Investigations at Gorodische, Ladoga, Northwestern Russia

Project Aims

The Viking Age in Northwestern Russia has been an area of scientific dispute for almost 200 years. Among other things, the period saw much interregional interaction and attempts at state formation, as confirmed by written sources and archaeology alike. The causes of these developments, in particular the role of the Vikings, have been vividly debated, not least during the Communist era. Until recently, archaeology has only had a limited voice in the discussion, since the only well investigated site of the period was Staraja Ladoga, a main post on the North-South route towards the Byzantium of the Viking Age.

Fig. 1. Staraja Ladoga. Medieval castle at the confluence of Volkhov and Ladozhka, known as Zemlianoje Gorodische, seen from NE. In the centre: St.George church build around 1167.

An attempt has thus been made, within the framework of EU/INTAS and other programmes (, to identify and investigate potential areas, which could help in understanding the web of contacts and trade going through this area beyond Russia , or Rus, and the social organisation of the societies involved.

As a result of these considerations, attention has been paid to the concentration of archaeological sites at the village of Gorodische , situated on the banks of the river Sjas some 70 km southeast of Staraja Ladoga. The choice is also due to the intriguing interpretation of the Islandic sagas of Halfdanar Eysteinssonar and Gangu-Hralf pointing to Gorodische as the ancient Alaborg. From the river Sjas basin it is possible to enter the Volga and thus the main riverine route towards the Islamic World in the Viking Age.

Fig. 2. Map of trade routes and major centres with specification of places of origin of the main goods. (After Elsner 1992: Wikinger Museum Haithabu)