Ivan the Terrible holds court, showing an English ambassador some treasure, in a painting by Alexander Litovchenko.

Cache of military-grade weapons from the era of the Ivan the Terrible found near Moscow

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Archaeologists excavating an area for a planned highway expansion near Zvenigorod, Russia, have found the arsenal of a military commander from the 16 th century—the era of Ivan the Terrible. The archaeologists found military helmets, armor, sections of sabers and arrows stored in leather boxes in the basement of a small town.

The little town was the 16 th century village of Ignatievskoe—the hometown of the Dobryinins, a Russian boyar family. Boyars were a type of political leader and nobility, second only to princes. A member of the Dobrynin family had been one of Ivan the Terrible’s “hand-picked thousand.” These were the top brass of the tsar’s army, a group mandated in 1550. The town was in the Moscow district.

The tsar commanded his troops of the hand-picked thousand to bring to heel the cities of Ruza, Dmitrov and Zvenigorod.

It is unclear from an article about the dig on Phys.org whether the remnants of about 60 buildings of the village of Ignatievskoe were among those burned by the hand-picked thousand.  Among these buildings was a mansion that had been burned that had a large underground storehouse that contained the arsenal.  

One of the archaeologists on the dig says the spiked helmets are a highlight of the excavations.

One of the archaeologists on the dig says the spiked helmets are a highlight of the excavations. (Phys.org)

The archaeologists say it’s possible the cache was for a military expedition and probably indicates a standing army fed and billeted by noblemen as part of their duty as courtiers, says Phys.org.

The highlights of the dig are the spiked helmets said Alexei Alexeyev, who is with the Russian Academy of Sciences Institute of Archaeology and in charge of the dig. He said the helmets, found with textile linings and decorated earpieces, are unique.

“They are the typical military headgear of Russian knights—spherical helmets adorned with gold and silver. Similar helmets are on display in the Kremlin Armoury Museum, the Hermitage Museum, and the State History Museum,” he told Phys.org.

The team said it’s not a treasure trove hoard because it wasn’t hidden. It may have been in storage in boyar mansion’s basement when the mansion burned down. If they were in storage, it’s possible the weapons were never used in the later Time of Troubles interregnum and so have survived to the present.

"We've never encountered such finds in Moscow region before, neither in cities and especially not in small villages. If this rescue archaeology dig hadn't been undertaken, all this material would have been completely destroyed during the building of the Central Circular Highway," said Asya Engovatova, deputy director of the Institute of Archaeology.

A painting featuring spiked helmets of the type found during the dig.

A painting featuring spiked helmets of the type found during the dig. (Public domain )

There is little information available on the Internet about Ivan the Terrible’s order to raze or crush the cities of Ruza, Dmitrov and Zvenigorod. But Ivan did face a rebellion of the boyars, which he put down.

History.co.uk says : “Ivan ruled with a deep-seated paranoia and ruthlessness; it's said that he gouged out the eyes of the architects who built St. Basil's so that a cathedral of such beauty could never again be created. The czar's power became absolute when Ivan the Terrible succeeded in conquering the remaining independent principalities, such as Siberia. The state also assigned a master to the peasants who worked the lands around an estate, setting in stone the system of serfdom.”

He is known to have done terrible atrocities during his reign and executed thousands of people, including his own son.

Featured image: Ivan the Terrible holds court, showing an English ambassador some treasure, in a painting by Alexander Litovchenko. ( Wikimedia Commons )

By Mark Miller

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