I was very pleased to hear that an impromptu gathering of SIG was held at Pennsic (and I thank Marija for giving us her impressions of it). I am also pleased to have had so many submissions for this quarter’s newsletter, that I have had to put some off until Winter. It’s good to see new blood on these pages.
In other news, I have finally re-started the indexing of Slovo. This project, started years back by Ilyana, has lain dormant for a very long time. As a result, the title and author index that was available became less and less useful (it stopped after Issue #12). It will take some time, but I hope to get the indexes current during the next quarter, and hopefully add a subject index as well. Hopefully, these indexes will prove helpful to finding articles as we grow bigger. And, in a related note, the domain where the SIG pages are mostly stored (www.goldschp.net) has been expanded to a much larger size, so space considerations are really not an issue anymore, and I am pleased to offer space for appropriate material in an ad-free environment. Contact me, if you are interested.
By Marija Kotok
Rather late in the Pennsic event I spotted a sign posted that there would be a meeting on the last Friday. I hastily rearranged my classes so I could include it. I was happy I had as I had the pleasure of meeting many lovely gentles and sharing with them.
I believe Jadwiga was the one who actually posted and created the meeting. We mainly got to know each other a bit which was wonderful for me who had been reading articles by some of these folks and/or utilizing their resources in some way. Putting faces with names was very nice.
Many of us knew of the SIG list and some even knew each other. There were some folk in attendance who had never heard of SIG so we talked to them about what SIG is and how to get in touch with the list. We mostly shared info on all things Rus/Slavic. We also pointed folks at resources they did not know existed.
I believe we numbered about ten or twelve gentles. I remember we had Lithuanian, Armenian, Polish, Kievan, and late period Russian personas in attendance. The folks who came were from all over so it was a nice chance for them to converse with others that shared their interests who they might not normally get an opportunity to meet.
Since the meeting was kind of an after thought many who would have liked to have made it could not as they were packing, gone, or had commitments. I know of at least four who were in that boat
I recall we did agree that next year we will try to get a meeting time set up before Pennsic so everyone can know ahead of time and plan appropriately. I would also suggest that we make it for a longer time period. I think it would be lovely to have a whole afternoon and be able to bring our books and projects to share?
I enjoyed the opportunity to meet everyone very much and am looking forward to the next time!
You are invited to celebrate the Winter Solstice on Saturday December 17th at the castle of Peotr and Otgon. The setting is, as usual, a feast hall in Novgorod around the year 1280. Travelers from many lands will be in attendance – Norsemen, Turks, Franks and Mongols. We will share stories and songs. Drummers, harpers, singers and bards will attend. Fires will kept burning through the night to insure the return of the sun. Slavic rites of the winter will be observed – kindling of fires, story telling, ritual foods and perhaps some masked visitors.
The celebration will begin after noon with visiting, cooking and decorating the great hall. Zakuski (all sorts of Russian snacks) will be laid out. First come, first gets the caviar. Come dusk a great feast of at least three removes will be served including the borsht and salmon. Mead and wine will flow. Bards will demonstrate their skills and will be richly rewarded, likewise various musicians, drummers, actors and dancers are welcome. Hospitality is available for visitors to spend the night before and/or the night after. Our motto – “Come early, stay late, don’t pee on the floor.”
The feast is located at the home of Greg Frux and Janet Morgan, 11 Sterling Place, Apt #3A, Brooklyn, New York. Please wear your best medieval garb, bring a bowl, plate, knife, spoon and goblet. If you are concerned about costumes please contact us, as we have some extra. Please do your best to help us create the atmosphere of a midwinter night in the Middle Ages. We need to know in advance that you are coming, so that we can provide more than enough food. The best way to reach us is by email (email@example.com).
Musicians, bards and dancers will receive special treatment. The feast is, as always, is free. People wishing to bring dishes and/or help cook are appreciated. Do let us know your plans. You are welcome to bring other folk who reside in the Middle Ages, but double check with us first. Kitchen slaves and serving lads and wenches will be properly cared for/abused. Bring a sense of play and a sense of humor.
By Marija Kotok
Many people don’t realize that there is wonderful medieval salt mine in Krakow. You may well say that a salt mine sounds like a boring subject indeed, but what you need to realize is that this salt mine is also a work of art! It is said that Picasso himself called the altar piece of St. Mary’s church, within the mine complex, the eighth wonder of the world. It is one of the oldest continuously operated salt mines known to man and it has been stated that it rivals the Egyptian pyramids. Mentioned in writings as early as 1044, the Magnum Sol, as it was called then, was actively producing and selling salt until 1996. At that time it began operation on a limited basis as a show mine only and the mine now boasts more than 800,000 visitors every year. This salt bed, as far as investigated, is more than seven miles wide, and about 1,100 ft deep!
This mine is presently a showplace of the mining methods and equipment of centuries of past and has been on the world heritage list of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) since 1978.
It should also be noted that at some periods in both medieval and modern history, there were medicinal salt baths open within the mine complex which were used in treating various ailments.
Although folklore provides several colorful tales of how the mines were discovered, no one really knows the truth of that story. Originally the mines were only about producing salt. During the middle ages salt was an extremely valuable commodity - one that was often equated in its worth to gold. It is known that this particular mine often provided one-quarter or more of the king's annual revenues. Salt was the gold of Krakow! It supported her crown and helped make her the strong city she has become.
The more than nine centuries of mining in what is now known as the Wieliczka Mine (Kolpalnia Soli) produced over 400 miles of tunnels, 2,040 caverns, several stunning subterranean lakes, and a staggering amount of unique carvings. At some point in the early middle ages the miners began carving in a way that produced beauty. There are several chapels and even complete churches within the complex. All painstakingly carved out of salt. The tiles on the floor, the statues, alters, and even the chandeliers have all been carved with great precision from the salt!
Over the centuries, many crowned heads of Europe have been visitors to the caverns, along with celebrities like Goethe and Sarah Bernhardt. People have flocked from all over the world to see the beauty displayed with this ancient mine! Pictures and verbal descriptions paint a world that Tolkien and H.G. Wells might has drawn on for inspiration. Walls of sparkling salt everywhere. Whether you start with the Chapel of St. Anthony (obviously a Byzantine creation!), or other wonders like the 108 ft. high Greek theater, the statue of Nicholas Copernicus, carvings of angels, warriors, or kings, all will amaze you! Unfortunately, some of the wonderful carvings have been damaged by time, water, and the problems of pollution. UNESCO is working to preserve this wonderful repository and all it contains.
These mines offer us a wealth of information about ancient carving and mining techniques of various periods in the middle ages. They also have much to offer scholars of religious art. If you are interested in any of these topics, I would urge you to explore the Krakow Salt Mines further in the resources listed below. You may wish to visit some of them just to enjoy the beautiful pictures of carving within the caverns!
Sources to Explore
• “A Salty Heritage” http://www.sciencenews.org/pages/ sn_arch/4_27_96/bob1.htm
• “Cracow Salt-Works Museum in Wieliczka.” http://www.muzeum.wieliczka.pl/
• Taylor, Bayard.“The Salt Mines of Wieliczka, 1850. Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, CSU-Fullerton (The text has been modernized by Prof. Arkenberg). Online at: http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/mod/1850Wieliczka.html
• “Wieliczka Salt Mine Near Krakow.” http://www.krakow-info.com/wielicz.htm
• “Wieliczka Salt Mines.” http://www.cracow-life.com/ krakow/where_to_play/entertainment_details/310-Wieliczka_Salt_Mines
• “Wieliczka Salt Mines, Cracow Salt-Works Museum.” http://www.showcaves.com/english/pl/mines/Wieliczka.html
• http://www.photo-exhibits.com/europe/poland/ wieliczka_salt_mine_photos/wieliczka_color_photographs.html. Here is one of many wonderful sites with pictures of the carvings in the caverns. You will have to paste it into your browser box but it is worth it!
By Ásfríðr Ulfviðardóttir
Jewelry. From the 13th century, locally-produced Orthodox and Catholic crosses have been discovered, along with imported varieties. These were worn frequently by women, who also used “cross-formed chain holders” to suspend festoons of chains from their brooches. However, it appears that the Christian crosses that the Balts encountered were often regarded as merely decoration, as they were worn alongside pagan pendants.
Bronze spirals, similar to those found in Finland were also used to adorn clothes, while larger spirals were used as bracelets and rings. Neckrings and torques of twisted or beaten metal appear to have been worn frequently, as are penannular brooches, cowrie shell necklaces and other adornments.
Cowrie shells (Cypraea moneta) had been used as decoration and jewelry in Latvia since the seventh century and show that there were trading links with the east, as these shells only come from the Indian Ocean.
Circlets, Coronets and Veils. Circlets (Latvian: vainags) were made from metal from the 6th century, while fabric ones decorated with glass beads from the twelfth. These metal circlets were made from small spiral-wound tubes, threaded onto circular tablet weaving, with a tassel made from more tubes, ending in either bells or metal tags. These circlets were worn over a fabric veil or head cloth (Latvian: namatus), which seems logical as hair could easily catch and pull when putting on or removing these metal circlets. Later, 14th century circlets were made of woven fabric or leather with brass pieces hooked in, and could be worn with or without a veil.
An extant coronet from the 19th century folk costume (Latvian: tautas terpi) has a 13cm-high cardboard base that is covered by embroidered black velvet and the inside lined with white cotton. While these materials are unlikely to have been utilized by 12th-century women, the shape and method of construction is very similar to the method to construct the Russian kokoshnik within the SCA.
If the wearing of a circlet isn’t preferred, pins and brooches have been discovered in graves near the head, where they presumably could have pinned a veil, or the mantle into position.
8-11th Century Lettgallian Dress. The Lettgalian costume is often pointed to as the fore-runner of the modern “traditional” costume of the Latgale of Latvia. Instead of wearing brooches like their Viking counterparts, the Letts had pairs of “long, skinny stick-pins” which were in use from the second to eleventh centuries. There are two popular interpretations as to how these pins were worn. Either, they were used to hold up a peplos-style garment, or were designed to pin the elaborate, decorated shawls in place.
•Stick pins used to fasten top edges of the open-sided dress together.
•Edges of the dress should be pulled forwards and fastened over the collarbones of the woman. The weight of the chains and decorations would have kept “the pins vertical and closer to the body”
•Stick pins are shawl-holders.
•Skirt is a rectangular piece of blue or brown fabric wrapped around the waist to form a skirt, held in place with a decorated belt.
•Costume similar to bronze-age costume in Denmark, and 9th century female figure in Oseberg tapestry.
When a single, long pin has been found, it is located in the center of the chest. This could hold a mantle or veil in place, such as the reconstruction of the 6th century clothing of “Queen Arnegunde.”
11th Century Livonian Dresses. The first layer of the costume is believed to have been a tunic, made of linen or wool. However, the most stunning part of the Livonian grave finds are the tortoise brooches with chains and pendants attached. This Viking-esque look is due to the Livonians being active traders with both Gotland and Sweden.
These brooches are believed to have held up the next layer of a peplos gown. Along the bottom edge of the gown, there is tablet-woven decoration. In reconstructing the costume, a piece of fabric 140-155cm was used, firmly secured with a tablet woven belt (Latvian: josta) around the waist. The length of the peplos would reach just below the knee, so the leg-wrappings worn with the Baltic costume, held in place with cord decorated with bronze spirals wound around the leg, are clearly seen.
12th Century Livonian Dress. It has been suggested that instead of a peplos, the Livs of Lithuania wore a garment similar to a tabard, comprised of two pieces of material that were fastened or sewn at the shoulders. This sewing at the shoulders could be seen as the way of dealing with a simpler, everyday garment, where the owner could not afford the time to attach fancy brooches or pins to keep the clothing in place.
The wearing of a belt would successfully hold the tabard in place and also would provide a place to hang household objects such as shears or a purse that would otherwise be provided by the brooches of other garments. The probable pattern is based on a similar, tabard-like garment reconstructed in Finland.
•Almgren, Bertil et al. The Viking (USA: Crescent Books, 1975)
•Apinis-Herman, Anita. Latvian Weaving Techniques (Kenthurst, NSW: Kangaroo Press, 1993)
•Balodis, Agnis. Latvijas un Latviešu tautas vesture (Riga: Neatkariga Teatra “Kabata” Gramatu apgads, 1991)
•“The Borum Eshøj Woman.” Available online at: http://www.oakview.demon.co.uk/bronze_age/borum_eshoj_woman.html. Last Accessed 9th January 2005.
•Ceruzis, Raimonds, “The History of Latvia.” Available online at: http://www.li.lv/old/history.htm. Last Accessed 1st March 2005
•Geijer, Agnes. “The Textile Finds from Birka” in Cloth and Clothing in Medieval Europe. Eds. N. B. Harte & K. G. Ponting, (London: Heinemann Educational Books Ltd., 1983)
•Giesler, Friedrich, “Keltische und germanische Frauentrachten im Spiegel römischer Darstellungen.” Available online at http://www.fg-zinnfiguren.de/texte/Frauentrachten.PDF. Last Accessed 7th April 2005
•Hald, Margrethe. Ancient Danish Textiles from Bogs and Burials: A Comparative Study of Costume and Iron Age Textiles. Trans. Jean Olsen (Copenhagen: National Museum of Denmark, 1980)
•Hallakarva, Gunnora. “Untitled” Available online at http://www.florilegium.org/files/CLOTHING/p-shoes-msg.text. Last Accessed 2nd April 2005.
•Ingstad, A.S. “Hva var textilerne vært brugt til?” Trans. Maggie Forest in Oseberg Dronningens grav. Eds. Arne Emil Christensen, Anne Stine Ingstad, and Bjørn Myhre. Available online at: http://www.forest.gen.nz/Medieval/articles/ Oseberg/dress/OSEBERG.HTM Last Accessed: 15th April 2005.
•Jones, Prudence and Nigel A Pennick. A History of Pagan Europe (Great Britain: Biddles Ltd., 1997)
•Kalnins, Daumants, “The Smithy of Ancient Jewelry.”Available online at: http://www.kalve.from.lv/. Last Accessed 6th April 2005
•Kipar, Nicole. “Queen Arnegunde, 6th Century Frankish Costume.” Available online at: http://www.kipar.demon.co.uk/ arnegunde.html Last Accessed 6th April 2005.
•“Latvian National Costumes.” Available Online at: http://www.pseudovs.com/costumes/background.html. Last Accessed 9th January 2005.
•Latviju raksti runa.
•Lehtosalo-Hilander, Pirkko-Liisa Ancient Finnish Costumes (Helsinki, Finland: Suomen arkeologinen seura, 1984)
•Lord, John and Jacqui Wood, “Making a Spear and the Iceman’s Outfit,” British Archaeology 49 (Nov 1999) Ed. Simon Dennison. Available Online at http://www.britarch.ac.uk/ba/ba49/ba49feat.html
•Mugurevics, E. “Interactions Between Indigenous and Western Cultures in Livonia in the 13th to 16th Centuries” in From the Baltic to the Black Sea: Studies in Medieval Archaeology. Ed by D. Austin and L. Alcock (London: Unwin Hyman Ltd, 1990)
•O’Conner, Kevin The History of the Baltic States (USA: Greenwood Press, 2003)
•Parmon, F. M. Russkii narodnyi kostium (Moscow, 1994)
•Priest-Dorman, Carolyn A. “Modern Depictions of Viking Women’s Clothing.” Available online at http://www.cs.vassar.edu/~capriest/roach.html. Last Accessed 6th April 2005
•_________ and Christina Krupp, Compleat Anachronist #59: Women’s Garb in Northern Europe (Milpitas, CA: Society for Creative Anachronism, 1992)
•“Raznoe.” Available online at http://cempabac.narod.ru/ lapti.txt. Last Accessed 2nd April 2005.
•“Rich Inheritance: 20 Objects from Latvian Museum Collections” Available online at http://www.muzeji.lv/gallery/ gallery_ebig.html. Last Accessed 6th April 2005.
•Roesdahl, Else and David M. Wilson (eds) From Viking to Crusader (Uddevalla, Sweden: Bohusläningens Boktryckeri AB, 1992)
•Sofya la Rus [Lisa Kies] “Translation of Chapter IV of Pushkareva's Zhenshiny Drevnej Rusy.” Available online at: http://www.strangelove.net/~kieser/Russia/pushkareva.html. Last Accessed 6th April 2005
•Steponaviciené, David, “The Reconstruction and Scenic Use of Late Medieval Lithuanian National Costume.” Available online at: http://www.fmp.fi/fmp_fi/cwl/stepo.htm. Last Accessed: 11th October 2004
•_________ “Vilniaus emutines pilies kulturinis-dvasinis paveldas. Viduram iu kostiumas ir folkloro grupe „Sedula“.”Available online at http://www.museums.lt/ Zurnalas/2004'1/Sedula.htm. Last Accessed 11th October 2004
•Uino, Pirjo “Prehistory — Virtual Finland” Available Online at: http://virtual.finland.fi/netcomm/news/ showarticle.asp?intNWSAID=25923. Last Accessed 6th April 2005
•Urbanaviciene, Saule. “Holiday Clothing of Lithuanian Country Women in the 15th-16th Centuries” in NESAT 6: Textiles in European Archaeology. Eds. Jorgensen, Lisa Bender and Christina Rinaldo (Goteborg: Goteborg University, 1998)
•Uustalu, Evald The History of the Estonian People (London: Boreas Publishing Co. Ltd, 1952)
•“Varhaiskeskiaikaan Ajoittuva Köyliöm Naisen Arkipuku” Available online at: http://www.koylio-seura.fi/KS_tuotteet/ naisenpuku.html. Last Accessed 6th April 2005.
•Vitkunas, Jonas “6th International Festival of Experimental Archaeology.” Available online at: http://www.muziejai.lt/ Sirvintos/gyvoji_archeologija.en.htm. Last Accessed 11th October 2004
•Zarina, Anna Latvijas Senaka Vesture 9. g.t. pr. Kr. –1200g. (Riga: Latvijas vestures instituta apgads, 2001)
•_________ Libiešu Apgerbs 10-13gs (Riga: Zinatne, 1988)
•_________ “Neue Materialien fur das Entwicklungsschema der Latgallischen Schultertucher aus dem 7.-13. Jh” in NESAT 6: Textiles in European Archaeology. Eds. Jorgensen, Lisa Bender and Christina Rinaldo (Goteborg: Goteborg University, 1998)
•_________ Seno Latgalu Apgerbs 7.-13.gs (Riga: Zinatne,1970)
•Zeiere, Irita “Neue Funde der Nordkurlandischen Frauentracht aus dem 13. Jahrhundert” in NESAT 6: Textiles in European Archaeology. Eds. Jorgensen, Lisa Bender and Christina Rinaldo (Goteborg: Goteborg University, 1998)
•Zingite, Ilze, “Latvian National Costumes.” Available online at: http://www.li.lv/old/costumes.htm. Last Accessed 1st March 2005
By Paul Wickenden of Thanet
Giles Fletcher served as English ambassador to Russia in 1588, renegotiating terms of trade between the two countries. But far more important than his diplomatic exploits were the record that he left of his trip. This account is one of the few outside observations of the Russians in period. Like other foreign observers, both preceding and antecedent, his comments were far from complementary. And, while his observations were colored both by his prejudices against the government (he was badly treated during his embassy) and his loyalties towards his own government over the Russian one, his feelings were undoubtedly shared by most other Westerners of the time.
To provide a flavor of these feelings, I will summarize some key points from his treatise, Of the Russe Commonwealth (published originally in 1591 and reprinted in facsimile in 1966).
On the Government
Fletcher describes the Tsar as a tyrant and compares the Russian government poorly against Elizabeth I’s reign at home. For the 21st century reader, the nuances may be lost, but Fletcher’s complaints (the lack of hereditary officers, the handing out of political patronage by whim of the Tsar, and the “corrupt” role of the Church) had a hidden agenda that had more to do with politics at home than with the affairs of Russia. The criticisms were rooted in the concept of Constitutionalism in England which had been slowly growing since the arrival of the Normans and the signing of the Magna Carta, and would eventually explode within a short few years into the English Civil War. A good ruler, by Elizabethan standards, ruled with “enlightenment” and according to “natural principles.” The Tsar was neither enlightened nor for that matter even aware of these principles (it would not be until Peter I that enlightened rule would come to Russia, and Constitutionalism and Rule of Law would remain elusive much longer than that).
Fletcher went further and described the Tsar as a person in unflattering prose. The Emperor, he said, “is for his person of a mean stature, somewhat low and gross, of a fallow complexion, and inclining to dropsy, hawk-nosed, unsteady in his pace by reason of some weakness of his limbs, heavy and inactive, yet commonly smiling almost to laughter. For quality otherwise, simple and slow-witted, but very gentle and of an easy nature….”
On the Church
If Fletcher’s opinion of the Tsar is colored by his loyalty to Queen Elizabeth, than his feelings towards the Russian Orthodox Church reveals absolute distaste and religious intolerance, for the Russian Church was far removed from the Anglican (bearing a best a small resemblance through the Catholic church, for which Fletcher expressed no love): “it is framed altogether after the manner of the Greek: as being a part of that Church, and never acknowledging the jurisdiction of the Latin Church, usurped by the Pope.”
In his chapter “Of the Doctrine of the Russe Church, and What Errors It Holds,” he highlights a series of objections. First of all, Fletcher, as a Protestant, objects to the hierarchical nature of the Orthodox Church, especially its deferral of the interpretation of the Scriptures to the Patriarch and the Synod (as well as to the Tsar). He notes that there is a overly cozy relationship between Church and State, observing that the people give what little money survives the state’s capricious taxation to the monasteries out of fear and “superstition” – an arrangement that suits the Tsar quite well.
He complains that the Church ignores large sections of the Old Testament, carefully selecting the portions that are read publicly. And they also avoid Revelations and sections of the New Testament that they disagree with.
But the major “error” pointed out by Fletcher is the idolatry of the Church, with its fixation on icons and symbols (like the Cross). Fletcher describes their use of the Cross as “abuse,” and accuses them of giving the sign of the Cross a reverence “which is due to God only.” He chides them also for being “superstitious” about holy water and other “profane ceremonies.”
This compliant is hardly a new objection and had divided East (Orthodox) from West (Catholic) long before. To a Protestant, the heavy reliance on ceremony and ritual smacked of “superstitious” practices, not true worship: “Many other vain and superstitious ceremonies they have, which were long and tedious to report. By these it may appear how far they are fallen from the true knowledge and practice of Christian religion, having exchanged the word of God for their own vain traditions, and brought all to external and ridiculous ceremonies, without any regard of spirit and truth, which God requires in his true worship.”
All this being said, his criticism of the Russian Church is more aimed at home and seems to have another target: the Roman Catholic Church. He faults the Russian faith as being led by ignorant priests who follow and promote “Popish superstition.” In other words, to the extent that the Russian Orthodox resembles the Roman Catholic, they are guilty of deviations and “errors.”
On the People
Under the tyranny and greed of their rulers and the “superstitions” of their Church, the common people suffer and naturally are “mean and coarse.” As Fletcher put it, “they are robbed constantly, both of their hearts and money.” And in an observation of practices that bear eerie similarity to late Tsarist and Soviet life, Fletcher comments on the Tsar’s monopoly on drinking establishments, where men often starve their families by drinking away their earnings: “While they are in these [taverns], none may call them forth whatsoever cause there may be, because he would hinder the Emperor’s revenue.”
The Russian, treated harshly by his rulers and Church, returns the favor to anyone he has power over, including his family: “In living with their wives, they show themselves to be but of a barbarous condition: using them as servants, rather than wives.” Fletcher seems to pity the Russian and he observes that “the Russe neither believes anything that an other man speaks, nor speaks anything himself worthy to be believed.” They are good people, but ignorant (and the Tsar wants to keep them that way).
On Material Culture
But moving beyond Fletcher’s unflattering portrait, he does make some empirical observations about everyday life that are helpful to us, in his final chapter (“Of the Private Behavior, or Quality, of the Russe People”).
The Russians are for the “most part of large size and of very fleshy bodies” on account, he reckons of the cold climate and the typical diet (“roots, onions, garlic, cabbage, and such like things that breed gross humors”). They sleep, an exasperated Fletcher observed, after they midday meal and bathe at public bath houses at least two or three times a week! The latter behavior may keep them healthy, but it is disastrous for their complexion, Fletcher claims. And he observes that its heinous effects are seen more so on the women, who then paint their faces with make-up to cover over these flaws.
The nobles dress in a “Greek fashion” (by which Fletcher probably means Byzantine) and a woman is always adorned with jewelry: “Without earrings of silver or some other metal, and her cross about her neck, you shall see no Russe woman, be she wife or maid.”
Fletcher provides us with an interesting window onto the Russian world in period, giving us a sense of how the Russians were seen from Western Europe. And the portrait, unflattering as it is, does more to actually expose the world of Elizabethan England even as it never directly comments on affairs at home. Through Fletcher’s writing, we see what the West considered “normal” and proper, far more than what the Russians might have been like as actual people.
By Aldo C. Marturano
Trakai is located on a narrow peninsula, situated within lakes (the largest one is Lake Galve) and marshes. One of the two castles is located in the middle of the peninsula, and the other is at the northern end. The one in the middle was built by Great Prince Keistutis, one of the sons of Ghedimin, in the XIVth century and intended to defend him from the continuous attacks of the Teutonic Knights. The other one has been built later when the older castle proved incapable of defending itself against the new weapons brought in during the XVIth century. The New Castle, completely restored, lays today about a mile away from the Old Castle.
The ruins are fascinating even though the stout building lies abandoned. The roof has collapsed partially but the walls still stand imposingly. At the site, archaeologists have found frescoes and ornaments that were made in – surprise! – a Byzantine style. Along with these “strange” finds were also Gothic elements (most notably the shape of the windows, which are narrow and end in a Gothic arch). How could this be?
Other facts about the castle are worthy of mention: Bricks are used extensively and the structure is laid out as a square. In accordance with the principles of XIII-XIVth century combat technique, the castle location is very well chosen. The front faces west and the main entrance is in a huge arched gate with an enormous lookout tower. The tower is over 20 meters high, also square-shaped, with half of its area jutting out over the wall. It has a two-sided roof. A wall connected with the tower on both sides fans out from the front side of the building and at both ends is attached to two other two-storied bodies. These buildings run along the other two parallel sides of the square planning and constitute the living quarters. These structures leave an open-air free space, which is the inner yard. The side of the square opposite to the tower is a transverse colonnade.
The living quarters have wooden balustrades running along the inner side. The stables, kitchen, and other maintenance services are located on the ground floor. The large square yard (20 x 10 meters) was used for banquets and feasts and as a reception ground for the guests. Like any other fortress, the castle has a moat around it (aside from the lake waters) separating the main building from the forecastle and used a cantilever bridge to control access.
While the identity of the builder and designer remains unknown, what interests me is the wondrous certainty that this castle is probably of Byzantine design. I remembered seeing plans for another castle with similar features, but this other castle was located very far from Trakai. It was a Crimean building: the Palace of the Byzantine prince Alexis Paleologue at Mangup-Kale, which was the capital city of the ancient Princedom of Teodoro and which would have been still in existence in the XVth century.
I was puzzled because in spite of the many similar elements, there is no real historical link that tied Trakai Castle with Mangup-Kale or with Venice and Costantinople. The Trakai Castle was inhabited after Keistutis’s death by his son Vytautas and this prince had many contacts with Crimea through the Mongolian state of the so-called “Golden Horde.” It might be in these relationships that I could find the keys to solve this mystery.
In fact, during the time of Vytautas’s reign, some one hundred prisoners were captured in his 1369 campaign that reached Solkhat in the inner Crimean mountains. The prisoners appeared to be all belong to a Jewish Community living in those mountains in troglodithic houses (that is, dwellings excavated in the rock like eagle nests). They called themselves “Karaites.” The Karaites by then were among the Golden Horde’s subjects. But at this moment, for unknown reasons, they were appointed by the Lithuanian prince as his personal bodyguards and forced to relocate to Trakai where they were granted houses and land to cultivate as a reward for their services to Vytautas!
Who Are the Karaites?
Some years ago I conducted research on the empire of the Jewish Khazars and their cultural and political influence in the formation and origins of the Kievan Rus’ state (I published my findings in a book entitled, Mescekh, il Paese degli Ebrei dimenticati, released in Italian in 2004). During this research of mine, I also tried to see whether any other of these people could be found in the area between the river Volga and south of the Great Ukrainian Steppe, as I could not accept the thought that the traces of such a powerful state could disappear, even after more than a thousand years. While conducting this work, I came across the Karaites who seemed to have retained Jewish rites and religious creed in the Crimea. The Karaites did not use Hebrew, except in their liturgy and when the reading the Torah. Instead, they spoke Tatar-Turkish instead, like the Khazars.
Could they be the Khazar’s descendants? How would you prove it? How would you explain their connection with Judaism when they uniquely accept the Torah as their sacred text but not the Talmud or the Mishnah? Could their isolation in distant Crimea justify this peculiarity?
The community probably originated in ancient Persia, where a rigidly orthodox Jewish Sect was founded by Anan ben David in the VIIIth century. These Jewish sectarians moved across the Caucasus later and probably were the elite of the empire of the Khazars. As such, the Karaites of Crimea may represent what remains today of the Khazars, who reigned over the Black Sea’s northern coasts and in the Crimea until the second half of the Xth century (when Svyatoslav of Kiev in 965 gave a final blow to the Khazar state). [Note: I am indebted to the work of Valentin I. Kefeli, an agronomist and a passionate researcher of the history of the Karaites, for this outline of that history].
The word “Karaite” probably derives from Hebrew Karaim (the “readers”) because this Jewish sect did not accept that other books could be written besides the Torah and therefore they read but did not write. Anyhow it is a big problem to group the Karaites with other Jewish Sects as they usually refuse to be considered part of the “Chosen People.”
According to Kevin Brook (and his website www.khazaria.com) the language spoken by the Karaites belongs to the Turkish dialect spoken by the ancient Polovtsi (the Kumans of the Western Chronicles) and by the Kiptchaks who were the major part of the Mongolian Golden Horde when they invaded Europe in the XIIIth century.
As far as we know, Genoese and Venetian communities had inhabited the coasts of the Crimea from remote times up to the XIVth century and therefore some information about the Karaites should exist in their records. But what is said about them in Genoa and Venice? Not very much! They do record that the Karaites (among others) lived in an area called “Gazzaria” by the Italians (in Italian, the word gazzarra means “bedlam,” as in a place where people speak different mutually- incomprehensible languages). “Gazzaria” also seems to be a corruption of the Latin/Greek word Khazaria (i.e., the land of the Khazars) but, by the same token, could also be a misreading of Gozaria or Gotiaria, as the same area was inhabited until the 16th century by the ancestors of the Goths.
In any case, records about Karaites practically fade away by the XIV century and the only information that we have about them comes from the Russian Chronicles, where a group of Karaites was transplanted to the vicinity of Lutsk (today in Ukraine) in the XIIIth century by order of Prince Danilo of Galitch and Volynia. By this date, the Karaites already inhabited the inner Crimea area in their particular grotto housings. In the region of Mangup-Kalè and Kyrk-Er they were already a large but closed community separated from the other Crimean Turks who arrived later.
The Karaites and Trakai
With this background, let’s now discuss the fate of the Karaites in Trakai. Soon after arriving, they spread out between Trakai, Vilnius, and Panevezhis. In “their” Trakai they built their own Kenasa (a gathering place, based on a variation of the Old Hebrew Kaniza or Knesseth, derived from the Greek word Ekklesia, meaning literally a place where the elected reunite) and here they had their markets and festivals. The Karaites were renown as a people who guarded and protected their traditions and customs (refusing to intermarry with other ethnic groups). Owing to this trait they became regarded as honest and faithful. Undoubtedly, these were the features that had originally inspired Vytautas to utilize the Karaite prisoners. He was always in danger for his life due to a constant enmity with his cousin, the King Ladislaus Jagello of Poland. Ladislaus was suspected of paying killers to assassinate Vytautas, in order to clear the way for his own assumption to the throne of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania.
The community of Karaites received very specific orders from Vytautas: they were to attend to the personal defense of the prince. Bodyguards had to accompany him everywhere. Their presence is even witnessed at the Grunwald-Tannenberg Battle of 1410. The result of Vytautas’s decision was that he could sleep soundly: whenever a Karaite undertook a task, he was ready to pay with his life to avoid failing to keep his bond! Moreover, the whole community was bound and ready to help him with their own lives.
According to the records, when the Karaites arrived at Trakai the Old Castle was already standing, so the mystery is: Did the Karaites help rebuild the Old Castle and, in doing so, copy the style of the Teodoro Castle of Mangup-Kale? If so, why is there no record of this? Surely, a connection of some sort must exist, but more materials need to be collected to understand the role of the Karaites in the life of the Old Castle of Trakai. In modern-day Trakai, you can still find the street of the Karaites, bearing its Lithuanian name: Karaimu Gatve.
• Brooks, Kevin. The Jews of Khazaria. 2002 (U.S.A.)
• Fadeeva, T. M. and A. K. Shaposhnikov. The Princedom of Teodoro and Its Sovereigns. 2005, Sympheropol (Crimea)
• Kefeli, V. I. And E. I. Lebedeva. The Caraims, An Ancient Crimean People. 2003, Sympheropol (Crimea)
• Marturano, Aldo C. Mescekh, il Paese degli Ebrei dimenticati. 2004, Poggiardo (Italy)
By Mordak Timofeyvich Rostovskogo
My Gracious Lord, in my capacity as a merchant and sometime representative of your august presence and that of the Prophet in these far northern lands inhabited by the Rus, I have seen many and wondrous things. In my previous reports to your underlings I have reported happening mundane and momentous, common and scurrilous, military and mercantile. Now, I have the distasteful duty to report on the politics and nobility of this realm, and its young but cruel Grand Prince. Indeed, most August One, this ruler though he be only of years tender and only recently considered a man, by law and custom, already is he steeped in the darker customs and tastes one would typically find in the darker recesses of the Sultan's most notorious palace chambers. By this, I am told one good authority by those of eyewitness observation that these terrible acts and appetites are the product of the this Worthy's recently disbanded Regency Council nobles. The rumors tell of the usual infighting but also of blatant disregard and ill-treatment of this ruler during his minority.
To judge from his various cruelties to animals and men and hooliganish actions with his pack of other noble "men", also of tender age, one can only shudder for the future of the realm. To judge by the quantity of enemies ringing this realm, the casual observer might conclude that if that spirit were turned outward of the borders of this land, some good might result in terms of security and borders. Only time will tell about this speculation. In all, his enemies are indeed legion, amongst his nobles, the Boiarian, and without, though whether the Hanse or the Livonians pose the bigger threat than the numerous Ta’tar Kahnates is a subject of common speculation by the common folk in their leisure. In my estimation, I would say that neither is supreme, but that fire is the worse enemy in this city of wood, usually accompanied by the Seasonal Ta’tar raids from the south, though those have become rarer since this Sovereign’s fathers reign. But this is a scourge that we too suffer periodically.
• Weatherford, Jack. Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World. New York: Random House, 2004.
This extraordinarily readable and concise book devotes nine of its ten chapters to the history of the Mongol Empire from the youth of Genghis Khan to the empire’s collapse during the Black Death (approximately the years1178 to 1368). Genghis Khan covers the youth of that leader, his unification of the nomadic peoples, expansion through northern China and Central Asia, infighting after the Khan’s death, conquest of the Moslem world and China, the division of the Empire into four khanates and its ultimate collapse. While much of the material is available elsewhere, the author has a genius for clear narrative and explanation of complex ideas.
Weatherford writes the book from the Mongol’s point of view. Using his skills as an anthropologist and relying heavily on the Mongol’s state narrative The Secret History, we learn the origin of their military tactics, religious tolerance, along with the foundation for their legal system and many customs. Some material was new to me, such as the degree of Christian influence in Mongolia and the taboo against contact with blood and corpses. This book will give a much-needed additional perspective to those who have only read European accounts of the Mongols. The accomplishments of their continental empire—monetary, trade, cultural, legal and governmental are discussed in detail.
Weatherford may be criticized in places for downplaying the mass killing in the creation of what was likely the most murderous empire of all time, instead emphasizing their prohibition against torture. However, this weakness that can be easily ignored by Slavic studies readers who want a fresh perspective on the Empire to their east.
– Peotr Alexeivich Novgorodski
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