As is known, 2009 was the Year of Ivan Mazepa in the newspaper Den/The Day. We and the National Institute of the History of Ukraine had made this decision long before the president issued a decree and official events were held. The idea aroused tremendous interest. Thanks to our contributors, we have rediscovered Hetman Mazepa for ourselves.
Den/The Day and the National University of Ostroh Academy (by resolution of its Academic Council on January 28, 2010) have decided to dedicate the year 2010 to the great, albeit little known, Ukrainian Prince Kostiantyn Ivanovych Ostrozky in connection with the 550th anniversary of his birth. By this decision, we hope to draw the attention of Ukrainians to this virtually unstudied period in the history of our nation and to the prince’s majestic figure.
We will be glad to receive your studies, opinions and ideas.
Prince Kostiantyn Ostrozky was one of the most outstanding military and political leaders of late-medieval Ukraine. He won a large number of battles, some of them being of international importance. Thanks to his endeavors, Central and Eastern Europe has a European, not Asian, face. He promoted the Magdeburg Law and Renaissance culture in Ukraine. At the same time, he always tried to cherish Ukrainian traditions. In particular, he made a sizable contribution to the preservation and development of Orthodoxy in this country, yet bringing it into line with early modern times.
Contemporaries also regarded Ostrozky as a sovereign ruler, all the more so that he was vested with some privileges that were typical of independent potentates. The prince’s deeds objectively promoted the idea that Rus-Ukraine is a land ruled by its own sovereigns. Osrozky’s tombstone in the Dormition Cathedral of the Kyivan Cave Monastery depicts the prince with a crown on.
Although Ostrozky’s contemporaries and “immediate descendants” wrote very much about him in the 16th—17th centuries, the name of this prominent figure was “forgotten” in the course of time. This was caused by various factors. In particular, Russian historiography tried not to focus on this figure, for he had defeated a thousands-strong Russian army near Orsha, thus saving the Grand Duchy of Lithuania from Russian occupation. As for Ukrainian historians, who were and still are under the influence of populist stereotypes, Ostrozky is “not interesting”, for he was a prince, not a “people’s leader.”
But now that Ukraine has at last become an independent state, it is obviously worthwhile to somewhat differently look at our history and at such statesmen as Prince Ostrozky. Moreover, this figure is also interesting from the perspective of our European integration aspirations, for some Central European countries, European Union members now, consider him their hero. This applies, in particular, to Poland and Lithuania. And for nationally-conscious Belarusians, Ostrozky is the No. 1 national hero.
The aforesaid facts prove it is worthwhile to focus on Kostiantyn Ostrozky, all the more so that this year marks the 550th anniversary of his birth.
With this in view, Den/The Day and the National University of Ostroh Academy have resolved to announce 2010 the Year of Prince Kostiantyn Ivanovych Ostrozky.
A MAN OF EXTREMELY GLORIOUS DEEDS
To emphasize the military merits and gallantry of Prince Kostiantyn Ostrozky, his contemporaries (often people influenced by Renaissance culture), used to compare him with ancient pivotal figures. For example, Pisoni, the Papal legate in Poland, wrote in 1514: “Prince Kostiantyn can be called the best military commander of our era.” He compared him with Romulus, the founder of Rome. This kind of comparison is not only a “vogue” typical of Renaissance-period people. This evidences the prince’s merits in the eyes of a person who belonged to a different cultural and denominational space. Awarding a privilege to Ostrozky in 1527, Polish King Sigismund I the Old said: “He could be quite deservedly compared not only with contemporary military leaders but also with outstanding men of ancient times.” Maciej Stryjkowski, an outstanding Polish Renaissance-era chronicler, called Osrozky “another Ruthenian and Lithuanian Hannibal, Pyrrhus, and Scipio, a man of serene memory and extremely glorious deeds.” One can also find high praise fir the prince in Volhynian Brief Chronicle (mid-16th century), a document that originally combines Ancient Rus and Renaissance traditions. The prince is also glorified by Ukrainian Renaissance-era Latin-writing poets, including Symon Pekalid in the poem On the Ostroh War (1600).
Naturally, Osrozky did not become famous all of a sudden. Glory visited him when he was in a mature age. We know almost nothing about his green years. Little wonder, after all, for he was born in the so-called Dark Ages, when, after experiencing the Mongol-Tatar invasion, Ukrainian lands became the object of never-ending Horde forays. Ukraine’s cultural life was in decline at the time, as was chronicling. Therefore, we have just some fragmentary evidence of the events in that-time Ukraine.
Kostiantyn Ivanovych was a prince of the Ostrozky dynasty. Soon, in the lifetime of his son Vasyl-Kostiantyn, various genealogical legends about this dynasty began to spread. Princes Volodymyr the Great and Danylo of Galicia were often mentioned as the Ostrozkys’ ancestors. Researchers are still arguing to what extent these legends correspond to the reality. Still, many of them claim that the Ostrozkys really descend from Ancient Rus princes.
The Osrozky clan becomes noble after the disintegration of the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia. The first well-known representative of this dynasty, Prince Danylo, fought against Polish King Casimir the Great who tried to conquer Galicia. His son Fedir is believed to have participated in the Battle of Grunwald and in the defense of Ukrainian lands from Tatar forays. He ended his life path in the Kyivan Cave Monastery as a monk.
One can also recall other well-known representatives of this princely dynasty. They took an active part in the military and political life of not only Ukrainian lands. For instance, Prince Fedir (Frederick) Ostrozky participated in the Hussite wars and settled in Bohemia.
Kostiantyn Ivanovych was supposedly born in 1460. This date was found as follows. Afanasii Kalnofoisky claims that the prince lived for 70 years. He died in 1530. Therefore, it is reasonable to consider 1460 as the date of his birth.
What causes surprise is the baptism of him as Kostiantyn. The point is that there were traditional male names in that-time Ukrainian princely dynasties, which were handed down from generation to generation – such as Danylo and Vasyl in the case of the Ostrozkys. But the name of Kostiantyn did not occur.
As is known, in the Orthodox tradition, the name of Constantine the Great, in whose honor our hero was named, was a great symbolic importance. For it is under Emperor Constantine that Christianity became the Roman Empire’s official religion. Therefore, this name was regarded as the name of a defender of Christianity. This is exactly the way it was said in panegyrics to princes Ostrozky. Indeed, Kostiantyn Ivanovych “justified” his name. He did very much for the protection and development of Orthodoxy on the territory of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
Kostiantyn must have been baptized on St. Constantine Day, i.e., on March 21. As baptism was usually performed approximately 40 days after the birth, it can be presumed that the prince was born in mid-February 1460.
We know nothing about the prince’s young years. In all probability, he was taught martial arts and took part in expeditions against the Crimean Tatars — wars with whom began to assume a permanent nature. The first documentarily proved evidence of Kostiantyn is dated 1486.
1497 was a year of triumph for the prince. Together with his brother Mykhailo, he routed the Tatars in the spring and summer, releasing the captives and regaining the looted property. He inflicted an especially crushing defeat on the Tatars during the second expedition, when he took the Crimean Khan Mahmed Girei’s son prisoner. Those expeditions were part of large-scale operations which the Polish king and the grand duke of Lithuania conducted against the Tatars and their ally, the gospodar of Moldova.
In the same year, Kostiantyn was awarded large land holdings for his meritorious service, which in fact became the core of the Ostrozky estate (the villages of Zdovbytsis, Zdolbuniv, Derman, Lebedi, Kuniv, et al), and appointed the Grand Hetman of Lithuania. He was 37 at the time – a very young age for a grand hetman. In any case, it is not known whether there had been grand hetmans of this age in Poland or the Duchy of Lithuania before him.
In the next, 1498, year Kostiantyn was granted the offices of Bratslav, Zvenyhorod and Vinnytsia headman. These offices did not yield too much profit and the towns were sort of defense line on the border with the Tatars. The prince attached great importance to the construction of defense installations. Owing to his efforts, Dubno was granted city status in 1498 and the Magdeburg Law in 1507. Kostiantyn was doing his best to introduce the local government principles typical of that-time West European cities. Dubno became one of the largest fortresses in southern-eastern Volhynia, which helped resist Tatar invasions. This town, together with its strong castle, was one of the Ostrozkys’ “capitals.” As a matter of fact, having received considerable estates in south-eastern Volhynia for his military exploits, Kostiantyn built a defensive system of castles, which consisted, in addition to Dubno, of Ostroh, whose defenses were greatly reinforced, Rivne, Dorohobuzh, Polonne, Zviahel, Chudniv, and others.
The prince also did very much to ward off Russian attacks on the Grand Duchy of Lithuania’s lands. A well-known researcher, Prof. V. Ulyanovsky, justly notes: “War became the hub of Kostianyn’s life. The grand hetman of Lithuania took an active part in all military actions against the Tatars and Turks, as well as against the Grand Prince of Musvovy. In both cases, fighting was aimed at protecting the state territory and the populace. Interestingly, the principle of faith did not seem to matter, although when chronicles described battles, they emphasized extreme cruelty of the Mahometans. But for Prince Ostrozky, the difference between the enemies of Lithuania only consisted in the way the Tatars and the Muscovites behaved militarily, which required different tactics of military battles. Actually, the entire career of Kostiantyn Ostrozky as a general explodes the ideologeme of 19th-century authors (which also penetrated into Soviet and, partly, even in modern historiography) about opposition between ‘the truly faithful Rus’ and ‘the Muslim Orient.’ Ostrozky carried out his military actions on the basis of the friend-or-foe principle. In this case, the ‘foe’ was the one who aimed to seize some lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania, to plunder its territory, or to carry the populace away in captivity.” Therefore, it is the question of not only the prince’s political loyalty to the Lithuanian government but also of the feeling of national patriotism which stands above religious “relatedness.” The prince is generally considered to have taken part in more than 60 or 70 battles and won a large number of them.
An event occurred in 1500, which made Kostiantyn withdraw for a long time from the political life of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. In that year, a war broke out between that state and the Grand Principality of Muscovy. The Muscovite troops managed to seize several “Lithuanian” (read: Ukrainian and Belarusian) towns and approach Smolensk. The decisive battle occurred on July 14 on the river Vedrosi. The Muscovite army noticeably outnumbered the “Lithuanian” one led by Ostrozky. Little wonder, the “Lithuanians” suffered a defeat in this situation, and the prince was taken prisoner. He was held in captivity for about seven years.