The legend of the invisible city of Kitezh is connected with the life of the Saint Prince Yury (Georgy) Vsevolodovich, a son of Grand Prince Vsevolod Yur'evich Bol'shoe Gnezdo (the Great Nest), in the memory of the Russian folk. The Saint Prince Yury was killed by the Tatars in a battle in 1238. Where was mysterious Kitezh located? Why was it associated with this Prince? In this article some data are collected that can shed light upon these problems.
Prince Yury (Georgy) Andeevich Bogolyubsky was a son of the Grand Prince Andrei Bogolyubsky and a nephew of the Grand Prince Vsevolod Yur'evich Bol'shoe Gnezdo. He was the ruler of Novgorod in 1174, and then he was dethroned. Later he lived in the mysterious Polovtsian town Sudzh (Sakharov and Novosel'tsev 1997: 89). I think that this town is Tmutarakan', an Old Russian town on the modern Taman' Peninsula (the Krasnodar region, Russia), as the word sudzh correlates with the archaic Russian sudyonki 'twilight; evening'. This conclusion is based on the author's interpretation of the name of Tmutarakan' consisting of two parts, tmu and tarakan', cf. Russian t'ma 'darkness, gloom' and tarashchit' (glaza) 'to goggle', otherwise 'The darkness -- the light'. This idea is preserved in the following Russian proverb: Sverchok [= solntse 'the sun', cf. Russian sverkat' 'to flash', svet 'light', svetit' 'to light'] tmutarakan pobedil 'The sun defeated the darkness, (and) the light (appeared again)'. The following report by N.M. Karamzin is known: "The following curious event, although not very reliable, belongs to this time. Georgy, the son of Andrei Bogolyubsky, was not mentioned in our chronicles after 1175, but he is a prominent person in the history of Georgia. "In 1171 the young Tamar', the daughter of the king Georgy III, inherited her father's throne. The clergymen and the noblemen tried to find a bridegroom for her. Georgy, the son of the Grand Prince Andrei, was exiled by his uncle Vsevolod and incarcerated in Savalta and escaped from this place to Svinch to a Cumanian khan. This youth was famous for his family, his wit and bravery. A dignitary of Tiflis, Abulasan, suggested to the meeting that Georgy deserved to be a husband to their queen. The suggestion of Abulasan was approved. The Prince was sent for, and Tamar' married him. At first, he brought happiness to his wife and glory to the state, then his attitude and behaviour were changed. Tamar' had to execute the wish of the council and to expel him, but she gave him many gifts. The Prince went to the Black Sea region, to Greece; his life resembled the life of a wanderer, it was dull. He returned to Georgia again, he attracted many inhabitants to him and wanted to conquer Tiflis. Tamar' won a victory. Due to her permission he left to an unknown place safely and with honour"" (Karamzin 1991: 430-1). Prince Yury (Georgy) Andeevich Bogolyubsky was the ruler of Tmutarakan' when this town was under the control of the Cumans. Then he became a king of Georgia and the first husband of the queen Tamara. Notice that by this information from the original Georgian source, Yury/Georgy returned once to the Black Sea region. He lived as a wanderer there, otherwise he might observe customs of the Cumans. Interestingly, this Prince arrived at Georgia from the mysterious Cumanian town Svinch. But the place name Svinch may be split into the words svi and nch. The first word, svi, correlates with Russian svet 'light', svetit' 'to light', sverkat' 'to flash'; the second word, nch, is comparable with Russian noch' 'night'. So this place name signifies 'The light -- the night', or Tmutarakan'. The name Svinch also corresponds to the meaning of another name of Tmutarakan', Sudzh, see above.
In 1178 Grand Prince Vsevolod Yur'evich Bol'shoe Gnezdo came "from oversea, from Siun'" (PSRL 1978: 79). I believe that Siun' is a variant of the name of Tmutarakan' associated with the darkness, cover, protection, cf. Old Church Slavonic sen' 'shade, darkness; tent; cabin'. It can be said with confidence that the Grand Prince visited Prince Yury (Georgy) Andeevich Bogolyubsky in Tmutarakan'. Several years had passed, and in 1185 Prince Igor Svyatoslavich of Novgorod Seversky attempted to join Tmutarakan' to his principality, otherwise "to search for the town Tmutarakan'". The Song of Igor's Host reports the details of the campaign. The Russian army was smashed by the Cumans. I think that the Russians still lived in this town at that time (1).
I suppose that during the Mongolian-Tatarian yoke the Russians remembered about Tmutarakan' where some Russian Princes and ordinary people sought refuge. Perhaps Russian warriors hid in this town at that time. So the legend about Kitezh, a mysterious place, was appeared. In this case Kitezh is another name of Tmutarakan', cf. Old Church Slavonic kutati 'to cover' (the variation of the sounds i/u is possible), pokrov'' 'cover, envelope', Pokrov'' 'an Orthodox festival of the Protection of the Holy Mother of God'. The name of Kitezh can be associated with the church by name of the Holy Mother of God built by Prince Mstislav Vladimirovich in Tmutarakan' as well as with the church by name of the Holy Mother of God built by Saint Nikon near this town.
1. See (Rjabchikov 1998: 3, 15-6, 19; 1998-2003).
Karamzin, N.M., 1991. Istoriya gosudarstva Rossiyskogo. Vol. 2 - 3. Moscow.
PSRL, 1978: Polnoe sobranie russkikh letopisey. Ed. B.A. Rybakov. Vol. 34. Moscow.
Rjabchikov, S.V., 1998. Tainstvennaya Tmutarakan'. Krasnodar.
Rjabchikov, S.V., 1998-2003. Tmutarakan', an Outlying Land: http://slavonicweb.chat.ru/tmtrkn.htm.
Sakharov, A.N. and A.P. Novosel'tsev (eds.), 1997. Istoriya Rossii s drevneyshikh vremen do kontsa XVII veka. Moscow.
Copyright © 2004 by Sergei V. Rjabchikov. All Rights Reserved.
Published 27 December 2004.
Sergei V. Rjabchikov, Krasnodar, RUSSIA.
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Rjabchikov, Sergei V., 2004. The Invisible City of Kitezh: The Memory about Tmutarakan'. "THE SLAVONIC ANTIQUITY" Home Page (http://slavonicweb.chat.ru/sl52.htm).
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