Fall AS XLI (2006)
Volume XII, Issue 1 (#43)

Greetings from Pennsic!

From the Nachalnik

A wonderful warm greeting to you as the weather turns colder, I put in my storm windows, and throw another log on the fire....

We begin our first issue of our twelfth year with the traditional recap of the gathering at this year's Pennsic War. My deep thanks to Mariia for hosting the Pennsic SIG gathering this year. While it becomes increasingly unlikely that I'll make it to Pennsic, I do want to make sure that these gatherings continue as I think they are very valuable opportunities for people to meet and compare notes (as well as being good publicity for the Group as well).

In this issue, we also have the first installment of a study of Polish martial clothing that I hope you will enjoy. While Slovo's format is generally best suited to shorter pieces, I am pleased to offer extended monographs like this run through the year in installments. As a related piece, there is a short piece on modern Winged Hussar activity down in Caid.

As always, I am soliciting contributions for future issues. The major editorial requirement is that articles/artwork be relevant to the mission of the Group (to promote Slavic and Eastern European medievalism).


Pennsic Gathering

By Mariia Kotokova

We had about 35 people at the SIG Group meeting with several bringing food and books to share. Also Pan Zygmunt showed off some wonderful garb!!! I tried to set the area up in a circle but ended up with more crowding in in the back and on the edges. We started with introductions and then as a group answered a few specific questions about garb, embroidery, icon painting, and SIG itself. Many gentles then shared interesting research they had been doing. These included a book on Polish garb and a Polish name book created by group members. We also had some great books people had brought to share from their personal collectins. Once we all knew who was who (and who was working on what), we opened the floor to individual and small group converstaions along with enjoying the snacks, kvas ,and raspberry krupnik ! It seemed that a good time was had by all and much knowledge was shared. Finally, we had to surrender the area to the next group scheduled and say our good-byes until next year.

As a footnote, next year it seems we will need to arrange a larger space!

Also, if we wish, I have found an cook willing to prepare excellent Slavic/Rus food for us next year should we so desire. This would need arranging in advance however and could be done either as a feast with a per head fee of about $6 person (would make a nice Pennsic meal you wouldn't have to fix?). This would need an advance count, etc. Or a few of us could chip on a couple of trays of stuff and just have it out for everyone as a hospitality effort? Let me know what you think of the idea?

Please send me some feedback on what you would like or NOT like to see next year. I am already thinking to arrange it later in the afternoon and for a longer time? My contact information (Marilyn Kinyon, 1598 Sawmill Rd, Hedgesville WV 25427, 706-862-6439, mamalynx@allvantage.com). Thanks!


Sarmatian Baroque: Military Dress/Organization in Polish- Lithuanian Commonwealth, 1550-1600:

Part One

By Zygmunt Nadratowski

Introduction

Only the warriors of a few nations, such as the Japanese samurai, can match the glitz and sheer visual impact of the Polish-Lithuanian winged hussar . Many have heard of the hussar , but few understand or know of their pre-Napoleonic roots. The original inspiration remains obscure and tantalizingly out of reach, like gold glittering through the opening of a new-opened tomb. Even so, the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania employed more types of fighting men than the glamorous hussar . This article will focus on the various types of warriors, which comprised the Commonwealth's army. It will also describe their arms and armor, so that you may build your persona and fighting kit as accurately as you wish.

Much of this information is from Richard Brzezinski's fine books, Polish Armies I & II, by Osprey Publishing . The information presented here is a very bare bones treatment of what he explains in those works. They are full of photos of extant artifacts and paintings. The artist's color plates are also faithfully rendered from extant artifacts. I highly recommend them as a starting point to anyone serious about portraying szlachta in the Current Middle Ages. I have included a lot of unit information that might otherwise seem redundant or unnecessary (e.g., composition and make up of various Commonwealth units), in order to place the forces of the Commonwealth in a proper context and also to give the reader more ‘tools for the toolbox' for their SCA experience (for example, some of this could serve to show someone how to start a Guild or Household).

Early Commonwealth Armies. U ntil the end of the 1400s, Polish fighters and their weapons were similar to those of their German neighbors, while the Lithuanians and Rus of the Grand Duchy used varying styles of both Western and Eastern origin. It was not until the Jagiellon Kings and their wars against the Grand Duchy of Moscow and the Tatar Khanates that Polish crown armies began to change. Forced to fight over wide expanses of steppes, which were cut with rivers and marshes (in fact, much of the border between the Kingdom of Poland and the Grand Duchy of Lithuania was a swamp), the old type of heavily armored knights and mounts were not effective. To fight effectively, the Poles turned to the light, fast cavalry of their neighbors for inspiration, and came up with their own unique form – the hussar. One drawback is that the hussar appears relatively late in the SCA's time span. So if your preference is to be Polish before 1500, your best bet is to choose your armor appropriate for its time and place by a neighboring country (e.g., a German Teutonic/gothic kit or perhaps a Boyar from the Duchy of Moscow ), and let everything else remain Polish to complete your persona .

Late Commonwealth Armies. A major influence on the formation of late-period Polish fighters was the Union of Lublin in 1569. Lithuania and Poland merged into one united kingdom, of which one of the provisions was that the Kingdom of Poland took responsibility for administration and defense of the Ukraine, putting the new Commonwealth on the border with the Muscovites and the Ottoman Turks. These territories increased the size of the Commonwealth of Poland-Lithuania to over a million square kilometers – nearly twice the size of its contemporary (and more widely known) kingdom, France. At its greatest extant, The Commonwealth also stretched “from sea to shining sea” – in this case, from the Baltic to the Black.

Fig 1: King Sigismund II Vasa and his Drabant guard. From the Stockholm Roll, 1605. From the collection of the Wawel Castle, Warsaw. Photo: Rick Orli.

Up until the 1500s, the biggest military influence on the Poles had been as a result of their long fight with the German Teutonic knights based in Prussia, and so shifted their military thinking towards Western Europe. With that threat removed, and the new, vast eastern lands, by sheer necessity the Poles were forced to look for new tactics and the weapons to fight them with. This eastward focus also had the additional side effect of bringing cultural elements along with it, so influences from Persia and the Ottoman Turks caught on.

Army Organization. As a result of the large and diverse population that made up the Commonwealth, many different foreigners served in its forces. King Bathory had a large contingent of Scottish mercenaries, as well as some Swiss pikemen in his drabant guard (the drabant guard is first mentioned in 1565) [see Figure 1]. As a result, the Commonwealth came up with a unique solution to get these diverse elements working together.

The warriors of Poland were classified in two main divisions. The first was the Foreign Autorament (Foreign Contingent), organized mostly of foreigners along a predominantly German model; and the Polish Autorament, made up of mostly Polish nobles and organized and dressed in a Polish/Eastern model.

The Polish Autorament was a direct descendant of the medieval army organization. But instead of the Lance, Banner and Battle, they had the poczet (post), choragiew (banner), pulk (battle, later regiment). Infantry was organized on the same lines as well.

The smallest group was the poczet. This was directly modeled on the medieval “lance,” a knight and his retainers. Each post was made up of at least one noble towarzysz or “comrade.”

When fighting, the comrades formed the first rank, with their pacholech or pocztowych “fighting retainers,” making up the following and successive ranks. The average retinue of a comrade and his fighting retainers during King Bathory's time was four.

The next unit was a choragiew, the Rota or “Banner,” and was between 100 and 200 comrades, although the Rota of a Hetman (General) or the King was bigger. It was lead by a Rotmisterz, ‘Rotamaster'. He was given a commission to raise a pre-defined number of men under a single flag (hence the term “Banner” for the unit). Some banners were permanently organized. The Rotmisterz selected from among his trusted comrades his lieutenant, called a Porucznik, who was the XO of the banner; a cornet standard bearer and a trumpeter . Finally, the post of the Rotmisterz was bigger than that of his comrades.

The final unit was the pulk (“battle”), and was made up of up to 20 banners. Unlike the banner, the pulk was not a permanent unit and had no integral staff, other than the most senior rotmisterz, called the pulkownik (Colonel) and his assistant the podpulkownik (Lieutenant Colonel). As in the west, the Colonel's job was often more political and financial than military, and held by older men who often did not accompany their men in battle.

For the SCA's purposes, it seems that a choragiew would be the ideal model for a fighting household, since most Houses tend to be small.

Polish Infantry. “The native infantry were at first not highly valued…Starowalski, for example, wrote: ‘We use them not so much for fighting, but as laborers, digging ditches…If we desire to capture a town, we hire Germans or Hungarians, who are much better trained than our men…'” (Brzezinski, Polish Armies I,10).

The reasons for this attitude are varied. Part of the reason that the Polish nobility disliked the infantry was based in fear: no noble was real keen on arming peasants. Some nobles viewed war as their private pastime. Some of it was simply need – Poland was so big and flat, that it was more efficient to concentrate on cavalry, which could cross these vast distances quickly. But by the 1650's, this attitude had changed, and Polish infantry performed well in combat, after getting the attention and training it needed.

Fig 2: Hajduk infantry from the Patterns of Costume painting in the collection of Goluchow Castle. Photo: Rick Orli.

Starting in 1577 (Brzezinski states that, by this date, they had long been replaced by haiduks ), Polish infantry was organized like the cavalry, in a banner under a Rotmisterz . This unit numbered between 150-200 men. One flag was used for about every 50 men in the unit. They wore clothes dyed blue, as a way to easily determine their troop type.

City militias were different. They were organized and outfitted along a western model, due to the ethnically German citizens that made up the majority of those serving in them.

 

Infantry Fighting Kits

Before 1500: Polish fighting kits looked like their neighbors. So it would not be implausible to dress as a “typical” knight and still be Polish.

After 1500 (Non-Polish): The Poles used many foreign mercenaries. Some options would be Germans (Landsknechts until ca. 1560), Scots, Swiss pikeman and Hungarians. A Russian style could also be appropriate – perhaps you captured it. One unique version of this is bekhter (bakhterets in Russian [see Figure 6]) , a combination of chain mail and small metal plates, originally of Indo-Persian origin. Bakhterets were worn in Russia until the 1650's, when the increasing use of firearms made them obsolete. It isn't explained very well in the extra features of the movie, but this type of armor is what the Tartar character Tuhay-Bey is wearing in With Fire and Sword .

After 1500 (Polish): See below for Cossacks, Haiduks and Wybranica.

Wybranica (Select). This is a levy of peasants drafted to fight. The name means “select,” as in “drafted,” not with the connotation of “elite,” and were selected on the ratio of one soldier per 20 farms on royal land. They were introduced under Bathory's reign. I mention them here for completeness' sake, since they are a peasant levy and not comprised of nobles.

Haiduks. Many cultures have an iconographical infantry warrior. The Norse have the berserkir, the Turks the janissary, the Scots the be-kilted and be-sheeped “highland clansmen.” The Poles had their own - the haiduk (figure 2). Sharing a common thematic ancestry with the hussar, haiduks were also descended from bandits and guerrilla fighters.

Haiduk derives from the Turkish haidud, meaning ‘marauder'. Haiduks came into Poland by way of Hungary and were very quickly adopted as the standard model for Polish infantry. The best Haiduks were raised in the Carpathian Mountains and states to the South of Poland. Contemporaries frequently remark on the large stature of haiduks, ‘huge of body like giants', and on their reputation for rough living and general ferocity.” (Brzezinski, Polish Armies II, 21)

Their primary armament was the arquebus, but the painting “patterns of costume” shows them carrying a full suite of weapons. They organized in units of ten, in formations of 150-200, but didn't share the rest of the organization of the ‘comrade' system that the rest of the Polish Autorament was. Haiduk uniforms were usually black or blue.

Pikemen. Unlike many armies at the end of the SCA time period, the Commonwealth seldom used squares of pikemen. This was because the Poles viewed infantry as fire support for the cavalry, or used them to seize key terrain features. Normally, pikemen were the defense against cavalry, but because of the superior quality of Polish husaria, the Poles simply used them to shield the infantry when it was needed. This isn't to say that haiduks were inferior fighters, just that the Commonwealth favored cavalry. In fact, the haiduk guard of King Bathory routed six units of German landsknecht infantry at the battle of Lubieszow in 1577.

Fig 3: Sketch of a Jannisary . Unknown artist, late 1500s. Photo: William Chisenhall.

Janissaries. With the rise of the Ottoman Turks in the mid-1400s, the Commonwealth was introduced to a new type of soldier – the Jannisary. Formed from kidnaped Christian children and slaves, they were raised to be a monastic group of elite Muslim infantry. They had many similarities to other elite monastic warriors, such as the various Crusading orders (e.g., the Templars, Hospitallers, etc). Additionally, they were considered to be the property of the Sultan, and so were theoretically beholden to none but him. Over time and long exposure to these tough and fanatical foes, the Szlachta , always on the lookout for something unique, could not help wanting to imitate them. By the 1600s, wealthy Magnates even kept small guard units dressed as Janissaries for show. In the 1680s, some Magnates had Janissary units that had defected as part of their armies. King John III Sobieski had some of these deserters as part of his Royal Guard in 1683 in Vienna.

Fig 4: Reconstruction of Figure 3. By Baron Alejandro Mateo Ramirez, DWS, SCA - Atlantia. Photo: William Chisenhall. Used with permission.


Winged Hussar Storms City Council!

By Ryszard Sulima Suligowski

[Editor's note: On September 27 th , the Glendale News Press reported that “a sword-wielding soldier dressed in an armored costume — complete with feathers and faux fur — barged into the City Council meeting Tuesday night looking for a prisoner.” The incident was not the latest mad gunman on the loose, but rather an event staged by Ryszard to promote the upcoming Glendale Unity Fest: dressing up in full Winged Hussar regalia and making an impressive appearance. Ryszard tells us more....]

Czesc All!

I'm the current VP of the Polish-American Congress-LA Division and had inquired about the Unity Fest. I was invited to sit on the Glendale planning Council Committee, which allowed me to arrange this year for inclusion of the LA Polish demographic. This is a first (including the Polish Demographic in the event) – normally we would be transparent. Among other things, the Fest will include Polish food and the entertainment of the local Krakusy Dancers. Of course, our Polish winged husaria will also be represented. Another score for Polish history and culture! My job here is done.

The story (as reported in the Glendale News Press ):

“A sword-wielding soldier dressed in an armored costume — complete with feathers and faux fur — barged into the City Council meeting Tuesday night looking for a prisoner.

“'Nobody move,' the soldier ordered, asking confused meeting attendees where the “mayor of the district” was.

“The soldier said he was informed of a prisoner being held hostage, one who needed to be rescued and taken to the Unity Fest.

“'I have not been hurt,' Councilman Bob Yousefian — the prisoner — said. ‘The only problem is the Unity Fest is on Sunday.'

“The unexpected encounter was part of a city bid to promote its fifth annual Unity Fest in Verdugo Park on Sunday.”


Eastern Crusades: Kulikovo Polye 1380

By Mordak Timofeyvich Rostovskogo

Other Rus Princes had tried various methods to lighten the Mongol yoke on the Rus Principalities, almost from the very year that their domination began in 1240, but several factors had minimized or utterly destroyed these efforts. Fairly frequent marriage between Mongol and Rus nobility, Mongol military strength, their ruthlessness in punishing Rus rebellion, the internecine fighting of the Rus themselves, etc. had all been factors in prolonging this state of affairs and denying each effort even small victories. Through all, the Orthodox Church encouraged the dream of freedom and nurtured the ambitions of those Princes in their various bids towards this goal. While not nearly as militant as the Western Church, their support was political and financial, often manifesting itself behind the scenes between the Princes and in their support of those Princes as leaders in public to their subjects.

A series of dynastic struggles started in 1357 with the death of Janni Beg, Khan of the Golden Horde, which then included the future Khanates of Sibir (Western Siberia), Kazan (Ural Mountains to the upper Volga River), Astrakhan (middle Volga south to the Caspian Sea) and Crimea (Black Sea and Lower Ukraine). Khan Janni Beg's sudden death left no named successor in the control of the Silk Road wealth and fueled fierce dynastic struggles that left the Golden Horde seriously weakened politically, which fragmented the reliability of its military resources. In the chaos, regional Hetmen had begun building independent powerbases that were weaker militarily but more autonomous. The eventual winner of these struggles was Mamai, a general of great repute but not of the Royal House line. As an interloper, he was hampered by lukewarm support by the regional Hetmen within the Golden Horde and desperately needed of a very public and profitable victory to solidify his position as Khan against his chief generals and a dynastic rival of the Royal line, Prince Tokhtamysh.

Mamai's choices for this victory were slim indeed. The White Horde in Persia and modern day Iraq was still strong, as was the expanding Ottoman Empire to the west in the Balkans and along the western Black Sea. Only to the north in the fractious and fragmented Rus principalities were the riches and weak military forces that would offer Mamai the victory and spoils he so desperately needed, safe from the high casualties his other choices would inflict. Or so he thought… And to sweeten his choice, the Rus princes had also taken advantage of the political chaos of the dynastic struggles to refuse to send the customary tribute to the Golden Horde capital at Sarai on the southern reaches of the Volga River for the previous thirteen years.

Unbeknownst to Mamai, in the twenty or so years of the Horde's lax rule many new Rus princes had assumed their patrimonies and grown used to their freedom. They were loath to lose the additional revenues they had kept for themselves, though none seemed ready to risk position, family and title in openly leading a rebellion in their own names. The Moscow prince, Dmitry Ivanovich, was one of these new princes and also was on a roll himself. His ancestor, Ivan I, named Kalita or “Moneybags,” had bribed and ingratiated his way into an appointment by the Khan as Grand Prince and official tax collector in 1328. Ivan Kalita had also gained considerable political clout for Moscow when he persuaded the Metropolitan of the Rus to leave his traditional seat in Vladimir for Moscow, and assuming the political clout and influence afforded the Spiritual center of the Russian Orthodox Church.

If Prince Dmitry succeeded, he would have unhindered funding and the political clout to further consolidate his power among the other Rus Princes, free of interference from the Golden Horde. If defeated, his lands, title and life were probably forfeit to Mamai, after his capital was torched and his people led off to the Black Sea slave markets to be sold by the Venetians and Genoese, under Ottoman license. Like many of his ancestors before him, Dmitry was ready to roll the dice for the big prize and ruthless enough to take any opportunity that fate offered. The stage was set, all he needed was an inspiring “cause” to force the other Princes to back him in the field.

Using every advantage to minimize the horrible risk of defeat, Prince Dmitry persuaded the Metropolitan to bless the enterprise as a Holy mission of Christian against Moslem overlord and oppressor. Such a public stance encouraged reciprocal sermons down through the Church hierarchy resulting in a groundswell of support from the populace. Gathering under the banner of the Prince of Moscow in late August, by September 6, 1380 the Rus hosts had already crossed the Oka River and reached the upper reaches of the Don River, crossing that river the night of September 7 th and drawing themselves up into battle formations the next morning at Kolikovo Polye, “Snipes Field.” Prince Dmitry's military council of Princes deployed in the traditional three line defense, Outpost regiment in the van with the Front regiment behind it, both designed to blunt any attack. Behind both was the main host situated on a very slight rise, the bulk of which were household hosts and the better armed merchants and town troops. The flanks of the Russian host were secured by the Nizhni Dubik and Smolka River “cliffs,” both heavily wooded with the left woods hiding the Ambush host of noble Rus cavalry. All were under the various Princes banners and Holy images of the Madonna, Jesus and Saints Michael and George.

Mamai faced him across the field, the hosts of his hetmen forming three long blocks across the field, backed by hired Genoese mercenaries from the Italian trading colonies on the Black Sea and the Horde's best cavalry. His Lithuanian allies had yet to arrive and Dmitry had insured that Mamai would not be able to wait for their arrival by inflicting a series of stinging and destructive night raids on the Mongol host during its advance on the Don. By the time Mamai's host had drawn up their battle formations across the field and witnessed several duels by champions for both sides, including the death of a Mongol champion at the hands of a Rus warrior monk in single combat, his hetmen were barely in control of their hosts. By eleven that morning the Mongol forces attacked the Rus Van and Outpost hosts, who eventually retreated into the main host after savage fighting repelled the Mongol attacks.

Mamai then attacked the Rus left flank in force, eventually succeeding in penetrating the Rus lines but now trapped between the river and the Rus host. By early afternoon the Mongol breakthrough thrust could not be stopped by the Rus reserves and victory seemed at hand. At this critical moment the encircling Mongol forces were themselves attacked in the rear by the Rus Ambush host from the woods, signaling the Moscow host under Prince Dimity to attack the now unsupported main Mongol infantry host from the Rus right flank, preventing needed reserves from reinforcing the Mongol breakthrough force, now trapped against the river and being attacked on the other three sides by the Rus reserves and back lines of the Rus main force, their line of retreat blocked by the Rus Ambush host.

In that moment panic struck the Mongol host and Mamai's army shattered, each warrior seeking his own safety, leaving their surrounded hosts in the Rus rear to be cut down and destroyed, including most of the Genoese mercenaries. The route continued into the night and the next day, leaving Mongol bodies littered across the steppe from the Don to the Volga and Mamai's tenure as Khan of the Golden Horde in ruin. The surviving mercenaries were ransomed back to their masters, as were the Mongol leaders, but the rank and file enslaved and hobbled to await toil and death or liberation by the Golden Horde's eventual counter stroke.

Both sides had been weakened significantly in manpower, for the battle had been hard fought with no quarter given and none expected. For the Rus it had been a Holy Crusade of Orthodox Christian against Moslem oppressor, earning him the name Dmitry Donskoi, to commemorate his victory. For the Mongols, it had been a rebellion to be crushed and riches to be won, as it had always been. But this victory was fleeting. Mamai had been overthrown and executed by a rival, who had been “replaced” in turn by another Mongol Prince named Tokhtamysh soon after his defeat. This new Khan had immediately resorted to the old Mongol tactic of bribing the Rus Princes with money, promises and titles to reduce Dmitry's strength. In truth, all the Princes hosts had suffered damage through casualties and needed time to recover, time that Tokhtamysh had no intention of allowing them to have.

In 1382, Tokhtamysh launched his own secular crusade with the goals of punishing the Rus for their victory, crushing Prince Dimitry as a threat and re-establishing the tarnished reputation of the Golden Horde. As soon as his power as Khan was secure, Takhtamysh defeated Prince Dimitry's hastily gathered and largely outnumbered host in battle, devastated Rus lands, looted and burned Moscow. But this victory was also short-lived, for Tokhtamysh was defeated and the Golden Horde utterly destroyed as a political and military force forever by Tamerlane, also known as Timur the Lame six years later. The next seventy years would see the rise of the smaller Khanates from the shattered pieces of the Golden Horde.

With the consolidation of Moscow's power, a new Eastern Crusade was started under the banners of Grand Prince Ivan Vasilivich, called “Ivan the Great,” grandfather to another Ivan Vasilivich, called “Ivan the Terrible,” who was the leader of his own crusades, ending the Sibir (1582), Kazan (1550) and Astrakhan (1554) fragments of the old Golden Horde. Two hundred years later, Empress Catherine the Great conquered the last fragment of the Golden Horde in the Crimea, dismembering the Polish Commonwealth as well, and finally consolidating the last fluid borders in European Russia, until Napoleon's invasion 300 years later.


Book Reviews

  • Umberto Eco, Baudolino (New York: Harcourt, 2002).
  • Medieval historian and philosopher Umberto Eco weaves legends, fantasy and fact in this 500-page Shaggy Dog tale. Recounted in April 1204, during the Crusader's sack of Constantinople, it is the story of Baudolino, adventurer, peasant, servant of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarosa and, most importantly, self-proclaimed liar. While the first half of the story takes place in Paris and Italy, the narrative becomes increasingly fantastic as it describes a journey to find Prestor John, the Christian king who purportedly rules in East Asia.

    Eco uses many pieces of several medieval legends from the East, including the Alexander Romance and castle of the Assassins. He also gives us the origin of the Holy Grail Legend and the Shroud of Turin. He peoples the far lands with freaks of the medieval imagination, all Christian, who are bitterly divided not by their appearance, but by religious schisms. Baudolino can be riotously funny (at least to those who know their medieval history), such as the disturbing appearance of 3 mummified heads of St. John the Baptist in Byzantium, when people knew there were only two. On the other hand the book is very long and some sections are turgid and repetitive.

    I have the feeling that wherever the book touches fact, Eco begins with known events. Central to the story is the mystery surrounding the death of Emperor Frederick I during the Fourth Crusade. By the end of Baudolino we have “solved” the mystery, though that is very much not to the point. The author is playing with history, with story telling, with lies and rewriting. He is deep, humorous and difficult. I think this book will appeal to the sturdy reader, especially those of us digging into the stories of the Middle Ages.

    – Peotr Alexeivich Novgorodski

  • The Tree of Life, the Sun, the Goddess: Symbolic Motifs in Ukrainian Folk Art (New York: Ukrainian Museum, 2005)
  • This is an ambitious book documenting and explaining symbols in Ukrainian embroidery, textiles, clothing, ceramics, Easter eggs and even bread. The central thesis is that contemporary (that is 19th and 20th) artifacts have symbol systems that can be traced back to pre-Christian roots. Documentation includes archeological sources going back up to 8000 years.

    The very idea is rather mind boggling to me, but it seems well argued. For example, the authors claim that rhombus shape with a cross and dots, a motif in Ukrainian embroidery, represents the goddess and specifically a plowed field and seeds. At this point in my reading I actually said out loud, “how do they know that?” The very next paragraph explains that they have found female effigies with this rhombus on the belly and remnant of seeds where the dots were placed. It is extraordinary that pagan traditions have survive for centuries this way and in such beautiful forms.

    The book is lushly illustrated with numerous color photographs, most of women's costumes. It is in English and Ukrainian; the translations are good, though slightly stilted. I have the impression that the scholarship that underlies these short essays is much condensed. Reading The Tree of Life, the Sun, the Goddess gave me fresh ways to view the so-called decorative arts. Once one begins looking for these powerful and ancient

    motifs the decoration becomes meaning filled text. This book was issued in conjunction with an exhibition at the Ukrainian Museum on display through October 15th.

    The Ukrainian Museum itself is worthy of note. Located in New York City, on 222 East 6th Street (between 2nd and 3rd Avenues), it is open Wednesday through Sunday 11:30 am - 5:00 pm. It is a very handsome two story building in the Ukrainian section of Manhattan's East Village (there is a Ukrainian church, shop and several restaurants nearby). For more information on the Museum and it's exhibitions, contact them at (212) 228-0110, info@UkrainianMuseum.org, http://ukrainianmuseum.org/

    – Peotr Alexeivich Novgorodski


    Resources

    Site Archeologia.ru has recently expanded their list of books for download. Most of the additions are the proceedings of the Novgorod archeological expedition, and they cover topics ranging from jewelry, weapons, ceramics and water drainage installations to the history of agriculture in the region.

    http://www.archeologia.ru/Library/announce

    The downloads are not free, but they are not expensive either. I got a .pdf of Rybakov's Remeslo Drevney Rus [Crafts of Ancient Rus] there, and I'm very pleased. The catch: the site is in Russian and so are the books.

    – Zabava


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