Culture In Post Kievan-Rus’- The Minstrels

One of the more overlooked aspects of culture of post- Kievan Rus’ was the role of the minstrel.  The minstrel, or skomorokhi, was a musician, actor, and all-around entertainer that operated in a wide variety of venues.  These could range from small villages to large cities such as Novgorod.  The minstrel sub population moved Northeast in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries into the region more known as Russia.

It is very surprising to note that Minstrels often played secular music and preformed secular entertainment.  Despite this, they were not banned from performing for nearly 400 years in Novgorod.

The minstrels, as depicted by manuscripts from 1323, were always dressed in elaborate costumes, some with headdresses.  It is possible that these may have been religious in nature. This is reinforced by the fact that a large majority of the artifacts recording their existence are maintained in the north where their beliefs would be more tolerated.

The influence of Christianity continued to grow in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, thus creating working conditions for minstrels more difficult.  Since the skomorokhi were secular in nature, the church was vehemently against any of their behavior and work.  In 1470, they were banned from all of Muscovy by Iurii Dmitrov.  Maksim Grek continued this opposition into the sixteenth century, stating “the skomorokhi have learned their trade from Satan himself” and by virtue of this are already cursed and damned”.  Despite this, the minstrels continued to be a integral part to Russian Culture. Some were wealthy enough to even be required to pay taxes, but many were peasants or even serfs.

Why were minstrels more accepted in the north versus the south?

What was the gusli and what purpose did it serve to the skomorokhi?

Were the headdresses worn during performances religious?  Was this a reason for their eventual expulsion from Christian regions?


New Rus Culture Post Mongol Occupation

Little evidence of culture and everyday life was left behind after the Mongol occupation. As A.M. Sakharov had pointed out in our previous readings, the Mongol Yoke destroyed centers of elite culture, cities, and markets all around Rus. Despite all that was lost during the occupation, it seems that starting in the  early fourteenth century, a new Russian culture had awakened.

One of Russian history’s most famous painters, Andrei Rublev lived during this era. Rublev pioneered a whole new style of art and invented painting techniques never known before. Not only is he considered one of the greatest artists in early Russia, but his work has been compared to some of the most well known artists in Western Europe. The discovery of pieces of birchbark writing gives evidence that there was, to some extent, literacy in Novgorod. One of them lists letters of the alphabet while the other is a picture of a horse and rider spearing an opponent. It also includes the name Onfim to the right.The drawing is very simple and looks as if it was drawn by a child. This means that education of reading and writing for children could potentially have existed.

Another form of culture that seems to be fairly significant at the time was the travel of Skomorokhi. The Skomorokhi were people that provided entertainment throughout Russia to mostly the peasant class. They included musicians, dancers, actors, and tamed animals dressed in colorful costumes. Using a variety of instruments from the gusli to percussion and wind instruments, the Skomorokhi were very popular at the time.

I found it most impressive that so much of this culture arouse independent of the Mongols. For instance, Rublev’s paintings did not have any Mongol cultural influence. His style was his own, and did not borrow from other cultures. The Skomorokhi’s instruments were ones they developed themselves and were not things made by the Mongols. There was a new and innovative culture in Rus, and that is something that is unique for a people ruled by a different culture for so long.