Valentine Day Special – Was Alexander Nevsky Gay? – Part III

Dear Readers:

Today finishing up our 3-part special based on this piece by Alexander Chausov.  And speaking of Alexanders, this is where we get to the juicy part about Alexander Nevsky.  Saint Alexander Nevsky, to you heathens out there.  Most of us know of Nevsky mainly as the heroic figure of Russian films — with Eisenstein’s classic being my personal favorite.

The real Nevsky was the second son of Prince Yaroslav Vsevolodovich and his wife Rostislava Mstislava, daughter of the Prince of Kiev.  All of whose names are very easily pronouncable, and all very nice people.  In the year 1236, young Alexander, still a teenager of around 15 years, was invited to Novgorod, to be the Prince and military leader of the proto-Новгородствующие people, who were being pressed on all sides by pesky Swedes and Germans.  In the year 1240, a still-young (19-year-old) Alexander defeated the Swedes on the Neva River, thus acquiring his sobriquet “Nevsky”.  Two years later, on April 5, 1242, Nevsky was to win his greatest military victory, defeating the Teutonic Knights and Estonian infantry on the famous Battle of the Ice.  This battle was immortalized in Eistenstein’s film.  Nevsky used a clever tactic to entice the Germans onto the ice with their heavy horses and armor.  There was a crack in the ice, as Ostap Bender might say, and the Teutons went SCHLUUUUPP into the freezing water and drowned.  People and horses all in a heap.  Thus saving Russia from German rule, and not for the first (or last) time.

The Winter Olympics were a lot tougher in those days!

But what does any of this have to do with Saint Valentine and gay marriage in medieval Russia?  Well, according to Chausov, the medieval Byzantine church had a special ceremony called Adelphopoiesis, (ἀδελφοποίησις), or “brother-making”, which unites two un-related males into a relationship, as if they had been born brothers.  It’s basically the same type of “blood brotherhood” rituals practiced in many cultures.  Even though the medieval Christian tradition made it clear that this was to be a platonic and purely spiritual type of male-bonding, and that there was to be no diddling around (or “Eros”) involved in this relationship, that didn’t prevent Yale historian John Boswell from writing a book claiming that Adelphopoiesis was not dissimilar from same-sex marriage, yea even unto the sexual component.  Other theologians hotly dispute this, however.  Chausov points out that Boswell himself was a gay activist trying to find historical precedents for gay marriage, hence his findings are not completely objective.  Boswell had a dog in the fight, so to speak.

Be that as it may, Chausov contends that Alexander Nevsky went through such a ceremony to “unite in Christ” with his blood-brother Sartaq Khan, son of Batu Khan, he of the Golden Horde.  Sartaq, as far as I know, was not a Christian, however.  I could be wrong.

Nevsky to Sartaq: “I agree that you are a lesser evil.”

Wiki:  In 1252, Alexander Nevsky met with Sartaq at Sarai. Alexander received yarlyk (license) to become Grand Duke of Vladimir in vassalage to the Kipchak Khanate. According to Lev Gumilev he became Sartaq’s anda (sworn brother, probably akin to blood brother) and an adopted son of Batu Khan. (….) Sartaq’s daughter Theodora (or Theothiure) was the wife of Gleb Vasilkovich first Prince Belozersky of Beloozero and Rostov, a grandson of Konstantin of Rostov and first cousin once removed of Alexander Nevsky. Their descendants include Ivan IV of Russia and innumerable families of Russian nobility.

All of which shows the close relationships (and inter-marriages) between Russians and Mongols, and how they needed to be friends in order to defeat a more deadly foe:  Germans and Swedes.  (Not to mention Estonians.)  All of this is legitimate, despite the claims of Ukrainian nationalists that Mongols are an inferior people.  Nothing of the sort — Mongols are great!  They are a cruel people, but a fair people.

Now, while it is highly dubious that Nevsky and Sartaq were sexual lovers or even just diddled around out there on the steppes of Central Asia, it is known that the Adelphopoiesis ceremony might possibly have been used for nefarious purposes in Church history.  One can imagine this highly spiritual practice being abused and cheapened, in certain cases.  The practice eventually died out, not so much due to sexual scandal, however, more likely because it confused issues of heredity and inheritance.  Like, giving one’s “bestie” the same legal status as a sibling born from the same womb.  One can only imagine the number of lawsuits.   Also, in some cases, the children of “blood brothers” were not allowed to marry, because they were considered cousins — even if, technically, they were completely unrelated!

Jumping forward in time, all the way back to the mid-20th century, in 1969 the Catholic Church, as part of a series of liturgical reforms, disavowed Valentine’s Day as an official church holiday.  Reason given, Church historians could not make sense of all the various Valentines.  Or maybe just the Pope got cheesed off because nobody sent him a Valentine!

Chausov ends his piece by remarking that God has a rare sense of humor:  Nowadays in the Catholic Church February 14 is celebrated as the patron day of Saints Cyrill and Methodius, those same guys who baptised the Slavic peoples!

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8 Responses to Valentine Day Special – Was Alexander Nevsky Gay? – Part III

  1. Lyttenburgh says:

    “Be that as it may, Chausov contends that Alexander Nevsky went through such a ceremony to “unite in Christ” with his blood-brother Sartaq Khan, son of Batu Khan, he of the Golden Horde. Sartaq, as far as I know, was not a Christian, however. I could be wrong.”

    Sartaq was a Christian – albeit a Nestorian one. They one of the earliest heretics to split off the Christian Church. Not as insane mega-heretic as Arians, but still. Their chief deviation from the orthodox norm was the claims that the Christ posses two distinct natures (human and divine) which were separate from each other, while the official doctrine postulates that the two natures of Christ are united in the hypostatis (besides – rus. word for that – “ипостась” – is absolutely rad and awesome). Nestorians also had the temerity of doubting that Mary was indeed a mother of God (Theotokos), because of see above about two separate natures.

    People have a tendency to equate Europe with the “Christendom”, thinking it was the only place where the Christianity took root and got convert. In fact, the spread of the Christianity (mainly in the forms of various early heresies and splinter groups predating the Great Schizm of 1054) in the East was rather yuuuuuge:

    https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/0/02/Church_of_the_East_in_the_Middle_Ages.svg

    ^ Now mentally overlay it with the map of the Mongolian conquests and you will see, how this “Oriental Communion” survived under the tolerant attitudes of the Mongols and even got some converts among their elites.

    “All of which shows the close relationships (and inter-marriages) between Russians and Mongols, and how they needed to be friends in order to defeat a more deadly foe: Germans and Swedes. ”

    For added hilarity – and to spite Russian ethno NatZIONalists – who said that Alexander Yaroslavich Nevsky was technically a “Russian”? 🙂 If you look into his family tree (c’mon – everyone like to study family trees of the royals!) we will see, that prince Alexander was a great-great-great-great-great-grandson of St. Vladimir I. 1 Cuman (his grandma Maria was the daughter of Cuman khan Kotyan), 2 Hungarian, 3 Swedish, 1 Anglo-Saxon, 1 Byzantine Greek/Armenian (Macedonian dynasty of the Byzantine Emperors was actually ethnic Armenian), 1 Czech/Moravian and 1 Alan members of the royal families were among his ancestors.

    The moral of this longread – don’t insert ethno nationalism into the times, where it didn’t apply.

    “Also, in some cases, the children of “blood brothers” were not allowed to marry, because they were considered cousins — even if, technically, they were completely unrelated!”

    The same thing with god-parents and their “adopted” children. They were considered part of the same family in the spiritual sense – i.e. no marriage or sexual intercourse allowed, but also no official legal bennies when it comes to the inheritance. But that’s not as trendy to speculate as teh ghays, amirite?

    P.S. The whole message of the article rests on the claims of Lev Gumilev (great author with vivid imagination… not so great historian) that Sartaq and prince Alexander became “bond brothers”, then it jumps to the conclusions that the ceremony was this Byzantine one ἀδελφοποίησις, and then further streatches the bounds of reality by claiming that this ceremony = gay marriage. Ladies and gentlemen, madames and monsieurs! That’s a top level fake news mongery pulle straight out of someone’s ἀφεδρών!

    Like

    • yalensis says:

      Fake news from the 13th century – I love it!

      Some further musings on “blood brotherhood” and fairy godmothers:
      To this day, you see children doing dangerous and risky things like pricking their fingers and mingling the blood together by the campfire, in a kind of “blood bonding” ceremony.

      Apart from spreading blood-born pathogens such as HIV and Hepatitus, such practices do very little. However, from what I have read, people in the Middle Ages believed that inheritance was literally passed on through the blood. I mean, they knew about sex, but they didn’t know about DNA. Hence, they may have believed that taking some of another person’s blood into your capillaries actually did affect one’s offpsring?

      Like

    • yalensis says:

      P.S. – love your dig at the ethno-nationalists. I saw one of their websites once, there was a pathos-ridden comic strip about a blonde blue-headed Russian boy grasping his Christian cross and gazing into the sky while the bestial racially-inferior Mongols crush him under a pile of skulls. The final message being, “We will be avenged!”

      Avenged from whom? I would wonder. Those are your ancestors, on both sides of that pile of skulls!

      To my mind, the greatness of Russia always consisted in the fact, that real Russians do not racially demonize their enemies. They fight them, and then after the fighting comes the weddings.
      Prince Volodimir, meet your bride!

      Like

      • Lyttenburgh says:

        “However, from what I have read, people in the Middle Ages believed that inheritance was literally passed on through the blood. I mean, they knew about sex, but they didn’t know about DNA. ence, they may have believed that taking some of another person’s blood into your capillaries actually did affect one’s offpsring?”

        That’s… debatable. The inheritance was within a family – your real family. The only question was – “in which direction”. Slavic/Scandinavian/Old German “direction” of inheritance was “horizontal” – from one brother to another, or, to the eldest in the clan (a collection of blood related families). This custom survived well till 16 c. in Scandinavia. Remember “Hamlet” – it was not really “iffy” that the crown passed to the late king’s younger brother (along with his wifu…) totally ignoring prince Hamlet. Another direction of the inheritance was “vertical” – aka the primogeniture. But both “directions” operated only within real, legitimate family/clan. So bastards (despite having a right “blood” within them) and “spiritual” siblings/parents were excluded.

        “Prince Volodimir, meet your bride!”

        Which one? 😉 He was a busy man with at least 5 official wives before his marriage to the Byzantine princess.

        Speaking of her – Anna the Byzantine had very colourful ancestors as well! Her mom Theophano was a daughter of Constantinople’s innkeeper, who, himself, came from Laconia (the southernmost part of the Peloponnesus). You might heard something about this middle of nowhere because it was a place where SPARTA!!1!! was (cue “Laconia” – “laconic”, d’uh!). Theophano was … ahem…a “lady with a low sense of social responsibility” ™. She managed to “comfort” a heartbroken heir to the throne Roman II after his fiancé (Berta, daughter of the Frankish count of Provence) suddenly died. Then Theophano had a very illustrious… career, so that lil’ Anna had a lot of new guys to call “daddy” afterwards. Besides – the founder of their Macedonian dynasty Basil I was married on Eudokia Ingerina, whose father was a varangian.

        Like

        • yalensis says:

          Wrong Volodimir!
          I was alluding to Volodomir Igorevich, son of Igor Svyatoslavich (of Novgorod Seversky and Putivl).

          Volodimir Igorevich was taken captive by the Cumans after the Russian defeat near the Don River. He married the Khan’s daughter Konchakovna (her Russian name being “Svoboda”), and returned to Rus, along with his bride, in the year 1188.

          Volodimir and Svoboda had 2 sons together:
          Prince Izyaslav Vladimirovich of Putivl, and Prince Vsevolod Vladimirovich.

          Like

          • Lyttenburgh says:

            “Wrong Volodimir!”

            D’oh! How unimaginative were the royals back then “juggling” so few names suitable for their descendants (what’s worse – they all had one and the same surname!). Thankfully, Russian language has patronymics.

            Btw – to be called by your proper name AND patronymic was a great honor, suitable only for the royals and (much) later for the members of higher nobility. All others often were referred by (rather insulting) diminutives. The arch-traitor of Pskov, who surrendered it to Livonian knights in 1241 was commonly referred as “Tverdilo” (which rhymes with… lots of things ending on “-lo”) despite his given name being Tverdislav.

            Like

            • yalensis says:

              Pity he was a traitor. “Tverdislav” is actually quite a cool name!

              Okay, but this calls for another aria: Here is the great Shalyapin as Volodimir Igorevich’s future papa-in-law bragging about all his falcons and slave girls, and offering Igor Svyatoslavich his own favorite sword as a gift — a generous fellow!

              Like

        • yalensis says:

          P.S. – couldn’t resist!

          Like

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