Olga of Kiev Was a Serious Badass – GUF Edition


Western culture, especially American culture, is really obsessed with Vikings these days. It’s both annoying, and seriously problematic. I don’t know if the store selling Viking merch is grabbing on to a trend, or trying to recruit Neo-Nazis. It’s something I’m complained about before, and the issue isn’t getting any better. Click-bait websites are just as bad.

I learned about Olga of Kiev because I fell for the trap. One particularly spammy website advertised her as “The Viking Saint of Russia,” and curiosity got the better of me. Well, Olga wasn’t a Viking. Badass, yes. Existed during the Viking Age, yes. Lived somewhat near Scandinavia, sort of? But a Viking? Nope. And that’s not even getting into the actual definition of a Viking – someone performing Viking raids, not just a Scandinavian person in the 8th – 11th century.

So, if she wasn’t a Viking, who was she? And why do click bait sites call her one?

Olga was born sometime between the late 9th century and early 10th century, in what is now northwestern Russia. She may have been of Swedish ancestry, and only became relevant to history when she married Igor of Kiev, heir to the Rurik dynasty. Igor became embroiled in a dispute over tribute with the neighboring Drevlian tribe, and was murdered, leaving Olga to rule as regent for their three year old son, Sviatoslav.

Feeling like they were on a roll, the Drevlians then proposed a marriage between Olga and their leader (and principal orchestrator of her husband’s murder), Prince Mal. Olga greeted their delegation in Kiev, and urged them to hang out in their boat. She then promised that she’d have their boat carried into the city. When this was done, she had the boat dumped into a ditch and the men buried alive.

But it gets better.

Before this account could get back to the main Drevlian camp, Olga sent them a message urging them to send another delegation. When they arrived, she invited them to bathe so they could present themselves clean before her. She then had the bath house set on fire and burned them alive.

But then it gets even better.

Olga sent the main Drevlian camp another message, saying she’d meet them there in person. She asked them to prepare a great feast, so she could hold a funeral festivity for him. When the Drevlians had gotten uproariously drunk, she ordered her followers to massacre them.

The story just keeps on going. Olga and her forces then withdrew to Kiev and prepared an army. They engaged with the surviving Drevlians and eventually conquered the city where her husband had been killed. She returned to Kiev and continued to rule as regent for her son.

The best part of all of this is that she was eventually declared a saint by the Russian Orthodox Church. Apparently they were able to overlook all of the massacres because of her attempts to Christianize Kievan Rus – something that was only accomplished when her grandson, Vladimir, came to power.

Basically, Ukraine could really, really use her right now.

So, back to the Viking thing. It’s all well and good that I say Olga wasn’t a Viking, but how can I back that up without actually defining what a Viking is? So let’s set some guidelines here.

MY definition (and I’m quite sure a textbook will say something different – this is fine, as I am not officially a historian) requires the following:

  1. A connection in some way (either through marriage, physical birth, adoption, what have you) to Scandinavia
  2. A life lived during the Viking Age (793 – 1066 C.E.)
  3. At least part of the life spent raiding – that is, sailing in a ship, beaching the ship, and robbing someone

Bonus points if the person believes in the Norse pantheon, though it’s not a requirement – there were Christian Vikings.

Olga only fits one and a half of these. She may have been Swedish, but she did not live in or marry a Scandinavian. Sure, Kiev was technically captured by Swedish Vikings in the mid-9th century, but it still wasn’t considered part of Scandinavia. She did live during the Viking Age, but she did not participate in raids. Seeking revenge on her husband’s killers may seem Viking-like, but plenty of other cultures can lay claim to that kind of badassery.

What about modern day Vikings? After all, I call myself a Viking all the time. Well, I have to confess that I am not a Viking. I am a Viking enthusiast. I’m a dweeby Jew who has an unhealthy fascination with European history, human evolution, and dogs. The people out there who claim to be neo-pagans are…well, they’re neo-pagans. They may believe in the Norse pantheon, and some of them may be connected to Scandinavia, but (I assume) they do not participate in raids.

And as for the fuckers who shave half their heads, wave swastika-laden flags, and storm the Capitol? Those are not Vikings, either. Those are Neo-Nazis, shits-for-brains who make a complete mockery of the legacy of the Vikings, or of Olga of Kiev. Or anyone with any kind of backbone, really. These people just deserve to get punched.

So in short:

Olga of Kiev – Badass but not a Viking

Me: Not much of a badass, not a Viking, mostly just a giant nerd (who likes Vikings)

Neo-pagans: Not really Vikings, but fans of Vikings

Neo-Nazis: Fuckers who deserve to get punched

Anyway, look! Genealogy! Olga of Kiev is an ancestor of Joanna of Castile, which by the Grand Unified Family theory, means she’s an ancestor of every European monarch today. Yaaaay!

Olga of Kiev = Igor of Kiev

Sviatoslav the Brave = Malusha

Vladimir the Great = Anna Porphyrogenita

Yaroslav the Wise = Ingegerd Olafsdotter of Sweden

Anastasia of Kiev = Andrew I of Hungary

Adelaide of Hungary = Vratislav II of Bohemia

Judith of Bohemia = Wladyslaw Herman

Boleslaw III Wrymouth = Salomea of Berg

Mieszko III the Old = Elisabeth of Hungary

Odon of Poznan = Viacheslava of Halych

Wladyslaw Odonic = Hedwig

Boleslaw the Pious = Jolenta of Poland

Elizabeth of Kalisz = Henry V, Duke of Legnica

Euphemia of Legnica = Otto II, Duke of Carinthia

Elisabeth of Carinthia = Peter II of Sicily

Eleanor of Sicily = Peter IV of Aragon

Eleanor of Aragon = John I of Castile

Henry III of Castile = Catherine of Lancaster

John II of Castile = Isabella of Portugal

Isabella I of Castile = Ferdinand II of Aragon

Joanna of Castile = Philip the Handsome

Yeah, I got lazy and didn’t feel like handwriting it out.

I do need to point out that Richard Dawkins, in The Ancestor’s Tale, mentions that when you go far enough back in time, the possibility of literally everyone being descended from someone becomes an almost certainty. His example was Alfred the Great, who lived in the late 9th century – right around the same time as Olga. And in truth, when I was trying to find a connection between Olga of Kiev and the GUF, I could have chosen a dozen different paths – there was a near certainty that at least one of them would lead from her to John William Friso. Still, that doesn’t make the genealogy, or Olga’s story, any less fun.

So while we all sit here and wait for World War III to start, I’m going to fantasize about a world were Olga of Kiev comes back and kicks some Putin ass. If you have any questions or comments, hit me up on Twitter @Rhydnara.

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