Minsk History:
Minsk and the Principality of Polacak

Rahvalod's daughter Rahnieda(Norse: Ragnheid) was baptized; she became the wife of Prince Volodimir(Norse: Valdemar) of Kiev and bore him a son Iziaslau. Volodimir was baptized a Christian by missionaries from Constantinople in 988; the population of Polacak accepted Christianity in 989, and by 992 the city had its Bishop. On the death of Volodimir, Iziaslau' became Prince of Polacak, and his half-brother Jaraslav -- Volodimir's son by a previous marriage -- became Prince of Novgorod and later of Kiev. Other sons acquired his domains among the Finno-Ugric tribes of what was to become Muscovy. "Since that time, as the chronicler recorded, "the grandchildren of Rahvalod raised the sword agains the grandchildren of Jaroslav". From the outset there was little unity between the warring princes of "Rus'". Iziaslau'(d. 1001) was succeeded by his son Braczaslau, who it turn was followed by his son Usiaslau the Enchanter (1044 - 1101).

Usiaslau the Enchanter

The dynastic rivalry between the houses of Kiev and Polacak explains the turbulent history of Minsk in its early years, situated as it was on the southern borders of the latter principality. The center of the town had shifted to a new cite giving access to the headwaters of the Vilija and Biarazima and the confluence of the Niamiha and Svisloch rivers. Here also the steep banks of the Niamiha, the high mound south of the stream and Trinity Golden hill offered a good defensive position. Public buildings, dwelling houses, and fortifications were raised of timber. The first recorded mention of Minsk in 1066 relates however to dynastic wars with Kiev. After Usiaslau of Polacak had raided Novgorod and brought to his capital the bells of the Cathedral of St. Sophia, to hang them in his own Cathedral of that name, the three sons of Jaraslav in retribution attacked the city of Minsk: "The people of Menesk(Minsk) barricaded themselves in the town, but the three brothers took Menesk and killed the men, carried off the women and children into captivity, and went towards the Niamiha".

Treacherously seized whilst attending a parley in Smalensk with Isiaslau and the princes of Kiev in 1067, Usiaslau and his two sons were kept captive in Kiev, until an uprising of the inhabitants set them free. Prince Usiaslau fled to Poland, and the Prince of Polacak was offered the throne of Kiev in his stead. The story goes that Usiaslau' longed to return home, and declined the honor for the love of his native land. He was, as the chronicler records, called back to Polacak "by the pealing bells of St. Sophia". The first uncensored Belarusian historical opera performed in Minsk: Usiaslau the Enchanter, Prince of Polacak (1944) by the composer Kulikovicz dealt with this romantic theme. The bells of St. Sophia were to become for Belarusian exiles the symbol of the call of the homeland.

Usiaslau principality of Polacak was, on his death, divided between his sons: the fiefdom of Minsk fell to Hleb, who thus became the first sovereign prince of the city. Internecine quarrels weakened the northern principalities and encouraged the Kievans to reopen hostilities. In 1104 they ravaged the principality of Minsk and shortly thereafter the warlike Lithuanians moved in from the west. Vladimir Monomach again besieged and took Minsk in 1116. Three years later in a further campaign against Polacak, after a battle on the banks of Biarazina, the Kievans "attacked the town, and left neither man nor beast in it".Prince Hleb Usiaslavavicz, together with his two sons, Rascilau and Valadar, was taken into captivity, where he died in exile later that year. He was succeeded by his son Rascislau, but yet again the Kievans attacked in 1129, and placed their nominee Isiaslau Mscislavicz on the throne dispatching Gleb children to serve the Byzantine Emperor in Constantinople.

The Grand Duke Hedymin

However, the principality reverted to the princes of Polacak in 1146, with the return of the two sons of Hleb, Rascilau and after him Valadar(1151 - 1158), though Syrakomla gives different dates and the chronicles for this period are incomplete. On the death of the latter prince, Minsk is though to have been governed by Valadar's son Prince Vasylka, at least until 1195. During the reign of the Grand Duke Mindauh(c. 1200 - 1263) of Lithuania, Polacak entered into an alliance with him to expel the Baltic Germans, who had invaded the principality. Thereafter, it appears to have become a Lithuanian appanage, for by 1220 the overlord of Minsk was Prince Edzivil, a nephew of Mindauh. Minsk continued as a semi-independent principality allied with Lithuania, for as late as 1326 the records mention a Prince Todar Svjataslavavicz of Minsk as a witness to a treaty between the Grand Duke Hedymin(d. 1341) and the city-state of Novgorod.

The fall of Kiev to the Mongols in 1240 during the great invasion of Batu Khan, the submission of Jaroslav, the Grand Duke of Moscow, to the Tatars in 1243 and the Lithuanian victory over the Asian invaders first at Kojdanava(1241) under Prince Skirmunt and then at Kruta Hora (1249) a few miles from Minsk, served to consolidate the union between the Belarusian principalities and the Grand Duchy. In 1252 Mindauh and his his leading nobles were baptized, and the Grand Duke was crowned with the approval of Pope Innocent IV in 1253. He fixed his capital in the Belarusian city of Navahrudak, some 100 km west from Minsk.

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