Spring AS XLIV (2010)
Volume XV, Issue 3 (#57)


From the Nachalnik

This upcoming weekend, the Shire of Sylvan Glen (Shepherdstown WV) will be hosting the third Slavic University. Hopefully, many of you have considered attending and have made plans. If so, I look forward to seeing you there. If you cannot make it, I hope that you will be able to attend the next one. If you are still wavering, the event information appears below.

Ivan's Laureling. Last quarter, I reported on the elevation of Ivan Matfeevich Rezansky to the order of the Laurel. There is a wonderful story to tell about this elevation and, in particular, how a group of local SCA people came together to create new garb for him for the ceremony. Unfortunately, I'm not the one to tell the story as I wasn't there, but I can share this picture of the garb and the event.

Photos by Nikolaus der Auslander (Used by Permission)


Future Slavic Universities. We have seen three inter-kingdom universities organized by members of SIG for other members and the general populace. I strongly support these events and hope that you will do so as well. And I'd like to see more of them, particularly in areas where they have not occurred yet (the south and the west). I hope that each of you will consider the idea of hosting a future university in your area. Feel free to contact Marilyn, me, or any of the autocrats of the previous events with questions or requests for advice.


Slavic University

Come and enjoy a day of camaraderie, food, and classes about all things Slavic! We will be gathering for Slavic University III, which will be held in Æ thelmearc on April 10, 2010 from 10am to 8pm in Shepherdstown, WV, USA. The Shire of Sylvan Glen will be hosting this event on the Shepherd University Campus in the Frank Arts Building (301 North King St., Shepherdstown, WV 25443). This location is very accessible from Dulles and National airports in Washington DC, as well as the Baltimore airport. Site is discreetly damp.  

This inter-Kingdom event will feature experts in Slavic, Russian, Polish and related subjects from all over the Knowne World! Please plan to bring your books to share and items for the A&S Display. The cost for adults will be $5, children $3, under 6 free (plus the non-member surcharge of $3 as always). The fee includes food for the day, although if you have a Slavic/Rus specialty dish we encourage you to bring it and share! No pre-reg is necessary, but if you are coming please drop me an email if you can for food count purposes. It would be very helpful.

Classes: The current list of classes includes: Russian names, Cherson, cloth shoes, Lithuania, beginning period Russian, Gerdany (beading), Russian icons, Hussar armor, Kievan history, how to make a Zupan , and Russian clothing.

Food: A variety of hearty and period food will be available at the event. For lunch, the offering will include mushroom tarts, garlic potato soup, barley and vegetable soup, breads, cheese, herbal and regular teas, and coffee. A dinner feast at 6pm will include cheese and potato pierogies (served with onion butter and sour cream), sauerkraut, kielbasa, ham, roasted venison, dill pickles, pickled beets, cucumber and onion vinegrette, whole wheat and rye breads with butter, almond cookies, apple raisin cake, herbal and regular teas, coffee, and apple cider.

For more information, check out our website ( http://www.zadruga-kotok.org/SlavicU2010.html ) or contact the autocrat, Lady Marija Kotok (304-229-1854), mamalynx@gmail.com .


Why Did Moscow Succeed?

By Mordok Timofeivich Rostovskogo

Why did Moscow succeed when literally every city-principality (Sudzal, Vladimir, Tver, Riazan, etc.) ringing it eventually succumbed to its power? All were at one time wealthy, powerful centers of trade and culture in Northern Rus, each the proud inheritor of the culture and population of ancient Kiev far to the south. Yet, between the time of the destruction by the Mongols and the late fifteenth century, each fell to the influence and power of the Grand Princes of Moscow, of the Principality of Moscovy. How did this happen?

Moscow started life as a hunting loge in the mid-12 th century, little more than a place for the brother and cousins of the Grand Prince to party in periodically. Nearly 100 years later, it was still a wooden stockade, with more buildings but saddled with soil that was still little more than sandy dirt. With few mineral resources, very little trade for revenue and protected by only a decrepit wooden stockade barely able to resist the occasional brigand, it was little more than a backwater village. When the Mongols came they burnt it to the ground, almost as an after thought, for it had nothing to loot and few inhabitants to enslave.

A grim beginning, but Moscow did have a few things to recommend it. It was located in the northern forests far from the utter destruction of Kiev, so the survivors of those massacres streamed into it, as they did every northern Rus city, town and village, even creating new versions in the forests. Another key advantage was a complete lack of the earlier Kievian traditions, laws or noble family entanglements through marriage, feud or tradition. That may sound strange at first to be listed as a strength, but these same factors made it impossible for the old Kievian principalities to band together against the Mongol invasions. Nearly every one of them burned as a result of refusing to acknowledge the Khan as overlord.

Moscow lacked the trade networks that its neighbors had developed long before, which they increasingly used to fund the internecine feuds that had followed the refugees to the northern Rus cities. It did have river networks though, and where there are rivers, there is trade and fords, places that could be garrisoned and where taxes could be levied on merchants passing through. This paucity of wealth formed the early character of the Muscovy princes to be frugal, to be neutral in the fights of its neighbors, to profit by supplying each side with the materials of war, and to fortify against their stronger neighbors with a system of blockhouses at river fords.

Since the culture of Kiev had already been destroyed as the Muscovy princes built strength slowly, they adopted the court culture and trappings of their overlords in the Golden Horde, down the Volga River in Serai. Less than twenty years after the Mongol invasion tore through Rus, Daniel, the son of Prince Alexander Nevsky, had been given control of Moscow. He had big shoes to fill but he had been groomed by his politically realist father. Alexander had had the vision to submit the principality of Novgorod to the Mongols at quite good terms, and then defeated the invading Teutonic Order and the Swedes in successive order with the help of troops from his overlords and native Rus armies. Like his father, Daniel studiously avoided giving offense to his neighboring princes, even as he hoarded their silver coins from tolls.

In fact, wherever possible, Daniel encouraged his neighbors to feud with each other as a method of draining their wealth, trade and military strength. This was truly a ruthless (but practical) first defense against his larger and better-equipped neighbors. Daniel's true genius was to focus on managing his lands instead of concentrating on warring with his neighbors. Their slipshod management of their lands combined with the expense of war kept them cash poor. Daniel bought bits of land from all of them, strengthening his lands and tax base.

It worked so well and for so long that when his nephew Yuri inherited his title as Prince ( kniaz ), those lands were larger, the hoarded coin more plentiful, and the trade more lucrative. Yuri set his sights on bigger prizes though, more importantly, he had the coin to pursue them. Daniel's Golden Horde overlords required their tributary Rus princes to travel yearly to their capital at Serai on the lower reaches of the Volga River, the gateway to the steppes of Central Asia. The Rus Princes came to reaffirm their fealty, to politic in the Khan's powerful court, and to settle feuds that had exhausted them militarily and financially. Often, a Grand Prince of the Rus would be re-affirmed but if found wanting or too powerful by his overlords, other princes would compete for the vacant post in the Khan's court by bribing his officials to curry favor. Most would only seek to cripple a rival, secure new privileges, or reduce a tax paid, often arranging an advantageous marriage with relatives of the Khan or members of his court for themselves or their families.

Yuri spread his hoarded coin astutely and generously about the court at Serai, building support and favor, year after year. He did this so effectively that early in his reign as the Muscovy prince he returned from Serai with the title of Grand Prince (or Veliki Kniaz ), with a Tatar princess of the Golden Horde as a bride. And then he waited. His neighbors were not long in attacking him. So messengers rode south and Golden Horde horsemen rode north, soon crushing his neighbors in turn, followed closely by their Persian and Moslem tax collectors who then levied ruinous taxes on those defeated neighbors. Unable to pay, those rival princes were soon forced to sell bits of their lands to Yuri for the silver coins to pay the taxes, a percentage of which went to Yuri as Grand Prince.

And so Muscovy, formerly an uncultured backwater and an inoffensive neighbor, gained power fully in the cultural and financial sphere of their Asiatic overlords in Serai. Free from the chaotic freedom of Novgorod's democratic, headstrong merchant's veche council or the increasingly myopic reverence for the old Kievian culture that crippled Yuri's princely neighbors, Muscovy and its princes would develop their own unique traditions and culture under the tutelage of Serai and the Golden Horde.

Yuri's son, Ivan, called Kalita (or “Purse”), would be even more ruthless in his devotion to the collection of tribute for Serai, growing even wealthier as a result, eventually becoming the embodiment of all the attributes he learned from his relatives in Serai. His court was indistinguishable in ceremony from that of Serai, never more so when he entertained his overlords in Moscow. He was a notorious tightwad at home and a shameless sycophant on his frequent visits to Serai. He consistently outbribed his princely Rus competitors every year, never hesitant to utilize any tax or troops he could beg to cripple a rival prince, buying ever more land with his hoarded coin and increasing the tribute to his overlords yearly in the process, as well as his own wealth. He continued his father's policy of refusing to take sides in his princely neighbors' squabbles, preferring to buy back Rus captives sold to his overlords in Serai by his fellow princes. Ivan Kalita incorporated their skills or family connections with that of his own principality, further weakening his neighbors, but also indebting his rivals own noble families to his lands for their rescue and through their new spouses families.

Ivan Kalita grew to be so efficient at squeezing out tribute from the Rus lands that he even .pushed out the Khan's own Persian and Armenian tribute collectors. They simply lacked the infrastructure, knowledge and organization that Ivan had inherited and continued to build in the Rus principalities. Ivan became so entrenched in the Golden Horde Khan's yearly revenue that he managed to have himself and his heirs confirmed as Grand Prince of Rus by hereditary right. With his access to a percent of the river of revenue secured and the Tatar troops augmenting his own growing armies to enforce his power and ruthless collections, Ivan was able to ignore traditional Slavic laws and traditions, bygone glories or hereditary political entanglements to write his own laws, on his terms. Though Rus had lived under and chafed with the overlordship of the Golden Horde for nearly 100 years by the end of Ivan Kalita's reign in the mid-1300s, they feared his reprisals for rebellion more than Ivan's grasping and consolidation of power.

In the name of the Khan, Ivan held monopolies in Rus on liquor, weapons, salt, and trade in luxury items, extracting a tax for every license, every unit sold, limiting access to some while increasing supply to others. To manage these businesses, Ivan imitated the department or prikazi of his overlords, based on the Persian model by the Khan's bureaucrats at Serai. As they had done in both Persia and the Golden Horde, these prikazi officials monitored census taking for efficient taxes and tribute, and took control over the transport posts and roads. They drafted new regulations that replaced the chaotic codices of the Russkaya Pravda, which dated back to Kievian times.


Book Reviews

•  Neil Gaiman. Odd and the Frost Giants , w ith illustrations by Brett Helquist. New York: Harper Collins, 2009.

Neil Gaiman is wonderful writer who understand the rules that underpin folk tales. This story, suitable for children and adults, works within the canon of Norse mythology. A crippled boy named Odd ( tip of the blade in Norse ) meets a fox, an eagle and a bear in the forest. They turn out to be the displaced gods, Odin, Thor and Loki, thrown out of Asgard by a Frost Giant. Odd becomes the hero who helps them regain their home and breaks the spell of winter on the land. The young fellow succeeds through his qualities-- good manners, hospitality, stubbornness, courage and cleverness.

The narrative stays in its time and place and avoids anachronisms. It would be suitable to tell around a fire at Pennsic. At the same time, it has a certain Neil Gaiman quality of humor. When Odd first encounters the animals in the forest they seem to be just wild animals:

Odd sighed, “Which one of you wants to explain what's going on?”

“Nothing's going on,” said the fox brightly. “Just a few talking animals. Nothing to worry about. Happens every day. We'll be out of your hair first thing in the morning.”

This is a beautiful little book. The illustrations add just the right note to bring the whole package together, evoking an earlier era of beautiful children's stories.

-Peotr Alexeivich


•  Cherry Gilchrist. Russian Magic, Living Folk Traditions of an Enchanted Landscape . Wheaton IL: Quest Books, Theosophical Publishing House, 2009.

What happens when a dealer in Russian lacquer boxes undertakes a treatment on Russian mythology? This book surprised me with an extended and careful discussion of mythology and folk belief. The author's research and feeling for the subject is deep. The book is well constructed and stimulating, with chapters on the magical world, heroes, house spirits, secrets of life and death, the enchanted landscape and seasonal calendar. Many of her descriptions are peppered with vivid firsthand accounts of the author's experience during her sixty trips to the Soviet Union.

Predictably, however, the book is uneven, the scholarship eccentric. Ms. Gilchrist repeatedly conflates Slavic practices with Siberian Shamanism, even as she admits that this is speculative. In places she discusses well-known aspects of ancient history with the surprise of a newcomer. In other places she lapses into first-person storytelling that I found of less value and interest than the more scholarly sections. For all that, the book appears to have a decent amount of intellectual rigor and to have been fact checked. I particularly enjoyed a section on the nesting matrioshka dolls, where Ms. Gilchrist describes their significance in the Russian cosmology and psyche. She follows this up by pointing out that they were likely introduced to Russia from Japan in the 19 th century!

Russian Magic is a curious volume, but useful, I think, as a companion to other readings about mythology and folk belief. Not surprisingly it is also illustrated with color plates from Russian lacquer boxes.

-Peotr Alexeivich


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