Ship-Building in the Pskov-Peipsi Watershed in the Middle Ages »

Throughout the middle ages, various vessels were used to travel across the Pskov-Peipsi Lake. They differed in navigating conditions (river/lake) and the nature of use (trade/military). The specific character of the region is its interweaving Slavic and European ship-building traditions. To get a more or less objective picture of the vessels traversing rivers and lakes – large and small, it is necessary to collate written source data, archeological finds and ethnographical information.

In the Pskov chronicles of the 13-15th centuries, the prominent type of large vessels is nasads, and in the 15th century they are joined by ushkuyas (uskuyas). Later on, both types get identified as the same. Along with them, the term lodya is used to identify smaller support boats. Besides, the chroniclers operate with the term shnecks (snecks) – military boats used by the Swedes and Livonian Order. The term is never used to refer to Pskovite vessels.

Apart from chronicles, boats are mentioned in Pskov birch-bark script №7 (late13 – early 14th century) and in the Civil Codex of Pskov. “Lodya under deck” mentioned in the Civil Codex and usually interpreted as a large decker, when deduced from context lacks such attributes, since the entry speaks of theft of a lodya from some specialized room, quite possibly roofed by bast. It does not mean there were no ships with full or at least partial decks, since such commodities as textiles and fir hides, mentioned in bark scripts №6 and 7 required certain water tightness when transported on board a ship.

It is only once that in the trade book of Pskov merchant Sergey Pogankin (late 17th cent.) another lake carrier is mentioned – big industrial baydak (bark).

The relatively late mentioning of Pskov vessels in written sources and the relatively small number of boat fragments discovered in the local cultural layer by no means testify to the underdevelopment of Pskov in ship-building. It is apparently linked to the late occurrence of Pskov chronicling and poor preservation properties of wood in the earlier layers of the city. Placed on the western border of Russ, Pskov had to interminably compete in the field with its western neighbors, which doubtlessly led to accelerated modernization of Pskov vessels with consideration of European traditions. Nonetheless, until the late Middle Ages – or rather present times – Pskov ships retain characteristics of the Slavic ship-building tradition.

To date, fairly vast archeological material has been aggregated covering medieval ship-building in the Pskov-Peipsi region. In the course of digs, ship and boat fragments, and parts of vessels were discovered in the cultural layers of Pskov and other archeological monuments of the region (Izborsk, Zalakhtovye etc.) On the basis of that material, three design-and-technology types of medieval vessels were defined: large plank-built keel boats, flat-bottom ferry-like ships, and trunk-boats or ships built on their basis.

Large plank-built keel boats »

20Parts that could be linked to these ships with clinker or butt-to-butt plating are the studs found in Pskov, Izborsk and Zalakhtovye, as well as iron caulking brackets, nails and wooden toggle bolts, which were used to fasten the strake to the transverse ribs. The studded clinker strake is traditionally connected to the Scandinavian and Western-European ship-building traditions. The studs are found in the layers of the 10-15th centuries, with the majoring dating to the 13-14th. Judging by the dimensions of the studs (distance between the stud head and the clinker plate), it is possible to assume they were used to construct relatively big vessels for lacustrine and possibly maritime navigation. A Russian vessel of the type dated by the 15-16th centuries was examined in the early 20th century in the Peipsi Lake, not far from the Narova source. It had the characteristic curving stem posts and butt-to-butt plating connected to the arch-shaped ribs by wooden toggle bolts. The vessel was 21 m long and 8 m wide. Unfortunately, only a picture – evidence of the find – remains today. The vessel depicted on the bone comb of the 10-11th centuries found in the dig in the Pskov Kremlin is of the same type.

Flat-Bottom Ferry-Like Ships »

The representation in the archeological materials is that of the flat bottoms and sides of the ferry-like vessels, which could be used as street paving material without any further finishing. One of such pavements was revealed in Pskov digs in the in the layers of the late 13 – early 14th centuries. The part opened consisted of seven planks of up to до 6.5 m in length and 20-40 cm wide with toggle bolt holes of 3 cm in diameter. Knee timber served as the underlay, and was used as deck-beam in the ship’s design. The synced rows of holes in the planks of the pavement speak for the fact that a bottom of a large ferry-like vessel was used for it. The earliest of the parts of Pskov ferry boats – plank ribs – date back to the first half of the 12th century.

The plating planks of the ferries were joined butt-to-butt, and fastened to the ribs by wooden toggle bolts. Judging by the shape of the knee-timber ribs made of pine or spruce butt-logs, the sides were fastened to the bottom either perpendicularly, or at an obtuse angle. The flat-bottomed boats, as a rule, had pointed beak and aft, although some ethnographical data point to occurrence of boats with truncated aft.

Trunk-Boats and Ships Built on Their Basis »

Fragments of single-trunk based boats are the rarest among the archeological finds. Apparently, it results from the difficulty of their secondary use. Such fragments include arched ribs, which were thrust-fixed in the single-trunk base for more rigidity. These ribs could also serve base for berths and frame for plank-sides’ elevation.

Ethnographical data provide an insight into the diversity of trunk-boats used those days. The simplest of them – used for still water sailing – is kamya (or kameyka), a hollowed out log with balancing boards on the sides for stability. One variation of kamya had two logs hollowed out in the center connected longitudinally. Apart from the kamya, broader-sided dugout boats were widespread in the Pskov-Peipsi catchment. The effect was attained through wedging and steaming of the single-trunk pipe – and that required good knowledge of the technological process to prevent the singly-trunk base from splitting. To improve the navigability, such boats could be complete with elevated plank-sides. Some researchers assume that nasads in the Pskov chronicles are the single-trunk boats with such put-on (nasazhen) plank-sides.

Types of Planking Joints »

In medieval ship-building, two types of planting joints are known: overlapping (clinker) and butt-to-butt. The clinker planking was applied on plank keel boats and single-trunk vessels. It was fastened on with studs, iron nails or wooden toggle bolts. Quite often, clinker planks were literally sewn together with withe – young and thin twigs and roots. According to some data, the technology was widely used on single-trunk boats. The tradition of withe plank-binding on smaller vessels still remains.

The butt-to-butt planking is most characteristic of flat-bottom plank boats. The planks were fastened to the ribs by wooden toggle bolts (and later with nails). In flat-bottom boats, the so-called caulking was very actively used: at the joints of planking rows a wedge grove was hollowed out in the planks and caulked with cotton. The cotton was fixed in the grove by a wedge-shaped cleat fastened in with small brackets (caulking brackets). The system was convenient, since it did not require fine trimming of the adjacent plank ribs – an extremely important aspect in other joint types. The earliest caulking brackets found in Pskov archeological gigs date back to the 12th century. Caulking is still actively used. Sometimes this joint type is applied in clinker vessels too.

Wooden toy ships »

The cultural layer of Pskov of the 12-14th centuries yielded wooden ship models, which served were quite widespread as toys. They were made of wood and pine bark at various levels of finesse, but it is these toys that let us envisage the real ships of the time, traversing the Pskov-Peipsi Lake and River Velikaya. Most of the realistic models are characterized by flat bottoms, rounded (or pointed, at times) fore and aft, and straight and low sides connected to the bottom at an obtuse and sometimes almost perpendicular – angle. All this complies with the flat-bottom (ferry-like) boat type. Most of the boat models in the Pskov collection may be identified as trade cargo vessels through the correlation of length to width, with the exception of two models of more elongated proportions characteristic of military vessels.

Fragments of boat rigs »

Relying on the archeological materials, besides the design types of medieval boats, we can speak of their propulsion devices – sail and oar rig.

Oars and rowlocks »

Among archeological finds, rowing oars and rowlocks are quite frequent. The rowlocks (or klyuch – the Old Russian for ‘key’) were made from a single chunk of wood with a knot, and served to fixate the oars on the board with a special belt or rope. They were put through the opening in the wooden part fixed at the board-side thus making a loop into which the oar handle was inserted. In the majority of cases, the rowlock was connected to the board-side laterally. Rowlocks were usually used in mid-sized vessels, since the smaller boats were propelled and navigated simultaneously by one big aft oar and a smaller paddle in the center of the boat. Larger ships had special oar ports close above the water, thus enabling shorter and lighter oars.

The rowing oars encountered in the cultural layer of Pskov date back to the 11-15th centuries. In their functionality and the sizes of the vessels they were used at, the oars can be categorized into several types. One clear type is the rowing oars from large vessels characterized by oar looms and longer and thinner blades. These oars reached up to 3 m and longer. The rowing oars from boats in contrast are much shorter, have a thinner handle and a relatively short – most often shovel-shaped – blade. This type is adjoined by the rowing rudders of smaller vessels and boats with a broad blade comprising 13 to 12 of the oar’s length.

A separate type is rudders from large vessels with blades 19-32 cm wide, comprising about half of the total length. The matter is that the hinged rudder so common today in ship-building – allowing for more comfort navigating – does not occur before the 14th century in the West-European ship-building. Particularly, such rudders were used on the famous koggs of the Hansa. In the Northwest Russ throughout the Middle Ages, rudder oars were used even on larger vessels, granting certain advantages compared to the hinged rudders – specifically when navigating through rapids our streams abound in.

Rowlocks and oars are functionally linked to berths – rowers’ seats.

Sail rigging »

Finds of fragments of sails, mast and spars or roping of medieval ships are extremely rare. The only elements verified as part of the sail rigging are claps – wooden poles with a central wedge and knobs on the ends – used to fixate the dead ropes. Summarizing the data of written sources and drawings, we can postulate that larger medieval vessels had one mast with a ship-rig on a moving sail yard. The ship-rig allowed navigating off the wind and quarter winds (backstays). The ship-rig was usable both on rivers and lakes, but in application it granted no chance to maneuver. As is known from written sources, travelers used to spend weeks on end waiting for the tail-wind. Ethnographical data witness to the possibility of use of sprit-rigs at least on the smaller vessels and fishing boats of the early modern period.