Archaeological Investigations within “Monomakh’s Town” in Vladimir

In 2006–2007 the Institute undertook the largest archaeological excavations ever conducted in the oldest part of Vladimir, known as “Monomakh’s Town” (or “Pechernyi Town”). The area of these excavations near the Troitskii Rampart, which had been erected at the beginning of the 12th century, totalled 2,500 m2. The cultural layer within this territory consisted in the main of deposits from the 16th–19th centuries. The medieval level had survived in small sectors in pits sunk into the natural soil. It did not prove possible to identify levels pertaining to the 14th and 15th centuries: only a few isolated pits could be dated to that period.
The remains of six properties and the traces of palisades marking off one property from another and a street cutting across the north-western part of “Monomakh’s Town” running NNE-SSW are all dated to the pre-Mongol period. This street came out into the modern-day Cathedral Square, where the Merchants’ Gate had stood and Merchants’ Square had most probably been situated. It is likely that in pre-Mongol Vladimir there had been a network of streets laid out at right angles to each other, linked with the gates and the central street, which crossed the city from the Golden to the Silver Gate.
The north-west part of “Monomakh’s Town” near the Detinets (fortified area) was a rich district of ancient Vladimir. This assumption is borne out by the sizes of the excavated houses in the properties with cellars measuring between 16 and 48 m2 and by the nature of the artefacts discovered. This applies first and foremost to articles imported from afar: glass vessels produced in Syria and Byzantium, glazed pottery, fragments of bronze and stone cauldrons, the handle of a Central-Asian jug, etc. Fragments of amphorae from Trebizond and Trillia were particularly numerous. Artefacts reflecting high status included an iron stylus, book clasps, a gold-plated ring, rock-crystal and cornelian beads and certain items of jewellery.
All remains of dwellings bore traces of a great fire, the most likely date of which, based on documentary evidence, would have been 1238. In the cellar of one a hoard of un-worked amber weighing over 200 kg was discovered. The fact that it had been abandoned immediately after the building housing it had been destroyed testified to the scale of the catastrophe, which took place and led to the simultaneous destruction of the whole of that particular part of the city.
The pile of un-worked amber 24 cm thick and covering an area of 6 m2 was found on the floor of a burnt cellar measuring 48 m2. The remains of three pinewood boxes had probably been laid out on wooden shelves or on the floor along one of the walls of the building. Closer examination revealed that all the amber had been exposed to temperatures no lower than 130º C, at which level changes begin to take place in its structure effecting its transparency and colour: some of the amber had completely melted or burnt, forming solid lumps of resin in places. Judging from the context of the finds, the amber stored in the house was due to have been sold: un-worked pieces found in buildings in neighbouring properties show that some of it had already been sold before the fire.
The demand for amber on the domestic market of the medieval Russian state, including Vladimir itself, was high at that time. It was used to make drying oil and paints, for medicines and jewellery and it was burnt for its fragrance. To judge from this find, Vladimir on the River Klyazma was one of the main staging-posts in the international amber trade along with medieval towns in Poland and Volga Bulgaria. The hoard of amber from Vladimir is the largest to have been discovered, not just in Russia but in the whole of medieval Europe. This find may give us little idea of how the trade in amber was developing in the pre-Mongol period, but for the first time sheds light on the volume of the industry.

O.V. Zelentsova and I.N. Kuzina

Digital publication