of the Slavic Interest Group

Fall, AS XXXII (1997)
Volume III, Issue 1 (#8)

Photo by Yelizaveta Medvedeva


From the Nachalnik

Our members now number over 125! This means that we have doubled in size over the past year. I continue to be amazed by the growth and also by the energy of folks. It is extremely gratifying to see the outpouring of interest that has occurred. Most notably, it was heartwarming to see the huge showing of SIG members teaching classes at Pennsic this year (see articles below).

Once again, I am also touched by the financial generousity of people. We have no dues, but the donations of various people are greatly appreciated and help to defray my expenses in putting out this Newsletter. So allow me to thank the following individuals for their contributions which have made this issue of the Newsletter possible: Margo, Irina Nonna Constantiniva von Bach, and Petro z Chabina (& his lady).

On a similar note, my thanks to this issue's contributors (and to others whose works I have not published yet). I am still looking for contributions, particularly from the non-Russians, so keep the stuff coming in!

Pennsic XXVI

The "class" was held on Monday. In the interest of getting more complete minutes, I brought my tape recorder. However, I did not bother to notice that it was malfunctioning and thus I lost my reliable scribe. But as far as I can piece together, we had a tremendous turnout (about 30 people -- mostly Russians but there were some Ukrainians, Hungarians, Poles, and even an Armenian persona). Yelizaveta Medvedeva showed off several useful books, including Ukrainian Folk Costumes and Giles Fletcher's Of the Russe Commonwealth. She also introduced us to a series of books that feature untranslated copies of the best of Harvard University's rare books collection holdings of costume resources. These collections (one on Russian costumes and the other on Eastern Europe) have long been out of print but she is negotiating a reprint and will keep us informed of developments [see the update on this at the end of this issue]. She concluded by recommending a series of publications put out by the Ukrainian Women's Museum that are expensive but useful for costume work.

Peotr plugged his book on Novgorod (see the last issue of the Newsletter for more details) and Kathy introduced herself. She is a merchant who sells Slavic goods specifically across the Known World and is willing to spread information as well as merchandise for SIG members. We also learned about the existence of a facsimile edition of the Hungarian Illuminated Chronicle, a late 1300s historical account of the Hungarian people. Another person (whose name I unfortunately did not get) offered that they had access to tapes of liturgical music.

The highlight, of course, was not my "class" but Wednesday night's Slavic Festival. We were blessed by good weather, excellent location (an A&S tent on the Eastern Highway right next to MK Royal), and superb timing (midnight madness was going on so there were lots of people on the streets that night). We had food. We had displays ranging from actual artifacts from Russia to a handpainted icon to embroidery and costumes. We had the fabulous Bogdans (a virtual Ukrainian invasion) and live vocal and instrumental music. My special thanks to Mordak and Ilyana for all their efforts in organizing this and providing catering.

In Friday's War Chronicle, there was a nice write-up of the Slavic Festival written by our own Jadwiga Zajacek (who has also written a similar article for her local branch's newsletter in Eisental, East Kingdom) -- nothing like free publicity!

Mom Always Said Learning Could Be Fun: A Report on Slavic Pennsic Activities

By Ilyana Barsova

There was a LOT of Slavic activity at Pennsic this year. Hopefully this trend will catch on and people will continue to be introduced to the wonderful Slavic world. And now for a quick rundown of the classes and activities.

The fun began Saturday with Lilibeta Rudenko's class on Pysanky: Ukrainian Egg Decorating. I was not on site yet, but I attended a similar class with her two Pennsics ago and enjoyed it immensely. Monday brought an Introduction to Russian Vocal Music taught by Yelizaveta Medvedeva and the annual class on Researching Things Slavic, a covert recruiting technique for new SIG members "taught" by Paul Wickenden of Thanet. [A side note: as I look over the list of instructors, I notice that only two people don't have Slavic names, and one of them is our fearless nachalnik Paul. Hmm, I think we had better talk to him about this]

Wednesday (which I think we should christen "Slavic Day" because of the sheer number of Slavic activities) started out with Russian Garb taught by Yelizaveta Medvedeva and blended (I didn't even have to get up from my seat) nicely into a Russian Costume Decoration and Accessories class, tag-team taught by Mordak Rostovskogo and Anastasia Ivanovna. After a well-needed break, a decision had to be made between two activities. Both the Fashion Show hosted by House Athenaeum and Peotr Alexeivich Novgorodski's class on an Intro to Kievan Rus' (860 AD- 1238 AD) were happening at the same time. I decided to go to Peotr's class and had a lot of fun, particularly because he taught the class mainly while in persona (Molodets, Peotr!). I was told later that I missed some great Slavic costumes at the Fashion Show. Anyone know who modeled their creations? Any pictures? I would love to have them sent for the archives (see below). The long day of Slavic Stuff ended nicely with the soon-to-be-annual Slavic Festival. I wonşt say much about it here, suffice to say I enjoyed meeting everyone who came and loved having the chance to see some of the impressive work accomplished by our members.

Thursday morning began with the strains of the Carolingian Jongleurs (our own Yelizaveta Medvedeva is a participating member) performing "The Cherubic Hymn" (a znamenny chant) for the Polyphonic Challenge. Friday classes included Yelizaveta Medvedeva (does the woman ever sleep?) teaching all about The Skomorokhi: Russian Minstrels and Eleanor of Silver Oak who taught a workshop on Pysanky: Russian Easter Eggs. A fine ending to Pennsic was the Known World Choir performing "Music from the Court of Vlad the Impaler" after Great Court. According to Yelizaveta (I forgot it was happening and did not go), an actor played Vlad and narrated the story of his life while the choir and the Loud Band provided appropriate music or sound effects. The entire presentation took about an hour and was well received. If anyone has further details or the script or music, I would love a copy for the archives. If you missed out on all the activities, don't worry. Hopefully our fearless teachers will indulge us again next year and at future events. Molodotsy, spasibo vsem!!! (Good job and thank you to all!!!)

Contribute to the Archives!!!

By Ilyana Barsova

I am starting a file on Slavic-themed classes and articles that will be archived for the SIG members so that we can preserve the work people have done. If you teach a class or write an article that is Slavic-themed, please send me the class notes or handout. If you have notes from a class you did not teach but attended, please send them and I will contact the author for permission to include them. Let me also know if you will give me permission to pass on your notes to interested parties at cost. If you would prefer not to have your notes handed out, that is fine too. I would also like to eventually put the articles on the SIG homepage if you are willing. Please send hard copy or disk to:

Jennifer Miller
755 Siemers St
Platteville WI 53818

Russian Fur Trade through the Ages

(Part 1 of 2)

By Mordak Sergeev syn Rostovskogo

Russia has always been a land of huge forests, sparse settlement and active trade. Historically, the harsh climate has produced the richest and thickest furs in Europe that were the biggest cash crop for the rulers throughout history. Four elements ruled the politics and economic systems of period Russia: external invaders, city-state empires, tribute, and the fur trade. These factors are hopelessly intertwined in Russian history and fueled by the abundance of fur resources.

Each major Russian city played its own unique role in the fur trade. Kiev took over the Bulgar fur trade in the ninth century AD in the area comprising the river valleys of central Russia where Moscow, Rostov, and Gorky are now. The Kievans held control over the trade with the Balkans and the Byzantines until finally weakened by internecine fighting. They were finished off by the Mongol Horde in 1247. To the north was Novgorod which was a merchant oligarchy ruled by a merchant counsel called the Veche which were closely related in culture, politics, and trade to the Hanseatic League operating on the Baltic. The Novgorodans had become specialized in the minever (squirrel) trade and controlled a huge expanse of area from the Baltic to the Ural Mountains. With the increased trade in luxury furs, minever lost market share and as the Hanseatic League weakened so did Novgorod. They had escaped the fate of Kiev by being surrounded by extensive swamps but fell to Grand Prince Ivan III -- grandfather of Ivan the Terrible -- in 1477.

Russia was ruthlessly dominated by the Golden Horde subgroup of the Great Horde in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries. Strict obedience and swift punishment formed the core of the Mongol philosophy in their occupation of Russia. They appointed the grand princes of the city-states, tax collectors and set tribute (isiaak) quotas to be paid in resources, most notably, furs. Moscow was a latecomer as far as the city-states of the Russian Grand Princes went. It is first mentioned in 1167 when it was constructed on a bluff overlooking the Volga River. The soil in this area is sandy and few natural resources exist but the area was near a portage and was a convenient spot for traders on the Volga to stop. A great deal of Moscow's early status lay in its military reputation and its ruthless use of it to protect trade in its area. As the Khans of the Golden Horde become more interested in their own power struggles in the mid- to late-fourteenth century, they appointed the most ruthless Grand Princes to be their isiaak collectors. Moscow succeeded Sudzal in this capacity early in the fifteenth century and grew strong from their percentage of the collections.

Unlike their older, more established neighbors, Muscovy had formed politically and economically during the Horde occupation and their prince ruled in the fashion and values of the khans with autocratic leadership. Early in his reign, Ivan III had let the other Grand Princes fight themselves into exhaustion and then stepped in to take them over by the early 1460's. By 1477, after several abortive attempts, the Moscow and client state armies surrounded and captured Novgorod and her vaste territory and resources to the north and east of Moscow. These were rich lands teeming with fur resources and only half as far away from Moscow as they had been from Novgorod. Moscow soon brought these lands under the tight adminstrative control with the construction of forts called ostrogs at key portages and river confluences. Blockhouses further out aided the ostrogs in the collection of isiaak and trade. The Muscovy Grand Princes sent out commanders called voevodas and garrisons of government serving men called promyshlenniks to trade for furs and collect isiaak from area natives. These men were allowed to keep a percentage of their take but were tightly controlled by the real threat of swift and brutal punishment for theft from the state. The intricate waterways and river systems acted as a network to add and foster efficient transportation of resources back to Moscow and send out new voevodas to the ostrogs to keep any from setting up power bases or schemes for personal wealth.

  • Lamb, Harold. The Rise of Moscovy. New York: Scribiner & Sons, 1974.
  • Studies in the English Fur Trade. 1987
  • Fisher, Raymond. The Russian Fur Trade 1550-1700. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1943.

    Tamga in Polish Heraldry (or, "What is that Thing on Your Shield?!")

    By Leszek z Szczecin

    [Leszek is building an argument to have tamga made registerable in the SCA. At the current time, there has been no ruling from the Laurel Sovereign about the capatibility of these charges with SCA standards -- PWT]

    In the 11th and 12th centuries, as the nobility (Szlachta) of Poland came into closer contact with the heraldic traditions of western Europe, they faced, among many others, a challenge familiar to many SCA members -- "Unique and suitable Arms." Many of those early Polish armigers used the tamga that their clans had carried for centuries, doubtless causing great consternation to those long-dead heralds. Tamga were used as property marks, cattle brands, and badges by Polish clans (rods) in much the same way that the Celts use those tacky tartans. Pogonowski sees a Greek (Byzantine?) influence in these designs. Though tamga may vary greatly, most show a strong vertical orientation, with a stable base, almost as if they represented actual objects that might have stood like standards or "totem poles." (Caveat - this last is a purely subjective impression, not a scholarly interpretation !) Though most tamga are symmetrical around a vertical axis, a large number are completely asymmetrical. I have found no mentions of tamga being used in any way resembling an alphabet or glyphic system. Thus, it is very unlikely that these symbols ever had any meanings other than their recognition as property marks.

    Tamga also found their way into Polish heraldry as combinations of more common charges that approximated the original designs. Common component charges are horseshoes, arrows, keys, ships, towers, and crosses. These "modified tamga" doubtless reduced duplications, explanations, and heraldic snivelling. The devices of the cities of Frampol, Ulanow, and Bnin are of the "modified tamga" type.

    Of the two sources I've found that address the origins of tamga, one says that they are unknown, and the other (Pogonowski) traces them to the invasion/migration of the Sarmatians in Poland during the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. The Sarmatians were an Indo-European people who spread widely through Europe and the mideast from 200 B.C. to about 500 A.D. The largest influx of the Sarmatians into Poland were probably driven there by the Huns during the 5th century A.D. The Sarmatian origin of tamga is supported by the use of very similar marks in Turkey and the mideast as brands, logos, or trademarks, however an important warning should be attached to any theory based on the Sarmatians. In the late 17th century, the Szlachta, like most feudal aristocracies faced an "identity crisis." The traditional role of the landed warrior aristocrat became uncertain in the face of mercantilism ("merchant princes") and the rising middle class. The reaction in Poland was a Sarmatian fad amongst the nobility. The Szlachta held that their separation from the lower classes was due to descent from the Sarmatian conquerors of Poland in the 5th century, and attributed most of their traditional status to the inherent superiority of the pure noble Sarmatian blood. This fad ran to a "retro" trend in clothes, and a complete rejection of the current revolutions in science, philosophy, religion, economics, and social theory. Due to the propaganda of this movement, any theory grounded in the Sarmatian influence should be examined very carefully. Sarmatian or not, tamga clearly date back to tribal Poland, and appear in the oldest Polish arms.

  • Pogonowski, Iwo Cyprian. Poland, A Historical Atlas. Hippocrene Books.
  • Zamoyski, Adam. The Polish Way

    Russian Customs

    By Predslava Vydrina

    I bring to you some tidbits of persona play: they may or may not be documentable to period, but they are genuine details of Russian culture, things I was taught to do, or rather mostly NOT to do, as I was growing up. Thus, they are not for an Arts and Sciences project, but for "Russian color" in your performance:

  • Do not pass (or take) the salt from hand to hand, set it down on the table first, else you might bring a feud on you and that unfortunate person.
  • Do not shake hands, kiss, hug, or otherwise greet or demonstrate your affection over a threshold, else it might cut your friendship.
  • Do not give (or accept) a cutting object (knife, sword, scissors, etc) as a gift: this, too, will cut your friendship for certain. Instead, perform a ritual purchase: exchange a small coin (a penny will do) for the offered tool.
  • When others bow or curtsy, bend from the waist and touch the ground with your hand.
  • And by the way, the XIX-century Russian historian Soloviev reports that men did not take off their hats either in a house, or at prayer or even in church.
  • Women, of course, married women that is, never uncovered their hair in public, lest it should bring ill luck to those who witness it. Young girls usually went with their hair uncovered, and often loose.

    Notes On Early Slavic Textiles

    By Ursula von Liste

    There are two books I highly recommend to anyone researching garb and textiles as well as women's lifestyles for early history. These are: E. J. W. Barber's Prehistoric Textiles (Princeton NJ: Princeton University Press, 1991) and Elizabeth Wayland Barber, Women's Work, The First 20,000 Years (New York: W. W. Norton & Company Inc., 1994). Another book I enjoyed was Samuel Cross, Slavic Civilization through the Ages (Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1948). As you may have guessed, I'm interested in early textiles. These are some of my notes, in no particular order, I've collected over the years, that may be of interest to you:

    From what I've read, early looms that use rocks with holes in them to weight the warp, all came from a very specific area in Russia (sorry I couldn't find the area name easily). It shows that trade between early Slavic peoples existed. In addition, the words/general terminology used in spinning and weaving are homogeneous throughout the Slavic languages. It indicates that spinning and weaving techniques were developed before the dispersion of Slavic tribes [The "dispersion" took place in 370 AD and continued until Charlemagne's time. The Slavs are believed to have expanded into empty territories, instead of migrating like the Germanic tribes. Therefore, "dispersion" is used instead of "migration"]. After dispersion, new ideas came from foreign languages.

    Spinning and weaving did not change. The early Slavs were inexpert bleachers and consequently, their under-tunics made from hemp and linen were gray. Greeks and other folk from that time period had bleached white tunics. The Slavs kept to their ways, regardless of trade or invaders. Marija Gimbutas in The Slavs (1971), also stated the regardless of the decoration of imported objects, such as pottery, the Slavs still did not change their ornamentation (or lack thereof).

    Cross gives a general description of early garb as: (For Men) Coarse shirt, falling to the knees with sleeves and neck opening. Trousers were wide, supported at the waist by a belt or rope and tied at the ankles. Wrapped leggings were also worn. Short tunics were sometimes worn instead of, or were worn over the top of the shirts. The tunics were made of light woven material (plant fiber) or coarse wool in colder weather. The tunics were buckled or pinned at the shoulder or just to the side of the neck. In winter, pelts of sheepskin, bear or wolf, were worn for warmth.

    (For Women) The under tunic was a cylinder with straps at the shoulders, made using circular weaving techniques of the early Slavs, out of hemp or linen. From the waist down, a double apron attached to a belt was worn. In colder weather, a course woolen jacket was worn along with a cloak about the neck and shoulders, made of similar material.

    Shoes: Rough leather slippers held by a thong over the ankle. Another type: Bast fiber was used to make sandals/slippers. I don't know if this means the slippers were like rope sandals available today or of a different style like cloth slippers.

    Hairstyles: Married women wore bonnets or kerchiefs over short hair. Maidens were bareheaded with long braided hair. Men wore long hair and beards. Foreign influences like shaving developed as contact with the Visigoths and Huns occurred.

    According to Moszenski, a leading authority in ancient Slavic culture, the word for the the Slavs before dispersion comes from the word for flax (the plant used to made linen). In Polish, flax is "stowien" or "stowian". In Slovak, the word is "slovien" and in Ukrainian, "slovin". The Greeks believed flax to have healing and purification properties. Both flax and healing were associated with the Slavuta river, where the ancient Slavs once lived. It goes to show that textiles were very important to the ancient Slavs.

    A Russian Award of Arms

    [In the last issue, we had the text of a Polish Maunch -- the East Kingdom arts award. This issue we have the text of an award of arms that was given in Russian. The original Russian and English text are reproduced below. The Russian, it should be noted, gives the Canton of Ravenhill as the "Principality [kniazhestvo] of the Black Raven" which the non-Russians can take as either artistic license of imperialistic ambitions -- PWT]

    The scroll had borders of gold leaf, black, white, and features a portrait of Lord Ivar surrounded in gold in an iconographic style. It reads (in English -- contact me if you want to see the original Russian text):

    As vast as imperial Russia are these Eastern Lands from ocean to plains to the far northern snows. And so in times long past a wise ruler decreed that his lands should govern themselves and he would reign over all. Such was the law made and so does it stand that the good folk of the realm labor with bow and sword, paper and pen, so that the ruler may oversee the whole. Such a man is our dedicated Ivar Volosatoi who ably serves our Canton of Ravenhill as an archer, a soldier, and a seneschal.

    Thus do we, Timothy and Gabrielle, Czar and Czarina of the East, award unto him these arms.

    Period Lust

    By Paul Wickenden of Thanet

    While it is certainly true that period Russians, like most medieval Europeans, had a fairly business-like attitude towards marriage and that love was rarely a deciding factor in determining a union, it would be extreme to state that romantic love (and even lust) did not exist in period. Archaeologists, digging in Novgorod, have uncovered hundreds of pieces of birch bark which contain period official communications (letters and orders) as well as numerous more pedestrian shopping lists, children's drawings, and even love letters. All of these "documents" are period and provide us with great insight into medieval Novgorodan life.

    Perhaps the steamiest find yet is a piece (cataloged as #521) uncovered in 1974 and dated to the late 14th century that reads: "What fire in my heart, and my body and my soul for you and your body and your person, let it set fire to your heart and your body and your soul for me, and for my body, and for my person."

  • Igor Kon. Sexual Revolution in Russia. New York: Free Press, 1996.
  • Obshchestvo i gosudarstvo feodal'noi rossii. Moscow: Nauka, 1975.

    Human Resources

  • Liza (Liz Marshall Peach, 60 S 4th St, Ground Floor, Brooklyn NY 11211, 418-218-8807) informs us that she has access to a curator at the Saint Petersburg Ethnographic Museum who would be willing to help people seeking costume and other information. If you are interested, contact Liza.

    Printed Resources

  • Yelizaveta Medvedeva (Elizabeth Lear, 28 Aldrich Rd, Watertown MA 02172, 617-926-3714, wrotes: "To those who saw and admired the 'Slavic Splendor' and 'Polish and Bohemian Garb' books I brought to the War, I'm pleased to announce I've purchased the rights to them and I'll be working with some SIG people to do further translations and re-organization. I hope to have them back in print by next Pennsic."

  • Kythe Szubielka sends word of the new History of Ukraine by Paul Robert Magocsi (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1996) which he recommends: "It has quite an extensive section concerning relations with Poland and more importantly, a perspective of Poland from what a neighbor sees across their borders."

  • Cambridge University Press (40 West 20th St, New York NY 10011-4211, 800-872-7423) has discounted most of its Slavic list on its latest catalog. Among the items available is Janet Martin's Medieval Russia, 980-1584 which is notable for its good coverage of social and economic history as well as the standard political stuff. The discounted prices are $52 for hardcover (#36276-8) and $18.36 for paperback (#36832-4). The catalog number is MD7SLAV.

    Electronic Resources

  • Jadwiga Zajacek sends word of the Anthropological Index Online ( which provides basic bibliographic references to over 700 periodicals in the Museum of Mankind Library (incorporating the former Royal Anthropological Institute Library). References are available for periodicals from the 1970s to present, with a limited amount of data provided for the late 1960s. Users can modify their search by year/decade, field, subject heading, author, title, or journal. A browsable list of journal titles and abbreviations is also available. Users can have the results of their search emailed to them and photocopies are available of most indexed articles.


  • Aubrey Polska Raefn Czolo (Lauren Lawendowski Aubrey, P.O. Box 609, Tijeras NM 87059, 505-281-0342, asks: "Have you any info on the Northeastern edges of Celtic/Druidic culture, particularly into NE (ancient) Poland? I've been searching, but apparently I am the only one with any interest in this piece of history."

  • Marjorie (Tara Sersen, 2849 Rhonda Lane, Allentown PA 18103, 610-709-0388, is looking for information on the Slovenci (or Slovenji) people, also known as the Windish (or Wendish) people. She knows that these people split into two groups, one of which settled in Germany and the other in Hungary. She is trying to find information about the Hungarian branch of this ethnicity.

  • Leszek z Szczytna (Steve Butler, 309 Windy Ridge Rd, Wetumpka AL 36093-6115, 334-514-0224) notes that at a recent event a brewer told him that the Poles were famous for a blueberry mead (melomel) all over Europe. Does anybody know anything about that? He's got a good source for blueberries and has been considering bee-keeping as a hobby.


    Standard Disclaimer Stuff: Most of us are members of the Society for Creative Anachronism, Inc (SCA) but our Interest Group and its newsletter are not officially affiliated with the SCA. Naturally, then, this Newsletter does not bear any intentional resemblance to anything that the SCA officially endorses.

    The original authors retain the rights to their works. Please contact them directly for permission to reprint. Uncredited material is the property of the publisher.

    The publisher and editor is Paul Wickenden of Thanet (Paul Goldschmidt), 755 Siemers, Platteville WI 53818, 608-348-6209, e-mail: There is no subscription fee and copies of this quarterly Newsletter are available free of charge from the editor.