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January 10, 2002
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Norman J. Finkelshteyn
Medieval Russian Armour workshop in Gomiy
By S.U. Kainov,
Translated from Russian by Dmitry V. Ryaboy
Click images to view large versions of the same
Clearly, presenting articles in the form of electronic essays as proposed by my colleague M.I. Petrov is a very useful idea. It is well known that the majority of scientific, and, among them, archeological articles are hard to read and only interesting to a small number of specialists. In our case, an essay saves the reader from the tedious descriptions of the topography of the find, its stratigraphy, etc, and only presents the information about the arms and armor contained in a given article that will be interesting to the visitors of this website.
The interest expressed by the visitors of Tozhe Forum caused by the announcement of the discovery of a medieval Russian armoury caused me to follow M.I. Petrov's example and present to the readers an abridged version of O.A. Makushnikov's article "Medieval Russian armoury from Gomiy," published in the collection "Starozhitnosti pivdennoi Rusi," Chernigiv, 1993, p. 121-130.
The ancient Gomiy (now Gomel, first mention in 1142) is located in Lower Posozh, and is one of the towns in the Chernigov district. By the 10th century Gomiy was already a large town with its own perimeter defences, and by 12th century it turns into the biggest economical, military, and cultural center of Radimichis' lands. It is probable that by the second half of the 12th century this was a royal seat. Prior to the Mongol invasion the area of the city exceeded 45 hectares, and no less than a third of it had perimeter defenses.
The armoury was discovered on the edge of Gomiy in 1987. It is part of a large building which has 2 lower-level rooms -- room 1 and room 2 (the walls of the last one are of pillar construction; it has an earthen stove in the corner). Both rooms were destroyed in a fire, and as a result their earthen floors were buried under charred remains of the walls and the roof, which gives us a solid basis for examining the 2 rooms as closed complexes.
On the floor of room 1 and directly above it were over 1600 objects. A large number of the objects is fragmented. Under the influence of fire and corrosion many iron items melted together into misshapen "lumps" and are impossible to classify until the cleaning is concluded.
Among these are crossguards, pommels and details of scabbards for swords and sabers. Nine types of crossguards have been identified. According to A.N. Kirpichnikov's classification, there are 3 type IV (1150-1250) sword crossguards, 1 type III (12th-first half of 13th), 4 type III (12th-first half of 13th) saber crossguards, and 1 type 1A (second half of 10th-11th centuries). The latter find among the other, later period objects leads us to believe that it was used for a long time, due to the aspects of the inventory of the building and the occupation of its owner. Two pommels are of sword types III and IV, and one has distinct ridges and is obviously unfinished. The saber pommel is associated with type I blades which have a wide time range. This collection of edged weapon components is augmented by parts of scabbards: a chape, a splinted holder, fragments of wood.
The remains of a flattened tubular vambrace/couter of hinged construction are unique. Although it survives badly, the general shape is still quite discernable. The extreme rarity of this type of armour in ancient Russian and Eastern European finds has been commented upon in the specialized literature. Judging by the surviving fragments, the Gomiy vambrace is analogous to the only other known example, found on the Sahnovskoe gorodische (ancient town site) near Kanev in the layer corresponding to the first half of 13th century.
The fragments of maille fabric contain from 1 to 200 rings, over 600 rings total. Half the fragments has rings with a circular cross-section (wire diameter 1-1.5 mm), half -- with a flat cross-section (1x2; 1-1.5x3; 1x3 mm). The diameter of the rings is 6, 9, and 14 mm. It is certain that many fragments formed different sheets of maille. The mail-making process looks unfinished: there is one ring left unriveted, and several chains of single rings.
Armor plates make up the largest part of the find. These lie in no apparent order. Fabric imprints can be found of many plates, which probably means that they were wrapped in fabric or stored in a cloth bag. The plates vary greatly, with different curvatures, shapes, and numbers and positions of holes. It is impossible to fully describe the classification of this highly interesting collection, but it is worth noting that the plates have been classified into 3 groups, 41 sections, 24 types, 20 classes and 40 variants (the classification is still being perfected). The Gomiy collection of plates is positively the largest such find in pre-Mongol Russia.
Unusually large amount of whetstones, a polishing stone and a sharpening wheel further demonstrate the manufacturing aspect of the complex. Among the specialized tools are a large rasp-like file, a spiraling drill 29.5 cm in length, a two-handed spokeshave, a fragment of an ax and a long awl.
The question of the dating of this find is particularly interesting, as the time and place of the appearance and the use of different types of arms & armor of 9th-14th centuries among the nomads and of Eastern Europe remains a highly debated topic among the students of military history. Let us examine the items from the find that provide information that can be used to date the whole complex. Among these are the cylindrical locks, which correspond to locks of type B by Novgorod classification. The time of their use is middle 12th -- beginning of 15th centuries. As has been pointed out before, the swords of type IV can be dated with a fairly narrow interval -- 1150-1250. The fragments of maille fabric with rings with flat cross-sections are important in determining the lower bound of the date. Such items first appear in Russia around year 1200. According to A.N. Kirpichnikov, the tubular vambrace also appears around the same time. The Sahnovsk vambrace was found in the Mongol invasion layer (approximately 1240). The combination of this evidence leads to dating the building as belonging to the first half of the 13th century. This is not contradicted by the rest of the material -- the "pre-mongol" look of the ceramic items, as well as the glass bracelets.
Due to the dating of the complex, the circumstances in which the building perished become particularly interesting. Neither the owner nor the other townsfolk, who doubtlessly knew about the house owner's trade, were able to rescue even highly precious items from the house, or later, the burned remains. This suggests that the fire was caused by military actions which led to the death or capture of the town's residents. Such tragic events can be reasonably attributed to the Mongol invasion of the Chrnigov province in 1239. The find of typical Mongolian arrowheads ("srezni") in fires in the 13th century level in Gomiy is telling.
Therefore, we are dealing with a positively identifiable medieval Rus armour workshop at the beginning of the Mongol invasion. The above list of tools serves as another argument for the building being a workshop. Any doubts about this classification can be layed to rest by the character of the finds themselves. Blade parts, maille fragments and armour plates form a part of a whole arsenal, prepared to various extent for assembly or repairs. They could be used to produce 12 slashing weapons, and several plate-armours (broni doschatiye) -- the manifacture of one suit took about 600 plates, which is far less than the number found in Gomiy. The typological diversity of the plates also speaks to several armour sets.
The lack of cut off pieces of metal, blanks, and, most importantly, no remains of a forge in the Gomiy workshop prevents us form classifying it as a smithy. The parts themselves came here from other workshops. Mostly fitting and assembly were performed on location. The fitting and finishing of parts is well illustrated by the unfinished sword pommel, as well as the collection of tools, which includes whetstones, a file, and a wheel. Undoubtedly, the craftsman performed operations such as joining rings into the maille fabric for shirts and aventails (?). Plates for body armour that came from elsewhere probably did not have holes, the necessary curve, and had unfinished edges: there are pieces with barbs and no holes. The craftsman punched them according to the planned method of connecting the plates in the item (there are plates that cracked during the punching process). He bent them, filed the edges, and polished the plates. Several operations required heating up the metal, and the fireplace was used for this purpose.
One can assume that it is not accidental that the workshop does not contain weapons that do not require professional assembly: spears, maces, flails, stirrups, arrows, etc. On the contrary, only those items are represented that require the fitting together from 3-5 parts (swords) to several thousand parts (maille). At the same time, the craftsman did not only perform the finishing and assembly of metal parts. A collection of "non-metalsmith" tools (a drill, a draw knife, an axe, an awl) probably was not only intended for carpentry tasks of the owner of the house, but also for purely armor-related ones. For example, the axe and spokeshave were used for making scabbards, the awl -- for making holes in the leather backing and straps, etc.
Therefore, the Gomiy weaponsmith can be qualified as an assembly master, which once again confirms the well-known thesis of a high level of specialization in Russian crafts of the 12th-14th centuries.
The original Russian article and this translation can also be found at "Tozhe Gorod" ("Also City") (http://www.tgorod.go.ru), a resource of the reenactor community of the states of the Former Soviet Union.