The Medieval Town of David-Gorod, Belarus

By Earwood, Caroline; Malachowska, Sylwia | Antiquity, September 1993 | Go to article overview

The Medieval Town of David-Gorod, Belarus


Earwood, Caroline, Malachowska, Sylwia, Antiquity


David-gorod, now in the state of Belarus, is an ancient wood-built settlement in eastern Europe, where astounding preservation of timber buildings, streets and objects gives us a full and organic view of its medieval world. The finds from excavations in 1937--8, conducted by the Panstwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne, Warsaw, are at last being published -- metal, glass, pottery, leather, bone, stone, textile, along with the wood. The town was an important craft centre with trade links to Old Rus and beyond.

Location and history of research

The town of David-gorod (Dawidgrodek in Polish) is situated on the banks of the river Horyn, a tributary of the river Pripyat' (FIGURE 1). Its defensive position on a slight hill situated on the right bank of the river is reinforced by the boggy valley of the river Niepravda to the south and the marshy plain to the east. The town is now within the borders of Belarus (Byelorussia) but was formerly part of Poland. Following the destruction by fire of a wooden Orthodox church, the cutting of foundation trenches for the new church in 1936 exposed the remains of wooden buildings and streets. Excavations in 1937 and 1938, carried out on behalf of the Panstwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne, Warsaw, uncovered part of the medieval town, dating from the 12th--14th centuries AD (Jakimowicz 1937; 1939) (FIGURE 2). Further excavations were undertaken by the Academy of Science of the Belarussian Socialist Soviet Republic in 1967 (Lysenko 1969). The 1937--8 excavations have not been fully published (Marciniak 1969; Lozny 1985). Study of the excavations and finds, now in progress, will be published by the Panstwowe Muzeum Archeologiczne, Warsaw, as a series of major reports in Wiadomosci Archeologiczne. The first report in English is concerned with the wooden finds from David-gorod (Earwood forthcoming).

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History of the region

During the medieval period David-gorod lay within the territory of the duchy of Turov which was established by Vladimir the Great for his son Svyatopolk. After many years of Kievian dominance, the duchy became fully independent during the middle of the 12th century, but soon became divided into smaller provinces when it submitted to the Halich-Volynian dukes during the late 12th and early 13th centuries. During the 14th century these areas were dependants of Lithuania. Although the fortified town of David-gorod is not mentioned in the chronicles, it is likely that it was founded by Duke Dawid Igorivich who was granted an area of land close to the Horyn river in exchange for the lost Duchy of Volodymir (Jakimowicz 1939: 27; Lysenko 1969: 352). The name David-gorod means 'the hillfort or fortified town of David'.

During the 12th and 13th centuries, new urban centres were founded in Old Rus, many of them defended sites and often situated on hills. Their economy was based both on exploitation of the surrounding agricultural land and upon the produce of the many craftsmen who lived in the towns (Kuza 1985: 104). Trade was conducted with other Slavonic countries, with north and west Europe, and further afield, with countries of the Middle East (Darkevich 1985: 387).

Stratigraphy and structures

Precise details of the stratigraphy of the 1937--8 excavations are difficult to determine owing to the loss of records; seven levels of occupation were identified. The earliest of these (level I), dated to the beginning of the 12th century AD and laid directly upon the natural surface of white river sand, consisted of the remains of small, wattle structures, which were possibly farm buildings, and the lower part of five wooden buildings. In the second phase of occupation (level II), no buildings were identified; a fence of thick split planks crossed the earlier building. No structures were identified in levels III and IV.

In the upper levels (V to VII) were six wooden buildings, each with at least three phases of occupation. …

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