Room 8. Old Russian State in the 9th – 12th centuries

The annalistic tradition clearly fixes the date, when the Old Russian State was born – 862 A.D. It was on this occasion that the monument to the 1000 anniversary of Russia was erected in Novgorod the Great in 1862. The initial period of Russian history – the Old Russian State – covers the time from the 9th up to the12th centuries.

The room exhibits historical objects from the time of forming the Old Russian State in 9th – first half of the 12th centuries.

Elements characteristic of old Russian architecture – vaulted roofs, three-pieces windows, arched tops of doorways – are typical of old Russian architecture. Reproduced in the decor of plat bands and mosaics of marble floors are the ornaments of pictorial miniatures from oldest Russian dated manuscripts – Ostromir’s Gospel of 1056 and Svyatoslav’s lzbornik {Anthology) of 1073. On the opposite wall from the entrance is a copy of the painting on the Western Tower of the St. Sophia’s Cathedral in Kiev featuring old-Russian musicians.

The room is embellished with two huge canvases specially painted for the Historical Museum by art academician G.I.Semiradsky in 1883. Each of them represents the old rites of pagan Rus and tells of major events in the reign of early Russian princes. All canvas images are not a fruit of the artist’s imagination, since they rest on Arab and Byzantine written sources of the 10th century.

The plot of the painting «Burial of Rus man» was borrowed from the travel notes compiled in 922 A.D. by the head of the Baghdad Caliphate Embassy to Volga Bulgarian State Akhmed ibn Fadlan. The notes contain a detailed description of the funeral rite of a wealthy Scandinavian he witnessed.

A boat is raised onto a platform, its prow being decorated with a dragonhead; at the stem under a canopy there is a richly dressed dead body. Near the platform are slaughtered sacrificial animals. Here also some mourners are sitting, and a grey-bearded elderly singer chants the exploits of the late. Depicted in the centre of the canvas is a young woman who is to accompany the dead man to the kingdom of death. After all funeral rites are observed, a man with a burning torch would set fire to the boat. A high mound would be raised above the pile; a funeral feast or repast would be held on top of it; more dirt would be then added and a post with the nameplate of the deceased would be placed on top. The event described by ibn Fadlan happened in the reign of Igor, Prince of Kiev.

The second painting called «Night Sacrifices» is based on the story narrated by Byzantine chronicler Leo Deacon on the last episode of the war between Svyatoslav Igorevich, Prince of Kiev, and Byzantium for Dunai. In 972 A.D. Svyatoslav seized the fortress of Dorostol on Danube. Although Byzantine forces encircled the Russian retinue, Svyatoslav decided to run the blockade.

Semiradsky represented the prince making sacrifices and guessing at the issue of the future battle. The walls of the fortress in the backdrop of the canvas reflect the glow of the piles, where fallen Russian warriors would be cremated with honours. In the foreground is a scene of sacrificing the captive residents of the fortress to god Perun while in the right part of the canvas is a scene of divination: a warrior holds a rooster in his hand, and when the bird’s chopped head lands on water, a priest would count dispersing circles.

In the centre is a representation of Prince Svyatoslav himself on a white horse.

cases 1
The first section of the exposition (cases 1-6) features things of East-European peoples that became part of the Old Russian State and of closest Rus’ neighbours. In the butt-end of case 1 is a full set of dressing decorations of a woman from the Muroma tribe. The abundance of bronze articles including the already familiar metal plates with a lid and «noisy» pendants, so typical of Finnish tribes, certainly attracts attention.

In the left part of case 1 there are numerous bronze adornments of the women’s suit from the burial places of Baltic people; among them are pendants, paired flat breast plates and thin chains fastened to them. The Baltic ethnic community had been formed during the first centuries A.D. and stricken deep root in the forest belt of Eastern Europe down to the banks of the Oka River and Middle Dnieper region.

cases 2
Having started the advancement towards the Volkhov and Dnieper basins in the third quarter of the first millennium, Slavs settled down in the Dnieper and Don basins and in the upper Oka River in the 9th and 10th centuries. They were also settling down quite vigorously round Ilmen Lake. Displayed in cases 2-3 are items from the settlements of Eastern Slavs in the 8th – 10th centuries excavated on the territory of Poltava, Belgorod and Kursk regions.

case 3
Decorations exhibited on a plane-table in the right part of case 3 are of special interest. These light silver pendants called «temporal rings» were fastened to the headgear near temples. Women’s temporal rings had their own individual and pronounced form in each Slavonic tribe. Chronicles sources mention 15 East-Slavonic tribes whose settlements were more accurately defined with the help of temporal rings.

case 4
Exhibited in cases 4-5 are objects found during the excavation of Supruty site in the Tula region that was part of the Don fluvial route network. A fortified community was stationed here in the 9th and early 10th centuries built at the important strategic juncture – the frontier of Varangian and Khazar domains.

Slavs predominated among the colonists, which is seen from the finds – crockery and numerous temporal rings. Scandinavians also lived there: among the discovered items are amulets of specific form and massive bangles of Varangian women. You may often encounter items of steppe origin – for instance, earrings of «Saltovsky» type. Such adornments were popular on the territory of Khazaria. Those finds indicate that the lands had a feudatory dependence upon the Khazar Kaganat; yet this relationship was not limited to tribute payments only; small groups of the steppe population were apparently seeping towards the Oka basin.

The site of ancient town was destroyed as a result of a military aggression (perhaps Svyatoslav’s campaign against Vyatka residents in 964 A.D.). The spade uncovered unique objects: several hoards dug in the ground perhaps in anticipation of a hostile raid and very big things, which people do not lose under usual circumstances – big bronze and iron cooking cauldrons, a frying pan and a multitude of agricultural tools: sickles, scythes, plough ferrules. Whole skeletons of those who had nobody, perhaps, to bury them were strewn all over the site.

However things indicating the presence of Varangian troops in town take a special place among Suprut antiquities. Lying on a cube shelf on the left of the case is a fibula visor resembling a tortoise-shell. Such fasteners were an integral part of the costume worn by Scandinavian women. Next to stirrups and arrows on the podium are boat rivets that look like short double-headed nails. They were used for fastening together edging boards in Scandinavian boats. Placed below is a typical Varangian metal cauldron with [upright walls used in the household.

case 5
An excavated hoard of expensive items (case 5) was discovered in a clay pot. It comprised a great number of silver plates that decorated harness straps and belts. A bit with cheek-pieces having gold attached plates with embossing on top, quite typical of Scandinavian applied art of the 10th century, is exhibited in the same place.

In the centre of the case is a scale-beam with cups and iron balances with bronze facing. Such scales were meant for weighing coins. Most likely, they belonged to a participant of a trade-military expedition to oriental countries. Prince’s troops would make them annually down the Don and Volga rivers until the end of the 10th century.

The items from the site of Supruty remind of the time described as «the era of Vikings» in the history of Europe. It lasted for almost three ages – from late 8th till 11th centuries. Numerous armed detachments led by konungs (princes) would furrow the waters of the North, Mediterranean and Black Seas in their swift boats, penetrate into the depth of the continent along big rivers, pillage locals, grab booty and slaves, take control of trade routes, waterways in particular. Evidently, Supruty was such town of bodyguards that took control over part of the Don trade route, linking Scandinavia with the Azov possessions of Khazaria.

case 6
In case 6 there are antiquities of the Khazar Kaganat of the 9th and 10th centuries. These are the arms and harness typical of well-armed cavalry. Numerous amulets remind of religious beliefs cherished by the population of this powerful state. A white stone with a carefully drawn inscription from the Mayatsky site on Don, one of frontier Khazar fortresses, is well seen in the end of the case. Monumental fortress construction is one of the sure signs of a developed state.

Here also a copy of the ritual silver dipper found in Western Siberia is also located, featuring a popular topic – a duel of athletes. Represented in this way is the old custom of supreme power transfer widespread among many Turkic peoples: a ruler was either to win in a hand-to-hand fight, or cede his throne to a more successful rival.

Cases 7-8
Cases 7-8 are dedicated to one of the most significant events in the history of Old Russia – conversion to Christianity. Placed near case 8 is a copy of the idol found in the middle of the 19th century in the Zbruch River (Western Ukraine) at the foothill of a high mountain where a Slavonic shrine once existed. In 988 A.D., when Rus had changed religious affiliation, the idol was presumably thrown down the hill into the river.

The Zbruch idol helps restore the East-Slavonic ideas of the Universe. His torso is the world axis, one end of it going down into the subterranean realm while another sets against the sky. It is divided into three tiers making up the world. Depicted in the lower tier is a god of the subterranean realm upholding the Earth. In the medium tier there are men and women forming a circle. This is how the middle world, the Earth, is symbolized. The upper celestial tier is the greatest one. Here full-length figures of heavenly deities are represented on four edges. Thus Perun the Thunderer and fertility goddess hold a horn of plenty in their hands while the sun deity carries a «baranka» (a bread ring), symbolic of the Sun. The Zbruch idol reflects the basics of religious beliefs cherished by the East-European population of those days -worship of nature and polytheism.

case 8
Miscellaneous pagan amulets from Old Russian burials are displayed in case 8. Here also things from Byzantine provinces are placed including the ones from Korsun, where Grand Prince Vladimir the Saint was baptised according to the tradition. Case 7 tells of a phenomenon known in science as «double-beliefs» – people have not fully abandoned their former religion and only partly assimilated or embraced a new one. Thus some necklaces containing several crosses are preserved; sometimes a Christian cross would be placed in a burial along with pagan amulets. But here also some things are presented that appeared in Rus on account of its Christianization and contacts with Byzantium: mosaics, books, enameled pieces (kolts).

Old Russian books, translated ecclesiastic literature, original works are of special interest. Assimilation of the book culture heralded the involvement of Rus in the world cultural process after conversion into Christianity. The Tale of Bygone Years compiled by the monk of the Kievan-Pechersky monastery Nestor in the early XII century became an outstanding work of Old Russian literature. The chronicle included the tales on the Danube as earlier home of Slavs, first rulers, written agreements between Rus and Greeks going back to the 10th century, the description of distant and modern events of Russian history. Its composer, monk Nestor, was able to express his idea of the place and role of Rus among other Christian states with the words of a sermon preached by first Russian metropolitan Illarion. According to the author, it wasn’t in some «unknown land», but rather in the country well known in all parts of the world that these people lived.

Placed in the turnstile between cases are the objects, complementing the archaeological exposition. These are images of Viking boats from burials found on the territory of Norway, a chronological chart indicating the dates of reign of the early Russian princes, graphical reconstructions of the arms carried by the Russian and Khazar warriors. The photographs of architectural monuments going back to the 11th and 12th centuries A.D. that have been preserved to our days in Kiev, Novgorod, Chernigov are allotted a special place. It is known that the commencement of monumental stone construction – forts, worship houses, palace complexes – was directly related to the rise of a state system. Exhibited in the case is the graphic reconstruction of the first stone Church of the St. Virgin Nativity (the Tithe) in Kiev erected by Prince Vladimir I in 988 A.D. during the making of the Old Russian State.

cases 9-10
Placed in cases 9-10 are things from old Russian burials of the 11th – 13th centuries – decorations typical of the dress of East-Slavonic women such as temporal wire rings of Smolensk Krivichs, rhombic-shield rings of Novgorod Slovenes, anfractuous rings of northerners and septiradial rings of the Radimichi. Septifan rings of the Vyatichi who lived on Oka and began populating the country between Volga and Oka rivers starting from the X century are also exhibited here. Three-bead rings of the Dregovichi from the banks of Pripyat are extremely beautiful. These eastern Slavonic tribes formed the core of the established Old Russian nationality.

The multiethnic nature of the Old Russian State was its important feature. Historians figured that it included 22 peoples and tribal entities. Lamellate bracelets of Baltic people along with metal aureoles and «noisy» pendants of Finnish origin take up the central part of cases 9-10.

case 11
The economy of feudal Rus was based on agriculture. The richest material in case 11 comes from the rural settlements of the 10th – 13th centuries. The exposition snows components of tilling and harvesting implements: ploughshares, socks, sickles, gibbous scythes and even the metal binding of a spade. Even millstones and some charred cereal grains in pots are preserved.

Numerous finds point to the development of cattle breeding. Presented in the exposition are fragments of woollen fabrics and onuchas – knitted woollen puttees. Spring shears is quite interesting. Even nowadays it is still used for sheep shearing. «Botalo» bells would be hung on cows’ necks, when the latter were fed on pastures. You may also encounter objects related to the processing of stock-raising products. Thus a fragment of a clay pot with its lower part punched was found. It was obviously used for cooking curds.

Fishhooks, plummets, specially shaped hunting arrowheads, a lump of wax remind of such trades as fishing, furry animals hunting, apiculture prevalent in Old Rus. Displayed in the same case are the tools of smiths, rural jewellers along with manufactured articles, slag, pieces of ball iron obtained in iron-smelting forges. All these items are the evidence of developed trades, which provided for household needs of rural communities, and the prevalence of natural economy.

case 12
The adoption of legislative acts is an important indicator of statehood maturity. The Collection of the 15th century including Russkaya Pravda (Russian Truth) is the earliest document of Russian law written under Grand Prince Yaroslav the Wise and his sons in the 11th century (case 12).

Exhibited close by in a special glass pack is the Novgorod birch-bark deed of the 11th century. You may come across the word Rus in its text. While this word was used to describe the prince’s bodyguards in the 9th and 10th centuries, and the Russian land denoted the estates of Kievan princes including the cities of Kiev, Chernigov and Pereyaslavl’, they began using this word to describe the entire state and nation from the time of Grand Prince Vladimir.

Below the official document one may see a hexahedral pendant with a trident image. The trident is a patrimonial sign of the Rurik’s princely dynasty that established itself in Russia in the IX century and ruled until the 16th century. Slightly above is a «serpentine» icon (a copy) called «a Chernigov grivna» by the academic community. It is thought to have belonged to Prince Vladimir Monomakh, when he was still an independent prince of Chernigov. On the reign of this Grand Prince fell the heyday of the Old Russian State at the turn of the 11th century.

Presented on the case podium is a copy of the second oldest extant Russian book compiled at the decree of Prince Svyatoslav Yaroslavich in 1073 A.D. On one of the first pages you may see the portrait of the Prince himself with his wife and sons.

Placed on small shelves to the right and left is a unique numismatic material – ancient Russian coins, gold and silver, which Vladimir I started minting in the late 10th century. The inscription on various coins says: «Volodimer (Vladimir) is on the throne, and this is his silver”. By minting their own coins mentioning the ruler’s name, younger states always let the world know of their claims upon a worthy place in the geopolitical world space.

case 13
The general characteristics of the Old Russian State give ample stuff for the third and biggest section of the exposition (cases 7-23) located along the right wall from the entrance.

In case 13 there are things from the Pechenega burial. From the middle of the 10th century nomadic hordes of Pechenegs began invading the steppes of Eastern Europe posing a serious threat both to Khazaria and to Rus. For the first time in history the young state faced the challenge of defending its frontiers. In the upper part of the case is an illustrated copy of Radzivillov’s chronicle miniature – a record of The Tale of Bygone Years, the Russian Primary Chronicle of the early 12th century printed in the 15th century with superb miniatures. The miniatures of Radzivillov’s chronicle are widely represented in expositions of all the rooms devoted to the history of Old Rus. The miniature illustrates the annalist text on how Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kiev, dispatched his son Boris with a retinue in 1015 A.D. to defend Russian frontiers from Pechenegs.

cases 14-16
Placed in cases 14-16 are objects from the biggest East-European troops mound «Chernaya Mogila» (Black Grave) in Chernigov. Underneath a huge 11-m mound the burial of a wealthy and noble Rus’ man was found. The man had been cremated in a «domovina» (coffin) with plenty of things, also with his wife and armour-bearer laid beside. In case 14 you may see part of the armament including sword handles, a well-preserved helmet, boat rivets; in case 16 mainly women’s household goods are exhibited – jewellery and a sickle; glass chessmen fused in fire.

case 15
The most interesting things are gold Byzantine «solid» coins found in a burial mound on the site of a funeral feast (case 15). They were instrumental in exact dating of the burial back to the sixties of the 10th century, the reign of Prince Svyatoslav.

The so-called «rithons», drinking vessels made from aurochs horns, are the adornment of the entire Black Grave complex. They were also found in the burial mound on the funeral-feast site. Rithons are embellished with silver cover plates wrought with the use of gilding, engraving, stamping and niello techniques. The vessels are rightly considered outstanding works of art from the early Middle Ages. Scientists noticed long ago that the crocket patterns in the upper part of the large rithon and images in its lower part have to do with the art tradition prevalent in the nomadic world of Eurasian steppes. Among the most popular plots is an eagle with outstretched wings, a bird of prey tearing a dog to pieces, a duel of two athletes. The mixture of multicultural elements in one funeral rite is the clearest indicator of significant changes in the Russian retinue structure. It is being replenished with representatives of local tribes, acquiring mixed ethnic nature.

case 17
The role of bodyguards in the political unification of East-European peoples is highlighted in the items of case 17. In the centre is a map with designated warriors’ bases in this part of the European continent: «Staraya» Ladoga in the north, Timirevo in the Upper Volga region, the land of Yaroslavl; a Rurik’s site near Novgorod on Volkhov; already familiar Gnezdovo on Dnieper; Shchekovitsa Mount near Kiev and Shestovitsa near Chernigov. It is easy to notice that they are all located on major junctions of trade water arteries of Eastern Europe whose basins became the nucleus of the Old Russian State.

Displayed in the same case are arms and harness elements, jewellery, funeral-rite items found on sites and burial grounds. The armament presented here is the most perfect one for that time used by warriors all over Europe. For instance, on sword blades you may see a brand of the famous workshop on Rhine, where swords were made and whence they would spread to every part of the continent. On the case podium are rich fabrics of western and oriental work, silver coins, a bronze luminaire from Iran, a slip ceramic cup from Byzantium – all luxury items upholding the prestige of the ruling military elite. One of main functions of armed bodyguard, at this stage of state making, was preparing and waging plundering campaigns. As Russian historical records put it, they would set out for an expedition 4o win laurels and honour for themselves and fame for the prince».

Case 18 exhibits the Gnezdovo hoard. Usually such hoards include western and eastern silver coins and jewellery.

Case 19 features things from a woman’s burial: fragments of woollen and linen white and blue cloths are well preserved. The very funeral rite (inhumation), wax candles and an under cross, testify to the fact that a Christian lady was buried here. It is known that long before formal conversion in 988 A.D. Christianity had been delving into Rus’ in a variety of ways; it was also brought in by Scandinavian warriors.

case 20
Presented in case 20 are objects from a typical Scandinavian warrior burial by cremation, tortoise-like fibulas, a sacrificial knife with a dilative blade, boat rivets. The knife’s crosshairs is decorated with the image of Thor – Scandinavian god of war and warriors’ patron.

case 21
In case 21 one can see women’s jewellery of various tribal origins; it follows from this fact that warriors married local girls. Noteworthy are clay rings and clay models of bear’s paws found in many burial places. These ritual objects are typical for Finns who lived on the Aland Islands of the Baltic Sea. Slavic type crockery is abounding. It was in this cultural environment that some features underlying the ancient Russian culture began developing.

Current exhibitions

“Portrait of a museum on the background of the history of photography 1876-2015 gg. 145th Anniversary of the museum…”

8 Feb., 2017 — 10 Apr., 2017

“Handsome man. Russian elegant in the second half of the XVIII – beginning of the XX century”.

15 Mar., 2017 — 28 Jul., 2017

Аrs botanica. Floral motifs in the art of the first half of the XIX century.

14 Dec., 2016 — 3 Apr., 2017

Exhibitions in 2017

1 Jan. — 31 Dec., 2017