Room 10. Home and Foreign Policy (Mid 12th – First Half of the 13th Centuries) Feudal Partition of Rus

The outstanding architectural monuments of old Vladimir became a source of the rich decor for room 10. Painting fragments of the Assumption Cathedral of the 12th century underlie the pictorial appointments. The walls are decorated with the gypsum moulds of white-stone fretwork from St. Dimctrius Cathedral.

In the middle of the 12th century Rus entered a new phase of historic development known among scholars as feudal partition. 15 independent states, principalities and lands, were established in place of the once united Old Russian State. A distinctive feature of this period was the fact that political borders between principalities did not cause any disconnection. A single old-Russian language, unified legal code and common culture prevailed over the entire territory of Rus’. The idea of belonging to the same ethnic community had dominated the collective mind until the Mongol invasion. A single geopolitical space was largely boosted by the fact that power in Russian principalities was usurped by a single Ruriks dynasty who saw in Rus their ancestral patrimony.

cases 1-3
In the first section of the central case you may see a map of Rus in those days and fragments of the Russian warrior armour as an evidence of constant intestine wars. Here also you can see the first edition (1800) of The Tale of Igor’s Campaign, an outstanding literary work written in the 1180s. The account of Novgorod-Northern Prince Igor launching a campaign against the Polovtsy in 1185 is a vivid description of the struggle against steppe nomads at the time of autonomous Russian principalities.

Also presented in the case are the two biggest political centres in Old Rus: Novgorod Feudal Republic and Great Vladimir-Suzdal Principality – as an example of two different types of reign in the era of intestine wars.

cases 4-7
Exhibited in section 2 are the materials of political history of «Lord Novgorod the Great». A multitude of birch-bark scrolls testify to the growing economic role of Novgorod boyars who owned the land and financial means. Real political power was also concentrated in the hands of boyars. A «posadnik» (governor of medieval Russian city-state) who ruled a republic on behalf of all people was also chosen from their midst.

The peculiarities of the Great Novgorod political system are reflected in one of the most mass items found in the land of Novgorod – hanging lead seals used to ratify official acts, be it Lord Novgorod the Great, its «posadnik» or prince.

case 5
Demonstrated in the case are seals with the names of Novgorod princes and «posadniks». Opposite in case 5 is a unique set of archaeological sites from Novgorod and Smolensk – a rostrum, a rudder and an oar. Novgorod boats furrowed the waters of the Baltic Sea and Arctic Ocean, sailed down great northern rivers – North Dvina, Pechora and Kama – down to the Big Stone, that is, Ural Mountains.

cases 8-10
The third section presents antiquities of the Vladimir-Suzdal principality, the biggest one in North-Eastern Rus and a new political centre. The personal power of the prince was the basis of its political system. Displayed in the case are things related to the names of the princes, to whose reign fell the rise and heyday of the state. From the tomb of Great Prince Andrey Bogolyubsky come fabric fragments. Unlike his father, Great Prince Yury Vladimirovich Dolgoruky who spent all his strength on usurpation of the Kievan throne, Andrey devoted himself to the strengthening of his own principality. Having considerably expanded his possessions and gained brilliant victories over the powerful neighbour, Volga Bulgarian State, he even made several attempts to seize Novgorod. Well aware of his strength and power, Andrey Bogolyubsky would often call himself a tsar.

In the same case one can see one more interesting object – a serpentine icon carved on jasper. Scholars believe it belonged to Maria Shvarnovna, Czech Princess and spouse of Vsevolod Yuryevich the Big Nest, Grand Prince of Vladimir. During his rein at the turn of the 12th century the principality reached the peak of its might. Here also one may see a galvanocopy of the helmet owned by Yaroslav Vsevolodovich, Great Prince of Vladimir. It was specially made for the Historical Museum and timed to its inauguration. The original is now kept in the Armoury of the Moscow Kremlin. The helmet was accidentally found at the site of the notorious Lipitsa Battle of 1216 between the Vladimir troops and the joint forces of Novgorod, Smolensk and Pskov; two brothers were fighting against each other. Yaroslav infamously fled from the battlefield, having forsaken his helmet. The Lipitsa Battle is one of numerous proofs that intestine wars were on the rise in the first half of the 13th century.

cases 11-13
The closing (fourth) section is devoted to the foreign policy of Rus in times of feudal partition. One of its major priorities was constant fight against the hordes of Polovtsian nomads who made their appearance at the borders of Rus in mid 11th century and remained close neighbours throughout the following two centuries posing either as implacable enemies of Rus or allies of Russian princes in their intestine wars. Shown in the case are the fragments of Russian and Polovtsian armament. Despite the similitude of many elements of defensive armours, the difference in offensive weapons is also well seen – while Russian warriors used swords, Polovtsy fought with sabres.

Stationed in the room is a stone statue of the Polovets warrior. Such sculptured figures also called «stone images» in antiquity, would be placed on high to commemorate heroic ancestors.

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