Vladímir was the first prince of Russia, by birth partly of Slav blood. He owed his accesssion to the throne at Kíev to Norsemen; possibly it was facilitated by the distrust aroused by his brother Yaropólk's leanings towards Christianity. At any rate Vladímir, who was to be sainted as the Constantine of Russia, commenced his reign by re-instating Paganism with all the zeal of the proselytizer. He set up idols on a hill in Kíev, facing the Palace, to Perun the god of thunder, to Khors the Sungod, to Dažbog the god of the sky, to Stríbog, the god of the winds, Sěmorgl and Mokoš; and he offered human sacrifice. It may he remarked that of these deities next to nothing is known save their names as recited in this list; that it is improbable that the Slavs, who were nature-worshippers, had ever set up statues to their gods; and, lastly, that human immolations had never taken place in Russia,--unless the account in Euripides of the Tauric Artemis can be cited in this connection.
Whether this sudden State establishment of heathendom would have accomplished its end may be doubted; for Russia was by now permeated with Christian doctrine. But the last flicker of Pagandom in Russia was very vigorous, for it was the act of a strong and self-willed ruler.
This happened in the year 980. Eight years elapsed, and the politic ruler found occasion to reverse the direction of this religious zeal. He had been to Constantinople, and wished to ally himself to the Empire by marrying Anna, the Emperor's sister. Also, his Varangians from Scandinavia, through whom he had gained single sovereignty, were becoming oppressive to their master; and Vladímir was glad to dismiss them to the service of his Byzantine ally, recommending him to relegate these unruly champions to the provinces, and safeguard himself against their superfluous energies. This act marks the end of Scandinavian government in Russia.
As early as the year 866 a bishop had been appointed for Kíev and a church built for him; before that date, Saints Cyril and Method, the apostles of Russia, had worked amongst the Western Slavs and in the Tauric Chersonnese, for the purpose of evangelization inventing the Cyrillic alphabet (as Ulfilas had done for the Goths): further, the conversion of Olga in 945 must have been propagative.
The price of Anna was the baptism of her intended husband; the political advantage of favouring the powerful Pagan party at Kíev had now ceased.
In 988 Vladímir ordered the conversion of Russia, cast his idols down with a contumely only comparable to their peremptory erection; thus, he tied Perun to the tail of a horse, had him flagellated and drowned in the Dněpr, seeing that he was safely carried beyond the rapids on that stream. The Chronicles add a pleasing legend that Vladímir assembled a council of Boyárs, and examined into the desirabilities of the German--i.e. the Roman--, the Jewish--i.e. the practices of the Khozars,--and the Greek profession. Only in the Greek faith was the supreme beauty to be found.
The citizens were baptized in droves on pain of the royal displeasure. Vladímir acquired Kórsun, the capital of the Chersonesse (or Crimea) which he had been besieging and also, as security for this important conquest, (by means of which he could protect his Black Sea commerce) the hand of the Greek princess.
Henceforth Russia was Holy Russia; her Christianity conferred on her perennial struggle against the Pagan nomads the fervour of a crusade. In her isolation the new faith lent her strength, endurance and purpose.
The baptism of Russia and the expulsion of the Varangians are the two epoch-making events of Vladímir's reign.
In the year 993 Vladímir was engaged in a frontier foray against the Croatians, and on his return had to encounter the Pečenegs not far from the river Sulá; he defeated them at Trubež near Pereyáslavl’. This battle was decided, according to the Chronicle, by single combat between a Pečeneg Goliath and a Russian David. The Polovsk peril was very imminent, for Vladímir thought fit to construct a network of fortresses on the Dněpr and its affluents.
Vladímir, in the popular ballads of Russia, became the Charlemagne at whose court the heroes met and the Tatar Pagan foes were invariably overcome.
Amongst his military feats may be mentioned the reunion of Polotsk with Russia, which had become independent under one Rógvolod; and his war with Poland, as a result of which he retained Galicia for Russia.
After his conversion he founded many churches and an ecclesiastical college at Kíev and showed great piety, which combined with uxoriousness on a very lavish scale,
The North of Russia he had little leisure to watch; and Paganism maintained itself much longer there, corresponding with the political severance which distance made unavoidable and time was to confirm.
He died in the year 1015, leaving eleven sons, by various connections; the twelfth, Svyatopolk I was his brother Yaropólk's son; Vladímir married Yaropóik's widow.
He partitioned out principalities to his sons; these grants were called удѣлы, (uděly).