Rostislaf was now far advanced in years. Conscious that death could not be far distant, he took a journey, though in very feeble health, to some of the adjacent provinces, hoping to induce them to receive his son as his successor. On this journey he died at Smolensk, the 14th of March, 1167. Religious thoughts had in his latter years greatly engrossed his attention. He breathed his last, praying with a trembling voice, and fixing his eyes devoutly on an image of the Saviour which he held devoutly in his hand. He exhibited many Christian virtues, and for many years manifested much solicitude that he might be prepared to meet God in judgment. The earnest remonstrances, alone, of his spiritual advisers, dissuaded him from abdicating the throne, and adopting the austerities of a monastic life. He was not a man of commanding character, but it is pleasant to believe that he was, though groping in much darkness, a sincere disciple of the Saviour, and that he passed from earth to join the spirits of the just made perfect in Heaven.
Mstislaf Ysiaslavitch, a nephew of the deceased king, ascended the throne. He had however uncles, nephews and brothers, who were quite disposed to dispute with him the possession of power, and soon civil war was raging all over the kingdom with renewed virulence. Several years of destruction and misery thus passed away, during which thousands of the helpless people perished in their blood, to decide questions of not the slightest moment to them. The doom of the peasants was alike poverty and toil, whether one lord or another lord occupied the castle which overshadowed their huts.
The Dnieper was then the only channel through which commerce could be conducted between Russia and the Greek empire. Barbaric nations inhabited the shores of this stream, and they had long been held in check by the Russian armies. But now the kingdom had become so enfeebled by war and anarchy, all the energies of the Russian princes being exhausted in civil strife, that the barbarians plundered with impunity the boats ascending and descending the stream, and eventually rendered the navigation so perilous, that commercial communication with the empire was at an end. The Russian princes thus debarred from the necessaries and luxuries which they had been accustomed to receive from the more highly civilized and polished Greeks, were impelled to measures of union for mutual protection. The king, in this emergence, issued a proclamation which met with a general response.
“Russia, our beloved country,” exclaimed Mstislaf, “groans beneath the stripes which the barbarians are laying upon her, and which we are unable to avenge. They have taken solemn oaths of friendship, they have received our presents, and now, regardless of the faith of treaties, they capture our Christian subjects and drag them as slaves into their desert wilds. There is no longer any safety for our merchant boats navigating the Dnieper.