The son of the powerful Prince Roman Mstyslavych and grandson of Rus Prince Volodymyr Manomakh of the Romanovych dynasty, Danylo was born in 1201. At that time his father ruled both Volhyn and Galicia, western outposts of what’s now Ukraine. When his father died in 1205, Galicia’s boyars forced Danylo, his mother Anna of Byzantium and his brother Vasylko into exile, fearing them as potential power rivals. After the boyars named their own prince in 1213, the Poles and Hungarians invaded the principality in support of the claims of young Danylo and Vasylko. Danylo regained power. In 1221 he re-established his rule over Volhyn, where the boyars and populace had remained loyal to his dynasty, and then defeated the Teutonic Knights to regain most of Galicia. The capital of Galicia was located in what’s now the regional centre Halych, which is where Danylo’s name, which translates as ‘Danylo of Halych’, comes from. (The modern town is about 20 km from Ivano-Frankivsk and 110 km from Lviv.) In 1238 Danylo acquired Kyiv, the traditional Rus capital. Despite his efforts to protect it, the city fell to the Mongols in 1240. The Mongol invasion of 1240–1, during which Kyiv, Volodymyr- Volynsky, and Halych were destroyed, interfered with Danylo’s plans to unify Ukrainian territories. In 1245 he was nevertheless able to defeat a coalition of Chernihiv princes, disaffected boyars, and their Hungarian and Polish allies at Jarosław and establish control over Volhyn and Galicia. Yet the Mongol threat remained. In order to save his state, Danylo visited the Golden Horde leadership at Sarai on the Volga river and was forced to accept Mongol dominion. According to Ukrainian-Canadian historian Orest Subtelny, Mongol khan Batu handed Danylo a cup of fermented mare’s milk and told him to get used to the drink, saying: “You are one of ours now.”
In 1253, trying to reinforce his position, he sought alliances with powers west of Ukraine, particularly with the papacy. To gain Pope Innocent IV’s support, Danylo agreed to acknowledge the pope as head of the church in his principalities and accepted a crown from him in the town of Dorohychyn. The Pope did not ultimately provide the aid that
By medieval standards, and indeed by the standards of many modern potentates in Eastern Europe, his was a model of enlightened rule
Danylo had hoped for, leaving him to fight off a 1254 Mongol attack on the cities of Ponzyia and Volhyn on his own. The triumph didn’t last long. In 1260 Mongol leader Burundia led another attack that broke Danylo’s fortifications and eventually led him to abandon his plans to keep his lands independent. In the last years of his reign, Danylo busied himself with dynastic politics, trying to advantageously marry off his children and acquiring territorial concessions in Poland. He arranged for the marriage of his son Roman to Gertrude, the heiress to the ruling family of Babenberg, Austria, but was unsuccessful in his bid to have him placed on Austria’s ducal throne. Danylo Halytsky died in 1264 in Kholm, his last capital (and now in Poland). It was a dark time for Galicia, and it would get darker at times in coming years. Yet Danylo’s accomplishments as a ruler remain. He was quite a successful king. He attempted to unify Ukraine’s western territories and focused on conciliation, stability and economic growth. Lviv became a centre for trade and commerce, which led to rapid economic development. Danylo also reformed the military forces, creating a heavy infantry based on the peasantry, and gained control over the boyars. He encouraged Western European cultural influences to spread in Ukraine, and administrative reforms in the towns. He expanded Ukrainian territory, held off expansionist threats and did what he could to minimise Mongol influence. In addition, during his rule, German, Polish, and Ukrainian merchants and artisans were invited into Galicia and numbers of Armenians and Jews established themselves in the towns and cities. He appointed officials to protect the peasantry from aristocratic exploitation and formed peasant-based heavy infantry units. By medieval standards, and indeed by the standards of many modern potentates in Eastern Europe, his was a model of enlightened rule. Danylo of Halych was succeeded in Galicia by his son Lev, but the power of his house declined. There are many monuments to him in both Ukraine and Poland, including in Lviv, Halych and Kholm.