Birchbark: the memory of centuries


We learned of the birch bark only half a century ago. Thanks to these works of Russian literature, we have the opportunity to learn a way of life and way of thinking of the Russian people, who lived thousands of years before us.

Birchbark documents — documents and private letters XI — XV centuries, where the text was applied to the birch bark. The first such artifacts discovered local historians in Novgorod in 1951 during an archaeological expedition led by Alexander Artsikhovsky (1902-1978, historian, member of the USSR Academy of Sciences).

By 1970, 464 found in Novgorod birchbark documents. The text on them all the primitive method — scratch out sharpened bone or metal pin (pisalom). Bark pretreated with the text to come out clear.

Birchbark archaeologists found in the layers of the soil, where the preserved plant remains and ancient debris. The main part of literacy is a private letter, which addressed domestic and economic issues, described the everyday conflicts, passed the order. Also found letters half joking and half serious and content.

Artsikhovsky pointed to letters of protest against the gentlemen farmers complaining of their lot, with lists of lordly duties. On birch bark and cash deposited documents, some archives, historical records, wills, love letters, and other urgent information.

Artsikhovsky found on birch bark, which is addressed to famous people of Novgorod mayor, as well as their private correspondence with relatives. These documents revealed to our contemporaries the fact that in ancient Rus' literacy is at a higher level than we had previously thought. She studied not only the nobles and clergy, and the lower strata of society. Authors of some birch bark letters were simple women.

In museums and archives are numerous later documents written on birch bark in the XVII — XIX centuries, found the whole book. Russian writer and ethnographer S. Maximov pointed out that he personally saw in the middle of XIX century birch book Old Believers in Mezen (Arkhangelsk region). In 1930, farmers on the Volga River near Saratov, digging a hole, found the Golden Horde birchbark letter XIV century.

Joseph of Volokolamsk (1440-1515, founder and abbot of St. Joseph of Volokolamsk monastery), said that he personally saw in the monastery of St. Sergius' most books are not on the Charter Pisakhov but beresteh. "

In July 1951, found at the dig Nerevskom Birchbark number 1. It contained a list of some of the working duties (manure and the gift) in favor of a Thomas. The find has shown us that in writing letters almost never used ink. It was just a text scrawled on the crust, but a good read. In honor of this finding in Novgorod annual holiday of July 26 — "Day Birchbark." Same excavation brought another 9 documents on birch bark, we only published in 1953 (opening of birch bark letters did not receive wide coverage).


One of the latest sensations was the discovery in August 2007, the first Birchbark in Nizhny Novgorod and Moscow. Being found in the garden of the Moscow Kremlin Taynitskom ink diploma with an inventory of the property was the first full-Moscow Birch bark document (formerly known charter number 1 and number 2 found mention are small fragments), and the largest previously known birch bark letters.

Birch bark as a material for writing, has spread in in XI century and lost its role to the XV century, since then is prevalent in Russia affordable paper. A birch bark was used as a helper, but secondary material for writing, training records, for brief reports storage. It was used mostly by commoners as material for private correspondence and personal records, and public letters and official documents were recorded on parchment.

Birch gradually withdrew from public life and private documentation. One surviving birch bark letters (stamped number 831), which is a rough draft of an official complaint, the scientists found instructed to rewrite the text on the parchment and only then send the address. Only a few letters were stored for long: two birch leaf great size with a record of literary works (diploma from Torzhok № 17 and № 893 charter), both found in the ground in the unfolded state, as well as two small birch book format: there are written prayers (Novgorod charter number 419) and the text of the plot of a fever (№ 930).

Birch bark were found in the trash, they hit the ground when they are gone practical need. This means that no archaeological finds linked to the ancient state and private archives. Entire birch bark on when the scroll is a rolled bark with scrawled text on the inside of the crust (sometimes on both sides.) A smaller part of entire documents is in the soil in the unfolded state. Text placed on birch bark in a row, most letters (like medieval Slavic manuscripts) without separating the words.

A significant proportion of finds are pieces of birch bark letters, damaged after hitting the ground, but more often destroyed (torn or cut) pre prior to disposal. This practice is referred to in the "questioning" Kirika — Novgorodian XII century where the questioner, whether of sin to charters to "go down." Goal of destroying letters simple: privacy. In the role of "outsider" now are modern scholars. Despite the fact that the interpretation of the fragmented letters wealth of experience and the overall nature of the instrument can detect in most cases, the presence of dangling letters and gaps often complicates the interpretation of the individual fragments (as with language, and with the content-historical side).

What to write about our ancestors

Most birch-bark manuscripts are private letters, bearing the business nature. This includes debt lists, master records, orders and collective petitions peasants. Drafts of official acts found on birch: wills, receipts, bills of sale, court records, etc.

Relatively rare, but of particular interest are the following types of birch bark letters: religious texts (prayers, lists of reminiscences, orders for icons, teaching), literary and cultural works (plots, jokes, riddles, instruction in household), records of educational nature (ABC, warehouses, school exercises). Have found great fame in 1956, training records and drawings Novgorod boy.

Important historical sources called Birchbark Artsikhovsky. Large monographs on the subject held by Russian academician LV Tcherepnin and VL Janina.

Birchbark considered material and written sources. Their places of discovery are as important to the story than their content. Instead of faceless "venerable manor Novgorodian" we learn about the estate of the artist-priest Oliseya Petrovich nicknamed Greczyn and trace roof over the court room of the prince and mayor. The same name in the charters found on neighboring estates, mentioning princes and other public men, the amounts of geographical names. They tell about the history of the buildings, their owners, their social status, relationships with other cities.

Thanks Birchbark studied genealogy Novgorod boyar families. Found the political role of the citizens, not available from Chronicle (Peter-Petroc Mihalkovich, a prominent figure from the boyars XII century). Documents on birchbark talk about land management in Novgorod, their economic relations with Pskov to Moscow, Polotsk, Suzdal, Kiev, even Obdorsk ground (Siberia). Peasants petitions, bills of sale and wills XIV — XV centuries testify to the establishment there of serfdom, the development of the judicial bureaucracy. We learn about the military conflicts and foreign policy of Russia, on the collection of tribute from conquered lands, opens up a host of domestic details that we would never know. A number of primary data is available on the history of the church, on the bark of certain features of antiquity fixed liturgy, there is information about the relationship of members of the clergy with the inhabitants of the neighboring farmsteads, and the mention of Boris and Gleb in the list of saints in the XI century, literacy is almost equal to the time of canonization.

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