Culture of Ancient Rus', Russia

The culture of Ancient Rus' is the culture of Rus' during the period of the Old Russian state from its formation in the 9th century (see also the pre-Christian culture of Ancient Rus') to the Tatar-Mongol invasion (1237-1240).


Writing and education

The creation of the Slavic alphabet is associated with the names of the Byzantine monks Cyril and Methodius. Cyril in the second half of the 9th century created the Glagolitic alphabet (Glagolitic), in which the first translations of church books were written for the Slavic population of Moravia and Pannonia. At the turn of the 9th-10th centuries, on the territory of the First Bulgarian Kingdom, as a result of the synthesis of the Greek script that had long been widespread here and those elements of the Glagolitic alphabet that successfully conveyed the features of the Slavic languages, an alphabet arose, which later received the name Cyrillic. In the future, this easier and more convenient alphabet replaced the Glagolitic alphabet and became the only one among the southern and eastern Slavs.

Despite the fact that Cyrillic writing was known in the Russian lands before, only after the Baptism of Rus' did it become widespread. It also received a basis in the form of a developed cultural tradition of Eastern Christianity. It was essential that Christianity was adopted in its eastern, Orthodox version, which, unlike Catholicism, allowed worship in national languages. This created favorable conditions for the development of writing in the native language. Needing literate people, Prince Vladimir Svyatoslavich organized the first schools.

The oldest known Russian written monuments are agreements with Byzantium of the 10th century. They testify to the acquaintance of Rus' with the Cyrillic alphabet even before the Baptism. However, their originals have not been preserved. Only lists in the composition of The Tale of Bygone Years are known. The oldest surviving Russian written monuments are the Novgorod Code (Psalter and other texts) of the late 10th - early 11th century, the Ostromir Gospel written by deacon Grigory for the Novgorod posadnik Ostromir in 1057, and two Izborniks by Prince Svyatoslav Yaroslavovich of 1073 and 1076. The high level of professional skill with which these books were made testifies to the well-established production of handwritten books already in the first half of the 11th century, as well as to the skills of “book construction” that had been established by that time.

The development of writing in Russian led to the fact that the Russian Church from the very beginning did not become a monopoly in the field of literacy and education. Literacy was not only the privilege of the ruling class, it also penetrated the environment of ordinary citizens. The spread of literacy among various strata of the urban population is evidenced by birch bark letters discovered during archaeological excavations in Novgorod and other cities and dated from the period starting from the 11th century. These are letters, memos, study exercises, etc. Thus, the letter was used not only to create books, state and legal acts, but also in everyday life. Often there are inscriptions on handicraft products. Ordinary citizens left numerous records on the walls of churches in Kyiv, Novgorod, Smolensk, Vladimir and other cities.

The main centers of literacy were monasteries and cathedral churches, where there were special workshops with permanent teams of scribes. They were engaged not only in the correspondence of books, but also kept chronicles, created original literary works, and translated foreign books. One of the leading centers of this activity was the Kiev Caves Monastery, which developed a special literary trend that had a great influence on the literature and culture of Ancient Rus'. As the chronicles testify, already in the 11th century in Rus', libraries with up to several hundred books were created at monasteries and cathedral churches. The situation changed in the 12th century, when the craft of "book copyists" also arose in large cities. This testified to the growing literacy of the population and the increased need for books, which the monastic scribes could not satisfy. Many princes kept copyists of books, and some of them copied books on their own.

Education was highly valued in ancient Russian society. In the literature of that time one can find many panegyrics to the book, statements about the benefits of books and "book teaching".



General characteristics

With the adoption of Christianity, Ancient Rus' was attached to book culture. The Old Russian literary tradition was part of the Slavia Orthodoxa, a literary community of Orthodox Slavs that existed from the 9th century until the beginning of the New Age in a single language environment (Church Slavonic, its versions, as well as national literary languages close to them) and had a single literary fund.

Old Russian literature is characterized by a close connection with the Byzantine and Bulgarian literary traditions and an ascetic Christian orientation. Rus' assimilated the ascetic Byzantine tradition and did not join the culture of Constantinople in the capital; it accepted only Christian literature proper, excluding ancient literature, which was widespread in Byzantium. One of the reasons for this is that a similar situation has already been created in South Slavic literature, which has become a model for Russian. The ancient heritage, which in Byzantium became the basis of secular education, was perceived in Rus' as pagan, and therefore harmful to the human soul and having no cultural value.

The literature of Rus' solved mainly non-literary tasks. The most important principle of medieval culture "imitatio" (imitation, likening) assumed that grace-filled gifts are acquired on the way of familiarization with patterns, including verbal ones. Therefore, the main task for the ancient Russian scribes was the salvation of the soul. Almost the entire corpus of well-known literature had a theological and religious-educational orientation, including chronicle monuments. Such a type of Orthodox literature as "chet'i sborniks" was intended to form the reader's skills in Christian service. The history recorded in the annals was perceived primarily as the realization of God's providence. This approach did not imply fiction, artistic fiction. Standing apart among the surviving works is The Tale of Igor's Campaign.


Original literature

With the adoption of Christianity, Rus' was attached to the book culture. The development of Russian writing gradually became the basis for the emergence of literature. Extensive translated literature became the basis for the formation of their own tradition.

The original literature of Ancient Rus' is characterized by great ideological richness and high artistic perfection. Its prominent representative was Metropolitan Hilarion, the author of the well-known work "The Sermon on Law and Grace", dating from the middle of the 11th century. In this work, the idea of ​​the need for the unity of Rus' is carried out. Using the form of a church sermon, Hilarion created a political treatise, which reflected the pressing problems of Russian reality. Contrasting “grace” (Christianity) with “law” (Judaism), Hilarion affirms the idea of transferring heavenly attention and disposition from one chosen people to all mankind, the equality of all peoples.

An outstanding writer and historian was the monk of the Kiev-Pechersk monastery Nestor. His “Reading” about the princes Boris and Gleb and the “Life of Theodosius”, valuable for the history of life, have been preserved. "Reading" is written in a somewhat abstract style, instructive and ecclesiastical elements are reinforced in it. Around 1113, an outstanding monument of ancient Russian chronicle writing, The Tale of Bygone Years, was preserved as part of later chronicle collections of the 14th-15th centuries. This work is compiled on the basis of earlier chronicles - historical works dedicated to the past of the Russian land. The author of the "Tale" was able to vividly and figuratively tell about the emergence of Rus' and connect its history with the history of other countries. The main attention in the Tale is given to the events of political history, the deeds of princes and other representatives of the nobility. The economic life and life of the people are described in less detail. The religious worldview of its compiler was clearly manifested in the annals: he sees the ultimate cause of all events and actions of people in the action of divine forces, Providence. However, religious differences and references to the will of God often hide a practical approach to reality, the desire to identify real causal relationships between events.

Theodosius, hegumen of the Caves Monastery, about whom the monk of the same monastery Nestor wrote, wrote several teachings and letters to Prince Izyaslav.

Prince Vladimir Monomakh was an outstanding writer. His "Instruction" painted the ideal image of a prince - a just ruler, touched upon the pressing issues of our time: the need for a strong princely power, unity in repelling nomadic raids, etc. "Instruction" is a work of a secular nature. It is imbued with the immediacy of human experiences, alien to abstraction and filled with real images and examples taken from life.

The question of princely power in the life of the state, the ways of its implementation and the duties of the prince becomes one of the central ones in literature. The idea arises of the need for strong power as a condition for a successful struggle against external enemies and overcoming internal contradictions. These reflections are embodied in one of the most talented works of the 12th-13th centuries, which has come down to us in two main editions of the Word and the Prayer by Daniil Zatochnik. A staunch supporter of strong princely power, Daniel writes with humor and sarcasm about the sad reality surrounding him.

A special place in the literature of Ancient Rus' is occupied by the "Tale of Igor's Campaign", dating from the end of the 12th century. It tells about the unsuccessful campaign against the Polovtsy in 1185 by the Novgorod-Seversky prince Igor Svyatoslavovich. The description of this campaign serves as an occasion for the author to reflect on the fate of the Russian land. The author sees the reasons for the defeats in the struggle against the nomads, the reasons for the disasters of Rus' in the princely civil strife, in the egoistic policy of the princes, thirsting for personal glory. Central to the "Word" is the image of the Russian land. The author belonged to the milieu. He constantly used the concepts of “honor” and “glory” peculiar to her.

The Mongol invasion had a great influence on Russian culture. The first work dedicated to the invasion is “The Word about the destruction of the Russian land”. The Word has not come down to us in full. Also Batu's invasion is dedicated to "The Tale of the Devastation of Ryazan by Batu" - an integral part of the cycle of stories about the miraculous icon of St. Nicholas of Zaraisk. An example of the preservation of the traditions of solemn and teacher eloquence in the 13th century is the instructions (“Word on lack of faith”, etc.) by Serapion of Vladimir.



Until the end of the 10th century, there was no monumental stone architecture in Rus', but there were rich traditions of wooden construction, some forms of which subsequently influenced stone architecture. Significant skills in the field of wooden architecture led to the rapid development of stone architecture and its originality. After the adoption of Christianity, the construction of stone temples begins, the principles of construction of which were borrowed from Byzantium. The Byzantine architects called to Kyiv passed on to the Russian masters the extensive experience of the building culture of Byzantium. The large churches of Kievan Rus, built after the adoption of Christianity in 988, were the first examples of monumental architecture in the Eastern Slavic lands. The architectural style of Kievan Rus was established under the influence of the Byzantine. Early Orthodox churches were mostly made of wood.

The first stone church of Kievan Rus was the Church of the Tithes in Kyiv, the construction of which dates back to 989. The church was built as a cathedral not far from the prince's tower. In the first half of the 12th century, the church underwent significant renovations. At this time, the southwestern corner of the temple was completely rebuilt, a powerful pylon appeared in front of the western facade, supporting the wall. These events, most likely, were the restoration of the temple after a partial collapse due to an earthquake.

Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv, built in the 11th century, is one of the most significant architectural structures of this period. Initially, St. Sophia Cathedral was a five-nave cross-domed church with 13 domes. On three sides, it was surrounded by a two-tier gallery, and from the outside, by an even wider single-tier one. The cathedral was built by the builders of Constantinople, with the participation of Kyiv masters. At the turn of the 17th-18th centuries, it was outwardly rebuilt in the Ukrainian baroque style. The temple is included in the UNESCO World Heritage List.



After the baptism of Rus', new types of monumental painting came from Byzantium - mosaics and frescoes, as well as easel painting (icon painting). Also, the iconographic canon was adopted from Byzantium, the invariability of which was strictly guarded by the church. This predetermined a longer and more stable Byzantine influence in painting than in architecture.

The earliest surviving works of ancient Russian painting were created in Kyiv. According to the chronicles, the first temples were decorated by visiting Greek masters, who added to the existing iconography a system for arranging plots in the interior of the temple, as well as a manner of planar painting. The mosaics and frescoes of St. Sophia Cathedral are known for their special beauty. They are made in a strict and solemn manner, characteristic of Byzantine monumental painting. Their creators skillfully used a variety of shades of smalt, skillfully combined the mosaic with the fresco. Of the mosaic works, the images of Christ the Almighty in the central dome are especially significant. All images are imbued with the idea of greatness, triumph and inviolability of the Orthodox Church and earthly power.

Another unique monument of the secular painting of Ancient Rus' is the wall paintings of the two towers of the Kyiv Sophia. They depict scenes of princely hunting, circus competitions, musicians, buffoons, acrobats, fantastic animals and birds, which somewhat distinguishes them from ordinary church paintings. Among the frescoes in Sofia are two group portraits of the family of Yaroslav the Wise.

In the 12th-13th centuries, local features began to appear in the painting of individual cultural centers. This is typical for the Novgorod land and the Vladimir-Suzdal principality. Since the XII century, a specific Novgorod style of monumental painting has been formed, which reaches a fuller expression in the paintings of the churches of St. George in Staraya Ladoga, the Annunciation in Arkazhy and especially the Savior-Nereditsa. In these fresco cycles, in contrast to the Kyiv ones, there is a noticeable desire to simplify artistic techniques, to an expressive interpretation of iconographic types. In easel painting, Novgorod features were less pronounced.

In Vladimir-Suzdal Rus' of the pre-Mongolian period, fragments of frescoes of the Dmitrievsky and Assumption Cathedrals in Vladimir and the Church of Boris and Gleb in Kideksha, as well as several icons, have been preserved. Based on this material, the researchers consider it possible to talk about the gradual formation of the Vladimir-Suzdal school of painting. The best preserved fresco of the Dmitrievsky Cathedral depicting the Last Judgment. It was created by two masters - a Greek and a Russian. Several large icons of the 12th - early 13th centuries belong to the Vladimir-Suzdal school. The earliest of them is the "Bogolyubskaya Mother of God", dating from the middle of the XII century, stylistically close to the famous "Vladimir Mother of God", which is of Byzantine origin.



Written sources testify to the richness and diversity of the folklore of Ancient Rus'. A significant place in it was occupied by calendar ritual poetry: incantations, spells, songs, which were an integral part of the agrarian cult. Ritual folklore also included pre-wedding songs, funeral laments, songs at feasts and feasts. Mythological tales, reflecting the pagan ideas of the ancient Slavs, also became widespread. For many years, the church, in an effort to eradicate the remnants of paganism, waged a stubborn struggle against "vile" customs, "demonic games" and "blasphemers". However, these types of folklore survived in folk life until the 19th-20th centuries, having lost their initial religious meaning over time, while the rites turned into folk games.

There were also such forms of folklore that were not associated with a pagan cult. These include proverbs, sayings, riddles, fairy tales, labor songs. The authors of literary works widely used them in their work. Written monuments have preserved numerous traditions and legends about the founders of tribes and princely dynasties, about the founders of cities, about the struggle against foreigners. Thus, folk tales about the events of the 2nd-6th centuries were reflected in the Tale of Igor's Campaign.

In the 9th century, a new epic genre arose - the heroic epic epic, which became the pinnacle of oral folk art and the result of the growth of popular self-awareness. Epics are oral poetic works about the past. Epics are based on real historical events, the prototypes of some epic heroes are real people. So, the prototype of the epic Dobrynya Nikitich was the uncle of Vladimir Svyatoslavich - the governor Dobrynya, whose name is repeatedly mentioned in the ancient Russian chronicles.

In turn, in the military estate, in the princely retinue environment, there was their own oral poetry. In squad songs, princes and their exploits were glorified. The princely squads had their own "songwriters" - professionals who composed "glory" songs in honor of the princes and their soldiers.

Folklore continued to develop even after the spread of written literature, remaining an important element of ancient Russian culture. In the following centuries, many writers and poets used the plots of oral poetry and the arsenal of its artistic means and techniques. Also in Rus', the art of playing the harp was widespread, of which it is the birthplace.



Modern researchers have numerous evidence of how princes and boyars dressed. Verbal descriptions, images on icons, frescoes and miniatures, as well as fragments of fabrics from sarcophagi have been preserved. Various researchers compared these materials in their works with references to clothing in written documentary and narrative sources - chronicles, lives and various acts.


Arts and Crafts

Kievan Rus was famous for its masters in applied and decorative arts, who were fluent in various techniques: filigree, enamel, granulation, niello, as evidenced by jewelry. L. Lyubimov in his book “The Art of Ancient Rus'” gives a description of star-shaped silver kolts from the Tver treasure of the 11th-12th centuries: “Six silver cones with balls are soldered to a ring with a semicircular shield. 5000 tiny rings with a diameter of 0.06 cm from wire 0.02 cm thick are soldered onto each cone! Only microphotography made it possible to establish these dimensions. But that's not all. The rings serve only as a pedestal for the grain, so that another silver grain with a diameter of 0.04 cm is planted on each one!

Jewelry was decorated with cloisonne enamel. Masters used bright colors, skillfully selected colors. In the drawings, mythological pagan plots and images were traced, which were especially often used in applied art. They can be seen on carved wooden furniture, household utensils, fabrics embroidered with gold, in carved bone products, known in Western Europe under the name "carving of the Taurus", "carving of the Rus".

Personal attire
In the culture of the Slavs of the 8th-12th centuries, there is a flourishing of the variety of temporal rings. Their design may have been influenced by Arab and Byzantine culture. Since the second half of the 10th century, Slavic temporal rings, like other jewelry, began to penetrate Scandinavia, possibly together with their wearers, and as a means of payment - most of these jewelry was found in treasures in the form of precious metal (probably silver in Scandinavia valued more than in Rus').

The most common type of pendants were pectoral crosses. The beginning of the spread of Christianity in Rus' is documented by the spread of Christian antiquities (pendant crosses, candles, etc.), mainly in retinue burial complexes. They have been recorded since the middle - the third quarter of the tenth century (before the official christening of Rus' in 988) in the network of nodal points of the Old Russian state - in cities and graveyards. Coins are known (Byzantine with Christian images and Oriental, Samanid dirhams) with graffiti applied to them (in Rus'), conveying the cross and Thor's hammer. Such Byzantine coins were worn as icons. In addition, crosses were carved from dirhams. Graffiti in the form of crosses and Thor's hammers could be depicted on household items. The initial stage of Christianization (mid-second half of the 10th century) is characterized by cross-shaped pendants made of sheet silver, including those carved from dirhams. They were found in Gnezdovo, Kyiv, Timerev, on the territory of Iskorosten, in the necropolis of Pskov. The flow of coins on international routes was controlled and distributed by the princely squad, whose religion became syncretic. This pre-Christian era, in contrast to the later one, can be considered the period of "dual faith".

In the period from the middle - second half of the 10th century to the 12th century, there were pendant crosses of the so-called "Scandinavian type" (crosses with three "balls" at the ends and similar to them). They were found in Gnezdovo, Kyiv, Sarkel (Belaya Vezha), Izborsk and other places. These could have been locally produced products, since a bronze casting mold for their manufacture was found in Kyiv. The concentration of crosses of the "Scandinavian type" is observed in the land of the Radimichi and in the Vladimir-Suzdal opole. Crosses of this type may be of Byzantine origin, since crosses similar in style with ends in the form of shamrocks are known from the excavations of Chersonesos and Corinth. Byzantine analogues also have round pendants with carved crosses. Rarely are pectoral crosses with the image of Christ, made of silver or bronze. They come mainly from cities, less often from mounds located on the most important trade routes - the Dnieper (the path "from the Varangians to the Greeks") and the Volga. Reliquary crosses (encolpions), produced in Byzantine or Bulgarian workshops of the 10th-11th centuries, are rare artifacts in Rus'. Icons of the 11th century, in addition, come from Tmutarakan and from one mound of the Suzdal opolye (Gorodishche village), excavated by A.S. Uvarov. The crosses found in the chamber tombs demonstrate the role of the squad in the processes of Christianization. The first wave of Christianization affected the squad, so its representatives wore pectoral crosses. Early Christianization covered the areas of Kiev, the right bank of the Middle Dnieper (Iskorosten), Gnezdovo, the northwest (Ladoga, Pskov, Novgorod), the Upper Volga region (Timerevo, Uglich), the southwest (Plesnesk), the west (Minsk), the east (Ryazan, Voin) and the Don basin (Belaya Vezha). Most of the finds of cruciform pendants in Rus' and Scandinavia are identical, which may indicate the participation of Rus' in the Christianization of Northern Europe.

In the mounds of the second half of the 12th - early 13th centuries, the number of crosses and scapulars increases. Most of them come from cities. Burial mounds with crosses on the chest are known, which were accompanied by tools and rich inventory, which may indicate incomplete Christianization of the dead. At the same time, some of the crosses were used as decorations along with other elements of women's metal attire. In the mounds of the second half of the 12th - early 13th centuries, burials made directly according to the Christian rite are also distinguished, but their number is very small. As a rule, in such burials, a cross or an icon on the chest is found in the absence of other material finds. Such, for example, are individual burial mounds near the villages of Gorodishche, Starovo, Kabanskoye, Vasilki and Nenashevsky in North-Eastern Rus', excavated by A.S. Uvarov. Among the same burials is one of the burials in Akatovo in the Moscow region.

The second most common type of pendants after crosses were moons. In the 10th-13th centuries, they were widespread throughout almost the entire Slavic territory. However, in authentically pagan Slavic antiquities of the 6th-7th centuries, two-horned moons or any of their possible prototypes are absent. Their appearance is associated with the penetration into the Slavic environment at the end of the 7th - beginning of the 8th centuries of a complex of filigree-grained women's jewelry (Zalessky treasure) as part of the first wave of Byzantine influence. The second wave of influence is presumably connected with the fall of the Avar Khaganate and the formation of the already Slavic early state complex of prestigious filigree-grained women's jewelry from Great Moravia. From there it was borrowed by its neighbors - Russia and Poland. In the 10th-13th centuries, in parallel with the modification of form and decor, wide-horned lunars were replaced by new types - sharp-horned, steep-horned, closed, cross-included, etc. These types have direct Byzantine prototypes, which in turn go back to Roman lunts of the 3rd-4th centuries. The evolution of the moons can be compared with the spread of serpentine amulets, the number of finds of which on the territory of Rus' is several orders of magnitude higher than the number of their Byzantine prototypes.

Personal attire, starting from the ancient era, embodied the "cosmic order", and the lunar can be considered as its integral part, as a reflection of the cult of the moon. In the 10th century, lunnitsy performed a decorative function to a greater extent, since the entire filigree-grained attire of this period was subject to the idea of the prestige of the attributes of the Old Russian nobility. In the 11th-12th centuries, the moon and the image of the moon as a whole were transformed into a symbol of the Virgin.

Since the second half of the 10th century, ancient Russian lunnitsa have been known in one necklace with crosses and pendants combining a lunnitsa and a cross, which are usually interpreted as evidence of religious syncretism. The combination of the cross and the crescent fits into the pagan cosmological symbolism: the cross and the crescent symbolize the sun and the moon; but at the same time, in the Christian tradition, the moon symbolizes the Mother of God, while the sun symbolizes Christ. This interpretation corresponds to the canonical texts and is supported by them: Christ is called the “Sun of Truth” or “The Righteous Sun” (“sol justitiae” - Mal. IV, 2), and the Mother of God can be associated with an apocalyptic image - “And a great sign appeared in heaven: a woman clothed in the sun; under her feet is the moon, and on her head is a crown of twelve stars” (Rev. 12:1).

In the 10th century, Old Russian jewelers mastered the niello technique to perfection: several plaques made in the niello technique come from the Gnezdovo burial ground; the patterns common on them are star-shaped or in the form of heart-shaped and other curls. Many things are similar to those that went to Regensburg, the trading center of South Germany, which had mutual trade with Kiev. These data correlate with the message of Presbyter Theophilus about Russian amber products, enamels and niello, named in the treatise “On the Technique of Artistic Crafts” (lat. Schedula diversarum artium) next to the Greek ones.