Olga of Kiev was the third ruler of Kievan Rus’. She was the descendant of the Vikings, married to Prince Igor, the son of Rurik. Olga is remembered as the first Russian ruler to convert to Christianity. But most of all she is remembered as the woman who gave revenge a whole new meaning.
Prince Igor I and Olga were married in Kiev in about 903. Igor was a brave soldier and made several successful campaigns against Byzantium and the Drevlians who were East Slavic tribe that the Varangians were constantly at war with. One day Igor was brutally killed by the Drevlians while on a mission to collect tribute.
Igor’s son Svyatoslav was only three years old at that time, so Olga became a regent in 945. The Drevlians now saw Kievan Rus’ as an easy target and sent envoys to Olga to make her marry the Drevlian Prince Mal.
Revenge in four acts
According to the Primary Chronicle, the Drevlians sent 20 of their envoys in two boats to meet Olga in Kiev. She gave them honorable welcome. She ordered her people to carry the men in their boats so they did not have to walk themselves. The boats were carried to her castle’s courtyard where a giant trench had been prepared. Then the boats with all the men inside were tossed into the trench and they were all buried alive.
Olga sent a message to the Drevlians that she is ready to marry Prince Mal but needs a delegation of 20 of their most distinguished men to persuade her people as well. The delegation was sent and Olga gave them a warm welcome. After their arrival, Olga first offered them to bathe in a fancy bathhouse to relax. After the men had entered, Olga ordered the doors be locked and the building was set on fire. All the men were burned alive.
To the rest of the Drevlians, Olga offered to come to them if they organized a funeral feast for her husband. She arrived at the feast in an apparent mourning, then waited until the Drevlians were all drunk and had her soldiers kill them. All 5,000 of them! They were slaughtered.
While the remainder of the people were begging for mercy, Olga said she will impose an easy punishment on them: she needed just three pigeons and three sparrows from each household. The people, thankful for the reasonable terms, provided the birds. Olga then ordered her soldiers to attach a tiny piece of sulfur wrapped in cloth to every single pigeon and sparrow. At night all the birds returned to their homes and the whole town was set to fire that killed everyone.
This is what a fury of a Russian Princess looks like.