Medieval history of Kenozero

A special period in the history of the Russian North is associated with the inclusion of huge northern territories into the Old Russian state in the seventh and eighth centuries and with the first Slavic settlement.

Rostov-Suzdal advance to the North

At the first stage, the foundation for network of waterways was laid, linking Novgorod and Rostov the Great with the northern periphery of Eastern Europe. The local Finno-Ugric population was not exterminated or expelled — a gradual process of assimilation was taking place. In general, in the territory of Kenozero in the sixth to eighth centuries the indigenous population had already adopted the Russian language, the culture of production and life. In rare cases they retreated to the deeper regions, where the pre-Christian way of life was preserved.

Flow of Slavs came north from the direction of Novgorod. One way went along Vodla, Lake Kenozero, Ken, Upper Onega, Emez; the other one along Lake Vytegra, Lake Vazhozero, Lake Lacheozero, Upper Onega; the third — along the northern coast of Onega lake, Vyg river, Lake Vygozeru, Beloye More, Dvina river. Here, the Novgorodians met with the colonization flow of other groups of Slavs, originating from Rostov-Suzdal and neighboring lands. That second flow was initially much less intensive, but over time, put an obstacle to Novgorodians. Novgorodians, advancing deep into the northern territories, were focused primarily on fishing objectives, and on the foreign and domestic fur trade. Therefore, hunting for squirrels, martens, otters, beavers, minks, ermines, lynx, wolverines especially developed. The arrival of the Slavic settlers coming from the South («Rostov-Suzdal colonization»), who owned crafts and land tenure techniques, differed in meaning from the Novgorod colonization. Villages with log houses started to appear on the shores of lakes in this period. So gradually, on the coasts of Kenozero, Lekshmozero and other lakes, a network of settlements was formed. It was designed to serve the ways and future trading posts.

Kensky Volok (Kensky portage)

On small parts of the watersheds, the Novgorodians had to «portage», drag their wooden ships — ushkui. Clearings were cut through forests, wooden logs were laid under the bottom of the boats. This kind of section of the road is called a ’volok’. A huge role in the development of the North was played by Kensk Volok, the first portage on the main route from Novgorod to Pomorye, which connected the river systems of the basins of Beloye and Baltic Seas. It is this way to the north that people of Novgorod preferred to others, because it was all the way safe and unavailable for both external enemies and internal rivals. The first mention of Kensky volok was found in the charter of the Novgorod prince Svyatoslav Olgovich (1137), but it was made much earlier. Until the end of the seventeenth century this waterway from Novgorod to Kargopol, Kholmogory and Arkhangelsk remained an important transport route. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Onega river area was on the sidelines of the main trade routes catering for the foreign market. The old trade route through the Kensky Volok to the beginning of the 20th century was important only for the population of Vodlozero, Kenozero and the territories of the Onega river, and was used to exchange fish for bread, salt and manufactured goods. The final disappearance of the trails and the decline in economic significance of this waterway happened during the Soviet era as a result of the construction of the The White Sea—Baltic Canal.

At present, the Kensky Volok is distinguished by the exceptional preservation of the historical landscape: from the once busy road an an old 6 km long portage road from Zavolochye to Yablon Gorka with three chapels there remained.

«Novgorodians colonization»

In the fourteen to sixteenth centuries, due to the extermination of a valuable fur-bearing animal, the hunting industry moved north-east to the European North and Siberia. The economic role of local hunting has dropped dramatically since. The active development of the North by the Novgorodians and «nizoviki» mainly went through Beloozero lake. Among the reasons for this process was a desire to leave places taken by the Mongol-Tatars, or escape from boyar bondage, and there had been stories and gossip from experienced people about free lands east of Novgorod. Novgorod residents, natives of the North-West, were attracted to the forest, rivers and lakes. The habit of forestry and fishing was largely determined by the choice of new places in the organization of permanent settlements. Kenozero and Lekshmozero with their lake, river and forest resources, attracted attention of the Novgorodians.

At this time, the development of the region was directed deep into the watersheds and had a pronounced agricultural character. Among the forest swathes were cleared, and eventually turned into a constantly used arable lands and pastures for livestock. Through slash farming and the use of forest resources, the landscape has changed significantly.

The foundations of agricultural peasant farming were laid, crafts and handicrafts began to develop actively: fishing and agricultural crafts, blacksmith’s, pottery, carpentry, spinning and weaving. They were oriented mainly to their own consumption.

The new belief system was strengthened and spread — Christianity, Orthodox chapels and crosses began to appear in the «sacred» groves.

«Freedom and the wilderness ...»

In 1478, Moscow finally incorporated the northern Novgorod lands into a single Russian state and the economic orientation of the region changed. The importance of Kargopol-Onega increased first, and then importance of the Sukhono-Dvinsky trade routes from the 16th century onwards. The subsequent development in international trade in accordance with the royal decree of 1585 in the lower reaches of Northern Dvina river, and the founding of the town of Arkhangelsk significantly reduced the role of the Onega route, and especially that of the Kensky Volok. The change in the situation contributed to the preservation of the culture of remote Kenozero and its economic structure. In fact, for a long period, this local territory was economically selfsustainable, but the region turned out to be isolated and closed.

The unique culture of the Russian North had formed, an original economic and cultural way of life and an ethical-aesthetic worldview system as a result of the interaction of elements of the Finno-Ugric culture of the «forest» and the Slavic culture of the «field» were created.

It is in the heritage of the Kenozero National Park, that this distinctiveness is presented most vividly. Chapels with «covenants», «holy» groves with worship crosses and ensembles of graveyards are examples of now living cultural traditions. The ecological and rational thinking of the population is clearly traced in the economic organization of the territory and in the fishing and economic management of the nature. Gentle relationships with nature were fixed and preserved in rituals, beliefs and other elements of culture, originating in pre-Christian pagan times.

Archaeological monuments of ancient history and especially the Middle Ages at Kenozero have not been studied yet, but they accumulate immense historical information and claim an important place in the overall context of the cultural heritage of the North.

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