ABSTRACT: The text discusses medieval and modern sepulchral finds of coins from Eastern Europe, conventionally referred to as the “obol of the dead”. For the first time the phenomenon was observed in 8th century graves of nomads in the Khazar Khaganate. In the 9th and 10th century, Arab dirhams and Byzantine miliarenses appear in graves in the areas of the Scandinavian expansion, mainly in the basin of the upper Volga and the Dnieper. In the 11th century the custom of equipping the dead with coins becomes common and it is mainly West European pennies that are used for the purpose. In the 12th and 13th century, the practice becomes virtually obsolete to experience a revival in the 15th century. In modern times the observance of the custom reaches its peak in the 17th century and remains to be recorded in ethnographic sources until today. SUMMARY: The text presents the custom of equipping the dead with coins, followed in medieval and modern Eastern Europe. In this area coins appear for the first time in richly equipped graves of nomads, dated to the 8th century, along the lower course of the Don and Volga rivers in the Khazar Khaganate. They are predominantly gold issues — Byzantine solidi and gold-plated dirhams, placed in the mouth of the dead. In the 9th and 10th centuries coins and their fragments, which can be referred to as “the obol of the dead”, occur in the barrow mounds in the north-west areas of ancient Rus’, on the east and south coast of Ladoga Lake, in the interfluve of the Volga and the Oka as well as in sites located along the upper and middle course of the Dnieper, particularly in the Czernichow Land. In the second part of the 10th and 11th century the custom becomes widespread, and most of the finds come from inhumation burial. Apart from those areas, coins appear in graveyards located along the upper course of the Volga River, in the areas of Lake Peipus and Lake Ilmen as well as in the basin of the Dnieper and further down to Kiev. Characteristically enough, all the sites are located in the area of the Scandinavian expansion and colonisation. The predominant types of coins found in graves dated to the 10th century are Arab dirhams as well as Byzantine folles, miliarenses and solidi. It should also be noted that graves with pendant-coins become more frequent. At the end of the 10th century there is an observable decrease in the inflow of Arab gold into the Baltic region. At the end of the 10th and the beginning of the 11th century, coins from Western Europe appear and dominate the entire next century. They are usually German issues, but also English and, to a smaller extent, Bohemian and Hungarian coins. Interestingly enough, the number of coins left in the form of “the obol of the dead” is much higher than that of pendant-coins. Sometimes the local, Rus’ coins occur, although rather infrequently. In the 12th and 13th century the custom of equipping the dead with coins disappears completely from the forest zone of Eastern Europe, which is caused by the cessation of the inflow of Western European coins into Novgorod Rus’ and predominantly, by the evolution of burial practices, manifesting itself in abandoning the custom of equipping the dead. In the 13th and 14th century, after the Mongol invasions, coins reappear in the graves of the nomads of the Golden Horde, who bring the custom from the grasslands of Central Asia. The finds are dominated by Golden Horde issues. In the 14th century, coins are occasionally used in the burials of Lithuanian and Slavic population in the Polish-Rus’ and Lithuanian-Rus’ border areas (today’s Eastern Poland and Grodno Region). In the latter case, the finds of coins are particularly frequent in graves from the 15th century. Similarly to the 11th century Rus’ this is an area of intensive Christianisation and transformations of burial practices. Outside the Grodno Region, the coins appear frequently in graves across Lithuania, Samogitia, Semigallia, Latgale, Livonia and Courland. In the 16th century, coins start to appear in graves of newly Christianised Finno-Ugric peoples of Mari, Mordva and Udmurt. They appear both as the “obols of the dead” and pendants in lavishly decorated necklaces and hats. The culmination of the practice of equipping the death with coins falls on the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century. The areas of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and of the Grand Duchy of Moscow are dominated by local issues, mostly small coins of low nominal value. In archaeological sources, there is a rapid decrease in the number of sepulchral finds of coins in graves from the second half of the 18th century. We know of only one burial with coins from the 19th century. Similarly, coins were discovered only in one 20th-century grave, which does not, however, signify that the practice of equipping the dead disappeared — it only reflects the current state of examination of contemporary archaeological sites. Ethnographic sources frequently record the tradition of equipping the death and confirm the presence of such practices in the areas of Russia, Ukraine, Belarus and Poland.
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