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by Valentin SEDOV, RAS Corresponding Member, head of the Field Research Department, RAS Institute of Archeology
Were Rurik, whom llmen Slavs invited as a reigning prince to Novgorod, and Gostomysl, the first Novgorodian posadnik (governor), real personalities who made history? Did the republic of Novgorod the Great with its democratic government appear well before the full-blown Middle Ages? Who dispensed justice and what power did princes wield there, in Old Russia's northwest? What do the oldest writs on birch bark and the cylindrical tallies tell us? These and other questions are answered by Academician Valentin Yanin in his latest book, At the Sources of Novgorodian Statehood, off the press in 2001.
This brilliant, boldly imaginative book reads like a thrilling novel. Looking into the headsource of Novgorodian statehood, the republic of Novgorod the Great, the author portrays historical figures (mentioned now and then in chronicles) as real, multidimensional personalities who come alive in the flesh. As a man who for decades has been heading archeological work at Novgorod, Academician Yanin shows a masterly command of the subject-matter, a deep knowledge of the history of this Russian city-state with its veche, or popular assembly. A wealth of material has been amassed in the course of archeological diggings on the economy, culture and daily life of the Novgorodians. We learn a remarkable lot about their governance, ecclesiastical and secular alike. Proceeding from these new data, the author has found a key to many problems, both substantial and circumstantials. His findings, in particular, shed light on the early stages of East Slav history (9th-11th centuries A.D.).
Clearly, the history of Rus (Old Russia) in its full scope can be studied only by collating data contained in archeological and written sources (the latter often fragmentary not explicit, contradictory). The author does exactly that. His expert knowledge of chronicles and other written records goes hand in hand with an excellent background in archeology. Academician Yanin can make the best of archeological findings for scientific data retrieval.
Two letters of agreement (dated 1264 and 1268) signed between the Novgorodians and Prince Yaroslavl Yaroslavich show that his powers were rather limited. The townspeople were free to invite a prince as their sovereign, and they were free to banish him should he go back on his pledge. Without the consent of a town governor (posadnik) a prince had no right to issue official documents, own land and dispense justice. During his inauguration ceremony a prince had to give a pledge of allegiance to Novgorod in keeping with the "Yaroslavl writs". But Yaroslavl Yaroslavich was not their author: as we leam from the chronicles his father, Yaroslavl Vsevolodovich, had kissed the cross much earlier, in 1228, on the selfsame documents. And there had been four princes of the same name, Yaroslavl, before him. "We cannot tell yet which of the Yaroslavis was the father of "Novgorodian liberty".
Since 1973 field expeditions headed by Academician Ymin have been digging on the Lyudin (townsfolk's) edge of the medieval Novgorod, with the area of excavations totaling 7,000 sq. meters now. Three ancient streets - Proboinaya, Chemitsyna and Yarysheva - have been unearthed. Experts have made a thorough study of several town estates that had been there for several centuries.
Town estate E is of particular interest. Whereas the area of the other estates averaged from 400 to 600 m 2 , this one was much larger, about 1,400 m 2 . Judging by artifacts, it was the seat of an administrative body Only the space of the flooring built of six-meter pine blocks approached 130 sq. m. The flooring had openings for stanchions, which means there was a ceiling above, so people within the promises could stay in at any weather. One element of the structure wore a carved princely ensign.
The wood of the flooring was examined most closely Ibis dendrochronological study showed the date of the building, the year 1126. Subsequently it was renovated many times (also in 1132 and 1146). Archeologists found over a hundred birch writs in the deposits of the 1120s-1170s.* Says Academician Yanin: This is a record high for all the period of excavations. Most of the documents were torn to pieces still in those old days (only nine were intact out of a total of 92 recovered in 1998). These letters must have contained secrets not to be divulged.
The birch-bark letters or their fragments found on the estate grounds proved to be legal documents. After a close study of these writs Academician Yanin concluded that the estate E was the seat of a tribunal where justice was dispensed by the prince and the posadnik. This court handled all kinds of cases of the Novgorodian state, civil, criminal and commercial alike; it also examined ownership disputes and endorsed right of ownership to inherited landed estates, among other things. The prince, whose residence was in the Gorodishche (citadel, kremlin), did not take part in court hearings but sent a plenipotentiary spokesman chosen from among high-placed Novgorodians.
The birch-bark scrolls recovered at the estate E contain information on court proceedings of the mid-12th century and give the names of some of the judges, Yaksha and Petrok in particular. Petrok is mentioned in 17 documents. As Academician Yanin found it, that was Pyotr Mikhalkovich of the local boyar (nobility) elite, a man whose name comes up in the chronicles every now and then. Apparently he represented the prince at the court. According to Academician Yanin, Pyotr Mikhalkovich was the father of Olisei-Grechin, an eminent artist of the day and high priest; he owned a manorial estate quite nearby, dug up in deposits of the 12th and 13th centuries.
Quite interesting things come to light. Prince Yuri Dolgoruky, known as the founder of Moscow (12th century), had
* See: V. Yanin, "Writing on Birch Bark", Science in Russia, No. 6, 1997. - Ed.
his son Mstislav married to Pyotr's daughter so as to put an end to a feud between Moscow and Novgorod. Academician Yanin confirmed the hypothesis of A. Hippius, our contemporary: that one of the masterpieces of the applied art of the 12th century, a silver vessel (manufactured by the master Kosta), was made for Pyotr Mikhaikovich and his wife Maria-Marena, and they donated it as a gift to the St. Sophia Cathedral in Novgorod on the occasion of the bridal of their daughter Anastasia and Mstislav, son to Yuri Dolgoruky Some of the writs describe Marena as a woman of consequence - she had pull with the prince who would turn to her for advice when Pyotr happened to be away.
Now what concerns Yaksha. His name also occurs in the chronicles. Coming of the Prussian nobility, he served three terms as elected Novgorodian posadnik (governor-in 1137-1141, 1156-1160 and 1167-1170. His full name cum patronymic was Yakun (Jakun) Miroslavich. He was the man who put out the Holy Sign Icon on the fortress wall as the town was besieged by the host of the Suzdal principality The enemy fell back; and thereupon this icon became the holy of holies for Novgorod.
Analyzing birch-bark texts, Academician Yanin identified the names of the chiefjustices of the Novgorodian tribunal at the end of the 12th century: they were Pyotr's son Olisei-Grechin, who represented the prince, and posadnik Miroshka (Miroslav) Nesdinich, who governed Novgorod in 1189 to 1204 and contributed a great deal to the consolidation of the popular assembly form of government. Miroshka also gave much attention to the militia (home guard) and appointed captains to lead its units.
The institution of the tribunal (1126) ushered in a new stage in Novgorodian statehood. Academician Yanin, the author of the book under review, explains this event thus: In 1125 Grand Prince Vladimir Monomach of Kievan Rus died. The Novgorodians, seeking more independence for themselves, seized this opportunity and concluded a new agreement with his grandson Vsevolod enthroned in Novgorod in 1117, that is still under Vladimir Monomach. The new agreement restricted the powers of the prince somewhat. A special tribunal was set up - it could make no decision unless approved by the posadnik (governor).
But the estate E, as shown by archeological findings, had been an administrative seat much earlier, throughout the 11th century and in the first two decades of the 12th century The deposits of this period yielded 15 birch-bark writs and 40 wooden cylinders. Academician Yanin devotes a few thrilling pages to these finds. The author guessed the purpose of the cylinders: they were used both as tallies (label-tags) and padlocks that sealed tight the sacks with valuables by ropes or leather strings pulling in the sack necks, with their ends closed within the cylinders- which were also supplied with wooden plugs (seals). So the bags could not be opened unless one split the cylinder, cut the rope or the sackcloth. Many of such cylinder tallies carried brief inscriptions, marks or notches.
Academician Yanin divined the meaning of those characters: they indicated a share of the revenue due to the princes and tax collectors. If it was meant for the princes, the word PRINCELY or corresponding insignia were on. If it was for some concrete individual, other signs might be there. For instance, a trident-and- cross-Academician Yanin attributes this image to Mistislav Vladimirovich who ruled Novgorod in 1088 to 1094 and then again in 1096 to 1117. Other cylinders carry the word "swordsman" or images of a sword-bearer. Studying old records, the academician found those were publicans who collected taxes for the prince or the church and were thus entitled to a certain share as remuneration. On perusing articles of the Concise and Extensive Codes of Law, he established a correlation of the shares due to the prince, church and tax-collectors as 100:20 and 100:28.
Some cylinders indicated the value of what was within the bags in grivna coins, while others carried notches instead. The inscriptions on four cylinders specified the localities of the levies: Zavolchye districts, the rivers Vaga and Pinega (tributaries of the Northern Dvina and of the Tikhmeng, the latter flowing into Lake Lache).
The so many finds recovered on the estate E grounds show that people who worked there in the 11th and in the early 12th century, had connections with tax-collectors. Seven cylinders carry princely insignia, and another thirteen have those of sword-bearing publicans on; four identify concrete individuals: Nazhata, Khoten (on two cylinders) and Lazar (Lazarus). This estate must have been the place where sealed bags with state-imposed levies were brought in.
Academician Yanin makes it clear: all these finds were related in some way to Gorodishche (or the Yaroslavl Court), the residence of the Novgorodian princes. Only one cylinder was found on the outskirts of this citadel - the rest belonged to rich manorial estates of the nobility. This means active involvement of the Novgorodian upper crust - first of the tribal chiefs and then of the boyar nobility - in fiscal affairs. The prince and his retinue had no legal right to impose and collect state levies (that is, as of the early 11th century, the time when the earliest cylinders appeared). The prince and his court were apportioned a definite share of the tax revenue which the "swordsmen" brought in bags sealed at tax- collecting points. One of them was sited on the E estate grounds.
Such regulations of exacting state-imposed levies, Academician Yanin says, were enforced by Prince Yaroslavl the Wise of Kiev in 1019. But they were not new at all, those regulations: Prince Yaroslavl just reaffirmed the older rules for the intercourse of the Novgorodian townspeople with their invited princes (who were actually high-ranking officials employed by the state).
Similar cylinder tallies have also been dug up at Wolyn, Poland, and at Dublin, Ireland, in 10th-century deposits. This means that such articles were in use in the Baltic area as early as the time of the Vikings.
In this context we can lend credence to the chronicle of the year 862 which
stated that Rurik, a Scandinavian (Varangian) chief, was invited as prince to Novgorod. Invited from overseas.
In my book At the Sources of East Slav Statehood I said this: in the forest zone of the East European Plain - as we can judge by archeological and numismatic data - there came to be three political entities of people in the first half of the llth century - of Dmen Slavs, Krivichi and Meri (Merya). This is related in the chronicle The Tale of Bygone Years: "At the time of Kyev and Shchek and Khoriv. Slavs had a volost [district] of their own, and so had the Krivici, and the Merya; each by their kin in possession."
In the middle of the 9th century or so, the lands populated by these tribes became a target of marauding raids so that the aborigines had to pay tribute to the invading Norsemen. But then the autochthons united into a confederation of three tribes occupying a large territory from Lake Pskov in the west to the Volga and Klyazma interfluve in the east. Later on things came to intestine strife among tribal chieftains. To stop it, the Krivichi and the Merya decided to invite an alien as their prince. That was Rurik, who came to Novgorod and chose the local citadel, Gorodishche, as his residence.
Therefore Academician Yanin has good reason to assume that the Novgorodians signed an agreement with the invited prince on a relationship between him and the local nobility. Much later, in 1019, Prince Yaroslavl the Wise confirmed the norms of this relationship.
In a nutshell, Academician Valentin Yanin has unlocked some of the mysteries of the early history of Rus when, in a period of popular assembly rule in Novgorod, that land was torn asunder by internal strife and infighting among all the various boyar factions. These clashes, blood-letting now and then, led to the installment of the winning side in power, in the office oiposadnik. To ease such hostility within the ruling elite, Novgorod needed a prince that could stand over and above the rivalry.
As I see it, "Gostomysl the Elder", a prominent figure of the pre- Rurik history of Rus, is part and parcel of our past. In 15th century annals Gostomysl leads the list of Novgorodian governors, the posadniks. According to experts conversant with Russian chronicles, the phrase about Gostomysl came into the annals from Polychron written by Fotiy (Photios), Metropolitan of Kiev and all Russia. The author of Polychron, as the late Academician Dmitry Likhachev said, relied on oral folk sources for the most part; at the same time he might have used ancient Novgorodian chronicles not available today Yet we cannot put Elder Gostomysl, a man of myth and legend, on the same footing as the real Novgorodian posadniks of the 12th-15th centuries. However, that personality certainly stood at the cradle of Novgorodian statehood well before the Rurik time.
Academician Yanin's fundamental study contains sensational discoveries
and clarifies many things. Simultaneously, it invites questions yet to be answered.
Says the author, the tribunal often changed its quarters and moved closer to the residence of yet another posadnik. The E estate relics and those of the tribunal there could give us certain clues. At first this estate was located, naturally enough, on the Lyudin edge of the town. The tribunal's building was put up in 1126 with the election of the boyar Miroslav Gyuryatinich, of the Lyudin district, as posadnik. The renovation of the flooring in 1132 could have been ordered by a new governor, Petrila Mikoulchich (held office in 1131-1134), and the construction of the new flooring in 1146, by yet another posadnik, Nezhata Tverdyatich. All these men must have been of Lyudin nobility stock. But what happened to this very building when posadniks represented the interests of nobility resident in other Novgorodian districts, say in Nerev, not in Lyudin?
Academician Yanin considers Miroshka Nesdinich and his son Dmitry to be posadniks of the Lyudin nobility But unfortunately he does not back this statement by watertight arguments. The scrolls recovered in the dig do not relate Miroshka to the Lyudin boyars. Writ Number 502 belongs to his stylus, and it was addressed to Olisiy-Grechin resident on the A estate. Yet we do not learn anything about the whereabouts of the governor's residence. What Novgorod scholars know is this: Miroshka Nesdinich became posadnik after he had overcome his rival, Mikhalka Stepanovich, of the Prusskaya (Prussian) street; another posadnik, Tverdislav Mikhalovich, who had connections with the Prussian street nobility (as proved by factual evidence) and who also drew support from the Lyudin and Zagorodny ("out-of-town") districts, came into office in 1207 by defeating Miroshka's clan. W; cannot tell why the Novgorodian tribunal continued on the Lyudin edge, on the E estate grounds, during Miroshka's incumbency.
Academician Yanin makes another remarkable conclusion: up to the mid-10th century Novgorod's tribute-paying territory was restricted to the district of Lake Ilmen and the lower reaches of the Shelon and the Lovat. In the 8th and 9th centuries this locality was populated by the Ilmen Slavs, as we can judge by so many burial mounds. Such mounds are also found in other districts, in particular, at Pomostye and Poluzhye (Msta and Luga river territories, respectively), in lands formerly inhabited by a tribe of Pskov Krivichi who left what experts describe as "long Pskovian mounds". Other tribes then moved in, Russichi (Rossichi) among them. It was a densely populated area with an ethnically mixed population. Novgorod made it a tributary land after the year 947, under Princess Olga. Two pogosts (cemeteries) - Vazhansky and Imovolozhsky - stand out: all the proceeds from this locality went to the coffers of Novgorodian princes.
The location of the Imovolozhsky pogost (burial grounds) was not known until recently Now Academician Yanin has determined its whereabouts - namely, in the upper reaches of the Msta (at Lake Imovolozhye), i.e. within the bounds prescribed by Princess Olga for pogosts, that is within the tribute-paying territory He points at the location of another cemetery, the Vizhansky pogost, on the river Svir, linking two lakes, Ladoga and Onega. Why there? Logically, it should be farther south, on the river Luga, i.e. within the tributary land defined by Princess Olga. In that case it could get its name from the Vodi- Vozhane tribe inhabiting those parts. The special position of the Imovolozhsky and Vizhansky pogosts will then become clear-as located in a district wherefrom all the revenues went to the Novgorodian princes.
To conclude, let us stress it once again: the new book by Academician Valentin Yanin explains some of the unknowns that have puzzled generations of scientists. It is a major and valuable contribution to the science of history.
Cylinder No. 6 from the dig of 1980. An image of a sword and princely TAMGA in the form of a roundish trident.
Cylinder No. 27 from the dig of 1999. A half fragment of an alder-tree cylinder (plug preserved).
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