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European Kingdoms

Eastern Europe


Principality of Polotsk (Rus)

The principality of Polotsk (or Polatsk) is also sometimes referred to as a duchy or even a kingdom. It was a vassal state which was created within Kievan Rus territories, and which was located to the south-east of Pskov (within modern Belarus). According to the Russian Primary Chronicle. a Varangian (almost certainly a Swede) called Ragnvald Olafsson established himself in Polotsk in the middle of the tenth century, making it one of the earliest Eastern Slav states. Unfortunately, he ran foul of the ruling Rurikid dynasty of Kiev when Vladimir the Great returned from exile in Scandinavia to try to claim the Kievan throne from his brother. Polotsk, though, had long been a Rus centre. Before the arrival of the Rus in the mid-ninth century Polotsk had been the tribal centre of the Slavic Krivichis. When the northern Slavic tribes had, according to tradition, invited Rurik and his brethren to command them in 862, he had made Novgorod his capital and had installed his own Rus governor at Polotsk.

From the beginning of the Slavic expansion to the formation of the three Rus Slavic states, Novgorod, Ryazan, and Kiev, in the ninth century and even several centuries later, there were a considerable number of Balts in what is now Belarus and in the west of greater Russia. The process of Slavicisation which began in prehistoric times continued into the nineteenth century. Belarussians borrowed many words, most of them in daily usage, from the Lithuanian peasant vocabulary. The ethnography in the districts of Kaluga, Moscow, Smolensk, Vitebsk, Polotsk, and Minsk to the middle of the nineteenth century is highly indicative of the Baltic character. Indeed, Slavicised eastern Balts make up much of the population of modern Belarus and part of greater Russia.

(Additional information from The Russian Primary Chronicle (Laurentian Text), Samuel Hazzard Cross & Olgerd P Sherbowitz-Wetzor (Eds and translators, Mediaeval Academy of America), and from External Link: The Balts, Marija Gimbutas (1963, previously available online thanks to Gabriella at Vaidilute, but still available as a PDF - click or tap on link to download or access it).)

945 - 980

Ragnvald Olafsson / Rogvolod

Varangian founder of the principality.


Vladimir the Great returns from exile in Scandinavia to try and claim the Kievan throne from his brother. Seeking an alliance with Ragnvald through marriage to his daughter, Rogneda, her refusal triggers an attack on Polotsk which results in the death of Ragnvald and his son. Rogneda is taken by force to be Vladimir's wife.

Varangian Guards
The Varangian Guards of the Byzantine court in the tenth century were recruited from eastern-travelling Vikings who came to Greece through the lands of the Rus

c.987 - 1001

Iziaslav Vladimirovich

Son of Vladimir of Kiev and first of the Polotsk Rurikids.


Iziaslav predeceases his father which, according to East Slavic house law, means that his descendants forfeit their right to inherit the throne of Kiev. Even so, Iziaslav's son still manages to inherit Polotsk, although he seems to be missing from some lists which show his brother ruling the principality from 1001.

1001 - 1003

Vseslav Iziaslavich

Son, but omitted from some lists in favour of Briacheslav.

1003 - 1044

Briacheslav Iziaslavich



Briacheslav attacks and sacks Novgorod, but on his way back he is cornered at the River Sudoma by the army of his uncle, Yaroslav the Wise of Kiev. Defeated, Briacheslav flees, abandoning his booty from Novgorod, but Yaroslav pursues him and forces him to sign a treaty in 1021 granting him Usvyat and Vitebsk.

1044 - 1068

Vseslav Briacheslavich the Sorcerer

Son. Prince of Kiev (1068-1069). Fled Kiev. Died 1101.

1065 - 1067

Intent on staking a claim to the Kievan throne despite his ineligibility, Vseslav begins a campaign to secure Kievan territory. Unable to enter the capital, which is held by Yaroslav's three sons, he attacks Pskov and is repulsed. Between 1066-1067 he attacks and pillages Novgorod, burning the city. The Kievan prince who governs Novgorod, Mstislav, flees to his father in Kiev, and retribution is not long in coming. Kiev's princes join forces and march on Polotsk's south-eastern city of Minsk, sacking it and defeating Vseslav at the Battle of the River Nemiga on 3 March 1067.

Map of Eastern Europe AD 1054-1132
The death of Yaroslav 'the Wise' in 1054 saw the end of the descent of Rurikid power via agnatic seniority. His division of the succession weakened Kiev by creating what soon turned out to be rival principalities for each of his sons (click or tap on map to view full sized)


Whilst Vseslav is busy attempting to secure the Kievan grad principality, his Cathedral of Holy Wisdom is completed in Polotsk. It will serve as the location of his final resting place in 1101.

1068 - 1069

A large number of nomads known as Polovcians attack the land of Rus and Izhaslav, Svyatoslav, and Vsevolod meet them close to the Al'ta (River Alta). They join battle in the dead of night but the Rus come off worst and are forced to flee. The Polovcians are given free reign to attack Rus lands and an uprising by the disgruntled Rus against their inactive prince forces him to flee to Poland. The same uprising frees Vseslav and he is proclaimed grand prince of Kiev. However, Izhaslav returns months later with an army and Vseslav flees back to Polotsk. Even there, though, he is unable to hold onto power. The Mstislav who had been forced to flee Novgorod in 1067 is given Polotsk to rule as a Rus vassal.


Mstislav Iziaslavich

Son of Grand Prince Izhaslav of Kiev (Turov Rurikids).

1069 - 1071

Sviatopolk Iziaslavich

Brother, and vassal of Kiev.


After years of fighting against Grand Prince Izhaslav of Kiev and his vassal rulers of Polotsk, Vseslav is able to re-secure control of his own principality. Izhaslav's expulsion by his own brother in 1073 introduces political instability in Kiev that prevents any fresh attempts to control Polotsk.

1071 - 1101

Vseslav Briacheslavich



Following Vseslav's death, the greater part of his principality breaks up into smaller states which include the principalities of Druck, Jersika, Koknese (mentioned briefly in 1205 in connection with Riga), Minsk, and Vitebsk.

1101 - 1127

Davyd Vseslavich



The Lats, Livs, and neighbouring Semigallians have conflicting interests with the Rus principalities of Polotsk, Pskov, and Novgorod, with the latter two making a number of raids on north-eastern Latvia. The first major setback to Rus expansionism is the disastrous defeat of the army led by the sons of Prince Vseslav against the Semigallians (Zimegola, according to the Russian Primary Chronicle). According to the chronicle, Rus losses amount to 9,000 men.

1127 - 1128

Boris Vseslavich


1128 - 1129

Davyd Vseslavich


1129 - 1132

Iziaslav Mstislavich

Of the Monomashichi Rurikids of Kiev. Son of Mstislav II.


Sviatopolk Mstislavich


Mstislav the Great of Kiev is known as Harald in Norse sagas, possibly a nickname which alludes to his maternal grandfather, Harold II of England. After a lifetime spent fighting the Cumans, Estonians, Lithuanians, and Polotsk for ascendancy, his death effectively ends the unity of the Kievan Rus state. It is torn apart by various competing claims. Mstisslav's son, Iziaslav, has been governing Polotsk before briefly being replaced by Sviatopolk and then by the Vitebsk Rurikids under Vasilko Sviatoslavich.

1132 - 1144

Vasilko Sviatoslavich

Of the Vitebsk Rurikids.

1144 - 1151

Rogvolod Borisovich

Of the Drutsk Rurikids.

1151 - 1159

Rostislav Glebovich

Of the Minsk Rurikids.

1159 - 1162

Rogvolod Borisovich

The Drutsk Rurikids are restored.

1162 - 1167

Vseslav Vasilkovich

Of the Vitebsk Rurikids.


Volodar Glebovich

Of the Minsk Rurikids.

1167 - 1175

Vseslav Vasilkovich


1175 - 1178


1178 - 1180

Vseslav Vasilkovich

Restored for a second time.

1180 - 1186




It is around this time that a short-lived Lat principality which is subject to Polotsk appears in Gersik, or Gersike, situated on the right bank of the Daugava around 150 kilometres south of Riga. It only has two rulers before being conquered by the Order of the Knights of the Sword.

1186 - 1215

Vladimir / Volodar Vseslavich

Brother of Mstislav of Novgorod.


Vetseka is the ruler of the small Polotsk principality of Koknese. According to the (German) sources, Vetseka gives half of his territory to Albert of Riga in return for protection against the duchy of Samogitia and Polotsk itself.


Having shown their own disdain for crusader demands, the Unguenois are faced with an all-out war by the combined forces of the crusaders from Riga and the Lets, their traditional southern enemies. Only months after being besieged and starved by Mstislav the Bold of Novgorod and Vladimir of Polotsk, Otepää  is burned by the crusaders, although the Unguenois and Sakalans unite to retaliate.


The sovereignty of Polotsk is finally revoked.

The Unguenois fight on in their ongoing feud against the Lets, but face intensive reprisal raids. Just about all Unguenois regions and settlements are burned down or otherwise attacked. The onslaught forces the Ungenois to submit entirely to Riga, accepting baptism in return for protection. When Vladimir of Polotsk hears this he attacks the Unguenois, forcing a German defence and fortification of Unguenois lands. The Unguenois are now firmly aligned with the crusaders in Riga and the bishop in Dorpat.

1215 - 1222

Boris Vseslavich

Of the Drutsk Rurikids.


The Unguenois rebel against their German overlords. They are encouraged by the Sakalians who send them the bloody swords of Germans they have killed. The Unguenois decide to side with Novgorod, with the result that the Rus princes of Polotsk, Novgorod, and Suzdal send around twenty thousand men to their aid. Prince Vyachko of Koknese is left in charge of the Unguenois and any other Estonians who will submit to him.

1222 - 1232

Sviatoslav Mstislavich

Of the Smolensk Rurikids.

1232 - 1242

Bryachislav Vasilkovich

Of the Vitebsk Rurikids.

1242 - 1263

Polotsk becomes a vassal of the rapidly rising power of Lithuania under its grand duke, Mindaugas. The ruler of the subject Samogitians, Tautvila, controls the principality.

1267 - ?

Iziaslav of Vitebsk?

The first of a series of Lithuanian rulers.

1270/80 - c.1290

Konstantin Tovtivilovich

1290 - 1307

Polotsk is controlled by the archbishopric of Riga, before the brother of Grand Duke Gediminas of Lithuania secures the principality as a vassal state. Successive Lithuanian rulers help in fending off attacks by the Livonian Knights.

1307 - 1342

Vainius / Voin

Brother of Gediminas of Lithuania.

1342 - 1377

Andrei of Polotsk

Son of Algirdas of Lithuania.


Jagiello of Lithuania forces Polotsk to accept his loyal brother, Skirgaila, in favour of Andrei, whom he sees as a rival.

1377 - 1386

Skirgaila / Ivan

Brother of Jagiello of Lithuania.

1381 - 1385

Jagiello of Lithuania is laying siege to Polotsk in support of Skirgaila when his uncle, Kestutis, removes him from the throne, triggering the Lithuanian Civil War. In 1385, Andrei surrenders his right to rule Polotsk to the Livonian Knights in order that he be protected from his enemies and rule as a vassal on a feudal estate.

1386 - 1387

Andrei of Polotsk

Restored as a vassal of the Livonian Knights.


Jagiello of Poland and Lithuania attacks Polotsk and the Livonian Knights do not protect it, virtually gifting it to its attackers. The personal union between the grand duke of Lithuania and the queen of Poland had been designed primarily to end crusading attacks into Lithuania itself, but it is also beginning to reap rewards further afield.

1387 - 1397

Skirgaila / Ivan



The principality is abolished and becomes an administrative division of Lithuania, known as the Polotsk Voivodeship. It shares Lithuania's fate as the grand duchy is united with the kingdom of Poland, and then finally partitioned into extinction in 1795. Today the city of Polotsk forms part of the state of Belarus.

Cross Cathedral, Polotsk
Cross Cathedral in Polotsk was built between 1893-1897 and is part of the St Ephrosinia women's convent