Further Notes on Being Rus in these Current Middle Ages

Updated 1 March 2009

There are various things one can do to be a more proper Rus in these Current Middle Ages besides knowing what kind of money you would have used, etc. Obviously, one should pick an appropriate name, learn to pronounce it well and dress the part, but you can go beyond that.

The following information came from posts on the Slavic Interest Group email list, and my own research.

A Russian Accent.


A kiss on the cheek and a glass of vodka when meeting the wife was a sign of special closeness between men in Muscovite Rus. (However, vodka is either OOP or very late period.)

Addressing nobility:

Predslava says " Gospodin is OK as a form of address, NOT as a *title*. You could actually try the vocative: gospodine [gohs-poh-DEE-neh], as in "hey, your lordship!" (well, OK, a little more polite than that!) Gospozha would be the feminine form.

The terms gosudar (masc.) and gosudarynia (fem.) are similar and overlap in meaning with gospodin/gospozha, but more strongly indicate ownership or fealty, or at least the closest Russian equivalent to the idea of fealty. They are used in the Domostroi to refer to the master and mistress of the house. When Ivan the Great conquered Novgorod, he forced the citizens to address him not only as their gospodin (the old term), but also as their gosudar. Previously, Novgorod was a free city and called itself "Gosudar Velikii Novgorod" (usually translated as Lord Great Novgorod) to indicate its self-rule.

In the SCA, one could use gospodin/gospozha for anyone you wish to address politely from your "lord husband" (gospodin muzh) to a foreign king (gospodin velikii knyaz). On the other hand, if you are an apprentice/protege/squire you could use gosudar for your Master or Knight to emphasize your relationship of fealty. Similarly, you could also use gosudar for your own King, esp. if you've sworn fealty. (It would not wrong to use gospodin in these cases instead, though, since the terms overlap considerably.)

"Vy" as a respectful form of address is way OOP! Even in the 18th century, satyrists derided the need to "use the plural to address a single person". In period, it's "ty" for one person (see Spanish "tu", German "du" etc), and "vy" for a plural (Spanish "vosotros", German "ihr" etc). [more Predslava information?]

Bowing: There are three ways of bowing in the Rus manner.
First, there is full obeisance in the Byzantine manner before the Tsar - kneeling and bringing the forehead to touch the ground.
Second, symbolic obeisance by bending at the waist while bringing the right hand from the heart and down to touch the ground in a smooth, flowing motion. This is probably the most appropriate for court in the Current Middle Ages.
Third, a more informal bow or half-bow with the right hand over the heart. This could also work in court, especially if you have problems securing your headgear, or if you have a bad back.
The last two "bows" for men are done with hat in (left?) hand to be safe. Legend has it that Ivan the Terrible had some Turkish ambassadors' hats nailed to their heads when they neglected to take them off in his presence. (This legend is also told about Vlad Drakul)

The curtsey seems to be un-Russian in period.

The fall-down-on-your-knees-and-bang-your-head-on-the-ground/floor, as is depicted in many movies and told of in tales *may* be a late-period affectation, or maybe not. Such an obeisance may have been reserved for special prayers and situations in Church and Court.

From: "petzserg": I've never seen beads, but there is a woven leather implement known as a LESH-in-ka(?) which is used in the Old Orthodox/personal services to help count the number of bows one does. Its about 1/2" wide, and its links form cylindrical cross bumps that actually form the "counting surface". It forms a loop, and has a triangular piece of leather at the start/end. Sound familiar to any one? Not sure if I'd be able to point to any icon that would show it, but I seem to remember it in some period art work. With my memory, though...

Letters: One expression from period texts is "poklon" -- lit., "a bow". Something like, "salutations," or "greetings" (Predslava uses the latter as a translation). is used informally and formally, the tone is set by the rest of the message/letter.

Someone inquiring about a period Russian equivalent for "In service" led to the following exchange:

    >I asked a friend of mine who is a Russian student (still rather early in
    >studies though) and she had translated it as "V obslujivani"
    >I haven't begun studying the language yet so I don't know which is more correct.

    To be VERY polite, the abovementioned variant is neither correct nor sounding Russian at all. "to" in this phrase requires Dative in Russian, and he made it locative. State instead of direction. Beyond that, obsluzhivanie is service-job, like reception, bank clerks, etc, and Usluga means a favour, a voluntary service that is not regularly paid for.

    And beyond them both, k vashim uslugam is the formula in oral speech traditionally used used at acquaintance, like "Mike Hammer, to your service". The Russian usage is quite the same as the acquaintance scene in the Hobbit - "Balin, to Your service. - Bilbo Baggins to Yours and your family..."

    I'd suggest "ever to Your service" which is sometimes used in letters - vsegda k vashim uslugam. Bye, Alex." [Alexey Kiyaikin aka Posadnik]

However, note that using the "vy" construction in "k VASHIM uslugam" above to refer to a single person in a polite way is apparently out-of-period, as discussed above in Addressing Nobility. It is acceptible if speaking to a group. The "ty" construction of the same phrase to use when speaking to a single person would be "k TVOIM uslugam".

Money: From: MHoll@aol.com: In Russia, for most of our period, in particular in Novgorod, "furs" were used as money instead of coins. Apparently, according to foreigners' accounts, "used" furs, no longer suitable for their ordinary use, were marked by a clerk, and used for money. Various furs were used for this, and the monetary units were designated by the actual fur: "sable", "squirrel," etc. Holidays: From Alastair: Ah yes, (Western) Easter is here again... which means I shall be going round the village with my wife's friend's husband to (symbolically) whip the womenfolk, my virility supposedly reflected in the number of handpainted eggs I receive in return. This apparently pre-Christian tradition is *definitely* dying out here in Bohemia. Five years ago, gangs of menfolk would try to gain entry to every house in the village, and there was nothing symbolic about the whipping - these days it's just friends and relatives and a gentle tap suffices. And no-one in the larger towns or cities does it any more.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I'm just writing up a description of the grave goods buried with Boleslav II the Pious in March 999 - which coincidentally include eggshells around the skull and on the coffin lid. However, it has *finally* been confirmed that contrary to popular belief, these eggshells were NOT painted. Not a trace of colour on them apparently.

Our supposedly pious Prince also had poultry and pig bones buried with him, along with some other bits and pieces - I'll send an inventory to the list when I've finished translating it! -- Alastair

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