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Vikings in Russia

Archaeological treasures from Staraia Ladoga and Novgorod

The theme of the exhibition is the first Scandinavian settlement in Russia. It is based on archaeological finds, Scandinavian and Slavic, from four of the oldest and most important sites in Russia's history: Staraia Ladoga, Gorodishche, Novgorod and Gnezdovo.

This is the first time discoveries of this significance have been shown outside Russia. The exhibition of 900 remarkable finds, lent by the Museums of Staraia Ladoga and Novgorod and the Hermitage Museum in St. Petersburg, has visited Denmark and Sweden.

In Sweden the exhibition is arranged in conjunction with The National Museum of History in Stockholm, where a part of the exhibition the Gnezdovo treasure, Russia's largest and most valuable Viking Age treasure - is on display.

Staraia Ladoga - Aldeigjuborg

Viking Age
On their journeys east, Vikings ships sailed into the Gulf of Finland and up the river Neva to the huge Lake Ladoga and on to the mouth of the river Volkhov. Some kilometers up this river is the settlement Aldeigjuborg, known today as Staraia (Old) Ladoga. Finds from this area indicate a Scandinavian presence from as early as 750 AD, and herald a significant chapter in Viking history: journeys of discovery, trade and colonisation to the east. To Gårdarike, Miklagård and Särkland - the Nordic names for Russia, Constantinople and the Muslim Caliphate.

Viking expeditions east and west over the following 3OO years followed the same pattern: plunder, trade and settlement. The Russian connection is evident from a large number of archaeological finds from the east, especially in Birka and Sigtuna, and numerous descriptions on runic stones.

One of the most noteworthy finds from Staraia Ladoga is a complete set of tools from a blacksmith's forge.

Gorodishche - Holmgård

Viking Age
Vikings coming back from the east told of a place they called Holmgård This was Gorodishche (gorod = fortified settlement). a trading post dating from 800 AD at the confluence of Lake Ilmen and the river Volkhov. Many finds from Scandinavian mens and womans clothes would seem to suggest that they also settled here.

Novgorod

Late Viking Age and early Middle Ages
In the 10th century Novgorod was founded some kilometers downstream on the river Volkhov and in the 11th century the Russian Prince Iaroslav the Wise moved there from Gorodishche. He was married to Ingegärd, Olof Skötkonung's daughter. Swedish Vikings among the prince's followers (druzina) played important roles as traders and warriors. It is Iaroslav's father, Prince Vladimir, who is considered to have converted Russia to Christianity in 988 AD.

Most of the objects come from Novgorod and illuminate Russian early Christian culture: jewellery, weapons, tools, household articles, musical instruments and toys. From simple wooden utensils to a child's treasured toy horse on wheels. Organic materials such as leather and wood were unusually well preserved because of a compact layer of clay top soil, in places up to 7 metres thick

Quite an outstanding find is the work-shop of icon painter Olisei Grechin (the Greek) dating from the 12th century. Other outstanding finds from Novgorod are letters written on birch bark; private letters and official documents, providing a deep insight into the routines, and spirituality of daily life and reflecting the history and development of the Russian language.

Sigtuna and Russia

Sigtuna, Sweden's oldest town, was founded in about 980 AD by King Erik Segersäll. His son, Olof Skötkonung had the first Swedish coins minted here 995 AD. In the 11th and 12th centuries Sigtuna was the only town in the region surrounding the Lake Mälar and the Christian community from the beginning. A lot of runic stones, church ruins and remains of a 1000 year old town plan are evidence of its former greatness.

It is of special interest that this outstanding collection of finds should be displayed in Sigtuna Museum's new exhibit hall. It was on this site in the comprehensive Archaeological dig 1988-90 that many Slavonic finds were unearthed proving close ties between Russia and Sweden in the 11th and 12th centuries and showing Slavonic influences in daily life and in the workings of the church.

The exhibition "Vikings in Russia" is a happy reflection of the renewed connections between the museums and scientific institutions of the two countries.

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