Records of Arabian Geographers Shed Light on Real Age of Kharkov

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In the work of the Arabian compiler Amin Razi "Seven climates" we read the following, "The residence of the tsar of the Ruses is called Kiyava. And among their well-known cities one is named Chernigov, and another one – Kharka".
18/03/2010
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How old is Kharkov? 350 years old? There are all grounds to assert that Kharkov is at least 1000 years old – the historian and archeologist Alexander Dyachenko considers. The expert of medieval history and archeology of the East Slavs, Alexander Dyachenko, 12 years ago found the data about the first and unique for the present day excavation in the centre of Kharkov, which discovered existence on the University hill of an Old Russian city. This excavation was carried out in 1928-29 by the Kharkov archeologist A.S.Fedorovsky, and the data about it was considered to be lost. Comparison of results of the finds of Fedorovsky and messages of the medieval Arabian geographers led to unexpected conclusions.

Why until recently no one knew about finds of Fedorovsky, made in 1928-29? The matter is that the scientific archive of Fedorovsky is nowadays stored in Kiev, in the Institute of Archeology of Ukraine. But in this archive there are no materials concerning works on the territory of the historical centre of Kharkov. These works have unhappy destiny. I named one of my first publications on this topic "Forgotten settlement" because inexplicably the centre of Kharkov with its amazing monument of science – an Old Russian settlement – dropped out of the field of vision of science. How could that happen? Fedorovsky usually published results of his works in various printing editions. I reconsidered all editions in which were published results of works of Fedorovsky, and in none of them there are publications concerning his works of 1928 in the historical centre of Kharkov. I consider that Fedorovsky handed over results of his works to the historical museum which director he was (and it was then a capital museum), but they were depassportized during the World War. Most likely, these materials are stored there, but it is extremely difficult to allocate them. The important thing is that Alexander Sergeevich Fedorovsky had time to give the operative information in the Kharkov newspapers and it did not disappear, just we found it casually and with considerable delay – 12 years ago. At that time I was engaged in the issue of origin of medieval cities of Ukrainian-Russian border. I found out that everything was already checked and there was only a periodic press for 20th years. I started to look through newspapers and found these articles and at once I understood that Fedorovsky left for us a remarkable find.

- What is the destiny of this memorial – an Old Russian settlement?

- On the place of an Old Russian settlement in the middle of the XVII-th century was built the Kharkov fortress. According to the way medieval fortresses were usually built, nobody aspired to destroy ancient fortifications. On the contrary, experts of the Digit order in every possible way strived to reduce the price of building and recommended to builders to include ancient defensive works in a new defensive line. The Kharkov site of ancient settlement was big enough, large; therefore, most likely, these fortifications were used. Anyway, Dmitry Ivanovich Bagaley in his book "History of the City of Kharkov for 250 years of its existence" writes that Chuguev voivode Grigory Speshnev measured the old Kharkov settlement, and extent of its fortifications made about 1 kilometer 200 meters. It is necessary to notice that the term "settlement" was applied usually to a place with the rests of ancient fortifications. By the way, on old plans of Kharkov of the XVIII-th century it is still possible to read vaguely appearing outline of these fortifications. The settlement was destroyed in the XIX-th and especially in the XX-th century, when the relief the most strongly changed as a result of mass building of the University hill.

- What time concerns existence of this Old Russian city?

- As a rule, all Old Russian cities of our region serving as boundary fortresses were lost as a result of the Mongol-Tatar invasion. Those among them, which are investigated by archeologists (Donets, Krapivnoe, Zmeevo Gorodische) testify that they were based on a place of even more ancient – Romen settlements dated by the VIII – Xth centuries of our era. Most likely, the same was with the Kharkov settlement. However for the present day one may safely assert that at least in the XII-th century of our era Kharkov already existed.

- But after all, the name of this city is unknown? In Old Russian annals is mentioned only one city of our region – the city of Donets?

- For the majority of Old Russian settlements we really do not know their self-names in the ancient times. In this case the Kharkov area is in exclusive advantage. For the present day we know three names for three Old Russian monuments. We know the name of an annalistic Donets, we know the name of Zmeevo Gorodische for ancient Zmiev and now I managed to establish the name for Kharkov. The history here is the following. There is a big group of sources on the middle ages history, concerning a circle of the Arabic-Persian literature. This literature has generally compilation character. Arabs liked to write much, but liked to copy even more. Thanks to it we were reached by many ancient sources, which could be hopelessly lost otherwise. This tradition of the X-th century remained concerning the Kharkov region in the Arabian literature up to the XVI-th century, since one composition was honesty copied in another one. There are two works from a cycle of the Arabic-Persian literature, concerning our region. The first work is dated by the XII-th century and belongs to the well-known Persian encyclopedist Najib Hamadani. His book is called "Creation Wonders". It is the original encyclopedia. And in this book are mentioned four large, certainly large geographical points, because small objects could not enter encyclopedia – especially, for so remote territory. At the description of the country of Ruses, are mentioned Kiev, Chernigov, Saruk and Kharka. These settlements in our historical science were already interpreted. For three of them – Kiev, Chernigov and Saruk are found corresponding settlements. Saruk is interpreted almost undoubtedly as Novgorod-Seversky. And for Kharka, there was not found an archaeological monument, even settlement, by which it could be interpreted. By the way, in the XVI-th century almost the same information is given in the work of one more Arabian compiler, Amin Razi. His work is called "Seven climates", and there we read the following, "The residence of the tsar of the Ruses is called Kiyava. And among their well-known cities one is named Chernigov, and another one – Kharka". Chernigov and Kiyava are rather understandable, and Kharka up to now stayed without historical conformity.

- Then involuntarily rises a question: why Kharka appeared in the Arabian sources and did not appear in the Old Russian annals, if it was such a big city?

- Russian annals usually included not only big cities, but those, which were more subcentral. Annalists, locating in the capital, knew a little what happened in boundary cities. And the Arabs, on the contrary, were interested, first of all, in the large shopping centers which are more close to border. Kharkov was on the territory of a trading way which was used by passing travelers, merchants who collected the information and transferred it to those who were interested in this information. Therefore the knot of Seversko-Donetsk Old Russian settlements also draws special attention of ancient authors.

- You consider that Kharka in the Arabian sources is that Old Russian city on which place there later appeared Kharkov. And why our historians did not arrive to this conclusion before? After all, it seems that this information is so evident …

- I can only assume, why it so. These two works were in sight of the well-known orientalist, Andrey Petrovich Kovalevskiy. He compared the texts of Najib Hamadani and Amin Razi with more early and independent, instead of compilative works of the well-known Arabian geographer Ibn-Fadlan, and came to a conclusion that texts of Najib Hamadani and Amin Razi go back to works of the most well-known Arabian geographer, Ibn-Fadlan. He even came out with the assumption that, most likely, these texts are borrowed from the composition of Ibn-Fadlan "Risale" which is dated by 20th of the Xth century of our era. Andrey Petrovich Kovalevsky gives interpretation of all settlements which were mentioned in this text. But he directly says that he abstains from interpretation of Kharka.

- Why? After all, Kovalevsky is from Kharkov?

- In my opinion, because Kovalevsky simply did not know that on the territory of Kharkov there was an Old Russian city. If the data about it then, in the late 20th – the beginning of 30th, after A.S.Fedorovsky's excavation, was brought into a scientific turn, Kharka would be interpreted by A.P.Kovalevsky as Kharkov.

- That is the discovery was evident – in simple comparison of the Arabian sources and the given excavation of Fedorovsky … So how old is Kharkov?

- If not to take into consideration the Arabian sources and to lean only against archaeological researches it is possible to compare the age of the Kharkov settlement with well investigated Donetsk and to tell that at least in the XII-th century there was an Old Russian city which then was called Kharkov, and in the Arabic, slightly deformed transcription – Kharka. And if to take into consideration the Arabian texts, Kharkov has thousand-year history. Certainly, these conclusions require additional check and first of all – archaeological methods because ancient Kharkov was studied by no one except Fedorovsky. It is clear that it is very difficult and expensive – to reach an ancient layer, the centre of Kharkov, it is necessary to pick out at least six meters of the building dust which was collected for the last centuries. Besides there are a lot of underground communications. But, as it seems to me, the organization of such researches can give us a full picture of what Kharkov actually is and what it was in the past.

- The Old Russian city of Kharka most likely was destroyed during the Mongol-Tatar invasion. How could the name remain?

- I think that the national tradition connected the name of the city and the river name, on which it stood, and later when in the middle of the XVII-th century here again was built a city, it found its former name.

Inna MOZHEYKO (chapters from the book "Unknown Kharkov")

By "Slavic world"

Related Links:

Numerous Geographical Names in Ukraine Testify to Long Arabian Presence

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