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541
Section: Archaeology
The Sword of the Carolingians

The Sword of the Carolingians

Quite a wide strip of iron was cleared in the turf at a shallow depth. At first sight, it reminded me of the flat of a scythe or else a strip of roofing iron. But something put me on my guard…

Sitting in a tent lit by faint specks of light emitted from a candle end, I was trying to finish a description of yet another Andronovo child burial ground that we had discovered in Baraba. Geographically, Baraba is located on the right bank of the Om River, not far from the settlement of Preobrazhenka. We came across the burial ground while excavating a more ancient settlement of the so-called Krotovo culture. A small grave, clearly that of a child, lay across the occupation layer of the inhabitation. Of course, such a find was unspeakably good fortune for an archaeologist because the Krotovo culture, almost unfamiliar at the time, acquired more definite chronological limits. Young as I was, I realized it perfectly well; so, I started broadening the excavation site, at the same time trying to probe the whole area of the burial ground, which had no relief features. That strategy proved correct and resulted in the expansion of the necropolis borderlines on my general layout. The necropolis was extremely interesting in itself since the burials were intact. Each of them contained some vessels typical of the epoch; there were some bronze and even gold ornaments that represented a burial ritual not quite typical of the Andronovo culture. We were in luck.

In summer 1975, our team was large. For the first time I received a larger sum of money than ever before for the excavations; I was also provided with a car, and a permit to conduct fieldwork from May to October. The team included students of the recently opened Omsk State University, Novosibirsk Pedagogical Institute, as well as high-school students. The backbone of the team was made up of my first students, Sasha Arapov, Victor Dobzhanskiy, Nadya Nechepurenko, Victor Karyakin, Sasha Lipatov, Victor Mai, Natasha Polosmak, Victor Sobolev, and Sasha Soloviev. I was academic supervisor in achaeology for some of them. Others (Aranov, Karyakin, Lipatov, and Mai), were attracted to fieldwork for the sake of the romantic appeal of camping in nature.

Such an abundance of sufficiently qualified helpers allowed us to excavate at several sites simultaneously while having a car with a reliable driver, Oleg Sentyabov, made it possible to carry out excavations at sites located at a considerable distance from one another.

Those were busy days. I had to spend much time in the car. Almost every day, after work in the digging ground was over, I would go on an inspection tour of the groups scattered throughout the Baraba, and would return to the camp in the small hours of the night.

The following day, a trip to the farthest teams doing excavations near the settlements of Turunovka and Vengerovo was planned. This was going to occupy the whole day; however, the inspection trip was absolutely essential, for the helpers were digging not ordinary settlement complexes, and they might need my help.

I nominated Sasha Lipatov to be responsible for the excavations. Though archaeology was not his passion, he was an extremely reliable person, on an expedition with me for the third time, and had learned a lot. Also, we were beginning to investigate a new section where, according to my estimates, we would reach the burials no sooner than in two days. I had already marked that section in my draft layout; it only remained to divide up the excavation ground, and to perform the rigging check, after which the digging could begin.

…One lovely morning, of the type that frequently occur in the Baraba at the height of summer, after breakfast, we set out for the excavations together. Our camp was situated on a picturesque bend of the Om River, on the very bank. The excavation grounds were some three hundred meters away. The burial mounds that belonged to different epochs and cultures, the Krotovo settlement, and the above-mentioned Andronovo child burial ground were all located in a birch grove, at the edge of a faintly discernable floodplain terrace.

The students had already set to work. One could hear jokes, laughter — the guys were full of energy.

Lipatov, together with his small team, had been waiting for me at the place where we were going to mark out a new excavation area. The grass had been removed from the site, which was free of birches. One side of the new excavation ground was to border upon the old one. Another side reached as far as a dirt road that passed along the gently sloping terrace edge. Several mighty birches stood there.

I told Sasha to lay out the excavation ground some distance from the birches:

“You’ll be tormented with those roots; and the trees might be harmed. Besides, according to our data, it is unlikely that the burial ground extends that far.”

Having specified some details and wishing the team good luck, I left. The day passed quickly. The work both in Turunovka and Vengerovo was making good headway. The artifacts were plentiful; besides, a lot of interesting things were kept in store for me at the excavation grounds. We returned home late at night. Before going to the camp, I made a big detour to visit our excavations; fortunately, it gets dark very late there in the summer.

In the space of a day the guys had almost removed several of the burial mounds. At one of the grounds they had even cleared the whole area on the level of the subsoil (the untouched surface), and there was a massive, vividly black spot in the center, the trace of a burial pit.

Lipatov had completed the marking out of the excavation; fresh white birch pegs were visibly seen along the perimeter. Moreover, a rather sizable area had already been freed from the turf; the most laborious work had been done. In short, everything was done correctly and beautifully. One thing I did not like was that the excavation area was laid out two meters longer than planned and its far end nearly rested on an enormous birch. As a result, we had a small, but very complex section; the tree would not be injured, but some of the students would have to work hard. But the main thing was that, according to my estimates, the burial ground did not extend that far, which promised a lot of futile work. These considerations somewhat marred my good spirits, and not even the hot supper that seemed delicious to Oleg and me remedied things much…

The students gathered around a vividly blazing bonfire and sang songs. Lipatov was the focus of everybody’s attention. He played the accordion perfectly, and could perfectly reproduce any tune by ear.

How good those evenings were! How many songs we sang! It was so relaxing. All difficulties and troubles seemed easy to overcome. All that was lofty and dear became poignant, and you lived with the song, dreamed together with it, you loved, you were sad… Almost everyone in the expedition loved singing, therefore, a good guitar or accordion player was always held in high esteem. Alexander Lipatov was, in this respect, an absolutely indispensable personality. Even these days, thirty years on, when we meet at his place, we take out the accordion…

…That evening the music soon relieved the stress. All my discontent passed, and the reproofs I was ready to utter dispersed as if they had never existed. As usual, we went to our tents long past midnight.

I rebuked Lipatov the next morning. Sasha did not try to justify himself. He only said that in his fear of making a mistake when laying out the excavation, he decided, and with good reason, that he would rather do a bit of extra work than dig too little. It proved to be the right decision in the long run.

The work at that excavation ground was going on a hot pace, as usual. It was, of course, Lipatov who charged everybody. He could handle the spade as if he was born with it: he dug passionately and beautifully; the endurance of a peasant came out in him.

As usual, time flew quickly when digging, and lunchtime approached. We set to clearing the grave at one of the burial mounds under investigation. It is a very laborious, time-consuming and crucial occupation. I had always tried to be present at the excavations at such moments, not only to be able to give advice, but also to be there in time to record all the details in the journal.

Kostya Samoilov, who worked together with Lipatov, approached the excavation area. Checking my watch, I thought that the guys had finished work a bit earlier. We had a law that if there was little time left before lunch, we did not start the next stage of excavations so as not to leave any loosened soil in the excavation pit. This is a rule cast in iron because should it rain, the excavation might turn into a bog. However, I was mistaken. It turned out that Kostya came to fetch me because they came across some “piece of iron “ directly under the tree, near the birch. It seemed to be a scythe…

…The membrs of Sasha’s team were crowded under the birch. The turf had been removed practically off the whole area; only there, under the tree, one could see a green isle of untouched grass. Two of the guys were slowly cutting off portions of the turf, and clearing out the freed area with a wide brush.

The crowd parted and I squatted side by side with the two guys. Really, in a shallow (3—5 cm deep) clearing, a rather wide (about 30 centimeters) iron strip had been uncovered. At first sight, the strip reminded of a rusty scythe blade or a strip of sheet iron, but something put me on guard. Lipatov silently handed me a digging knife, and I took his place. I touched the metal with the brush again, sweeping the lumps of soil away from it... and I could not believe my eyes. Could it be true?! I took the brush and cleared the already freed iron strip. So it was! A faintly discernible depression, kind of groove, passed along the strip center...

“It is a groove!” I exclaimed. Everybody looked at me in perplexity.

“It’s a groove,”I repeated and penciled an outline of a blade on a scrap of paper. “Along the center of each side of ancient swords there is always a depression, the so-called groove. It is not a scythe, but, in all probability, it’s a sword with a groove!” I almost shouted it...

I said everybody could go and have lunch, but the guys refused. We started removing slices of the turf slowly, centimeter by centimeter. As more and more of the iron strip was cleared, it became clear that towards one of the ends it widened while towards the other end it was narrower. This was indeed a battle blade. Of course, it was rusty; however, thanks to a dense dark-brownish coat of patina covering it, it remained practically undamaged. It took another hour to clear the artifact completely; in amazement we gazed at a massive, about a meter long, iron sword with an iron hilt typical of medieval epic swords, with a strongly pronounced crosspiece of the hilt and a three-element top. Though the artifact was amazingly well preserved, I was afraid to lift it. Even after it had been marked on the layout, drawn and photographed, I still lingered. Somehow it seemed to me that the artifact would fall to pieces in my hands as soon as I lifted it...

Having levered up the sword with the blade of a digging knife, I raised it slightly; then, holding it by the hilt and sharpened end, I lifted the weighty sword from the ground. Of course, I had seen such objects in museums and in books on archaeology, but it was the first time I was holding such a sword in my own hands: the sword looked as if it had come from a Russian folk tale about epic heroes. Besides, everything I had seen before was preserved much worse than our find.

Slowly, I turned the sword in my hands. On the hilt and in the center of the blade, there glittered silver specks, showing through the rust…

The artifact passed around. Gradually, we recovered from our shock and began talking at the same time. It seemed that there would be no end to our amazement and wonder. How come that sword, in all appearances of European origin, was buried here, in the center of Western Siberia?! Why was it so well preserved? And finally, was it accidental that the sword was found at a burial ground much more ancient than the sword itself? These, and many other questions, became the subject of a lively discussion in which all the participants of the expedition took part.

In our camp, I cleaned the artifact from soil and studied it in peace. The sword was really magnificent, and the degree of its preservation was such that one could use it as a battle weapon. It was interesting that the silver specks glittered not only on the hilt but also on both sides of the blade.

After everyone in the team had thoroughly examined the sword, it was carefully packed in a wooden case.

Suddenly I was struck dumb! What if it had not been for Lipatov’s mistake! What if he had laid out the excavation area strictly by the parameters I had planned? The sword would have remained — forever — lying under the birch until corrosion did away with it, in two or three centuries. It was, indeed, an unbelievable coincidence! Incidentally, later on, when we reached the subsoil at this excavation area, it became clear that my estimates proved to be correct. We actually discovered several Andronovo child graves exactly where we had expected. Incidentally, the burial ground did not extend as far as the spot where the sword was found…

Sasha undoubtedly realized the value of his “mistake”, but he did not rub salt into my wound; he spared the self-esteem of a young Ph. D. in history. I, on my part, talked publicly about Lipatov’s “mistake”, demonstrating to whom we really owed this remarkable find.

Aleksey Okladnikov always followed the hard and fast rule: after the field season was over, he got familiarized with the materials collected by the expedition teams of the Institute in the field. Thus, the Director formed a clear picture not only of the work the researchers did in the summer, which he could have learned from the regular reports we presented at winter workshops of the division, but he became acquainted with the material itself, which was very important for any archaeologist. The benefit was mutual. Okladnikov kept himself well posted on events, so his commentary upon our joint examination of the collections was invaluable for us, young archaeologists. Having encyclopaedic knowledge and an amazing memory, Okladnikov gave his opinion on the examined specimens, gave advice as to where analogs could be seen, generously shared his ideas on interpreting the materials.

In 1975, I returned from the expedition in mid-October. We finished up the season at Ilimski ostrog1in Eastern Siberia. We found a lot of interesting artifacts and had lots of adventures, though this is another story.

As usual, a lot of bustle awaited the heads of expedition teams at the Institute. Financial accounts had to be handed in, expedition property returned, research reports prepared. Finally, the most important jobs awaited us: to sort out the material collected in the summer, process it, compile a report to be sent to Moscow and, of course, to make research, that is, generalize the material collected in the field, as well as prepare publications. At such a furious pace, if you took the work seriously and with responsibility, you had practically no leisure time.

In two or three days, Nelli Voroshilova, Okladnikov’s reviewer, found me in the attic:

“The chief asked you to see him after lunch. He would like to hear about the work in Ilimsk, he wants to know what you have dug there.”

That year, our team had excavated a fairly large number of remarkable artifacts. Some years were good for discoveries. This was connected neither with some special position of the stars in the sky, nor with any special luck. No. Rather, one could call it a manifestation of the well-known dialectic law of transition from quantity to quality, that is, the amount of work produced would certainly turn into quality; the artifacts found just proved it.

For the visit to the Director I chose several bronze decorations and a luxurious comb crowned with two eagles from the Kyshtovka-1 burial ground, the Bronze Age gold earrings from Preobrazhenka, several body crosses from the Ilimski ostrog, a wooden figure of Jesus crucified, also from Ilimsk, and, of course, the sword.

I can confess now that seeing Aleksey Pavlovich Okladnikov always made me a bit nervous because it was not easy to communicate with him. The reason was this might be that Aleksey Pavlovich saw through not only problems of archaeology, but he also saw through a personality, including the person’s intellectual potential. I was ashamed to make a fool of myself. Aleksey Pavlovich had a fervent love for archaeology; everything else in his life was secondary. I wanted to be like him. Needless to say how much I valued my chief’s opinion of my work.

Aleksey Pavlovich listened in silence, interrupting with questions now and then. He was really very much concerned with the Ilimski Ostrog, where I had been working for the third season. The site was to be flooded shortly. I wound up my report with the story about the sword, emphasizing that the artifact was clearly of European origin, dated back to the 11th-13th centuries and that before, such swords had never been found to the east of the town of Murom. (I learnt this in Novosibirsk from monographs on weapons).

Aleksey Pavlovich seemed to approve of my report.

“I would like you, Slava, to prepare an article about the sword, for The Proceedings, and to hink over the question of how it could have gotten into the Baraba. Could it have been Ermak’s sword?!”

Having been given this assignment, I put aside everything else for a while and set to writing the article. This subject was new and highly interesting; besides, Aleksey Pavlovich’s thought concerning Ermak would not leave me in peace. I finished the work in a short time, and one of the issues of The Proceedings of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences published my article The Discovery of a Sword in Western Siberia, in 1976; this article is still in demand.

In spring 1977, Academician Okladnikov left on a business trip for Leningrad. The invitation to take part in the trip was unexpected but very important for me. Okladnikov decided that I should give a presentation to the Leningrad Division of the Institute of Archaeology of the USSR Academy of Sciences. But there was another reason. Six months earlier, Okladnikov had arranged that the sword from the Baraba would be restored at the State Hermitage Museum, and I had taken it to Leningrad restorers. We were informed that the work had been completed and that we were to accept it. Without any doubt, Aleksey Pavlovich could very well do it without my participation, but somehow or other he deemed it essential that I be present there. Besides, I needed to consult with the numismatist and specialists on Oriental metallic mirrors in connection with the artifacts found at the late Middle Age burial ground Kyshtovka-2. The Academician’s protection in such problems was very important. And Okladnikov was connected with Professor Ivan Gavrilovich Spassky, a world-class numismatist, through joint work on the materials of Russian explorers from the isle of Faddey and Sims Bay, materials that Aleksey Pavlovich had obtained right after the war.

In advance, I would like to point out that the trip proved to be very useful and, on the whole, successful. I am going to tell you a few episodes connected with the sword, the more so that they are not devoid of interest, and are, at times, amusing.

So, after my rather successful report at the Leningrad Division of the Institute of Archaeology, Aleksey Pavlovich suggested celebrating this in his Leningrad apartment, which was not far from the Moskovsky railway station. Aleksey Pavlovich was in a good mood; he joked and recollected many interesting stories from his former life in Leningrad. Okladnikov arranged a meeting with Spassky, and recollected in this respect how he, together with his wife and fellow-traveller Vera Dmitrievna, had been studying the remains of a site of Russian Arctic seafarers. It was immediately after the war; they were working in the extremely difficult conditions of Siberia, on the coast of the Arctic Ocean. He laughed as he told me about the polar bears who visited the camp out of curiosity and in order to steal provisions.

The next day, at about noon, we were to collect the sword.

“Try not to be late, Slava, and do not get lost in the Hermitage!” said Aleksey Pavlovich, bidding me farewell. It appeared that Academician B. B. Piotrovsky, Director of the Hermitage, with whom Aleksey Pavlovich had very warm relations, was to pass the restored sword to us.

It was no distance from the hotel of the Academy of Sciences, on Khalturin Street, where I was staying, to the Hermitage. Early in the morning, I phoned I. G. Spassky from the entrance checkpoint, after which I was met and shown to his office. It took us a long time to pass through the Hermitage halls, where the expositions attracted us like a magnet; but I could not stop because the office worker accompanying me was apparently in a hurry, and I tried to keep up with her, at the same time fixing in memory the numbers of the halls.

Ivan Gavrilovich Spassky did not look like a professor at all. Rather he reminded me of a country schoolteacher, both in manner and outward appearance; he was knowledgeable, wise, and kind. And he won everybody around him at once by his excellent knowledge of the subject: it took him less than a few minutes to classify chronologically the coins and counting tokens that I had brought, accompanying this procedure by exhaustive commentaries. I hardly had time to write them all down.

Suddenly a phone rang. It was Okladnikov who informed me that the time of the meeting had been changed and that I was to come to Academician Piotrovsky’s office as soon as possible.

It was highly improper to leave Spassky in such an abortive manner; but, as if sensing my hesitation, Aleksey Pavlovich curtly ordered “Quickly!” and hung up.

Easier said than done; it turned out that I did not remember the way. Of course, I should have asked to be shown to the Director’s office, but that idea occurred to me only five minutes after I realized that the hall I was in did not look familiar to me… It was a miracle that I found the way to the staff entrance, from which it was quite close to Piotrovsky’s office…

Fortunately, the Director of the Hermitage was not in his office yet, but hardly Aleksey Pavlovich and I had time to greet each other, when Piotrovsky entered. Okladnikov introduced me to Piotrovsky, who said,

“What a marvelous sword you have dug up, young man! I wonder how it reached Siberia! It is without doubt European work!” With these words Boris Borisovich approached his desk and handed me the sword.

I was holding the sword, but it was quite a different sword. After the rust had been removed, the blade glittered dimly with a characteristic iron steely shade; the hilt was covered with a wonderful ornamental pattern performed in silver incrustation. The pattern definitely looked a Scandinavian. But this was not all! On both sides of the blade there were some Latin letters and signs that undoubtedly constituted some inscriptions.

In silence I passed the sword to Okladnikov, who was amazed no less than I was.

“Good work!” said Aleksey Pavlovich.

Piotrovsky, obviously pleased with the effect produced, asked with a smile:

“Well, Aleksey Pavlovich, what about my proposal? This is undoubtedly one of the best European swords as far as the degree of its preservation is concerned, out of those that are known in our country, and I would be delighted to place it in the exposition of our museum.”

Okladnikov blushed to the roots of his hair. He always did when he was agitated or angry. However, his composure did not leave him at that critical moment. He also smiled slyly looking at Piotrovsky:

“I would be glad to, Boris Borisovich, only he (Okladnikov motioned to me) won’t allow it.”

Both Academicians laughed in unison. The tension abated immediately, and I hurriedly started to wrap the sword in the cloth that was lying on the table, which made the coryphaei more amused than before.

“Enough, Slava,” laughed Piotrovsky, “do not worry, we shall return your sword, but let the restorer pack it properly, it has a long way to go.”

After that, parting with me in the hall, Okladnikov, content and no less happy than I was, said:

“Of course, Boris Borisovich is right. The Hermitage would be the right place for the sword; but our museum is also good. Why should we deprive Akademgorodok of it, our native town?”

The next day we were to leave Leningrad. We had to pass a customs inspection at Pulkovo Airport. At that time the inspection was not as strict as it is nowadays. We knew about terrorists only from books and newspapers. We had heard that antiques and especially icons were sold abroad, so we obtained the papers necessary for the transportation of the sword in advance.

The sword was first wrapped in soft gauze, then wound in a soft cloth, and after that packed in a special box. It was natural that I had no desire to unpack it before our arrival in Novosibirsk. Aleksey Pavlovich advised me to pay a visit to the airport police station and show them the accompanying papers issued by the Hermitage.

A young plain-clothes man promptly looked through the papers and eyed the packed box suspiciously.

“Is this really a genuine European sword?”

At that time several of his fellow-workers entered the room and started reading the papers with interest.

“And yet, could we possibly have a look at it?” asked one of them. “We believe you, of course, but it is frightfully interesting.”

What could I do? I had to unpack the sword! The whole staff of the police station at the airport gathered to look at it. I had to answer dozens of questions about the sword in particular, and about archaeology in general. I was probably the last passenger to board the plane. Aleksey Pavlovich and Sasha Konopatsky, his unfailing companion and helpmate who accompanied us in that trip began to worry…

Thus, the sword returned to Siberia. To be sure, Aleksey Pavlovich did not take the risk of placing it in the exposition, fearing, as he confessed to me, “some curious boys who might do anything to get hold of such a weapon….” I do not know whether Okladnikov was really afraid of some boys or had some other reasons, but the sword was not placed in the exposition…

Aleksey Pavlovich demonstrated the sword publicly at the meeting of the Presidium of the Siberian Branch of the USSR Academy of Sciences. The effect was astounding. The sword was passed around; Okladnikov, pleased with himself, gave comments and answered numerous questions. In conclusion, Aleksey Pavlovich pointed out at me as the author of this “outstanding”, as he termed it, find. I have to admit that I was flattered to appear in that capacity before the elite of the scholarly society.

And what can we say about that find from the viewpoint of the latest achievements? Two papers were devoted to the sword. The first was written promptly after the discovery, as instructed by Okladnikov. On the whole, the chronology of the sword was dated correctly and an attempt was made to picture the ways by which this artifact could have reached Western Siberia.

In 1980, the paper European Medieval Sword Found in Western Siberia, written by D. A. Duboglav and A. N. Kirpichnikov was published in the almanac Monuments of Culture. The examination of the sword conducted after the artifact had been cleaned by the restorer N. A. Serova in the Hermitage Museum enabled us to add some new facts to the information we had obtained earlier. The authors agreed, almost completely, on the dating and a hypothesis regarding how the sword had found its way to Western Siberia and suggested that a deciphering of the inscriptions on the blade should enrich considerably our knowledge of the subject (professor A. N. Kirpichnikov was one of the greatest experts on European weapons). Besides, analyzing the way the letters were written would allow us to date it more accurately.

Based on this data, we can now tell you a fascinating and truthful story about the Preobrazhenka sword. Certainly, not everything in the story can be proved; nevertheless, my colleagues use this hypothesis today (it is noteworthy that even at the present the sword is the first and the only European medieval weapon found in Asia!).

Thus, the history of the sword goes back to the 11th — early 13th centuries (judging by the analysis of the inscription, the latter was made at the close of the 12th century — beginning of the 13th century; it follows that the artifact should be dated to that period). The blade of the sword was manufactured in Central Europe, probably, somewhere on the territory of Germany, in the Rhine basin; then it found itself in Sweden or on the isle of Gothland, where the blade was furnished with a hilt richly decorated with silver.

A specific “runic” pattern characteristic of Swedes and Livs testifies to this. On both sides of the blade there is an inscription that is a kind of abbreviation; while the calligraphy itself is conclusive evidence of a “developed stage of the epigraphic technique of writing”. It proved difficult to read the abbreviated inscription in Latin; nevertheless, specialists managed brilliantly. As a result, the main inscription made on the blade seemed to be: “N [omine] M [atris] N [ostri] S [alva]t [ORis] Et [eRhi] D [omini] S [alvatoRis] E [tERni]”, whereas a complementary inscription on the same side of the sword “C [hRis]t [us] Ih [esus] C [hRis]t [us]” meant in translation: “In the Name of the Mother of our Saviour Eternal, the Lord and Eternal Saviour Christ Jesus Christ.”

The initial letters of the inscription on the reverse side of the blade are gone; and though the remaining part of the inscription allows us to reconstruct it with a certain degree of conventionality, the word “NOMENE” clearly visible on the blade may be reconstructed as “N [omine] O [mnipotentis]. M [ateR]. E [teRni] N [omin]e”, which in translation means: “In the Name of God Almighty. Mother of God. In the Name of the Eternal.”

Thus, the religious dedicatory meaning of the inscription, that is, in the name of the Mother of God, is evident.

But how did this marvelous sword, a formidable and expensive weapon, come here, five thousand kilometers east of its place of origin? The first hypothesis put forward by me and developed by D. A. Duboglav and A. N. Kirpichnikov, lies, so to say, on the surface. Other researchers who subsequently referred to the artifact in their works accepted it.

The sword could have been brought to Western Siberia because of trade. As far back as in 1130s to 1150s, Abu Hamid al Garnati, traveling in the Russian lands, reported that Oriental swords had been brought into northern Jugra by merchants. The ancient route from Russia to the Priobje (region around the Ob River) passed through this place, in the north, and was referred to as the Zyryanskaya road or Russky Tes. That route functioned in the 12th century and was documented, according to V. P. Darkevich, by dinarius, grivnas, silver vessels, and other artifacts found there. A great number of objects of medieval jewelry coming from the west were discovered in the Transurals, in the middle and lower parts of the Priobje region. Thus, more than a hundred buried treasures containing silver utensils were found in the Urals. For example, a 12th-13th century silver bowl, a rare specimen of Limoges niello, was found in the lower reaches of the Ob River. Several beautiful plates of gilded silver were found at different times, even in recent years, at the sanctuaries of the Khanty and Mansi on the lower and middle reaches of the Ob, by the ethnographers of our Institute, Postdoctorates in History, I. N. Gemuev and A. V. Baulo.

This idea seems fairly logical; however, there is an argument against it which the advocates of the given hypothesis prefer to leave unnoticed.

The point is that the path from the lower and middle Priobje region to the Baraba steppe was not short; it measured hundreds of kilometers. The first Russians reached that territory together with the detachments of the legendary explorer Ermak; therefore one can not speak of any “forest tract” in the center of the Baraba steppe. But if this hypothesis of how the sword got to Siberia is valid, it must have reached the Ob-Irtysh forest-steppe, where the Baraba is located, by accident, as a result of barter (or as a war trophy?) between the taiga Ugor population and the Turkic-speaking people. The contact zone of these two ethnic groups was only about a hundred kilometers from the site the sword was found…

Yet, I have another explanation. It is true that no researchers refer to it, probably because no one takes it seriously. Academician Okladnikov was the only one who liked the idea; he even mentioned it in one of his works…

This hypothesis looks so bold that today I would never dare to include it in a paper. But, on the other hand, it looks so attractive. Besides, life often challenges our fantasies.

Even now, having written these lines, I am sure that the hypothesis that the sword reached the Baraba with Ermak’s detachments cannot be excluded. Indeed, despite the fact that the Cossacks already had firearms and sabers, even the strelets2 detachments equipped with more contemporary weapons, still used swords. Therefore, it is quite possible that Ermak’s Cossacks were armed with swords.

Advancing eastward, the Cossacks often encountered with Khan Kuchum’s detachments, and in the region of the Baraba steppe they clashed with murza3 Karachi who had camps of nomads and roamed in the basin of the Om River. According to some evidence, in the autumn of 1583, murza Karachi decoyed Ivan Koltso, Ermak’s fellow-fighter, and his detachment of forty men, into an ambush and killed them. It was no other than this legendary Koltso who brought the armour of Tsar Ivan the Terrible as a present to Ermak.

In this connection it will be appropriate to mention that a 15th-16th century site of an ancient settlement was found, located in the Baraba forest-steppe, some 2.5 3 kilometers away from the place the sword was found and about one kilometer away from a contemporary settlement named “Starye Karachi.” This settlement might have served as the headquarters of murza Karachi. Is this not a vestige of murza Karachi and his domain?!

Imagine the last battle of the Cossack detachment headed by Ivan Koltso. The attack was unexpected. Some of the men were slaughtered in the first minutes of the fight by treacherous stabs in the back, others had time to pull out a sabre or sword and fight with the advancing Tatars. The Tatars were superior in numbers. The Cossacks tried to force their way through the mob of enemies, but their ranks were rapidly dwindling. Ivan slew more than one enemy. An epic sword, a gift of the Russian Tsar, flashed in his hands. Despairingly, Ivan and several Cossacks who had remained alive literally cut their way to the tethering post where their faithful horses were left. A stab, another stab, and Ivan’s foot was in the stirrup and off he was rushing at full speed across the steppe, and the horse was taking him farther and farther from the mortal battle. The pursuers were at his heels; the arrows were flying by. Missed! Missed again! But suddenly… something burnt him, his breath was caught; the epic hero’s hand dropped the sword, and it was left lying under a young birch by the road. His left hand was still holding the bridle rein… The last thing Ivan Koltso saw were the bared teeth of an undersized Tatar horse that caught up with him.

Maybe everything went exactly like this, and maybe not… Yet, I would not like to part with idea that the legendary Ivan Koltso was the last owner of the sword — it is such a beautiful legend.

1 a burg; stockaded town

2 strelets is a soldier in regular army in Russia of 16-17 century

3 or mirza, a big feudal lord, head of a clan or tribe of Turkic nomadic people of tsarist Russia

Akademgorodok — Baraba March — July 2003.

The Editorial Board thanks I. I. Kedrova, keeper of the collection, research fellow of the Museum of the Institute of Archaeology and Ethnography of SB RAS

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