Zach – Welcome back to another episode of Minimum Wage Historian! (applause) Today me and my co-host, the lovely and highly intelligent Anna Komemne, have a very special guest for you.
Anna – Special and prone to violence.
Zach – Now, now, she’s a saint in your own church. Be nice.
Anna – Don’t get me wrong, I love our guest! Just don’t make her angry.
Zach – I’ll try to remember that. Our guest is St. Olga of Kiev!
(Zach and Anna stand up as Olga walks out on stage. They shake hands and Olga sits down on the chair closest to Zach’s desk.)
Olga – It is…how do you Americans say? Fantastico. Yes. Is fantastico to be here. Da!
Zach – Well, Olga, tell us a bit about yourself for our readers that may not know you.
Olga – Not know me? This is silly thing. Of course they know me! I first Russian to conv…converge? Convert! Yes, I first Russian to convert to Christian faith.
Zach – That’s not all you’re known for. You also embarked on a Kill-Bill style revenge fueled rampage.
Olga – Da, I had many enemies that would not have the courtesy of dying. I had to help them with the dying.
Zach – And help them you did. But before we get into that, let’s talk about where you came from.
Olga – I from Pskov, city in Russia. I was born in 879. My father was Oleg of Novgorod. He from a Varyag family. Favorite color is the purple.
Zach – What’s a Varyag?
Anna – In Constantinople we called them “Varangians.”
Zach – Ah! Vikings! Yes your family was descended from Rus, the man that gave Russia its name. The Vikings sort of took over leadership in what was to become Russia.
Olga – Da, Zach. Norsemen they sometimes called.
Zach – So, then you married a nobleman by the name of… (Flips through notes.)
Olga – Igor of Kiev. Very noble family. Many Tsars.
Anna – You got “Tsar” from us Romans! (sighs) Or Byzantines as you may know us. You came down to Constantinople and were so impressed by our ceremonies and the glories of Hagia Sophia, that you felt you needed to emulate us.
Olga – Yes, we look for new religion. We need to be closer to other countries. Countries that weren’t trying to kill us. I saw…what is word? Like Edward.
Anna – Sparkling?
Olga – No.
Zach – Glittering?
Olga – Yes! Glittering pictures in churches. Very beautiful. I want Kiev to be like Constantinople.
Anna – Mosaics.
Olga – We look at Jewish religion, but they no eat bacon. We look at Islam, but they no drink. Ever hear of Russian that does no drink? Nyet! Impossible. We invite Latin Catholics in, but they not as Edward as Orthodox in Constantinople so we send them packing. Maybe kill a few in process.
Anna – Glittering.
Olga – Da? Is what I said.
Anna – No, you said…never mind.
Zach – So, you went down to Constantinople and were so impressed that you decided to convert. Did you convert during your visit or after?
Olga – In Constantinople. But that was late in life. But Emperor Constantine VII and wife liked me very much. Constantine said (imitating manly voice)”You are fit to reign in this city with us.”
Anna – Amazing. It takes a great deal to impress a Byzantine.
Zach – So, your blood soaked vengeance came before you converted?
Olga – (laughs) Da. I was young and my husband went to collect monies from the Drevlians, another tribe of Russians. He go there and they kill him. After they kill husband, they send twenty men to Kiev to propose marriage with Drevlian prince! They see woman on throne and think she weak and need man to protect her! Ha!
Anna – They killed your husband and then sent a proposal of marriage? That goes beyond barbaric and is just plain inhuman.
Olga – They want Kiev for themselves. They came by boat. I was angry. You can imagine, da? But I no act angry. I say “Great men, this proposal is good thing. My husband is dead and I need new one. But I want to give you great honor. Walking or riding horse is too good for you, da? So my people will carry you in boats to my palace in morning. Men waited to next morning and my people carry them in boats. They sit in boats with puffed chests and much pride. During night I had people dig trench in my palace. When people arrive carrying boats, they dump men and boats into trench! (laughs) I bend down at trench and say “You find this honor to your taste?”
Anna – That’s horrible!
Olga – Isn’t it? Next I send letter to Drevlians saying I accept proposal but my people no let me go unless you send you greatest, most important men to escort poor Olga to Drevlian city. They send greatest nobles they have and when they arrive I send them to big bathhouse. We Russians like three things; drinking, baths and…I no think of third one. Maybe just two. But important men go into bathhouse and my men close and lock doors. Then I burn bathhouse down. Men still inside of course.
Zach – Anna, please remind me to never piss off Olga of Kiev.
Anna – I’m writing that in my notebook right now.
Olga – So, then I go to Drevlian city. I send word to have feast ready for me with lots and lots of mead! We throw mourning feast for dead husband and I cry and cry while begging Drevlian men to keep drinking.
They keep drinking and all get very drunk. While men too drunk and pass out, I order my men to go and kill everyone. We kill…(counts on fingers) Five thousand.
Anna – You killed five thousand people?!
Olga – Da. Then I go home to Kiev and gather army. Drevlians send word that they want to talk. They give me anything so I no destroy their city. I go to Drevlians with my army. I no ask for gold or furs, I ask for three pigeons and three sparrows from each house. I say “You people too poor now. I no ask much.” The Drevlians celebrate my kindness and gladly bring me three pigeons and three sparrows from each house.
During night I have soldiers attach fire brands to each bird and let them go. Little birds go back home to nests, da? When they go back to homes they catch thatch roofs on fire. No house escaped. Fire everywhere all at same time. Whole city burned down! People flee and army catches them. I kill leaders, give others as slaves, leave rest to pay tribute.
Zach – Wow…I guess times were rough back then. You should listen to a Prodigy song called “Fire Starter.” You might like it.
Olga – I no like people killing my family. (shrugs) So, I rule for long time until baby son grow up.
Zach – But he didn’t convert to Christianity, did he? But your grandson did. It was him that converted Russia to Orthodoxy, right?
Olga – Da, Grandson converted Russia. That other story. Not my story. When he was king he off fighting or hunting so much that I rule kingdom, not him.
Zach – But you’re the first Russian Orthodox saint and for that they gave you the title “equal to the apostles.”
Olga – Title fits, da?
Zach – (slightly afraid) Yes! Yes, indeed it does. Very much so.
Olga – Anna, we should have lunch sometime.
Anna – Of course! (also afraid) Whenever you want.
Olga – Good, good.
Zach – Well, that’s all we have for you today. Remember, sometimes history can be stranger than movies and Russian saints have different ideas of being saintly.