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Three of the most famous bogatyrs, Dobrynya Nikitich, Ilya Muromets and Alyosha Popovich, are represented together in Victor Vasnetsov's 1898 painting Bogatyrs.

The bogatyr (Russian: богатырь; Old East Slavic богатырь, Ukrainian language: богатир

from baghatur, a historical Turco-Mongol honorific[1][2]) is a stock character in medieval East Slavic legend (byliny), akin to a Western European knight-errant.


From Russian богатырь (bogatýr’), from a Turkic language, probably Khazar, from Old Turkic bagatur (“hero”), from Proto-Turkic *bAgatur (“hero”), possibly from Proto-Altaic *mi̯àga ("glory, praise"). Compare Turkish bahadır, Mongolian баатар (baatar), Tatar баһадир (bahadir). Cf. the name of the Xiongnu Chanyu, MC 冒頓 (*maɣu-tur). This Turkic word was borrowed into numerous surrounding languages (Iranian, Mongolian etc.). Modern forms like batɨr, batur are back-borrowings from Mongolian. Forms of the type baxatir - back-borrowings from Persian. Cognate with Middle Mongolian maqta-, maxta- (“to laud, carol”), from Proto-Mongolic *magta- (“to praise, glorify”), Evenki migdi- ("to be noisy, produce noise"), Oroch magui- ("to shamanize"), from Proto-Tungus-Manchu *m[ia]g-Middle Korean  (māl, “speech”) (from Proto-Korean *mār < *maga-r), Old Japanese 申す (mawos-, “to speak (polite)”) (from Proto-Japonic *màw).[3][4]

Kievan Rus'

Many Kievan Rus' epic poems, called Bylinas, prominently featured stories about these heroes, as did several chronicles, including the 13th century Galician–Volhynian Chronicle. Some bogatyrs are presumed to be historical figures, while others, like the giant Svyatogor, are purely fictional and possibly descend from Slavic pagan mythology.

Most of the stories about bogatyrs revolve around the court of Vladimir I of Kiev (958–1015). There served the most notable bogatyrs or vityazs: the trio of Alyosha Popovich, Dobrynya Nikitich and Ilya Muromets. Each of them tends to be known for a certain character trait: Alyosha Popovich for his wits, Dobrynya Nikitich for his courage, and Ilya Muromets for his physical and spiritual power and integrity, and for his dedication to the protection of his homeland and people.

An early usage of the word bogatyr was recorded in Sernitskiy's book "Descriptio veteris et novae Poloniae cum divisione ejusdem veteri et nova," ("A description of the Old and the New Poland with the old, and a new division of the same,") printed in 1585 at an unknown location, in which he says, "Rossi… de heroibus suis, quos Bohatiros id est semideos vocant, aliis persuadere conantur." ("Russians... try to convince others about their heroes whom they call Bogatirs, meaning demigods.")

Novgorod Republic

The Novgorod Republic produced a specific kind of hero, an adventurer rather than a noble warrior. The most prominent examples were Sadko and Vasili Buslayev.

Later notable bogatyrs also include those who fought by Alexander Nevsky's side and those who fought in the Battle of Kulikovo.

Epic bogatyrs

Victor Vasnetsov's "Knight at the Crossroads"

See also

  • Bylina, oral epics of the Slavic world
  • Victor Vasnetsov (1848–1926), Russian painter of depictions of bogatyrs
  • Knight-errant
  • Slavic mythology


  • Богатыри и витязи Русской земли: По былинам, сказаниям и песням. (1990) Moscow: "Moskovsky Rabochy" publishers (Russian)
  1. "богатир" in Etymological Dictionary of the Ukrainian Language, "Naukova Dumka", Ukrainian Academy of Sciences, Kyiv 1982 (Ukrainian)
  2. "богатырь" in Vasmer's Etymological Dictionary (Russian)
  3. Эрванд Севортян (ред.) (1974–), Этимологический словарь тюркских языков, Москва
  4. Sergei StarostinVladimir Dybo, Oleg Mudrak (2003), Etymological Dictionary of the Altaic Languages, Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers (ToB Etymology: *mi̯àga)

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