The Pouchenie of Vladimir Monomakh


I, wretched man that I am, named Vasilii at my baptism by my pious and glorious grandsire Iaroslav, but commonly known by my Russian name Vladimir, and surnamed Monomakh by my beloved father and mother and for the sake of Christian people, for I was many times saved from all distress through his mercy and through the prayers of my father.

As I sat upon my sledge, I meditated in my heart and praised God, who has led me, a sinner, even to this day. Let not my sons or anyone else which happens to read this brief discourse laugh at its contents. But rather let anyone of my sons who takes my words to heart and is not disposed to laziness conduct himself according to my counsel. First, for the sake of God and your own souls, retain the fear of God in your hearts, and give alms generously for such liberality is the root of all good. If this document displeases anyone let him not be angry, but rather let him believe that, in my old age, I talked nonsense as I sat upon my sledge. For emissaries from my kinsmen met me on the Volga with the message, "Join with us quickly, that we may expel the sons of Rostislav, and seize their possessions. If you do not join us, we shall act for our own advantage, and you may conduct yourself as you deem best." I replied, "At the risk of your wrath, I cannot go with you or break my oath."

When I had dismissed the emissaries, in my sorrow I took up the Psalter, when I opened it this passage struck my eye: "Why art thou cast down, soul? Why dost thou disquiet me?" etc. (Ps. xliii, 5.) I collected these precious words and arranged them in order and copied them. If the last passage does not please you, then accept the first. "Why art thou sorrowful, soul? Why dost thou disquiet me? Hope in God, for I will confess to him

It was thus that Basil, after gathering together young men who were pure in heart and untainted in body, inculcated in them a brief and a meek conversation and the word of God in right measure. He taught them to eat and to drink without unseemly noise; to be silent in the presence of the aged; to listen with profit to the wise; to humble themselves before their elders; to live in charity with their equals and their inferiors; to speak without guile, to understand much; not to be immoderate in their language, nor to insult others in their conversation; not to laugh excessively; to respect the aged; to refrain from converse with shameless women; to cast their eyes downward and their souls upward; and to walk and not to leap. He taught them to respect all established authorities which are honoured of all men. If one of you can render a service to another, let him expect his recompense from God, and he shall thus enjoy eternal blessing. Oh sovereign Mother of God! Take away pride and presumption from my poor heart, lest I be exalted in this empty life by the vanity of this world. Let the faithful learn to strive with pious effort. According to the word of the Gospel, learn to govern your eyes, to curb your tongue, to moderate your temper, to subdue your body, to restrain your wrath; and to cherish pure thoughts, exerting yourself in good works for the Lord's sake. When robbed, avenge not; when hated or persecuted, endure; when affronted, pray. Destroy sin, render justice to the orphan, protect the widow. "Come let us reason together, saith the Lord; if your sins be as scarlet, I will make them white as snow. (Is. i, 18.)

The dayspring of fasting shall shine forth, and likewise the light of repentance. Let us purify ourselves, my brethren, from every corporal and spiritual blemish, and, as we call upon our Creator, let us say, "Glory to thee, lover of mankind!" In truth, my children, understand how merciful, yea, how supremely merciful is God, the lover of mankind. Being of human stock, we, are so sinful and mortal that, when anyone does us evil, we desire to destroy and to shed his blood speedily. But our Lord, the ruler of life and death, suffers our sins to be higher than our heads, and yet he loves us all our lives as a father loves his son whom he chastens and then summons once more to embrace.

Thus our Lord has promised us the victory over our enemies through three means of conquering and overcoming them: repentance, tears, and almsgiving. My children, the commandment of God to conquer your sins by these three means is not severe. But I implore you for God's sake, be not lazy, nor forget these three means. For they are not difficult of attainment. Not through solitude nor an ascetic life, nor by such fasting as other good men endure, but through easy efforts may you thus obtain the mercy of God....

As you read these words, my sons, praise God who has shown us his mercy and admonished you through the medium of my poor wit. Give heed to me, and accept a half of my instruction if you are not disposed to adopt it all. When God softens your hearts, shed tears for your sins, and pray, "As thou hast taken pity upon the adulteress, the robber and the publican, have pity also upon us sinners," and utter these words both in the church and before you retire to rest. If it is in any way possible, fail not one single night to kneel to the ground three times, in the case that you cannot do so more often. Forget not nor be remiss in this observance, for by his nightly worship and hymn man conquers the devil, and by this means expiates what sins he has committed during the day. When you are riding forth upon your horse, if you have no special subject of conversation with a companion and cannot utter some other prayer, then exclaim without ceasing, "Kyrie eleison!" within yourselves. This is the best prayer of all, and infinitely better than thinking evil thoughts. Above all things, forget not the poor, but support them to the extent of your means. Give to the orphan, protect the widow, and permit the mighty to destroy no man. Take not the life of the just or the unjust, nor permit him to be killed. Destroy no Christian soul even though he be guilty of murder.

When you speak either good or evil, swear not by the name of God, nor cross yourselves, for that is unnecessary. Whenever you kiss the Cross to confirm an oath made to your brethren or to any other man, first test your heart as to whether you can abide by your word, then kiss the Cross, and after once having given your oath, abide by it, lest you destroy your souls by its violation. Receive with affection the blessing of bishops, priests, and priors, and shun them not, but rather, according to your means, love and help them, that you may receive from them their intercession in the presence of God. Above all things, admit no pride in your hearts and minds, but say, "We are but mortal; today we live and tomorrow we shall be in the grave. All that thou hast given us is not ours, but thine, and thou hast but lent it to us for a few days." Hoard not the treasures of earth, for therein lies great sin. Honour the ancient as your father, and the youth as your brother.

Be not lax in the discipline of your homes, but rather attend to all matters yourselves. Rely not upon your steward or your servant, lest they who visit ridicule your house or your table. When you set out to war, be not inactive, depend not upon your captains, nor waste your time in drinking, eating or sleeping. Set the sentries yourselves, and take your rest only after you have posted them at night at every important point about your troops; take your rest, but arise early. Do not put off your accoutrements without a quick glance about you, for a man may thus perish suddenly through his carelessness. Guard against lying, drunkenness and vice, for therein perish soul and body. When journeying anywhere by road through your domain, do not permit your followers or another's company to visit violence upon the villages or upon the dwellings, lest men revile you. Wherever you go, as often as you halt, give the beggar to eat and to drink. Furthermore, honour the stranger, if not with a gift, at least with food and drink, whencesoever he comes to you, be he simple, or noble, or an emissary. For travellers give a man a universal reputation as generous or niggardly.

Visit the sick, and accompany the dead, for we are all but mortal. Pass no man without a greeting; give him a kindly word. Love your wives, but grant them no power over you. This is the end of all things: to hold the fear of God above all else. If you forget all my admonition, read this counsel frequently. Then I shall be without disgrace, and you shall profit thereby.

Forget not what useful knowledge you possess, and acquire that with which you are not acquainted, even as my father, though he remained at home in his own country, still understood five languages. For by this means honour is acquired in other lands. Laziness is the mother of all evil; what a man knows, he forgets, and what he does not know he does not learn. In the practice of good works, you cannot neglect any item of good conduct.

First of all, go to church; let not the rising sun find you in your bed. For this was my father's habit, and it is likewise the custom of all good and perfect men. After rendering praise to God at matins, as you look upon the rising sun, refer praise to God with gladness once again, saying, "Thou hast lightened my eyes, oh Christ my God, thou hast given me thy bright light. Grant me increase, oh Lord, in the years to come, so that, as I repent my sins and order my life righteously, I may thus continue to praise God." Then sit and deliberate with your retainers, or render justice to the people, or ride out for hunting or for pleasure, or else lie down to sleep. Sleep is established by God for noonday repose, since birds and beasts and men then rest from labours.

I now narrate to you, my sons, the fatigue I have endured on journeys and hunts for fifty-three years. First I rode to Rostov through the Viatichians, whither my father had sent me while he himself went to Kursk. (1073) Second, to Smolensk with Stavko the son of Skordiata; he then went to Brest with Iziaslav, and sent me to Smolensk. From Smolensk, I rode on to Vladimir. In that same winter, my brethren sent me to Brest to the place which they had burned, and there I watched their city. Then I went to my father in Pereiaslavl, and after Easter, from Pereiaslavl to Vladimir to make peace with the Poles at Suteiska. Thence back to Vladimir again in the summer. Then Sviatoslav sent me to Poland; after going beyond Glogau to the Czech forest, I travelled four months in that country. (1076) In this year, my oldest child was born in Novgorod. Thence I went to Turov, in the spring to Pereiaslavl again, and then back to Turov. Sviatoslav then died, and I again went to Smolensk, and thence during the same winter to Novgorod, and in the spring to help Gleb. In the summer, I went with my father to Polotsk, and during the second winter before Polotsk the city was burned. He then went to Novgorod, while I, supported by Polovtsians, marched against Odresk, carrying on constant warfare, and thence travelled to Chernigov. (1077) Then, on my return from Smolensk, I rejoined my father in Chernigov a second time.

Then Oleg came from Vladimir, and I invited him to dinner with my father at the Red Palace in Chernigov, and I gave my father three hundred grivnas of gold. Upon leaving Smolensk, I fought my way through the Polovtsian forces, and arrived at Pereiaslavl, where I found my father newly arrived from a raid. Then I rode with my father and Iziaslav to Chernigov to fight with Boris, and we conquered Boris and Oleg. (1078) Then we went to Pereiaslavl, and remained in Obrov. Vseslav at that juncture fired Smolensk. I set forth with men from Chernigov and two horses, but we did not catch Vseslav at Smolensk. On this pursuit of Vseslav, I burned the countryside and ravaged as far as Lukaml and Logozhsk, then attacked Driutesk, and returned to Chernigov.

In the winter of that year, the Polovtsians devastated the whole of Starodub. I marched with men of Chernigov against the Polovtsians. At the Desna, we seized the princes Asaduk and Sauk, and killed their followers. The next day, behind Novgorod, we scattered the powerful force of Belkatgin, and took their swords and all their booty. We then went for two winters among the Viatichians to attack Khodota and his son. The first winter, I went to Korden, and then to Mikulen in pursuit of the sons of Iziaslav, whom we did not catch. In that spring we joined with Iaropolk at Brody.

The following summer, we chased the Polovtsians beyond the Khorol, after they had captured Goroshin. During the autumn, in company with men of Chernigov, as well as Polovtsians and Chiteeviches, we captured the city and left in it neither slaves nor cattle. (1084) In that winter, we went to Brody to join Iaropolk, and concluded an important pact of friendship. In that winter, my father set me up to rule in Pereiaslavl, and we crossed the Supoi.

While we were on our way to the town of Priluk, we suddenly encountered the Polovtsian chieftains with eight thousand men. We were ready and willing to fight with them, but we had sent our equipment ahead with the baggage train and we therefore entered the town. They thus captured alive only Semtsia and a few peasants. Our men, on the other hand, killed or captured a large number of them. They did not even dare to lead away their mounts, and during the night fled to the Sula. On the following day, which was Sunday, we arrived at Bela Vezha. With the aid of God and of the Holy Virgin, our troops killed nine hundred Polovtsians, and captured the two princes Asin and Sakza, the brothers of Bagubars, and only two men of their force escaped. We then pursued the Polovtsians to Sviatoslavl, thence to Torchesk, and still further to Iuriev. (1086) Then again, on the east bank of the Dnepr, we once more defeated the Polovtsians at Krasnoe. In company with Rostislav, we subsequently captured their camp at Varin. I then went to Vladimir and set up Iaropolk as prince, but he soon died.

1093 After the death of my father, Sviatopolk and I together fought until evening with the Polovtsians at the Sula in the vicinity of Khalep, and then made peace with Tugortkan and other Polovtsian chiefs. We took from Gleb's followers all their troops. (1094) Oleg subsequently attacked me in Chernigov with Polovtsian support; my troops fought with him for eight days by the small entrenchment and would not let him inside the outworks. I took pity on the souls of our Christian subjects, and upon the burned villages and monasteries, and said, "It is not for the pagans to boast." I therefore gave my kinsman my father's place, and myself retired to my father's domain of Pereiaslavl. We left Chernigov on the day of St. Boris, and rode through the Polovtsians in a company of not more than a hundred together with the women and children. The Polovtsians showed their teeth at us, as they stood like wolves at the fords and in the hills. But God and St. Boris did not deliver us up to them as their prey, so that we arrived at Pereiaslavl unscathed.

I remained in Pereiaslavl three summers and winters with my retainers, and endured great distress through war and famine. We attacked the Polovtsians behind Rimov, and God stood by us, so that we defeated them and took many captives. We overthrew the troops of Itlar, and after marching beyond Goltav, we captured their camp. We now attacked Oleg at Starodub, because he had made common cause with the Polovtsians. In pursuit of Boniak, we advanced to the Bug and later beyond the Ros in company with Sviatoslav. (1095) After reaching Smolensk, we became reconciled with David.

We set out a second time from Voronitza. At this juncture, the Torks and Chiteeviches came from among the Polovtsians to attack us, so that we advanced against them to the Sula. We then returned again to Rostov for the winter, and three winters later I returned to Smolensk. Thence I went to Rostov.

A second time, Sviatopolk and I pursued Boniak, but the nomads escaped and we did not catch them. Thereupon we again followed Boniak beyond the Ros, yet did not overtake him. During the winter, I travelled to Smolensk, but left there on Easter Day. George's mother passed away. In the summer, I went to Pereiaslavl, and assembled my kinsmen together. Boniak with his entire force of Polovtsians approached Kosniatin, and we sallied forth from Pereiaslavl to meet them as far as the Sula. By God's help, we were able to make peace with Aiepa, and after receiving his daughter as hostage, we proceeded to Smolensk. Thence we journeyed to Rostov. On departing thence, I again attacked the Polovtsians under Urusoba in company with Sviatopolk, and God aided us. Then I again attacked Boniak at Lubno, and God again vouchsafed us his aid. In company with Sviatopolk, I set out once more upon a campaign. With Sviatopolk and David, I later went as far as the Don, and God granted us his aid.

Aiepa and Boniak had approached Vyrev with the intention of capturing it. I advanced to meet them as far as Romny with Oleg and my sons. When the nomads learned of our coming, they fled. Then we marched to attack Gleb at Smolensk, because he had captured our retainers. (1116) God aided us, and we accomplished our purpose. Thereupon we marched to attack Iaroslav son of Sviatopolk at Vladimir, since we were no longer disposed to endure his malice. (1117) On one occasion, I rode at full speed in one day from Chernigov to join my father in Kiev. Among all my campaigns, there are eighty-three long ones, and I do not count the minor adventures.

I concluded nineteen peace treaties with the Polovtsians with or without my father's aid, and dispensed much of my cattle and my garments. I freed from their captivity the best Polovtsian princes, including two brothers of Sharukan, three brothers of Bagubars, four brothers of Ovchin, and one hundred of their foremost leaders. Of other chieftains whom God delivered alive into my hands, I took captive, killed, and had cast into the river Slavlia Koxus and his son, Aklan, Burchevich, Azgului prince of Tarev, and fifteen other young chieftains, and at the same time not less than two hundred of the leading prisoners were likewise killed, and cast into the same river.

I devoted much energy to hunting as long as I reigned in Chernigov and made excursions from that city. Until the present year, in fact, I without difficulty used all my strength in hunting, not to mention other hunting expeditions around Turov, since I had been accustomed to chase every sort of game while in my father's company.

At Chernigov, I even bound wild horses with my bare hands or captured ten or twenty live horses with the lasso, and besides that, while riding along the Ros, I caught these same wild horses barehanded. Two bisons tossed me and my horse on their horns, a stag once gored me, one elk stamped upon me, while another gored me, a boar once tore my sword from my thigh, a bear on one occasion bit my kneecap, and another wild beast jumped on my flank and threw my horse with me. But God preserved me unharmed.

I often fell from my horse, fractured my skull twice, and in my youth injured my arms and legs when I did not reck of my life or spare my head. In war and at the hunt, by night and by day, in heat and in cold, I did whatever my servant had to do, and gave myself no rest. Without relying on lieutenants or messengers, I did whatever was necessary; I looked to every disposition in my household. At the hunt, I posted the hunters, and I looked after the stables, the falcons, and the hawks. I did not allow the mighty to distress the common peasant or the poverty-stricken widow, and interested myself in the church administration and service.

Let not my sons or whoever else reads this document criticise me. I do not commend my own boldness, but I praise God and glorify his memory because he guarded me, a sinful and a wretched man, for so many years in these dangerous vicissitudes, and did not make me inactive or useless for all the necessary works of man. As you read this screed, prepare yourselves for all good works, and glorify God among his saints. Without fear of death, of war, or of wild beasts, do a man's work, my sons, as God sets it before you If I suffered no ill from war, from wild beasts, from flood, or from falling from my horse, then surely no one can harm you and destroy you, unless that too be destined of God. But if death comes from God, then neither father, nor mother, nor brethren can hinder it, and though it is prudent to be constantly upon one's guard, the protection of God is fairer than the protection of man.

Source: The Russian Primary Chronicle



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