Religious Appropriation of Ancient Rus Chamber Graves

Keywords: Ancient Rus, X century, chamber burials, religious beliefs, Christianization.

Abstract

The article is devoted to the discussion of the religious identity of Viking age chamber burials in the territory of Ancient Rus. Particular attention is paid to the finds in such complexes of cruciform pendants and linings; their sacred meaning is concluded. The wide context of such finds was taken into account: their place among the burial equipment, the combination of crosses with other groups of amulets, the composition of the rest of the equipment, the position of the bodies, age and sex composition of the dead, and other ritual features. Christian symbols are often found in combination with artifacts of Byzantine origin. If the cross was a part of the necklace, it was given a central place. Some items were made specifically for the funeral ceremony. Wax candles and Byzantine coin pendants could also play the role of Christian symbols in chamber burials. Amulets, commonly considered pagan, are quite rarely found in chambers. In turn, cruciform pendants and linings are almost never found in cremation graves.

Cultural impulses associated with the penetration into Ancient Rus of certain elements of the Christian funeral rite, came from both Byzantium and the countries of Central and Northern Europe. One of such elements was the appearance in chamber burials of an additional structural part — a wooden coffin. Differences in the religious beliefs of the dead can be explained by the presence of biritual pair burials.

Initially, the chamber rite was pagan in its essence. However, it was gradually used by neophytes among the ancient Rus elite, because the rite met the main requirement of Christian missionaries — denial of burning the dead. Some of the ceremonial features of “chambers with crosses”, such as sitting postures of the deceased or the presence of accompanying burial places for slaves and horses, can be regarded as manifestations of ethnosocial rather than religious awareness. Some of these burials were made after the christening of 988, which testifies to the strong rooting of traditional burial customs. Further study of chamber burials will provide new valuable information on the early stages of the Christianization of Ancient Rus.

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2020-04-03
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