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?