Gnezdovo Burial Mounds

Gnezdovo Burial Mounds


ancient Russian burial mounds (approximately 3,000) of the tenth and early 11th centuries A.D. near the village of Gnezdovo, 12 km down the Dnieper River from Smolensk, where the ancient shallow river and portage route from the Zapadnaia Dvina to the Dnieper ended. Approximately 850 mounds have been excavated since 1874; the main researchers are M. F. Kustsinskii, V. I. Sizov, S. I. Sergeev, and D. A. Avdusin. The basic burial rite was cremation. Household appliances, decorations, ceramics, tools, and Arab and Byzantine coins have been found, and, more rarely, weapons (arrows, axes, swords, armor, and helmets). A vessel with the most ancient Russian inscription (the Gnezdovo Inscription) and the most ancient razor and scissors in Russia of the hinged type have been discovered. The funerary articles reflect the formation of the feudal system in Russia and the growth of crafts and trade, including foreign trade.

At the Gnezdovo burial mounds, besides the separate burials of rich warriors, many graves of members of the lower social classes have been excavated. Those buried here were mostly Slavs, although there were some Scandinavians and Baltic people too. Attempts to substantiate the participation of Varangians in the formation of the ancient Russian state (the so-called Norman theory) on the basis of a few finds at the Gnezdovo burial mounds are unfounded, however, because there are few Scandinavian graves. Furthermore, most of the Gnezdovo mounds were built at the end of the tenth Century A.D., that is, 100 years after the legendary “summoning of the Varangians.” Near the mounds are the remains of settlements inhabited prior to the Mongol invasions, whose people presumably serviced the Zapadnaia Dvina-Dnieper route.


Sizov, V. I. “Kurgany Smolenskoi gubernii.” In the collection Materialy po arkheologii Rossii, no. 28. St. Petersburg, 1902.
Avdusin, D. A. “K voprosu o proiskhozhdenii Smolenska i ego per-vonachal’noi topografii.” In the collection Smolensk. Smolensk, 1967.