Yaroslav the Wise captured the fort of Tartu and constructed Yuryev

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According to the old Russian chronicles, around 1030, one of the most well known princes of Kiev-Russia, Yaroslav the Wise, arranged a successful campaign to the lands of the Chudes, ending with founding a town called Yuryev. It got its name after the Christian name of Yaroslav, Yuri. From the era of the Livonian War and on, this event is tied to a Russian campaign against Tartu, and the Chudes are considered to be Estonians. This is not entirely clear however, as there were several towns bearing the name of Yuryev in Old-Russia, and thus some claim that Yaroslav may have founded a town near Kiev, also named Yuryev, and this campaign had no connection to Estonia what so ever. Nonetheless, it is rather possible, that the term Chud, which used to cover all the Baltic-Finns, in this context points to Estonians, more precisely to South-Eastern Estonians (which has created a theory, that Chudes were actually Seto people, who back in the XI century inhabited on a much larger area than nowadays). Thus the town of Yuryev is a Slavic town built on top of Tartu. This theory is backed up by archaeological finds: it seems that around the XI century, a rather large Eastern Slavic settlement was located in Tartu, leaving behind ceramics, coins and also weapons. Latter include Viking arrow heads, which point to the possibility that Yaroslav had employed Varyag mercenaries. His ties with Scandinavia were close indeed, as he was married to the daughter of the Swedish king, and was the father-in-law of the Norwegian king. In Scandinavian sagas he can be found under the name of Jarisleif the Limping.

Thus it seems that in all likelihood, prince Yaroslav's campaign to South-Eastern Estonia did happened, but it is unclear, when exactly this took place. It is a custom in Russian chronicles to consolidate the events of several years into one, consolidated year. Therefore, Yaroslav's campaign may have happened in 1036 instead. Hence, it is incorrect to consider year 1030 to be the first mentioning of Tartu. It clearly cannot be seen as the founding year of Tartu, as archaeological finds assure, that a settlement stood in that location already in the VI century, and it had reached its height by the beginning of the XI century. It is possible, that it may have been the largest settlement in Estonia, standing on the crossing of both mainland- and water routes. This explains why the prince of Kiev wanted to subject the area to himself.

A significant change in settlements allocation is sometimes tied to Yaroslav's campaign. It took place in the middle of the XI century: several of the important forts and settlements nearby were abandoned, and later, large settlements were founded separate from the forts, as free standing trade locations; it is possible that back then also the prehistoric parishes and counties began to form. Yaroslav's campaign cannot be solely responsible for this change, but at least in South-Western Estonia it may have have its impact. A burned layer, dating back to the XI century, can be found in the remains of other forts in South-Eastern Estonia, which leads us to surmise, that aside Tartu, Yaroslav attacked also other fortifications in the area. In addition, this is the first known Kiev campaign to Estonia. South-Eastern Estonia was added to Old-Russia for about 30 years.

Source: Aivar Kriiska, Andres Tvauri. Eesti muinasaeg. Tallinn: Avita, 2002.

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