Ties of Kinship: Genealogy and Dynastic Marriage in Kyivan Rus’

April 12, 2016
Ties of Kinship cover

Ties of Kinship coverHURI Publications is pleased to announce that Dr. Christian Raffensperger’s book, Ties of Kinship: Genealogy and Dynastic Marriage in Kyivan Rus’, is now available. The book is part of the Harvard Series in Ukrainian Studies.

Published: April 2016
Hardcover, 417 pages
ISBN 9781932650136
Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute Publications

This volume makes a unique contribution to our understanding of Medieval Europe and Kyivan Rus’. With over 22 genealogical charts, the book provides an unprecedented resource for study into the dynastic marriages between royal families of Rus’ and of kingdoms throughout the rest of Europe.

“Although Rus’ is portrayed as part of Russian or Ukrainian history, it is actually deeply interconnected with the rest of medieval Europe, even though medievalists don’t typically acknowledge it,” Raffensperger said.

The author noted that while many of the dynastic marriages are already known, they’re often ignored in scholarship, largely due to the ‘siloes’ that have come to define academic fields. Medievalists focus on Western Europe, while Ukrainian scholars and Slavicists stop following royal individuals who cross the border in a marriage alliance to the West. 

Rusian Women in History

Ties of Kinship also addresses gaps in the scholarship caused by a lack of attention to women in history. The book highlights the role of women by following the motivations and events surrounding dynastic marriages. In the case of Rus’, the vast majority of marriages with foreign polities involved Rusian women.

“My research has shown how important these women were in their new communities and how, in many different ways, they engaged in the politics of their new kingdoms, often to the benefit of Rus’,” Raffensperger explained.

While early Rus’ scholarship still lacks extensive resources on Rusian women, Raffensperger was able to uncover their stories using sources in Latin and other languages. 

Partial Genealogical Chart of Mstislavnas family

Raffensperger’s revelations include a number of interesting anecdotes, providing both political insights and a healthy dose of intrigue. For instance, one of the author’s favorite stories involves two sisters, daughters of Mstislav Volodimerich (partial chart shown above). One daughter is married to a minor ruler in Denmark, while the other marries the ruler of Norway. Throughout their lives, the sisters stay in contact and eventually work out an alliance to preserve the Danish throne when both of their husbands die. (If this brief preview has piqued your interest, you can read the whole excerpt here.) 

“The most basic part of women’s history is including women as part of the narrative,” Raffensperger said. “The larger issue is exemplifying how important women were to medieval history as a counter to the male-centric history that has been written for so long. In this case, I place the emphasis on the role that these women play as ambassadors of Rus’, guarantors of treaties, and advocates for their natal families.” 

Mapping the Dynastic Marriages of Rus’

During his sabbatical as a Eugene and Daymel Shklar Research Fellow at HURI, Raffensperger not only worked on the publication of this manuscript, but also contributed to HURI’s Mapa: Digital Atlas of Ukraine. Working with Serhii Plokhii, Kostyantyn Bondarenko, and the Center for Geographical Analysis, he mapped out the dynastic marriages in the Rus’ Genealogy Project, providing links to additional information about each tie. The interactive map creates a visual representation of the connections between Rus’ and the wider region.

HURI MAPA Rus Genealogy

With about 70 percent of those dynastic marriages forming ties to the West, this research supports Raffensperger’s goal of encouraging a broader scope for Medieval Studies and a reevaluation of how Rus’ historically fit into the European community. Given the ongoing discussions and debates about Ukraine’s contemporary foreign relations and national identity, such insight from the past could offer an interesting voice in the conversation.

Ties of Kinship

The warp and weft of political and social relationships among the medieval elite were formed by marriages made between royal families. Ties of Kinship establishes a new standard for tracking the dynastic marriages of the ruling family of Rus´—the descendants of Volodimer (Volodimerovichi). Utilizing a modern scholarly approach and a broad range of primary sources from inside and outside Rus´, Christian Raffensperger has created a fully realized picture of the Volodimerovichi from the tenth through the twelfth centuries and the first comprehensive, scholarly treatment of the subject in English.

Alongside 22 full genealogical charts (79 charts total) with accompanying bibliographic information, this work presents an analysis of the Volodimerovichi dynastic marriages with modern interpretations and historical contextualization that highlights the importance of Rus´ in a medieval European framework. This study will be used by Slavists, Byzantinists, and West European medievalists as the new baseline for research on the Volodimerovichi and their complex web of relationships with the world beyond. 

Christian Raffensperger gives us a book that has been needed for generations. Anyone who has ventured into the Kyivan chronicles and other Rusian and western medieval sources immediately becomes disheartened by the maze of names and marriages of the Volodimerovichi. Not anymore, thanks to this book. But Ties of Kinship is more than a reference work; it is an erudite and ambitious work of interpretive historical scholarship that offers a source-based glimpse of how the Kyivan polity fit into a much broader social and political medieval European world. Anyone interested in Rusian history or medieval Europe will find this work indispensable. - Russell E. Martin, Westminster College 

The book is available through the Harvard University Press catalog and on Amazon.com

Christian RaffenspergerChristian Raffensperger obtained his B.A. from Bates College in Lewiston, Maine, and his M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Chicago. His first book, released by Harvard University Press, won the Ohio Academy of History Publication Award in 2013 and is titled, “Reimagining Europe: Kievan Rus’ in the Medieval World, 988–1146.” Currently he is at work on a new project focusing on intrafamilial conflicts in medieval central and eastern Europe, and how those families manage those conflicts through the creation of "situational kinship networks.”

Raffensperger was a Eugene and Daymel Shklar Research Fellow at the Harvard Ukrainian Research Institute during the 2013–2014 academic year, and remains a HURI Associate. He is currently a professor of history at Wittenberg University and serves on the governing board of both the Byzantine Studies Association of North America and the Ohio Academy of History.