A monumental legacy on Russia

The history of Russia is inundated with the reigns of influential monarchs that have left a lasting impression on a region and country prone to attracting interest from its neighbours both as a trade centre and as a land waiting to be annexed. Be it religious changes, economic upheavals or improvements and changes in the country's laws, monarchs have had an overarching effect on what Russia has gone through and how it has been shaped.

Looking at early Russian history, it is clear that two monarchs stand out above all in the way they have shaped Russian history; Vladimir the Great and his son, Yaroslav the Wise made important contributions to Russian history by bringing sweeping changes in religious, economic and judicial realms. They left behind a legacy that has affected Russia to the modern age. Their vast influence led to the zenith of Kievan Rus, which expanded under their reigns in all aspects of society. This essay looks to explain the similarities and marked differences between the reigns of Vladimir the Great and Yaroslav the Wise.

While Vladimir and Yaroslav both succeeded to their thrones after lengthy bloody conflicts, the similarities end there. Vladimir I succeeded in introducing a new religion to Russia, Christian Orthodoxy; on the other hand, his son Yaroslav established a code of law that set the stage for a complex state that was expanding and consolidating itself. Although independent in appearance, both these achievements are closely linked as the introduction of organised religion leads to a society ready for further advancement as it is now a cohesive unit rather than disparate tribes united under a momentary leader.

These two respective achievements form the basis of a lasting influence left on Russia by the two emperors. This essay looks to understand the reigns of both emperors while also studying; furthermore, it looks to explain how their contributions to the religion, language and law of Kievan Rus has left a a monumental legacy on Russia. The reign of Vladimir I (980-1015) Vladimir's ascent to the throne of Kievan Rus was a result of a bloody fatricidal conflict between himself and the rightful heir of his father, Yaropolk.

Svyatoslav I, Vladimir's father had designated Vladimir as the ruler of Novgorod; however, he had given Kiev to his legitimate son, Yaropolk. When a war broke out between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg over territory, Vladimir saw his chance to establish his own domain that went far beyond what he had inherited, he travelled to his native Scandinavia to collect Viking warriors which he used to reclaim Novgorod and then march on to Kiev. In 980, Vladimir was able to assert his command over a substantial territory having slain his half-brother Yaropolk.

Vladimir I continued to expand his territories when in 981 he conquered territories close to modern day Lithuania and Poland. These and other outposts of his kingdom provide numerous clues to Vladimir's beliefs and ideas. He was a thorough pagan up to this point and erected numerous statues to pagan deities. He possessed a personality well suited to rule a land in constant flux: he was dominant enough to quell the most anxious of warlords, he commanded respect from his own army as he showed bravery in battle and when needed he was violent.

2 Vladimir's later history takes a sharp turn as he accepts Eastern Christian Orthodoxy, which in turn leads to the Baptism of Rus. Vladimir I – Christian reign Vladimir turned to religion as he sought to improve relations with his neighbours. In the year 987, he sent his boyars to neighbouring lands to study and report to him on the lived led by people of other religions. The result was an expedition that has shaped the history of Russia ever since. The boyars had been impressed to no end by the pomp and pageantry of the Greek Orthodox Church.

Vladimir was greatly impressed not only because of the beauty of the Byzantine religion but also the prospects of having close ties with Constantinople. Vladimir I set out to conquer land near Constantinople as was the practice of his predecessors3 and tried to negotiate for the hand of Emperor Basil's sister; however, he was refused as no such marriage had ever been arranged between a princess and a barbarian lord. Hearing this, Vladimir declared that he would be willing to accept Christianity and return land he had annexed in return for the princess' hand in marriage.

4 In 988, Vladimir became the first Russian ruler to be baptised as a Christian; he returned home with his new wife and declared that all pagan statues should be broken and that all those who loved him in his lands should come to the river the next morning to embrace their new faith. 5 Thus, Kievan Rus became a Christian domain. A few years later, Vladimir I died on his way to meeting his son, Yaroslav. With his death the Varangian period of eastern Slavic history ceases and the Christian tradition comes into dominance. The reign of Yaroslav the Wise

After his death, the strife that had marked Vladimir's succession to the throne overtook his sons too. Yaroslav was a senior heir to the throne of Kiev and as such was given his own domain, Novgorod the Great where the young prince showed his prowess. However, due to being born out of wedlock, Yaroslav did not receive the throne if Kiev which Vladimir eventually gave to his son, Boris. Yaroslav's relations with his father were strained and seeing himself thrust out of power, Yaroslav refused to pay homage to Kiev. Vladimir's untimely death was the sole reason for the prevention of war between father and son.

Yaroslav waged a relentless bloody war with his half brother Svyatopolk over the next four years in his hopes of attaining the throne of Kiev. 7 After years of war which included the brutal murders of his three half-brothers, Yaroslav triumphed and asserted control over the throne of Kiev. 8 Immediately following his victory, Yaroslav granted the Novgorodians special privileges and freedoms. The foundation of the Novgorod Republic was set. At the same time, Yaroslav introduced the first ever Russian code of law which came to be known as Yaroslav's Justice.

While his father had depended on the Byzantine empire for support, Yaroslav looked upon his Scandinavian roots and tried to weaken Byzantine's influence on Kiev. 9 Yaroslav used his daughters and sisters to forge alliances with distant kings and patrons in order to consolidate his power; he looked upon this as a means to not only heighten the prestige of Kiev but to form alliances that would serve Kiev well if and when it came under attack from nomadic tribes or neighbouring kingdoms. His most influential legacy however, remains his contribution to the Russian code of law which he set up and put into practice.