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A characteristic feature of hagiography was the desire to observe the canons which had grown up over the many centuries of hagiographic literature. These canons gave the Lives of saints an abstract, rhetorical nature. Historical reality, political tenden­cies, folk legends and the real facts of the life of the person concerned contradicted the canons of the genre. Real life injected into hagiographical works a publicistic element, literary variety and exciting subject matter. The vitae were the form of religious literature which was closest to secular, historical and publicistic literature and in which one could express oppositional and heretical ideas, the influence of the apocryphal tales and folk legend, most easily.

During this period of Old Russian literature this tendency is seen most clearly in the Lives of princes. While preserving many conventional hagiographical images and expressions the Lives of princes to some extent deviated from the canons and violated the genre’s conventions. This was because the hero of these Lives was not a zealot of the church, but a statesman. Moreover it was the Lives of princes written during this period that reflected the events of the Mongol invasion and rule. The period in question produced The Tale of the Life of Alexander Nevsky, a famous warrior and statesman of this period. There were also Lives of princes in which the prince is presented as a martyr for the Orthodox faith, dying a martyr’s death in the Golden Horde.