Veliky Novgorod (also Novgorod the Great) (Russian: Великий Новгород; IPA: [vʲɪˈlʲikʲɪj ˈnovɡərət]), or Novgorod Veliky, or just Novgorod, is one of the most important historic cities in Russia which serves as the administrative center of Novgorod Oblast. It is situated on the M10 federal highway connecting Moscow and St. Petersburg. The city lies along the Volkhov River just downstream from its outflow from Lake Ilmen. Population: 218,717 (2010 Census); 216,856 (2002 Census); 229,126 (1989 Census).
Archaeological excavations in the middle to late 20th century, however, have found cultural layers dating back only to the late 10th century, the time of the Christianization of Rus’ and a century after it was allegedly founded, suggesting that the chronicle entries mentioning Novgorod in the 850s or 860s are later interpolations.
The Varangian name of the city Holmgård/Holmgard (Holmgarðr or Holmgarðir) is mentioned in Norse Sagas as existing at a yet earlier stage, but in this case historical facts are difficult to untangle from legend. Originally, Holmgård referred only to the stronghold southeast of the present-day city, Ryurikovo Gorodishche (named in comparatively modern times after the Varangian chieftain Rurik, who supposedly made it his «capital» around 860). Archeological data suggests that the Gorodishche, the residence of the Knyaz (prince), dates from the mid-9th century, whereas the town itself dates only from the end of the 10th century; hence the name Novgorod, «new city», from Old Russian Новъ and Городъ (Nov and Gorod), although German and Scandinavian historiography suggests the Old Norse term Nýgarðr, or the Old High German term Naugard. First mention of this Nordic or Germanic etymology to the name of the city of Novgorod (and that of other cities within the territory of the then Kievan Rus’) occurs in the 10th-century policy manual De Administrando Imperio by Byzantine emperor Constantine VII.
Slightly predating the chronology of the legend of Rurik (which dates the first Norse arrival in the region around 858-860), an earlier record for the Scandinavian settlement of the region is found in the Annales Bertiniani (written up until 882) where a Rus’ delegation is mentioned as having visited Constantinople in 838, and, intending to return to the Rus’ Khaganate via the Baltic Sea, were questioned by Frankish Emperor Louis the Pious at Ingelheim am Rhein, where they said that although their origin was Swedish, they had settled in Northern Russia under a leader who they designated as chacanus (the Latin form of Khagan, a title they had likely borrowed from contact with the Avars).
In 882, Rurik’s successor, Oleg of Novgorod, conquered Kiev and founded the state of Kievan Rus’. Novgorod’s size as well as its political, economic, and cultural influence made it the second most important city in Kievan Rus’. According to a custom, the elder son and heir of the ruling Kievan monarch was sent to rule Novgorod even as a minor. When the ruling monarch had no such son, Novgorod was governed by posadniks, such as the legendary Gostomysl, Dobrynya, Konstantin, and Ostromir.
Of all their princes, Novgorodians most cherished the memory of Yaroslav the Wise, who had sat as Prince of Novgorod in 1010–1019, while his father, Vladimir the Great, was a prince in Kiev. Yaroslav promulgated the first written code of laws (later incorporated into Russkaya Pravda) among the Eastern Slavs and is said to have granted the city a number of freedoms or privileges, which they often referred to in later centuries as precedents in their relations with other princes. His son, Vladimir, sponsored construction of the great St. Sophia Cathedral, more accurately translated as the Cathedral of Holy Wisdom, which stands to this day.
Early foreign ties
In Norse sagas the city is mentioned as the capital of Gardariki. Four Viking kings—Olaf I of Norway, Olaf II of Norway, Magnus I of Norway, and Harald Hardrada—sought refuge in Novgorod from enemies at home. No more than a few decades after the death and subsequent canonization of Olaf II of Norway, in 1028, the city’s community had erected a church in his memory, Saint Olaf’s Church in Novgorod.
The town of Visby in Gotland functioned as the leading trading center in the Baltic before the Hansa league. Visby merchants established a trading post at Novgorod, and they called it Gutagard (also known as Gotenhof). This was established in 1080. Later, in the first half of the 13th century, merchants from northern Germany also established their own trading station in Novgorod, known as Peterhof. At about the same time, in 1229, German merchants at Novgorod were granted certain privileges, which made their position more secure.
In 1136, the Novgorodians dismissed their prince Vsevolod Mstislavich. This date is seen as the traditional beginning of the Novgorod Republic. The city was able to invite and dismiss a number of princes over the next two centuries, but the princely office was never abolished and powerful princes, such as Alexander Nevsky, could assert their will in the city regardless of what Novgorodians’ said. The city state controlled most of Europe’s northeast, from lands east of today’s Estonia to the Ural Mountains, making it one of the largest states in medieval Europe, although much of the territory north and east of Lakes Ladoga and Onega were sparsely populated and never organized politically.
One of the most important local figures in Novgorod was the posadnik, or mayor, an official elected by the public assembly (called the Veche) from among the city’s boyarstvo, or aristocracy. The tysyatsky, or «thousandman», originally the head of the town militia but later a commercial and judicial official, was also elected by the Veche. The Archbishop of Novgorod was also an important local official and shared power with the boyars. They were elected by the Veche or by the drawing of lots; after their election, they were sent to the metropolitan for consecration.
While a basic outline of the various officials and the Veche can be drawn up, the city-state’s exact political constitution remains unknown. The boyars and the archbishop ruled the city together, although where one official’s power ended and another’s began is uncertain. The prince, although his power was reduced from around the middle of the 12th century, was represented by his namestnik, or lieutenant, and still played important roles as a military commander, legislator, and jurist. The exact composition of the Veche, too, is uncertain, with some scholars such as Vasily Klyuchevsky claiming it was democratic in nature, while later scholars, such as Valentin Ianin and Alexander Khoroshev, see it as a «sham democracy» controlled by the ruling elite.
In the 13th century, Novgorod, while not a member of the Hanseatic League, was the easternmost kontor, or entrepot, of the league, being the source of enormous quantities of luxury (sable, ermine, fox, marmot) and non-luxury furs (squirrel pelts).
Throughout the Middle Ages, the city thrived culturally. A large number of birch bark letters have been unearthed in excavations, perhaps suggesting widespread literacy, although this is uncertain (some scholars[who?] suggest that a clerical or scribal elite wrote them on behalf of a largely illiterate populace). It was in Novgorod that the oldest Slavic book, written north of Macedonia, and the oldest inscription in a Finnic language were unearthed. Some of the most ancient Russian chronicles were written in the archbishops’ scriptorium and the archbishops also promoted iconography and patronized church construction. The Novgorod merchant Sadko became a popular hero of Russian folklore.
Novgorod was never conquered by the Mongols during the Mongol invasion of Rus. The Mongol army turned back about 100 kilometers (62 mi) from the city, not because of the city’s strength, but probably because the Mongol commanders did not want to get bogged down in the marshlands surrounding the city. However, the grand princes of Moscow, who acted as tax collectors for the khans of the Golden Horde, did collect tribute in Novgorod, most notably Yury Danilovich and his brother, Ivan Kalita.
United Russian state
The city’s downfall was a result of its inability to feed its large population, making it dependent on the Vladimir-Suzdal region for grain. The main cities in this area, Moscow and Tver, used this dependence to gain control over Novgorod. Eventually Ivan III annexed the city to the Grand Duchy of Moscow in 1478. At the time of annexation, Novgorod was the third largest Russian city (with 5,300 homesteads and 25-30 thousand inhabitants in 1550s;) and remained so until the famine of the 1560s and the Massacre of Novgorod in 1570. In the Massacre, Ivan the Terrible sacked the city, slaughtered thousands of its inhabitants, and deported the city’s merchant elite and nobility to Moscow, Yaroslavl, and elsewhere.
During the Time of Troubles, Novgorodians eagerly submitted to Swedish troops led by Jacob De la Gardie in the summer of 1611. The city was restituted to Russia only six years later, by the Treaty of Stolbovo and regained a measure of its former prosperity by the end of the century, when such ambitious buildings as the Cathedral of the Sign and the Vyazhischi Monastery were constructed. The most famous of Russian patriarchs, Nikon, was active in Novgorod between 1648 and 1652.
In 1727, Novgorod was made the administrative center of Novgorod Governorate of the Russian Empire, which was detached from Saint Petersburg Governorate (see Administrative divisions of Russia in 1727-1728). This administrative division existed until 1927. Between 1927 and 1944, the city was a part of Leningrad Oblast, and then became the administrative center of the newly formed Novgorod Oblast.
On August 15, 1941, during World War II, the city was occupied by the German Army. Its historic monuments were systematically annihilated. The Red Army liberated the city on January 19, 1944. Out of 2,536 stone buildings, fewer than forty remained standing. After the war, thanks to plans laid down by Alexey Shchusev, the central part was gradually restored. In 1992, the chief monuments of the city and the surrounding area were declared to be World Heritage Sites, Historic Monuments of Novgorod and Surroundings. In 1999, the city was officially renamed Veliky Novgorod (literally, Great Novgorod), thus partly reverting to its medieval title «Lord Novgorod the Great».