Russian Primary Chronicle (Excerpts)


Background notes on the Russian Primary Chronicle
Questions to consider when reading the Chronicle (Laurentian text)
Check some further information that I recorded in about 1996 about this document, as a mp3 file or as a txt file.

Sources: Povest vremennykh let (The Hague: Mouton 1969 [1916]). These excerpts are translated by C.T. Evans. There are also parts of the Chronicle available at

These are the tales of bygone years regarding the origin of the land of Rus', the first princes of Kiev and how the land of Rus' had its beginning.
Let us accordingly begin this narrative. After the flood, the sons of Noah (Shem, Ham and Japheth) divided the earth among them. To the lot of Shem fell the Orient, and his share extended lengthwise as far as India and breadthwise as far as Rhinocurura, including Persia and Bactria, as well as Syria, Media, Babylon, Cordyna, Assyria, Mesopotamia, Arabia the Ancient, Elymais, India, Arabia the Mighty, Coelesyria, Commagene and all of Phoenicia.
To the lot of Ham fell the southern region...
To the lot of Japheth fell the northern and western sections, including...the Slavs....He likewise acquired dominion over other rivers, among them the Desna, Pripet, Dvina, Volkhov and the Volga which flows eastward into the portion of Shem. In the share of Japheth lies Rus', Chud' and all the gentiles: Merya....The Lyakhs, the Prussians and Chud' border on the Varangian Sea. The Varangians dwell on the shores of that same sea, and extend to the east as far as the portion of Shem. They likewise live to the west beside this sea as far as the land of the English and the French.
Over a long period of time the Slavs settled beside the Danube, where the Hungarian and Bulgarian lands now lie. From among these Slavs, parties scattered throughout the country and were known by appropriate names, according to the places where they settled [Moravians, Croats, etc.]
When Andrew was teaching in Sinope and came to Kherson, he observed that the mouth of the Dnieper River was nearby. Conceiving a desire to go to Rome, he traveled to the mouth of the Dnieper. Then he ascended the river, and by chance he halted beneath the hills upon the shore. Upon arising in the morning, he observed to the disciples who accompanied him that on this spot a great city shall arise, and God shall erect many churches there. He drew near the hills and, having blessed them, set up a cross. After offering his prayer to God, he descended from the hill on which Kiev was subsequently built and continued his journey up the Dnieper. He then reached the Slavs at the point where Novgorod is now situated.
860-62. The tributaries of the Varangians drove them back beyond the sea and, refusing them further tribute, set out to govern themselves. There was no law among them, but tribe rose against tribe. Discord thus ensued, and they began to war against each other. They said to themselves, "Let us seek a prince who may rule over us and judge us according to the Law." They accordingly went overseas to the Varangian Russes. These particular Varangians were called Russes, just as some are called Swedes and others Normans, English and Gotlanders, for they were thus named. The Chuds, the Slavs, the Krivichians and the Ves' then said to the people of Rus', "Our land is great and rich, but there is no order in it. Come to rule and reign over us." They thus selected three brothers and their kinfolk, who took with them all the Russes and migrated. The oldest, Rurik, located himself in Novgorod; the second, Sineus, at Beloozero; and the third, Truvor, in Izborsk. On account of these Varangians, the district of Novgorod became known as the land of the Rus'. The present inhabitants of Novgorod are descended from the Varangian race, but once they were Slavs.
986. Vladimir was visited by Bulgars of Muslim faith, who said, "Though you are a wise and prudent prince, you have no religion. Adopt our faith and revere Mahomet." Vladimir inquired about the nature of their religion. They replied that they believed in God, and that Mahomet instructed them to practice circumcision, to eat no pork, to drink no wine and, after death, promised them complete fulfillment of their carnal desires. "Mahomet," they claimed, "will give each man seventy fair women. He may choose one fair one, and upon that woman Mahomet will confer the charms of them all, and she shall be his wife. Mahomet then promises that one may then satisfy every desire, but whoever is poor in this world will be no different in the next." They also spoke other false things which out of modesty may not be written down. Vladimir listened to them, for he was fond of women and indulgence, regarding what he heard with pleasure, but circumcision and abstinence from pork and wine were disagreeable to him. "Drinking," he said, " is the joy of the Rus. We cannot exist without that pleasure."
Then came the Germans, asserting that they were emissaries of the Pope. They added, "Thus says the Pope: 'Your country is like our country, but your faith is not like ours. For our faith is the light. We worship God, who made heaven and earth, the stars, the moon and every creature, while your gods are only wood'." Vladimir inquired what their teaching was, and they replied, "fasting according to one's strength. But whatever one eats or drinks is all to the glory of God, as our teacher Paul has said." Vladimir answered, "Depart hence, our fathers accepted no such principle."
The Jewish Khazars heard of these missions and came themselves saying, "We have learned that Bulgars and Christians came hither to instruct you in their faiths. The Christians believe in him whom, we crucified, but we believe in the one God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob." Vladimir inquired about their religion. They replied that its tenets included circumcision, not eating pork or hare and observing the sabbath. The prince then asked where their native land was, and they replied that it was in Jerusalem. When Vladimir inquired where that was, they answered, "God was angry at our forefathers, and scattered us among the gentiles on account of our sins. Our land was then given to the Christians." The Prince then demanded, "How can you hope to teach others while you yourselves are cast out and scattered abroad by the hand of God? If God loved you and your faith, you would not be dispersed in foreign lands. Do you expect us to accept that fate also?"
Then the Greeks sent to Vladimir a scholar who spoke thus: "We have heard that the Bulgarians came and urged you to adopt their faith, which pollutes heaven and earth. They are accursed above all men, like Sodom and Gomorrah, upon which the Lord let fall his vengeance..."
987. Vladimir summoned together his boyars and the city elders and said to them, "Behold the Bulgars came before me urging me to accept their religion. Then came the Germans who praised their own faith; and after them came the Jews. Finally, the Greeks appeared....What is your opinion on the subject?" The boyars and elders replied, "You know, oh Prince, that no man condemns his own possessions but praises them instead. If you desire to make certain, you have servants at your disposal. Send them to inquire about the rituals of each and how they worship God."
Their counsel pleased the Prince and all the people, so that they chose ten good and wise men and directed them to go first among the Bulgars and inspect their faith.
Vladimir then announced the return of the envoys and suggested that their report be heard. He thus commanded them to speak before his vassals. The envoys reported, "When we journeyed among the Bulgarians, we beheld how they worship in their temple, called a mosque, while they stand ungirt. The Bulgarian bows, sits down, looks hither and thither like one possessed, and there is no happiness among them, but instead only sorrow and a dreadful stench. Their religion is not good. Then we went among the Germans, and saw them performing many ceremonies in their temples, but we beheld no glory there. Then we went to Greece, and the Greeks led us to the edifices in which they worship their God, and we knew not whether we were in heaven or on earth. For on earth there is no such splendor or such beauty..."
988. When the Prince arrived at his capital, he directed that the idols should be overthrown and that some should be cut to pieces and others burned with fire. He thus ordered that Perun should be bound to a horse's tail and dragged along the Borichev [Creek] to the [Dnieper] river. He appointed twelve men to beat the idol with sticks, not because he thought the wood was sensitive, but to affront the demon who had deceived man in this guise....Thereafter, Vladimir sent heralds throughout the city to proclaim that if any inhabitant, rich or poor, did not betake himself to the river, he would risk the Prince's displeasure...On the morrow, the Prince went to the Dnieper with the priests of the princess and those from Kherson, and a countless multitude had assembled. They all went into the water: some stood up to their necks, others to their breasts, the younger near the bank, the older farther out. The priests stood by and offered prayers. There was joy in heaven and earth to behold so many souls saved....When the people were baptized, they returned each to his own home.

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