Princess Olga: A Tale of Revenge

Princess Olga and the Byzantine Emperor

Princess Olga and the Byzantine Emperor

Legends and tales warn us that it could be very, VERY dangerous to aggravate a Russian woman, especially a Russian woman in power. Even the chronicles, historical documents that they are, give the same warning. Let me illustrate this. The greatly revered and later canonized Grand Princess Olga of Kiev, the grandmother of Vladimir I, took over the Kievan throne upon her husband’s demise (in the X century). Her first action recorded in the chronicles was to avenge her husband’s death. And she did it not once, but twice, and in a very creative fashion at that.

Now it must be said, in all fairness, that Princess Olga’s husband had it coming.

After all, what could you expect, as a prince, if you tried to collect taxes twice in one year? Nevertheless, the Drevlians (a Slavic tribe on the territory controlled by Kiev) should not have tied the Great Prince’s legs to two saplings, and… You get the idea.

Early Rus' and the Rus' Tribes

Early Rus’ and the Rus’ Tribes

After the deed was done, the Drevlian chieftain sent a marriage proposal to Princess Olga. In his mind, since he had killed her husband, he had a duty to take over the role, and since he had defeated the said prince, he thought Olga should be flattered by his proposal. But she wasn’t (would you?). Yet she dissembled, and persuaded him to send his envoys. Olga pretended to show them great honor by having her men carry the Drevlians’ boats from the river Dniepr towards the Prince’s residence… and straight into a huge pit where they were buried alive, lock, stock, and barrel, or should I say ship?

But that was not enough. Olga pretended to enter into peace negotiations with the Drevlians and urged them to send a dove from each house in their city. When Olga received the doves, she sent them back with a burning branch tied to each one. The doves returned home and set a great many fires which burned the Drevlian city to the ground. Only then was Olga satisfied (you can imagine that the Drevlians paid their dues on time after that).

Olga went on to rule for a long time, first by herself, then as regent during the long absences of her son, with great ability and wisdom. But let this be a lesson and a warning: Russian women are not frail and helpless damsels in distress!

(from the Russian Chronicles)