Literacy in Post-Kievan Rus’

The readings, focused on culture during the fourteenth and fifteenth century, shed light on literacy rates and leisure. Birchbark charters show evidence of literacy among children, while artifacts (instruments, masks and manuscript initials) are indicative of traveling minstrels. Despite the information provided, however, the author and compiler speaks of many things we don’t know or have evidence of (possibly due to the Mongol occupation). Art and architecture are almost absent, prior to what Sakharov notes as a ‘cultural renewal.’

The birchbarks were particularly interesting, providing some evidence to the notion that literacy was spreading. The picture, drawn by Onfim, displayed a drawing of a boy (or man) riding a horse and slaying some type of villain. While at first the age of the creator could be drawn into question (how can the age of Onfim be established?), there are several key aspects that point towards what the author suggested. While style can’t really be taken into account (the shaky lettering would suggest someone new at penmanship), the proportions of the drawing seem more child-like. As children grow and develop, their perception changes. The length of the arms and and legs in relation to the torso could support this theory.

While the birchbark charters do display evidence that literacy was increasing, how widespread was it? In previous readings in lectures, it’s been noted that Novgorod was particularly special, due to its relationship and interaction with other nations. What does the author define as ‘formal instruction’?

5 thoughts on “Literacy in Post-Kievan Rus’

  1. I liked how you supported the reasoning that Onfim was indeed a child who drew the birchbark picture, that is certainly a valid argument. Regarding how widespread literacy was, a way to figure that out would be to perhaps to find out where this artifact was found. If there were more pieces similar to this found in the area, for example in Novgorod as opposed to Kiev, this could perhaps indicate how common birchbark writings, and subsequently literacy was in an area.

  2. Children have not really mentioned in many of our readings, so having children linked with literacy is extremely interesting. In most of Europe during this time period, literacy in children was saved for royalty or the upper class. With the birchbark charters it created the possibility that children could be literate in an age and an area where literacy was considered scarce. It does make me interested in how accessible literacy was and who were teaching them. Was the clergy a major factor in this?

  3. I think that one explanation for the “mythology” of the drawing could be the spread of stories through the traveling minstrels. These entertainers were primarily secular in subject matter and traveled from village to village spreading stories from the elites to the commoners. Having come in contact with the destruction brought on by the Mongols, the stories probably still rested in recent memory and were passed down. For a boy to draw an enemy getting stabbed with a spear means that he has witnessed or been told of such an event.

  4. Novgorod was special yes but it was not the only city that had large trade routs and so exposure to foreign influences. It has been theorized that the reason that Novgorod has so meany more text is because it was and is colder then other cities like Moscow and Kiev, Also Novgorod may have had a increased literacy rate because of the fact that historically they had a system of government that encouraged the involvement of citizens. This in turn would probably foster literacy.

  5. What I find interesting as well is that were the “common people” children literate, it does not seem to have had such a huge impact on the prestige of Novgorod. It was a great city, but the fact that so many people were literate does not seem to have helped the city grow, in fact as we have seen the city tended to wither as history move forward.

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