5.3: The tsar
The annexation of Courland marked a turning point in Polotskian history. The inclusion of a relatively densly populated, non-Russian region, combined with an effective orthodox mission programme (which resulted in conversion of the majority of Livonian population in the 1130s) resulted in the slow evolution of Polotskian society, creating a mixture unlike any other in eastern Europe.
Religion became the defining attribute of the emerging society. Even though Russian remained the language of the court, the prince's palace was open to anyone - Russians, Letgallians and Lithuanians alike. Rural areas and lower nobility remained largely Baltic-speaking, which forced the court to adapt dual language in administration. The translation of Pravda Vseslava is perhaps the first written account on Baltolithuanian language.
Vyshli of Saaremaa's case, although short-lived, is a fine example of those changes. It should also be noted that Vyshli's case introduced a new rank into the Polotskian nobility - the kunigas. Derived from Baltic word meaning "ruler", kunigas was the title awarded to Vyshli as "a subject to the prince, yet a sovereign of his lands". In other words, kunigas became a description of the lower feudal rank, simmilar to western count or graf.
This was but one aspect of the process, however; orthodox expansion into Baltic lands resulted in new towns and strongholds being erected. Founded in 1143, the town of Andrieev guarded the Dvina estuary from the western bank, serving together with Vseslavl as a reinforced "gate to Polotsk".
Soon this new mixture produced another result; a drift from princely, purely Russian Polotskian identity towards a broader, more complex entity. Territorial expansion in Russia proper also contributed to the process; with towns of Vitebsk, Andrieev, Yuriev, Minsk or Mstislav slowly catching up with Polotsk in size and influence, the princely authority began a slow decline. Although Xenia Rodislavovna's challenge has been defied, there was no guarantee that Fedot's power would remain as it was.
The growth of towns attracted merchants, speeding up the evolution of the feudal system
To counter this tendencies, Fedot began preparations for arguably the most important decision of his reign; the royal coronation.
The word kunigas was not the only contribution of Latgallian and Lithuanian converts to the Polotskian culture. Despite their tribal differences, those peoples retained a feeling of cultural unity - something they managed to implement into Polotskian culture. The orthodox clergy was the first to realise this potential; they just replaced Baltic language with the orthodox faith.
The other remaining component of the new concept was the idea of Litva. First mentioned in 1008 in Annals of Quedlinburg, the name [i]Litua]i\ was initially attributed to a vague territory, inhabited by Baltic peoples. The redefinition of this concept is usually attributed to monk Ieroni of Orsha, who wrote in the famous letter to Fedot II in 1141:
Many scholars have riddled on the pagans and their fates; whether they are all capable of accepting the true Faith, whether they are humans just as true Russians and so on. However, all those wise men failed to notice one particularly interesting property of those pagans, one the Russian people seem to lack. The sense of unity, the solidarity and strenght, flowing from their common ancestry and roots. If such petty attachment bears such strenght, how strong would be a unity in God? For all humans share the same goal, striving towards salvation regardless of birth, speech or ancestry. We are all children of God, we all speak thanks to Divine wisdom and we are all His creations. Alas, we must unite, if we want to be spared from hellish flames.
On the 10th of July 1144, the town of Polotsk witnessed the first royal coronation. Among the guests were not only all the landlords, but also the tsar of Russia, Vladimir II, and the doux of Armeniacon and Fedot's father-in-law in one person, Manuel Komnenos. The patriarch of Constantinople, Kalinikos, personally crowned Fedot as a ruler "equal to all the kings", confirming Byzantine support for the ambitious monarch. Fedot's official title became "Tsar of Litva" (Царь Литвы, Tsar' Litvy), signifying his equality with rulers of Russia and Bulgaria. Most Western chroniclers sticked to Latin translation - "King of Lithuania".
Tsar Fedot's coronation
Following the coronation, a huge council was held in Polotsk, with all the vassals attending. There, the reorganisation of the realm took place. Three princes have been created: Danil Romanovich in Livonia, Vseslav Andreievich in Courland and Kiril Trondovich (grandson of Gleb Vseslavich) in Vitebsk. New princes swore their fealty to tsar Fedot and took immidiate responsability over the local kunigas. Thus concluded the first grand reform since Vseslav II's times.
In foreign policy, Fedot pursued the aggressive policy of the pre-coronation period. In 1145, he supported his brother-in-law, Bo of Finland, in an unsuccessful revolt against king Ture II of Denmark. The main direction, however, remained in the west and southwest.
The death of khan Könçek in 1143 meant the end of Cuman superiority. Power struggles diluted the khanate's power, ending its pressure over the Russian states. Using this moment of freedom, tsar Fedot initiated an invasion of Hungarian-controlled Lithuania in 1147, using the turmoil caused by the death of king Salamin in 11301. A curious exchange took place - Imre, Hungarian duke of Lithuania, simply abandoned the province, dedicated to finally seizing his father's throne. His reign has proven to be short lived, however; he died in a Lithuanian-sponsored assassination in 1149, leaving the throne open for his daughter, Natalie. Yet another succession crisis allowed the Russians to launch next expedition to Lithuania, expanding the orthodox control over the region.
The conquered lands became a site of expansion for the new Russo-Baltic people; pagan strongholds, like the ancient fort of Jurbarkas, have been razed and replaced by new ones, the most famous of which became Vladimir-on-the-Nieman (Владимир-на-Немане, Vladimir-na-Nemane). The now-famous city of Romanov has been built upon the ashes of the pagan town of Kernave, and the idyllic Kovna once was a prospering Lithuanian town called Kaunas. Orthodox churches have been erected, monasteries established, and soon the new faith began expansion among the inhabitants, furthering the integration of newly conquered lands. It should be noted that the Hungarians never considered those lands to be of much importance - which only made subsequent orthodox subjugation even easier.
The town of Romanov, surrounded by forts
Secured in the west, tsar Fedot once again turned east, against the Bulgarian realm. The conflict began when Kiril Trondovich, the prince of Vitebsk was attacked by tsar Fedot in years 1147-1148, probably because he resisted an attempt to revoke his title and be replaced with tsar's son, Andrei (born in 1134). He fled to Bulgaria, where he became the prince of Smolensk. This was the cause of yet another war, this time waged between 1150-1151. Out of three major battles, the one of exceptional importance was the battle of Sakolniki, which resulted in death of over 4000 men on both sides - half the fighting force. The aging tsar Mstislav had to accept Fedot's claim on Smolensk, with Andrei becoming the new prince.
Seeing his power rising rapidly, Fedot attempted to consolidate his state. Yet another noble council was called, this time in Vladimir-na-Nemane, which accepted the greatest legal reform since Yaroslav the Wise's times; the introduction of the so-called The Great Truth (Великая правда, Velikaya Pravda). This act not only revised the older Vseslav II's codex, but also introduced new regulations - such as obliging the princes to provide a stable ammount of levy to the tsar, and a de jure confirmation of the primogeniture succession's procedures. Orthodoxy has been confirmed as the only legal creed, although monk Ieroni's views have also been included; the pagans were to be encouraged to convert by peaceful means whenever possible.
To strenghten Litva's international position, Fedot pursued an active marriage policy; Andrei has been married to Maria Hvide, the daughter to the catholic duke of Samogitia. Andrei's younger sister Olena (born 1137) became wife of prince Igor Gavrilovich of Novgorod-Seversky. Interestingly, the eldest children, Darya (born 1133) has never been taken into account, for she was born with "little intellect and of miserable appearance".
This brief period of peace ended in 1154; Hungarian queen Natalie used the time spent by Fedot to forge an alliance with Danish king Ture II, which has been soldified by their marriage. Then, using count Neils of Pskov and Narva's claim on the city of Polotsk, they launched a combined attack upon the tsardom. Depleted from constant warfare, tsar Fedot had little hope of survival; we know that against could only field some 6 thousand troops over 10 thousands Danish soldiers (not taking the Hungarian and mercenary reinforcements into account). The invasionary army landed in Livonia and quickly advanced along the Dvina, laying siege upon the capital. It seemed the Lithuanian tsardom would become yet another ephemeral state, founded and destroyed by a single man's ambitions.
With his court evacuated to Vseslavl along with the army, tsar Fedot forged a risky plan; by using extraordinary taxes, ransoming prisoners evacuated from polotskian dungeons and countless other means, he raised enough funds to organise yet another assassination attempt - this time against the troublesome count. The plan succeeded - but the victory was bittersweet. For on the very same day the Danish troops started retreating, the dead body of tsar Fedot has been found in Vladimir, where he relocated his troops in case the assassin failed to do his job. A dagger's handle protured from his chest, and his sheets have been "soaked with blood so much, they resembled the Tsargorodian2 purple".
Northeastern Europe in 1155
So, the war ended inconclusively; lacking the reason to wage war, Ture II had to leave Lithuanian soil. Natalie failed to accomplish her goal - reacqusition of lost lands. Tsar Fedot paid the ultimate price for saving his realm - a feat which is remembered in patriotic ceremonies until today.
1 -> Four kings occupied the Hungarian throne between 1130 and 1149; András II (1130-1131), Gabor (1131), Orban (1131-1147) and Imre (1147-1149).
2 -> Rus. Царгород, "The Tsar's City"