Ancient Russian costume by archaeological data
The ancient Russian costume: reconstruction on the archaeological data of the Upper Volga area
Costume is an ensemble, the complex, in center of which a man is situated. This complex contains clothing, foot-wear, accessories, and also cosmetic, hair-do, make-up, and it bears the specific utilitarian- aesthetical function. The cloth is the collection of the separate variants of covers for the body (dress, shirt, stockings, etc.). Thus, archaeology deals with remainders, which correspond to wider concept costume, complex of its details, as a rule, accessories. This fact defines not only advantages but difficulties of studying of archaeological sources on the history of clothing and suit. Usually in medieval burials only accessories and small fragments of the cloth may be found.
Costume is traditionally studied by researchers in two basic aspects: functional and symbolic. Specifically, the complete complex of clothing and other details of suit depend on the conditions, dictated by practical purposes, and it includes the nuances of symbolic value. Cover was created by man for the protection of body from the environmental effect: cold, intense heat, atmospheric phenomena. They helped him in  the adaptation to the ambient conditions. However, already at the early stages of mankind history people tried to designate themselves, to devise the signs, which give idea about them and their actions. The majority of changes left track in the complex of people costume as a whole (appearance of new elements) or in different components (material, the cut, ornaments) and use (manner of carrying). All this makes people costume the most important source for studying the origin of people, its ethnic and social development, its historical fate, cultural connections and contacts.
The field documentation of the excavations of the burial places (X-XIII centuries) of Upper Volga area contains detailed descriptions and drawings of burials and give wide informative possibilities for the reconstruction of the complex of the ancient Russian costume. 
The details of costume made from textile, leather, fur, felt, birch bark, as a rule, badly remain in the cultural layer. Thats why even separate fragments attract an especial attention of archaeologists. The collections of organic remainders from the necropolis of Pleshkovo-1, Izbrizhye, Berezovetsky are the most representative.  Among the revealed remainders - fragments of textile, thread, together with the adornments. In the majority of cases (64%) the fur is material of the cloth. Textile from the vegetable fibers (flax, hemp) is only in two cases. As a rule, it was destroyed in the soil rapidly and without any traces. There are also the remainders of the textile, that contained flaxen and woolen threads.  Findings of silk cloths are rare. There are 7 silk fragments from four burials of Upper Volga region. In the epoch of the early middle ages silk composed one of the significant parts of the import to Russia from Byzantium and countries of the Moslem East, but it widely spread only among aristocracy and clergy. Rural population used cheap sorts of silk for decoration of dress. Silk was cut into the strips, which were being used for the skin of sleeves, hem, gates. These strips could be decorated with embroidery. In Upper Volga area there are some findings of the silk, different in the origin, to the nature of working and use. In the barrow near Vorobyevo village the fragments of two-colored silk (on the yellow background green ornament, located by strips) were found. Besides that the fragments of yellow silk (with the red flowers) were found here.  In the opinion of M. Fekhner, this cloth has the Central-Asian origin. Similar cloths were manufactured in the settlement of Zandana, near Bukhara, and they were known on the world market by the name "zandanechi". 
The fragment of head cloth from Ivorovskoye is the rare model of the Ancient Russian gold sewing of the XII beginning of the XIII c. This cloth was called "samit" and was manufactured in the silk-weaving workshops of Byzantium and of the Near East. The piece of the thin silk from Pekunovo-2, in green colors, with the small weaving pattern in the form of rhombs, was preserved. The remains of layer of birch bark were situated between two layers of cloth. Possibly, this fragment is remains of woman's dress decoration. These findings of silk cloths reflect the assortment of the silk material, which entered Russia, and the nature of their use in the clothing of rural population. 
The colored woven patterns are fixed in some burials. The threads of basis and weft have different color and geometric pattern is formed with the interlacing. 
The remains of woven many-colored tapes are exclusive and interesting archaeological findings that also are widely represented in the Russian ethnographical materials.   It is interesting to note that the width of these belts is fixed, and it could differ. 
Woven pendants (fringe, cords, bells) are another interesting findings and special form of woven decor. Also two fragments of the Ancient Russian embroidry by the colored woolen threads were revealed among the textile remains.
Textile remains from burials of Upper Volga area. Wool. XI-XI . Silk fragments from burials of Upper Volga area. 1- Pekunovo; 2 - Vorobyevo. XI c. Textile ornaments.
Izbrizhye, Pleshkovo. XI c.
Silk band with the embroidered images of saints. Ivorovskoye. End of XII - beginning of XIII c.

The materials of female burials, which include a large of pendants, beads, buttons and other accessories, give the possibilities for the reconstruction of the Ancient Russian costume of Upper Volga area. Their distribution along the zones in the burial zone of neck, arms, belts and sleeves reflects the composition of the woman's costume, which consisted of cloth, head-gear, foot-wear, accessories. Comparison with the data of written sources and the models of ethnographical costume gives the possibility to refine the design features of the Old-Russian female cloth. 
The local variants of head-gear are separated in the western and eastern parts of Upper Volga area at the early stage (end of the X first half of the XI c.). These variants are similar with the Baltic and Finno-Ugric types of head-gear. Subsequently the spread of head-gear with the bracelet-like temporal rings occurs. At the same time in the second half of the XI century the wide variety in the head adornments is observed. The head-gear with different types of temporal rings is presented in the large necropolis. 
The group of burials with a small quantity of beads from 1 to 5 may be separated.  Beads are located under the lower jaw, at the cervical vertebrae. They hold vertical disposition, on center or on the left side. The remains of cloth are found together with the beads in the some burials. These facts make possible to assume that these beads were used as the buttons and sewed on to the winch of cloth. The vertical disposition of these buttons corresponds to small cut on neck, in the center or on the left side. The collars with the asymmetric fastening by materials of the female and man burials of Suzdal necropolis (second-half of the XI beginning XII century) are reconstructed. It is interesting to note that a similar formulation of the cut of neck is observed on materials both female and man burials of Upper Volga region. It is possible to assume that the formation and the spread of traditional Russian shirt ("kosovorotka") occurred at this time. 
The studying of complexes of woman's costume details gives the most interesting results. The fastenings fibulas, buckles, and also adornments (chain, pendants and the sewed-on platelets) testify about the type of cloth. They indicate the places of seams or sections of clothing, the presence of belt.  It is possible to determine the following variants of clothing: 1) with the belt or waist; 2) humeral (shirt, upper dress, cover). 
The disposition of pendants in the burials reflect the cut of woman's clothing. The cloth with the belt fixed in 25% of female burials with the elements of costume. The majority of the waist complexes are located in the eastern part of the territory (Zabor'e, Glinniki, Pekunovo-2, Pleshkovo-1 necropolis). The knives and pendants were hung up to the belt. Pendants decorate also the arm zone of female burials of center of Upper Volga region. 
The cloth with cut is fixed by the disposition of  sewed-on platelets and their remains,  which are located along the vertebral bones of skeleton. Such burials are concentrated in the west of Upper Volga area (Berezovetskiy, Bolshaya Kosha necropolis). As a rule, the cloth with cut had a small length (to the thigh). For example, the tracks of the corrosion of bronze that were fixed in the burials from Bolshaya Kosha necropolis form the strip - vertical along the spine and horizontal in the zone of the bones of basin. There are three versions of the reconstruction here: 1) the shoulder cover, decorated along the edge with bronze stripes; 2) cloth with cut and length to the thigh, with the decoration on the boards and the bottom; 3) the clothing without cut, embroidered by bronze ornaments. The upper clothing is fixed also on materials of burials from the Pleshkovo-1. Here the female burials with fibulas in the center of the breast zone were investigated, which, probably, buttoned the edge of shoulder cover. 
It should be noted that different types of clothing are combined with the specific forms of head-gear. Thus, the costume from Pleshkovo-1 (east part of the Upper Volga area) includes the head-gear with the several small temporal rings, the adornments, waist cloth and upper clothing, fastened by fibulas (is possible, shoulder cover). This type of cloth is character for Volga Finn's. Another type of costume fixed on the west of Upper Volga area. The costume from the Berezovetsky necropolis includes the head-gear with halos from the metal plates and the spirals, the head covers, embroidered by beads, and the cloth with the waist details. These elements were character for the Baltic type of the costume. However, the head-gear with the bracelet-like temporal rings in combination with the cloth with the breast adornments (the beads), without the details of belt, is character for the majority of the burials, situated in the central part of the Upper Volga area.

Reconstructions of woman costume on materials of the burial mounds of Upper Volga area
Berezovetsky burial mound. 
XI c.
Bolshaya Kosha burial mound.
XII c.
Izbrizhye burial mound.
First half of XI c.
Necklace of beads. Izbrizhye.
First half of XI c.
Berezovetsky burial mound. Early XII c. Pleshkovo burial mound.
XI c.

In comparison with the woman's costume, mans costume is characterized by smaller quantity and variety of accessories. At the same time, the studying of complexes of things in the man burials showed that the implements of the labor (knives, flints, whetstones, iron rods), remainders of woven and leather purses are also included into the composition of costume. The inclusion of the instruments of labor and other necessary things in the composition of the costume is one of the most noticeable special features of man's costume. 
The details of belt are the most frequent element of man's costume. The knives are most frequent among them. Waist buckles are fixed in 48%, waist rings in 29% of man burials. Other details of man costume are found rarely. Fibulas, bracelets and rings are fixed only in 11% of man burials with the details of costume. Various sewed-on adornments, pendants and other decorations are fixed only in 5% of man burials. 
The remains of textile, leather, felt are not numerous. The fragments of the belts are fixed in 13 burials, and with the same frequency fragments of leather and woven purses. The remains of textile from the shirts, the upper cloth from the sheepskin and the leather foot-wear were preserved only in 4 burials. The disposition of sheepskin fragments indicates that the upper cloth was put on fur inside. The sewed-on loop from the leather ribbon was preserved on one of the fragments found in Pleshkovo-1. The remains of foot-wear and head-gear are very fragmentary and do not make possible to reconstruct they.  The fragment of felt head-gear was fixed in only one burial from Berezovetsky necropolis. Possibly, this head-gear had the form of cap, similar to those on the Old-Russian miniatures. 
The disposition of adornments, instruments of the labor and other details, which are included into the ensemble of man's costume, fixes the parts of the cloth and makes possible to reconstruct its cut and composition. 
Belt is the most popular element of man's costume. In general the presence of belt is fixed in 80% of man burials.  Waist rings, probably, were used for fixation of belts and suspension of different things. Belts were provided by adornments the ornamented sewed-on platelets. The waist collection, which includes 4 identical platelets, the detail of the tip, waist buckle was found in the burial 26 of Berezovetsky necropolis. The knife and purse with the coins were suspended from the belt. However the belts with the diverse ornaments are sufficiently rare in the Upper Volga burials. 
The materials of Upper Volga burials distinctly demonstrate the utilitarian function of a belt in the middle ages. Belt is a unique pocket; the diverse small things are hung up to it. The universal function of the mens belt is confirmed by written sources. The special importance of the belt is reflected in the Russian folk rites and the rituals. The implements of labor, which formed the part of costume, attest to the fact that the costume was called to mark the social status of the man as a producer of material goods and guardian of boundaries. Belt was an important element of the costume of adult man. The ideas about the force and protection from the adverse effects are connected with it. Belt had ritual value, participating, first of all, in the "rites of passage" (wedding, burials). 
The details of the cut and the construction of man's cloth may be reconstructed on the base of findings of fastenings (fibulas and buttons), and also organic remains (textile and leather). Fibulas are fixed in 11% of man's burials. Rare findings of them, probably, represent the special value of these objects.  There are two variants of fibulas disposition in the man's burials of the Upper Volga area: 1) in the zone of shoulder; 2) in the zone of belt. In the first case the reconstruction of cover that was buttoned by fibula on the shoulder is possible; in the second the reconstruction of cover, which is buttoned on the side on the belt and closes one arm, is probable. The remains of the rough and dense textile of the upper cloth are found together with the fibulas in a number of cases. The cloth, found together with the fibulas in burials 37 and 107(1) of Izbrizhye, had dark-blue color.  Also the type of the man's cloth testifies by findings of buttons. The metallic, bronze and silver, buttons (1-4 examples) are fixed in the zone of neck and breast in the man burials. 
Unfortunately, there are no materials, which give the possibility to accurately restore the length of man's cloth. It is possible to rest only on the data of the visual sources. Cloth with the length to the elbows was characteristic for the rural population, the soldiers, the craftsman in contrast to the long-skirted clothing of aristocracy, which was oriented towards the byzantine models. The short shirt of craftsmen and soldiers frequently is combined with the high foot-wear. 
Findings of foot-wear are very rare in the burials of Upper Volga area only 4 fragments. However, some data testify the possible types of foot-wear, which were rushed by the rural population of the Upper Volga area in the X-XIII centuries. The ferrules, in the form analogous to waist are found in a number of man burials in the zone of elbows. The reconstruction of high foot-wear boot with the soft tops, which were tightened in elbows by belts with the rings is possible in these cases. This type of foot-wear was a feature of the Baltic costume. Boots with the wide tops are known by the archaeological materials of Old-Russian towns.  Also it is possible another version of reconstruction short foot-wear and windings (puttee) around the shins, which were tied under the elbow. This type of foot-wear was reconstructed by materials of the Finns burials of the North-West of the Novgorod land.

Drawings by the author of the website

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Julia Stepanova, 2005-2011
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