When I first studied Ancient Russian History at University in the early 1980s, Prince Sviatoslav’s Slavic name may have meant Swede-Slav, indicative of a half Scandinavian, half Slav heritage. This may have been a later Slavic point of view, but the Prince of Kiev was actually Prince Svein ‘the Old’ Eyfurson (aka Ivarson or Ingvarson), son of Prince Eyfur (Ivar or Igor) ‘the Boneless’ Eyfurason of Kiev, born circa 942 and ruler of the Hraes’ (Rus’) state from 960 to 972. Paternally, he was a direct descendant of Danish royalty from the King Fridlief, King Frodi ‘Angantyr’ Fridleifson, Queen Eyfura Frodisdottir, King Eyfur ‘Hardeknute’ Eyfurason “Old” line of Danish kings, likely a half-brother of Gorm ‘the Old’ of Denmark, and later going by the name of King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark when lording over his northern realms. Maternally he was the son of the Swedish Princess Helga (Olga) of Kiev.
Following the death of his father, Prince Eyfur or Ivar (Slavic Igor) in 945, Prince Sveinald (Svein the Old or Sviatoslav) was raised by his mother, Princess Helga (Olga). Acting as regent for her son, Helga campaigned against Hraes’ enemies and had many forts erected. She was the first Hraes’ ruler to convert to the Christian religion from the Norse pagan one, circa 957 or 959, and is rumoured to perhaps even have had a relationship with Roman Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetos VII of Constantinople, her sponsor in conversion to Christianity, conversion being a requirement prior to any marriage to a Byzantine emperor. Prince Sveinald remained a staunch pagan his whole life and began successful military campaigns as he came of age, following in the footsteps of his father as a warrior of the Aesir faith.
Throughout the history of Sveinald Ivarson, both as Grand Prince Sviatoslav and King Sweyn, there is a common theme of religious repression of Christian conversions. Sveinald firmly believed in the warrior’s cult of death religion of Aesir Tripartite Paganism, with its main gods of Odin, Thor and Tyr or Frey, an outdated religion writhing in its own death throes. The conquests that Prince Sveinald envisioned were dependent upon his access to warriors who not only faced death without fear, but actually welcomed it. In 965, he used the fervour of his warriors to crush the Khazar Empire, which had been a cornerstone in the defense of the Tmutorokhan Hraes’. This was a mistake. From the time of King Frodi of Kiev, the Khazars had always been beaten, but were always allowed to carry on, providing a steppe empire that kept the eastern steppe hordes at bay. When Prince Sveinald switched his attention from the east to the west and attacked Bulgaria, nomads began wandering into his realm from the east, across the Volga River.
In his 968 attack on Bulgaria, Prince Sveinald even hired Pecheneg nomads as mercenary cavalry to augment his Hraes’ troops. The Byzantines had paid him gold to attack the Bulgars, but when he defeated them he refused to turn over the conquests to Byzantium. Prince Sveinald decided to move his capital from Kiev to the warmer city of Pereyaslavets at the mouth of the Danube River, claiming that it was more at the center of his empire. His mother, Saint Helga, protested the move and is said to have died a few days later. Perhaps the staunchly pagan prince could not afford to have a Christian queen proselytizing behind his back in Kiev. The Byzantines protested the move with equal vehemence, feeling that the only way Pereyaslavets might be at the center of his empire would be if Byzantium was added to that empire. In 970, Prince Sveinald crossed the Danube and laid siege to Adrianople, but was soundly defeated by a Byzantine counterattack. The prince was forced to abandon his Bulgarian conquests and give up his Crimean territories. According to the Slavic Chronicle of Nestor (aka Russian Primary Chronicle), in 972, Prince Sveinald made his way back to Kiev, but Prince Sviatoslav was attacked and killed by the very same Pecheneg nomads that his defeat of the Khazars had allowed to filter into his realm. The Pecheneg chieftain even had Sviatoslav’s skull crafted into a drinking goblet. A fitting end for a pagan prince who had violently terminated the Christianization of Kiev. Or so wrote the Nestorian monks who were charged with recording the earliest Hraes’ history. Nice touch…the skull being turned into a cup part. Who could question such a definitive ending? This little tale was lifted out of Byzantine history when over a hundred years earlier King Krum of Bulgaria killed the Roman Emperor Nikephorus I in battle and made a golden cup out of his skull. What the Nestorian monks missed was that Sveinald and Sviatoslav were the same person.
It is more likely that the Prince Sveinald that returned to Kiev in 972 apportioned out his empire to his three sons: to Prince Ivar (Yaropolk) he gave Kiev and the surrounding Poljane lands, to Prince Helgi (Oleg) he gave the lands of the Drevjane and to Prince Valdamar (Vladimir) he gave Novgorod. Prince Svein ‘the Old’ then gathered up his personal wealth and retainers and headed north to re-establish the holdings of his father, Prince Eyfur (Ivar the Boneless)of Kiev aka King Harde Knute of Denmark.
When Prince Svein ‘the Old’ Ivarson arrived in Liere, his half-brother, King Gorm ‘the Old’ Ivarson was dead, had died a decade earlier, but his son, King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ Gormson, was alive and ruling over Denmark. By rights of Scandinavian Aesir accession, Prince Sveinald, as Gorm’s brother, had priority over Gorm’s son Harald, so he covertly passed himself off as a distant relative and was welcomed to the court of King Harald ‘Bluetooth’. But Harald had just converted and was a little too Christian for the warrior prince from Kiev. It was in the Danish court that Svein met Haakon Sigurdson, the Lade-jarl ruler of Norway. Haakon had agreed to convert to Christianity as well, but when Haakon left the harbour-town of Liere, he left with the pagan Prince Svein and left behind the clergymen that King Harald had thrust upon him. Believing only in the Norse gods, in 975, King Haakon broke his allegiance with Christian Denmark.
Meanwhile, back in Kiev, Prince Ivar attacked and killed his brother Prince Helgi and headed north to Novgorod to do the same to Prince Valdamar so he could be sole ruler of the Rus’. Young Valdamar fled to his father in Lade Norway in 977 and sought sanctuary with Jarl Haakon there, having barely escaped from his older brother. Prince Helgi had not been so lucky and Ivar was the sole ruler of the Hraes’. With the aid of his father and Jarl Haakon, Prince Valdamar assembled a Varangian army and returned to Novgorod and reclaimed his territory. By 980 he had defeated and his brother, Ivar and two Varangians, likely Prince Svein and his blood brother Jarl Eirik Haakonson, killed Ivar for his sins of fratricide. Prince Valdamar was the new sole ruler of all Kievan Hraes’.
In 986, a Danish fleet, augmented with Jomsviking mercenaries, set out against Jarl Haakon’s pagan kingdom of Norway and, with a warning from Prince Valdamar, Prince Svein helped Haakon defeat the Jomsvikings at the Battle of Hjorungavagr. Prince Svein ‘the Old’ then took their fleet to Denmark and drove Gorm ‘the Old’s son out of Liere and his man, likely Jarl Sigvald, killed King Harald ‘Bluetooth’ and Prince Sveinald ruled as King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’.
Following Jarl Haakon’s death at the orders of King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway, King Sweyn helped Eirik Haakonson ambush and kill King Olaf at the Battle of Svolder on the western Baltic. Saint Olaf had brought Christianity from England to Norway and Sweyn and his allies, staunch pagans, sent it back. In 1002, King Aethelred the Unready ordered the massacre of Danes in England, called the Saint Brice’s Day massacre. King Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’, Jarl Eirik Haakonson, and Prince Valdamar ‘the Great’ led a long series of vengeance attacks on England dragging the war out from 1003 to 1012 so they could use England as a source of captives for the Hraes’ slave trade with Baghdad and Constantinople. It was a very dark decade for the Saxons, Angles, Britons, and Welsh of England as tens of thousands of their citizens were enslaved and sent off to the slave schools in Kiev. In 1013, the Danish king and Rus’ prince led a full scale invasion of England and Sweyn was crowned King of England by Christmas. Early into 1014 he died there, likely poisoned.
Sweyn’s son, Prince Valdamar, left England soon after and returned to the east. In 1015, he apportioned out his lands to his sons just as Svein had done before him and he took Hraes’, Danish Norwegian and Polish troops west and reconquered England in 1016 and he ruled it as King Canute ‘the Great’ until his natural death in 1035. His sons in England, Harde Knute, Harald Harefoot and Svein Knuteson succeeded him but failed to be accepted by the English. Edward the Confessor, the son of Canute’s wife, Emma of Normandy and King Athelred ‘the Unready’ (or rumoured to be of Sweyn ‘Forkbeard’) took over in England in 1042 and ruled until his natural death in 1066. Harald Godwinson took the crown for himself amid claims by King Harald ‘Hardruler’ of Norway, Duke William ‘Longsword’ of Normandy and King Sweyn II Estridsson Ulfsson of Denmark. These conflicting claims set up the tense situation in England that led to the Battle of Stamford Bridge in which King Harald ‘Hardruler’ of Norway lost his life and then the Battle of Hastings in which King Harald Godwinson lost his. It was a hard year for Harald’s as Duke William became King of England and expected an immediate attack from King Sweyn II of Denmark, but the Normans were Danish Vikings in Frankia and were members of the Hraes’ trading group and had helped King Sweyn I in his many years of attacks on England so, the attack never materialized and the Norman French became the official language of England for the next 300 years until Shakespeare wrote Hamlet, Prince of Denmark in English.