Sunday, February 27, 2022

The Tale of Princess Olga of Kiev

 



Gather 'round children and hear the tale of Princess Olga.

 

Olga was a brave and brilliant princess, but she was married to a bit of a jerk. It’s true.

Her husband was the Prince of Kiev, Igor. He held his lands with an iron fist and demanded huge tributes from his neighbors. Yet, she loved him with all her heart and gave him a son.

One day in 945, the Drevlian tribe got tired of paying tribute and killed him in a most cowardly manner. After killing Prince Igor, thinking that she was merely a weak and scared woman, they tried to get Princess Olga to marry one of their princes so that they could take over all of Kievan Rus – the most powerful Slavic kingdom of the age.

But Olga wasn’t weak. And she wasn’t scared. She was pissed.


Welcoming the Drevlian messengers into the city as they carried their deceitful offer, the people of the city seized their boat, dragged it onto the land, and tossed them all in a ditch, burying them alive.

But the Princess’ honor was not yet satisfied. Before word reached the Drevlians about the fate of their men, she asked for a second delegation to come so that their “distinguished men” could take her to their lands in honor before she married the new prince.

Excited that their ploy worked, the Drevlians came to Kiev. She offered up her own bathhouse to them for their comfort. As they sat in the hot steam, relaxing after their long journey, the vengeful princess had the doors barred and set the building on fire, burning them alive.

Still enraged at the slaughter of her husband and the Drevlians’ devious attempt to usurp her kingdom and kill her son, the unforgiving Olga left her palace to visit the tomb of her slain husband.

Acting as the grieving wife she once again invited more Drevlians to hold a final funeral feast. Once the gullible horde was drunk, her army came out of the woods and beset the blurry-eyed crowd, killing 5,000 of them.


Now on the march, the Princess of Death reached the enemy’s capital, the city of Korosten. The city where her husband had been killed.

Her army besieged Korosten but the Drevlians held out for a year. Princess Olga beseeched them saying that all of their other cities had been conquered, pay tribute again, and now the people live their lives and tend to their fields, so why should Korosten resist and continue to suffer?

Our clever princess offered terms of peace to the city’s leaders. She acknowledged that her husband’s greed was tyrannical and only asked that if the city paid her a tribute of three pigeons and three sparrows for each household, they would all be spared.

The city rejoiced at such an offer and readily sent her the birds. But at night Princess Olga, the Regent of all Keivan Rus, the widow of the mighty Prince Igor, the mother of the future of his dynasty that would last a further six centuries had one last trick in store for the people who dared defy Kiev.

She had her men tie bits of sulfur and cloth onto the birds. They lit the cloth on fire and sent the birds back into the city where they landed in the homes of their former owners, carrying flaming, melting chunks of sulfur over the people’s heads.

This mighty princess firebombed her enemies a thousand years before airplanes, before carpet bombing, before Dresden became a byword for destroying a city by fire.

That night, all of her enemies perished. That night, Princess Olga guaranteed the survival of Kiev. 


*This is based on the life of a real princess, Olga of Kiev, who was born in either 890 or 925 and died in 969. The information comes from the Rus' Primary Chronicle. 


--Jacob Bogle, 2/27/2022

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