Prince (kniaz). The title of the ruler among many Slavic peoples. In medieval Ukraine the first princes were the rulers of the various Slavic tribes. Their authority was usually restricted to military defense of the tribal territory and a few administrative and judicial functions. The various lands, districts, and village communities had their own organs of self-government. After the establishment of the Riurykide dynasty and the creation of the Kyivan Rus’ state in the 9th century, the authority of the prince gradually increased and became more monarchical in nature. Most of the East Slavic lands came under the rule of the so-called grand prince of Kyiv. In the late 11th century the Kyivan state began breaking up into separate independent principalities. Thenceforth the various Rus’ princes were no longer the sole bearers of executive power, but ruled alongside the Boyar Council and the popular assembly, or viche. The prince had supreme military, legislative, and judicial authority within his principality. He collected taxes and tribute from the population and represented it at various congresses of princes (snemy).

The order of princely succession was complex. The guiding principle was genealogical seniority, according to which the oldest member of the dynasty ascended the Kyivan throne, and the younger members, according to their age and place on the genealogical tree, became the rulers of various appanages that were themselves ranked hierarchically. All Riurykides had the right to rule a principality, and in the event of the death of one of the senior princes they acquired a higher-ranking appanage. At the 1097 Liubech congress of princes genealogical seniority was abandoned in favor of the principle of primogeniture. Both principles, however, were at times disregarded by the viche, which elected another prince as their ruler after expelling (and even killing) a prince who had neglected his responsibilities or abused his office. Often the principles were violated by the more powerful princes themselves, who would seize the thrones of their weaker counterparts.

In addition to princes who ruled there were also servitor (sluzhebni) princes, who did not inherit domains, or were forced to cede the ones they had, and entered the service of ruling princes. After the Mongol-Tatar invasion the princes' role was dramatically reduced. The khan of the Golden Horde influenced succession to the various thrones by conferring his patent (iarlyk) only on princes who were sufficiently obeisant and brought him tribute. After the annexation of most of Ukraine by the Grand Duchy of Lithuania in the 14th century, the Ukrainian princes became its vassals. In the 15th and 16th centuries they gradually ceased being rulers and became influential landowning magnates who retained only a few of their ancient privileges, such as the right to maintain a small, private military force (korohva). Essentially, however, they became the upper echelon of the Lithuanian-Ruthenian landed nobility.

Sergeevich, V. Veche i kniaz’ (Moscow 1867)
Vladimirskii-Budanov, M. Obzor istorii russkago prava (Kyiv 1907)
Presniakov, A. Kniazhee pravo v drevnei Rusi (Saint Petersburg 1909)
Rapov, O. Kniazheskiie vladeniia na Rusi v X–pervoi polovine XIII v. (Moscow 1977)

L. Okinshevych

Encyclopedia of Ukraine