This is probably one of my favorite history of a woman wronged. Meet Princess Olga of Kiev. She was living in Russia in 945 with her husband and son. Her husband, Igor of Kiev was a ruler of Kiev Rus which was an area near the Baltic Sea that comprised of several Slavic Tribes. One of these tribes, The Drevlians murdered Igor in 945. That is when Princess Olga (understandably) went apeshit.
Princess Olga’s son was very young, so she became his regent. Since the Drevlians had conveniently made Olga a widow, they decided to graciously offer her their prince’s hand in marriage. You can’t blame them for trying, I guess. When they sent an envoy to Princess Olga she didn’t just kill them. She buried them. Alive.
Then Olga told the Drevlians that she would love to marry their Prince if they could just send some of their men to escort her to him. One can only hope that they did not know about the fact that she had buried the previous ambassador’s alive because the Drevlians got excited and sent some of their most distinguished men to her. Where she burned them. Alive.
But Olga was not quite finished. She decided to invite the Drevlians’ to her husband’s funeral. At the funeral she got them drunk and killed about 5,000 soldiers.
Then, Olga decided that she was going to burn the city down. Quite frankly this is where things start to get a little shaky. She gave her soldiers birds from the city and they tied coal to their feet and the birds flew home and set fire to the city. Which burned to the ground. What few Drevlians were left were enslaved.
The story had me til the part where she got a hold of the birds. It starts to beg a lot of questions. How gullible were these Drevlians? Why did they keep coming back for more? Surely there has to be a better way to burn down a city. Have a cow kick over a lantern. Grab an old fashioned torch. Just tell the Drevlians that you are going to have a bonfire to celebrate your upcoming nuptials. I mean, at this point they apparently would believe anything that Olga told them. I guess the birds give it a little more flair. (Seriously, though how on earth does one even attach something burning to a birds foot?)
It is entirely possible that this story is a myth. (Or exaggerated.) It did take place over 1100 years ago, so understandably sources can get lost, exaggerated and or just completely made up. What is not myth is that Princess Olga is credited with being the first ruler of Kievan Rus to become a christian. Even though she didn’t make it a state religion, she was still given Sainthood in 1547.
That’s right. The woman who “allegedly” killed thousands of men by burying them alive and burning them is a saint. Not to mention her wicked Ornithology skills. She had traveled to Constantinople sometime after her revenge (the year is unknown) and she converted to Christianity.
Whether or not the story is true, it is definitely weird. It is also a fascinating glimpse into a woman’s life that is obviously complex. We do not often have the documentation of women’s lives during earlier periods. It is refreshing (and sometimes scary) when they pop out of history in all their complexity.
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