Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Russia's Oldest Literary Work- The Song of Igor's Campaign

            The oldest Russian literary work was written around 1200 AD it is called The Song of Igor’s Campaign. The identity of the author is unknown but it can be surmised that he comes from an aristocratic background given the quality of the education one would need to write such a piece. Some think the author a knight because of the military aspects of the story but my guess is that it was a priest as the work is written as a sermon might be.
            The birth of Russia happened in the 10th C AD but up to and including this point in history, it was more of a collection of city states than a unified nation. Igor was a prince of one of these city states who was upset at the fact that his army did not arrive in time to participate in a historic battle. In order to compensate for this perceived failure, he decided on his own to provoke another battle with the enemy. Igor’s army lost that battle horribly.
            The message the author was trying to convey is the value of unity within a nation. It was Igor’s pride that led to the death of his men, not the love of his country. There are some clear religious undertones in the work which encourage Russians to defend their nation against non believers. The author implores Russia to unite in this common cause but this cry goes unanswered. It wasn’t too long before the Mongols invaded and raped Russia for 250 years.
The Mongol invasion happened a very long time ago but its implications are still found in Russian culture today. Russia missed out on the Renaissance because of it. It’s hard to quantify the effect that had on the Russia. When the rest of the Western world was experiencing an unprecedented rebirth of art and freedom of thought, Russia was filled with a darkness that would not be seen again until Hitler’s armies occupied Paris. Imagine if the Nazi’s occupied Paris for 250 years what affect that would have had on the French psyche.
Ivan III is called Ivan the Great because he was the first Russian to deny the Mongols their tribute. Ivan III was the prince of Moscow and that’s why Moscow became Russia’s capital until Peter the Great moved it to St. Petersburg in 1703.
The concept that a nation is strongest when its people are united in a common goal is a universal and timeless one.


  1. Good post, except that the name of the ancient kingdom was Kievan RUS, not Russia. All that I would change is that when referring to the ancient kingdom say Rus, not Russia, so as to acknowledge Russia is not the only successor. Rus was the modern precursor to Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus, and all three have a heritage in it. Too often Russian historians like to pretend Kievan Rus was ONLY Russian and they are the only true "successor" state, but outside of Russia most historians accept that all 3 came from Rus (and studies have proven it). Kievan Rus was NOT modern day Russia (they spoke East Slavic, from which Russian, Ukrainian, and Belarusian descended from), and Russia is just ONE of the successor states.

  2. When I lived in Peter I lived with a host family and the mom was from Belarus. You're right, it is important to remember that Ukraine, Belarus, and Russia all come from the same people. Belarus is white Russia, because the Mongols didn't invade, right? I understand that "Ukraine" means something clost to "on the edge". I think Russia just means Russia.