Military Tale

Military Tale


a genre of old Russian literature, popular from the 11th through the 17th centuries. The basis of the military tale is the depiction of historical events connected with a heroic struggle of the people against foreign enemies. The patriotic spirit of the narrative is juxtaposed with the publicistic appraisal of the events, and the epic quality with highly emotional lyricism. The main hero of the military tale is usually a real historical character, represented as an ideal Christian warrior. A large part of the tale is colorful battle description—for example, “bysf‘ secha zla i uzhasna” (“the battle was fierce and terrible”) or “strely letiakhu, aki dozhd’ “ (“the arrows flew like rain”).

Characteristic traits of military tales are represented in the Primary Chronicle (beginning in the 12th century), in the legends about the internecine wars, in the description of the battles with the Pechenegi and Polovtsy in the Galician-Volynian Chronicle (12th century), and especially in the Tale of Igor’s Campaign (12th century). Foreign military tales in translation were widespread, such as History of the Jewish War by Flavius Josephus, Alexandria, and The Tale of Devgenii.

The fight against the Tatar-Mongol conquerors became a central theme of original military tales in the 13th and 14th centuries. The religious treatment of the events and the influence of folklore grew (Tale of the Battle on the Kalka River and Tale of the Ravaging of Riazan by Batyi). At the turn of the 15th century, military tales felt the influence of hagiography and of business correspondence (Legend of the Rout of Mamai, Zadonshchina [Battle Beyond the Don], and Tale of the Seizure of Moscow From Tsar Takhtamysh). In the military tale, the steadfastness and courage of the Russians were contrasted to the ferocity and impiety of the “pagan” Tatars. On the lips of the positive heroes were pious meditations—prayers which portrayed a religious-fabulous picture of help from the heavenly powers.

An important stage in the development of military tales was Tale of the Seizure of Tsargrad (by the Turks in 1453) written by Nestor-Iskander. The vivid and emotional battle episodes alternated with descriptions of prophetic signs. The traditions of this tale were developed in The Kazan Story (mid-16th century). In the 17th century, the military tale took on a democratic character (Tale of the Defense of Azov by the Don Cossacks, 1637). In the second half of the 17th century, the military tale gave way to the new genre tales and adventure tales.


Voinskie povesti drevnei Rusi. Moscow-Leningrad, 1949.
Orlov, A. S. Geroicheskie temy drevnei russkoi literatury. Moscow-Leningrad, 1944.
Gudzii, N. K. Istoriia drevnei russkoi literatury, 7th ed. Moscow, 1960.
Likhachev, D. S. Poetika drevnerusskoi literatury. Leningrad, 1967.


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