Mythic Russia

Heroic roleplaying in a mythical medieval Russia

How Old is Moscow? Maybe 100+ years than we thought — August 21, 2017

How Old is Moscow? Maybe 100+ years than we thought

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The Founding of Moscow, by Apollinari Vasnetsov

Moscow is being rebuilt and redeveloped, from the tearing up of pavements (to, cynics say, essentially relay them with the same stones, netting fat profits for well-connected construction firms…) to replacing often-crumbling Khrushchev-era housing blocks. The city’s archaeologists have been unexpected beneficiaries of this public building jamboree, as excavations have unearthed all kinds of finds, some of which appear to suggest the city actually dates back further than originally believed. (There’s a very good article on this, in English, on the Moscow Mayor’s Office website.)

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Old Moscow: the wooden walls, by Apollinari Vasnetsov

The usual date of Moscow’s founding is given as 1147, when the Hypatian Codex mentions it as the fortified village where Prince Yuri Dolgorukiy met Northern-Novgorod prince Svyatoslav. According to the Tver Chronicle, it was actually in 1156 when Grand Prince Yuri Volodimerich laid down the foundations of a fort between the mouths of the Neglinnaya and Yauza Rivers, around which formed the township of Moscow.

According to Leonid Kondrashev, Moscow’s chief archaeologist, new evidence suggests that the city was actually founded a hundred years earlier, during Kievan Prince Izyaslav’s campaigns against the Galindian tribes, or even earlier.

Kondrashev has suggested that scholars will be reluctant to agree on an earlier date because 1147 has already become entrenched within the city’s historical narrative, but one could also suggest that this may be part of the current fad for historical revisionism and a desire to make the city’s pedigree all the more glorious. After all, in today’s Russia, history is very political

Not-at-all Mythic Russia: the Moscow Mayhem playset for Fiasco — August 13, 2017

Not-at-all Mythic Russia: the Moscow Mayhem playset for Fiasco

Red Square Graphic

Forgive this brief break in transmission, but I’m just using this site also to host a piece of very different Russia-related roleplaying, the Moscow Mayhem playset for FIASCO, the ingenious storytelling game of “ordinary people with powerful ambition and poor impulse control.” It provides the basic setting, motivations and other playset elements for play in today’s Moscow:

2017, and Moscow, the Third Rome, has got its second wind. After the misery and chaos of the 1990s, it is now a capital of paradoxes: swanky, high-end luxury stores, a clear, shiny metro, but also crumbling Soviet-era housing estates and miserable, grimy suburbs. The in-your-face gangsterism has receded, not least as corrupt officials in their imported suits call the shots, but in some ways that just opens up new opportunities for the desperate, the stupid, the opportunistic, and the over-optimistic. You know, people like you…

You can download the playset here: FIASCO-Moscow

 

Some Suitably Epic Art of Mythic Russia — August 11, 2017

Some Suitably Epic Art of Mythic Russia

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The bogatyrs battled the fearsome three-headed dragon Zmei Gorynich on the Kalinin Bridge (© Igor Ozhiganov)

I can claim no credit, but Russia Beyond The Headlines recently ran a piece on the art of Igor Ozhiganov, a Russian designer who essentially does these amazing pictures drawn from pagan slavic folklore and mythology as a hobby. The article has many more wonderful pictures, and you can see many more on his VKontakte page, including this badass Perun:

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Perun the Thunderer (© Igor Ozhiganov)

I especially like the moody, muted tones and the appropriately strong Viking-Nordic resonances of his art. His Chernobog (the black god) very much to me feels like an Odin whose breaking bad…

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Chernobog (© Igor Ozhiganov)
The Dragon of Lake Brosno — August 1, 2017

The Dragon of Lake Brosno

lake-brosnoSeveral Russian lakes have alleged denizens, slavic kin of the Loch Ness Monster, but most are far to the east. West of Moscow, though, in the lands of Tver, is Lake Brosno, the deepest lake in the province, and one which bubbles gently. Alchemists might claim that this is simply mephitic gas released by decaying detritus on the lakebed, but we know better. The dragon is a classic sea monster in reputed shape, a long-necked dinosaurian, with flukes and a powerful tail.

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Is it a patriot, or just territorial? The legends say that when Batu Khan was leading a Mongol army towards Novgorod in the 13th century and his horsemen led their horses to the lake to drink, it savagely attacked, devouring men and mounts alike, sending the Mongols fleeing. But then further back, when Varangians sought to cache plunder from one of their 10th century raiding expeditions into the Rus’ lands on a small island in the lake, the dragon simply swallowed the island whole…

 

 

The Stone Labyrinths of Bolshoi Zayatsky — June 24, 2017

The Stone Labyrinths of Bolshoi Zayatsky

BolshoiZNorth, beyond the lands of Novgorod, and amidst the Solovetsky Islands in the White Sea’s Onega Bay, lies the island of Bolshoi Zayatsky. No more than a square mile in size, overlooked by the ruins of a long-shattered tower, the west of the island is covered with 35 overgrown but unmistakeable mazes made thousands of years ago, for unknown purposes, by unknown hands. Some are rough-hewn in stone, some limned by earthen walls, others marked out with rockpiles. Each is different.

Labyrinths-Bolshoi-Zayatsky-Island7What purpose did they have? Do they offer mystical paths to different places, alternative histories, Otherworldly nexi? Are they the fingerprints of giants long since passed? Or are they prisons, within whose loops and whorls are bound vicious spirits, maybe even the Kam, ready to be unleashed by unthinking hands or ruthless minds?

Some suggest these were fishing traps, to catch the plentiful White Sea cod and salmon, yet most are too far inland. Maybe they are traps instead sifting the spirit winds, blowing relentlessly across the north? And if so, where is the catch — and who is the harvester?

The island is meant to be uninhabited, yet when there is snow, or dust, or mud, whose footprints can be seen in labyrinths, left when the setting sun’s last rays paint the stones?

 

The Vasnetsovs’ Visions of Russia — May 2, 2017

The Vasnetsovs’ Visions of Russia

1920px-1898_Vasnetsov_Bogatyrs_anagoriaViktor Vasnetsov and his brother Apollinarii were 19thC artists whose work helps bring to life historical Russia, and folkloric and mythic Russia, too. Viktor, for example, is well-known for his iconic picture of the Three Bogatyrs, above, while I especially like Apollinarii’s more technical depiction of the marketplace in Novgorod, below.

1920px-Novgorod_torgIn any case, their work is a great inspiration of and for Mythic Russia, so here are some places to see more:

http://www.abcgallery.com/V/vasnetsov/vasnetsov.html (A very comprehensive gallery of VV’s art)

http://www.rusartist.org/viktor-mikhailovich-vasnetsov-1848-1926/ (a short essay about VV and his art)

http://englishrussia.com/2017/05/02/awesome-ancient-moscow-and-russia-as-seen-by-19th-century-russian-artist-vasnetsov/ (a sampler of AV’s historical images)

https://russianlife.com/stories/online-archive/vasnetsov-painter-and-planet-an-art-gallery/ (an essay about AV)

 

 

Birchbark Homework — January 28, 2017

Birchbark Homework

birch_bark_document_210A sheet of birchbark, the beresta, was the usual medium for letters, records, and documents at the time of Mythic Russia, often salvaged from broken baskets and the like. A fascinating example was the trove of 17 beresty archeologists found from the 13thC Novgorodian boy Onfim. Along with pictures, including one of himself as a monster (with the words “I am a beast” and “Greetings from Onfim to Danila”), are five with text. These are apparently homework, writing out the alphabet and familiar psalms. Nonetheless, kids will be kids: in some of the beresty, he starts out working, but then starts to doodle, too…

The Magnificent Seven (Bogatyrs) — January 2, 2017

The Magnificent Seven (Bogatyrs)

churilo-plenkovich-illustration-for-the-book-russian-epic-heroes-jpglargeThe bogatyrs are the folk superheroes of the Rus’ and I cover several in Mythic Russia, but not all. In this blog post Nicholas Kotar (who apparently writes fantasy inspired by Russian fairy tales, but I haven’t read his work — can anyone out there enlighten me?) runs through the main seven, including the splendidly-foppish Churilo Plenkovich (the illustration here is a picture of him by Andrei Ryabushkin), the Crimean ladies’ man, whose skin “pale as snow” so pleases him that he has a boy follow him with a parasol to keep off the sun…