Who Was Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev? King Sweyn Forkbeard of Denmark.


When I first studied Ancient Russian History at University in the early 1980s, Prince Sviatoslav’s name meant Swede Slav and was indicative of his half Scandinavian and half Slav heritage.  This may have been premature from a Slavic parentage point of view.  Sveinald Ivarson (or Ingvarson) was the proper name of Prince Sviatoslav of Kiev, born circa 942 and ruler of the Hraes’ (Rus’) state from 960 to 972.  He was a direct descendant of Danish royalty from the Fridlief, Frodi, Ivar/Hardeknute “Old” line of Danish kings, likely a half-brother of Gorm the Old of Denmark, and going by the name of King Sweyn Forkbeard when lording over his northern realms.

Following the death of his father, Prince Ivar (Slavic Igor) of Kiev, in 945, Prince Sveinald (Sviatoslav) was raised by his mother, Saint 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, perhaps circa 957.  Sveinald remained a staunch pagan his whole life and began successful campaigns as he came of age.

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  Sveinald firmly believed in the warrior’s cult of death religion of Tripartite Paganism, an outdated religion writhing in its own death throes.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 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 fifteen hundred pounds of gold to attack the Bulghars, 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.   In 972, on his way back to Kiev, Prince Sveinald 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 Sveinald’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?

It is more likely that Prince Sveinald returned to Kiev in 972 and apportioned his empire to his three sons: to Yaropolk he gave Kiev and the surrounding Poljane lands, to Oleg he gave the lands of the Drevjane and to Valdamar he gave Novgorod.  He then gathered up his personal wealth and retainers and headed north to re-establish the holdings of his father, Prince Ivar the Boneless, King Harde Knute of Denmark.

When Sveinald arrived in Liere, his half-brother, Gorm the Old was dead, had died a decade earlier, but his son, Harald Bluetooth, was alive and ruling Denmark.  Prince Svein passed himself off as a distant relative and was taken into the court of King Harald as though a son.  But Harald was a little too Christian for the warrior prince from Kiev.  It was in Harald’s court that Svein met Hakon Sigurdson, the ruler of Norway.  Harald had helped Hakon dispose of King Harald Greycloak of Norway in exchange for converting to Christianity, but when Hakon left the Harbourtown of Liere, he left behind the clergymen that Harald Bluetooth had thrust upon him and had on board, instead, Prince Svein of Kiev.  Believing only in the Norse gods, in 975, King Hakon broke his allegiance with Christian Denmark.

Prince Valdamar of Novgorod fled Hraes’ in 977 and sought sanctuary with his father and Hakon in Norway, having barely escaped from his Christian brother, Yaropolk.  His brother Oleg was not so lucky and Yaropolk was the sole ruler of the Hraes’.  With the aid of his father and King Hakon, Prince Valdamar of Novgorod assembled a Varangian army and returned to Novgorod and reclaimed his territory.  By 980 he had defeated and killed his brother and was the pagan ruler of all Kievan Hraes’.

In 986, a Danish fleet, augmented with Jomsviking mercenaries, set out against King Hakon’s pagan kingdom of Norway and Prince Svein helped Hakon defeat them at the Battle of Hjorungavagr.  Prince Svein then returned to Denmark and killed Harald Bluetooth and ruled as King Sweyn Forkbeard.

Following King Hakon’s death, King Sweyn helped Eric Hakonson ambush and kill King Olaf Tryggvason of Norway at the Battle of Svolder on the western Baltic.  Saint Olaf had brought Christianity to Norway and Sweyn and his allies were staunch pagans.  In 1002, King Aethelred the Unready ordered the massacre of Danes in England, called the Saint Brice’s Day massacre.  King Sweyn led a series of vengeance attacks on England from 1003 to 1012 and in 1013 led a full scale invasion of England and was crowned king by Christmas.  Early into 1014 he died there.

Sweyn’s son, Canute the Great reconquered England in 1016 and ruled it to his death in 1035.  Canute’s mother was named Sigrid or Gunhild, but there is also a record that her name may have been Swietoslawa.  Or could that be a misspelling of his father’s Slavic name, Sviatoslav?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s