The Kremlin treasure

Viking treasure hidden under the Kremlin for 750 years!

Written by Igor Yablokov (14)
Student at the Norwegian-Russian School, Moscow (2004)

The Mongols are coming!

Moscow AD 1238:

“The Golden Horde was at the gates of Moscow. The inhabitants, amongst them Prince Vladimir, hid their treasures.”

The prince hid his family treasure in the Kremlin; it was not to be found again until 1988!

The great Kremlin hoard is the buried treasury of Moscow Prince Vladimir

In the winter of AD 1238, the troops of the Golden Horde, under the command of Baty Khan, launched a crusade against Russia. In February they seized and destroyed Moscow. The Muscovites withstood a siege for three days but then the town was burned to the ground. Sensing their imminent doom, they managed to hide their valuables by burying them in the ground.

Prince Vladimir’s treasure

Also hidden in this way was the treasure belonging to Prince Vladimir. Many died during the attack and Vladimir’s treasure was forgotten.

17th of May 1988

This hoard was discovered on 17 May 1988 during construction work near the Spasskiye Gates in the Kremlin. The hoard consists mainly of silver articles, fashioned by the jewellers of Vladimir and Old Ryazan towns. But there are also some works by Scandinavian and Arabic Eastern jewellers, with some also from the banks of the Dnepr.

The collection of neck jewellery includes items found nowhere else in medieval Russia, and they make the Kremlin hoard unique among similar collections dating from pre-Mongol times.

Viking Items

These items are 10 hollow pendants, beetle-like in appearance. They are made from two silver sheets. The upper sheet is decorated with granulation, filigree and small bosses soldered onto the surface. Similar silver pendants with slightly different ornamentation are well known in Sweden, where they are linked to the late Viking Age (10th – 11th centuries). The Fölhagen hoard from the island of Gotland includes a set of 12 pendants bearing the faces of bearded men, depicted in filigree wire and granulation – fine examples of the 10th century culture of these warrior Norsemen.

Differing somewhat from the Gotlandic pendants in their size and ornamentation, those in the Kremlin hoard occupy a special place in the archaeological record of pre-Mongol Russia. Their precise origin is still in doubt. On the one hand, pendants of Scandinavian origin could have been kept for many years among the family jewels of the Vladimir-Suzdal princedom. On the other, they might have been copied from ancient examples by Russian jewellers in pre-Mongol times. The first version seems more probable as there is another item in the Kremlin hoard, the origins of which in Viking culture are beyond any doubt.

This item, which came from Gotland, is an arm-ring plaited from several silver strand, the ends of which are fashioned into gilded dragon heads. Similar items are well represented among the Swedish archaeological finds on Gotland. Like the Kremlin example, Gotlandic bracelets have thinner silver wire plaited into them. The dragon heads, eyes and ears are precisely fashioned, the jaws are open and the moustaches finely curled.

It is interesting to note that all the ornaments of Scandinavian type in the Kremlin hoard have their parallels among finds made in Gotland. Mutual contacts between this major Baltic trading and manufacturing region and the Old Russian towns of Kiev and Novgorod have been established by many finds of items of Russian origin on the island, and also by references in written sources.