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Full Access Gleb of Minsk’s Widow: Neglected Evidence on the Rule of a Woman in Rus’ian History?

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Gleb of Minsk’s Widow: Neglected Evidence on the Rule of a Woman in Rus’ian History?

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The widow of Gleb Vseslavich of Minsk outlived her husband by 40 years. Upon her death in 1158 AD, the Kievan Chronicle inserted a long eulogy where manifold details of her death and burial are given, and where her generous sponsorship of the Caves Monastery is repeatedly highlighted. This unusually (for a woman) long and thorough eulogy is the catalyst for this piece of research.In order to cast light on why her death attracted so much attention, we study what the circumstances of the last forty years of Gleb's widow's life might have been. We do so by merging the partial conclusions that the research in different disciplines have made available. Syntactical and semantical analysis lead to the proposition of a new interpretation of the eulogy: that the Kievan Chronicle is, in fact, telling us that she ruled Minsk for the forty years of her widowhood. In support of this theory, a study of chronicle entries on Minsk and Polotsk during those decades reveals an apparent vacuum of power in Minsk. Finally, sphragistical data provide indirect evidence of some kind of princely female rule in the north-west of Rus’ in approximately the same time period.Although no part of the research provides undeniable evidence, all parts point towards the same plausible answer: the combination of the results of linguistic analysis, of chronicle data, and of sphragistics favors the hypothesis that the widow of Gleb Vseslavich acted as the ruler of Minsk between the death of her husband and her own death.

Affiliations: 1: University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, Email:, URL:


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