Beresto Writings

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Beresto Writings


letters and documents from the 11th through 15th centuries written on birchbark.

The first beresto writings were found in Novgorod in 1951 by an archaeological expedition led by A. V. Artsikhovskii. By 1970, archaeologists had found 464 beresto writings in Novgorod, ten in Smolensk, two in Pskov, one in Vitebsk, and three in Staraia Russa. The letters were scratched on specially prepared birchbark with a sharp bone or metallic stick (pisalo in Old Russian). The beresto writings were lost or thrown away by the addressees and found by archaeologists in strata which preserved the remains of plants.

Most of the beresto writings are private letters which deal with domestic or economic questions, contain instructions, or describe disputes; some are humorous. There are beresto writings containing peasant protests against feudal exploitation, as well as feudal conscription lists, feudal obligations, political news, monetary documents, wills, and a love letter. Beresto writings addressed to or written by historically famous Novgorod officials have been found.

The beresto writings give important information about the system of teaching children to read and write. They proved that in ancient Rus’ there were many literate people, not only among the nobility and clergy but also in the lower social classes. The beresto writings provided much new material for the history of the Russian language. Some of the authors of the beresto writings were women. The beresto writings can be accurately dated paleographically and according to a chronological scale of subdivisions within Novgorod culture.


Artsikhovskii, A. V. Novgorodskie gramoty na bereste (Iz raskopok 1958–1961 gg.). Moscow, 1963. (Bibliography.)
Ianin, V. L. la poslal tebe berestu .... Moscow, 1965.
Avdusin, D. A. “Smolenskie berestianye gramoty iz raskopok 1966 i 1967.” Sovetskaia arkheologiia, 1969, no. 3.
Drochenina, N. N., and B. A. Rybakov. “Berestianaia gramota iz Vitebska.” Sovetskaia arkheologiia, 1960, no. 1.
Paleograficheskii i lingvisticheskii analiz novgorodskikh berestianykh gramot. Moscow, 1955.
Zhukovskaia, L. P. Novgorodskie berestianye gramoty. Moscow, 1959.


The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.