Home » 13th century » The Galich-Volhynian Chronicle


The Galich-Volhynian Chronicle


The Galich-Volhynian prin­cipality was in the south-west of Russia. To the west and south-west it bordered on Poland and Hungary, to the east on the principalities of Kiev and Turov-Pinsk. The Galich-Volhynian principality was one of the richest Russian principalities and played an important role in the political life of Old Russia.

The history of the Galich-Volhynian principality was full of inter-feudal wars and a particularly bitter struggle between the princes and local boyars who were a considerable political force. In the thirteenth century the internal strife was complicated by constant clashes with external foes (Hungary, Poland and the Mongols). The feudal wars and the struggle against foreign invaders were accompanied by large-scale revolts by the townspeople and peasants against the alien oppressors and the local boyars. All these events were reflected in The Galich- Volhynian Chronicle. This chronicle, compiled in the thirteenth century, has come down to us in The Hypatian Chronicle, where it is found immediately after The Kievan Chronicle (beginning in 1200). The Galich-Volhynian Chronicle is divided into two parts: the first (before 1260) is a description of the life and deeds of Prince Daniel of Galich and the history of the Galich principality, while the second tells of the fate of the Vladimir-Volhynian principality and its princes (Daniel’s brother Vasilko, and the latter’s son, Vladimir) covering the period from 1261 to 1290. Both the first and the second parts of The Galich-Volhynian Chronicle are independent texts, differing from each other in ideology and style.8

The first part of The Galich-Volhynian Chronicle, The Chronicle of Daniel of Galich, ends with a brief announcement of Daniel’s death and a restrained encomium to him. This ending is not in keeping with the chronicle’s general attitude to Daniel. On these grounds Lev Cherepnin concluded that “ The Chronicle of Daniel of Galich was compiled during the prince’s lifetime and that the short accounts of his final years and death belong not to Galich, but to Vladimir-Volhynian chronicle-writing.”9 He believes that the Chronicle was compiled in 1256-1257. The chronicle was written at the Episcopal See of Kholm.

The Chronicle of Daniel of Galich was a complete work. It does not recount events strictly year by year. This is explained by the fact that its historical narrative is more complete and coordinated than that of the chronicle. The dates now in the Chronicle, the first being “in the year of 6709 (1201)”, were inserted later, probably by the compiler of the Hypatian manuscript. They were put in an arbitrary order and are as a rule inaccurate, random and approximate.10 The main idea of the Chronicle is the prince’s struggle against the rebellious boyars and a denunciation of the boyars’ treachery. The second main theme of the Chronicle is the glory of Russian military prowess and of the Russian land.

The Chronicle, Cherepnin believes, was based on the Galich tale of the fate of the infants Daniel and Vasilko, sons of Prince Roman, The Tale of the Battle on the Kalka written by a participant in it, the tale of Daniel’s struggle with the feudal boyars, The Tale of the Battle Against Batu, an account of Daniel’s journey to the Horde to pay homage to Batu, a cycle of military tales about the Jatvingians’ struggle, local chronicles, official documents and translated literature. In the Chronicle all these sources were moulded into a single narrative with unified themes and style.

The author of the Chronicle gives a detailed description of Daniel’s struggle for the princely throne of Galich against the Galich boyars and the Hungarian and Polish feudal lords. His narrative of these events opens as follows: “Let us begin to tell of countless battles, of great deeds, of frequent wars, of many conspiracies, of frequent uprisings, and of many rebellions.” He does not limit himself to events connected with the history of the Galich principality, but devotes attention to the fate of the whole of Russia as well.

From the different stories about Daniel there emerges the figure of a courageous and bold warrior, a wise and strong ruler. Stressing the prince’s nobility and military prowess, the author exclaims that his hero was immensely bold, brave and splendid “from head to foot”. But then he describes Daniel’s journey to pay homage to Batu in the Horde. And here Daniel appears in the humiliating role of an obedient servitor of Batu, who holds the prince’s honour and life in his hands.

Concern for his principality compels Daniel to journey to the Horde, although he knows that shameful humiliation, and perhaps even death, await him there. On the way he stops at the Vydubitsky Monastery and asks the monks to pray for him. Seeing the suffering and oppression of the Russian people Daniel “began to grieve even more in his heart”.

When the prince appears before Batu, he is greeted with the words: “Why did you not come before, Daniel? But it is good that you come now.” The first part of this address contains a reproach and a threat, the second a gracious pardon. Then Batu asks the prince if he drinks “black milk, our drink, mare’s koumiss” and Daniel replies, “I have not drunk it yet. I will do so, if you order.”

To which Batu says condescendingly: “You are ours now, a Tartar. So drink our drink.”

In spite of the brevity of this dialogue, we have an expressive picture of the abasement of the Prince of the mighty Galich principality before the Khan of the Horde.

Later they do Daniel the honour of bringing him a jug of wine and Batu says, “You are not used to koumiss, drink wine!” But this is the patronising condescension of the ruler to his subject. And the chronicler exclaims sadly: “Oh, Tartar honour, more evil than evil”, and proceeds to develop this sad thought as follows: “Grand Prince Daniel, son of Roman, together with his brother ruled o’er the whole of Russia: Kiev, Vladimir, Galich and other lands, but now he kneels and calls himself a slave! The Tartars want tribute, but he does not hope for his life. The storm clouds approach. Oh, evil Tartar honour! His father was ruler in the Russian land, he subjugated the Polovtsian lands and conquered other regions. His son was not vouchsafed this honour. Who else could take it? There is no end to their malice and cunning.” Speaking of Daniel’s return from the Horde, the narrator describes the feelings of Daniel’s sons and brother as follows: “And there was lamenting for his insult and great joy that he was hale.”

This story does not degrade Daniel or belittle his virtues as a warrior and prince in the eyes of the Russian reader. But the contrast between the Daniel we see here and the picture of the prince that the reader gets from all the other stories about him stresses most forcefully the tragedy of Russia’s subjection.

The Chronicle of Daniel of Galich stands out from all the other works of Old Russian literature with its vivid descriptions of battles and military trappings, its distinctive chivalrous tone. The author’s love of military subjects and battle scenes is clearly evident in the care and delight with which he describes military dress, armour and weapons, the way that he portrays the warriors’ general appearance as they set off. “…The steeds wore chamfrons and leather crinets and the men shirts of mail, the hosts and glittering weapons shone with a great radiance. Daniel himself rode beside the king, as was the Russian custom. The steed beneath him was most wondrous, his saddle of beaten gold, his arrows and sabre embellished with gold and other precious ornaments: his jerkin of Greek silk trimmed with wide gold braid, his boots of green leather embroidered with gold.” These and similar descriptions reveal the author of the Chronicle as a man closely connected with military craft, probably a member of the prince’s personal bodyguard. He was widely read, familiar with translated works and fond of parading his literary skill. Hence the abundance of complex bookish forms, the stylistic ornament, lengthy compari­sons and rhetorical exclamations.

We must mention that the author of the Chronicle was very familiar with folk epic tales, including Polovtsian ones. The famous story of the Polovtsian Khan Otrok is based on a Polovtsian epos. During Vladimir Monomachos’ struggle against the Polovtsians, Otrok fled from the Polovtsian steppes through the Iron Gates.[1] When Vladimir Monomachos died, Khan Syrchan sent the gudets Orya (a gudets is a singer who accompanies himself on the gudok, a stringed instrument), to Otrok with this message: “Convey to him my words on the death of Vladimir Monomachos and sing him Polovtsian songs. If, in spite of your words and the Polovtsian songs, Otrok does not wish to come home let him smell some wormwood.” The words and songs had no effect on Otrok, but when he breathed in the scent of his native steppes, he wept and said: “’Tis better to die on one’s native soil, than to find renown in a strange land” and decided to return home.

Academician Alexander Orlov has given a brief and apt description of the author of The Chronicle of Daniel of Galich: “In the Galich narrative you sense all the time the educated man of letters, the diplomat, the warrior who loves the ring and clash of weapons, the courtier and a kind of knight who understood history as a succession of wars and revolts.” 11

The distinctive genre features of the Chronicle are later reflected in the literature of North-Eastern Russia, in the biography of the famous warrior knight and statesman, The Tale of the Life of Alexander Nevsky.

The Volhynian Chronicle, which, according to Igor Eremin, followed The Chronicle of Daniel of Galich “is the work of one and the same author from beginning to end… Both the content of the chronicle and its literary structure testify to a single author.” 12 The Volhynian Chronicle was compiled as a single complete work in the 1290s. Like The Chronicle of Daniel of Galich it does not recount events strictly year by year. But unlike the Chronicle the narrative in The Volhynian Chronicle is in strict chronological order. In this feature and its stylistic peculiarities The Volhynian Chronicle is closer to the traditions of twelfth-century Kievan chronicle-writing than The Chronicle of Daniel of Galich. The Volhynian Chronicle also differs from the latter in its simpler exposition. The interests of the Volhynian principality are in the foreground and it has a more local nature than the Chronicle.

Special attention in The Volhynian Chronicle is devoted to Prince Vladimir, son of Vasilko. He is the ideal prince and ruler. The chronicler stresses his wisdom and justice, and the fact that he is loved by princes, boyars and the whole people. The story of his sickness and death is full of love and compassion.

The chronicler describes in detail the prince’s long illness, his final days and death. Vladimir bears his sufferings with brave resignation. In spite of his ill health he continues to rule his land: he draws up a will, carries on negotiations with other princes and takes various decisions aimed at the well-being of the Volhynian principality.

The death of the prince causes universal grief and sorrow. He is mourned not only by all the people of Volhynia, but by other peoples as well. The lament for the dead prince is followed by an encomium to him, which stresses his wisdom, learning and high morals.

The artistic originality of individual episodes and stories derives from the author’s well-chosen imagery and detail which is most striking. Here is one example of this vivid detail in the story about Vladimir.

After the prince’s death his lands are to go to his brother Mstislav, as agreed between the princes. But there are other claimants to the dying prince’s possessions (he had no children). Prince Yuri, the son of Vladimir’s cousin, asks Vladimir to bequeath him Berestye (modern Brest). Vladimir refuses, saying to Yuri’s envoy: “I cannot break the agreement that I have made with my brother Mstislav.” After concluding his talks with Yuri’s envoy, Vladimir sends his loyal servant Ratsha to Mstislav to warn his brother of Yuri’s claims. Confirming Mstislav’s right to his possessions and urging him not to concede any of his inheritance to anyone, Vladimir “took a handful of straw from his bed” and asked Ratsha to give it to his brother and tell him: “If I give you this handful of straw, my brother, do not concede it to anyone else after my death either.”

Interest in world history did not wane in the thirteenth century. A large chronological compilation appears to have been written in the second half of the thirteenth century in Galich- Volhynian Russia. It contained Biblical texts, extracts from the Chronicle of Georgios Hamartolos, the almost complete text of some books of John Malalas’ Chronicle, the first redaction of The Chronographical Alexandreid, and Josephus Flavius’ History of the Jewish War. This collection covered events of ancient history from the Creation to the capture of Jerusalem by Titus in 70 A.D.13

The chronicles compiled during the Mongol invasion, the chronicle tales and stories of this period, are the sources of our information on the events of those years. But they are equally valuable as records of social thought and works of literature. They not only describe a certain event or record a certain fact, but also provide an assessment of it. The chronicler expresses his attitude towards what he describes. Local chronicles are distinguished by local features, in some cases continuing the older traditions of Kievan Russia and local chronicle-writing, in others introducing something new. But to a greater or lesser extent all the chronicles attempt to throw light on events that concern not only the region or principality in question, but the Russian land as a whole.

[1]   Now Derbent. In the Middle Ages there was a fortress guarding the narrow passage between the western shore of the Caspian and the Caucasus.