Vladimir I (died 1015), also called Vladimir the Great and St. Vladimir, was grand prince of Kievan Russia from about 980 to 1015. His reign represents the culmination in the development of this first Russian state.
The youngest son of Grand Prince Sviatoslav Igorevich of Kiev and a servant girl, Vladimir distinguished himself first as his father’s governor in Novgorod, where he had been appointed in 969. In a civil war that followed Sviatoslav’s death (972 or 973), Vladimir fled to Scandinavia, leaving the reign to his oldest brother, laropolk (976). But in 978, aided by a large force of the Varangians (Normans), he resumed the struggle and by about 980 became grand prince of Kiev.
Vladimir’s first goal seems to have been to recover his father’s conquests, lost during the civil war, and add to them conquests of his own. Although Vladimir stayed out of the Balkans, he regained the territory of the Viatichi and Radimichi in the east (981-982, 984) and thus reunited all eastern Slavs under Kiev. In the west he recovered a number of Galician towns from Poland (981) and conquered the territory of the Lithuanian latvigs (983). But his campaign against the Volga Bulgars in 985 was indecisive and ended his intentions to recover the Volga Basin. In the south he was similarly barred by the Turkic tribe of the Pechenegs (Patzinaks), who had captured the control of the Black Sea steppes, but he did regain some of the steppelands and secured them by a system of earth walls, forts, and fortified towns.
The quest for unity and security was also the goal of Vladimir’s domestic policy. He substituted his sons and lieutenants for the too independent tribal chieftains as governors of individual sections of the state and subjected them to a rigid supervision.
Even religion seems to have been employed by Vladimir in the service of this goal. At first he made an attempt to create a pagan creed common to his entire realm by accepting all gods and deities of local tribes and making them an object of general veneration. In the end he turned to Christianity, probably because a faith believing in a single God appeared better suited to the purposes of a prince seeking to entrench the government of a single ruler in his realm. The exact circumstances of this event, however, are not completely known. It seems that in 987 Byzantine emperor Basil II, in return for Russian assistance against uprisings in Bulgaria and Anatolia, agreed to give Vladimir the hand of his sister Anna if he became a Christian. Vladimir was baptized about 988, received the Byzantine bride, and proceeded to make Christianity the official religion of his state. He ordered, and eventually forced, his subjects to accept baptism too, destroyed pagan idols, built Christian churches and schools and libraries, kept peace within and without the realm, and indulged in charities for the benefit of the poor and sick.
The baptism of Russia was not, of course, an immediate success. It took several decades before Christianity struck roots in Russia firmly and definitely. Nor was Vladimir completely successful in checking the danger of feudal disintegration. In fact, he died in 1015 in the midst of a
campaign against the revolt of his son laroslav. A civil war resulting from it ended only in 1026 in a division of Russia between laroslav and his brother Mstislav, and the country was not reunited again until 1036, following the latter’s demise.
Vladimir I completed unification of all eastern Slavs in his realm, secured its frontiers against foreign invasions, and—by accepting Christianity—brought Russia into the community of Christian nations and their civilization. He was remembered and celebrated in numerous legends and songs as a great national hero and ruler, a “Sun Prince.” Venerated as the baptizer of Russia, “equal to Apostles,” he was canonized about the middle of the 13th century.
Further Reading on Vladimir I
A concise and popular sketch of Vladimir’s life is in Constantin de Grunwald, Saints of Russia (trans. 1960). For varying interpretations of the disputed segments of his life and work consult these standard surveys of early Russian history: Vasilii O. Kliuchevskii, A History of Russia, vol. 1 (trans. 1911); George Vernadsky and Michael Karpovich, A History of Russia, vol. 2: Kievan Russia (1948); Boris D. Grekov, Kiev Rus (trans. 1959); and Boris A. Rybakov, Early Centuries of Russian History (1964; trans. 1965).
Additional Biography Sources
Volkoff, Vladimir, Vladimir the Russian Viking, Woodstock, N.Y.: Overlook Press, 1985, 1984.