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“Scire tuum nihil est nisi te scire hoc sciat alter.”-PERSIUS.


THE Russian empire, though it has only lately appeared on the stage of European politics as one of the first-rate states, can nevertheless claim an antiquity second only to France and England, and from the very beginning of its history, its efforts have been continually directed towards the aggrandisement of its territory and power, while the successive princes of Russia have with great uniformity continued to advance the plans for conquest, marked out by their predecessors.

The importance of Russia as an European kingdom has always been dated from the reign of Peter the Great, but for many hundred years before his time the principality of Russia was in existence, struggling with-more or less success against the neighbouring nations, but gradually gaining power till it has obtained an empire, which is now contending single handed against the united resources of its two rivals in point of antiquity. The existence of Russia in its infant state, may be compared to that of Rome, when engaged in perpetual and harassing wars with the small but warlike nations situated around its walls.

Even at that early period, however, the Russians had turned their attention, though without any regular design, to the south, and especially to Constantinople; and it may be interesting to give some account of their attacks on the Byzantine empire at a time when France was oppressed by the Normans, and torn by the seditions of the nobles, while the king had little more than nominal authority beyond his own immediate domains, and was continually

NO. I.


set at defiance by his powerful and rebellious vassals; when England was almost entirely overrun by the Danes, while the Turks, the very nation which two years ago was threatened by Russia with complete destruction, were advancing rapidly in the conquest of those territories, which were the inducement to Russia to begin the present war.

The Russians appear to have been first known to the rest of Europe about the middle of the ninth century, when Ruric, a Scandinavian prince, founded a principality in the centre of what is now called Russia, and was the ancestor of a dynasty which reigned for more than seven hundred years. During the ensuing century and a half, no less than four separate attacks were made on Constantinople by Ruric and his descendants, who in their long and narrow vessels spread a terror along the shores of the Black Sea, similar to that which the Normans and Danes were causing throughout France and Britain. The third of these expeditions is the one to which we shall chiefly confine our attention, both on account of the magnitude of the Russian armament, and because on that occasion the inhabitants of Constantinople roused themselves from their indolence and cowardice, and displayed a courage worthy of the representatives of the Roman name.

In the first expedition, the Russians occupied the port of Constantinople without encountering any resistance, in the absence of the emperor, but a tempest having severely injured and scattered their fleet, they were forced to retreat. The accounts of the second are full of impossible marvels, while strong doubts may be entertained of its occurrence, or, to say the least, of the importance of the event.

The third was made by Izor, son of that Ruric who founded the state of Russia. Attracted by the hope of booty, which was the chief incentive to these expeditions, and urged on by the hatred of peace, which was at that time as much a characteristic of the Russians as of their northern kinsfolk, he determined to follow the example of his predecessors, and make an attack on the wealthy capital of the Byzantine empire. His chief means of transport were the vessels above mentioned, which were about sixty feet long, each capable of conveying from forty to seventy men with their arms and provisions. Of these, he assembled about a thousand sail at the mouth of the Dnieper. With this armament, the vessels of which deserve the name of canoes rather than ships, Izor determined to attack the city of Constantine, at that time the first in the world, fortified with the utmost care and strength, filled with arms and munitions of every kind, and supplied in abundance

with Greek fire, the most destructive weapon ever employed by man, before the invention of gunpowder; but there was considerable danger that the city would fall into the hands of these barbarians, through the effeminate cowardice of the inhabitants. The time, moreover, was most favourable for the attempt, for the Saracens, who had by repeated victories spread themselves over a considerable portion of Asia and Africa, were a source of serious annoyance to the Byzantine monarchs. Again and again had his armies encountered them in the field, and again and again had the fanatic impetuosity of the Mahomedans utterly routed his enervated legions. His empire in the East underwent continual diminution, and he had begun to tremble for his capital. Thus we see that nine hundred years ago, the Russians and Mahomedans were making attacks in unison on Constantinople, while now we are engaged in a struggle occasioned by the attempts of the Russians to drive their more fortunate rivals from the same country.

At the time when Izor made this formidable expedition against Constantinople, the whole naval force of the empire was operating against the Saracens, and the capital was left almost entirely defenceless. The Russian prince, starting from the mouth of the Dnieper about the month of June, 941, coasted past the Danube and along the shores of Thrace to the entrance of the Bosphorus. Here the further progress of the barbarians might have been easily checked by a small fleet of galleys, but every available ship had been sent against the Saracens, and the Russians advanced through the Thracian Bosphorus close to Constantinople. The inhabitants were in despair. An enemy, powerful from his numbers, and feared on account of his ferocity, was approaching, ready to carry fire and sword into the very heart of the city, while they seemed abandoned without any means of defence, as a prey to an army of cruel and ignorant invaders. But their courage rose with the emergency

Sunk in effeminacy and luxury as they were, they would not allow their city to be insulted by the presence of such an enemy, and turned all their attention to their means of defence. Fifteen worn out galleys still remained in the harbour. Though most of them were dismantled and scarcely sea worthy, they hastily launched them against the enemy. The galleys were manned partly by the inhabitants, partly by Varangians, who had been recommended to seek the service of the Byzantine court, by the first prince of Russia; for they had formerly been in his pay, but he soon discovered that his servants had become his masters. They had now become the chief support of the Byzantine emperor,

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