Veliky Novgorod (XIII century)

новгород

This image engraving represents a map of old Novgorod around XIII century. Unfortunately, before XVII we haven’t got any dealings about cartographers. Presumably, it was a king’s cartographer, because this map show us a lot of important parts of the city and it made really good (at that time in Russia more than 50 % of population were uneducated). Original map belongs to the collection of the National historical Russian museum in Moscow. It’s a map of the capital of Russia, which describes the cultural, economic, political and social structure of ancient Russia during the XII and XIV centuries.

This image portrays the city-Novgorod, which is located on the 2 sides of Volhov river. The river divided the city for 2 sides: The Trade side and the Sophia side. The Trade sidehad a market square and trading yards and rows; The main place here was the court of Yaroslav (the prince of these lands). This place represented a vast area, near which several churches were built. Here was a tower, in which the veche[1] was usually gathered; Next to it were the Gothic trading yard, German and others. The trading side consisted of two parts, or two «limits» of the city.

The main part of the city was Kremlin on the Sophia side. It was quite a long place, surrounded by walls with towers and gates. The prince lived with his retinue and the Novgorod ruler (archbishop) in the Kremlin. Here was the main Novgorod church – the St. Sophia Cathedral. Around the Kremlin there were settlements, which was formed from separate villages and was divided into three parts, or the «limits». There were two more walls with towers and gates. These stone walls were built in the 12th or even 13th century, and earlier in Novgorod, as in other ancient cities, fortifications consisted of earthen ramparts and fences.

Each «limit» of Novgorod had its own veche and was divided into two hundreds. Hundreds were divided into streets. Accordingly, they were headed by the elders. During the war, each street, one hundred and the end constituted its military unit, which was part of the general army. The trade and the Sophia side were connected by a bridge.

Novgorod was politically independent and isolated. He turned into an independent state, in which the supreme power belonged to the Veche. The Veche elects princes and expels them; Veche establishes new laws, approves treaties with foreigners, solves questions about war and peace. Veche judges the most important persons and important matters with the Word, the Novgorod veche directs the whole political life of Novgorod and its lands. The place of the assembly was visited by the “Yaroslav’s court” (the square at the auction on the Trade side) or the area in the Kremlin near St. Sophia.

The population of Novgorod and its lands was divided according to their property into two groups: people of the best and smaller. The first group belonged to Novgorod boyars and merchants. It was a rich Novgorod elite, owning land in different places.

It is worth noting that the entire Novgorod country was infertile. It was covered with mosses and swamps, it could not feed the population with a scarce stock of its bread and forced the Novgorodians to engage in fishing, hunting and other crafts. In exchange for bread, they sold to the east those goods that they got from their western neighbors on the Baltic coast; it was fabrics, metal things, wine, fruit. So the lack of bread created for Novgorodians the need for trade exchange and led to the development of Novgorod trade, which became the main occupation of Novgorod.

Until the end of the XV century Novgorod remained a political, commercial and religious center of the territory subordinate to it. This is the first experience of a democratic system, which can be called successful, despite all the complexities and shortcomings of the social life of Novgorodians. Novgorod icon painters, artisans, builders left us so many material monuments of the era that Novgorod rightfully received the nickname of “Russian Florence” and was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Kseniia Melnikova


[1] Veche- In Ancient Russia: a meeting of city residents to solve public issues. Also the venue.

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