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A Viking Age Sword from Veliky Novgorod – image: St. Louis Community College
(click on the images to enlarge)

Novgorod is now a UNESCO World Heritage site, celebrated as Russia’s first capital in the 9th century.

Unfortunately, the first excavations in the 1950s were mostly carried out by unskilled workers. The wooden streets, which were well preserved by the waterlogged nature of the site, could be dated by dendrochronology, but as the site was dug in spits, rather than stratigraphically, these dates could not be related to the surrounding contexts.

Since then, many more excavations have taken place which have confirmed the importance of this trading site.

Novgorod is in a strategic position as part of the network of river routes and portages which provided access to the Baltic Sea in the West, to the Black Sea in the South, and to the Caspian to the Southeast (via the Volga River). It is first mentioned in 859 in the Russian Chronicles in connection with the semi-legendary Viking, Prince Riurik. However, archaeological evidence from excavations in Novgorod have not produced anything earlier than the second quarter of the 10th century. It is likely that the earlier site referred to in the chronicles lies just to the south of Novgorod at a hillfort site, which in the 19th century came to be known as Riurikovo.

Novgorod converted to Byzantine Orthodox Christianity in the late tenth century and the first churches were built there in 989.

See also: Medieval Novgorod: epitome of early urban life in northern Europe

Aerial View of Veliky Novgorod
image: journal of the Silk Road House

Excavated wooded Streets from Veliky Novgorod
image: Wikimedia

A drawing based on the depiction of late medieval Novgorod on an icon of “The Sign of the Mother of God.” The Kremlin side of the city is below, with a double ring of fortifications, the inner one containing the archbishop’s residence and cathedral. The “trading side” of the city (east of the river) is at top. After: А.F. Vеltmаn, “O gospodine Novgorode Velikom” [About Novgorod the Great]. Моskva, 1834
image: journal of the Silk Road House