Episode 15 - A Nice Bike Ride Through a French Riot (Cheating Week)
Updated: Apr 19
Sam's Episode Notes: Olga of Kiev and the Drevlian uprising - the most badass act of revenge in history
I'm going to take you back to the Kievan Rus, and the year 945 AD. It's been a while since I've gone medeival. And going medieval is exactly what my story is about. If you're a fan of Game of Thrones listen up, because this story makes the Red Wedding seem like a teddy bear's picnic. Most of our history of the events in this story comes from a source known as the Primary Chronicle or The Tale of Bygone Years, which was a collection of histories of the Kievan Rus between 810AD and 1110, and was written in Kiev in 1113. Several manuscripts survive and there's an English translation online, though often the surviving scripts and translations are from slightly later with several dates either changed or inaccurate, so we have to read it with a pinch of salt. Now the Kievan Rus was a loose federation of states centred on Kiev from about 880 AD to around 1240 when it collapsed under pressure from the Mongol Horde and with the decline of Constantinople and Byzantium. But at its height it was huge – stretching into Finland and across most of Eastern Europe from the Arctic ocean down to the Black sea, so about half of Western Russia, and most of Ukraine and the Baltic States. From 914 to 945 it was ruled by Igor of Kiev. And he was a greedy bugger. He liked a war, attacking the Byzantine empire and besieging Constantinople a couple of times, which was expensive, and he had lavish tastes which meant he was constantly demanding tributes and cash from the other principalities and tribes of the Rus. One of these tribes was the Drevlians which means forest people. They hated the Rus and were fiercely independent, but had been subdued as the empire grew and were forced to provide cash and troops. They weren't happy about this at all.
And in 945, when Igor rocked up to their capital Iskorosten and demanded tribute for the second time in a month, the locals decided enough was enough. And here there's a chronicler called Leo the Deacon of Byzantine ,who writing several years later, describes exactly what they did to poor old Igor. Have a guess what his punishment was... They got two big tall birch trees, and bent them over towards each other and staked them into the ground. They then took Igor's legs and tied one to each tree and released the stakes, ripping Igor clean in half. And this left his wife, Olga of Kiev, in charge of the country until their infant son, Syatoslav, was old enough to take power. Now Olga of Kiev, Tom. Or should I say, Saint Olga. No one is quite sure when she was born, because the Primary Chronicle puts it at 890AD. Which is nonsense as that would have meant she gave birth at 65. So some time after that. She was the first Kievan ruler to become a Christian, and was later made a Saint for her actions in spreading the faith through Eastern Europe. In fact, in several Orthodox churches, she's considered one of the foremost saints, equal to the apostles. But she was anything but saintly when it came to the Drevlians. Good old forgiveness was not on her mind – she wanted revenge. And she got it through – I'm going to put this out there – one of the the most dastardly diplomatic cheats or low blows in history. So, after Igor's death, the Drevlians sent an envoy to Olga offering peace in return for her marrying their ruler Prince Mal, essentially handing over the Kievan Rus in return for an alliance. The Drevlians sent 20 of their best and most senior men of the court to Olga with the proposal. She had them all buried alive, then sent word back to the Drevlians that she accepted their proposal, but would need their wisest and most distinguished men to come and meet her in order to flesh out the details and convince other tribes to accept the deal as the wedding procession passed through their territories. Great! The Drevlians thought, and sent their best governors and administrators to meet with Olga. When they arrived she gave them a nice warm welcome, some food and drink, and then offered them a trip to a local bathhouse to relax after their long journey. Not suspicious at all by now they accepted, and once they were inside she locked the door and burned the building down with everyone inside it. With the best and the brightest of the Drevlian government now six feet under or turned to ash, she invited the rest of Drevlian high society to a funeral feast for her husband, as a final act of respect before marrying prince Mal. They accepted, probably because there was no-one left to warn them against it. And again, Olga did everything she could to make them feel at home. There was a huge feast and her slaves and servants waited on the guests hand and foot until it got late. Once the Drevlians were all blind drunk or asleep, she had her troops surround the feast and slaughter every last guest – 5,000 in all. But was she content with killing off high society? No Tom, no. According to the Primary Chronicle, she marched back to the Drevlian capital Iskorosten and beseiged the city. And she offered the local people a choice. Either be slaughtered, or every household had to bring out three pigeons and three sparrows, as a peace offering. Ah, how nice of her. The locals thought, oh brilliant, this is great. So they dutifully collected up all the birds in the town and bought them out to her. Olga had her troops take every bird, and wrap a piece of sulphur in dried cloth strips around its legs. When night came, she had her troops light the rags and release the birds, who all flew back to the eaves of the thatched cottages where they'd been nesting, and set fire to every house in the city immediately, burning the entire place to the ground. As people fled, her men scooped them up – killing some, giving most as slaves to her followers, and releasing a few to pay regular punitive tributes back to Kiev. Now, some say the story is a myth, but for a woman praised as apostle-like in some orthodox churches, that is a level of dastardly dishonesty I think we can all appreciate from Saint Olga. Pro revenge on another level. It's not entirely sure whether she converted to Christianity just after these events by way of penance, or in her old age. So maybe she did feel a bit guilty. But I doubt it.
Tom's notes: Tour de France Cheating
· Soigneurs; cyclist carers
· 1903; First Tour de France. The early years…
o Lots of alcohol
o Sniffing ether
o Cocaine based substances
o Strychnine (strickneen)
§ Causing convulsing
§ Used as a pesticide
§ A stimulant in minor doses
· 1924; Convicts of the Road
o A term coined by a Journalist, Albert Londres who spoke frankly with 3 riders, including the reigning champion Henri Pelissier after they had pulled out of the event due to a row with the race organisers
§ “That's cocaine, for our eyes”
§ “This is chloroform, for our gums.”
· An anaesthetic
· Inhibits anxiety, generates euphoria and is more commonly known as a sedative
§ “This is liniment to put warmth back into our knees.”
· Just a substance that alleviates pain; like deep heat
§ “We keep going on dynamite.”
§ “At night, in our rooms, we can't sleep. We twitch and dance and jig about as though we were doing St Vitus's Dance...”
· Dancing mania! Mass hysteria
· A social phenomenon observed during the late middle ages and early modern period where groups of people would dance erratically until they were too exhausted to carry on!
· 1518 dancing plague in Strasbourg
o Around 400 people danced for almost a month
o Local authorities ended up provided musicians and stages thinking that it people just needed to dance it out!
o This made it worse!
· 1930 race, it was even in the official handbook to cyclists that drugs would not be provided
· 1940s and early 1950s
o Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali; great Italian rivals (both won the Tour de France)
o Fausto Coppi, "those who claim [that cyclists do not take amphetamine], it's not worth talking to them about cycling"
§ La bomba
o Bartali would deliberately stay in the same hotel as Coppi and sneak into his room when he left and sift through his bins for evidence of drug taking. Depending on what Bartali found, he would predict how Coppi would ride that day (and when he’d attack)
· 1952 a doctor called Pierre Dumas joins the Tour de France; he was a key figure in early drug control in cycling and the Olympics
o Observed riders injecting themselves as they rode
o 1955; attended Jean Mallejac close to the top of Mt Ventoux
§ He had collapsed from his bike having been weaving all over the rode
§ He was lying on the side of the rode completely away with the fairies still pedalling one leg
o 1967; Tommy Simpson died in a similar spot on Mt Ventoux
§ He had amphetamine and alcohol in his system and it was a stinking hot day; he’d had a heart attack due to dehydration and exhaustion
· 1960 Roger Riviere
o Was trying to keep up with the race leader on a hilly stage of the race
o On the way down the mountain, he couldn’t keep up and crashed
§ It turns out he was full of an opiod painkiller he used to keep up with the race leader up the mountain, but this had dulled his reactions on the descent
· 1966; drug taking made illegal
o Steroid abuse and amphetamine use is rife
o Riders becoming better at hiding the doping
§ Michel Pollentier gets caught with someone else’s urine in a condom under his arm connected to a tube to make it appear that he was peeing!
1904; second Tour De France
o Beset with cheating
o In the end, the fifth place rider won after disqualifications!
o Race organisers promised to never run the event again
o First stage:
o Race favourite; Aucouturier (Oocooturay) finished covered in blood a few hours behind everyone else after repeated mechanical problems and flat tyres. Presumably repeatedly sabotaged
o Garin and Pothier, leading the race, were attached by masked men in cars
§ Garin was also given food by a race organisers which was illegal
o Another rider was disqualified for sitting in a car for 45 minutes
o Another for slipstreaming a vehicle
o Stage two:
o A rider leads the race through his home town and 200 residents then block the rode and prevent other riders from getting through
o One rider is knocked unconscious in the chaos and breaks a few fingers too
o Further on broken glass and nails were spread across the road
o Later in the stage Gasrin is attacked again and finishes the race riding with one hand
o Third stage:
o Tour reaches Nimes, the hometown of a rider who had already been disqualified for cheating
§ The road was blocked by the residents and rocks were thrown at cyclists
§ More glass and nails were spread on the road too
o Fourth, fifth and sixth stages were uneventful
o After the event, so many cyclists complained about cycling that the French Cycling Union investigated the event and banned, in total, 29 riders were punished and only 15 of the 27 who finished the race were not disqualified
o Unfortunately the original files from this were lost during the WWII
o But rumour has it that riders were taking trains and lifts in cars
o They were even getting towed by motor vehicles with pieces of string attached to corks in their mouths!
o Itching powder in other riders’s shorts!