Even today there is no precise and historically verified information either about the period of rule of Kyi, one of the first Kyivan princes, or the date of Kyiv’s founding. However, many prominent historians have come to the conclusion that Prince Kyi visited Byzantium in the times of Emperor Justinian I (527 — 565 A.D.) in the mid-6th century. Let’s briefly review the main chronicles that discuss Prince Kyi.
THE LEGEND OF THE KYIVAN CHRONICLER NESTOR
In the famous chronicle The Tale of Bygone Years, which was completed according to traditional views by Nestor, a Kyiv chronicler and monk of the Kyivan Cave Monastery, in 1113, the legend of the founding of Kyiv by three brothers, Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv, occupies a special place. Nestor introduces a fourth person — Lybid, the sister of the three brothers, into his lengthy narrative describing how the brothers settled on the hills of Kyiv.
“There were three brothers: the first had the name of Kyi, the second — Shchek, the third — Khoryv, and their sister was Lybed. Kyi settled on the hill where Uzviz Borychiv is today, and Shchek settled on the hill that is now called Shchekovytsia, and Khoryv — on the third hill, which is now called Khorevytsia after him. And they created a city in the name of their elder brother and gave it the name Kyiv.”
Nestor says that his brothers were educated and clever men, who were respected by the Polianians, on whose lands the city of Kyiv was built. The chronicler resolutely refutes the version according to which in his youth Kyi was an ordinary hunter or Dnipro ferryman, as wicked tongues said. Nestor counters this slander the following way: “Had Kyi been a ferryman, he would not have come to Tsar-horod (Constantinople), but he ruled his clan, and came to the Tsar (Emperor) to be highly honored by him, as people said.”
Here Nestor clearly claims that Kyi, as the prince of Kyiv, was internationally recognized. However, later the chronicler confesses that he does not know the year of that visit. This part of the legend, according to Ukrainian historian Natalia Polonska-Vasylenko, “contains some grains of truth, since archeological studies revealed three separate settlements in Kyiv, which had been united only under the princes’ rule.”
This opinion is shared by Russian Academician Dmitry Likhachev, who combined the testimonies of the Nikon Chronicle, which is based on earlier manuscripts, and says that Kyi went to Tsarhorod with a great army and was highly honored by the tsar. Kyi then went on to defeat the Volga and Kama Bulgars, and founded a new town called Kyevets on the Danube. The Russian scholar Boris Rybakov characterizes Prince Kyi’s activities this way: “[He was] the ancient predecessor of Svyatoslav, the grand duke of Kyiv, whose activities reached as far as the Danube, and diplomacy — as far as Constantinople.” Nestor provides the date of the Khazar attack on Kyiv “after Kyi’s death”, which supports Rybakov’s idea — the 6th — 7th centuries. The distinguished historians Aleksei Shakhmatov and Aleksandr Presnyakov also speak about the real existence of prince Kyi and his rule.
In The Tale of Bygone Years Nestor specifies neither the year of Prince Kyi’s death nor the names of his successors (if any). He only quotes the Kyivites’ answer to Askold and Dir’s question “Whose city is this?” which they asked upon arriving in the city: “Its builders, the three brothers, died long ago, and its peaceful people pay tribute to the Khazars.” However, according to the Peremyshl Chronicle, as the Polish historian Jan Dlugosh notes, “After the death of Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv their sons and grandsons, their direct descendants, ruled for many years.”
There may have been some information about the Kyiv dynasty — the Kyivychi (House of Kyi), about which Nestor apparently knew nothing.
THE LEGEND OF THE NOVHOROD CHRONICLERS-MAGI
According to data that surfaced only in the 20 th century, the early priests-chroniclers (magi) of Novhorod created the so-called Book of Veles, dedicated to the pagan god Veles, as early as the 9 th century. Carved on wood (beech) plates, this book is the ancient Slavonic sacred scripture that contains information about the ancestors of the Slavs and other people of Europe and Asia. It covers the period from the beginning of the first millennium B.C. to the 9 th century A.D.
Let’s take a brief look at the role Kyi played as the founder of the Kyivan state of Rus’-Ukraine, as it is described in the stories from the Book of Veles. According to its texts, the heirs of Arii, and Arii himself with his sons, their families, and all the clans came to the Middle East, the Dnipro, and Black Sea regions from the Seven Rivers (an area around Lake Balkhash, which is fed by seven rivers), the land of the Aryans, and from the land of In, i.e., from China.
Arii’s father recounts the following in Plate 11-4d about the reasons for this migration: “We are coming from the land where the Huns are killing our brethren. Otherwise they will slaughter the old father, as they slaughter the cattle and beasts. They steal our cattle and kill our children. As soon as our father said so, we went to other lands, where milk and honey flow. And to those lands fled all three sons of Arii. And they were Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv, from whom the three glorious tribes descended. These sons were brave, and they led their troops into battle riding their horses. And they were followed by the troops of young men, cattle, wagons pulled by oxen, and sheep. Along went children guarded by the elders, mothers, wives, and also the sick.”
Speaking about the genesis of the Slavs, the Book of Veles tells the following story.
“And so Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv, the three sons of Arii, went to look at other lands. And from them the Slavonic people descended, who live today! And you can see it. Dazhboh gave this future to the mortals. Let us hallow his supreme wisdom.” So, the Arians went southwards to the Phasis Sea (the Black Sea), past the Nepre-river (the Dnipro), and smote the hostile Huns with their swords, and “upon coming to a paradise of grass meadows and found a golden place. And they grew happy and joyful.”
In the text of Plate 111-37, Father Arii tells his three sons to separate into three clans and go to the west and the south. Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv did so, and each of them went to his land. Kyi led the Rusyns, Shchek — the Czechs, and Khoryv — the Croatians. As Plate 11-15b indicates, Kyi and his troops captured a fortified city that was already inhabited by Slavonic tribes. Later the city was named Kyiv, and Kyi settled there. Shchek and Khoryv proceeded with their troops and people to their lands. But when the enemies came, “we submitted ourselves to Kyi, and Rus’ was united by him. And if any power rises against us, we will go against it, because we are with Rus’. She is our Mother; we are her children and will be with her to the very end” (Plate 11-7a).
The text of Plate 1-2b has definite historical interest, as it lists the names of the rulers who governed after Kyi’s death and were his successors: “And so Kyi died after ruling over us for thirty years. And his son Lebedyan, whose name was Slaver, was after him, and he lived for twenty years. Then there was Veren of Velykohrad — for another twenty (years). Then Serezhen — (for) twenty (years).”
The Book of Veles places special emphasis on the fact that after Kyi’s death, “great disputes overwhelmed the Rus’, who set about fighting each other for the distribution and became separated. And each of them lived on his own, watching his neighbors” (Plate 111-81). The text explains why after Kyi’s death the warriors lacked their former might: “And they lacked faith because men who were going into battle and back quarreled, saying it was better in the time of Kyi, in his day victory was certain in advance, the evening before.”
So, even in those far-off days internecine dissension and struggle for power after the death of the mighty and wise rulers of Kyivan Rus’-Ukraine were always the reasons behind the weakening of state power, which resulted in military defeats and economic hardship.
ARMENIAN, SCYTHIAN, AND OTHER LEGENDS ABOUT THE THREE BROTHERS
The Armenian legend, which attracted the attention of the prominent scholar Nikolai Marr, was recorded in the 7 th century by Venod Glak. In a nutshell it says the following: Gisaney and Demetr had three sons whose names were Kuar, Metley, and Khorean. Kuar built a city and named it after himself — Kuar. Metley built a city in the middle of a field and named it Metley. Khorean also built a city in the land of Polun (the land of the Polianians) and named it Khorean. After some time the three brothers took counsel and went up Mount Karkey to find a nice place with “fragrant air, as there was much space for hunting, and coolness, and a large area of grass and trees.” The brothers built a settlement there and erected two idols called Gisaney and Demetr. It is not difficult to spot the similarity between this legend and the legends of Nestor and the Novhorod magi: Kyi is Kuar, Shchek is Metley, and Khoryv is Khorean.
The Scythian legend of the three brothers, mentioned by the Greek historian Herodotus, is even more ancient, as it dates to the 5th century B.C. For the most part its text boils down to the following episodes. Tarhitai, the son of the god Zeus and the daughter of the river Borysphen (Dnipro), had three sons: Lipoksai, Aproksai, and Kolaksai, the youngest. During their life gold objects fell from the heavens on the Scythian land: a plough, yoke, ax, and goblet. The first to spot these objects was the oldest son Lipoksai. When he was approaching them, the gold objects began to glow, and he stepped back. When the middle son Aproksai tried to seize them, the same thing happened to them, and he stepped back. When the youngest of the brothers, Kolaksai, approached the gold, it stopped glowing, and he brought all the objects to his home. After this his elder brothers decided to relinquish the entire kingdom to their younger brother.
As Rybakov indicates, there is a link between the Scythian Tarhitai and the Slavic Dazhboh, the son of Zeus-Perun. At the same time the eldest brother Lipoksai, as the ruler of the mountains, corresponds to the Slavic Kyi, while the middle brother Aproksai, as the emperor of the deep (“apro” in the Scythian language means “depth”) corresponds to the Slavic Shchek, whose name is decoded by Marr as “serpent.” Finally, Kolaksai, who is the Sun king, corresponds to the Slavic Khoryv (Khors=the Sun god).
Thus, the Slavic Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv became the founders of Kyiv only in the later legend of the Kyivan chronicler Nestor. Earlier, in the Book of Veles of the Novhorod magi, they were honored as the sons of Arii whose father was Dazhboh, the son of Perun. Even earlier (in the Armenian legend) they were considered the sons of Hisanii and Dymetr. Finally, in the Scythian legend of the 5 th century B.C. Kyi, Shchek, and Khoryv correspond to Lipoksai, Aproksai, and Kolaksai, the sons of the Scythian Tarhitai.
However, despite the similarity between the legend of Kyiv, Shchek, and Khoryv and various historical legends about the three brothers, most well-known historians acknowledge the existence of Kyi and his rule in the Kyivan Principality in the 6th century (Shakhmatov, Presnyakov, Likhachev, Rybakov, Tolochko, Polonska-Vasylenko, et al.)