Presentation of the project

Overview of the research


The connectedness between religion and political power represents one of the most recognizable characteristics of the Middle Ages. This was also reflected on the eastern and northern periphery of Europe approximately between AD 900 and 1100. At the time, this periphery was composed of polities which had recently adopted Christianity as the official religion and where Christianity seemed a notable social innovation. Here a special type of veneration of the saints or martyrs or passion-bearers emerged. This type of sainthood refers to saints characterized by a martyr’s death caused out of political self-interest by Christians themselves—not by members of other religions as a result of hatred against the Christian faith as such. This type of sainthood was unknown both in (Latin) southern Europe and the Byzantine Empire.

This postdoctoral project is dedicated to the analysis of three saints and their cults, forming three mutually intertwined comparative studies: Boris and Gleb, Magnus Erlendsson, and Jovan Vladimir. These saints and their cults serve as representative examples in accordance with the following criteria: richness and literary variety of the sources through which their story is narrated (hagiographies, chronicles/annals, Norse sagas); variety of geographical space concerned (Kievan Rus’ as part of eastern, Norway as part of northern, Dioclea as part of south-eastern Europe); coverage of various confessional areas (Kievan Rus’ as part of the Eastern Orthodox world, Norway as part of the Catholic world, and Dioclea as a transitional territory between the two). All three saints and their cults are studied in a holistic key—in the light of their theological, sociopolitical and literary dimensions. All of these saints share the same fundamental characteristics: in the face of mortal danger, they did not resort to revenge or fratricide as a means of struggle for power, but rather accepted their death for the benefit of peace in their homelands. The phenomenon of passion-bearers focuses on the example of their voluntary sacrifice, highlighting the duality between the righteousness of the victim and unfair act of the murderer. Passion-bearers were regarded by their contemporaries as promoters of the new ideal of the Christian ruler and as symbols of the rejection of the recent pagan past.

The eastern and northern periphery of Europe of the time formed a space of comparable social and cultural-spiritual circumstances transcending the political and confessional borders. The studied phenomenon of the ruler martyrs emphasizes the transient value of political power—it does not glorify the “earthly glory” but rather the “heavenly kingdom,” thus promoting the primacy of faith. This phenomenon is connected with the self-esteem of the ecclesiastical and secular elite of the newly Christianized polities—they saw their homelands, despite their relatively late adoption of Christianity, as religiously “mature” and therefore on equal footing with the others (for example, the Byzantine Empire), which was to a large extent possible due to the emergence of the first local saints.

This research project represents the first-ever synthesis of the cultural-spiritual phenomenon of the ruler saints on the eastern and northern periphery of medieval Europe. Although historical theology, and ecclesiastical history along with it, serves as the primary field of this study, other branches of the humanities are also included, such as political and social history, literary studies, etc. In this respect, the three saints and their cults are studied in a holistic way enabling the complementarity of approaches of different disciplines. This project as a whole is built on a consistent use and interpretation of the original literary sources (chronicles/annals, hagiographies, etc.) in their original languages (mostly Church Slavic and Latin). One of the most important and integral parts of the project is the inclusion of and author’s commentaries on passages from the relevant sources together with their first-ever translation to the Slovene language. This research project enables a greater integration of Slovene human science (particularly theology) into a broader European range of research subjects. On this basis, the project fosters European transnational cooperation and promotes consciousness about the common European heritage.

Scientific background, problem identification and objective of the research


The connectedness between religion and political power represents one of the most recognizable characteristics of the Middle Ages. This was also reflected on the eastern and northern periphery of Europe approximately between AD 900 and 1100. At the time, this periphery was composed of polities which had recently adopted Christianity as the official religion and where Christianity seemed a notable social innovation. Here a special type of veneration of the saints or martyrs emerged—“passion-bearers” (“страстотрьпцы”) in Church Slavic terminology. This type of sainthood refers to saints characterized by a martyr’s death caused out of political self-interest by Christians themselves—not by members of other (pre-Christian) religions as a result of hatred against the Christian faith as such. This type of sainthood was unknown both in (Latin) southern Europe and the Byzantine Empire, which—in comparison with the eastern and northern periphery of Europe—boasted a much longer literary and spiritual tradition. Among these ruler saints the following are worth mentioning: Prince Wenceslaus (Václav) (died in 935) of Bohemia, Princes Boris and Gleb (died in 1015) of Kievan Rus’, Prince Jovan Vladimir (died between 1016 and 1018) from Dioclea (Duklja, present-day Montenegro), the Norwegian king Olaf II Haraldsson (died in 1030), and Jarl (Earl) Magnus Erlendsson (died between 1115 and 1117) of the Orkney Islands, then part of the Norwegian kingdom. The veneration of the ruler martyrs, murdered by the Christians themselves, surpassed the ongoing rising doctrinal differences between the Western (Catholic) and Eastern (Orthodox) Christianity of the time; in this way, it pointed out the cultural-spiritual and social closeness of the polities of the eastern and northern periphery of Europe.

The cult of passion-bearers forms a part of the cultural phenomenon of the time and constitutes a kind of a subgenre of the martyrological literature. The veneration of the murdered kings, princes or other members of the ruling dynasties was commonplace on the eastern and northern periphery of Europe. The category of murdered rulers as saints was thus typical of those parts of medieval Europe where the new Christian ideals had only started to gradually shape the social norms. Despite dissimilarities to the “classical” martyrs from the first centuries of Christianity, passion-bearers such as Boris and Gleb, Jovan Vladimir or Magnus were assimilated into a well-known phenomenon of martyrdom—the earliest widespread form of sainthood in the (Eastern) Mediterranean world, the “homeland” of the early Christian communities and ecclesiastical structures. In their writings about the new native saints, the ecclesiastical authors from territories on the eastern and northern periphery of Europe found inspiration in the cult of martyrs, also innocent victims of violence, even if under different sociocultural circumstances. Although new works on the lives (hagiographies) of martyrs were no longer being produced in contemporary Byzantium or other regions of the Mediterranean world, this type of sainthood proved to be a fruitful model in the polities of the eastern and northern periphery of Europe.

Almost all ruler or dynastic saints from these territories were victims of fellow Christians that were at the same time people close to them—relatives or subjects. All of these saints share the same fundamental characteristics: in the face of mortal danger, they did not resort to revenge or fratricide as a means of struggle for power, and they accepted their death for the benefit of peace in their homelands. The phenomenon of passion-bearers is focused on the example of their voluntary sacrifice, highlighting the duality between the righteousness of the victim and unfair act of the murderer, as can be seen in the relation between the biblical Abel and Cain. Passion-bearers were regarded by their contemporaries as promoters of the new ideal of the Christian ruler and as symbols of the rejection of the recent pagan past. Their deaths are presented within a framework of confrontation between “exemplary” and “false” Christians (actually still pagans). When addressing the subject of passion-bearers, the writers of medieval European peripheries praise a particular type of sacrifice, defined by following the example of Christ and breaking the cycle of violence. Testimonies of medieval writers usually confirm the sanctity of these martyrs in two ways: via miraculous healings of ordinary people and via answered prayers for a successful fight against foreign invaders or domestic usurpers. The comparison between these martyrs is thus applicable especially to their similar social origin and fate—death by murder at the hands of fellow Christians out of political self-interest—and their role in fostering the Christian identity of their relatively recently Christianized homelands.

In this postdoctoral project, three representative saints and their cults are analyzed, thus forming three distinct, yet mutually intertwined comparative studies: Boris and Gleb, Magnus Erlendsson, and Jovan Vladimir. These saints and their cults serve as representative examples based on the following criteria:

1) Richness of literary sources and genres through which their story is narrated—hagiographies, chronicles/annals, Norse sagas.
2) Variety of geographical space concerned—Rus’ as part of eastern, Norway as part of northern, Dioclea as part of south-eastern Europe.
3) Coverage of various ecclesiastical-confessional areas—Rus’ (Metropolitanate of Kiev) as part of the Eastern Orthodox world within the Patriarchate of Constantinople, Norway as part of the Catholic world under the supreme authority of the Roman Pontiff, and Dioclea as a bordering/transitional territory between the two.

This research project represents the first-ever synthesis of the cultural-spiritual phenomenon of the ruler saints (martyrs) on the eastern and northern periphery of medieval Europe. It can serve as an innovative basis for the further development of historical theology and other branches of the humanities. The main objective of this research is to provide an original comparative study divided into three mutually intertwined parts, each of them dedicated to one of the case studies (Boris and Gleb, Magnus Erlendsson, Jovan Vladimir) regarding the chosen representative saints. Although historical theology, and ecclesiastical history along with it, serves as the primary field of this study, other branches of the humanities are also included, such as political and social history, literary studies, etc. Consequently, this project aims to serve as a “bridge” (at least) between theology, historiography and literary science. In this respect, the three saints and their cults are studied in a holistic way enabling the complementarity of approaches of different disciplines. The studied subject of this project itself aims to bring a notable originality.

1) The first main aspect of this originality is related to the humanities in the context of Slovenia, where it has never been addressed;
2) the second main aspect concerns the transnational context of historical theology and medieval studies, where such subjects and approaches are (still) underdeveloped.

State-of-the-art in the field of research and survey of the relevant literature


The phenomenon of the ruler martyr saints on the eastern and northern periphery of medieval Europe has thus far never been presented in one historical-theological comparative study forming a coherent and holistic synthesis; it has been only partly and fragmentarily addressed within various works (monographs and articles), mostly in the field of cultural history.

The research is based on the original historical texts or literary sources presented through their (relatively) recent critical editions. The sources with their critical editions which constitute the fundamental—although not the only relevant—corpus concerning the life and veneration of the studied saints are the following:

1) For Boris and Gleb: Lesson on Boris and Gleb (hagiography, beginning of the twelfth century, in Church Slavic); Святые князья-мученики Борис и Глеб: Исследование и тексты [Holy Princely Martyrs Boris and Gleb: Research and Texts] (ed. N. I. Milyutenko) (Saint Petersburg, 2006) [most recent Church Slavic-Russian critical edition].
2) For Magnus Erlendsson: Legend of Saint Magnus (hagiography, twelfth/thirteenth century, in Latin); St. Magnus—Earl of Orkney (ed. J. Mooney) (Kirkwall, 1935) [still representative Latin-English critical edition]; in addition: Orkney in the Sagas: The Story of the Earldom of Orkney as told in the Icelandic Sagas (ed. T. Muir) (Kirkwall, 2005) [most recent Old Norse-English critical edition of the sagas on Magnus Erlendsson].
3) For Jovan Vladimir: chapter thirty-six (hagiographical interpolation) of the Gesta regum Sclavorum, also known as the Chronicle of the Priest of Dioclea (twelfth/thirteenth century, in Latin); Gesta regum Sclavorum, vol. 1: Критичко издање и превод [Critical Edition and Translation], vol. 2: Коментар [Commentary] (ed. T. Živković) (Belgrade, 2009) [most recent Latin-Serbian critical edition].
For the general framework of the project’s content, at least the following three reliable companions on the cultural and literary history of the medieval eastern and northern periphery of Europe should not be omitted:

1) А. Н. Ужанков, Историческая поэтика древнерусской словесности. Генезис литературных формаций [Historical Poetics of Rus’ Literature. Genesis of Literary Formations] (Moscow, 2011).
2) A Companion to Old Norse-Icelandic Literature and Culture (ed. R. McTurk) (New York, 2005).
3) Gerhard Podskalsky, Theologische Literatur des Mittelalters in Bulgarien und Serbien (865–1459) [Medieval Theological Literature in Bulgaria and Serbia (865–1459)] (Munich, 2000).

The subject of the ruler martyrs on the eastern and northern periphery of medieval Europe has already been partly addressed by the following authors (primarily cultural historians) and their scientific monographs:

1) H. Antonsson, St. Magnus of Orkney: A Scandinavian Martyr-Cult in Context (Leiden, 2007).
2) M. White, Military Saints in Byzantium and Rus, 900–1200 (Cambridge, 2013).

However, the monographs mentioned above lack the optimal theoretical (theological) and empirical (historical) coverage of the ruler martyrs as a distinctive and comprehensive phenomenon on the eastern and northern periphery of medieval Europe. Therefore, an integrative study or synthesis (theological, historical, literary) of the subject at hand in a broader European perspective is necessary.

The subject of the ruler martyrs on the periphery of medieval Europe was thus far most profoundly explored—although presented too concisely and focused on Slavic saints only—by the American cultural and literary historian N. W. Ingham (1934–2015) in his chapter in a scientific monograph and a research article:

1) The Martyred Prince and the Question of Slavic Cultural Continuity in the Early Middle Ages. Medieval Russian Culture, vol. 12 (eds. H. Birnbaum and M. S. Flier) (Berkeley, 1984), pp. 31–53.
2) The martyrdom of Saint John Vladimir of Dioclea. International Journal of Slavic Linguistics and Poetics, 35/36 (1987), pp. 199–216.
The subject and approach of this postdoctoral project were already partly present (“pre-announced”) in a doctoral dissertation, chapter in a scientific monograph, and two original research articles written by the leader of this project. These texts are the following:

1) Oblikovanje kulture Kijevske Rusije v luči pojmovanja zgodovine odrešenja [Formation of Culture of the Kievan Rus’ in the Light of Salvation History] (Ljubljana, 2018); particularly chapter nine on Boris and Gleb, pp. 251–300.
2) Voluntary Sacrifice of Boris and Gleb: The Christian Testimony as a Political Ideal in Kievan Rus’ Historical Narrative. Sacrifice: From Origins of Culture to Contemporary Life Challenges (eds. B. Žalec and R. Petkovšek) (Zürich, 2018), pp. 157–164.
3) Narativni teksti o Borisu in Glebu med posredovanjem političnega zgleda in tolmačenjem zgodovine [Narrative Texts about Boris and Gleb between Offering a Political Example and Interpretation of History]. Slavistična revija [Journal of Slavic Studies], 65 (2017), 2, pp. 312–322.
4) Zgodovina odrešenja v ekumenski perspektivi [Salvation History in the Ecumenical Perspective]. Bogoslovni vestnik [Theological Quarterly], 77 (2017), 1, pp. 67–78.

Detailed description of the content and work program


The content of the project consists of the following five essential parts:
1) Theological-theoretical framework concerning the phenomenon of martyrdom in general and the ruler martyrs on the eastern and northern periphery of medieval Europe in particular.
2) Historical framework dealing with fundamental facts and interpretations concerning the lives and cults of the studied saints and the sociopolitical circumstances in which they lived.
3) Detailed analysis of the lives and cults of the studied saints, including their theological meaning and political implications within the medieval culture, forming three separate case studies (Boris and Gleb, Magnus Erlendsson, Jovan Vladimir).
4) Comparison of the studied saints and polities of their origin in the context of the phenomenon of the ruler martyrs on the eastern and northern periphery of medieval Europe, including the subsequent theological-cultural influence of these saints on the societies of the polities of their origin.
5) Concluding remarks on the project’s content, including the mentioning of possible open questions and opportunities for further research in the future.

This project is expected to bring the following original main results or theses which constitute a coherent whole:

1) The eastern and northern periphery of Europe of the time formed a space of mutual/comparable social and cultural-spiritual circumstances transcending the political and confessional borders.
2) The studied phenomenon of the ruler martyrs emphasizes the transient value of political power—it does not glorify the “earthly glory” but rather the “heavenly kingdom,” thus promoting the primacy of faith.
3) This phenomenon is connected with the self-esteem of the ecclesiastical and secular elite of the newly Christianized polities—they saw their homelands, despite their relatively late adoption of Christianity, as religiously “mature” and therefore on equal footing with the others (for example, the Byzantine Empire), which was to a large extent possible due to the emergence of the first local saints.
4) An important feature of the literary sources concerning this phenomenon is the presence of parallels with biblical events and personalities—this testifies to the desire of the writers from the European periphery to seek through them a confirmation that Divine providence (salvation history) has also been reflected in the recent history of their lands, which allegedly became a full-fledged part of the Christian community.
5) The emergence of the first local saints and their representation as martyrs was based on the notion that the principle of love towards one’s enemies made it into the acts of the representatives of the local secular authorities, the bearers of the political ideal in the Christian society.
6) On the other hand, the existence of the ruler martyrs as a result of struggle for political power shows that the Christian ideals had only started to gradually shape the actual conduct of the elites on the European periphery—followed only by the few exemplary personalities.

This project as a whole is built on a consistent use and interpretation of the original literary sources (chronicles/annals, hagiographies, etc.) in their original languages (mostly Church Slavic and Latin) presented through various critical editions. The leader of this project is fully capable of reading/understanding the mentioned historical languages, as proved also by his doctoral dissertation (see previous chapter above). One of the most important and integral parts of the project is the inclusion of and author’s commentaries on passages from the relevant sources together with their first-ever translation to the Slovene language, made by the author himself. This approach is founded on the notion that without a serious consideration and inclusion of the original literary sources there can be no adequate research in the field of not only historical theology, but also theology and humanities in general.

The main methodological principle of this project is “unity in diversity”—each of the three saints is studied separately according to the theological and sociocultural specifics of each case, while at the same time as a part of a common phenomenon of the ruler martyrs on the eastern and northern periphery of Europe. In this project three particular methods are applied:

1) Contextualization—each studied saint and the phenomenon of ruler martyrs as a whole is presented against the theological, sociopolitical and literary background of the time.
2) Comparison—the three studied saints are compared with each other and with the theological concepts, religious practices and sociopolitical circumstances within the context of not only the eastern and northern periphery of Europe, but also other parts of the medieval Christian world, including the Byzantine Empire.
3) Semiotic culturological method—based on a deep analysis of the narratives/discourses of the original sources and their spiritual and sociopolitical implications, enabling to grasp the self-understanding of the particular social groups behind them (in this case, mostly the ecclesiastical and secular elite). In this context, the theorists (literary and cultural historians) of the Russian semiotic tradition from the late twentieth century are worth mentioning: Yuri Lotman, Boris Uspensky, Vladimir Toporov.

This project follows two fundamental epistemological notions or directions with broader implications in relation to a proper understanding of the medieval culture:

1) The mentality or the conceptual framework of educated medieval writers and members of the ruling elite of the time was decisively formed by religion—thus the necessity to include theology in any relevant research concerning medieval culture.
2) The eastern and northern periphery of Europe of the time formed a space of mutual/comparable social and cultural-spiritual circumstances transcending the nominal confessional borders—thus the necessity of a transregional, transnational and interconfessional approach.

An important epistemological element of this project is the use of the theological concept of salvation history. The spiritual interpretation of the local and world history as salvation history—in the light of God’s providence similar to the Biblical stories, the “encounter” between God and humankind, the unfolding of God’s will through historical events—represents a widespread feature of the entire Christian theological tradition, Eastern and Western alike. This is particularly noticeable in the narratives of the medieval sources. Thus, taking into account this mechanism of theological interpretation of history means to adequately understand the mentality of medieval writers.

This research project enables a greater integration of Slovene human science (particularly theology) into a broader European range of research subjects—the Slovene humanities are, unfortunately, still predominantly dependent upon their “national” aspects. On this basis, the proposed project fosters European transnational cooperation and promotes consciousness about the common European heritage—an important feature in the light of the current crisis of the European Union and the rise of nationalistic movements. Furthermore, the project promotes ethical sensitivity in relation to the exercise of political power and realization of the good of the community—processes and phenomena from the past can serve as an example or admonition to the (European) present. This project aims to contribute to the revival of medieval studies, which are (especially in Slovenia) often neglected at the expense of research on modern and contemporary periods. In addition, the proposed project follows a commitment to interconfessional or ecumenical dialogue in the context of human science, thus enabling a deeper mutual understanding between the various Christian communities and, consequently, enabling cooperation between them and the society. This is, in turn, also important for the dialogue between secular human science and religion—reinforcing the notion that they are not in opposition to each other but mutually complementary.

During the project itself or directly after its conclusion, the results will be disseminated in at least three scientific articles published in high-impact indexed journals (SCOPUS and/or AHCI) providing open access to their content. These include (but are not limited to) the following journals: Bogoslovni vestnik [Theological Quarterly] (Slovenia), Primerjalna književnost [Comparative Literature] (Slovenia), Bogoslovska smotra [Theological Review] (Croatia), Konštantínove listy [Constantine’s Letters] (Slovakia), Traditio (USA), Scrinium (Russia). After the conclusion of the project, the final form of dissemination of its results in a scientific monograph is planned, possibly published by the University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Theology. The results of this project will be additionally disseminated through the following channels:

1) Author’s active participation in international scientific conferences, such as: annual conference of the Faculty of Theology, University of Ljubljana (Slovenia); annual conference Series Colloquia Russica of the Historical Institute, Jagellonian University, Krakow (Poland); annual conference of the Faculty of Orthodox Theology, University of Belgrade (Serbia).
2) Lectures for students within the course “Philosophy and Religion” at the Faculty of Business Studies, Catholic Institute (Ljubljana, Slovenia).
3) Special webpage dedicated to the project.
4) Presentations/discussions in the cultural program at the National Radio of Slovenia.
5) Public lectures at various cultural institutions, such as the Library of the Catholic Institute (Ljubljana, Slovenia), Russian Center of Science and Culture (Ljubljana, Slovenia), Center Russkiy Mir (Maribor, Slovenia).

Project management: Detailed implementation plan and timetable


The project lasts two years—from the beginning of July 2019 to the end of June 2021. It is divided into five phases.
1) The first phase (four months, July–October 2019) is dedicated to the collection and classification of relevant literature and critical editions of the sources. Much of the relevant literature has already been collected (although only partly/fragmentally used) during the writing of the author’s doctoral dissertation and by previous private acquisitions of the author himself. Other relevant literature is obtained either through the service of interlibrary loan provided by the National and University Library of Slovenia, or through the service of open access to various bibliographical bases provided by the libraries within the University of Ljubljana.
2) The second phase (four months, November 2019–February 2020) concerns the composition of the general outline of the project’s content. In this phase crucial parts of the project’s content are written. These parts include the theological-theoretical framework concerning the phenomenon of the ruler martyrs and fundamental facts and interpretations concerning the lives and cults of the studied saints.
3) In the third phase (six months, March–August 2020), a deepening of the research’s content is planned. This phase represents the core of the entire project. It is dedicated primarily to the comparisons of the studied saints and polities of their origin in the context of the phenomenon of the ruler martyrs on the eastern and northern periphery of medieval Europe. In this phase the process of the dissemination of the project’s (preliminary) results is to begin.
4) The fourth phase (four months, September–December 2020) consists of the further deepening of the project’s content, especially concerning the cults of the studied ruler martyrs and their theological-cultural influence on the society of the polities of their origin. In this phase the process of the dissemination of the project’s results also continues.
5) The fifth phase (six months, January–June 2021) is dedicated to the finalization of the project, including the revision of the previous research results and writing the concluding remarks on the project’s content. This phase is also dedicated to the further dissemination of the project’s results.

Phase of the project Main activities Duration



1) collection and classification of relevant literature and critical editions of the sources four months, July–October 2019
2) composition of the general outline of the project’s content (theoretical framework, fundamental facts and interpretations) four months, November 2019–February 2020
3) core phase: deepening of the content of the research (comparison, contextualization); beginning of dissemination of (preliminary) results six months, March–August 2020
4) further deepening of the project’s content (saintly cults and their influence); dissemination of results four months, September–December 2020
5) project finalization (revision, concluding remarks); dissemination of results six months, January–June 2021


The leader of this project also plans to take a longer research visit or specialization lasting approximately three months, probably between January and April 2020, i.e. during the final part of the second and the first part of the third phase of the project. This research visit will probably take place at the Chair of ecclesiastical history, Faculty of Orthodox Theology, University of Belgrade (Serbia).

A “post-phase” can be added to the above mentioned five phases (for example, six months, July–December 2021). This “post-phase” is dedicated to further dissemination of results after the official conclusion of the project (for example, special webpage and/or scientific monograph). This “post-phase” serves not only as a basis for further dissemination of the project’s results, but also a motivation for additional research of similar subjects within the theological, historical and literary context of the concluded project. One of the aims of the mentioned “post-phase” is to begin the preparation of the first integral Slovene critical edition of the main texts/sources concerning the lives and cults of the studied saints (Lesson on Boris and Gleb, chapter thirty-six of the Gesta regum Sclavorum, and Legend of Saint Magnus). This preparation within the “post-phase” could in the future be developed into a proposal for a new and independent project.