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Rus-Handbook-art - 9/2/99


Articles from the Rus' Handbook, produced for the Eoforwic Novgorod event of AS XXIX edited by Mistress Nicolaa de Bracton of Leicester.


NOTE: See also the files: Russia-msg, Russia-bib, Rus-women-art, Russ-law-art, CaRussia-art, Russian-Snaks-art, fd-Russia-msg.





This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set of files, called Stefan's Florilegium.


These files are available on the Internet at: http://www.florilegium.org


Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author or translator.


While the author will likely give permission for this work to be reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.


Thank you,

Mark S. Harris...AKA:..Stefan li Rous

stefan at florilegium.org



Articles from the Rus' Handbook, produced for the Eoforwic Novgorod event of AS XXIX.


        These articles were originally part of the handbook which I edited and assembled to prepare participants for the Eoforwic Novgorod event.  They were intended to give participants a good grounding in an historical era only a few had ever studied. I was originally in that category myself--prior to the event, I knew almost nothing on the topic.  The event was set in 1036, during the reign of Iaroslav the Wise, and involved a dispute over the succession between two sons (purely fictional, but such disputes did occur). This handbook certainly qualifies as the largest research project I have undertaken in the SCA, and one of the most worthwhile.  Most of the articles in the following section have heretofore been available only in the original handbook.


The Historical Setting


        In 1036, the Kievan Rus' state was at its political apogee. As yet not seriously fragmented into dozens of small principalities only nominally tied to the Grand Prince in Kiev, Kievan Rus' was  largely untroubled by the nomadic peoples who would eventually overrun them in the 13th century. Iaroslav the Wise was considered an effective and strong leader, who had in 1036 just outlived the last of his brothers to become the sole Prince.  But how did the Kievan state arrive at this point?


        Our story begins with a Varangian (Scandinavian) -- Oleg, the son of Rurik, (who would give his name to the princely dynasty).  Oleg was able to impose his rule upon Kiev around 882.  According to the Primary Chronicle, the people of Novgorod had invited OlegÕs father and uncles to rule there in 854, thus establishing a permanent Varangian presence in the area.  How many Varangians there were and how deeply they affected the society they came to rule is still the subject of heated debate between 'Normanists', who claim that the culture of the RusÕ was essentially Scandinavian,  and 'anti-Normanists',  who claim that Slavic elements are more prominent.  The middle ground is probably the best supported, and that is the view I will present.  Thus, a relatively small number of Varangians, attracted by the trade route "from the Varangians to the Greeks" via RussiaÕs waterways, stayed and settled in RusÕ.  For about a century, the military and political elite was dominated by Varangians,  but as time passed,  they intermarried with the mixed Slavic population in the areas where they settled, adapting themselves to the society they found, so that like the Norman Vikings in France, a century after settling they were perhaps more Slavic than the Slavs.


        In the early part of the tenth century, the leaders of RusÕ were often at odds with Byzantium.  Oleg led a successful campaign against the Byzantines in 907, and before his death in 913 negotiated a favourable treaty with Constantinople.  He was able to enlist the cooperation of other Slavic tribes in this endeavor, though he was probably not able to actually establish his rule over them. OlegÕs son and successor, Igor, continued this work, fighting a losing battle against Constantinople in 941 (where his forces were devastated by Greek Fire), but successfully expanding KievÕs authority over other tribes and battling the newest wave of nomads, the Pechenegs.  Igor was killed while collecting tribute from Slavic tribes in 945, leaving his widow Olga as regent for their son Sviatoslav.


        Olga ruled the RusÕ from 945 to 962 or so.  During her rule, Kiev drew closer to Byzantium. Olga herself visited the city and was personally received by the Emperor, Constantine Porphyrogenitus, and his family.  Olga had already converted to Christianity in 954 or 955, though she did not enforce this on either her people or her own family.  Olga worked to strengthen KievÕs authority over the Slavs, using harsh punishment where necessary.


        Her son Sviatoslav ruled only ten years, from 962 to 972, but in this brief time attained near legendary status for his bravery and daring as he attempted to extend his authority eastward and westward.  In the east, he subjugated the Khazars and took control of the Volga-Caspian trade routes;  in the West, he battled the Bulgars in the Balkans, winning a great victory before being forced to return home to deal with the Pechenegs, who were threatening Kiev. Sviatoslav then initiated a campaign against Byzantium, who had become aware of the pressing


danger of having the RusÕ so close in the Balkans and wanted them out.  After a series of battles, Sviatoslav was forced to withdraw; on the way home, he was ambushed by the Pechenegs and killed.


        Civil war ensued among three of SviatoslavÕs sons: Iaropolk, who had governed Kiev in his fatherÕs absence; Oleg, who had been sent to govern the Drevliane;  and Vladimir, the youngest, who had been sent to Novgorod.  At first Iaropolk was able to defeat his brothers;  Oleg  was killed and Vladimir had to go into exile.  But Vladimir returned a couple of years later with a mercenary army; he was able to gain local support as well and defeat his brother.


        Vladimir continued to strengthen KievÕs hegemony in the area, also successfully containing the Pechenegs and fortifying the frontiers.  After a brief attempt to instill a pagan revival,  Vladimir converted to Orthodox Christianity.  As the legend has it,  he rejected Islam because it prohibited alcohol and his emissaries found the nearest Muslims--the Volga Bulgars -- to be smelly and unkempt;  he rejected Judaism because the nearest Jews-- the Khazars-- were a defeated people without a state;  and he rejected Western Christianity because the liturgy was lifeless, in stark  contrast to the beauty of the Orthodox liturgy, which overwhelmed his emissaries when they

witnessed it in the Cathedral of Hagia Sophia in Constantinople.  (Just setting foot in Hagia Sophia at its height, when the towering vaults and domes were covered in gilt mosaic and lit by thousands of flickering candles would probably induce a conversion experience even in skeptical moderns.) Vladimir made a marriage alliance with Byzantium, at this point apparently formally repudiating his multiple wives and concubines, though not their sons. Christianity, which had claimed significant numbers among the RusÕ, now spread quickly, particularly in the south;  in the north, the spread was slower.  There are few accounts of active persecution of pagans after the conversion;  RusÕ culture continued to tolerate paganism well into the eleventh century.


        Upon VladimirÕs death in 1015, civil war once again broke out.  Vladimir had at least 12 sons, some of whom had clear designs on rule in Kiev.  Sviatopolk, the eldest son, with the aid of the Poles, was able to eliminate a number of his rivals, including Sviatoslav, Boris, and Gleb.  The latter two were made saints after a younger brother, Iaroslav, who had ruled in Novgorod, defeated and killed Sviatopolk in 1019, permanently sticking him with the epithet "The Damned".  Iaroslav divided his realm with another brother, Mstislav, who ruled the area around Tmutorokan as a quasi-independent principality.  Upon MstislavÕs death in 1036, Iaroslav became sole ruler.  The next year, he decisively defeated the Pechenegs, ending that threat for twenty-five years.


        So that brings us "up-to-date", as it were.  In 1036, Iaroslav has just consolidated his rule over the entire Kievan State.  He has successfully reestablished his rule in areas which Poland assumed in return for support of Sviatopolk.  Next year, he will end the Pecheneg threat.  Thus, perhaps it is time that he establish the line of succession....


Geography and Climate


        Most of Russia, as it is well known, suffers from a fairly severe continental climate.  In the northern reaches, the ground is frozen 8 months of the year, and rivers usually freeze all the way to

the Black Sea.  Summers, though brief, are often quite hot. Novgorod is on about the same latitude as south-central Alaska;  however, its climate is somewhat moderated by the fact that it is close to the Gulf of Finland and the Baltic Sea. This moderation in temperatures allows a mixed deciduous (primarily oak, maple, elm, and ash) and coniferous (pine and fir) forest to grow in the fertile soil of the Ilmen Basin in the vicinity of Novgorod.


The City


        The medieval town of Novgorod was situated in a fairly marshy area on the Volkhov River, two or three miles north of where that river meets Lake Ladoga, about 100 miles south of present-day St. Petersburg and about 320 miles northwest of Moscow. From there one may travel up the Neva River and thence into the Gulf of Finland.  A number of other waterways also flow through the area and into Lake Ladoga, thus connecting this area with a vast hinterland and aided in navigation and trade.  Novgorod is also easily reachable from the upper portions of the Volga River.


        According to the Primary Chronicle, Novgorod was supposedly founded in 862 by Rurik, eponymous founder of the Rurikid dynasty which provided the RusÕ with their ruling house until the destruction of Kiev by the Mongols in the thirteenth century.  Archaeological evidence seems to support this date, though it is probably true that smaller settlements may have antedated the birth of the large town.  These were likely located in what this evidence reveals to be the three oldest "ends" or boroughs--Slavno End, Nerev End, and Lyudin End.  Gradually, within this triangle of settlement, a central citadel (detinets  ) and surrounding territory (gorod ) was built and grew.  By the late tenth century, wooden streets had been laid and the town was taking on a truly urban character as its importance on the trade route from Scandinavia down to Constantinople grew.


        Novgorod had an ethnically mixed population from very early in its history.  Slavno end seems to have initially attracted settlers of Slovenian origin, whereas Finns and another Slavic people, the Krivichi, settled in Lyudin End.  Nerev End may have been first settled by Finns as well.  Scandinavians or "Varangians", when they arrived in the tenth century, tended to concentrate in Slavno End; Varangian mercenaries were known to be quartered on the right bank of the Volkhov.  The Slavno district was also known as Kholm   ("Hill"), from whence the Viking name from Novgorod, Holmgar¶r  , may have arisen.  By the eleventh century, with Novgorod forming the main entry point for Scandinavian tradesmen, mercenaries, and travelers,  the town had assumed a rather pronounced Scandinavian flavour, which probably gave rise to statements by chroniclers that the inhabitants of Novgorod were of Varangian stock.   Archaeological finds show a mixture of Scandinavian, Finnic, and Slavic settlement.


        As I mentioned a moment ago, Novgorod grew from three separate settlements.  It has been postulated that Novgorod proper (whose name means "New Town") was constituted when these three communities founded a joint assembly, the veche , as well as a joint place of worship (a pagan temple at that point). At some point, a citadel (detinets ) was erected on some of the higher ground. This then became the centre of town, the gorod,  and the adjoining areas became focus of administrative and business activity, the posad  and torgorvische


        This town centre was split in half by the Volkhov River.  The two sides of town were called Sophia Side (after St. SophiaÕs Cathedral, first erected in 989 and rebuilt of stone in the eleventh century) and Merchant Side.  The detinets  and the gorod  were to be found on Sophia Side, extending from Lyudin (PotterÕs) End up to Nerev End along the river.  On the Merchant side were to be found the market (torgorvische)  and IaroslavÕs Yard, the meeting place of the veche. Most people in the eleventh century were concentrated on Sophia Side, in the detinets  and the surrounding area.


        Novgorod was huge compared to most Western European cities of the period.  Its population in the early eleventh century has been estimated at 10-15,000;  by the thirteenth century, it had probably risen to 20-30,000.  Of Russian towns, only Kiev was larger.


        What would the city have looked like to a visitor passing through in 1036?  First, one would have noted the dampness.  NovgorodÕs situation on clay soils in a marshy area close by a river have been a boon to archaeologists, who have found extensive remains of objects made of wood, leather, and other organic material very well preserved as a result. An outsider, however, in 1036 would probably have found the city unusually damp.  He or she would have noted the streets paved in wood--a necessity, to prevent carts and feet from becoming mired in the clay. Looking around, our visitor would see wood everywhere--not surprising in a city famed for its carpenters (KievÕs derisive comments about NovgorodÕs carpenters is probably rooted in the fact that stone buildings were becoming more common there).  Wood, besides being cheaper and more easy to obtain in Northern Russia, is also better suited to cold climates than is stone. Entering the city, he or she would have passed into the detinets --the fortified area--through earthen ramparts reinforced by wood, through a wooden gatehouse. In 1036, these ramparts would have been fairly simple-- the "real" fortification--one using significant amounts of stone and incorporating a sizable citadel or kremlin -- of Novgorod did not occur until the next decade.


        Our visitorÕs eye would have been drawn to the princeÕs residence, at this point still within the city walls, the largest building in the city.   It would have taken the form of a dvor  or "court"--a number of buildings (izba  or kleti ), often at least two stories high,  situated close to each other, sometimes linked by galleries. Between the kleti  was the seni , the main hall in which the prince held banquets and placed his throne.  The upper levels of the kleti were the more private areas, and included the terem,  or womenÕs quarters.  At this stage in the history of the RusÕ, the women were not yet so restricted to this area as they would be in subsequent centuries. The living quarters would have been lit by oil lamps in the evening and furnished with elaborately carved wooden beds, chairs, tables with lace tablecloths, benches, and washstands with copper ewers and bowls, and perhaps a splendid icon or two. The buildings themselves would have been made primarily of wood, brightly painted and elaborately carved, though the eleventh century sees an increasing shift towards use of store for princely palaces and boyar residences, which were built similarly to the princeÕs residence, though not so large.   Our visitor would probably note a number of such boyar residences scattered through the gorod .


        The majority of people lived in much simpler dwellings.  Rather than multiple kleti  linked by galleries,  they lived in single izba  or kleti  , or in a khoromy--  a house with multiple rooms. Even the most simple of these had three parts:  the main room, a hall, and an extra room, used for storage in the winter and as an extra room in the summer. Furniture was similar to that used by princes and boyars, only not so elaborate. Everyone, from princes on down, also had a bania , or bathhouse, built out in the yard. Most craftsmenÕs homes served as their shops as well.  In Novgorod these dwellings were not dug into the ground as in Kiev, but due to the waterlogged soil were built completely aboveground.  Inside, the focus of the home was the hearth, or later, the stove, which was located in the centre of the main room.These houses were situated in a yard surrounded by either paling or a wattle fence.  As the resident became richer, so did the complexity of his home: he could link several kleti  into one complex, add more carving and painting, add stories onto his buildings, add windowpanes of mica, or build in stone.


        Our visitor would also have noted a number of churches--small wooden structures, perhaps topped by a single dome (not yet in the familiar Russian onion-dome shape)--dotting the city, and would have noted with interest the stone foundations being laid for a great cathedral to replace the older St. SophiaÕs inside the kremlin.  This stone church still stands in Novgorod today. Churches became not only centres for Russian spiritual life, but also served as libraries, warehouses, guild treasuries, and even centres for defence in times of war.


        Since Novgorod (like most major RusÕ towns of this era) was situated on a waterway, residents would have pointed with pride to the vymols  or landings, where trading ships from far and wide would come to unload their wares.  They also would have pointed out the market across the river from the detinets , the great open space where the Varangian mercenaries made their camp, and the other, smaller open space, next to the church of St. Nicholas, where the veche  held its meetings.  We shall, of course, become quite familiar with these areas..


The People of Novgorod

        At the top of the social scale, of course, was the prince, about whom a few brief comments should suffice.  In 1036, we see the role of the prince beginning to be transformed from the military-based model of a chieftain surrounded by his retinue (or druzhina ) to one whose position depended as much on inheritance as on military prowess.  However, those princes who were also good military leaders usually prospered at the expense of their not-so-gifted brothers and cousins. All males of the house of Rurik were considered to be princes.  This status did not, however, give them claim to lands or riches.  These were either gifted to them by the Prince of Kiev (now beginning to be known as the Grand Prince) or seized by force of arms.  By 1036, it was becoming customary for the Grand Prince to designate his heir by appointing him Prince of Novgorod, which was the second most important city in RusÕ.  This was subject to the approval of the citizens of Novgorod-- which in later years became more and more difficult to obtain as the power of the boyars and richer merchants of Novgorod grew and the power of the burgeoning Rurikid family began to be diluted.  By the thirteenth century, the prince held only nominal power in the city.



        The boyars occupied the rank just below the princes and were considered to be nobles.  The dividing line between boyars and rich merchants is quite fuzzy -- their dwellings, rights, and outward appearances were probably similar.  But boyars tended to own large estates outside the towns which were worked by bondsmen, though they kept their own main residences in towns and were often engaged in operations closely connected with merchant activity, such as banking, trade, and usury, using the proceeds from their agricultural operations to fund these activities.  Military roles were also important, though perhaps not so much as for the noble classes in Western Europe.  Boyar sons were often connected directly with a princely retinue and would use this early patronage to help build their own fortunes before settling into a town-based life.  As noted before, the line between boyar and merchant was blurred, and many could and did move up or down in the ranks.  The interests of boyars and merchants often coincided, and these two groups together likely controlled the veche  in Novgorod.



        Merchants are generally those engaged in trade who are not involved in the manufacture of the items they are trading.  RusÕ merchants fell into three categories: the kupets , or local merchant,  the gost,  or foreign merchant, and the torgovets , or petty merchant.  Whether one was a kupets or a gost  depended only on where one was at a given moment:  If one were in oneÕs hometown, than one was a kupets ; otherwise, one was considered a gost.  


        Under Russian law, merchants were treated with a great deal of respect.  In case of calamity causing loss of goods, the merchant could defer payment.  In the case of repayment of debts, a personÕs first duty was to repay out-of-town merchants. Merchants also had a fair bit of leeway in dealing with thieves.  Political activity also became the norm for the merchant class;  along with the boyars, they are often mentioned in records of negotiations, treaties, revolts, and other such activities.



        The majority of the population of Novgorod would have been craftsmen, either free or kholops (bondsmen) indentured to princes or boyars.  Besides being the base of the urban economy, the craftsmen served as its militia in times of crisis.  Here follows a list of craftsmen which have been conclusively identified by Tikhomirov as having existed in RusÕ:


Whitewashers Nail-makers          Potters              Fortification builders

Woodworkers          Locksmiths           Architects           Goldsmiths

Iconographers       Stonehewers          Stonemasons          Hood-makers

Tanners              Shipwrights          Boilermakers Smiths

Silversmiths Coppersmiths Bow-makers           Bridge-builders

Tinsmiths            Weavers              Painters             Scribes

Carpenters           Catapult-makers     Sempsters            Spinners

Saddlemakers Silverers            Glaziers             Quiver-makers

Bootmakers           Shield-makers       Butchers             Bakers



        Also mentioned in sources are entertainers such as minstrels, actors, tumblers, and psaltry-players and other musicians.


        Craftsmen, depending on their status (free or unfree) and the size of their business could range the wealth scale from barely subsistence-level all the way up to considerably wealthy.  Bondsmen, unlike free merchants, mainly produced items for those they served.  Many of them were engaged in the production of luxury goods.



        Both merchants and craftsmen eventually formed trade-specific guilds.  In 1036, these guilds were in their infancy in Novgorod.  The merchant guild was perhaps furthest along at this time.  In general, a person who wished to enter a guild had to pay a very high entry fee, along with a deposit which was kept in the guild treasury.  However, once in the guild, oneÕs descendants automatically became members, which became more important as the guilds moved to monopolize their particular trades.  The guilds also acted as patrons in the towns, funding the construction of churches and monasteries.



        The clergy of the Rus' is divided into two categories:  the white, or secular, clergy; and the black, or regular, clergy.  The former category was by far the larger and included not only parish priests, but also deacons, sextons, scribes, servants, and their wives and families (remember, Orthodox priests were not required to be celibate).  Various "unfortunates" (widows, beggars, the blind) who were attached to churches were also considered to be "church people".


        The majority of the white clergy came from a similar economic background as their parishioners and were usually closely associated with them in most matters, which made them a target of invective from their superiors and from the black clergy, who deprecated their lack of morals, drunkenness, indulgence in usury, and lack of learning.


        The black clergy (monks and nuns) were also closely associated with towns.  Aristocrats interested in a religious vocation usually chose to enter a monastery, and thus many monasteries became richly endowed in both land and goods.  Monasteries also became centres of learning and production of icons, chronicles, and church goods.   Conditions at the various monasteries varied in their harshness.  The famous Monastery of the Caves outside of Kiev shows the extreme ascetic side; those wishing an extreme discipline sometimes chained themselves inside their underground cells for literally years.


        Bishops could be drawn from either the black or white clergy, but usually came from the former.  Cathedral churches gradually became local centres of learning, as well as the focus of considerable political activity.  In Novgorod,  the appointment of the archbishop eventually became one of the perquisites of the veche.



        Anyone who has ever read accounts of the Muscovite period would have a clear picture of the status of women in that era:  Women were completely subjugated, hidden away in the terem , completely isolated from outside life;  their husbands could legally beat them at any time for any reason.  Was this true for the Kievan period as well?  The answer is no;  it is not even the complete picture for the Muscovite era.  The picture of subjugation presented as the norm for Muscovy refers in actuality only to the boyar classes;  women of lower classes, while still subjected to the same legal constraints as their wealthy sisters, were of necessity more involved in public society.

And a look at the legal codes for the Kievan period shows that in actuality, the status of women was considerably higher in the eleventh century than it would be in the sixteenth.  Women could own property in their own names, even if they were married;  women also retained the rights to the things they made, such as woven fabrics.  Upon the death of her husband, the widow became the head of the family and entrusted with the management of the estate;  the heirs were obligated to support her when they came of age.  Both sons and daughters were entitled to a share in the inheritance.  Surviving birch bark documents reveal not only that women could read and write, but also took part in legal negotiations, commercial transactions, and patronage.  On this last note,

upper class women were important as patrons of churches, schools (for both boys and girls), and as arbiters of disputes among quarreling men.  However, as in the rest of Europe, Rus' society was largely patriarchal, and there were the usual stereotypes of women as temptresses (in the mould of Eve), gossips, or witches -- in other words, men should be wary lest they fall astray.



        How literate was Rus' society at this point?  It is difficult to say decisively how many in Novgorod of 1036 could read and write, but by a hundred years later, we have considerable evidence, in the form of birch-bark letters, that a surprisingly large segment of the urban population was literate, and enough evidence from the eleventh century survives to demonstrate that  writing began to become commonplace with the introduction of the Cyrillic script to Rus', which occurred as the Rus' began to convert to Christianity. The aforementioned birch-bark letters occur in the hundreds, including childrenÕs alphabet exercises, love letters, records of business transactions, details on lawsuits, and tax records.  Also extant is graffiti from the walls of St. SophiaÕs Cathedral and inscriptions on craftsmensÕ wares.  The population of Novgorod seems to have recognized the uses of literacy very early.


The Imperial Ideal-- and reality


        Byzantium believed herself to be the centre of the civilized world, the living continuation of the Roman Empire, the imperial ideal personified.  There was no other city like it in the Western world, and few to rival it in all of human civilization.   Imagine, if you will, a city of one million -- in an age that thought a settlement of ten thousand to be a metropolis.  Surrounded by 12 miles of walls, lit by the Pharos lighthouse,  Constantinople was literally a beacon to the rest of the world at the entrance to the Black Sea, astride East and West and the trading routes which connected them. Her harbours filled with warships, her streets lit by a system of lighting, her citizens provided with excellent drainage and sanitation, hospitals, orphanages, libraries, and luxury shops which stayed open even at night,  Constantinople stood at her apogee. The great cathedral of Hagia Sophia, built by Justinian in the sixth century, it is said, could be seen for miles from its position commanding the Golden Horn due to the huge number of candles and lamps used to light it;  the light of Orthodox Christianity shone even further, with the Patriarch of Constantinople overseeing nearly as many souls as the Pope, from the city founded as the New Rome by Constantine the Great, first Christian Emperor of Rome, himself.  No wonder the Eastern Church balked at claims of papal supremacy!


         Inside the Great Palace, a second city within this great city that many residents probably never even saw, the Imperial Court lived out their lives, amidst seven palaces (some roofed in gold) and halls with silver and bronze doors equipped with fountains which could be made to flow with wine.  They sat on gold and jewel-encrusted thrones equipped with mechanical devices which could lift them to the ceiling to impress the awe-stricken audience below, and they ate soup garnished with pearls off of gold plates.  When bored, they could wander the libraries, gardens, zoo, and aviary all contained inside the walls.


        The Emperor and his family did venture out of the palace on occasion -- for festivals and visits to the Hippodrome.  One eyewitness has described an imperial procession. The streets were strewn with mats, leaves, and branches for the event. First came Greeks in silks of red, white and green, followed by the Varangian Guard, clad in sky-blue silk and carrying gilded axes.  Next came eunuchs, pages, patricians, and finally the Emperor, accompanied by the silentarius, whose job it was to hush the crowd.  The Emperor wore his diadem of pearls and gold, his state robes, and the purple cloak and shoes which only he was entitled to wear, but behind him walked his chief minister, who at every two steps reminded him to "think on death", upon which he opened a gold box he was carrying and kissed the earth it contained, tears in his eyes.  All of this was done by a strict set of rules, overseen by a Master of Ceremonies, whose only duty it was to orchestrate these events and to ensure that precedence was observed-- no small task,  when one realizes that there were eighteen separate ranks of titles and over sixty leading officials in the Byzantine Court.  These included heads of the chancery, the master of horse, the chief advisor, the head of finance, the receiver of petitions, and the stategi , or military commanders, not to mention the Eparch of Constantinople, the acting governor of the city itself, just to name a few.  Eunuchs were everywhere.  Often they formed the EmperorÕs most intimate counselors, as the post of Emperor was the only one that by law they could not attain.  Otherwise, they held positions of great power, including military commands.


        The bulk of the population probably caught glimpses of the Emperor in the Hippodrome as well, where, fresh from his morning prayers, he would bless the crowd from his box and drop a white handkerchief to start the games.  Most popular were the four-horse chariot races,  but gladiators and mock hunts had their parts, too. After the games, the people would return to their duties -- perhaps in the massive Imperial administration, perhaps in crafts or trading. Constantinople had hundreds of well-established guilds; six alone -- silk twisters, silk weavers, dyers in purple, dealers in raw silk, dealers in Syrian silk, and dealers in silk clothing-- associated with the silk trade.  There were guilds for every trade imaginable, from cattle traders, fishmongers and innkeepers to money-changers, goldsmiths, and notaries.  Membership was not hereditary, but was based on aptitude.  Nowhere else in Europe was


the guild system so fully developed.  Thus, while ByzantiumÕs claim to supremacy might have smacked of arrogance, it was a well-founded claim.




        To understand ByzantiumÕs policies towards the Rus' and other nearby peoples in our period, it is necessary to know a bit about Byzantine politics and history at this period.  VladimirÕs contemporary in Byzantium was Basil II, who has been called the "apogee of Byzantine Power".  His predecessors had been involved not only in external conflicts against the Bulgarian Slavs and Arabs, but also in internal struggles between members of the ruling dynastic family, powerful generals, and the feudal aristocracy, which was trying to consolidate its power by grabbing up land from small landowners.  Basil had just concluded a successful campaign in the Balkans when the feudal aristocracy in Asia Minor revolted, supporting a pretender related to one of the generals who had worn the purple while Basil was still a child and unable to assume it himself.  These rebels, led by Bardas Phocas, marched on Constantinople.  Basil turned to Vladimir, who himself led 6000 men in aid of the emperor at Chrysopolis.  The result was a splendid victory;  within a year Bardas Phocas was dead of a heart attack suffered in the midst of a final battle at Abydus.  A grateful Basil promised Vladimir his sister Anna, on the condition that he and his people convert to Christianity, which they did.  Basil seems to have regretted his promise, because Vladimir had to invade Byzantine possessions to get him to keep it.  And no wonder -- no other European lordling had ever been permitted to wed a purple-born Imperial princess.  That Basil eventually kept the promise is testament to the strong bond now growing between the two powers.


        Basil himself never married, but grew increasingly withdrawn and autocratic.  He hated the ceremony, art, rhetoric, and learning that ornamented the court -- his only wish was to increase the power of the state and overcome its enemies, both domestic and foreign.  In the case of the former, he moved to halt the land-grabbing feudal aristocracy that he hated by restricting their ability to force small landowners to sell their property and become mere tenants, and he imposed taxes to both help the Empire fund its military and to keep the aristocracy from accumulating wealth that could be used to fuel revolts.


        Externally, Basil conducted campaigns against a number of foes.  He literally wiped out the Bulgar tsardom in the Balkans, earning the epithet "Basil the Bulgar-slayer".  While ruthless and inhuman on the field, he was moderate and sensible towards this newly-reclaimed Byzantine province once it was subdued, exempting it from a number of heavy taxes.  The Arabs were successfully kept quiet as well, and towards the end of his reign, Basil annexed lands in the region of Armenia.  When he died in 1025, the Byzantine Empire was larger and more prosperous than it had been for years;  Basil had also been working on a plan to extend Byzantine influence into Italy, where a Byzantine Princess had married the Holy Roman Emperor, Otto II.


        Unfortunately, after BasilÕs death, this all began to fall apart.  Constantine VIII, BasilÕs brother, assumed the purple next.  An old man by this time, Constantine cared little for anything but banquets and visiting the Hippodrome, and was Emperor in name only.  When he died in 1028, he left no sons, but on his deathbed named Romanus Argyrus, the Eparch of Constantinople, to marry his 53-year-old sister Zoe and thus succeed him.  Romanus was past 60 and had absolutely no ability whatsoever, preferring the kind of decadent life Constantine had enjoyed. During his reign, all of BasilÕs policies were completely abandoned, with the result that the feudal aristocracy once again began grabbing up land from small landowners, who were reduced to a state of dependency.  The taxes went unenforced as well, with the result that revenue declined, which led to a decline in the strength of the armed forces.


        Romanus did not last long, however.  He had quickly tired of Zoe, who found a more attractive lover in Michael, the brother of the eunuch John the Orphanotrophus, with the result that Romanus died in his bath in 1034 and Zoe married Michael that very night.  Michael assumed the purple as Michael IV, but John the Orphanotrophus ran the administration, reimposing the taxes on the feudal aristocracy, thus winning the support of the civil nobility.  Michael himself was an improvement over his predecessors -- he was a capable leader and a brave general, though he suffered from epilepsy. In his reign, the Slavs began to make inroads once again into Byzantine territories, though a serious revolt in the Balkans was suppressed; however, Michael himself returned mortally ill, dying in 1041.

        Thus, after VladimirÕs conversion, the Rus' for the most part left Byzantium unmolested, preferring instead to pursue the more lucrative route of trade with Constantinople.  The fact that a special bond now existed between Kiev and Constantinople is quite clear when one notes that in the troublesome years after BasilÕs death,  the Rus' did not seize the opportunity to expand at ByzantiumÕs expense.  




        What of this trade, then?  It is not surprising that Constantinople attracted people, both friendly and hostile, from afar.  The Rus' attacked the city a number of times, each time concluding hostilities with a treaty which allowed them trade privileges.  The Vikings, who had previously plied the Volga River routes in search of Arabic silver, looked westward for new sources when the Kufic sources began to dry up in the ninth and tenth century.  The Dneiper River system was an obvious choice as a route to Constantinople, but until the tenth century, the passage was hazardous due to hostile tribes in the area.  Once Kiev secured control over the area, there was less danger of attack, though still other difficulties to surmount.


        The items most in demand in Constantinople were fur, and to a lesser degree, slaves. Sheep, cattle, goatskins, leather, hawks, honey, wax, nuts, coriander, fish, ivory, amber, arrows, swords, and mail-coats were just a few of the other items in demand.  The boats which plied the lower Dneiper had to leave by June if they hoped to get to Constantinople and back before the river froze.  The journey took 5-6 weeks.  The traders traveled in boats (monoxyla  ) made of a large, hollowed tree trunk, planked up on the sides to hold more goods;  these seem to have been well suited for river travel;  once into the Black Sea, they were fitted with sails for the last leg of the journey.


        The journey was quite grueling. Besides the ever-present threat of raiders and bandits, there were seven sets of rapids on the lower Dneiper, and passage was possible only during a narrow window when the river was full of spring meltoffs and thus higher than normal.  Once out of the Dneiper, the boats made their way to the Danube estuary, where they picked up sails, masts, and rudders and sailed for Constantinople.  Once in the city, the Rus' were afforded special privileges, especially after 988, when a grateful Byzantium thanked the Rus' by extending them the right to stay six months (rather than the customary three), the guarantee of certain provisions (food, sailcloth, rope) and the right to buy extra silk (the amount of silk one was allowed to export from the city was strictly regulated).  These special privileges probably also had something to do with the fact that the main Rus' trade good, furs, was in high demand in Byzantium. The Rus' had their own section outside the walls on the Bosporus and their own churches within this quarter.  After 988, they also contributed men to the EmperorÕs Varangian Guard.


        The goods brought back were the luxuries in demand among the Rus': silk, extremely prestigious to those at home;  wine, unavailable otherwise; finished goods, spices, and Byzantine money.  The return trip was at least as treacherous as the journey there, but the trouble was definitely worth it in the eyes of the Rus' elite.


Law Codes of the Kievan Rus'


        IaroslavÕs reign is usually considered the pinnacle of Kievan civilization, and history has granted to Iaroslav the epithet "the Wise".One of IaroslavÕs achievements was to codify the customary law of the Kievan Rus.  This law code, or pravda  (a Russian word whose meaning is variously translated as "law", "justice", or "truth", depending on the context) was later expanded by IaroslavÕs sons.  The original code is quite short -- consisting of only 18 articles, it would easily fit onto two pages such as this one.


        Before I discuss the codes themselves, a word about early medieval law codes in general. There is much contention about whether these codes were meant for practical use or not.  One argument says that early law codes (such as those made by the Germanic successor states of Rome, which were essentially a mix of Germanic and Roman law)  were meant not for practical use, but to legitimize the rule of the Germanic kings by putting their kingdoms on a legal basis.  Written laws were thus a matter of prestige, something every kingdom worth its salt would have. This thesis goes on to argue that the legislation of kings was, at best, only a mirror of the customary law practiced in their lands;  at worst, these laws were little more than empty scribblings.  Against this it has been argued that the large number of existing copies of some of these law codes, some with signs of obvious wear, are by themselves evidence of the practical intent of the law codes.  The reality of the situation seems to be that both arguments are in some way valid and that the situation varied considerably from region to region, depending on, among other things, education level of the judges, population density, and stability of the state itself.


        The simplicity of the earliest Russian law code makes it likely that its codification was probably an attempt by Iaroslav to claim the prestige of being the "Father of Russian Law".  His father VladimirÕs conversion to Christianity had strengthened the ties to Byzantium that had been building for some time; Kiev also had begun to cultivate ties with Western Europe as well.  Byzantium, of course, had a long tradition of law codification, starting back with Justinian in the sixth century and continuing with novels , or additions to the code, right down to IaroslavÕs own time.  Unlike the Byzantines, however, few of IaroslavÕs subjects had ever lived under Roman law.  It is not surprising, thus, to discover that these early laws show little classical influence.


        Anyone who has examined other early law codes will be on familiar ground with these.  Like most early law codes, the Pravda   provides a system of monetary fines for all offenses, from murder to the cutting off of beards or moustaches.  Unlike many other early codes, however,  there is no system of graded wergelds for various levels of society in IaroslavÕs codification-- all free men (nothing is said of women) have a wergeld of 40 grivna  (probably silver grivna  are meant, which were equivalent to one troy pound of silver).  IaroslavÕs code also permits certain relatives to avenge murders, but he sought to discourage this old custom by strictly delineating which relatives had the right of vengeance.


        Also covered in the code are penalties for those who harbour runaway slaves (a fine of 3 grivna plus the return of the slave) and penalties for slaves who strike freemen and then hide in their masterÕs house (12 grivna  if the master will not give up the slave, plus the freeman is allowed to beat up the slave).


        In contrast with many other early codes, there are no mentions of the testimony of character witnesses in legal proceedings; however, eyewitnesses are called for in some cases of assault (though Varangians are allowed to swear an oath instead).  Trial by a jury of 12 men is also mentioned in connection with commercial disputes, when two business partners are in dispute about the profits. Commercial concerns clearly play a large part in Kievan society.


        The Pravda  of IaroslavÕs sons adds a graded wergeld system, mostly in relation to royal officials (who have a wergeld of 80 grivna ) and persons of servile status (from 12 grivna   for an overseer down to 5 grivna  for a peasant or herdsman. The fine for killing a horse is 2-3 grivna, incidentally).  Fines for killing livestock are also listed, and the code ends with the fees which bridge builders receive for their work.

        The expanded version of the Pravda  (promulgated in the 13th century) delves much more deeply into actual legal procedure.  A graded system of ordeals and oaths is mentioned for the first time for cases of theft if the missing item cannot be found.  The revised Pravda  also shows much more reliance on eyewitnesses; character witnesses are also mentioned.


        Once again, the great role of trade and commerce in Kievan society becomes apparent with laws regulating loans and interest (which is not  prohibited, unlike in other parts of Europe),  articles advising leniency towards merchants who have lost their goods in shipwrecks, and the procedure when a man defaults on loans or debts: he is brought to the marketplace and all his goods sold;  the proceeds go to pay off first, the prince (if any of his money is involved), second, out-of-town merchants, and third, local creditors.  But agricultural matters play almost as big a role, particularly penalties for stealing beehives. Penalties for arson are also detailed.


        There are also more substantial sections on class interaction:  what happens when one peasant strikes another, whether slaves can testify (they canÕt, except as a last resort, and only higher-ranking slaves even then).  Significantly, this code mentions for the first time that the wergeld of a free female is one half that of a free male.  

        Another significant addition concerns inheritance law.  The estates of nobles always go to the children, be they sons or daughters. If a wife survives, she receives a portion of the estate for her use during her lifetime (similar to English dower) and anything her husband specifically leaves her.  She is also allowed to stay on the homestead if she wishes to and manage it, but if she marries again, she must return it. The subject of wardship is also discussed;  the guardian is responsible for managing the minorÕs estate and can keep the profits for his trouble, but if he loses anything, he must repay the heir. Finally, provisions are made for the fees the officials in the various courts are to receive.


        One can make a much better case for this Pravda  as being intended for practical use.  But like English law, Kievan customary law (upon which these codes are based) was likely a much more complex and flexible system than these codes  reveal.  The codifications were a guide to the judges and established precedent, but were not an end in themselves, as there were always circumstances which were not covered.  In many ways Kievan law was as advanced as any in Europe (such as in its reliance on clearly-defined legal procedure and professional courts), but in other ways it lagged behind-- Western Europe had gradually been moving away from the system of wergeld (money paid to the relatives of the injured party in serious cases) to a system in which murder and other "felonies" were an offense against the Crown, who thus was charged with dispensing justice and levying fines.  The ordeal had also nearly disappeared in Western Europe by the thirteenth century;  even judicial combat, to which the aristocracy clung as their prerogative, was becoming quite rare.


The Veche


        The veche , or town assembly, of Novgorod has become quite famous to historians, many of whom saw in this institution a cradle of democracy--an assembly in which all the residents of the city had an equal voice in the decisions which affected them all.  Is this a true picture?  Before I answer this question, a few words about the origins of this assembly.


        Novgorod, as mentioned above, seems to have grown out of three earlier independent settlements.  Currently it is believed that the institution of the veche  was created when these three settlements merged to provide for the town a government which would reflect the wishes of each of these settlements.  One duty of the veche  from very early times was to elect its posadnik, or mayor; the assembly was also usually convened in times of emergency.  Later, as the power of the people behind this institution grew, the veche   came to play a role in the confirmation of princes and archbishops-- or their deposition.


        But who were the people behind the institution?  This has been the subject of much debate. Some historians hold that the veche  was truly a popular assembly, pointing to mentions in the chronicles of the role of "the people" (the same Russian word which can also refer to craftsmen in general) in decisions of the veche .  Archaeological evidence, however, has lent weight to the opposing theory: that it was the boyars and merchants and perhaps the wealthier craftsmen who were entitled to vote.  Excavations in the area where the veche is known to have met (close to the Church of St. Nicholas, on the Market Side) have revealed that the only open area suitable for a veche  meeting could hold perhaps 200-300 people -- out of a population of at least 10,000 in the eleventh century, even more in later years.  Clearly, this is not an assembly in which all could participate, even if only heads of families could vote.  The more likely scenario is that the council was dominated by the more influential and wealthy men of the city.  However, the meetings were always held outdoors, in the open, so that all could see and hear the proceedings.  This adds an additional factor to veche  meetings--the role of the mob, who through force of numbers could be relied upon to carry out decisions reached by the veche, or to shout down unpopular proposals.  Veche  members probably had to keep this in mind during their deliberations. This probably led to the belief that all decisions of the veche  had to be unanimous;  this was certainly not enshrined in law, but in actual practice-- making the repair to the Volkhov bridge less a judicial duel between two sides than a disorderly riot using whatever weapons were at hand.  With that, a few lines from The Life if Vasily Buslaev , one of the later byliny:



        You would think it was the spring flood

        Overflowing in the meadows,

        But it is the crowd of Novgorod

        Swelling-surging in Rogatitsa (street).

        You would think it was geese and swans

        Rising on Ilmen Lake

        But it is all the men of Novgorod

        Gathering on the Volkhov bridge....

        ...All the heads are broken with the flail

        All the arms are bandaged with handkerchiefs

        All the legs are tied with belts.

Russian Paganism


        Even after official conversion to Christianity in 988,  much of Kievan Russia retained pagan beliefs.  Unlike other states,  there was no large-scale push to Christianize the population as soon as possible.  The city of Kiev, under Byzantine influence, was the first to produce an identifiably Christian culture.  Other cities followed slowly, and the countryside slowest of all, and as the slow process of conversion advanced, many former pagan rites were incorporated into Christian modes of expression--a phenomenon seen in many other societies in the process of transformation.  While pagan temples in large cities ceased to exist quite early,  in the countryside non-Christian "sacred spaces" continued to exist for centuries.  Some aspects of pre-Christian Russian religion, such as the belief in various nature spirits,  never really disappeared completely.


        It was these practices which most deeply pervaded Russian society.  First and foremost, the early Russians believed in the veneration of their ancestors.  The family or clan (rod)  was venerated both in the literal sense and the more figurative sense as an offspring-producing spirit (rozhanitsy. ) "In the twelfth century", Vernadsky tells us, "many a Russian still offered bread, curd, and mead to Rod and Rozhanitsy, in spite of the admonition of the clergy to abstain from these pagan rites".  Also part of these beliefs was the veneration of the clan founder   (the praschur ). Finally, the home was seen as a sacred space in its own right.  It was protected by the domovoi , a home spirit, and the hearth fire formed the focus of the household, a symbol of its health and livelyhood. In Christian times,  their place would be taken by an icon placed in a corner shrine, to which devout Russians would bow upon entering a room.


        Outside the home, many of the beliefs revolved around the agricultural cycle and the forces of nature.  One of the oldest of Russian deities was Moist Mother Earth ( or Mati srra zenlja ) herself. Marija Gimbutas documents a number of practices regarding this deity, including the calling upon the Earth to witness oaths and the ban on striking the Earth or plowing before March 25 (the approximate date of the spring equinox) because the Earth was believed to be pregnant before that date. Kupala  was the festival of Mother Earth:  it took place at the summer solstice and included mass bathing, prayers at springs and great bonfires.  On the eve of the solstice,  the fires of both homes and temples would be symbolically extinguished and then rekindled. Another custom involved the placement of a figure of straw dressed like a woman under a tree which had been cut down and planted again in the earth (representing the Tree of Life which links heaven and earth); sacrifices would take place nearby.


        Belief in wood and river spirits was also strong, and they played a strong role in folklore long after the Christian conversion.  These were the rusalki , who are usually depicted as female and who could lull the unwary wanderer into drowning himself or becoming lost in the forest.  Trees themselves were also the focus of veneration.


        Besides the various less-defined deities,  a group of named gods were known to have been worshipped by the early Rus'.  More about these in a moment. We have both contemporary descriptions and archaelogical evidence of the appearance of temples.  They seem to have been constructed of timber, and their exterior was often decorated with animal horns and sculpture. Temples could be either rectangular or rounded in shape, and were usually located on the tops of fortified hills.  Inside, the walls might be hung with coloured cloths (purple cloths are specifically mentioned); the focus area would be in the middle, which might be either raised or sunken and which also contained the ceremonial fire.  Here would stand the idol or idols,  made almost always of wood, though ornamented in larger temples by silver. Virtually any plant or animal matter might be offered as a sacrifice;  the choice depended on the god, the time of year, and the purse of the sacrificer. Cocks were a common choice for everyday-type animal sacrifice, while grain was the choice vegetable matter (Russian reverence for the sacred nature of grain or frumenty survived the transition to Christianity).  Usually the sacrificed matter was then consumed communally.


        The most well-know god of Russian mythos is Perun, the god of lightning and thunder.  He seems to have been particularly associated with the Rurikid dynasty,  which makes PerunÕs identification with the Scandinavian Thor unmistakable, though the Slavs were worshiping Perun long before the Varangian period.  He is depicted as a man in his prime with a copper-coloured beard who travels through the sky in a chariot,  throwing his axe (which was identified with the lightning bolt) at evil spirits and people.  Interestingly enough, a person struck by lightning was felt to be gifted with healing powers. It was also thought that a bolt of lightning was needed to stir the earth into fertility in the spring (a good example of the age-old mythological union between Mother Earth and Father Sky). After the conversion to Christianity, Perun was identified with St. Elias, who also rides a fiery chariot.


        Perhaps more important (though less well-known) than Perun was Svarog, the father of all gods, the "heaven-walker".  The other gods were thought to be in reality children of Svarog, or manifestations of his spirit.  He is sometimes depicted with three heads.  Svarog was a sort of blacksmith-god, associated with fires (the hearth fire was termed "SvarogÕs son).  He forged the sun (Khors Dazhbog -- Khors representing the sun itself and Dazhbog representing sunlight) and the atmosphere (Stribog --god of winds and atmosphere). Svarog could assume many shapes--that of a bull, a grey wolf, a horse, or most especially, a falcon.  In Christian times, SvarogÕs features in Slavic lands may have been assumed by St. George, who is said to have stirred up a great wind while fighting the dragon.


        Volos was the god of wealth and cattle.  His cult was quite popular around Novgorod, and he became to be particularly associated with commerce;  his idol seems to have been often placed in marketplaces.  Volos was known as a mischievous god, fond of playing tricks and casting spells, but he also seems to have been god of poetry and oracles


        Yarilo or Svetarit was the god of war and fertility.  He was associated with the harvest and the springtime;  his name means "young" or "shining one".  A white horse was reserved to him; only the priest might ride it and it was used to make auguries before battle.


        The god Simargl is depicted as an eagle or a dog, who travels over the earth spreading seeds of fertility.  He may have also acted as a warrior-god.  Sometimes he was split into two aspects--Sim, god of households, and Rogl, who is associated with the harvest.


        Finally, there is Mokosh, the only goddess of the more formalized pantheon.  She was usually depicted spinning flax and is thus associated with sheep. Mokosh is also associated with springs, water, and prosperity, and is invoked against drought.


"We knew not whether we were in heaven or on Earth": Christianity among the Rus'


        The conversion of the Rus' to Christianity did not signal the end to pagan customs and festivals, especially in the countryside.  Christian authorities of the day bemoaned the dvoeverie  or "double faith" of the people-- while they might attend church and believe themselves good Christians,  they still continued to celebrate pagan festivals and believe in the panorama of good and malevolent spirits of Russian folklore.  Gradually, however, the two "faiths" merged into one in which Christian practices predominated.  The prophet Elijah and his fiery chariot were equated with Perun;  Volos became St. Vlas (Blaise);  the summer solstice celebrations subsumed into Pentecost celebrations.

        The conversion seems to have been most rapid in the south and in urban areas;  as late as the late eleventh century there were still pagans in Novgorod.  There is little evidence of extensive forced conversion;  the process seems to have been gradual, and conversion did not mean immediate abandonment of pagan practices, as we have seen.


        Vladimir is supposed to have opted for Orthodox Christianity because of the reports his envoys brought him of the beautiful liturgy.  Indeed, the aim of this liturgy is to create a kind of "heaven on earth".  The typical Orthodox church is characterized by soaring vaults topped by domes, the inside of which are either painted or covered in mosaics of Christ, the Theotokos (Virgin Mary) and the Apostles and saints, all portrayed in a stylized manner that conveys the eternity of the Church.  The priests are clad in shining vestments and use gold vessels; bishops wear mitres of gold and carry gold croziers.  Candles flicker everywhere.  The liturgy is highly ceremonial in nature, filled with incense, meaningful gestures, bowing, and choirs placed in high balconies.  The similarity to Byzantine court ceremony is not coincidental. At a certain point in the ritual, the Holy Spirit is believed to actually descend into the church and into the rite itself, transfiguring and bathing all in holy light.  The liturgy is a mystical experience and works to promote an inner transformation in those who witness it.


        This is, of course, the Byzantine model.  In the Russian Orthodox Church, however, a second layer was added to Christianity.  Increasingly, popular practice emphasized the humanity of Christ, rather than his awe-inspiring majesty or the complicated theology of the Greeks.  This emphasis is seen in the choice of the first two Russians to be canonized-- Boris and Gleb, not learned bishops, but laymen, innocent martyrs who chose to suffer their fate in imitation of Christ. This empathy for those who suffer is seen in popular works such as The Descent of the Virgin into Hell  (see the literature article).  Unlike Western Christianity, too, the Orthodox Mass was designed to instill understanding in attendees.  Readings from the Old and New Testaments, hymns to the Virgin and Christ, collect hymns explaining the lives of saints, and sermons all were in Church Slavonic, close enough to the Russian tongue for all to understand. SaintsÕ lives, works on theology, and sermons were all written down and educated layfolk encouraged to read them to increase their understanding.


        The introduction of Christianity brought social changes to the Rus' as well.  The tithe system was instituted, in which all Christians were expected to donate a tenth of their income to the Church.  Church courts now assumed jurisdiction over a wide variety of cases, including those involving divorce, adultery, abduction, abortion, incest, magic, poisoning, witchcraft, heresy, biting, bestiality, certain kinds of theft, and so on.  The penalties for these crimes tended to be monetary, rather than physically punitive.  The Church was also given charge of administration of monasteries, extending hospitality to visiting dignitaries in towns, inns for strangers, the welfare of pilgrims, physicians, the blind, widows, and the lame, and bishops were given the right to supervise markets and set standards for weights and measures.


        Just a few final words about practices amongst the people.  Orthodox Christians made the sign of the cross backwards from Roman Catholics: forehead, middle of chest, right breast, left breast.  Russians made this sign with two fingers.  Most of the other differences between the Eastern Church and the Western involve theology or practices in liturgy and need not concern us here.  But icons must be mentioned.  Far from simple pictures of Christ, the Virgin, or the saints, icons were believed to be divinely inspired and sometimes capable of miracles. The features of the figures on them are always painted in a stylized manner, symbolizing the eternity of God and the saints.  Most Russian homes had at least one, often given a special niche and an oil lamp to illuminate it in the main room;  it became tradition to bow to the icon upon entering a home.


Dress Among the Rus'


Byzantine Dress


        The clothes worn by the Byzantines had evolved little from the basic styles of the late Roman Empire, for both men and women.

        Byzantine dress is a riot of rich, deep colours.  Patterned silks and wools and elaborate brocades belied ConstantinopleÕs place at the end of the Eastern trade routes. Use of precious and semi-precious stones, particularly pearls,  was a sign of wealth.




        The basic garment was a fairly loose-cut tunic, usually worn about knee length.  It had long, close-fitting (but not tight sleeves) and was worn belted and slightly bloused at the waist.


The tunic was  trimmed by wide bands of fabric or embroidery by all at the sleeves and hem; the wealthy also added trim at the neck, and biceps.


        For ceremonial wear, Byzantine emperors wore a very elaborate, long version to the tunic, called a talaris  cut closer to the body with a slit at each side. (I will not go into detail about imperial dress, as it was very complicated and worn only by emperors, but this garment will be mentioned later).


        Men also wore breeches under the tunics.  Sometimes for court wear these were very close fitting, but they were normally loose enough to slightly blouse when tucked into the tops of boots or when cross-gartered.


        Cloaks were as much a dress accessory as a protectant against bad weather.  The usually semi-circular chlamys  was hung over the left arm and fastened on the right shoulder with a fibula.


The chlamys  was always decorated with the tablion , a rectangular patch of contrasting-colour fabric which was embroidered in court dress, on the front and back edges.  




        Women wore a tunic similar to that worn by men, except longer.  Two were usually worn together, one (sometimes called a dalmatic) slightly shorter than the other, belted at the waist.  The edges of these garments were decorated like those of the men,  but women are often depicted with an additional strip of fabric or embroidery down the front of the garment.  Sometimes a triangular "shawl" called a superhumeral was worn over the tunics. Empresses and other high-ranking ladies seem to have also worn separate jeweled collars.


        Women also wore the chlamys, though without the tablion. Jeweled mesh hairnets seem to have been common, along with the ubiquitous veil.  


The Costume of the Rus'


        The costume of the Rus differed considerably from Byzantine dress in basic silhouette.  Though like the Byzantines they favoured wearing several layers, these layers tended to fit closer to the body and not show so much draping as the typical Byzantine garments. However, Byzantine parade dress was gradually combined with elements of traditional Rus' styles by the princely class and Byzantine styles of ornamentation spread even wider.


        As with most medieval cultures in this period,  the various classes did not adopt different styles (except the parade costumes worn by princes),  but exhibited their wealth through the quality of fabric and the amount of ornamentation. Underclothes for all classes were made of linen (from flax or hemp),  the fineness of weave dictating the quality.  The majority of the populace wore a local homespun wool for their outer garments, while the rich imported fine wools and silks from Byzantium or the east.  These expensive fabrics were known as pavolok  and usually were patterned in Byzantine style, often with gold or silver thread woven through.  Popular colours were deep red, purple, green, and pale blue.  The lower classes favoured these colours and styles as well, substituting simpler geometric patterns such as diamonds, triangles, stars, sunbursts, and stylized animal and plant motifs.


        A look at Ukrainian and Russian embroidery motifs today will give a basic idea of the general look of the embroidery favoured by the Rus'. They were particularly fond of the combination of red thread on white linen, adding other bright colours to augment the designs of geometrics, animal, and plant motifs.  Like the Byzantines, the Rus' were quite fond of pearls and would incorporate them into the embroideries, use them for borders, or seed them all over a tunic.  Fur was also a common way of lining or trimming garments--sheepskin, fox, hare and squirrel for the common people, beaver, otter, sable, and marten for the aristocracy.


MenÕs costume:


        The basic unit worn by all was the shirt.  These were usually made of linen--usually white or natural coloured, but occasionally in a grey-blue. The aristocracy sometimes made them of brightly coloured  silk.  Richer folk would add multiple layers on top of the shirt, while poorer folk used it as the main layer of clothing.


        The shirt was commonly embroidered around the neck.  Those who could not afford embroidery or who had little free time for such things often substituted strips of red cloth.


          Note the fact that the sleeves are cut longer  than the arms (so one could tuck the hands inside for warmth.)  To keep them out of the way for everyday activity, the Rus' either added a wristband or used bracelets. There is no collar, but there is a deep slit down the front, which is held shut with a button.  The shirt is cut nearly to the knees and is always worn untucked, with a narrow belt of fabric or leather. The other essential garment was a pair of linen breeches, called porty  .  The rich added a pair of wool breeches over these, while princes might wear silk breeches.Fig B. is a diagram of the breeches. They were held up by a belt or rope in drawstring fashion, and were tucked into the tops of the shoes or boots.


        Finally, there was a traditional outer garment called the svyta  . (A look at the traditional "Cossack style" coats of the Russians and Ukrainians will give you an idea of what this later evolved into).  This was cut nearly straight, with only a slight widening towards the bottom, of  wider wool fabric.  It fit the torso quite closely, with a slit to the waist area done up by  three or four buttons, and fell between the knee and calf.  The aristocracy often decorated these with horizontal strips of braid or cloth.  The sleeves fit closely as well, tapering slightly to the wrist.  The garment was often lined or trimmed in fur, and a wide belt of fabric completed the look.


        As I have mentioned, the princes adopted modified Byzantine fashions for their parade dress.  The very long Byzantine talaris  favoured by the upper classes was cut slightly shorter by the Rus',  though it was ornamented much like I have discussed earlier.  The princes also used the Byzantine chlamys,  which they called korzno.


WomenÕs dress


        Once again, the basic garment was the shirt, cut just like the manÕs shirt, except it reached the feet and sometimes featured a slightly gathered neckline.  Women often wore two shirts,  the outer one often made of coloured silk in aristocratic costume. Like the manÕs shirt, the womenÕs shirt was always worn belted.


        A variety of additional pieces could be added to this basic costume.  A shorter shirt which reached the calves and featured wide, short sleeves was called a navershnyk . This would be worn loose over the belt.  Married women sometimes wore the panÕova  ,  which was made of three rectangular pieces of cloth (usually in a diamond or other geometric pattern), attached to a leather belt and opening down the front;  while unmarried women wore a garment (zanaviska )made of one long strip of fabric with a hole for the neck, which was then pinned at the side or belted.


        For winter wear, women either wore multiple layers or added a simple cloak.


        Princesses usually wore the basic Byzantine style of a dalmatic worn over a longer tunic but added characteristically Russian headgear.




        The most common hat for men of all classes was either a pointed or conical hat made of felt or woolen cloth, with either fur or fabric ear flaps (which could be turned up) along the edges.  Princes wore these styles as well as others with low and high "dome shaped" crowns.


        Men tended to wear their hair long in the back, to the nape of the neck.--short hair was considered to be a servile fashion.  It could be either worn straight or combed back. Almost all men wore beards (trimmed in a variety of styles or left fully) and moustaches (full and drooping).  Occasionally a full moustache alone was worn.


        Unmarried women usually wore their hair loose or in a single loose braid, with a headband of ribbon, braid, or embroidered strips of fabric.  By the 11th century,  these were sometimes made of metal or leather, and the rich often made them quite wide, decorating the top edges with crenelations.  From this band would often be suspended metal danglies, especially at the temple.


        Married women gathered and wound their hair on top of their head, and then placed over this the povoynyk,  which was a kind of cap made of thin fabric or a net of metallic or silk thread.  An embroidered front piece was sometimes added so that it would peek out when the ubrus , the second layer, was worn.  This was a kerchief made of linen or thin silk, usually white or purple in colour, and decorated with embroidery on the ends.  It was usually about 2m long and 40-50 cm wide and worn draped around the head and pinned under the chin, leaving one end hanging down the front.  Women then often added hats similar to those of men on top of this.




        Footwear differed little between males and females. Peasants wore simple gathered leather or bast shoes along with foot cloths and cross gartering. Those who lived in towns and the aristocracy favoured boots of leather.  These nearly reached the knee in front and sometimes slanted downwards in back.  The boots usually had a blunt toe;  the aristocracy favoured pointed toes which were slightly upturned.  Rich women also wore a leather or fabric shoe which reached the ankle.




        The Rus were very fond of jewellery, and various techniques such as engraving, filigree, niello, and enamel were used to ornament it.  Men often wore a very thick neck ring called a hryvna ,  while women favoured metallic bracelets (either twisted metal or metal plates) and glass beads.  They also wore the "temple rings" previously mentioned.  Both sexes wore earrings, though men wore them only in one ear.  Finally, the Rus' were fond of attaching drobnytsi,  little metal plates (sometimes with precious stones attached) on ornamental strips on clothing.  Silver (occasionally gold) was the metal of choice for aristocrats;  commoners wore copper, bronze, and base silver.


        Finds in Novgorod confirm these assertions.  Gold is not common;  it is not seen except in the case of a couple of signet rings and temple rings. Beads of amber and glass, and rings and bracelts of twisted glass in a panorama of colours have been round.  Annular, triangular, and cruciform pins made of silver or pewter are common, as are temple rings and other "danglies" in animal and geometric shapes;  many of these show Baltic or Finnic influence.  A final type of jewellery was the coin or imitation coin converted so that one could wear it as a pendant..


Food and Drink


        The Russian word for hospitality, khleb-solÕ , translates literally as "bread-salt".  This not only evokes the traditional Russian greeting for arriving guests -- a presentation of fresh bread and salt-- but also underlines the importance of these two commodities to the Russian people.


        First, bread. Bread and grain products formed the basis of the Russian diet for the common people and was important even to the princely class.  Common bread was usually made of rye (winter-sown) in the north;  in the south, wheat bread was a bit more common. It was usually leavened. The wealthy (and the common people, on feast days) often added a second bread, made with honey and poppy seed.  All parts of the various grains grown were put to good use.  Oats, grown primarily for horses, was also used by humans, as were the minor crops of barley and millet. Grains could be grown to produce flour for pastries, pancakes, fritters and pies;  made into frumenty;  or the groats used for gruels and pottages. Flax and hemp seeds, besides being used to produce vegetable oil for frying and cooking, were also cooked with peas as a separate dish. And grain was also used in the manufacture of beer; more about which in a moment.


        Salt was a major industry in Russia.  It could be mined in the form of rock salt, collected from river deltas, or (the most common method) crystallized from sea water or water from underground sources.  Though we do not today think of salt as a "spice",  to the people of medieval Europe it was absolutely vital to preserving meat for long periods of time,  and in Russia, where the winters are long, it was doubly important.  All varieties of meat and fish were commonly preserved with salt.  Other spices, particularly pepper, ginger, and cloves, were used for seasoning, as were onion and garlic, two particular Russian favourites.  Honey was also a valuable commodity, and the keeping of bees was regulated by law.


        The most familiar meats to most people in Russia were beef, mutton and pork, which if used fresh was either boiled or grilled or put into pottages.  A wide variety of game animals were available as well;  virtually anything that moves could be and was eaten (including bear).  However, game rights were restricted mostly to wealthy landowners, and there were also religious prohibitions about eating "vermin" (most usually squirrel, which was far more valuable for its fur) or animals which were strangled or otherwise killed without letting blood; in the eleventh century, however, these would probably not have been strictly enforced.  Probably the most common game animal was rabbit or hare.  Most poultry also fell under the category of game.  Most common were geese, chickens, duck, pigeons, and crane, but once again, literally anything was game.  The wealthy could dine on such birds as pheasant and swan. Russia was also known for its fish.  The Church enforced Wednesday and Friday as fish days, and the wide availability of fish made it a popular choice on all days. Most common were pike-perch, bream, whitefish, and smelts;  the upper classes preferred salmon and sturgeon.  A later account lists at least 35 varieties of fish available in Russia.  As mentioned earlier, fish was usually salted or smoked if not eaten immediately.


        Fruits and vegetables were either eaten raw, boiled, or baked into pies.  Turnips were a mainstay (later replaced by potatoes). Cabbage, carrots, beetroot, radishes, and peas were widely used as well.  All of these vegetables could also be pickled;  cucumbers were nearly always eaten this way.  As for fruits, these included apples (imported at this time), pears, cherries, and plums,  as well as berries, which were gathered in woods and meadows, along with various fungi and nuts.  A special treat was imported lemons preserved with salt.


        Each Russian home had a stove, as archaeological evidence demonstrates.  In the eleventh century, these took the form of half-spheres about 3Õ-4Õ in diameter, with a hole in the top for the smoke to escape and a hole in the side for access to the fire.  Stoves were usually placed on a raised platform in Novgorod due to the wet soil.  The typical stove was made of wattle and daub on a stone foundation.  It was built over a frame of bent rushes, which then burnt off once the stove was fired.  The hole in the top was used for boiling and frying, while the hot ashes inside the stove were used for baking and grilling.


        As Vladimir is supposed to have said when rejecting Islam because of its prohibitions against alcohol, "Rus' loves to drink, we cannot be without it".  Indeed,  most of the beverages used by the Rus' were fermented to some degree.  The two most common drinks were mead and kvasÕ.   Mead was made from honey and sometimes flavoured with spices or fruit.  KvasÕ, a very lightly fermented, almost non-alcoholic beer, was made from rye, barley or other grains, or even from leftover pastry or bread flour or crumbs;  it could be flavoured or sweetened with sugar or honey as well.  From the eleventh century on, we have clear evidence of the availability of beer, both lighter beers (braga )  and stronger ones, both of which may have been hopped (hops grow wild in the area). Brewing of all drinks was often done for special occasions, such as weddings or festivals.  Finally, there is wine, which was well-loved by those who could afford it, as it had to be imported. Vodka as we know it, of course, is a later beverage, as it is made from potatoes, although the method in which it is made may have been known quite early.



The Literary Tradition of Kievan Rus'


        The Rus' have left a good sized body of literature which can still be studied and enjoyed to this day.  The adoption of Church Slavonic as a literary language has meant that virtually all of this literature has come down to us in what would have approximated the Russian vernacular.  What follows is a short overview of the literature which survives.




        Of interest to us are two, the Russian Primary Chronicle (or to use its Russian title, The Tale of Bygone Years  ) and the Chronicle of Novgorod.  The former was began between 1037 and 1039;  from 1060 to 1073 it was kept by Nikon, a Kievan monk who was an eyewitness to many of the events described.  In about 1113, Nestor, another monk, is believed to have revised the chronicle, adding an introduction to the work which traces the origin of the Rus' from the Biblical Flood, the founding of Kiev, and the subsequent establishment of the Rus' state. NikonÕs accounts and NestorÕs revisions succeeded in turning the fairly straightforward chronicle into a fullblown work of literature, complete with dialogue and philosophical tangents.  It is generally accepted, however, that the basic historical information included in the chronicle is accurate.


        The Chronicle of Novgorod contains sparse entries for the first half of the eleventh century, but thereafter contains a lively account of the commercial affairs of the city, details of the weather and harvests, and accounts of political intrigue, some lifted from other chronicles.  It is far less "literary" and far more practical than the Primary Chronicle.


Here is an example:

   6651(1153)  All this autumn was rainy, from Our LadyÕs day of Nativity until

   the winter solstice it was warm and wet.  The water was very high in the

   river Volkhov, and it carried away hay and wood.  The lake froze, and there

   was great coldness in the night.  And the wind broke up the ice and carried

   it into the river Volkhov, where it broke the bridge and carried away four of

   the bridge piles.  In the same year Sviatopolk married in Novgorod.  He

   brought in his bride between Christmas and Epiphany. And in the same year

   the Korelians campaigned against the Yamians, but were forced to retreat.


Religious Works


        These include a number of sermons and saintsÕ lives.  The oldest is the Sermon on Law and Grace , written by Hilarion, the Metropolitan of Kiev, sometime between 1037 and 1051, when he assumed the post of Metropolitan, the first non-Greek to hold that office.   Though the theology is clearly Byzantine in nature, it includes a long eulogy to Vladimir, the first Christian ruler of the Rus'.   The Primary Chronicle contains the first accounts of the passions of the saints with its description of the martyrdom of Boris and Gleb, two brothers of Iaroslav the Wise who were murdered by their brother Sviatopolk and became both the first two native Russian saints, but also the prototypes for a uniquely Russian type of martyr:  one who accepts his fate passively, without resistance, in the imitation of ChristÕs humble sacrifice (thus providing a counterweight for the then far more prevalent image of Christ as a mighty creator of all things).  As Christian Russia provided saintly figures, they, too had their lives told in their own vitae.


        Also of interest are the various apocryphal tales associated with Biblical figures.  In one such account, the Virgin Mary is given a guided tour of Hell by the Archangel Michael,  where she sees unfair usurers devoured by worms, a gossip with serpents emerging from her mouth, lecherers immersed in a river of fire, liars hung by their tongues from a tree of thorns, and beds of fire for those who would not get up to go to Easter Midnight Service, among other horrors.   The Virgin, in tears, attempts to intercede for those in Hell and is rebuked by Michael, but


Christ has mercy and gives them a second chance to obey him.  In another account, this time in poetic form, Adam addresses Lazarus in Hell before Jesus raises him from the dead.


Epic Poetry


        There seems to have been a solid oral tradition of epic poetry and song in place well before any of these works were actually written down.  Of course, the Norsemen who arrived in the lands of the Rus' brought with them the tradition of the sagas, a number of which discuss the Rus'.  But a native Rus' style of epic sprang up in the years following VladimirÕs conversion and the consolidation of the Rus' state.  These are the byliny , tales of Vladimir and his entourage. The entourage consisted of a number of bogatyr , each fairly individualized in his characterization.  For instance, there is Ilya of Murum, the eldest, a man of peasant stock, straightforward and brave;  Alesha Popovich, the cunning son of a priest who is a bit of a fop; and Dobrynia Nikitich, a man of boyar parentage noted for his generosity.


        It would take another two centuries, however, for the genre to reach its apex in a work known as The Lay of IgorÕs Campaign , the tale of a rather disastrous expedition by Igor, Prince of Novgorod-Seversk, against the Cumans, his capture, and subsequent escape.  The except below describes the Russian defeat:


And so it used to be

There were battles and campaigns,

but there had never been such battle as this.

From early morning to night,

from evening to dawn

there flew tempered arrows.

swords rained down upon helmets,

Frankish lances resound,

and all this in the unknown steppe,

in the Kuman land.

The black earth under the hooves

was strewn with bones,

was covered with blood.

Grief overwhelmed the Russian land.


What noise do I hear?

What clinking comes to my ears

so early in the morning before the dawn

It is Prince Igor who has led away his troops.

He is saddened by the fate of his brother Vsevolod.

They fought for one day.

They fought for another day.

At noon on the third day IgorÕs banners fell.

Here in the shores of the swift river Kaiala,

the brothers parted.

The wine of this bloody banquet was drunk to the last drop.

The Russians gave their guests to drink from the same cup.

They died for the Russian land.

        The grass withered from sorrow,

        and the saddened trees drooped earthward.


        The lay concludes with an appeal to the various princes (by this time many in number) to cease their feuding and face the dangers confronting them together.


        The oral tradition should not be mentioned without saying a word about fairy tales. These fall into two categories:  Magical ones, filled with flying carpets and sorcery;  and satirical.  While many of these were not actually written down until fairly recent times,  some of the characters who appear in them-- such as the witch Baba Yaga--pop up in chronicles, while others are part of the canon of spirits and mystical creatures which remained ingrained in the popular imagination long after the conversion to Christianity.


Music and Entertainment


        Study of this area has been much aided by the archaeological excavations at Novgorod, which have provided physical evidence for the use of musical instruments mentioned in passing in literature.  Music in Novgorod can be divided into three categories: folk songs connected with pre-Christian ritual, handed down orally; instrumental folk music, and ecclesiastical music.  Only the third category was actually written down, so IÕll discuss it first.


        Church music in both Byzantium and Ancient Rus' was purely choral, unaccompanied by any instrumentation, though bells were used heavily. It was built on the Byzantine system of modes, which consists of eight glas (or "echoes") derived from old Greek modes.  Church singing seems to have been unisonal to begin with, gradually becoming polyphonic as the liturgy developed.  Excellent recordings of this sort of music can be purchased from the early music sections of major record stores;  for the most authentic sound, stick to recordings made based on manuscripts from the sixteenth century or before.


        Secular musicians, in contrast, utilized a wide variety of instruments, which were often condemned by the Church as demonic,  though actual persecution of wandering professional minstrels or clowns (skomorokhi ) did not occur until the seventeenth century.  The picture of earlier centuries is of ecclesiastical authorities bemoaning in vain practices clearly popular on all steps of the social ladder.  The skomorokhi  were professionals and traveled in companies, though ecclesiastical sources refer to them as low-class buffoons;  perhaps some of the fine musical instruments uncovered at Novgorod belonged to them. Like such traveling minstrels in Western Europe, the skomorokhi   combined music and drama as they performed various epics and folktales;  we know that they, like Byzantine actors, sometimes used masks.  Part of the objections of the Church to their activities was based on the fact that many of the Rus' folk cycles and epics are deeply imbued with paganism and may actually have been derived from pagan festivals. The main instruments of the skomorokhi  -- pipes, gusli, and gudok -- were also played by amateur musicians.  Examples of these have all been found at Novgorod.


        Pipes were made of small hollow branches (ash and willow, in the case of those found at Novgorod) and drilled with holes.  The scales which resulted were apparently used to tune whole ensembles.  Simple one-note pottery whistles have also been found.


        The gusli  is the Russian psaltery, played by plucking.  Unlike other folk instruments, the gusli  was viewed positively by the Church in many cases, as psalteries are mentioned in the Bible.  These came in two shapes -- curved or helmet shaped, and saw- or wing-shaped, and were fashioned of fir, birch, and especially alder, and strung with, it is believed, copper or bronze alloy wire or gut ; early examples have five strings, while later ones have as many as seven, while the helmet-shaped examples have ten.  As with modern psalteries, they were hollow inside;  more advanced examples had a sound hole or playing window.  The gusli  was not fingered (though the

fingers might be used to damp some strings to form chords), but played like a zither, held on the lap or, if the instrument had a playing window, upright.


        The gudok  or smyk  was a stringed instrument played with a bow.  It was similar in many ways to the Western fiddle or viol, being pear-shaped, with a head (often carved) with three tuning pegs, a short neck, and a hollow body, usually made of fir. The bow was curved and strung with horsehair; resin was then rubbed on the hairs to allow them to stick and produce sound.


        Since none of the music of this period was actually written down, we must rely on later Russian folk music to draw conclusions about the actual music of this period. It was probably mostly diatonic with occasional use of a pentatonic scale. Usually, the song is begun by a leader, then other singers come in, embellishing the original theme  in independent parts which all fit together to create the whole effect. "Uneven" time signatures such as 5/4 and 7/4 are common. Much is left to the individual performers in these songs.  Solo singing was also practiced, particularly in the case of epics;  here, a single musician, perhaps self-accompanied by gusli  , would sing these tales, much in the way Greek epic or Norse saga is believed to have been performed.      




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