The most important of his military enterprises, the campaign against Constantinople - Constantinople, and to this day keeps a lot of mysteries. One of them, for example, is that Russian troops, who did not have the means to besiege and assault powerful fortifications, would not seem to pose a serious danger to the perfectly fortified capital of the Byzantine Empire.
Meanwhile, the campaign ended with a brilliant and almost bloodless victory, the conclusion of a military-political alliance and a very advantageous international treaty for Russia, by the way, the first stories our country. How did the Russian commander manage to achieve such outstanding results? What did his shield mean, nailed to the gates of Constantinople? Finally, where and why did his famous ships on wheels go on dry land?
The article offered to the attention of readers lifts the veil over the eleventh-century secret.
Young Russia met the 10th century with a completely prosperous country: tribal separatism is dying away in the deep underground, communication lines are cleared of predatory gangs, goods circulate freely over land and rivers, cities flourish, fill with people and grow rich villages.
The Scandinavian labels do not disturb the north with their adventures anymore - the unified Russia will not let go of pranks - and they prefer to go to the service of the Kiev prince, regent-ruler Oleg, with the retinue. The western side is also calm, and there is simply no power there to force a young state.
Another thing is the south-east, where the Khazar Kaganate leaves no hope of restoring former domination over a fair part of the territory of the state. Terrible events (still distant) occur somewhere in the Great Steppe - it is not for nothing that the Hungarians leave from there to the Danube. Oleg saves the last Magyar tribes from the crooked sabers of nomads, passing their neighbors through the lands of Kiev. It will take a little time, and Russia will be face to face with a predatory, swift and violent adversary, but now it is necessary to solve an urgent, common for any young state problem - to receive international recognition.
The situation was complicated by the fact that the glade, like a number of other tribes, formally continued to be considered tributaries of the Khazars, and there were few who wanted to quarrel with the Kaganate. As a result, Kiev could not conclude equal international agreements, and Russian merchants, deprived of legal protection, were subjected to all kinds of discrimination abroad.
The situation, of course, was not the same everywhere - so, if the German cities of Bremen, Kiel, Hamburg did not even want to hear about any Khazars and know that they developed a mutually beneficial trade, Byzantium had no such freedom of choice: the kaganate got too close her Black Sea possessions. After all, it was precisely through Tsargrad-Constantinople that the lion’s share of Russian exports went, and from here, too, many necessary goods of the South and East came.
The logic of the development of events says that Oleg may have sent ambassadors to the city on the Bosphorus more than once before he was convinced that there was no diplomatic solution to the problem. It remained either to deliver a crushing blow to the Khazar kaganate, or to force Byzantium to recognize the sovereignty of the young state.
The first way did not ensure the direct achievement of the goal (all the same, then it would have to negotiate with the same Byzantium), and besides, it demanded a whole set of preliminary political-strategic measures, which was done only under Oleg’s successors.
The second path immediately led to much more significant prospects. The Eastern Roman Empire by this time had passed the zenith of its power. Left Italy, under the pressure of the Arabs had to leave North Africa, constantly worried about Bulgaria. Khazar Kaganate threatens the northern Black Sea coast. The wars had long since turned from offensive to defensive, and Constantinople was dispersing forces, seeking to cover the extended borders from numerous enemy hordes.
At the same time, it was not necessary to underestimate the forces of the empire: it still remained a true superpower of the Middle Ages, and its citizens, although the Greek language had already supplanted Latin, proudly called themselves Romans ("Romans"). Many achievements of ancient science, including military science, were kept here, while the Western European armies would need hundreds more years to reach the level of the Roman legions.
The military experience of its neighbors, both eastern and western, was also not ignored - it was creatively thought out and put into service. The debugged financial system makes it possible to provide the army with a good contingent, and the imperial guard, ten thousand “immortals,” gathered the best fighters from Europe, Asia and Africa under their banners. The commanders have as yet inaccessible to their neighbors knowledge of tactics and strategy, the degree of individual training of warriors is also very high: it was Byzantium at that time that was the school of fencing and riding for all of Europe. As for the quantity and quality weapons, here there was no one to argue with the empire.
"Tsargrad armor" and blades were highly valued by connoisseurs of the whole world, but Constantinople, moreover, also possessed the secrets of building throwing machines for various purposes. Unusual structures capable of throwing a weighty stone core three hundred or four hundred steps or releasing several dozens of arrows at once produced a very tangible moral and psychological effect, since very few scientists were aware of the meaning of the word "mechanics" outside of Byzantium. . Especially effective were the projectiles with the so-called "Greek fire" - a special incendiary composition, it is able to compare with modern napalm.
The ruler of Russia was well aware of the strength of the Byzantine army and tried to avoid meeting with her, especially since the political goal of the campaign provided for minimal losses on both sides. Strategic reconnaissance fulfilled its task “excellent” - now, knowing that the land forces of the empire are drawn into protracted conflicts far from the capital, one can determine the time of the march: the summer of 907 of the year.
Oleg also took into account the internal situation of Byzantium, which was experiencing a kind of "stagnant period."
It was not for nothing that Emperor Leo VI was nicknamed Wise - it is difficult to deserve such a characteristic from his subjects, it is even harder to go with her into history. But the years and diseases have done their job, the reins in the hands of the master weakened. The bureaucratic elite and courtiers rushed into the pool of intrigues with ecstasy, corruption flourished like a thistle in a landfill, and Basileus only with a bitter smile of the philosopher watched from his bed. The state apparatus was pretty loosened up, which created favorable conditions for the implementation of the plans of the Russian prince.
The calculation turned out to be correct: Byzantine intelligence was either unable to detect the preparations of the northern neighbor, or its reports were ignored. It must be said, excessive mercantile spirit led Constantinople: the Byzantine government, not wanting to lose the sales tax, kept its merchants at home, while the Russians, despite discriminatory measures, long ago chose Constantinople. Commerce, of course, did not interfere with intelligence gathering.
Large-scale campaign preparation is vigorously going on in the Russian Land: squads and ratifications of Novgorod, Pereyaslavl, Chernigov, Rostov, Liubech of other cities gather, squadrons of Scandinavian Vikings are pulled up in the hope of production, weapons are being forged, supplies are being created.
The Russian embassy to the tsar of Bulgaria Simeon resolved the issue of the passage of troops through the lands of his country. But the main forces will go by water - along the Dnieper, bypassing the islands of Khortytsya and Berezan, and then along the Black Sea coast to Constantinople itself.
The chronicles report that Oleg gathered two thousand ships to participate in the campaign. Some of them, of course, did not go the first navigation, but a considerable number were also re-built by the Smolensk citizens and sent to Kiev with spring floods. Basically, they were brooks, differing from the “civilian” rooks with twelve or fourteen pairs of oars, except for their higher sides. They could take up to forty fully armed fighters and up to fifteen tons of cargo. The cost of such a ship of the river-sea class was three hryvnias, that is, three pounds of silver.
The Scandinavian squads marched on their own Drakkars, to describe which there is no particular need. It can only be noted that the sly Vikings sometimes made the keels of these "sea horses" hollow, so that, weighing them with lead or iron, without fear to launch into the stormy sea. If necessary, the metal bars were removed, the draft decreased and the miners stealthily picked up to the serene city in the upper reaches of one of the European rivers.
The nasads, like the drakkars, had only one means of conducting a sea battle - boarding.
Byzantine ships had much more opportunities. The empire inherited a rich Mediterranean shipbuilding school, and its fleet for a long time was represented by exactly the same triremes, biremes, monoremes, like those on which the Roman admirals were victorious, except they were called differently.
These were quite formidable weapons of the sea war; it will be a long time before European shipmen can argue with their ancient counterparts. The forty-meter trireme on all one hundred and seventy oars reached a speed of up to eight knots. The crew, in addition to the rowers, included up to seventeen sailors, up to fifty marines, epibats, ballistiaries and other specialists.
Equipped with throwing machines, the Byzantine ships could start a battle from afar: heavy stone cores, arrows, more passers-by on iron-stained pylons, and most importantly incendiary projectiles with oil or the famous “Greek fire” flew at the enemy. At close range, a harpag was used - a short massive timber, equipped with a clawed tip and a tail ring with a chain. He fired from a ballista and flew away, sweeping away everything in its path, including the masts, and seized the opposite side with the claws of the tip. A side shot allowed to reverse and turn over the enemy ship, and the longitudinal shot - to pull it up for boarding. With a crash fell, glaring with iron beaks into the deck of the enemy, special assault walkways - “crows” and epibats in a column of two with drawn swords rushed into the melee. The archers supported them with fire in the literal sense of the word, for the arrows were smeared with burning asphalt. But the main weapon of the ships of the empire was still the ram! Often there were two of them - one each in the bow and stern, in order to strike both forward and reverse.
Several hundred of these warships, stationed in the harbor of the Golden Horn, could represent a serious hindrance in the implementation of Oleg's plans. For all his courage, the ruler of Russia was not one of those who rushed headlong into a risky adventure. Did he not take into account this opportunity? I learned, even as I learned! Here he was again served by Her Majesty Russian Intelligence.
Corruption, in the period of physical weakness of Leo VI that hit the top of the bureaucrats, penetrated the fleet with a dangerous disease, since there is always something to profit from. It doesn’t matter that the crumbs sold by the treasury never get what they want (others need to be stolen too): gentlemen admirals get richer by lowering sails, tackles, anchors, oars to civil ship owners.
Combat training is being replaced by contracts for the commercial transportation of goods, and oarsmen of warships are lent to private individuals for various works. It must be said that it is already becoming more and more difficult to provide rowing ships with “live engines”: the Christian Church forbids slavery, and Byzantine citizens will rather go for a begging than take the handle of an oar. There are only convicts and prisoners who, in a boarding battle, will rather wait for a dirty trick than help.
The collapse of the once formidable fleet the empire did not hide from Oleg’s attentive gaze, and in the summer of 907 he begins a carefully prepared campaign. The ship's army consisted of two thousand ships and about sixty thousand personnel (of course, not all of the number of ships indicated in the Annals were military and not all carried forty soldiers on board). One can only imagine the impressions of the contemporaries of this event: after all, even passing by their ships three ships in a line, the column at the very minimum distances should have stretched more than three dozen kilometers!
The cavalry is moving along the river in direct guard, but most of it follows the lands of Bulgaria in order to reach the capital of the empire from the north simultaneously with the ship’s army.
Reaching Vyatchev, Oleg makes a stop for two or three days: in front are the dangerous rapids of Neyasyt and the Krariisk crossing, difficult and for individual ships with experienced crews. How to conduct such an armada through this obstacle? Very simple: by land!
The warriors pull the ships ashore, hang them out and put a wheel course under the keels - the latter, with a developed system of portages, was the same usual ship accessory as a mast or anchor. There was a whole production of collapsible frames, axles and sturdy wheels, which allowed to transfer vessels from one water basin to another along equipped ways. So, four years later, after the events described, the South Russian knights came (albeit uninvited) to the Caspian possessions of the Arabs ... Their ships, which are much larger than those of Oleg, could accommodate one hundred and twenty people, while they rolled the steppe from Don to Mother Volga! Of course, with improvised rollers made of logs, there was no reason to dream of such results.
The Russian fleet under the cover of cavalry (you never know what a surprise will bring the steppe) will safely pass the rapids and approach the island of Eleutheria (now Berezan). Here, near the mouth of the Dnieper, in stone towers on the hills are observation posts of Byzantium.
Intelligence of the empire establishes not only the presence of a threat, but also the exact number of Oleg’s ships. Reports, overtaking each other, rush to Constantinople; city on the Bosphorus covers anxiety.
The imminent danger forces Leo VI to overcome the disease and once again take control of the state. There are personnel changes, punishments (according to the medieval order) of the guilty, the capital is vigorously preparing for defense. Alas! In one or two weeks, it is impossible to correct what has fallen into decay over the years!
The Russian cavalry is shipped across the Danube, overcomes the mountain passes of Bulgaria and, having broken the resistance of the Byzantine military settlers - the Stratiots, approaches Constantinople. The numerous and technically equipped fleet of the empire, due to its low combat capability, could not prevent the ship from crossing the sea by sea and, at the most, limited to demonstrative actions, hid behind a chain barrier in the Court - the Golden Horn harbor. Russian troops land north of Galata in an area whose length along the front exceeds twenty kilometers. One of the largest naval landing operations of the Middle Ages is developing according to plan!
The city was besieged by land and blocked from the sea, but the emperor and his commanders nevertheless calmly stare at the Russian camps from the height of the fortress towers: is the enemy near Constantinople itself? Well, this happened more than once. But no one has managed so far to set foot on its walls!
In fact, the fortifications of the capital have long served as a model for military engineers in Europe and Asia. From the land side, the city was reliably defended by the triple walls of Theodosius, which crossed the entire Bosphorus Cape from the Golden Horn to the Sea of Marmara. The length of the fortifications here was 5,5 km, but before approaching them, the attacker had to overcome a ditch filled with water 10 depth and 20 width meters!
The height of the first wall was five, and the second was ten meters. Behind them stood a third, even higher, up to seven meters thick. The distance between the walls of 25 - 30 meters - made it difficult to concentrate the attackers for the subsequent obstacle. Powerful towers allowed attacking attacking throwing weapons from the flanks; the foundations of the structures went underground on 10 - 12 meters, which practically excluded any attempt at digging. Finally, parallel to this line of fortifications, there was another one in the city itself - the wall of Constantine, forming an internal line of defense.
Along the shores of the Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara, there were also impressive, although single-row walls, for storming from these directions was possible only theoretically.
Catapults, ballista and their varieties were sweeping through the approaches to the fortifications for several hundred steps, and the dead space was blocked off by frondioles similar to long-necked monsters, which could bring down stones storming a hail of stones or throw out a huge bucket of burning oil. True, the real streams of liquid flame and boiling water were ahead, at the very bottom of the walls.
Special devices made it possible to snatch out the attackers with sharp claws, raise teeth above the fortress and throw them at others, pull out or crush the striking parts of the rams; mow the enemy with giant knives ...
The task of long-term fortification is to ensure that defenders are able to successfully confront a seven- or even tenfold superior opponent. Needless to say, gentlemen, the Byzantine engineers coped with it to "excellent"!
It is known that in the city there were ten thousand imperial guardsmen. Arguing one-on-one with them could have been the knights (as it was precisely in Russia that professional soldiers were called) and the Vikings, and not all were so in the army of Oleg. If we take into account the city guards and police units, created by the curators of each of the fourteen districts of the two millionth city, it becomes clear that the Russian prince could not count on victory by the number.
Oleg also did not have any relevant siege park, nor specialists capable of serving it. Perhaps allies will be hunger and thirst?
Vain hopes: Lev the Wise, of course, managed to replenish food supplies, he had certain personal grain reserves, and among the thousands of merchant ships huddled in the harbor of the Golden Horn, there would have been many loaded with edibles. As for the water, volumetric underground storages were built under Constantine the Great - tanks, by the way, are completely serviceable even today.
The newcomers from the North will have to limit themselves to relatively modest loot from the surrounding villas, and then retire - otherwise wintering hungry, meeting with the Byzantine army and, perhaps, the fate of an even more numerous Arab army besieging Constantinople in 717-718. Then the conquerors lost more than a hundred thousand people and almost the entire fleet!
Oleg also knew all this perfectly well, and therefore he did not even try to storm the Galata fortress, which defended the entrance to the Golden Horn. A massive chain was stretched between her and the fortifications of the city: special mechanisms allowed her to be lowered or raised, forming an insurmountable barrier. Even five and a half centuries later (Turkish troops captured Constantinople in 1453), the chain barrier would be too tough for Sultan Mehmet II, who had much more powerful ships with artillery on board!
The ruler of Russia is limited to a close blockade of the city and strange works between the camp of his troops and the Gulf of the Golden Horn. There seems to be no direct threat to the capital, but Oleg’s actions still cause considerable inconvenience and considerable damage, primarily due to the cessation of maritime trade. Leo VI begins negotiations.
The requirements of the Russian prince seem unacceptable, especially embarrassing the size of payments to participants of the campaign - twelve hryvnas per boat! The Byzantine side interrupts contacts, and then Oleg makes an unexpected move, combining the external effect with the highest combat effectiveness.
On a sunny August afternoon, residents of Constantinople witness an unprecedented spectacle: from the Russian camp on the shores of the Bosphorus, an entire armada of ships on wheels is moving towards the Golden Horn! A fair wind advised someone to set the sails in order to facilitate the work of the people who took the ropes, and the fleet, adorned with hundreds of multi-colored panels, slowly rolled to the dry land, leaving Galata on the left.
Historians are still wondering about the meaning of Oleg's actions: some believe that he wanted to bypass the Golden Horn from the north, pull the ships to the walls of Theodosius and use them as assault platforms. The defensive capabilities of the Byzantine capital would make such a decision, to put it mildly, not the most successful.
Another point of view says that the Russian prince was going to lower the ships into the bay and carry out an assault on the sea walls directly from the water surface. Alas, neither Marcellus nor Mithridates could do such a thing with all their equipment and siege experience.
But Lev the Wise immediately understood the plan of the Ruler of Russia and appreciated the scale of the approaching disaster: Oleg's goal was not the city walls, but hundreds of warships and thousands of merchant ships that stood in the harbor defenseless! Easily, with his bare hands, without encountering resistance, he would take the countless treasures of their holds, and then make a giant bonfire in the bay, in which the naval power of the empire would burn!
Direct losses are difficult to imagine, and even indirect ones - all the more so: what will be the cost of building a new fleet alone? Yes, and neighbors enemies will not fail to take advantage of the temporary absence of the Byzantine flag on the maritime expanses ...
Negotiations are resumed immediately. The amount requested by Oleg does not seem so significant. But now the Russian prince "raises the bar", appointing special "ways" for the cities of Kiev, Chernihiv, Pereyaslavl, Rostov, Lyubech and several others. We have to agree and, moreover, supply the Russian ships with new sails — silk for Oleg's squad and special-made canvases for everyone else, as well as anchors and tackles. At the same time, the Ruler of Russia shows surprising for those times diplomatic tact and delicacy: he does not insist on concluding an agreement immediately, since now such an act would threaten the dignity of the empire under the threat of a weapon and only discusses the conditions of the Russian embassy in Constantinople.
The agreement reached is secured by the sacred rites of faith: the emperor swears on the Gospel, Oleg with his squad - weapons, as well as the gods Perun and Veles. The ruler of Russia solemnly attaches his scarlet shield to the gates of Constantinople; For a long time this symbolic gesture was interpreted only as a sign of victory, but it had another very important meaning.
Byzantium acquired a reliable ally and protector! Khazar predator will be shortened, the Black Sea possessions of the empire saved. Perhaps, Leo the Wise still gained more than he lost? However, the lesson will not pass for it for nothing: the fleet’s combat capability will be restored, and lighter ships with fewer rowers will receive unprecedented weapons, the most formidable of all that was used in naval battles before the appearance of artillery.
September 907 of the year was far from complete, and the Russian fleet and army, with the honor of ensuring the achievement of the objectives set before the state, were returning home. There they waited for their joyful meeting, and the prince - the Ruler - the love of the people, who called him the Prophetic. So he rightly remained in human memory, for it is extremely rare that the bright talents of a politician, diplomat, commander and naval commander are so successfully combined in one person.
The treaty with Byzantium was signed four years later. One of his articles, by the way, regulated the service of the Russian knights in the armed forces of the empire: Oleg did not suffer from dizziness, did not appreciate Byzantine military science and wished it to become also an asset of Russia.
The Treaty was signed by the very great boyars who went with Oleg to Tsargrad, commanded the formations of ships and troops. Here they are, these Russian admirals, whose names are named in the First Official International Document of Russia: Karl, Ingelot, Farlov, Veremid, Rulav, Hooda, Ruald, Karn, Frelaw, Rueir, Akttruan, Lidulffo, Stemid. It seems that these names sound somewhat "foreign" for the ears of modern Russians? But much more important are the words opening the Treaty:
"We, from the generation of Russian ..."