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Exhibitions > Old Ladoga > Exposition

The Museum thanks V.I.Kildushevsky, head consultant of the exhibition,
as well as Dr. A.N. Kirpichnikov, head of excavations in Old Ladoga
for cooperation and materials..

Founders of Ladoga

In the late 7th and early 8th centuries the Slavs were forced by pressure from Byzantium and raids by nomadic tribes to migrate to the North, to the lands occupied by Finnish-speaking tribes. This area also attracted the Scandinavians who made long journeys in their ships to take over the trading routes from the Volga to the Baltic and to the Dnepr.

The settlement of LADOGA (ALDEGJYA in Scandinavian sources) arose at the pivotal spot on this route, on the lower Volkhov River. At the crossing of sea and river routes, this was a site where different ethnic groups and cultures met.

During the early Middle Ages Ladoga was home to Slavs, Balts, Finns and Scandinavians. This is evidenced by the jewelry and utensils typical of these peoples found here. It was here that East and West met, giving birth to magnificent spiritual and material achievements.

Trade and Merchant Life

Trade was the main reason for the development of Ladoga. Fur, the main object of trade with the West and East, came to Ladoga from the north. Weapons, swords, pikes, arrows, jewelry, chalices, cloth from Byzantium and amber from the Baltic came to Ladoga from Europe and continued on to Russian and eastern markets. Slaves captured during incursions onto foreign territory were also brought here, according to written sources. Beads of quartz and carnelian, shells, decorative belts, expensive glass and silver wares, silks, spices and luxury items came from the East through Ladoga on their way to the countries of Europe. But the main eastern good was the Arabic silver coin known as the dirham. Dirhams were used to purchase goods from the trade route. Through Ladoga they reached Northern and Western Europe and were the main source of silver in those regions.

Researchers have determined that some 125 million silver coins were exported from Central Asia to Europe during the 10th century, meaning 3.5 tons of silver annually. Many of them were hidden in hoards that have been unearthed throughout Europe.

In Ladoga and its environs seven hoards and 34 individual coins have been found. This includes the earliest known dirhams in Europe, coins produced between the late 7th and early 8th centuries. Some of the finds contain dirhams with engraved Scandinavian and Turkish runes and ornament. Scales and weights were used to weigh the coins, and these items were a necessary tool of the tradesman. In 2003 three weights were found during archeological digs (one bronze, one silver and one leaden).

The slave trade was most lucrative. If a female slave cost 70 or 80 dirhams in the north, on eastern markets between 2,000 and 15,000 dirhams could be had for the same slave. At the same time an average sword cost between 40 and 60 dirhams and a horse between 80 and 100 dirhams.

During those dangerous times merchants organized themselves into caravans accompanied by warriors and servants. Often they were forced to winter in Ladoga. Special “large houses” were built to accommodate them. These houses could be as large as 160 square meters. As a rule, they consisted of a large room with a hearth in the center. Benches stood against the walls for sitting and sleeping.

Such structures give evidence of the difference between the Scandinavian frame- and Russian log-building styles. Often during construction of such houses parts of boats were used, usually planks. A recreation of such a house studied by Ravdonikas and Ryabinin can be seen on display here. The central room of the log structure is built around a hearth and surrounded by a gallery that is made of beams and a large entrance. This recreation was made by the archeologist Spegalsky.

During the long winters merchants prepared their ships for the long and dangerous journey along river and sea routes to Bulgaria, Constantinople and the cities of the Arabic caliphates. Here they engaged in crafts, made items they would need during the journey, played chess and dice. Game pieces made of different materials are often found during digs in Staraya Ladoga.

Such houses were seen by the Arab traveler Ibn Fadlhan on the Volga in 922. The Russian merchants “dock their ships on the Itil (Volga) River … and build large wooden homes on the shores. And between ten or twenty of them will live in such a dwelling, sometimes more, sometimes less. Each of them has a long bench on which he sits with his wares, beautiful girls for sale.”

Crafts and Daily Life of Ladoga ( Live and Crafts in Ladoga)

Local and foreign trade and exchanges with the nearby Finnish-speaking population made up the economy of Ladoga. This stimulated the development of the bone-carving, timber, blacksmith, bronze-founding and glass-making crafts.

The traces of a jewelry smithy were found in earth dating to the mid-8th century. This smithy contained a set of 28 tools that belonged to a craftsman. Judging by the wide application of the tools and scraps found from production at the site, the craftsman was engaged in smithing jewelry and also repairing ships.

Traces of other workshops have been found in the cultural layers of Ladoga. These include bronze-founding, glass-making, leather-tanning and bone-carving workshops. Almost all of the sites contain melting pots, lyachki, tools, fragments of amber, semi-finished articles and scraps.

The itinerant craftsmen would go from town to town, from country to country, passing their skills on to local inhabitants. This helped to spread the latest technologies throughout the Baltic region.

In addition to items for sale, household utensils were also made in Ladoga. Many homes contained “pryaslitsy” – weights for a weaving shuttle – and clay disc weights for a vertical weaver’s frame. Clothes of linen and wool thread were woven on such frames. People sewed clothing and sails for ships with the help of metal or bone needles. Spring-action scissors were used to cut the cloth.

Others cobbled shoes from leather, wove boxes and baskets from birch bark. Vessels for food and water, furniture and articles for the home were made of wood.

The inhabitants of Ladoga lived in small homes of between 16 and 24 square meters with stone hearths in one corner of their dwellings. Remains of such homes have been found often during archeological digs at the Earthen Settlement. Often they create entire complexes of houses and auxiliary structures united under one roof.

The articles found during archeological digs allow us to understand how people lived during the 9th and 10th centuries. These include ornaments of glass, bronze and silver, personal hygiene tools such as combs, kopoushki, tweezers, scissors and pins for clothing. Must of the articles were decorated with intertwining lines, scoring or depictions of fantastic beasts.

Along with the large number of items made of bone and antler, items made of wood (such as buckets, ladles, spoons and furniture fragments) have been found, as well as birch bark baskets and boxes. Cookware was made of clay. Until the mid-10th century pots and bowls were made by hand, and pottery made on a potter’s wheel appeared only in the latter 10th century.

Also on display in this case are lock keys, a bucket handle, a knife and a stone for sharpening knives.

Paganism and Christianity

Ladoga was a multi-ethnic settlement from the very start. Here lived Slavs, Finns and people who traced their origins to the Scandinavian lands. There were even settlers from the Arabic world. Evidence of this can be found in the ring with an Arabic inscription found during digs at the Earthen Settlement in 2002. The ring bears the first part of the lines from the Koran “Only Allah will help me and it is he in whom I trust and to whom I appeal.”

Common trade interests and the necessity of defending the settlement from outside enemies fostered tolerance to different faiths. All were pagans and prayed to their own gods, and buried their dead according to their own customs. It is possible that there were several pagan sanctuaries in the environs of Ladoga. This can be seen in the place names and remains of ancient burial sites in Ladoga such as the mounds, the area named after the Slavic god Veles, and the Norman burial mound in the Plakun area. Gradually these beliefs converged, which can be seen in the burial methods used.

During digs near Varangian Street in ground dating to the 10th century, the archeologist Petrenko found a large structure covering an area of 120 square meters. It consisted of two rows of vertical logs or blocks driven into the ground. This structure was different from others in the type of construction used and the size, which is not typical of traditional log homes.

Inside the archeologists found hollowed and smooth vessels such as cups and ladles, anthropomorphic and zoomorphic wooden carved sculptures, a bronze pendant bearing a runic incantation, a metal chain with “Thor’s hammers” and animal skulls. Petrenko believes this was a pagan sanctuary. A similar structure was found in the West Slavic settlement of Gross Raden in Germany. Evald Schulm interpreted it as a pagan sanctuary dating to the 9th and 10th centuries. The Ladoga structure was intentionally destroyed sometime between 968 and 991.

Medieval Russia adopted Christianity as the state religion in 988. Pagan sanctuaries were destroyed in many towns, such as Kiev, Novgorod and Pskov, and pagan idols were thrown into the rivers. The Staraya Ladoga structure could have been destroyed at this time. But Christianity began to penetrate the Ladoga population much earlier. The digs near Varangian Street revealed a bronze encolpion cross dating to the 9th or 10th century. This is the oldest such cross found in Eastern Europe to date. Similar crosses appeared in Syria in the 7th century and were popular in the Balkan peninsula in the 7th and 8th centuries.

This cross is also rare because it contained relics. Analysis of the contents revealed remains of bone and hair. Considering signs of repair and wear, this cross was in use for some time. It could have been lost by a merchant who had been to Constantinople or the Balkans, or one of Oleg’s warriors who had converted to Christianity in Constantinople.

Many encolpion crosses have been found in Ladoga but they all belong to later periods, to the end of the 11th century and through the 13th century. Most of them were brought from the south but some were most likely made locally and based on the foreign examples. One such cross is an encolpion cross crafted of pewter. In addition to encolpion crosses, Christians wore icons made of metal, bone or stone… Many such icons have been found in Ladoga. One icon (which was found by chance near the Church of the Dormition) bears an image that is very rare for Russian jewelry: Christ’s entry into Jerusalem. The scene has been carved by an experienced craftsman and can be dated to the 13th or 14th century.

During the 12th century six stone churches were erected in Ladoga during a brief time. No other Russian town saw such active church construction during this period. Their appearance is connected with the activities of Nifont, Archbishop of Novgorod, who laid the cornerstone for the Church of St. Climent in 1153. Only two of these churches have survived, the Church of St. George in the fortress and the Church of the Dormition in the Monastery of the Dormition. The appearance of such a large number of churches is evidence to the great significance the Novgorod princes assigned to Ladoga in the 12th century.

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