Olígaís Baptism in the Povestí vremennyx let

Francis Butler, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

This paper focuses on the depiction of Olígaís baptism in the Povestí vremennyx let. It will argue that (as in the depiction of Vladimir Svjatoslavičís baptism and the conversion of Rusí) the chronicler wished to present Christianity in a strongly positive light without suggesting that Rusí was in any way inferior to, or less advanced than, Byzantium. Such a depiction presented problems because Christianity came to Rusí from Byzantium and Olíga herself was baptized in Constantinople. The solution was the anecdote recounting how Olíga agreed to marry the Byzantine emperor if he would sponsor her at baptism and how she thereafter pointed out that sponsors cannot marry their spiritual children. This anecdote not only depicts Olíga as outwitting the Byzantine emperor; it suggests that Olígaís own understanding of Christianity (at least after her baptism) was superior to the emperorís. Women of Kievan Rusí were largely excluded from military activities, but in other respects they do not seem to have been regarded as menís intellectual inferiors. Indeed, the depiction of an early medieval female ruler as skilled in diplomacy or trickery seems to have been roughly analogous to the depiction of an early medieval male ruler as a fine warrior. Thus, Olígaís successful deception of the emperor is analogous to Vladimir Svjatoslavičís conquest of Xerson, which is presented as allowing him to dictate the terms of his own conversion.