Valerie Kivelson, Cartographies of Tsardom: The Land and Its Meanings in Seventeenth-Century Russia.
Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Soboleva, Ocberki istorii rossiikoi simvoliki: Ot tamgi do simvolov gosudarstvennogo suvereniteta [Essays on the History of Russian Symbolics: From Clan Symbol to Symbols of State Sovereignty]. 487 pp. Moscow: Iazyki slavianskikh kul'tur, 2006. ISBN 5955101500.
Historians of pre-modern East Slavic history have always employed non-textual sources such as archeology and analyzed the symbolism of visual evidence such as art and architecture. Happily, in part inspired by postmodernism, historians of modern Russian history have now also turned their attention to non-textual sources. The two excellent volumes reviewed here--one on medieval, early modern, and modern history; the other on early modern history--share a focus on such sources, which also, to be sure, contain textual material in the form of inscriptions or legends. Both books are based upon significant archival research, supplement their non-textual evidence with considerable textual material, and place their analyses within the context of broader themes of East Slavic history and a wide comparative framework. In other words, both are impressive models of how to deal with non-textual evidence.
Nadezhda Aleksandrovna Soboleva was trained as an archeologist and completed her dissertation for the degree of kandidat utoricbeskikb nauk on medieval Czech seals. She is now a doctor of historical sciences and "leading researcher" (vedushchii nauchnyi sotrudnik) at the Institute of Russian History of the Russian Academy of Sciences. A specialist on "auxiliary historical disciplines," Soboleva is the author of more than 200 publications.
Ocherki istorii Rossiiskoi simvoliki is an anthology of 12 previously published articles, properly cited, written over the course of 30 years, organized into give chapters. The length of the articles (13 to 114 pages), the number of articles per chapter (1 to 7), and the length of the chapters (25 to 238 pages) are extremely varied. Although all the articles have been reformatted for type font and chapter endnotes, only one has been revised.
Chapter 1, on the beginning of "Russian" (rossiiskii) state symbols, contains two articles totaling 68 pages, mostly about the Riurikid "sign" (znak) or insignia now on the State Seal of Ukraine, arguing that what is variously called a trident was the state symbol of steppe origin of the Rus' kaganate that only later became a Riurikid clan symbol or tamga. Its closest analogies are to Khazar and to Volga and Danube Bulgar symbols. In Rus' the "sign" functioned as an archaic magical pagan symbol even after Christianization.
Chapter 2, on the evolution of the state seal, the longest in the anthology, contains nine articles totaling 238 pages. The first article discusses seals in northeast Rus' during the 14rh and 15rh centuries, tracing possible Lithuanian, Byzantine, and South Slavic influences.
Two articles address Ivan III's innovative 1497 seal, which displayed a mounted warrior slaying a dragon on one side and a two-headed eagle on the other. Soboleva endorses Gustave Alef's conclusion that the model for the two-headed eagle was the Holy Roman Empire, not Byzantium, and argues further for a northern Italian, probably Venetian, artistic model, even artist. (1) Soboleva dismisses as speculative Andrei L'vovich Iurganov's interpretation that originally the mounted warrior was an apocalyptic representation of the Archangel Michael. (2) More analysis might have been useful. Soboleva emphasizes that to Russians, the mounted warrior represented the Muscovite ruler, but Soboleva and Iurganov agree that Russians only later identified the image with St. George slaying the dragon. Soboleva notes that to contemporary Europeans, the rider was already St. George, since "secular" Europeans were not troubled by the absence of a nimbus over the warrior's head and ignored the letter "k" for kniaz" (prince) frequently assigned to the figure. (3)
Another article discusses Ivan IV's state seal, which Soboleva dates to 1567-78, most likely 1577. She credits Ivan IV's personal participation in decisions on symbolism and criticizes as inconsistent Gunther St6kl's conclusion that the seal contains both purposeful and accidental elements. (4)
An article on "Moscow--Third Rome" in Russia during the second half of the 18rh and 19rh centuries deals with the Third Rome only long enough to criticize N. V. Sinitsyna for arguing that theory "disappeared" in Petrine Russia until the 19th-century publication of Filofei's Epistles. (5) Soboleva instead asserts that the concept was "immortal" (bessmertna) and universal in Russia. Although it was never an official state attribute, the Third Rome was part of the "Russian national idea" (171, 172, Soboleva's quotation marks). The rest of this article turns to municipal symbols, whose connection to the Third Rome seems strained.
The next-to-last article in the chapter addresses the later fate of the state seal in the 17th century and in imperial Russia, with brief consideration of often fantastic bur fascinating proposals for replacements during the Provisional Government and early Soviet period.
The final article discusses early Soviet political symbolism, mostly during 1917-18. From Soviet archives, Soboleva traces the origins and evolution of Soviet symbols, including the five-pointed star, red flag, and hammer and sickle. She also treats the use by the Provisional Government of the not yet odious swastika. This is exciting material.
Chapter 3 contains a single article, the longest reprinted here (114 pages) and the only one expanded, on "Russian" (rossiiskii) flags. Soboleva declares her preference for a historical over a formalistic approach to the study of flags, veksillografiia (vexillology), also known as znamenovedenie or flagovedenie. The symbolism on flags was tied to coats-of-arms, uniforms, and naval pennants. The Rus' fought under solid-color flags from the 12rh century, and later Russian rulers led their troops into battle following battle standards with Orthodox imagery inspired by various icons. Soboleva delves into the varying terminology of such flags (stiag, khorugv', znamia). The religious symbolism of 16rh- and 17th-century Russian flags became increasingly inappropriate as more European mercenaries entered the Russian army. More fitting secular symbols appeared, even on musketeers' (strel'tsy) and Cossacks' flags. There was no state or national flag even under Peter I. Nineteenth-century Russians, including emperors, debated what should be the "national" (volkisch, narodnyi) and "state" flag between two sets of colors; eventually the Petrine naval colors (white, blue, red) won out in imperial Russia and returned after 1991.
This masterful survey of flags paints vivid images, including the contrast between Rus' flagpoles topped by a cross and Polovtsian poles by a half-moon in Slavic miniatures, and the all-red battle pennants that visually dominate the Radziwill Chronicle, showing medieval East Slavs riding into battle following the same flag as Red Guards in 1917.
Chapter 4 contains one article on the music and lyrics of national anthems (gimny) (66 pages). Soboleva traces their origin to liturgical hymns, although she also invokes patriotic literary "hymns" (which lacked music!) like Metropolitan Ilarion's "Sermon on Law and Grace." The first Russian national anthem, after an abortive attempt to borrow the music and translate the lyrics to the English "God Save the King," was based on A. F. L'vov's music and V. A. Zhukovskii's lyrics only in the 19th century. Soboleva traces the competition of the Russian translation of "La Marseillaise" and the "Internationale" in early Soviet history and the "collective" composition of a new Soviet anthem in 1943.
Chapter 5, which concludes the anthology, consists of a single article on municipal coats-of-arms (25 pages). Although the emblems have medieval roots, there were no pre-Mongol municipal coats-of-arms, which appeared later than urban seals. Even in the 17th century, ambiguity remained between coats-of-arms of regions and cities, compounded in the 18th century by the coats-of-arms of imperial regiments. Only in the late 18th century was a concerted effort made to create municipal coats-of-arms, sometimes drawing on earlier precedents. As late as the beginning of the 20th century, many cities continued to create their own coats-of-arms, often disregarding the norms of heraldry.
The volume contains a List of Abbreviations, which does not identify equivalents (such as TsGADA and RGADA), and a Name Index. There is no bibliography.
Obviously Soboleva's body of work is stimulating, original, and broad. The volume is profusely illustrated with black-and-whites from the original articles and 16 additional pages (between 224 and 225) of brilliantly colored glossy illustrations. Few historians possess the skill to do archival research on such differing centuries. Soboleva is a professional archeologist and possesses strong skills in art history, numismatics, sphragistics or sigillography (seals), heraldry (coats-of-arms), and faleristics (military decorations). What unifies the anthology is not just the focus on non-textual material but Soboleva's approach, that emblems must be placed in their historical epochs and that the epoch influenced emblems. (6)
At the same time, the anthology format obstructs the volume's utility. Despite resetting all the articles, Soboleva chose not (or did not have a choice) to revise all of them. (7) At the technical level articles overlap, often verbatim, and repeat material. Citations to previously published articles do not indicate republication in this volume. The inconsistent transliterations of Alef's name are synthesized only in the Name Index. There are no references to the new color plates, which are not numbered, not listed, and rarely attributed. The 1976 article on municipal seals lacks any illustrations, although Soboleva could easily have selected any number of black-and-whites from her 1981 monograph. (8) The thematic structure of the anthology precludes consistent chronology.
Soboleva's specialization in "auxiliary historical disciplines" would seem to exclude several that a medievalist would think of first, such as filigranology (watermarks), paleography (handwriting), and codicology (kodikologiia, manuscript miscellanies). Perhaps because Soboleva wishes to address as large an audience as possible, her exposition privileges modernist readers. Quotations from the Primary Chronicle (Povest' vrernennykh let) or early modern sources are also translated into modern Russian, but Soviet acronyms are not defined. A pre-modernist would or should take exception to describing inhabitants of Kievan Rus' (always Rus', not "Russia") as russkie, describing Byzantine texts translated into Slavonic as into "Russian," or mentioning Slovo opolku Igoreve without a hint of the controversy over its authenticity.
But the verbatim reprint nature of the anthology has more serious consequences. Opportunities to update discussion from more recent publications were missed. Soboleva's 1982 discussion of Iran IV's seal would have benefited by including John Lind's 1985 article, which independently corroborates her dating, or Anna Leonidovna Khoroshkevish's popular but well-informed 1993 study. (9) Perhaps Soboleva might have been forced to reconsider her 2000 criticism of Sinitsyna's views on the Third Rome as "idiosyncratic" had Soboleva discussed Marshall Poe's 2000 article, which made the same point as Sinitsyna. (10) Soboleva's description of the Third Rome as "eternal" violates the very methodological premises that make her research so valuable. If emblems need to be studied in time, then so much more so do ideas.
Soboleva sometimes seems to cross the line between analysis and advocacy, which goes beyond the scholarly function of correcting popular misconceptions. She writes that the Christian hymnology of Boris and Gleb propagated "the patriotic idea of the unity of the Russian [russkii] state" (381) or that the emotional impact of the Russian national anthem superseded the "official demagoguery" behind its institution (394). It is fair to observe that anti-Soviet bias should not impugn the patriotism of the Soviet composers and writers who wrote the 1943 national anthem, but to argue that no one could dispute the patriotic sentiment of its lyrics (421) or that melodies composed by patriots should live "for the ages [vekami]" (424) goes too far.
Fortunately, these occasional flaws cannot impugn the enormous scholarly contribution that Soboleva has made to East Slavic history virtually from start to finish.
Valerie Kivelson is professor of history at the University of Michigan, author of Autocracy in the Provinces: Russian Political Culture and the Gentry in the Seventeenth Century and over a dozen articles, and co-editor of Orthodox Russia: Studies in Belief and Practice under the Tsars and Beyond. (11) Earlier versions of two of the eight chapters of Cartographies of Tsardom: The Land and Its Meanings in Seventeenth-Century Russia have appeared as articles, but the volume is a thematic monograph, not an anthology, far narrower in chronology and theme than Soboleva's book.
Kivelson focuses on almost 1,000 maps from 17th-century Russia, the vast majority from the last quarter, half to two-thirds concerning property disputes. Her analysis of cultural geography deals with two types of maps: private local sketch-maps for use in property disputes, and general state maps of Siberia. Each served as tools of political and social control.
Chapter 1, on the history and historiography of Russian cartography, suggests in passing that shared visual culture and materials, rather than professionalization, probably explain the degree of standardization in the maps.
Chapter 2, on maps and legality, addresses the inability of the Russian absolutist state to resolve disputes over landownership, a picture seemingly at odds with descriptions of Muscovy as a society without law but with a dominant central state. This Romanov judicial failure was accompanied by social and political success, since the duration of land disputes kept competing interest groups at bay and involved in state processes. The judicial system rewarded persistence more than rank, facilitated collective and individual commitment to an inclusive Russian society, and created community amid the legal chaos.
Chapter 3, on the role of maps in a serf-owning society, contrasts the clear, linear perfection of beautiful maps with the mutable reality behind the court cases. Maps enhanced the mutually reinforcing, stratified land rights of landlord and peasants, since peasants sued on behalf of landlords and landlords on behalf of peasants, and landlord land grants and peasant occupation corroborated each other. There is also ample evidence of antagonism between landlords and peasants. Russians tried to create a sense of "place" within amorphous "space." Although maps were toothless to inhibit peasant mobility, they still contributed to serfdom by legitimizing serf--owner relations visually.
Chapter 4, on landscape and Orthodoxy, admittedly the most ambitious chapter in the book, looks at maps as a source for popular or at least quasi-popular piety. The 191 mapmakers Kivelson has identified came overwhelmingly from the provincial gentry; one-third were dispatched from Moscow. The very lavishness of the colorful maps suggests the presence of a subtext. The centrality of churches and Orthodox symbolism suggests that context was religious. Kivelson delineates two competing theories of Orthodox eschatology: one fatalistic, despairing, and pessimistic at the imminence of the apocalypse; the other--characteristic of official state and high-church circles--optimistic, a celebration of the beauty of the world and joy at the promise of salvation. In the sketch-maps, the bright, luxuriant gardens, the autumnal colors, and in particular the trees, denote Paradise theologically, or at least holiness on earth, the Garden of Eden spilling over into earth, nature as God's glorious gift.
Kivelson cautions against over-reading the sources, conceding that the mapmakers were not a "typical" (her quotation marks) slice of society, but they were spiritually one step closer to the Russian people at large than the elite. The perception of physical reality embodied in the maps was not articulated but rather the reflection of internalized assumptions.
Chapter 5 addresses providential narratives about Siberia. Whereas trial narratives create the context for sketch maps, for Siberia the rich associated writings by Semen Ul'ianovich Remezov provide a Rosetta Stone for the several dozen general and a few hundred more particular regional maps of Siberia. To Remezov, Siberia was a rich paradise, a welcoming environment with no obstacles, where even the winds were not cold but merry, an extension of the Russian paradise embodied in the sketch-maps. Even laymen such as Remezov saw the hand of God in the geography of Siberia, which they imbued with cosmic and theological import. Remezov died after 1720, but his mentality and cartography were pre-Petrine. On Remezov's maps, Tobol'sk was the center of the universe, not Moscow.
Chapter 6, on Christianity and colonialism, reconciles the two diametrically opposite interpretations of the role of Christianity in the Russian conquest of Siberia: one, that religion motivated conquest; and two, that the Russians discouraged conversion. Both are true, since conquest and Russian occupation signified the triumph of Christianity, whereas conversion decreased revenue and created unrest. Here, based not on maps but illustrations from Remezov's Kratkaia Sibirskaia (Kungurskaia) letopis' (Short Siberian Chronicle), Kivelson finds Christianization without conversion; conversion was a natural corollary of conquest but not essential.
Chapter 7, on Siberia's human geography and conceptions of empire, deals with the types of claims to territory the Russians made, which derived from the kinds of attitudes evidenced in land cases, and the ceremonies of submission which were intended to assuage the colonizers as much as instruct the colonized. Siberian maps exaggerated the geographic stability and political identity of native peoples, naturalizing ethnicity and defining it spatially. There was no "national" or imperial boundary. The Muscovite theory of empire was agglomerative, comprising different peoples of different faiths, all the better to glorify the Russian ruler and the Christian God.
Chapter 8, on colonial subjects and Muscovite imperial policies, shows how petitions to the Russian ruler by natives, like law suits initiated in the central region by serfs, demonstrate the natives' sense of inclusion within Russian society based upon the space they occupied. More than outright coercion of the natives was involved in Russia's annexation, although the Russian pretense that Russian rule was benign if the natives submitted was belied by the brutalities committed by Russian explorers and administrators, even if the "exploits" of Ermak and his "gang of thugs" (206) wound up being celebrated in epics while the atrocities of Vladimir Vasil'evich Atlasov, a revered Lewis-and-Clark-like figure in Russian Siberiology, wound up in court. Kivelson implicitly gives short shrift to those historians who continue to deny that Russia was "imperialist" or "colonialist."
In her Conclusion, Kivelson recognizes the risk that using maps leads to conclusions about the importance of spatial thinking, and therefore confines herself to asserting that space was only one Muscovite organizing principle. For example, in a comparative perspective, in Russia rights that were derived from space, in the central regions and Siberia, replaced abstract discourse on rights derived from citizenship.
It is impossible to do justice to the richness of Kivelson's insights briefly. The lavish black-and-white illustrations and color plates are breathtaking (although a magnifying glass is recommended). The prose is eloquent and elegant, at times as colorful as the lovingly described colors of the maps themselves. (12) Setting off the maps are large passages translated from written sources. Kivelson seems in complete command of Orthodox theology and iconography. Most of all, the conclusions are original, imaginative, profound, fruitful, and revisionist. Correlating conceptions of stratified landownership in central Russia and Russian imperial theories of Siberia is a conceptual tour de force.
References to pre-1500 East Slavic history could have been more precise. Kivelson is no more successful than Soboleva in finding adjectives to match her periodization of Kievan Rus'. Muscovite coinage began under Dmitrii Donskoi, not Ivan III (15). Vladimir, Tver', Riazan', Iaroslavl', and Nizhnii Novgorod were never "independent appanage principalities" but, save Iaroslavl', independent grand principalities, and Novgorod and Pskov were not even principalities (183). in the 17th century, the "land" (zemlia) was a more widespread concept than the "Russian Land" (russkaia zemlia).
The "seventeenth century" of the book's subtitle is flexible, since much early 18th-century material on Siberia is also included. The treatment of Siberia as a land of plenty, whose conquest is anticipated by its natives in visions of Russian Orthodox Christian triumph, was foreshadowed by Kurbsky's "History of the Grand Princes of Moscow" and the Kazanskaia istoriia, respectively.
Kivelson should have explained that she uses the spelling "Kuchium" from Remezov rather than the standard "Kuchum." (13) The term pustosh' is not defined ar its first appearance in the legend to figure 2.5 (43) but only later (68), bur such a time-lag is the exception rather than the rule in her use of Russian terms. "Muslim aljama law" should have been defined as pertaining to Mudejars, Muslims living under Christian rule (172).
Kivelson's conclusions inspire serious inquiry. On land lawsuits, Kivelson does not draw comparisons to show that in any society where land is the primary form of wealth, lawsuits over property rights are endemic. The quantity of lawsuits in 17th-century Muscovy is not at issue; their "representativeness" is. If all land, or even a major percentage of land, had been contested, the gentry cavalry would have ceased to function and state revenues would have plummeted. To be sure, psychological confidence in landownership could still have been problematic. While maps may have contributed to the process of serfdom, perhaps cadastres were a far more potent tool for tying peasants down.
Kivelson's interpretation of the sketch-maps as showing Russia as Paradise, with all her reasoned qualifications, remains almost explosive in significance. The Christian heritage was always less monolithic than theologians--or historians--pretend, so it would have been apposite for Kivelson to have applied her dissatisfaction with dualistic theories of Russian culture (130 n. 42) to her contrast of pessimistic vs. official optimistic eschatologies. (14) Without gainsaying the idealized images in the sketch-maps, I would ask if anyone who shared the grim eschatology would bother suing over land, or be asked or even accept an assignment to draw a map. Kivelson allows that mapmakers from Moscow may have imbibed the optimism of the elite but rightly rejects this as an explanation for their colorful, Edenic maps. We can also reject several possibilities which Kivelson does not raise. The mapmakers were not all would-be artists, since they include litigants, and lack of talent sometimes raises its ugly head. Nor do the maps manifest seasonal colors, since not all maps were drawn in spring and summer, and anyway realism was not required. Just drawing a stark, denuded landscape could constitute an accurate depiction of a typical Russian winter or haste or artistic incompetence as well as a depressing eschatology. These ruminations simply attempt to shed more light on the phenomenon that Kivelson has so graphically illustrated. Kivelson does not try to integrate her exposition of the insecurity of property with her interpretation of the theology of the sketch-maps. Might the maps have constituted an attempt to compensate for a reality more like Hell than Heaven?
Finally, perhaps Kivelson's focus on comparisons of Russian expansion into Siberia with other early modern European colonial empires explains her failure to mention the numerous examples of agglomerative empires in Mediterranean and Inner Asian history which lacked confessional or ethnic homogeneity, personified in the contemporary Ottoman empire. I am suggesting not Ottoman influence on Muscovy but that like parameters can produce like results, and the Muscovite paradigm was not so unique after all. Kivelson's monograph must be read by everyone.
Soboleva and Kivelson have not only amplified our source base but significantly enhanced our knowledge of East Slavic history.
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(1) Gustave Alef, "The Adoption of the Muscovite Two-Headed Eagle: A Discordant View," Speculum 41, 1 (1966): 1-21.
(2) A. L. Iurganov, "Simvol Russkogo gosudarstva i srednevekovoe soznanie," Voprosy istorii, no. 8 (1997): 118-32.
(3) See also Soboleva's interesting popular brochure: Gerb Moskvy: Istoricheskii ocherk (Moscow: Labirint, 2000).
(4) Gunther Stokl, Testament und Siegel Ivans IV(Opladen: Westdeutscher Verlag, 1972).
(5) N. V. Sinitsyna, Tretii Rita: Istoki srednevekovoi kontseptsii (Moscow: Indrik, 1998).
(6) See N. A. Soboleva, Rossiiskaia gorodskaia i oblastnaia geral' dika XVII-XIX vv. (Moscow: Nauka, 1981), 135.
(7) The reference from a 1976 article, 442 n. 42, to RGADA may be a typographical error for TsGADA.
(8) Soboleva, Rossiiskaia gorodskaia i oblastnaia geral'dika XVII-XIX vv., nos. 18, 19, 20, 22, 24, 26, 27, 28, 29, 31-33, 36, 38, 41-46 on 236, 237-39, 240, 241,242, 243, 245-47, 249, 251, 253-56.
(9) John H. Lind, "Ivan IV's Great Seal and His Use of Some Heraldic Symbols dur ing the Livonian War," Jahrbucher fur Geschichte Osteuropas 33, 4 (1985): 481-94; A. L. Khoroshkevich, Simvoly russkoi gosudarstvennosti (Moscow: Izdatel'stvo Moskovskogo universiteta, 1993).
(10) Marshal Po [Marshall Poe], "Izobretenie kontseptsii 'Moskva--Tretii Rim,'" Ab Imperio, no. 2 (2000): 61-86.
(11) Valerie Kivelson, Autocracy in the Provinces: Russian Political Culture and the Gentry in the Seventeenth Century (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1997); Kivelson and Robert H. Greene, eds., Orthodox Russia: Studies in Belief and Practice under the Tsars and Beyond (University Park: Pennsylvania State University Press, 2003).
(12) Kivelson does stretch the metaphor of the sovereign's hand beyond the breaking point (189).
(13) Professor Kivelson kindly answered my question about this spelling. The Index entry for "Kuchium" mentions one page; I found six more.
(14) Kivelson does not relate the pessimistic eschatology to what was or would become the Old Believer theology of the State as Anti-Christ.
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|Author:||Halperin, Charles J.|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2007|
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