The Rusian Primary Chronicle

Information and Questions for Reading

The Primary Chronicle is a crucial source for Rusian history, one that has left traces in much subsequent literature (and art) as well as in historiography. For a reader today, the document can make jarring reading, as it shifts from a balder narrative of events into religious history or rhetoric. Other parts of the Primary Chronicle preserve folklore narratives (example: the tale of Olga's revenge: ask me if you're curious). Although the dates of different versions of the chronicle (which often reveal significant differences) are various, none have survived from anywhere near the years being described here, and we know that many local chronicles did not survive: they were assembled by a powerful ruler and combined into something like this Laurentian text of the Primary Chronicle. (The title in Russian is Повесть временных лет, 'A Narrative of Bygone Years.')

A more complete selection from the version we read in class is available on the course Moodle page.



1) Who (what kind of people) wrote these chronicles? How can you tell?

2) In 988, what was the status of each of the religions whose representatives came to Prince Vladimir?

3) If we assume that these visits took place (and did so in the quick succession that is described here), we might ask: why would the nations or churches concerned be sending out ambassadors in this way? What does a nation or church gain when its neighbors adopt its religion? What does the positioning of Kiev amidst four different religions say about its geography in the late 10th centruy - or about the way the Rusians imagined their location?

4) How is each religion presented? How much information is accurate, based on what we now know - and how much seems tendentious or distorted?

5) How is Islam (along with Muslim customs) presented, in particular?