The Blinding of Vasilko of Terebovl from The Tale of Bygone Years/The Primary Codex. (15th Century).

The Precious Knowledge of the Hypatian Codex: Detailed Chronicle of the Southern Rus


The Hypatian Codex , known also as the Hypatian Chronicle , is said to be the main source of information for the history of the Southern Rus’ (Kyivan Rus’.) The Hypatian Codex was discovered by the Russian historian Nikolay Karamzin in the Hypatian Monastery (also called the Ipatievsky Monastery) of Kostroma during the 18th century. It is said that the manuscript discovered by Karamzin was written during the 15th century. Since 1810, the Hypatian Codex has been kept and preserved in the Russian National Library in St. Petersburg.

The Hypatian Codex consists of three separate parts arranged chronologically. The first part of the Hypatian Codex deals with the history of the Kyivan’ Rus’ up to the year 1110. This piece of work is known as the Primary Chronicle . The next part of the Hypatian Codex is a continuation of the Primary Chronicle , and is known as the Kyiv Chronicle . This chronicle picks up from where the Primary Chronicle stops and continues the narrative until the year 1200.The final portion of the Hypatian Codex is known as the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle , and covers the period from 1200 to 1292.This part of the Hypatian Codex deals specifically with the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, a state located in the regions of Galicia and Volhynia in present day Ukraine that was formed after the fragmentation of the Kyivan Rus.’

The Primary Codex

The Primary Codex is known also as The Tale of Bygone Years . This is due to the opening words of its lengthy title. The full title of this piece of writing, translated in English, is: “This tale of bygone years, of the origins of the Russian land, the first to rule in Kiev and how the Russian land came to be.” The Primary Codex is believed to have been compiled by Saint Nestor the Chronicler, a monk of the Monastery of the Caves in Kyiv, around the year 1113. The Primary Codex begins with the Biblical story about the division of the earth between the sons of Noah, in which Nestor establishes that the Slavic peoples are the descendants of Japheth. The narrative then continues by speaking about the Slavs, the lands inhabited by them, and the history and customs of each tribe. Nestor then focuses on a tribe called the Polyanians, which settled on the Dnieper. This tribe is also referred to as the Rus’.

Guests from overseas, from The Beginnings of Rus’, The Slavs (1901) Nicholas Roerich

Guests from overseas, from The Beginnings of Rus’, The Slavs (1901) Nicholas Roerich ( Wikimedia Commons )

Nestor also gives an account of the founding of Kyiv, and the time when the Kyivan Rus’ paid tribute to the Khazars. No dates, however, are provided in these stories. The first year referred to in the Primary Codex is 852, the year in which Hoskuld and Dyri launched a campaign against Byzantium, and Kyiv was taken by Oleg. The narrative then deals with the lives of various rulers of the Kyivan Rus’ up till the year 1110.

The Kyiv Chronicle

The Kyiv Chronicle has been claimed that this work was compiled in the Vydubychi Monastery in Kyiv using a variety of sources. These sources include princely, monastic, and family chronicles and accounts collected in cities such as Kyiv, Chernihiv and Galicia. Like the Primary Codex , the Kyiv Chronicle deals also with the lives of the princes of the Kyivan Rus’. Interestingly, the crusades led by the Holy Roman emperor, Frederick I Barbarossa are mentioned in the entries for the years 1188 and 1190. Besides that, another point of interest is the first use of the word Ukraïna (Ukraine) to refer to the southern territories of the Rus’.

Frederick I Barbarossa (13th century)

Frederick I Barbarossa (13th century) ( Wikimedia Commons )

The Galacian-Volhynian Chronicle

Finally, the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle deals specifically with the Principality of Galicia-Volhynia, and covers the period from 1201 to 1292. This chronicle may be divided into two sections. The first part of this chronicle is the ‘Galician section’, which speaks about events from 1201 to 1261, and concentrates on the reign of Prince Danylo Romanovych. The second part is the ‘Volhynian section’, covering the period of 1262 to 1292. The topics covered by this section include the reigns of Prince Vasylko Romanovych and his son Volodymyr Vasylkovych, and their relations with Lithuania and Poland. Apart from the call for a unified Rus’ under a strong prince to counter the power of the boyars, the anonymous authors of this chronicle also defend the claims of the Galician-Volhynian princes to the Kyivan throne.

Illustration of a battle from the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle.

Illustration of a battle from the Galician-Volhynian Chronicle. ( Canadian Institute of Ukraine Studies )

Thus, the Hypatian Codex provides a thorough history of the Kyivan Rus’ from 852-1292. That makes the Hypatian Codex an important source for historians and scholars interested in the events of that time and place.

Featured image: The Blinding of Vasilko of Terebovl from The Tale of Bygone Years/The Primary Codex. (15th Century). ( Rus Literature )

By Ḏḥwty


Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies, 2001. Hypatian Chronicle. [Online]
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Chyzhevsky, D. & Zhukovsky, A., 2001. Kyiv Chronicle. [Online]
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Dimnik, M., 2003. The Dynasty of Chernigov, 1146–1246. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

History of Russian Literature, 2015. The Tale of Bygone Years. [Online]
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New World Encyclopedia, 2008. Tale of Bygone Years. [Online]
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Wiener, L., 2001. Anthology of Russian Literature: From the Tenth Century to the Close of the Eighteenth Century. Honolulu: University Press of the Pacific.

Zhukovsky, A., 2001. Galician-Volhynian Chronicle. [Online]
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