Culture in Post-Keivan Rus

Due to several factors, most of which were a result of the Mongol invasion, there is very little evidence detailing the day-to-day culture which existed in Post-Keivan Rus. What we do have, however, does provide interesting clues about literacy, the arts, and entertainment of the day.

One source is a doodle by a boy distracted in the middle of practicing his alphabet. The boy, Onfim, provides a drawing of an unidentified man atop a horse stabbing another unidentified man lying upon the ground. One of the reasons that this is interesting is its implications about education and literacy of the time. It’s likely that this student was being formally educated from the nature of his work. Because literacy was rare amongst the common people we can assume that he was not being taught in a school-like setting, so he may have been working with a tutor of some sort. Onfim’s education may indicate that literacy was more important to the culture than previously believed, if his parents were concerned enough to start his learning at a young age.

A popular but controversial form of entertainment for the common people was the minstrels, or the skomorokhi. The skomorokhi did a variety of things for the entertainment of others, including animal training, acting, juggling, playing music, and dancing. They were easily identifiable by the bright colors of the costumes that they wore. Though loved by the common people, they were not so popular in the church. In a collection of sermons called the Zlatoust they are condemned for “preparing the road to perdition for themselves and their followers”. Even after being put down by the church their popularity rose still in spite of it. It’s interesting that the people seemed to care more about the entertainment the minstrels provided than the opinion of the church on that form of entertainment, judging from  the fact that the people were still listened to the group that the church looked down on. It’s also interesting that the people who made up the skomorokhi held positions all along the social hierarchy, some being  well off, others being poor.

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’?

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.