Daily Life and Culture in Post-Kievan Rus’

Although many aspects of daily life in Post-Kievan Rus’, both during the Mongol invasion and directly after, have been lost in the intervening centuries, scholars have been able to determine several valuable insights into Post-Kievan culture. Literacy was not widespread at all during this time period–even some princes were illiterate. However, “birchbark charters” c. 1220 show us that some non-royal children did learn the alphabet and to write their names. Furthermore, the Mongols, through their violent occupation, destroyed buildings and left little market for artists to sell their goods. However, Andrei Rublev (c. 1370-1430), one of the most famous painters in Russian history, lived during this time and managed not only to create art, but also to develop new strategies and modes of painting. Peasants had few forms of entertainment besides traveling minstrels, who sang, danced, juggled, and tamed animals. The Church managed to destroy most records of these entertainers, but a few of their masks and images of them survive to today.

I found the Novgorod Birchbark Charters particularly interesting. Scholars tend to take them as evidence of children learning to read. However, I wonder how–or even if–scholars are able to determine that the document pictured in our text (p. 129) belonged to a small child versus an adult. To that point, how do they know that the drawing of a man on a horse was Onfim “distracted to depict is how imaginary conquests” (“Evidence for Literary” 128), and not a peasant adult–or even a boyar–drawing a picture of his personal, violent feat? I find it difficult to believe that, in such a largely illiterate society, children would be taught to read and write before adults.

I’d like to know what sort of impact, if any, the Mongols had on literacy in Post-Kievan Rus’. The readings explain how they impacted art and architecture, but what about education? In a broader sense, all of these readings make me wonder if there are still very large gaps in our knowledge of Post-Kievan culture and daily life. What don’t we know?

3 thoughts on “Daily Life and Culture in Post-Kievan Rus’

  1. It would be very interesting to see the Mongol’s impact on education in Post-Kievan Rus’. Because the Mongols themselves didn’t have a written language for a very long time (if I remember my Middle Eastern history correctly), wherever they conquered, they brought in people to be the administrators and bureaucrats running the ever-growing empire. Hypothetically, the Mongols would have perhaps taken a majority of the educated peoples in Kievan Rus’ for their own needs (similar to how they took artisans and craftsmen). I’m not sure if this is the case for Kievan Rus’, but I’m fairly certain it was true for other conquered peoples of the time.

  2. Education in Russia never seemed to be truly elaborated on in our readings. Most of them simply skirt over the general understanding of who were more educated than others. It’s known that the population was largely illiterate aside from the clergy and various princes and boyars. But was education, like in Europe a symbol of class and status? Or was it simply based on location, did larger, more populous cities have a higher education rate?

  3. These questions are all valid, and I think Brawdyc raises an interesting point by saying that the Mongols probably “imported” Rus’ educated people. As for your question, Leah, I think that both adults and children were probably taught how to write, although it is true that it is difficult to say with certitude that the birchbark found was written by a child. As for the drawing, it actually reminded me of that statue of St. George slaying the dragon. Although that could simply come from the fact that in the last 4 years, there has not been a week when I did not see that on either my Russian textbooks, or rubles, and that now it is impossible for me to see someone on a horse slaying anything else but a dragon. But still I wonder if this could be an explanation for that drawing.

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