Rostislav was the son of Grand Prince Mstislav I of Kievan Russia, and came to the throne in 1154 on the death of his older brother Izyaslav II, co-ruling with their uncle Vyacheslav. Vyacheslav was the older brother of Yuri I, who wanted to be the ultimate power in Russia, but was willing to accept his older brother's better claim to the throne. On Vyacheslav's death, however, Yuri promptly claimed the Grand Prince's throne and Rostislav was forced to return to the city of Smolensk where he had been prince. When Yuri died, Rostislav returned to the throne and ruled until his death in 1167. His nephew Mstislav II succeeded him.

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