wife Gytha. I would like to finish the story of a historic personality, who could be aptly considered “our man” in the 12th century, with the following words from Poucheniie: “Without relying on lieutenants or messengers, I did whatever was necessary; I looked to every disposition in my household… I did not allow the mighty to distress the common peasant or the poverty-stricken widow, and interested myself in the church administration and service. Let not my sons or whoever else reads this document criticize me. I do not commend my own boldness, but I praise God and glorify his memory because he guarded me, a sinful and a wretched man, for so many years in these dangerous vicissitudes, and did not make me inactive or useless for all the necessary works of man.”