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The textual discrepancies amongstthe mediaeval Russian chronicles about the Balkan campaign

of Prince Sviatoslav in 971

Mikhail Raev (Sofia, Bulgaria)

The early twelfth-century Povest’ vremennykh let (PVL or the PrimaryChronicle) is in the foundations of mediaeval Russian chronicle-makingculture. It depicts in most glorious terms the deeds of Grand Prince Svia-toslav Igorevich who ruled Kievan Rus between 946 and 972 accordingto its chronological scheme. Between 968 and 971 Sviatoslav waged twocampaigns against Byzantines and Bulgarians. Certain bits of informa-tion found in the PVL about his campaigns tally with data found in theByzantine sources, while others are genuinely of Rus origin. Amongst thelatter is the Russian-Byzantine treaty of 971. Its text is not found in thefifteenth-century Russian chronicles written in Novgorod. This piece shalldeal with the textual issue as to whether the Russian-Byzantine treaty of971 and part of its preceding text were originally part of the PVL’s textand had been cut later in the Novgorod chronicles or it was not present inthe historical sources composed prior to the PVL and inserted in its text. Ishall explore this issue by examining one of A. Shakhmatov’s hypothesesthat the Trinity manuscript of Novgorod Fifth Chronicle contained piecesof eleventh-century works that served in the composition of the PVL.

By surveying a number of manuscripts containing the PrimaryChronicle, a plethora of eighteenth- to early twentieth-century scholarsestablish that the original work had been composed in Kiev in the 1110s. (1)

Between the 1890s and the 1920s, A. Shakhmatov has revoked manyof the interpretations proposed by his predecessors and offered plentyof explanations and hypotheses accommodating the textual imperfec-tions, discrepancies, and contradictions in the examined manuscripts. Heserved as a source of inspiration to many further hypotheses and recon-structions by his later followers and critics. Ultimately he proposed thatthe Primary Chronicle was written in the Kievan Caves Monastery in the1110s based on early chronicles such as the Drevneishii Svod (1030s)and the Nachal’nyi Svod (1090s). Based on an analysis of the NovgorodFirst Chronicle, Shakhmatov suggested that intermediary works like theAncient Novgorod Chronicle (1030s), the Compilation of the 1070s, anda number of other works explain snippets of data supposedly transmittedover time by written records (2).


Shakhmatov considers that the Primary Chronicle was first copiedin 1116 by Silvester, abbot of the St Michael’s Monastery of Vydobitsk.This version was further appended with several continuations. A manu-script copied by the monk Laurence in 1377 contained the best readingsof these works (3).

The second version of the Primary Chronicle, repro-duced in 1118 in the Kievan Caves Monastery, has been amplified witha number of southern Rus continuations. Its copy had been kept in theHypatian monastery near Kostroma. Its manuscript dates from the mid-fifteenth century (4).

Since the original Primary Chronicle has not survived,its two basic versions and their related manuscripts are identified in thehistoriography as its second and third redactions (5)

All manuscripts containing the Primary Chronicle convey all fourRussian-Byzantine treaties under annual entries for 907, 912, 945, and971. They do not feature in existing thirteenth- to fifteenth-century man-uscripts of the Novgorod First Chronicle. This work has two redactions: the older, preserved in a 1350s Synod manuscript, and the newer foundin a number of fifteenth-century manuscripts such as the Commission’sand the Academy’s ones (6). As the first sixteen quires of the former, cover-ing events up to 1016, are missing, Shakhmatov hypothesised their textcould be identified in Trinity manuscript of the Novgorod Fifth Chroni-cle (7). Zimin and Nasonov have reaffirmed his hypothesis in the 1950s. (8)

Apart from the Russian-Byzantine treaty of 971, the Novgorod FirstChronicle is missing large excerpts from the Chronicle of George theMonk, as well as other pieces of information found in the Primary Chron-icle. Researchers have examined two theories. First, the Novgorod FirstChronicle could be delivering the text of earlier compilations to the Pri-mary Chronicle. Second, the Primary Chronicle’s text might have beenabridged in the Novgorod First Chronicle. A. Shakhmatov propoundedthe first theory, while S. Bugoslavskii found arguments in favour of thesecond. Given his personal reputation and authority, most of Shakhma-tov’s followers elaborate on his grandiose scheme of Primary chronicletextual transmission, while a much smaller group of scholars furtherssome arguments developed in Bugoslavskii’s antithesis (9).

To accommodate the inconsistencies and contradictions in the data provided by the available manuscripts, Shakhamtov offers a number ofhypothetical abridgments in the form of imagined treatises which he placed in pre-Primary Chronicle accumulation stages of historical in-formation. One such work he claims to be an abridged version of theChronicle of George the Monk which differed from the available Sla-vonic translation of the same work. Shakhmatov supposes that it was aversion translated in Bulgaria (10). His colleague V. Istrin – who published the Slavonic translation of the Chronicle of George the Monk – disagreeson two major points with him. He argues that Shakhmatov’s stemma istoo complex and proposes that there were not more than two individualchronicles prior to the Primary one; the rest, if proved, he considers theirmere continuations (11). To back his conjecture, Istrin opposes the idea of aBulgarian translation of the Chronicle of George the Monk and proposesa reduced version translated in Kievan Rus and named by him the Khron-ograph po velikomu izlozheniu (12). The introduction of such translation ortreatise would not explain the Byzantine data outlined in the PrimaryChronicle’s text following 948, including the Russian-Byzantine treaty of971, since the extant Slavonic translation of the Chronicle of George theMonk abbreviates at this point, as do many of its Byzantine manuscripts.

A much simpler explanation than hypothesising unrecorded Slavon-ic works would be to conjecture that a Byzantine Greek manuscript wasused in the Primary Chronicle since some Byzantine manuscripts of theChronicle of George the Monk convey it along with its post-948 continu-ation. The Chronicle of George the Monk (Γεώργιος Ἁµαρτωλός) itselfwas produced after 843 and its manuscript tradition is rather complex. Itwas appended with a continuation copied from the Chronicle of SimeonLogothete for 843 to 948. Some of these composite works continue withtexts on Byzantine politics and warfare as late as 1143 (13).

Here, I shall contribute to this discourse by exploring Shakhmatov’s proposal that the Trinity manuscript of the Novgorod Fifth Chroniclerendered the missing part of the older redaction of the Novgorod FirstChronicle. The paragraphs preceding and following the Russian-Byzan-tine treaty of 971 in the main redactions of the PVL are collated belowalong with two manuscripts of the newer redaction of the Novgorod FirstChronicle and the Trinity manuscript of the Novgorod Fifth Chronicle.


Table: Collation of the PVL redactions along with the Academy andCommission manuscripts of the newer redaction of the Novgorod FirstChronicle and Trinity manuscript of the Novgorod Fifth Chronicle

Section A contains a text with same data and similar wording inall examined manuscripts. The texts of section B in the Hypatian andLaurentian redactions are identical in information and almost identicalin phrasing. This text is edited and shortened in the newer redaction ofthe Novgorod First and Fifth Chronicles. They render an identical para-graph, suggesting that in the Fifth Chronicle it was faithfully copied fromthe First one. The editing of Primary Chronicle text concerns reworking part of section B and removing section C in the Novgorod chronicles.Section D is identical in all examined manuscripts. The missing text inthe Novgorod chronicles is replaced by the connecting phrase, “и поидев лодьяхъ“, which serves as a link between sections B and D. Based oncollating these fragments, the Novgorod Fifth Chronicle is clearly a ver- batim copy of the newer redaction of the Novgorod First Chronicle. Giv-en identical texts for some eleventh-century events in the older and newerredactions of the Novgorod First Chronicle, the similarity between thePVL and the latter for the same period, as well as almost identical texts ofthe 971 events as rendered in the newer redaction of the Novgorod Firstand Fifth Chronicles (18), we may surely conclude that the older redaction ofthe Novgorod First Chronicle contained a shortened version of the PVLtext.

The following details are found both in the Primary Chronicle andthe Novgorod Chronicles: Sviatoslav’s two Balkan campaigns; similari-ties in particulars such as the place name of Preslav, Sviatoslav’s speechesand Byzantine gifts; the Byzantine envoys sent to Sviatoslav; the render-ing of identical leading characters such as Prince Sviatoslav and Sveneld; the Pecheneg ambush of Sviatoslav’s army. By cutting of section C of thePVL excerpt above in the Novgorod Chronicles significant portion of textand number of details are deleted such as: the transfer of warfare fromPreslav to Dristra and the Russian-Byzantine treaty of 971 with thesedetails: Emperor John Tzimiskes (969–976), metropolitan Theophilos,month, year and indiction of its signing. All these pieces of informationwere most likely borrowed from a Byzantine manuscript depicting Svia-toslav’s Balkan campaigns in the PVL whose chronological set followsthe basic chronology found in Byzantine sources (19). I find this explanationmore plausible in terms of information transfer instead of the opposite,i.e. that the missing details from the PVL in the Novgorod Chroniclessignal a text prior to the former that has been further elaborated withthem once reworked and inserted into the Primary Chronicle.

Editing texts and adapting them to commissioners’ requirementswas a common mediaeval practice. It affected any manuscript as to itscomposition and arrangement of copied works. Occam’s Razor favoursthe simpler explanation of Bugoslavskii and his followers that the newerredaction of the Novgorod First Chronicle renders an edited and short-ened text of the Primary Chronicle, while the Russian-Byzantine treaty of971 was in the original composition plan of the latter’s author.


1) See the summary on the PVL composition, sources and dating published in:Словарь книжников и книжности Древней Руси. Вып. 1 (XI – первая половинаXIV в.). Ред. Д. С. Лихачев. Ленинград, 1987, с. 337–343; as well as The Povest’Vremennykh Let: an Interlinear Collation and Paradosis. ed. D. Ostrowski (HarvardLibrary of Early Ukrainian Literature: Texts, vol. 10). Cambridge, MA., 2003, p. XXI– XL.
2) А. Шахматов. История русского летописания, т. 1: Повесть временных лети древнейшие русские летописные своды, кн. 1: Разыскания о древних русских летописных сводах. Санкт-Петербург, 2002, с. 23–30, 123–135, 270–358.
3) Лаврентьевская летопись. Ред. И. Карский. (Полное собрание русских лето-писей т. 1). Ленинград, 1926, с. IV.
4) Ипатьевская летопись. Ред. А. Шахматов. (Полное собрание русских лето-писей т. 2). Санкт-Петербург, 1908, с. IV–VIII.
5) Словарь 1987, с. 337, 340.

6) Новгородская первая летопись старшего и младшего изводов. Ред. А. Насо-нов. (Полное собрание русских летописей т. 3), 1950, с. 4–10.
7) Словарь 1987, с. 245–247
8) А. Зимин, А. Насонов. О так называемой Троиьком списке Новгородской летописи. – ВИ, 2 (1951), с. 89–91.
9) С. Бугославский. Повесть временных лет (списки, редакции, первонача- льный текст. – В: Старинная русская повесть. Статьи и исследования. Москва-Ле-нинград, 1941, с. 7–37 (с. 34).
10) А. Шахматов. „Повесть временных лет“ и ее источники. – ТОДРЛ, 4 (1940),с. 11–150 (с. 41).
11) В. М. Истрин. Замечания о начале русского летописания. – ИОРЯС, 17(1924), с. 222–251.
12) В. Истрин. Книгы временыя и образныя Георгия Мниха. Хроника Георгия Амартола в древнем славянорусском переводе. Текст, изследование, словарь. Петроград, 1922, c. 418.
13)A. Markopoulos. Sur les deux versions de la Chronographie de SymeonLogothete. – BZ, 76 (1983), p. 279–284 (p. 280).
14) Ипатьевская летопись, с. 58–62.
15) Лаврентьевская летопись, с. 69–74.
16) Новгородская первая летопись старшего и младшего изводов, с. 121–123.
17) Новгородская первая летопись старшего и младшего изводов, с. 523–524
18) Т. Вилкул. Новгородская первая летопись и Начальний свод. – Palaeosla-vica, 11 (2003), p. 5–35.
19) Karyshkovskii’s works well encapsulate past research on the Byzantine sourc-es and their major departures from the PVL, see П. О. Карышковский. О хроноло-гии русско-византийской войны при Святославе. – ВВр, 5 (1952), с. 127–138; П.О. Карышковский. Балканские войны Святослава в византийской исторической литературе. – ВВр, 6 (1953), с. 37–71





Tags: Византия, Русь, исследования, история, летописи, литература
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