Dynastic Burials in Kiev before 1240

Dynastic Burials in Kiev before 1240

By Martin Dimnik

Ruthenica, Vol. 7 (2008)

Introduction: Around 880 Prince Oleg proclaimed Kiev to be the ‘mother of all Rus’ towns’. The descendants of Ryurik, the alleged progenitor of the dynasty of Rus’, became its rulers. It served as their capital and, for a number of them, also as their burial ground. To date no study has been made of the dynastic burials that were recorded by the chronicles for Kiev before 1240, when the Tatars devastated the town.

According to the so-called testament of Yaroslav the Wise, which he issued at an unspecified date before his death in 1054, Kiev was not to become the hereditary possession of any one of his sons. Included among his diverse directives was the instruction concerning the method of succession to Kiev. He instituted a type of ladder or rota system for his three eldest surviving sons Izyaslav, Svyatoslav, and Vsevolod, the triumvirate or the inner-circle. According to his plan, the eldest surviving son Izyaslav would succeed him to Kiev. After he died Svyatoslav, the next in seniority would replace him, and Svyatoslav would be followed by Vsevolod. After the latter died, the eldest eligible nephew would succeed him. That presumably would be Izyaslav’s eldest surviving son. After his death succession went to his younger brother(s) and then, in genealogical progression, to each remaining eligible cousin of the Svyatoslavichi, and then to the Vsevolodovichi and so on. According to this process, Kiev and its domains would never become the patrimony of any one dynasty descended from a triumvir.


By allocating a section of Kiev to each of the three brothers Yaroslav made it more difficult for any one of them to make the capital his personal possession. During Izyaslav’s rule (1054 to 1078) each brother built a monastery in his district. Izyaslav founded the Monastery of St. Dmitry on the hill between Vladimir’s town and the Dnepr. Svyatoslav built the Monastery of St. Simeon in the Kopyrev suburb (Kopyrev konets) northwest of Yaroslav’s town. And Vsevolod founded the Monastery of St. Michael at Vydubichi south of the Caves Monastery. According to this arrangement, no matter which of the brothers was prince of Kiev, the other two had the right to visit their districts. Yaroslav’s plan for succession to Kiev and his allocation of personal districts confirmed that he intended the capital to become the common possession of all three brothers.

Since no dynasty had the right to claim Kiev as its patrimonial domain, it followed that no princely family had the exclusive privilege of burying its members in the churches of Kiev. The purpose of this investigation is to examine the dynastic burials in Kiev to determine if Yaroslav’s wish that Kiev become the common capital of all the brothers of the triumvirate was respected. Following are the questions we will attempt to answer.


1) What was the nature of dynastic burials before the reign of Yaroslav the Wise?

2) In what churches were Yaroslav’s descendants buried?

3) Did any one dynasty use more churches as mausoleums than the other dynasties?

4) Was any one dynasty given preferential consideration for burials in Kiev?

5) Was any dynasty prohibited from burying its members in Kiev?

6) Were all princes who ruled Kiev and died there buried in Kiev?

7) Were only princes who ruled Kiev and died there buried in Kiev?

8) Who decided what dynasts would be buried in Kiev and where?

9) What criteria qualified a princess for burial in Kiev?

10) What was the role of a princess in her husband’s burial?

11) Were dynasts buried in Kiev in any one period more than in any other?

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