Rostov the Great

In Rostov, one of the oldest Russian towns, a water-logged layer of habitation levels survived, which, as far as its information potential is concerned, can be compared with that of Novgorod. The field work, which the Institute has been carrying out here for 25 years, has made it possible to identify traces of the original settlement of the Merya tribe and thus confirm the information in the chronicles about that tribe as constituting the first population of Rostov. The expedition’s study of the main habitation levels has made it possible to trace, using archaeological materials, the subsequent history of the town starting in the 10th century.
Between 2006 and 2009 excavations were being conducted in the “Konyushennyi Dvor” (Stable Court) area. This building with an internal courtyard is situated in the historic centre of Rostov near the walls of the Rostov Kremlin. The cultural layer which had survived in this area was over 4 m thick and it enabled archaeologists for the first time to study deposits from a period of over 500 years, in which there were no gaps. Four periods were singled out in the history of the area under investigation. During the period of initial settlement in the second half of the 11th century, it was an area without any buildings used for various economic activities. The relatively late date for the lowest of the habitation levels was unexpected: through the excavations conducted previously, less than 200 m away from the area now being studied, it was established that the earliest levels dated from the end of the 10th century.
In about 1213 an urban property was established which was used for several decades. The excavations cleared the working area in which certain out-buildings had been enclosed by a wattle fence. Associated with these was an unusually large collection of metal jewellery, some of which had been deliberately distorted — probably in preparation for subsequent re-working. This provided grounds for the assumption that there had been a jeweller’s workshop nearby.
After 1250, a new property was established on the same site, as can be seen from the changed layout of the plot. The palisades surrounding it now followed different lines and log buildings were erected in new places and renewed over time. Everything then remained unchanged for over 200 years. The rich collection of finds from that period reflects all aspects of the life of the medieval inhabitants. Various artefacts were discovered made of iron, bronze and silver, fragments of clay and glass vessels, parts of shoes and garments made of leather, linen and woollen material, wooden utensils and household articles and also a pendant seal of Alexander Nevsky: how it had come to turn up in this “company” nobody was able to understand.
The property was abandoned at the end of the 15th or beginning of the 16th century. At the beginning of the 16th century there had been a workshop for manufacturing terracotta floor tiles, which was probably connected with the requirements of the Rostov archbishops, and later various out-buildings were erected on the site. At the beginning of the 17th century a sump was dug, from which led off wooden pipes wrapped round with birch bark. In view of the fact that a tradition had grown up over the 16th and 17th centuries for the economic exploitation of the plot under investigation and the fact that the latter was subsequently extended through the building work carried out within “Stable Court”, it can be assumed that from at least the beginning of the 16th century this land had been attached to the house of the Rostov prelate.
The 2006 excavations near the Church of St. Isidore the Blessed (of the Ascension) built in the 16th century made it possible not only to obtain numerous finds and make significant observations, linked with the history of the church and the adjacent cemetery, but also to establish that this part of the town’s territory was settled no later than the 13th century.
Another focus of the excavations, investigated in 2009, was the Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul, built in 1684 in the grounds of the Petrovskii Monastery, which was totally demolished in 1933. It proved possible to investigate remains of some of the brick walls and the foundations, which had been hidden underground, and also burials in the medieval cemetery. The earliest of these dated from the 13th century, which bears out the evidence provided in the “Life” of the monastery’s founder, a great-grandson of Genghis Khan and the canonized monk, Most Holy Peter of Ordyn, regarding the date for the stone-laying ceremony for the first wooden place of worship. Rare and significant finds were fragments of two white-stone sarcophagi from that period, which testify to the high status of the deceased buried there. Anthropological analysis has made it possible to identify Mongoloid features of one of the deceased. This too can be regarded as indirect confirmation of the fact that the “Life” of the Most Holy Peter of Ordyn was based on historical fact.

A.E. Leontiev, A.V. Kashkin and N.G. Samoilovich

Digital publication