The 10th century princess Olga from Kyiv, who was married to the Grand Prince Igor I died. She then executed one of the most brutal revenge tours in history.
It was 945, an epoch in Russian and Ukrainian history. The territory of Kievan Rus was what is now Ukraine, Belarus, or Russia. Igor, ruler of this vast country, traveled to the borders of the empire in order to find out why one tribe, the Drevlians had stopped paying tribute.
He was soon discovered that the Drevlians were against him and he was subject to an awful form of torture upon his arrival.
Olga was tireless in her efforts to defeat the Drevlians for many years. Due to the 1547 nomination of the Russian Orthodox Church, she is known as a warrior princess.
She is still Ukraine’s patron saint for widows and converts.
Olga of Kyiv was conceived in 900 C.E. In the Viking empire, known as Kievan Rus. Her birthplace is now Pskov in Russia.
Olga is believed to be of Viking descent, having descended from the first Vikings to settle in Rus. She is however known as a Slavic ruler.
She married Grand Prince Igor I at the age of 15.
Prince Oleg, Igor’s father and adoptive father, had established the capital of Kiev (now called Kyiv) a generation before.
The Rus empire can be best described as a melting pot of various tribes and settlements, held together by Viking rule.
The Drevlians were one of the tribes that fought alongside the Kievan Rus in the battle against the Byzantine Empire. They stopped paying tribute to Oleg in 945 C.E. after his death.
Some sources claim that Igor requested too much. In either case, the tribe killed him. This is according to a Byzantine columnist at the time.
They had tied two birch trees to Prince’s legs and bent down two birch tree branches to his feet. They then let the trees straighten once more, thereby ripping the prince’s body apart.
Prince Igor, then 20, left behind Olga, his wife and their son Sviatoslav, three years. Olga was elected the new Kievan Rus regent because his son was too young.
Prince Mal, the ruler of Drevlians was empowered by the success of the tribe and made a bold decision. The tribe Prince proposed to Olga before Igor’s body became cold.
Mal planned to bring Kievan Rus under Drevlian rule. This could be accomplished through marriage with the widowed ruler.
Olga didn’t intend to marry her husband’s killer, which is understandable. She turned the situation in her favor and invited the envoys to Kyiv to celebrate.
The twenty envoys arrived in their finest attire the next day. Olga’s soldier prepared a large hole in the middle courtyard for them. To burn them alive, the envoys were thrown into the hole.
Olga watched as the men began to drown. Their suffering was worse than Igor’s death, they cried. The men who were dying were then buried alive.
This was just the beginning of Olga’s plan to revenge her husband’s death.
Olga wrote to Prince Mal before the Drevlians heard about the massacre. She claimed to be interested in the marriage, and requested that Mal’s finest men be sent to Kyiv to escort the Prince back.
Mal, unaware of the fate of the first envoys’, thought it was a good idea. He sent a group chieftains to Kyiv.
After a long journey, the chieftains were invited to wash themselves in a bathroom. The men were unaware of the danger and entered the building immediately to be locked in.
Olga directed that the doors be bolted, and that the building be burned to the ground. Nobody survived.
Before the news about what had occurred in Kyiv spread, the Princess traveled north to the capital of the Drevlian Drevlian Empire.
To show that she was not bitter, Olga hosted a banquette for her upon her arrival. The Drevlian soldiers were invited.
This feast was in honor of her husband, Prince Mal, who would continue with their marriage. The feast featured a lot of alcohol, mead, ale, and other beverages.
She ordered her loyal man at arms to kill all 5000 Drevlian soldiers, even though they were still drunk and unprepared during the festivity.
Olga and her lady servants may have walked around cutting the throats of soldiers who had been drunk and then left. It was a massacre.
The massacre was overturned by the Drevlians, who begged Olga for their respects. For a year, the Princess occupied the capital. But she couldn’t forgive.
Finally, she offered peace and, according to the Tale of Bygone Years , ordered each household to give her three sparrows and three pigeons.
The next step was described by the columnist of the Kievan Rus chronicle:
“Now Olga gave each soldier in her armies a sparrow or a pigeon, and told them to attach threads to each sparrow or pigeon with a piece sulfur bound with small bits of cloth.
Olga instructed the sulfur to be ignited and the birds to be realized at night. The birds flew back to the nests they had built on the houses, carrying their cargo.
The fire spread quickly and the houses caught on fire. Olga’s soldiers captured fleeing residents.
Some were killed, while others were sold to slavery. Lucky few were able to remain and rebuild the city. They were willing to pay what she requested in tribute.
Olga was vengeful.
How could she possibly become a saint in the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches after the horrible things she did?
Answer: Her conversion to Christianity.
Olga converted to Christianity after Emperor Constantine VII invited to Constantinople. She wished that the Kievan Rus, who were pagans, would follow her lead when she returned home to Kyiv.
A Byzantine columnist said that the Byzantine Empire considered her highly after her conversion. She was described as:
“She shone like a moon at night and was radiant among infidels as a pearl in thy mire, since the people had soiled and were not yet cleansed of their sins by holy baptism.”
The Byzantine emperor was impressed, and asked Olga for her hand in marriage. He declined her, but in a calm manner, and she chose to remain a widow.
Five hundred years later, the Russian Orthodox Church canonized them as Saint Olga from Kyiv.