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Novgorod (nôvˈgərət), city (1989 pop. 229,000), capital of Novgorod region, NW European Russia, on the Volkhov River near the point where it leaves Lake Ilmen. Novgorod's industries produce chemicals, fertilizer, and wood and food products. It has a major tourism industry.

The magnificent architectural monuments of Novgorod earned it the name the “museum city” until World War II, when it was held by the Germans (1941–44) and suffered great damage. Chief among the losses was the 12th-century kremlin, on the left river bank, containing the Cathedral of St. Sophia (founded 1045). On the right bank, the former commercial center, were numerous medieval churches and a museum of old Russian art. Many of the damaged buildings have been restored, but their frescoes are lost.


One of the oldest Russian cities, it was a major commercial and cultural center of medieval Europe. Rurik, who is said to have founded the dynasty that ruled Kievan Rus in 862, was invited by the inhabitants of Novgorod to rule them, according to unreliable early accounts. Culturally, the city was the equal of Kiev; the bulk of ancient manuscripts originated in Novgorod. The capital was transferred to Kiev by Oleg in 886, but Novgorod remained the chief center of foreign trade. It obtained self-government in 997 and achieved independence from Kiev in 1136, when it became the capital of an independent republic, Sovereign Great Novgorod, that embraced the whole of N Russia to the Urals. Novgorod was governed by a popular assembly or veche that elected—and often exiled—the dukes. Although they held supreme military and judicial powers, the dukes had no legislative or administrative functions; these powers were vested in elected magistrates. However, the popular assemblies were disorderly, and power was gradually amassed by the aristocracy.

The strength of the republic rested on its economic prosperity. Situated on the great trade route to the Volga valley, it became, with London, Bruges, and Bergen, one of the four chief trade centers of the Hanseatic League. German merchants had a colony in Novgorod. Furs, hides, wax, honey, flax, and tar were the chief exports. Cloth and metals were imported from Europe and corn from central Russia. Transit trade with Central Asia reached a great volume. The enterprising merchants of Novgorod extended the power of the republic over the entire north of Russia, levied tribute even beyond the Urals, and founded many colonies. The citizens of Novgorod repulsed the attacks of the Teutonic Knights and Livonian Knights and of the Swedes and escaped the Mongol invasion. At its height, in the 14th cent., its population rose to c.400,000. Its splendor during that period, its hundreds of churches, its great shops and arsenals, its huge fairs, have all furnished rich themes for later Russian art and folklore.

The 14th cent., however, also witnessed the start of Novgorod's long struggle with Moscow for supremacy. Internecine disputes among the republic's leaders weakened it in the face of growing Muscovite strength. Although it became a vassal of Moscow after the Muscovite invasions in 1456 and 1470, Novgorod was allowed to retain its self-government. It was not until 1478 that it came under Moscow's complete control and lost its freedom. Novgorod retained its commercial position until St. Petersburg was built in 1703.

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



a city, the administrative center of Novgorod Oblast in the RSFSR, situated along both banks of the Volkhov River, 6 km from Lake Il’men’, on the Moscow-Leningrad highway. It is a landing and a junction of railroad lines to Leningrad, Chudovo, and Batetskaia. Population, 158,000 (1974; 40,000 in 1939; 61,000 in 1959).

Novgorod, one of the oldest Russian cities, is first mentioned in the Novgorod Chronicle I under the year 859. In the late tenth century it became the second most important center in Kievan Rus’, and from 1136 to 1478 it was the capital of the Novgorod feudal republic. Situated at the intersection of the Volga road and the road “from the Varangians to the Greeks,” it was a crafts, trading, and cultural center as early as the tenth century. Novgorod’s trade links extended from Flanders and the Han-seatic cities to the Ugrian Land and from Scandinavia to Astrakhan and Constantinople. The chief exports were furs, wax, flax, and hides. The veche, or popular assembly, played a large part in the life of ancient Novgorod. The resistance of the posadskie liudy (tradespeople and artisans) to the domination of the ecclesiastical and secular feudal lords and merchants developed into armed uprisings in the mid-12th century and at various times between the 13th and 15th centuries. Popular discontent also took the form of various heresies.

Ancient Novgorod was a leading center of Russian culture. Chronicle writing flourished here, and the birchbark writings that have been discovered attest to a high rate of literacy. The city also played an important role in the development of Russian art. Novgorod was not attacked during the Mongol-Tatar invasion, and for centuries it preserved and developed the national cultural heritage. Of great importance for the city was its inclusion in the Russian centralized state in 1478. Up to the early 18th century, Novgorod was one of Russia’s major financial and commercial centers. In 1546 it ranked third, after Moscow and Pskov, in number of households (5,159) and inhabitants (35,000). The Novgorod marketplace had more than 1,500 shops, and more than 200 different artisan crafts were practiced. Novgorod was devastated during the Swedish occupation from 1611 to 1617, and by the mid-17th century its population had declined to 8,000. The Novgorod Uprising of 1650 was a manifestation of the class struggle. After the founding of St. Petersburg in the 18th century, Novgorod gradually lost its commercial and financial preeminence, although it was still the center of a flax-growing region. In 1727, Novgorod became a provincial capital.

In 1896 a Social Democratic circle of exiled St. Petersburg workers and students was formed in Novgorod. Among its members were P. E. Zmeev, V. T. Talalaev, and N. O. Aliushkevich. Under the direction of the St. Petersburg Union of Struggle for the Emancipation of the Working Class the group organized an underground press to publish proclamations and other materials for St. Petersburg workers. In the beginning of 1906 an RSDLP group was established in Novgorod. In 1913 about 550 workers were employed in the city’s 38 semicottage industrial enterprises. Soviet power was established in the city on Nov. 14 (27), 1917. Industry grew rapidly during the five years preceding the war: by 1939 there were 69 industrial enterprises (including a shipyard, foundry, and tile factory) employing 15,000 workers. From Aug. 15, 1941, to Jan. 19, 1944, the city was occupied by fascist German forces and almost totally destroyed. Of the city’s 2,532 apartment houses, only 40 partially standing ones were left when the Germans withdrew.

In accordance with a decree issued by the Council of People’s Commissars of the USSR in September 1944 entitled On Measures to Reconstruct Novgorod, the city was rebuilt during the postwar years, becoming a major industrial center. The city’s enterprises account for one-third of the oblast’s industrial output. Novgorod’s industrial development was facilitated by its proximity to Leningrad and close cooperation with that city’s enterprises. Most of Novgorod’s plants and factories were built after the Great Patriotic War (1941–45). The city’s rapidly expanding electrical and radio engineering industry is represented by the Lenin Komsomol Plant, the Volna Plant, the Twenty-fourth Party Congress Plant, a factory producing electric vacuum devices, and other enterprises. Also important is the growing chemical industry, whose enterprises include the Stek-lovolokno Plant and a chemical combine producing nitrogen fertilizer. There are also woodworking, light-industry, and food-processing enterprises, and construction materials are produced.

Educational institutions include a pedagogical institute, a polytechnic institute, a branch of the Leningrad Agricultural Institute, and technicums for the study of electronics, construction, and cooperative and sovkhoz farming. There are also medical, musical, and cultural-educational schools. Novgorod has a drama theater. Its museum, founded in 1865, has been reorganized into a Museum-Preserve of the History of Architecture with a branch museum devoted to Russian wood architecture. A famous tourist center, Novgorod attracts many visitors from abroad. It has two tourist hotels and year-round camping facilities.

Located at the intersection of important trade routes, Novgorod has been a major population center since ancient times. By the mid-12th century it was a large city stretching along both banks of the Volkhov River and divided into five boroughs, known as kontsy. On the left bank, the Sophia side, was the kremlin, called Detinets, built in 1044 and enlarged in 1116; its stone walls were originally built between 1302 and 1420 and were rebuilt in 1484–90. The right bank, or market side, was the site of the market place and Iaroslav’s Court, the meeting place of the veche. Until the 17th century most buildings were made of wood; stone and brick were reserved for fortifications, churches, and the houses of the elite. Outstanding architectural works within the Detinets include the Cathedral of St. Sophia (1045–50; frescoes from the second half of the 11th century, 1108, and 1144; bronze gates from 1152–56); the St. Sofia Belfry (15th–17th centuries); the ensemble of the Archbishop’s Palace with its Palace of Facets (1433) and clock tower (1673); the Likhud buildings (15th–17th centuries) and the Nikitskii building (17th century); and administrative buildings from the 18th and 19th centuries, now housing a museum. Also within the Detinets is the imposing Monument to the 1000th Anniversary of the Foundation of Russia (bronze and granite, 1862; sculptor, M. O. Mikeshin; architect, V. A. Gartman).

Large cathedrals were built in the early 12th century: the Cathedral of St. Nicholas in Iaroslav’s Court (begun in 1113), the Cathedral of the Nativity of the Virgin in the Monastery of St. Anthony (begun in 1117), and the Cathedral of St. George in the Iur’ev Monastery (begun in 1119; architect, Petr). The second half of the 12th century saw the erection of such small churches as the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul on Sinich’ia Hill (1185–92), the Church of Our Savior in Nereditsa, and the Church of the Annunciation in Arkazhy. Square churches with one low apse and trefoil gables or double pitched roofs with pointed gables predominated between the 13th and 15th centuries. Among the best examples are the Church of St. Parasceve in Iaroslav’s Court (1207), the Church of St. Nicholas in Lipno (1292, destroyed in 1941–43 and later rebuilt; 14th-century frescoes), the Church of St. Theodore Stratilates on the Brook (1360–61, frescoes from the second half of the 14th century), and the Church of Our Savior on Il’ina Street (1374, frescoes by Theophanes the Greek, 1378). The brick churches built in the 16th century combine Novgorodian and Muscovite features, for example, the Church of the Myrrh-Bearing Women (1510) and the Church of St. Boris and St. Gleb in Plotniki (1586).

In the late 18th and early 19th centuries the city was reconstructed in accordance with the general plans of 1778 and 1834. The Sophia side acquired a semicircular radial layout, and the market side, a rectilinear layout. Classical buildings from this period include the Guard House (early 19th century), the Hostelry (1771, rebuilt in 1824–28 by the architect V. P. Stasov), and various “model” residences. Under the reconstruction and development plan drawn up between 1943 and 1945 by the architect A. V. Shchusev and the revised plan worked out by the Giprogor Institute in 1966, housing projects have been built on Leningrad and Moscow streets, and the western part of the city has been built up. Certain areas have been set aside as historical preserves, and the Detinets and Iaroslav’s Court have been restored. Noteworthy sites include the Monument to V. I. Lenin (bronze and granite, 1926–56; sculptor, D. P. Shvarts; architect, D. P. Osi-pov) and the memorial to the heroes of the Civil and Great Patriotic wars (1965; mass grave, eternal flame).

The Novgorod expedition, organized by A. V. Artsikhovskii, undertook the archaeological study of Novgorod in 1932. This was the largest European archaeological expedition for the study of medieval cities. Until 1948 the work was of an exploratory nature. The largest excavation (10,000 sq m)—the Nerev site on the Sophia side, next to the kremlin—was studied between 1951 and 1962. Other parts of the city have been extensively studied since 1963. The cultural layer of Novgorod contains numerous ancient objects, owing to the moistness of the soil (aiding the preservation of wood, metal, bone, and leather objects), the absence of earlier digs, and the layer’s thickness (6–9 m). Large-scale excavations have enabled scholars to study the buildings and layout of ancient Novgorod. Excavations have uncovered wooden pavements and squares, reservoirs and drainage canals, orchards and gardens, houses, towers, workshops, and shops. Novgorod was made up of numerous large “estates,” each comprising several dwellings housing the owner, artisans, tradesmen, kholopy (bondmen), and clergy. (By 1973 archaeologists had studied 22 such complexes, each ranging from 900 to 1,500 sq m.) More than 1,700 sruby (blockwork frames) have been uncovered, including about 800 dwellings, chiefly those of artisans. The artifacts that have been found indicate that Novgorod’s crafts were comparable to the artisan production of advanced European and Asian countries. Using the latest research techniques, including dendrochronology, scholars have established for Novgorod structures the first absolute archaeological chronology in Europe, accurate to the year; for example, the oldest level of Velikaia Street dates from 953. Numerous objects have been dated to within a decade and placed on a chronological scale. More than 100,000 objects have been found on the ancient estates.

The most important finds are documents and letters written on birchbark, of which 539 specimens had been discovered by 1977. Many wooden objects have also been uncovered. Scholars have been able to study ancient boats, sleds, work tools (including lathes), dishes, furniture, various household objects and children’s toys, musical instruments, skates, skis, weapons and ornaments (metal, bone, glass, and amber), leather footwear, jesters’ masks, and balls. Applied art-objects from the 10th to 13th centuries are decorated with pagan symbols. There are many wood and birchbark objects with carved or painted designs.

The archaeological materials of Novgorod are a valuable historical source enabling scholars to solve basic questions concerning the material and spiritual culture, economy, and political history not only of Novgorod but of ancient Rus’ as a whole.

B. A. KOLCHIN (archaeology)


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Karger, M. K. Novgorod, 3rd ed. Leningrad-Moscow, 1970.
Novgorod: Putevoditel’, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1972.
Kushnir, I. I. Novgorod, 2nd ed. Leningrad, 1972.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.


a city in NW Russia, on the Volkhov River; became a principality in 862 under Rurik, an event regarded as the founding of the Russian state; a major trading centre in the Middle Ages; destroyed by Ivan the Terrible in 1570. Pop.: 215 000 (2005 est.)
Collins Discovery Encyclopedia, 1st edition © HarperCollins Publishers 2005
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