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The Russian Warrior-Princess Who Captured a City With an Army of Birds

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When you think of a great Russian military leader, do you imagine a princess warlord? If not, why not? Were it not for Saint Olga of Kiev, there may not be a Russia today. This Warrior-Princess conquered the tribe that killed her husband, enamored the Roman Emperor so much he wanted to marry her, burned a city to the ground using only birds, established one of the earliest tax systems, and is single handedly responsible for saving the very name of Russia.

Had it not been for her, what we call Russia today could be called Drevlia. Known as Helga in the Old Norse sagas, she was born in Pskov in the year 879, and is the grandmother of the greatest Russian leader in history. Her grandson Vladimir the Great, baptized the entire nation in the river Dniper, but before his baptism, she became the first Russian ruler to convert to Christianity, and she was a great inspiration to him not only in her faith, but because of her legendary skill in battle strategy. 

<figcaption>Perhaps she inspired the Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen?</figcaption>
Perhaps she inspired the Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen?

Let’s take a look at Olga the Wise of Kiev, Sovereign and Defender of Rus’, Lady and Harbinger of Fire, Mother of the Motherland and all the Russias.

Olga of Kiev in all her majesty

According to the Primary Chronicle, Olga was a daughter of one of the minor Kings that dotted the Russian lands. Their kin were called Varyagi, or Vikings in Russian, as they were originally of Scandinavian decent, though quickly assimilated to the Slavic culture. The greatest amongst them was Rurik, Russia’s founder, who landed at Novgorod, and sent his son Igor with his brother Oleg to Kiev. Kiev was the center of a major trade rout from Scandinavia to Constantinople, which brought early Slavs and Vikings as far as Baghdad. Igor took a wife from one of these lesser rulers – the future Olga of Kiev.

Vybuty in the Pskov Province, not far from the birthplace of the princess

Olga’s husband Igor Rurikovich (Son of Rurik) called Ingvar in Norse, lead many campaigns against the Roman (Byzantine) Empire, and domestic foes. In his day, Christianity was threatened in the Russian land by both the presence of the Norse-Slavic pagans, and the Khazar Jews, neither of whom wanted to see it have any influence, and Igor remained himself a pagan.

Olga’s Bridge, the site where she met her husband Igor of Kiev

Igor went to collect taxes from one of the Slavic tribes, the Drevlians (forest dwellers), and in return, they brutally killed him. They tied his limbs onto two birch trees that when released, tore him asunder. With the assassination of her husband, the Drevlians sought to force Olga to marry their prince, not only for her great beauty, but in order to conquer Russia. She had no choice but to defend herself. They would not only force her into marriage, and destroy her people, but likely murder her children to prevent her husband’s dynasty from living on; her young son was only three years old. By murdering her husband, they awoke a dormant fire in the princess, though she herself still a pagan, these men worshiped only fire and the sword, and so Providence ordained that the future Saint Olga began her rule of Russia, by avenging her husband with fire and the sword.

Olga sees her slain husband with her son Svyatoslav

Please understand the actions which you are about to read about, were in an attempt to save her people from absolute destruction. These were brutal times, and actions we consider horrifying where common practice in the ninth century.  All of the fighting occurred before she became a Christian, it is not the reason for her canonization. Though she was at this time a pagan, her fiery victory was a victory of the early seeds of Russian Christianity over dark and destructive paganism

In this picture, behold a great Russian warlord…

The Drevlians underestimated her, because she was a woman, and they paid dearly. She entrapped their envoy in a sauna, and burned it to the ground, but then sent word to their Prince that she accepted his offer. She demanded he send his best advisers and officers to escort her to him. Incredibly, they fell for the same trap, not knowing their predecessor’s fate, and met the same fiery end.

Later in what would be a Russian red wedding, as bloody as the episode of Game of Thrones, she and 5000 of her soldiers destroyed a great host of Drevlians whilst they were drunk, and with their army weakened, and leadership crippled, she was ready to march on them, and she laid siege to their capitol.

Olga directing her army in an ancient manuscript 

In what may have been the most brilliant siege tactic in history, Olga said she would leave if they paid her tribute in all their birds, which they accepted thinking her a fool. Legend has it she then set the birds on fire, and they flew back to the city, burning it to the ground.

Perhaps she inspired the Game of Thrones character Daenerys Targaryen?

Her skill in battle was not her only talent, that would make her like her son Svyatoslav, who won every battle but lost every war. She was called Olga the God-Wise for a reason, whilst her military strategy preserved Rus’, it was her administrative tenacity that secured it as a great power. As she fought to unify the Russian lands, she simultaneously raised tribute and taxes among them. She understood the importance of peace, and only waged war in order to obtain it.

Even this little bird will fight when her babies are in danger.

 Her pogosts, became state owned trading stations, where local princes would pay taxes to Kiev, allowing them for the first time, to receive regular, predicable income based in law, not Viking style raiding. She learned from her husband’s mistakes. He failed to realize a true king doesn’t come down to his subjects making demands, he demands that they come to him. Igor personally traveled to collect tribute, and thus he was killed, but Olga the Wise understood that you don’t go take money from people, you establish the law so they must come pay taxes to you. Every pogost she built was marked with a symbol called the trizub or trident, which is the basis for the Ukrainian coat of arms, though each prince slightly modified it.

The Trizub was the sigil of Kievan Rulers. Saint Vladimir (Volodymer’s) trident is the Ukrainian coat of arms
If one looks closely, they can see the letters B,O,Я inside of it, standing for Vladimir, Olga, and Yaroslav

By spreading the influence and dominance of Kiev, she unified the Russian lands. Using her new income, she minted their first coins, ensuring they were marked with this symbol. Soon all that she owned from inns, to hunting grounds, to animals, and every last grivna (coins) was marked with it. She was brilliant, her plan was to use this revenue to build new infrastructure, some of which could generate sustainable income paying for itself. She would then ensure all infrastructure built was permanently associated with the state in people’s hearts and minds. She ensured everyone from the nobles counting their coins, to the peasants working the land never forgot who built their walls, filled their towers with grain, and who owns everything in Russia, by putting the symbol of Kiev always before them. She established the rule of law, and the power of the state, she made sure everyone knew that everything you can see is property of the State of Rus’

A coin of her great grandson which says essentially “This is Yaroslav’s Silver”
Ergo: Don’t forget who made it when you pay me taxes.

Later in life she traveled to Constantinople, and accepted orthodox faith, having impressed the emperor so much he wished to marry her. Wishing to be married only once, she tricked the Emperor into baptizing her, thus becoming her Godfather, saying she would marry him afterwards.

The Baptism of Olga

The Emperor accepted, forgetting that in Orthodox law, a godparent may not marry their spiritual children. She received baptism in the name of Saint Helena the mother of Emperor Constantine who’s life she mirrors, her grandson Vladimir, is like her Constantine. The four hold the title Equal-to-the-Apostles, earning this title because their piety, charity, and evangelism contributed to the baptism of an entire nation, a feat matched only by Apostles.

Saint Olga Equal-to-the-Apostles

She returned to Kiev living out her days in penitent piety, trying hard to evangelize, and to established orthodoxy in Rus’. Unfortunately, her son Svyatoslav, like his father, remained a pagan and attacked Constantinople. He fought in many wars, but for as many Viking shield-maidens he brought with him, he ignored the council of his mother, and was slain. In her final years, she tearfully accepted God’s will, as nothing is harder than seeing the ones you love choose the wrong path.

If only they had seen what she saw in Constantinople

Nothing is harder than trying prevent them from making the wrong choice, and being unable to stop them, knowing they are blind, and they go to their doom, and being unable to save them. But she never gave up hope that Russia would one day become Christian, even if she would not live to see it. She ended her life in a Christian way, blameless and peaceful saying

“God’s will be done! If it pleases God to have mercy upon my native Russian Land, then they shall turn their hearts to God, just as I have received this gift.”

Though she never saw all of Rus’ become Christian during her life, her dream was fulfilled by her grandson Vladimir the Great. With him, she shares possibly the highest honor of sainthood “Equal-to-the Apostles” counting Olga and Vladimir among the likes of Mary Magdalene, Emperor Constantine and Helen, and Cyril and Methodius. Through the blood and tears of Saint Olga, a red sun finally dawned over Kiev, dispelling the primordial darkness, and her grandson, Vladimir the Bright Sun, baptized Rus’ in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Topiarian Hymn to Saint Olga:

Giving your mind the wings of divine understanding,
you soared above visible creation seeking God the Creator of all.
When you had found Him, you received rebirth through baptism.
As one who enjoys the Tree of Life,
you remain eternally incorrupt, ever-glorious Olga.

Equal-to-the-Apostles Right Believing Saints Vladimir and Olga of Kiev

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The drama behind the Anglo-Irish Treaty

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On December 6th 1921 a document was signed that would shape Ireland for at least a century.

Throughout October, November and early December of 1921, tense negotiations on the future of the island took place in London after years of conflict.

The Irish team, led by Arthur Griffith and Michael Collins, were untrained and badly prepared. They lacked clear instructions or guidance and had no agreed counter-proposals prepared. They were not even a united team.

They also faced some serious British political talent, including the prime minister Lloyd George and future prime minister Winston Churchill.

In the early hours of the 6th of December 1921, the talks reached a dramatic climax at Number 10 Downing Street.

With the British under increasing pressure to get a deal done, an ultimatum was issued: sign or face war again.

The Anglo-Irish Treaty was signed. Its aim was to bring the curtain down on the war in Ireland and while it did mark the end of the War of Independence, it sparked another conflict almost immediately – the Civil War.

It also set the scene for the partition of Ireland with the devastating consequences that was to have half a century on from the signing of the Treaty.

Countless books, plays and even a Hollywood film have been made about the Treaty but what is it legacy and why is it an important story to tell?

Playwright Colin Murphy, historian Micheal O Fathartaigh, author Gretchen Friemann and Irish Times journalist Ronan McGreevy talk to In The News about the Treaty, the negotiations and the impact the document has had on Irish history.

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Lewis Hamilton wins chaotic Saudi GP to draw level with Max Verstappen

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After chaos, needle, misunderstanding and some absolutely uncompromising racing, it took a cool head to prevail and Lewis Hamilton duly delivered, his win at the Saudi Arabian Grand Prix ensuring there is now nothing in it going into the Formula One season finale.

Beating title rival Max Verstappen into second, the pair are now level on points after a race of complexity and confusion fitting perhaps in a season that has been impossible to predict. The two protagonists endured an ill-tempered race and both left with differing views, Hamilton accusing his rival of being dangerous and Verstappen aggrieved. What it made clear is that neither will leave anything on the table next week in Abu Dhabi.

The investigations and debriefs will go on long into the night after this staccato affair interrupted by red flags, safety cars and the two leaders clashing repeatedly on track but ultimately and crucially for his title hopes it was an exhausted Hamilton who came out on top.

Hamilton had gone into the race trailing Verstappen by eight points, they are now level. The lead has changed hands five times during this enthralling season, which has ebbed and flowed between them but of course Hamilton has experience in tense showdowns, pipped to his first title in the last race of 2007 and then sealing it in a nail-biting showdown in Brazil a year later.

Verstappen is in his first title fight but has shown no indication of being intimidated, instead eagerly grasping his chance to finally compete and he still has it all to play for despite his clear disappointment at the result at the Jeddah circuit.

Hamilton admitted how hard the race been. “I’ve been racing a long time and that was incredibly tough,” he said. “I tried to be as sensible and tough as I could be and with all my experience just keeping the car on the track and staying clean. It was difficult. We had all sorts of things thrown at us.”

Hamilton’s race engineer Peter Bonnington credited his man with how he had handled it, noting: “It was the cool head that won out”. It was a necessary skill beyond that of wrestling with this tricky, high speed circuit, given the incidents that defined the race as it swung between the two rivals.

Hamilton held his lead from pole but an early red flag due to a crash left Verstappen out front when Red Bull had opted not to pit under a safety car. Thus far at least it was fairly straightforward.

When racing resumed from a standing start Hamilton, off like a bullet, had the lead into turn one but Verstappen went wide and cut the corner of two to emerge in front. Esteban Ocon took advantage to sneak into second only for the race to be stopped again immediately after several cars crashed in the midfield.

With the race stopped, the FIA race director, Michael Masi, offered Red Bull the chance for Verstappen to be dropped to third behind Hamilton because of the incident, rather than involving the stewards. In unprecedented scenes of negotiations with Masi, Red Bull accepted the offer, conceding Verstappen had to give up the place, with the order now Ocon, Hamilton.

Verstappen launched brilliantly at the restart, dove up the inside to take the lead, while Hamilton swiftly passed Ocon a lap later to move to second.

The front two immediately pulled away with Hamilton sticking to Verstappen’s tail, ferociously quick as they matched one another’s times. Repeated periods of the virtual safety car ensued to deal with debris littering the track and when racing began again on lap 37, Hamilton attempted to pass and was marginally ahead through turn one as both went off but Verstappen held the lead, lighting the touchpaper for the flashpoint.

Verstappen was told by his team to give the place back to Hamilton but when Verstappen slowed apparently looking to do so, Hamilton hit the rear of the Red Bull, damaging his front wing. Mercedes said they were unaware Verstappen was going to slow and the team had not informed Hamilton, who did not know what Verstappen was doing. Hamilton was furious, accusing Verstappen of brake-testing him. Both drivers are under investigation by the stewards for the incident and penalties may yet be applied.

Verstappen then did let Hamilton through but immediately shot back up to retake the lead but in doing so went off the track. He was then given a five-second penalty for leaving the track and gaining an advantage and a lap later Verstappen once more let his rival through, concerned he had not done so sufficiently on the previous lap. After all the chaos, Hamilton finally led and Verstappen’s tyres were wearing, unable to catch the leader who went on to secure a remarkable victory.

It was all too much for Verstappen who left the podium ceremony immediately the anthems concluded. “This sport is more about penalties than racing and for me this is not Formula One,” he said “A lot of things happened, which I don’t fully agree with.”

Both teams had diverging viewpoints on the incidents but both must now look forward. After 21 highly competitive races, the last a febrile, unpredictable drama, the season will be decided in a one-off shootout where both drivers have without doubt earned their place but just when the respect between them appears at its lowest ebb. – Guardian

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Covid testing rules for all arrivals into State come into force

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New Covid testing rules for travellers arriving into the State have come into force today.

At the start of the week the Government announced that all incoming travellers except those travelling from Northern Ireland will have to present a negative test result in order to enter the country irrespective of the vaccination status.

The move came in response to concerns about the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19.

The test requirements were due to be introduced from midnight on Thursday. However the system was postponed at the last minute to midnight on Sunday in order to allow airlines prepare for checks.

For those with proof of vaccination they can show a negative professionally administered antigen test carried out no more than 48 hours before arrrival or a PCR test taken within 72 hours before arrival. Those who are unvaccinated must show a negative PCR test result.

Ryanair’s Michael O’Leary had described the move as “nonsense” and “gobbledygook”.

Meanwhile more than 150 passengers have departed Morocco for Ireland on a repatriation flight organised by the Government.

The 156 passengers on the flight from Marrakech to Dublin included Irish citizens as well as citizens of several other EU countries and the UK.

The journey was organised after flights to and from Morocco were suspended earlier this week until at least December 13th, amid fears over the spread of the new Omicron Covid-19 variant.

The repatriation flight on Saturday was operated on behalf of the Government by Ryanair.

Responding to news of the flight’s departure, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney hailed the efforts of the Irish Embassy in Rabat in the operation, tweeting: “Well done and thank you!”.

On Saturday the number of Covid patients in hospital has fallen to 487, the lowest level in almost four weeks, the latest official figures show. The number of Covid patients in hospital fell by 41 between Friday and Saturday. There were 5,622 further cases of Covid-19 reported on Saturday.

Tweeting about the latest hospital figures on Saturday, Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said the “plan is working – 3rd doses, masks, test & isolate, physical distancing. Thank you for what you are doing. Please don’t lose heart. Let’s all have a safe Christmas.”

The figures come as the Government on Friday announced its most wide-ranging introduction of new restrictions this year after “stark” warnings from the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) to take immediate action in the face of the threat from the Omicron variant.

From Tuesday until at least January 9th, indoor hospitality will be limited to parties of up to six adults per table, while nightclubs will be closed and indoor events limited to half a venue’s capacity. Advice has been issued that households should not host more than three other households in their home, while the use of the vaccine pass is to be extended to gyms and hotel bars and restaurants.

Trinity College immunologist Prof Luke O’Neill said the main reason for the new restrictions was the new Omicron variant, and he thought they were needed as the “next three to four weeks are going to be tough”. Speaking to Brendan O’Connor on RTÉ radio, he said it was “strange” that restrictions were being introduced when things are stabilising, with the lowest hospital numbers since November 6th.

Prof O’Neill said he was “hopeful” at news that the Omicron variant may have a piece of the common cold virus in it which could make it more like the common cold.

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