Gleb of Minsk’s Widow: Neglected Evidence on the Rule of a Woman in Rus’ian History?

in Russian History
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The widow of Gleb Vseslavich of Minsk outlived her husband by 40 years. Upon her death in 1158 AD, the Kievan Chronicle inserted a long eulogy where manifold details of her death and burial are given, and where her generous sponsorship of the Caves Monastery is repeatedly highlighted. This unusually (for a woman) long and thorough eulogy is the catalyst for this piece of research.

In order to cast light on why her death attracted so much attention, we study what the circumstances of the last forty years of Gleb's widow's life might have been. We do so by merging the partial conclusions that the research in different disciplines have made available. Syntactical and semantical analysis lead to the proposition of a new interpretation of the eulogy: that the Kievan Chronicle is, in fact, telling us that she ruled Minsk for the forty years of her widowhood. In support of this theory, a study of chronicle entries on Minsk and Polotsk during those decades reveals an apparent vacuum of power in Minsk. Finally, sphragistical data provide indirect evidence of some kind of princely female rule in the north-west of Rus’ in approximately the same time period.

Although no part of the research provides undeniable evidence, all parts point towards the same plausible answer: the combination of the results of linguistic analysis, of chronicle data, and of sphragistics favors the hypothesis that the widow of Gleb Vseslavich acted as the ruler of Minsk between the death of her husband and her own death.

Gleb of Minsk’s Widow: Neglected Evidence on the Rule of a Woman in Rus’ian History?

in Russian History






Günter BaranowskiDie Russkaja Pravda—ein mittelalterliches Rechtsdenkmal (Frankfurt am Main: Peter Lang2005) 44-45.


Arsenii N. NasonovNovgorodskaia Pervaia Letopis’ starshego i mladshego izvodov (Moskva: Akademiia Nauk SSSR1950) 25 line 16.


E. A. Luk’ianov ed.Keleinyi letopisets sviatitelia Dimitriia Rostovskogo s pribavleniem ego zhitiia chudes izbrannykh tvorenii i Kievskogo Sinopsisa arkhimandrita Innokentiia Gizelia (Moscow: Palomnik2000) hereafter Synopsis.


BaumgartenGénéalogies et mariages10.


Eduard M. Zagorul’skiiGenealogiia Polotskikh kniazei Iziaslavichei (Minsk: Izd-vo Vuz-Iuniti1994) 10.


Eduard M. Zagorul’skiiVozniknovenie Minska (Minsk: Izd-vo BGU im. V. I. Lenina1982) 16-17.


Leonid V. Alekseev“Menskie Dregovichi i Polotskie kniaz’ia,” Rossiiskaia Arkheologiia 2 (1998): 104; Zagorul’skii Vozniknovenie Minska 148.


Alekseev“Polotskaia zemlia” 253. Boris-Rogvolod’s son Rogvolod Borisovich is mentioned as ruling Drutsk in 1159 (PSRL 2: 493-494) and later his grandson sits on the same throne; Alekseev considers that this proves that their father and grandfather respectively ruled Drutsk as well.


AlekseevPolotskaia zemlia253.


Alekseev“Polotskaia zemlia” 231.


Litvina and UspenskiiVybor imeni274-275.


Martin DimnikThe Dynasty of Chernigov 1146-1246 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press2003) 85-86 gives a plausible explanation of the conflict between Rogvolod Borisovich and Rostislav Glebovich.


Zagorul’skiiVozniknovenie Minska25; Alekseev Zapadnye zemli 2: 14.


IaninAktovye pechati231-232. I have not found any other seal that belonged to a nun in the two following volumes of the Aktovye pechati Drevnei Rusi (published in 1970 and 1998).


IaninAktovye pechati232; this seal is reproduced in ibid. 311.


Ianin“Polotskii matriarkhat” 19.




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