1.36 - 1.39 Vladimir the Great

Svyatoslav’s death at the hands of the Pechenegs left Rus unprepared. Almost immediately, his sons were at war to decide who would rule. Vladimir fought with cunning and resorted to teachery, killing his brother without mercy to take the throne and begin building a Rus that would be focused on Kyiv and the Dnieper valley, rather than following his father southwards. Listen to Episode 1.36 to find out how the succession was decided.

Early in his reign, Vladimir was a religious innovator, trying to promote a new religion that brought together a pantheon of gods worshipped by the various peoples of Rus, Slavic, Iranic and Finno-Ugrian. But it didn’t work. The Tale of Bygone Years said that he sought information on other religions, inviting scholars to visit him and sending out his own emissaries on fact-finding missions to neighbouring Catholic, Orthodox, and Muslim powers. Listen to episode 1.37 to find out more about the early part of Vladimir’s reign.

Eventually, he would be baptised, and then order the baptism of all his people, but why, when, where, and how? The Tale seems confused over some of the details, even though it is clear that this was Vladimir’s greatest act. In episode 1.38 we try to find the historical truth behind the story in the Tale and examine why the Tale presents it the way it does. 

The statue of St. Volodymyr overlooking the Dnieper in Kyiv.

Vladimir’s adoption of Christianity eventually led to him becoming St. Volodymyr in Ukraine, and St. Vladimir in Russia. A saint who still resonates in ongoing debates over national origins, and national futures. Russian nationalists and Ukrainian nationalists have given him entirely different meanings since the earliest days of Ukrainian national consciousness and Russian Imperial attempts to suppress it. We also explore this aspect of Vladimir, right down to its use by Vladimir Putin and its role in the build up to the Russian invasion of Ukraine in 2022 and the separation of the Russian and Ukrainian Orthodox Churches. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Russian Orthodox Church Patriarch Kirill at the opening of the St. Vladimir monument in Moscow.

Finally, in episode 1.39, we look at the rest of Vladimir’s reign and his legacy for Rus. Did he deserve the title of “the Great”?

Listen now on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, YouTube or wherever you get your podcasts.