Gnezdovo or Gnyozdovo contains extensive remains of a Slavic-Varangian settlement that flourished in the 10th century as a major trade station on the trade route from the Varangians to the Greeks. The settlement declined in the early years of the 11th century, simultaneously with other Varangian trade stations in Eastern Europe. By the end of the century, Gnyozdovo's importance as a trade centre had been completely supplanted by nearby Smolensk.

The archaeological site comprises a 'citadel', formerly situated at the confluence of the Rivers Dnieper and Svinets, and a ring of ancient rural settlements which occupy an area of 17.5 hectares. This makes the site one of the largest survivals of the Viking Age in Europe. There are about 3,000 burial mounds arranged in eight clusters of kurgans. Of these, about 1,300 mounds have been explored by Russian and Soviet archaeologists, starting in 1874.

Seven hoards of Byzantine and Arabian coins and a Byzantine dish bearing an image of Simargl have shown that the local community carried on a prosperous trade along the Dnieper. The metal objects represented include hauberks (not typical for Scandinavian sites), helmets, battle-axes, Carolingian swords, and arrows. Among the more surprising discoveries were an early folding razor with a copper handle and a pivoted scissors, probably the earliest found in Eastern Europe.

The most unexpected discovery at Gnyozdovo was a Kerch amphora with the earliest inscription attested in the Old Russian language. The excavator has inferred that the word горушна (gorušna), inscribed on the pot in Cyrillic letters, designates mustard that was kept there. This explanation has not been universally accepted and the inscription seems to be open to different interpretations. The dating of the inscription to the mid-10th century suggests a hitherto unsuspected popularity of the Cyrillic script in pre-Christian Rus.

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A141, Gnyozdovo, Russia
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Founded: 10th century
Category: Prehistoric and archaeological sites in Russia

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