Rostislavl Ryazanskii is one of the few Russian medieval towns which has its foundation date recorded in a chronicle. Under the date 6661 AM (1153 AD) it is stated in the Nikon Chronicle: “Prince Rostislav Yaroslavich Ryazanskii created in his name his town of Rostislavl on the River Oka”. This individual is known to us as a not very successful but tenacious opponent of the mighty prince Yuri Dolgoruky of Vladimir and Suzdal, who founded Moscow. Today Rostislavl is a fortified settlement grown over by woods but with extremely well-preserved ramparts in a picturesque location on the south bank of the Oka next to the town of Ozyory, a district centre in the environs of Moscow, 150 km south of the capital. From the archaeological point of view it is a typical “small town” of medieval Rus covering an area of almost 7.5 ha, together with its suburban settlements.
This site has been the subject of archaeological study since 1991 and in 1994 scheduled excavations began over a wide area which now measures 3,000 m2, using modern scientific methods. It has proved possible to establish that, within the territory of the future town, as far back as the end of the Palaeolithic period (10–13,000 years ago) there had been one or more camps with typical finds of the Lingby-Arensburg type studied by A.Y. Trusov. In the Bronze Age (II millennium BC) the area of the fortified settlement was sometimes inhabited, as can be seen from the finds of drilled stone battle-axes and pottery of the Primokshanskaya Culture. Yet it was only during the Early Iron Age that a more permanent, fortified settlement appeared. The fortified settlement was protected by a rampart. No less than 10 consecutive levels could be made out in this enormous structure 6 m high, relating to the period from the 5th to the 1st century BC in the course of which it was built up.
At this site it was the first time in Russia that a complete section had been cut through such a large structure. Within the area of this fortified settlement of the Dyakovo Culture, which only measured 50×30 m, a number of dwellings were studied — so-called “long houses” with hearths inside them and a cultural layer more than half a metre thick. Life in this fortified settlement continued for longer still, until the 5th century AD, when it was destroyed by fire.
The first Slavonic settlement, not yet fortified, appeared here in the 10th century but it did not exist for more than half a century. It was only in the middle of the 12th century, exactly as stated in the chronicle, that a town was built on this site protected by an earthen rampart, the ruins of which today are up to four metres high. This wall was rebuilt three times and the urban properties underwent even more frequent re-building. During the excavation period more than 500 features let into the natural soil were examined and the remains of more than 100 houses and out-buildings, also a potter’s kiln, a jewellery workshop and properties belonging to a priest, aristocrats and ordinary townspeople. In the centre of the town there was a wooden church surrounded by a cemetery of the 12th–17th centuries (of which a substantial part has already been investigated, including more than 150 burials).
Using the materials from Rostislavl, a classification for the pottery of the Ryazan Lands has been elaborated along with a new system of statistics for the analysis of pottery material.
Research at the Rostislavl site has made it possible to form a picture of the material culture, the layout and development of a “small town” in medieval Rus, the centre of a small appanage principality. It existed until the beginning of the 17th century, but the town was wiped off the face of the earth by the cataclysmic events of the “Time of Troubles” (1605–1613).