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Ingigerd-Iryna  a tale of old times


Historians have not been yet able to establish with a convincing degree of certainty whether it is a pure coincidence that the colours  yellow and blue  of the national flags of Ukraine and Sweden are the same, or whether there is some historical connection. But there is no doubt that Swedes played a considerable role in the early history of Ukraine. Rulers of Kyiv in the second half of the ninth and early tenth centuries were Vikings of Swedish descent; in the eleventh century, Grand Prince Yaroslav I the Wise was married to a Swedish princess, Ingigerd-Iryna.


Andriy HLAZOVY explores family links of early Ukrainian and Swedish rulers


A thousand year old town, Sigtuna, is situated a forty-minute drive from Stockholm. King Erik the Victorious established a base for his dominion here in 980 AD. The main street along which Vikings used to stroll back in 980 is the very same street that people walk on today. Eriks son, King Olaf (Olof) Skotkonung, wanted to create a state with the sword and the bible. Sigtuna became the seat of royal power and the new belief long before Stockholm was founded. Sigtuna was the stronghold in the struggle against its heathen counterpart  Old Upsala. But Olaf is famous for a couple more things. He became Swedens first tax collector right after Swedens first coins were minted in Sigtuna (a thousand years before the introduction of the Euro). His daughter Ingigerd, (or Ingegerd Olofsdotter) who was born 1001 in Sigtuna, was married to Grand Prince of Kyiv, Yaroslav, known as The Wise. Incidentally, during archaeological excavations in the yard of a local museum conducted in 1995, a gold ring was found which bore the name of the princess.

At first, she was engaged to be married to Norwegian King Olaf II, but when Sweden and Norway got into a feud, Swedish King Olaf Skotkonung refused to go ahead with the marriage, much to the fiancos distress. Olaf of Norway was said to be much in love with the beautiful princess who, in an exchange of engagement gifts, had sent Olaf a cloak embroidered in gold and a silver belt. Olaf was nicknamed the Fat though his representations in Norwegian chronicles do not show him corpulent at all. But since he was later recognized as a national hero and even canonized as the patron saint of Norway in 1164, his representations could have been modified to make him look more dignified. Olaf was quite an enterprising king: he took part in Viking expeditions, accepted Christianity, endeavoured to complete conversion of the whole of Norway but made enemies of other rulers and fled to Sweden, tried to reconquer Norway but was defeated and killed in a battle.

Something must have told Ingigerds father that though Olaf seemed quite an eligible bachelor he should seek a more stable and profitable alliance in spite of the advice given him at the general assembly of the Vikings, to give her in marriage to the Norwegian. A delegation from Gardariki  its how Swedish chroniclers called Kyivan Rus  arrived just on time with a proposal from the king Yaritsleiv (Yaroslav) to take Ingigerd for spouse. King Olaf of Sweden did not think long and gave his consent. He must have thought such an alliance would be more beneficial for his kingdom  at that time Kyivan Rus was a powerful state of driving ambitions. However, it was now for Ingigerd to whether she would accept the proposal. For early medieval times, it was rather an usual thing for a daughter of a ruler (or anybody elses daughter, for that matter) to have her say in matters of marriage but the Swedes must have respected women even then. It took her six months to reach a decision  and she agreed to have Yaritsleiv for husband. According to several sagas, she was given as a marriage gift the land and lake of Ladoga and adjacent lands, which later received the name Ingria (or Ingigerland; in the eighteenth century, when the Russian Emperor Peter I took this land from the Swedish, it retained its name, Ingermanland, arguably the corruption of the original name, for about a hundred years). The princess brought to her husband as her dowry a unit of choice troops that stood Yaroslav in good stead when he was fighting for supremacy in the land of Rus-Ukraine.

Once in Rus, her name was changed to the Greek Iryna (Irene). It is not clear whether she had been converted before she came to Rus, or after, but Iryna was her Christian name (her husband was given the name of Heorhy-George at baptism). Some sagas tell a story of a secret love affair that was going on between Ingigerd-Iryna and Olaf who even found refuge at the court of Yaroslav in Kyiv after a defeat in Norway. Ingigerd-Iryna was said to raise Olafs young son Magnus but it was a moot question whether the boy might in fact have been her son by Olaf (The Norwegian chronicler Snorri Sturlson gives his version of the described events in his classic Heimskringla).

Ingigerd was Yaroslavs second wife; he had been widowed when he had been the ruler of Novgorod. The Swedish wife gave Yaroslav many children, nine or ten  six or seven sons and three daughters. In the Holy Sophia Cathedral of Kyiv which was built during the reign of Yaroslav, one of the extant frescoes shows Yaroslavs family. Art historians did not reach a consensus as to who is who in that fresco but we do know that some of Yaroslavs children were successfully married; Prince Izyaslav married a sister of the Polish king Kazimerz I; Prince Vsevolod was married to a Byzantine princess, Anna; Prince Svyatoslav was married to Oda, a niece of Henry IY, the German king. The marriages of Ingigerds daughters were even more illustrious: Anna was married to Henry I, King of France; Anastasiya was married to Andrew King of Hungary, and Princess Yelizaveta was married to Harald III of Norway.

The son of Sigurd Sow, a chieftain in eastern Norway, and of Estrid, mother of the Norwegian king Olaf II Haraldsson (St. Olaf), Harald fought at the age of 15 against the Danes with Olaf II in the celebrated Battle of Stiklestad in 1030, in which Olaf was killed. He then fled to Kyiv, where he served under the Grand Prince of Kyiv, Yaroslav I the Wise, whose daughter Yelizaveta (Elizabeth) he later married. After enlisting in the military service of the Byzantine emperor Michael IV, he fought with the imperial armies in Sicily and Bulgaria and was said to have made a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. His military exploits under Michael IV were described by both Byzantine and Norse medieval historians. When Harald returned to Norway in 1045, he agreed to share the Norwegian throne with the reigning king, his nephew Magnus I Olafsson. Harald became sole ruler in 1047, when Magnus died in a military expedition that the two rulers had launched against Denmark.

Ingigerd must have led quite an active life  she was reported to join Yaroslav in his military campaigns, but some chronicles suggest that closer to the end of her life she became very pious and retired to a monastery, getting a new name, Anna. For some, not very clear reasons, she moved to Novgorod where she initiated the construction of the Holy Sophia Church where she was said to have been buried. Other sources say she was buried in the Holy Sophia Cathedral of Kyiv, in the same tomb with her husband who died four years later. In his testament, Yaroslav sought to prevent a power struggle among his sons by dividing his empire among them and enjoining the younger four sons to obey the eldest, Izyaslav, who was to succeed his father as grand prince of Kyiv. This advice had no lasting effect, and civil war ensued after Yaroslavs death.

Many a romantic tale could be spun out of the history of life of the Swedish princess Ingigerd, her fiancI, her husband, and her children. But it seems the actual life story is even more exciting than any work of fiction.


Photographs and layout by Yury BUSLENKO


Monument to Grand Duke Yaroslav The Wise.
The Duke holds the model of the Holy Sophia
cathedral, similarly to the way he is depicted
in one of the frescoes extant in the cathedral.


The place where Ingigerds house once stood
in Sigtuna, Sweden; the local museum boasts finds
which are directly related to Ingigerd and her time.


Stones of the foundation of the house where
Ingigerd, the Swedish wife of Grand Duke
of Kyiv, Yaroslav, was born.


A 19th-century drawing of the place where
the Church of St Iryna used to stand.


A group portrait of the family of Grand Duke
Yaroslav the Wise; it is an old copy of a drawing
made in 1651 of the eleventh-century fresco
in the Holy Sophia Cathedral. In later restorations,
the original frescoes were badly damaged
and the 17th century drawings remain
the only portraits of the Grand Dukes family.


Reconstruction by the Ukrainian architect
Yu. Aseyev of the Church of St Iryna.


View of the Holy Sophia cathedral with the monument
to Bohdan Khmelnytsky in the foreground.


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