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  • Prince Mikhail of ChernigovFrom Maneuverer to Martyr
  • Alexander V. Maiorov (bio)

On 20 September 1246, Mikhail Vsevolodovich, the prince of Chernigov (Chernihiv), and his boyar Fedor were killed in the Horde by the order of Batu Khan. This event made an impression on contemporaries and reverer-berated for centuries in the hagiographic Tale about the Murder of Mikhail, which insists that Mikhail was executed solely due to his defiant refusal to perform pagan rites required before a personal visit to the khan.1 Preoccupied with how he died, historians have overlooked compelling evidence that Mikhail submitted to the Mongols only after a sincere but failed attempt to join the fight against them in Central Europe.

This article provides the first extensive analysis of Mikhail's behavior in 1241 in light of both the Rus´ chronicles and medieval sources from Silesia. Since Nikolai M. Karamzin, the opinion has existed in Russian scholarship that Mikhail Vsevolodovich "dolgo begal ot tatar iz zemli v zemliu" (for a long time ran from the Tatars from one country to another) until he was robbed by Germans in Central Europe.2 The distinguished historian of Ukraine, Mykhailo Hrushevs´kyi, followed the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle in [End Page 237] depicting Mikhail primarily as a fugitive who was frightened by the advance of the "Tatars."3 Even the most extensive biography of the prince to date, the detailed study by Martin Dimnik, advances a similar understanding of his motives by stressing that his vulnerability in Mazovia pushed him to rush further to the West.4 After almost 200 years of scholarly discussion, historians have still not fully decoded the motive behind Mikhail's "Silesian adventure."

In this article I argue that a precise identification of the town of Sereda and new sources, which are practically unknown to historians of Rus´, make the prevailing view of Mikhail improbable. These include the Vita of St. Hedwig in Middle High German and The History of Duke Henry in Latin. Both sources shed a new and, to a large extent, unexpected light on the actions of Mikhail of Chernigov. In particular, they clarify the mysterious report of the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle that described the robbery of Mikhail's suite and the murder of his granddaughter by the German dwellers of a town named Sereda. I argue here that Mikhail's presence in Silesia provides decisive confirmation of his intention to participate in what he hoped would be a decisive battle against the Mongols.

The Galician-Volhynian Chronicle

The Galician-Volhynian Chronicle assigned unfavorable general characteristics to Prince Mikhail Vsevolodovich, and these have shaped views of him for centuries. It suggested that he panicked at the sight of Mongols (Tatars). For this reason, Mikhail allegedly followed his son in running away from the Tatars, then did not dare go to Kiev: "bezha ot s(y)nou svoem" pered" Tatary Ougry" (he [Mikhail] fled from the Tatars to Hungary, following in the footsteps of his son), and "za strakh˝ Tatar´skyi ne sme iti Kyevou" (he did not dare go to Kiev because of his fear of the Tatars).5 It goes on to portray him as dogged by misfortune and reports that in the Vorotislavian land Mikhail "came to a German city called Sereda." There local Germans attacked him, took his property and killed his people, including the prince's unnamed granddaughter: "ouzrevshi zhe Nemtsi, iako tovara mnogo est´, izbisha emou liudi, i tovara mnogo o(t)iasha, a ounoukou ego oubisha" (When the [End Page 238] Germans saw [his long wagon train], they killed his people, took away [many of his wagons], and killed his granddaughter).6 This laconic report begs a number of extensive questions about his motivations and intentions. Was he fleeing from the Tatars or toward prospective allies? Where was Sereda, and what was its significance in the 13th century? Was it more than just a convenient place of refuge?

In spite of its key importance as a source, the publishers and commentators of the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle have not identified Sereda and have not evaluated the Central European parallels to its report about Mikhail. The index to the 1871 edition of the Hypatian text erroneously identifies Sereda...

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