Opening of New Permanent Exposition 'The Golden
Horde: History and Culture'
On 7 December 2007 in the Caucasian Halls a new, permanent exhibition called 'The Golden Horde: History and Culture' was opened.
In the beginning of the 1240s in the steppes between the Irtysh River and the Danube a Turkic ethnic, independent, centralized state appeared, led by the Mongol dynasty descendent from Jochi (the eldest son of Genghis Khan) known as Ulus Jochi. They referred to themselves as Ulug Ulus (the Great State); in the later Russian Chronicles, it was given the name Zolotaya Orda (Golden Horde).
The exhibition displays items made by artisans of the Golden Horde, mainly discovered through regular archeological excavations carried out by St. Petersburg archeologist A.V. Tereshchenko in the 1840s-1850s in Gulistan. The collection of sgraffito glazed clay ceramics is made up of finds from the State Hermitage Museum Golden Horde Expedition (founded in 1977) at the mediaeval city of Solkhat.
The Ulus Jochi treasury is presented at the exhibition with items made from gold and silver. Belts, bowls and beakers which could be attached to the belt, horse adornments are symbolic of the nomadic elite. These items were part of the system of traditional presents given by feudal lords (noyans) to their juniors and were considered to strengthen the suzerainty of the leaders of the steppe elite. In the majority of cases these things were prepared in nomadic quarters. But with the development of city habitation in the steppes, new commissioners for such items appeared. These were members of the municipal elite - administrators of all ranks, civil servants and merchants. Jewelers and metal workers served well off city residents, and worked at the markets in the city.
As one of the larger states with developed international trade, the Golden Horde was reflected in mediaeval cartography. The famous Catalan Atlas (1375) of Abraham Cresques contains a large section for geographic information for the Golden Horde. Without such information life in the final third of the 14th century would have been impossible for any body involved in trade, including merchants, sailors and travelers.
A large section of the exhibition is dedicated to the Crimea and Northern Caucasus in the 14-15th centuries, as parts of the right wing of the Golden Horde. Of main body of the exponents for this hall have been collected as part of the excavations undertaken by the State Hermitage Golden Horde Archaeological Expedition (founded in 1977) at the mediaeval city of Solkhat and diggings which were done in 1896-1907 by N.I Veselovsky by the Cossack village of Belorechenskaya on the Belaya River, by the left tributary of the Kuban River (84 burials beneath barrows in the second half of the 14th century to beginning of the 15th century). The Belorechenskaya burial ground belongs to the Adygean elite, possibly from a single clan, belonging to the feudal domain of Chremuch, based on the middle region of the Kuban River. The unusual wealth and variation of the sepulchral inventory of the Belochenskaya burial, which has been collated as a result of the burial of the Adygean elite has enabled us to place on exhibition a large proportion of mediaeval imports of the later Golden Horde. Here we have jewels from colourless glass from Genoese Kaffa, glass with coloured enamel from the workshops of Murano (Venice), examples of Italian and Egyptian textiles, silverware, produced in the dominions of Italian city-states on the Northern Black Sea Littoral, sets of belts from the Sultanate of Rum and artisan centres from east Crimea.
All exhibit items of architectural decor and embossed headstones with Arabic, Turkic and Armenian inscriptions were found in the mediaeval town of Solkhat and belong to artisans relocated to Crimea from different areas of Asia Minor, including Anatolia. One of the largest communities in Crimea during the middle ages were the Armenians, many of which lived in Solkhat (including the family of the famous artist Nater), or in Genoese Kaffa. It was here in Crimea under the rule of the Golden Horde, that immigrants from the Armenian Kingdom of Cicilia produced their illuminated manuscripts. The Berdyansk treasure gives us some idea of Armenian culture in the areas around the Kama River and the Azov Sea during the 14th century.
The treasures from Volga Bulgaria at the exhibition have caused particular interest. Volga Bulgaria is one of the earlier states to form in the northern part of eastern Europe whose kings in the 10th century accepted Islam (Ibn Fadlan). During the time of the Khazar Khaganate the Bulgars maintained firm control of the fur trade, being taken from the area around the Kama River to the markets of the Islamic world. Cities of Volga Bulgaria (Bular, Bolghar, Juketau and others) had already become famous manufacturing centres by the 10th -11th centuries in the Volga and Kama regions, and separate goods (from green leather, for example) became famous in the Near East. Bulgarian city culture was to a large extent defined by its contacts with Khoresm and eastern Iran.
The productions of Bulgarian goldsmiths in the 11th-12th centuries defined the cultural face of Volga Bulgaria. The jewellery produced by Bulgarian artisans are often found in the Urals and Western Siberian. This is the origin for the main body of the items in the collection of the State Hermitage Museum. Among the items on display from the 10th-11th centuries is the notable 'Dish with Hawker' from Tomsk Region (entered the collection before 1853). In the central part of the dish there is a depiction of a man accompanying a deer, with a falcon sitting on him. The peculiarities of iconography 'Medallion with Vignette' link the Tomsk find with eastern Iran and Central Asian prototypes of the 10th century. It is interesting that the complex mythology of the people found expression in yet another wonderful find - dish with the errant storyline of Cat in Boots.
In the 12th-13th centuries the artistry of the Bulgarian metal workers became still richer with the use of blackening techniques in combination with the lavish use of gold. The best example of our collection is the wedding bowl with a diameter of approximately half a metre with the scene of a predator attacking a deer. This is connected with a bowl produced sometime later, probably in the middle to second half of the 13th century, found in the region of Surgut (from excavations from a sanctuary on Mt. Barsovaya) with the image of heraldic lions in the central piece. These two dishes were separated during the difficult years when Volga Bulgaria was included into the state of Jochid Ulus. But the period of tense military confrontation between the Bulgars and the Mongols of Genghis Khan in the 1230s, did not halt the continuity in the development of the Bulgarian school of metalworking, which is demonstrated by a find from the sanctuary on Mt. Barsovaya. The Bulgarian masters continued the traditions of their craft into the 14th century.
The exhibition of the Golden Horde has been prepared by M.G. Kramarovsky,
a doctor of art history and a senior researcher in the Oriental Department
of the State Hermitage Museum.