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Chronicle-Writing

 

In the late fourteenth and first half of the fifteenth century numerous chronicles were compiled. The compilers collected, revised and redacted local chronicles depending on the political interests that the compilation was intended to serve.

Of great ideological importance was the tradition of including The Tale of Bygone Years or extracts from it in the opening section about the history of Kievan Russia. Thanks to this the history of each principality became a continuation of the history of the whole Russian land, and the grand princes of these principalities appeared as heirs to the princes of Kiev. The compilers of chronicles drew on chronicles from various principalities and also inserted tales, vitae, polemical writings and official documents that did not originate in chronicles. Moscow became the centre of chronicle-writing and, most important, Moscow chronicle-writing acquired an all-Russian character.

Andiei Rublev. Icon of the Old Testament Trinity. C. 1408. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

Andiei Rublev. Icon of the Old Testament Trinity. C. 1408. Tretyakov Gallery, Moscow

 

The Laurentian Chronicle. As mentioned above, in 1377 the monk Laurentius with helpers copied the chronicle compilation of 13054 in the Nizhny Novgorod-Suzdal principality. The fact that this was done in 1377 was of considerable ideological and political significance.

The Laurentian Chronicle began with The Tale of Bygone Years about the former greatness of the Russian land. It also included the Instruction of Vladimir Monomachos, the prince who was the ideal wise statesman and valiant military leader in Old Russia. This work called on all the princes to forget their personal grudges and internal strife in the face of the danger that threatened the Russian land.5 The accounts of the events in the 1230s were full of lofty patriotism: although Russian princes perished in the unequal struggle, they were courageous and united in resisting the Mongols.

The late 1370s, when Laurentius and his assistants were working on the chronicle, were the eve of the Battle of Kulikovo, a period of particularly tense relations between Moscow and the Horde. The work was commissioned by the Prince of Nizhny Novgorod-Suzdal, then an ally of the Grand Prince of Moscow. Thus, the aim of copying the 1305 compilation in 1377 was to stimulate patriotism and encourage the Russian princes to struggle actively against the Mongols.

Moscow Chronicle-Writing. The first Moscow chronicle com­pilation about which we can get a concrete idea was that of 1408 (1409) by Metropolitan Cyprian of Moscow. A manuscript copy of this compilation, The Trinity Chronicle, was destroyed in the Fire of Moscow in 1812.6 The 1408 (1409) compilation was begun on the initiative of Metropolitan Cyprian, who may also have taken a direct part in it, and not completed until after his death (he died in 1406).

Cyprian’s chronicle compilation was the first All-Russian compilation to be made in North-Eastern Russia. As Metropolitan of All Russia, Cyprian was able to draw on chronicles from all the Russian principalities subject to his ecclesiastical jurisdiction, including those that formed part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania at this time. Use was made of chronicles of Tver, Nizhny Novgorod, Novgorod the Great, Rostov, Ryazan, Smolensk and, of course, all the earlier Moscow chronicles. Information on the history of Lithuania was also included. There was little revision of the sources, but, nevertheless, Cyprian’s compilation tends to be pro-Moscow; it is characterised by a didactic, publicistic tone.

We can consider the next stage in All-Russian chronicle-writing to be the compilation that has survived in the Novgorod Fourth and Sophia First chronicles, and is usually referred to as the compilation of 1448 (see below, pp. 313).

Tver Chronicle-Writing. The chronicle-writing of the princi­pality of Tver, whose princes, as mentioned above, were the main rivals of the Moscow princes in the struggle for supremacy, ceased temporarily after the defeat of Tver in 1375 by Grand Prince Dmitry of Moscow. It was resumed in 1382 and continued until Tver lost its independence. Tver chronicle-writing reached its height under Grand Prince Boris of Tver (1425-1461). It sought to prove that Tver played the leading role in Russian history, that it was the bulwark of the struggle against the Mongols, and that the grand princes of Tver, experienced military leaders and wise statesmen, were worthy of becoming the autocratic rulers of the whole of Russia.

Novgorod Chronicle-Writing. During this period Novgorod chronicle-writing lost its former democratic spirit and local character and began to lay claim to All-Russian importance. As in Moscow chronicle-writing, the Novgorod chronicles included writings of a narrative, historico-political nature that did not derive from the chronicles and were designed to confirm Novgorod’s special role in the history of the Russian land and to contrast Novgorod and Novgorod’s age with Moscow. This tendency in Novgorod chronicle-writing is explained by the political and ideological struggle between Moscow and the boyar republic of Novgorod that came to a head in the late fourteenth and first half of the fifteenth century. It is seen most clearly in Novgorod chronicle-writing from 1429 to 1458 when Euthy- mius II became Archbishop of Novgorod. The Archbishop of Novgorod played a most important part in the town’s ideological life. Under Euthymius much material was collected on the town’s history, legends and historical stories were revived, chronicle- writing was carried on intensively at the Archbishop’s Court and new chronicles were compiled.

The Hellenic and Roman Chronicle. As already mentioned, the Russian readers’ interest in world history was catered for by chronographs. Chronographs were collections of stories about the history of different countries and peoples, beginning with Biblical times. The chronographs portrayed history in a more narrative way than the chronicle. The stories in them were often fantastic or didactic. There were far more fables and anecdotes in the chronographs than the chronicles, and they showed a marked urge to moralise.

Describing the difference between the chronograph and chronicle narrative, Dmitry Likhachev writes: “For the chronicler the most important thing was historical truth. The chronicler valued the authenticity of his entries. He carefully preserved the entries of his predecessors and was primarily an historian. The compiler of the chronograph, however, was a writer. He was interested in events not from the historical, but from the edifying point of view.”

During this period works produced in the chronograph genre include the first and second redactions of The Hellenic and Roman Chronicle. Oleg Tvorogov dates the compilation of the second redaction to the middle of the fifteenth century. He believes that it originates from an archetypal redaction that was compiled in the thirteenth century from three main sources: the text of the Chronicle of Georgios Hamartolos, considerable fragments of the Chronicle of John Malalas and the first redaction of the Alexandreid. Compared with its protograph, the second redaction of The Hellenic Chronicle acquired a large number of new texts. The main sources for these texts were as follows: The Chronograph According to the Great Exposition, The Life of SS Constanine and Helen, The Tale of the Building of Sophia of Constantinople, The Tale of Theophilus and others.8 Use was made of information from Russian chronicles. The inclusion in the second redaction of The Hellenic Chronicle of lengthy story-like texts and the skilful combining of different sources into a single narrative strengthened the literary, entertaining element in this extensive compilation on world history.

A further strengthening of the literary element is to be found in The Russian Chronograph of the late fifteenth and early sixteenth century.

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