Grand Princess Olga of Rus’ Shows the Bird: Her ‘Christian Falcon’ Emblem

In: Russian History
Roman K. Kovalev The College of New Jersey,

Search for other papers by Roman K. Kovalev in
Current site
Google Scholar
Download Citation Get Permissions

Access options

Get access to the full article by using one of the access options below.

Institutional Login

Log in with Open Athens, Shibboleth, or your institutional credentials

Login via Institution


Buy instant access (PDF download and unlimited online access):


This study attempts to interpret the symbols (a falcon “crowned” with a cross, a key, and a Riurikid bident) found on a newly discovered tenth-century trapezoidal pendant from Pskov. Aside from a handful of imitation dirham coins that carry identical images of the falcon, no other parallels of these symbols or their combination have yet been discovered. Based on various sources, it is argued that the pendant was jointly issued to a Rus’ administrator-revenue collector by Grand Princess Olga and her son Sviatoslav at the time of his minority but not prior to Olga’s administrative reforms in the late 940s, i.e., ca. 950. While the bident was Sviatoslav’s dynastic emblem (reserved for reigning male Riurikids), Olga’s authority over the realm and her minor son was represented by way of a key (latchlifter) and a falcon. The key carried legal and possibly religious symbolism of right over the domain, while the falcon represented religious as well as royal authority. But, both emblems can be connected with the goddess Freyja – the chief female divinity in the Nordic pantheon – and Olga adopted them as her symbols in ca. 950. Based on her choice of these symbols and other circumstantial evidence, it is contended that Olga was a devotee of the goddess and practiced her cult prior to her conversion to Christianity (i.e., she was a vǫlva). Indeed, it is possible that Olga was the supreme priestess of Freyja, or her close equivalent Slavic goddess Mokosh, for the Rus’ state prior to her stepping down from the position as regent and her official conversion to Christianity.

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 1339 144 10
Full Text Views 254 16 1
PDF Views & Downloads 89 16 3