Birchbark letters from Veliky Novgorod and Staraya Russa excavations of 2021

2022. №6, 7-20

Alexey A. Gippius
HSE University, Moscow, Russia; Institute of Slavic Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia;


The article contains a preliminary publication of seven birchbark letters of the 12th — first half of the 15th centuries found during the archaeological season of 2021 in Veliky Novgorod (Nos. 1136–1141, 1144) and the letter No. 52 from Staraya Russa. Especially interesting in their contents are No. 1137 (early 15th century) — a fragment of a large letter telling the story of a captured thief and his bail, No. 1139 (early 12th century) — a vivid example of a “proto-document” drawn up as a letter; No. 1141 — a fragment of a collective petition written in a famine year. From the phonetic point of view, the spellings робьжь <рубежь> and ети <яти> (No. 1137) are remarkable. Lexically significant are the earliest attestations of the agricultural term перелогъ (No. 1136), the verb перемчати (No. 1137), the use of the verb заповѣдати in the meaning ‘to announce publicly about sth’ previously known only from the Russkaya Pravda, the personal name Пька, which is etymologically a present participle of печи (No. 1139), the name Шелва (Staraya Russa, No. 52) that finds parallels in the Hypatian Chronicle and is apparently of Turkic origin. Of high value for historical syntax are: the first vernacular record of the predicative нѣ in combination with the infinitive with the meaning of impossibility; the use of the particle ни with the meaning ‘and there is not’, which finds a parallel in the 10th-century Old Bulgarian Glagolitic amulet; a rare example of the nominative with the imperative: въспиши ми грамота (No. 1144).

For citation:

Gippius A. A. Birchbark letters from Veliky Novgorod and Staraya Russa excavations of 2021. Voprosy Jazykoznanija, 2022, 6: 7–20.


The research was carried out at the Higher School of Economics at the expense of the grant of the Russian Science Foundation No. 19-18-00352, It also uses the results of the project “Semiotics of literary and vernacular texts — Slavic World between West and East”, executed within the framework of the HSE Program of Basic Research in 2022. The author thanks the heads of the excavations for providing material for publication and stratigraphic data. The author is grateful to D. V. Sitchinava and M. N. Tolstaya for their valuable comments and cooperation.