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Naval expeditions of the Russians against Constantinople


But the same communication which had been opened for the benefit, was soon abused for the injury, of mankind. In a period of one hundred and ninety years, the Russians made four attempts to plunder the treasures of Constantinople; the event was various, but the motive, the means, and the object were the same in these naval expeditions. The Russian traders had seen the magnificence and tasted the luxury of the city of the Cæsars. A marvellous tale, and a scanty supply, excited the desires of their savage countrymen: they envied the gifts of nature which their climate denied; they coveted the works of art which they were too lazy to imitate and too indigent to purchase: the Varangian princes unfurled the banners of piratical adventure, and their bravest soldiers were drawn from the nations that dwelt in the northern isles of the ocean.72 The image of their naval armaments was revived in the last century in the fleets of the Cossacks, which issued from the Borysthenes to navigate the same seas for a similar purpose.73 The Greek appellation of monoxyla, or single canoes, might be justly applied to the bottom of their vessels. It was scooped out of the long stem of a beech or willow, but the slight and narrow foundation was raised and continued on either side with planks, till it attained the length of sixty, and the height of about twelve, feet. These boats were built without a deck, but with two rudders and a mast; to move with sails and oars; and to contain from forty to seventy men, with their arms, and provisions of fresh water and salt fish. The first trial of the Russians was made

deserve special mention : a paper of Sergieevich in the Zhurnal Minist. Nar. Prosp., January, 1882, and an article of Dimitriu in Vizantiiski Vremennik, ii. p. 531 sqq. (1893). The transaction of a.d. 907, before the walls of Constantinople, was merely & convention, not a formal treaty; and Dimitriu shows that the negotiation of A.D. 911 was doubtless intended to convert the spirit of this convention into an international treaty, signed and sealed. But he also makes it probable that this treaty of A.D. 911 did not receive its final ratification from Oleg and his boyars, and consequently was not strictly binding. But it proved a basis for the treaty of 945, which was completed with the full diplomatic forms and which refers back to it.]

71 The wars of the Russians and Greeks in the ixth, xth, and with centuries are related in the Byzantine Annals, especially those of Zonaras and Cedrenus; and all their testimonies are collected in the Russica of Stritter, tom. ii. pars ii. p. 939. 1044.

72 Προσεταιρισάμενος δε και συμμαχικών ουκ ολίγον από των κατοικούντων εν τοις a porapktious Toû 'Okeavou vhoous évæv. Cedrenus, in Compend. p. 758 [ii. 551, ed B.).

13 See Beauplan (Description de l'Ukraine, p. 54- His descriptions are lively, his plans accurate, and, except the circumstance of fire-arms, we may read old Russians for modern Cossacks.

A.D. 865

with two hundred boats; but, when the national force was exerted, they might arm against Constantinople a thousand or twelve hundred vessels. Their fleet was not much inferior to the royal navy of Agamemnon, but it was magnified in the eyes of fear to ten or fifteen times the real proportion of its strength and numbers. Had the Greek emperors been endowed with foresight to discern, and vigour to prevent, perhaps they might have sealed with a maritime force the mouth of the Borysthenes. Their indolence abandoned the coast of Anatolia to the calamities of a piratical war, which, after an interval of six hundred years, again infested the Euxine; but, as long as the capital was respected, the sufferings of a distant province escaped the notice both of the prince and the historian. The storm, which had swept along from the Phasis and Trebizond, at length burst on the Bosphorus of Thrace: a strait of fifteen miles, in which the rude vessels of the Russian might have been stopped and destroyed by a more skilful adversary. In their first enter- The first. prise 74 under the prince of Kiow, they passed without opposition, (860) and occupied the port of Constantinople in the absence of the emperor Michael, the son of Theophilus. Through a crowd of 'Michael

III.) perils he landed at the palace stairs, and immediately repaired to a church of the Virgin Mary.75 By the advice of the patriarch,

** It is to be lamented that Bayer has only given a Dissertation de Russorum prima Expeditione Constantinopolitana (Comment. Academ. Petropol. tom. vi. p. 365391). After disentangling some chronological intricacies, he fixes it in the years 864 or 865, a date which might have smoothed some doubts and difficulties in the beginning of M. Levesque's history. [The true date of the Russian attack on Constantinople is given in a short Chronicle first printed by F. Cumont in " Anecdota Bruxelleasia I. Chroniques quelques byzantines du Mscr. 11376"; and has been established demonstratively by C. de Boor (Byz. Zeitsch. iv. p. 445 899.). It is June 18, 860; the old date 865 or 866 was derived from the Chronicle of Pseudo-Symeon (p. 674, ed. Bonn : cp. above, vol. 5, p. 534); but it has been proved by Hirsch that the dates of this chronicle had no authority. The same source which gives the right date asserts that the Russians were defeated and annihilated (noavionsav) by the Christians with the help of the Virgin. It seems certain that they experienced a severe delent after their retreat from the walls. Two homilies delivered by Photius on the occasion of this attack were published by Nauck in 1867 and again by C. Müller in Prag. Hist. Graec. v. 2, p. 162 sqq. The first was spoken in the moment of terror before the Emperor's arrival; the second after the rescue. But the second makes no mention of the destruction of the hostile armament; hence de Boor shows that it must have been delivered immediately after the retreat of the barbarians from the walls, but belore their destruction. Another contemporary notice of the event is found in the life of Ignatius by Nicetas (see above, vol. 5, p. 532), Migne, P. G. 105, p. 512. The chronicle of Nestor makes Oskold and Dir (see above, note 60) the leaders of the expedition.]

75 When Photius wrote his encyclic epistle on the conversion of the Russians, the miracle was not yet sufficiently ripe ; he reproaches the nation as eis wubtnta kai was ovlav (nástas) deur épous TaTTØuevov. [See Photii Epistolæ, ed. Valettas, p. 178.]

VOL. VI.-11

The second.

A.D. 941

her garment, a precious relic, was drawn from the sanctuary and dipped in the sea; and a seasonable tempest, which determined the retreat of the Russians, was devoutly ascribed to the

Mother of God.76 The silence of the Greeks may inspire some A.D. 904 (907) doubt of the truth, or at least of the importance, of the second attempt of Oleg, the guardian of the sons of Ruric.77

A strong barrier of arms and fortifications defended the Bosphorus : they were eluded by the usual expedient of drawing the boats over the isthmus; and this simple operation is described in the

national chronicles as if the Russian fleet had sailed over dry The third. land with a brisk and favourable gale. The leader of the third

armament, Igor, the son of Ruric, had chosen a moment of weakness and decay, when the naval powers of the empire were employed against the Saracens. But, if courage be not wanting, the instruments of defence are seldom deficient. Fifteen broken and decayed galleys were boldly launched against the enemy; but, instead of the single tube of Greek fire usually planted on the prow, the sides and stern of each vessel were abundantly supplied with that liquid combustible. The engineers were dexterous; the weather was propitious; many thousand Russians, who chose rather to be drowned than burnt, leaped into the sea; and those who escaped to the Thracian shore were inhumanly slaughtered by the peasants and soldiers. Yet one third of the canoes escaped into shallow water; and the next spring Igor was again prepared to retrieve his disgrace and claim

his revenge.78 After a long peace, Jaroslaus, the great-grandson The fourth. of Igor, resumed the same project of a naval invasion.

A fleet, under the command of his son, was repulsed at the entrance of the Bosphorus by the same artificial flames. But in the rashness of pursuit the vanguard of the Greeks was encompassed

A.D. 1043

76 Leo Grammaticus, p. 463, 464 (p. 241, ed. B.]. Constantini Continuator, in Script. post Theophanem, p. 121, 122 [p. 196-7, ed. B.] Simeon Logothet. p. 445, 446 (p. 674-5, ed. B.). Georg. Monach. p. 535, 536 [826, ed. B.). Cedrenus, tom. ii. p. 551 [ii. 173, ed. B.]. Zonaras, tom. ii. p. 162 (xvi. 5).

77 See Nestor (c. 21) and Nicon, in Levesque's Hist. de Russie, tom. I. p. 74-80. Katona (Hist. Ducum, p. 75.79) uses his advantage to disprove this Russian victory, which would cloud the siege of Kiow by the Hungarians.

78 Leo Grammaticus, p. 506, 507 (p. 323, ed. B.]; Incert. Contin. p. 263, 264 [p. 424] ; Simeon Logothet. p. 490, 491 (p. 746-7, ed. B.); Georg. Monach. p. 588, 589 (p. 914, ed. B.]. ; Cedren. tom. ii. p. 629 (ii. 316, ed. B.); Zonaras, tom. ii. p. 190, 191 (svi. 16); and Luitprand, 1. v. 0. 6 [= 0. 15), who writes from the narrg. tives of his father-in-law, then ambassador at Constantinople, and corrects the vain exaggeration of the Greeks, (Nestor, c. 26.}

tions and

by an irresistible multitude of boats and men; their provision of fire was probably exhausted; and twenty-four galleys were either taken, sunk, or destroyed.79

Yet the threats or calamities of a Russian war were more Negotiafrequently diverted by treaty than by arms.

In these naval hos- prophecy tilities every disadvantage was on the side of the Greeks; their savage enemy afforded no mercy; his poverty promised no spoil; his impenetrable retreat deprived the conqueror of the hopes of revenge; and the pride or weakness of empire indulged an opinion that no honour could be gained or lost in the intercourse with barbarians. At first their demands were high and inadmissible, three pounds of gold for each soldier or mariner of the fleet; the Russian youth adhered to the design of conquest and glory; but the counsels of moderation were recommended by the hoary sages. “Be content," they said, “with the liberal (A.D. 944) offers of Cæsar; is it not far better to obtain without a combat the possession of gold, silver, silks, and all the objects of our desires ? Are we sure of victory? Can we conclude a treaty with the sea ? We do not tread on the land; we float on the abyss of water, and a common death hangs over our heads." 80 The memory of these Arctic fleets that seemed to descend from the Polar circle left a deep impression of terror on the Imperial city. By the vulgar of every rank, it was asserted and believed that an equestrian statue in the square of Taurus was secretly inscribed with a prophecy, how the Russians, in the last days, should become masters of Constantinople.81 In our own time, a Russian armament, instead of sailing from the Borysthenes, has circumnavigated the continent of Europe; and the Turkish capital has been threatened by a squadron of strong and lofty

79 I can only appeal to Cedrenus (tom. ii. p. 758, 759 [ii. 551, ed. B.]) and Zonaras (tom. ii. p. 253, 254 [xvii. 24]), but they grow more weighty and credible as they draw near to their own times. (Cp. Nestor, c. 56.]

80 Nestor, apud Levesque, Hist. de Russie, tom. i. p. 87. [This advice was given by his counsellors to Igor in A.D. 944. See Nestor, o. 27; p. 25, ed. Miklosich.)

* This brazen statue, which had been brought from Antioch, and was melted down by the Latins, was supposed to represent either Joshua or Bellerophon, an odd dilemma. See Nicetas Choniates (p. 413, 414 (p. 848, ed. Bonn]), Codinus (de Originibus (leg. de Signis) C. P. p. 24 (p. 43, ed. B.]), and the anonymous writer de Antiquitat. C. P. (Banduri, Imp. Orient. tom. i. p. 17, 18) who lived about the year 1100. They witness the belief of the prophecy; the rest is immaterial. [The prophecy is not mentioned in the passage of Nicetas ; and “Codinus " is merely a opsist of the anonymous Πάτρια της Κωνσταντινοπόλεως edited by G. Banduri (see above, vol. ii. Appendix 8). Therefore (28 Smith rightly pointed out in his annotation to this note) there is only one witness.)

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Reign of Swatoslaus. A.D. 955-973

ships of war, each of which, with its naval science and thundering artillery, could have sunk or scattered an hundred canoes, such as those of their ancestors. Perhaps the present generation may yet behold the accomplishment of the prediction, of a rare prediction, of which the style is unambiguous and the date unquestionable.

By land the Russians were less formidable than by sea ; and, as they fought for the most part on foot, their irregular legions must often have been broken and overthrown by the cavalry of the Scythian hordes. Yet their growing towns, however slight and imperfect, presented a shelter to the subject and a barrier to the enemy: the monarchy of Kiow, till a fatal partition, assumed the dominion of the North; and the nations

from the Volga to the Danube were subdued or repelled by the (Sviatoslav. arms of Swatoslaus, the son of Igor, the son of Oleg, the son

of Ruric. The vigour of his mind and body was fortified by the hardships of a military and savage life. Wrapt in a bear-skin Swatoslaus usually slept on the ground, his head reclining on a saddle; his diet was coarse and frugal, and, like the heroes of Homer,83 his meat (it was often horse-flesh) was broiled or roasted on the coals. The exercise of war gave stability and discipline to his army; and it may be presumed that no soldier was permitted to transcend the luxury of his chief. By an embassy from Nicephorus, the Greek emperor, he was moved to undertake the conquest of Bulgaria, and a gift of fifteen hundred pounds of gold was laid at his feet to defray the expense, or reward the toils, of the expedition. An army of sixty thousand men

A.D. 945-972)

(A.D. 967]


82 The life of Swatoslaus, or Sviateslaf, or Sphendosthlabus [the form in Greek writers), is extracted from the Russian Chronicles by M. Levesque (Hist. de Russie, tom. i. pp. 94-107). [Nestor, c. 32-36. Sviatoslav was born in A.D. 942 (op. Nestor, c. 27); his independent reign began about A.D. 965, in which year he made an es. pedition against the Khazars (ib. 32).]

83 This resemblance may be clearly seen in the ninth book of the Iliad (205-221), in the minute detail of the cookery of Achilles. By such a picture a modern epio poet would disgrace his work and disgust his reader; but the Greek verses are har. monious ; a dead language can seldom appear low or familiar; and at the distance of two thousand seven hundred years we are amused with the primitive manners of antiquity.

84 [The Bulgarian Tsar Peter, successor of Simeon, made & treaty with the Empire in A.D. 927. He stipulated to prevent the Hungarians from invading the Empire, and in return he was to receive an annual subsidy; and the contract wag sealed by his marriage with the granddaughter of Romanus. Peter, a feeble prince, wished to preserve the treaty, but he was not able to prevent some Magyar invasions (A.D. 959, 962, 967); and the strong and victorious Nicephorus refused to pay the subsidies any longer. He saw that the time had come to reassert the power of the

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