Caucasus and Crimea in RME



Collections of relics of culture of the Caucasian and Crimean peoples

Culture of the Caucasus and Crimea are the most interesting regarding ethnography Europe region. Objects of the Caucasian and Crimean art and culture began to enter the Russian Museum of Ethnography in the first years of its existence. The first Caucasian collection was registered in the Museum in 1903. None less interesting then Caucasian collection is Crimean collection which entered the Museum from All- Russian Handicraft Exhibition of 1902.

Museum collection

The development of the Caucasian collection was in full conformity with the objectives assigned to Russian museums in the late XIX and XX century and in particular to the Alexander's III Russian Museum with the Ethnographic Department. In the opinion of the scholars that were the founding fathers of national museums, a museum containing ethnographic exhibits should serve certain purposes. This sort of museum is a powerful mean of attaining a national consciousness presenting Russia in its ethnographic diversity in the light of its national and state idea. Studies of non-Slavonic peoples should promote comparative research into Russia's ethnography and demonstrate the sphere of Russia's cultural and political influence in the East.

Throughout the Museum's history the development of the Caucasus collections has been in tune with that facet of the national idea which regarded the real life in Russian provinces as more important than the ostentation and the cultural predominance of the centre. Naturally, the work of the Museum's researchers of the Caucasus always reflected the current ideas in learning and society. Museum collections are the most important source for studying traditions and contemporary situation in Caucasus and Crime as distinctive territory with the peculiar historic and national colour.

К.А. Inostrantsev and Caucasus studies in the Museum.

One of the first collectors was K.A. Inostrantsev, a leading authority on Islamic East and Sassanian Iran, who was carrying out research into Arabic and Persian manuscripts. An armchair scientist, he became ethnographer who carried out a lot of field works mainly in Caucasus area. The first trip to the Caucasus was made in 1902, in order to create a network of correspondents. К.А. Inostrantsev made arrangement with the number of people of local administration. One of them was A. Piralov an officer of the Agriculture Ministry who was a connoisseur of Caucasian (Transcaucasia and Dagestan) arts and crafts. But a need for the staff's personal participation in the collecting work became evident. In 1903-1904 K. Inostrantsev made a short trips to the Caucasus where he collected materials on the Tersk Cossacks, Nogays, Chechens, Avara, Andiys, Dargins, Lakts and Azerbaianian. All the acquisitions were valuable, especially worth of note was the Nogai lot which included such unique objects as a wedding kibitka carriage and other attributes of marriage ritual bought from a family belonging to the Nogai nobility. In 1906 the researcher's scene of working was Bolshaya Kabarga and Karatchaev. Of the various objects acquired there the most notable is a costume that belonged to a woman from the Karatchaev princely family. In 1907 K. Inostrantsev did collecting in Lenkoran and while he worked there the Museum received gifts from Mir-Ahmad-Khan of Talysh - some decoration details of the Khan's palace. Unfortunately, they didn't survive the siege of Leningrad in 1941-1944. In all he made 31 collections of objects supplemented by collections of photographs. By the summer of 1908 К. Inostrantsev prepared a systematic catalogue of the Oriental people's collections. Toward the end of the same year the scholar filed a resignation which was accepted.

The local intelligentsia's contribution to the Museum.

In the years when K. Inostrantsev worked with the Museum a wide use was made of Caucasians studying in St-Petersburg and this method of training collectors proved to be very fruitful. The names of two of those students mark the initial period of the Museum's history: Z Valayev made up an Ossetian and Balkar collection and S. Gatuyev produced a Chechen collection. Among local intelligentsia in 1906 -1907 were such collectors of Armenian and Azerbaijanian artifacts as the Archdeacon of the Armenian Church S. Ter-Avetisian, an Orthodox priest M. Nizheradze, who built up a collection on culture of various Georgian ethnic group. In 1903 the Museum received the first collection from Tiflis's major merchant and M. Charukhchev. All those people, regardless of their social status and education, firmly believed it was necessary that objects from the Caucasus should be displayed in a museum in the far-away northern capital.

A.Miller's collection

In 1908 K. Inostrantsev was succeeded by A. Miller. His entire life as a scholar was characterized by unity of two different pursuits: museum ethnography and archaeology. A. Millers Caucasus collections total 1076 exhibits, which is as many as almost a third of the total number of objects from the Caucasus in the Museum's holding. In 1907 A. Miller made his first trip to Abkhazia. His collection accounts for two thirds of the all exhibits on the culture of this people, even Abkhazian Museum in Sukhumi could not rival it (in 1990s this collection was perished in the Abkhazian-Georgian military conflict). A.Miller set out to implement a program of integrate study of he entire region of the Caucasus in order to represent it as fully as possible through the Museum Department's exhibits. He collected a unique group of objects from Mountain Jew living in the town Kuba, from Tiflis he brought some Armenian and Georgian collection. It was in those years that the scholar discovered many centers of carpet weaving in Azerbaijan. Some of the things purchased then were not only unavailable ten yeas later, but could hardly ever be seen in everyday life.

A.K.Serzhputovsky's collection

An important contribution to the creation of the Caucasus collection was made by A.Serzhputovsky. In 1910-1911 he acquired for the Museum some large and diverse collection in some highlands areas difficult of access in West Dagestan from ethnic group speaking different Avar dialects. He was one of those whom the world owes documented evidence of the existence of unique tiny ethnic communities, such as Bezhtins, Ghinukhs; and existence of the Avar and Adiy collections. In 1910s A.Serzhputovsky worked on the Black Sea coast in the Caucasus, bringing from there unique objects of the culture of Black Sea Shapsugs, a highly original ethnic community of the Adyghe group, as well as unique everyday objects of the culture of the Abkhazian and Georgian Mergels.

Collections of ethnographical material in Crimea.

None the less interesting are collections of the monuments on Crimean ethnography. Outstanding collections of garments and embroidered things were brought by K. Inostrantsev in 1905 from the settlement on Crimean south coast. Miller made a trip to the Crimea in 1913. His voluntary agents kept providing the Museum with objects of the Crimean peoples 's art and culture over a few years.

Private collections

Characteristic of the collecting work in Museum between the first Russian revolution (1905) and the First World War would be incomplete without private collection. Numerous objects of different ethnic origins came from famous Pskovian collector of antiques F. Pliushkin. Also a collection of unusual ceramic vessels from the village of Kharagouli, together with some Persian and Turkish things collected at different periods, as well as Crimean objects, were given to the Museum by Grand Duke Geogry Mikhailovich, the Royal Manager of the Russian Museum.

The last collecting by A.Miller's leading.

After some lull the Museum resumed its active collecting work in 1915-1926 A. Miller sent his pupil K. Kavtaradze to the East Caucasus, where he acquired Azerbaijanian, Armenian and Geogrian collections, as well as a Jewish one from Derbent. As for A.Miller himself, he went in the wake of the advancing Russian army into Turkish Armenia, where he found and acquired virtually a whole range of objects characterizing the life of Western Armenia. The 1920s were the period when few Caucasian things came from private collectors, while A.Miller expedition work was very active. The Museum also received additions from some palace collections. The fact that A. Miller headed the North Caucasus Expedition of the state Academy of history of Material Culture was beneficial to working out proper methods of field archaeology and developing the methodology of paleoethnological studies. The work of the expedition resulted in considerable augmentations of the Adyghe and Ossetian material. Especially noteworthy are objects of burial service from tombs in North Ossetia, which retained artifacts from the late Middle Ages, and a complete set of tools and stock-in-trade for highland agriculture (implements for land-tilling and harvesting, agricultural festival paraphernalia).

Collections from tsar's palaces

In the first decades of the Soviet power the Key principles of the Museum's work did not change. The Museum itself was converted into an institution open to the public, the work of the staff became more specialized. To the funds of Museum objects from the palaces and mansions of the nobility began to receive. From the Palace of the Arts (that was the name of the Winter Palace), Gatchina and other palaces objects of a special category were received. They were for the most part either the gifts from Eastern rulers to Russian Emperors or ethnic antiques. Particularly noteworthy among them were articles of state dress and weapons made in Daghestan, Kabarda, Ossetia and Georgia: they had once belonged to Alexander III, Nicholas II and other members of Emperor's family. In this way many representative samples of the material culture of middle and upper classes of the population of the Caucasus were brought together.

Collections of ethnographical material in Crimea in 1920s

In the 1920s the Museum's collection were substantially augmented with exhibits on the culture of the peoples of the Crimea, where the main collectors were the Oriental scholars G. Bonch-Osmolovsky, and F. Fielstrup.

Y.N. Studenetskay's contribution to the museum studying on Caucasus

It was fortunate for Caucasian studies that in the next period of the Museum's history its key figure was Ye. Studenetskay. She has 56 collections to her credit which comprise 1 192 exhibits and 2 269 photographs.

Ye. Studenetskay's first expedition was to the mountainous part of Svanetia, her aim was truthful record of the situation in an ethnic culture and a search for progressive elements in the life and culture of an ethnic entity. Ye.Studenetskay's most favoured sphere of interest was the ethnography of the Northern Caucasus peoples especially the culture of the Karachai people, and her favourite line in collection was the national costume of the peoples of the North Caucasus. The Museum's most interesting acquisitions were also connected with this line In the mid-thirties Ye. Studenetskay took charge of the Museum's Caucasus research, controlling the planning of the respective fieldwork, which took two main directions North Caucasian and Transcaucasian.

Second Word War and collectors of the "after war" epoch

The regular rhythm of the field trips to the Caucasus for its systematic complex study was broken by the war, when part of the Museum's collection was evacuated, and by the subsequent reconstruction of the building and displays. Field expeditions were resumed in 1946 in the conditions when the ravages of the war were still felt and when some of the peoples, ethnic groups and families were exiled. In 1940s-1960s Ye. Studenetskay concentrated Georgian and Kabardian ethnography materials.

Valuable additions from the State Museum of the USSR Peoples in Moscow

In 1948 the Caucasian collection of the Museum, as well as the Museum's possessions as a whole, was given a very valuable addition from the Moscow State Museum of the USSR Peoples. The Moscow contribution numbered 3 865 articles. Pre-revolution exhibits were collected by G. Radde, N.Kharuzin etc. The second part of the Moscow collection was formed in Soviet times. It had its beginnings in the Agricultural Exhibition and the Exhibition of Crafts and Cottage Industries. The most significant new acquisitions were of Georgian, Kubachi and Adyghe origin. Almost valuable for the Museum were new acquisitions that concerned the culture of Abkhazianes, Armenians, Talyshes and peoples of Crimea.

Receipt of the 1960-1980ss

In 1960-1980 the work on collecting ethnographical material was continued. Scholars went on field trips to Chechnia, Ossetia, Daghestan etc. In 1970-1980 there was an increasing inflow of products from indigenous handcraft organizations. That was how the Museum considerably augmented its collections with Balkar ceramics and a number of similar exhibits on the culture of Lcks, with Untsukul wood carvings, and other, no less interesting objects. The 1980s were also a period when ojects of folk art were often received from private individuals, comprising as they did copper utensils, carpets and rugs, jewellery and beautiful hand-made weapons.

The size of the Caucasian collection

As a result of the Museum's century-long collecting activity the Caucasus collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography has exceeded 25 000 items and become a significant sours of information that makes it possible to form an opinion on different aspects of life in this specific ethno-cultural zone with a multi-national population. Owing to its wide coverage, exhaustiveness and large size, the collection represents, with varying comprehensiveness, many people and ethnic groups of the Caucasus.


Ornamented bowl. Ossets. North Ossetia. 20th century
Ornamented bowl. Ossets. North Ossetia. 20th century

Peoples of the Northern Caucasus in the Museum collection

The Russian Museum of Ethnography possesses material pertaining both to the mainstream culture of West Adygs and to the cultures of their fringe ethnic groups. The culture of the Adyghe ethnic groups can also be studied through collections of Circassians and Kabardin things; there is also a small collection of Azerbaijanian culture.

Multi-national Daghestan

The culture of multi-national Daghestan is represented fairly well. The Museum has collection on the cultures of Nogays, Kumyks, Avars and such peoples of Avar group as Andis, Bogulals, Godoberins Didoys, Karatins, as well as on the cultures of Dargins kindred Kaitags, Lakts, Lezgins etc. Two fairly large collections and several smaller ones are devoted to the Jews of the East Caucasus (Mountain Jews) living in Daghestan and Azerbaijian. Also Museum has diversity artifacts on Karatchayev and Balkar.

The traditional Ossetian culture is represented by objects of the same description collected from both of two ethnic group of this nation: Irons and Digors. For Ingushes there is only one small collection received in 1908. Chechens are better represented, so their culture can be gained from their utensils, clothes and patterned felts, there is also a very old specimen of women's head-dress of considerable interest to the researcher.

Collections on Transcaucasia peoples

The Museum presents various territorial groups of Azerbaijanians. It has several collections covering Moslem Tats and Talyshes. There are a few objects from the culture of Udins, one of the most mysterious peoples in the history of the Cacasus.

The collection of Armenian culture covers the main two ethnographic regions, Eastern and Western Armenia, as well as a number of indigenous ethnic minorities. Apart from objects coming from Armenia itself, there are some exhibits from regions in the North Caucasus, and collections on Amshens living on the Black Sea coast. Exhibits from Turkish Armenia form a considerable part of the collection.

The ethnography of Georgia is widely represented by both traditional and contemporary objects. There are exhibits reflecting the originality of the ethnic mainstream and the various ethnic groups of the Georgian people. The west Caucasus is also represented by a collection of Abkhazian ethnography. The Russian Museum of Ethnography possesses a number of exhibits pertaining to the material culture of some of the peoples that are settled not only in the Caucasus but also abroad (Iranian, Turk, Greek). There are also insignificant numbers of exhibits of Indian, Abyssiania and Gypsy origins.

Culture of the Crimean peoples

The Museum has amassed an imposing collection on the Crimean peoples, such as Crimean, Tartart, Karaims and Krymchaks, Crimean Greeks figure in a small, but valuable collection. The Crimean Tartars culture is such of its aspects as agriculture and viticulture and urban crafts is adequately represented in the Museum, which also has an assortiment of Tartars's national dress, but their embroidery and patterned weaving are particularly remarkable. The latter also appear in very large numbers in the Karaim and Krymchak collections, which include other notable items, such as a gakhan priest's full attire in the Karaim display and several marriage contract document and plenty of copperware. Costume of the Caucasian peoples in the Museum's collection

One of the most impressive categories of the Caucasus exhibits in the Russian Museum of Ethnography is national costume and accessories. The presence of clothes in the Museum is due to two reasons: first, national costume is a specific element of each culture which retains its national originality longer than any other local feature; second, the Museum's collecting work has always been marked by a taste for garments and their combinations. The national costume of the peoples of the Caucasus is represented in all its variety, from everyday working clothes to ceremonial dress. Particalarly noteworthy is the Karachayev and Balkar shepherds' outfit and several sets of the Adyghe women's dress from the gifts given to Empress Maria Fedorovna. Among separate details of toilet, two Adyghe corsets for maidens are undoubtedly unique, and so is a collection of two types of hats for young girls, for they are trimmed with galloons and gold-thread embroidery and culminate in silver knobs, the taller variety being especially attractive. No less remarkable are several high buskins for women, ornamented with metal or bone plates. Of undoubted historical interest are some details of dress from Ossetian and Ingush medieval burial crypts. The national costume of the Dagestan is also represented quite adequately. There is a set of women's garments typical of Southern Avars, complete with head-dress, and there are several complete sets of garments from different locations as well as the clothes of an Avar boy and an Avar shepherd. There are men's and women's clothes favoured by Didoys and Karatin. The clothes of the Darghin group of peoples are less adequately represented, yet the Museum has a complete set of Kaitag women's clothes for everyday wear, as well as Kubachi women's garment and their men's and women's fur coat; one of the latest acquisition is a child's caftan with numerous decorations designed to be amulets. The Museum also has clothes characteristic of South Daghestan's peoples, including highland Jews. Nogai men's and women's clothes deserve special mention. Daghestan's clothing collection includes also several types of head-gear and a wide assortment of footwear. The Azerbaijanian collection has four sets of men's cloths with various types of men's hats. Their women's dress is represented by a much lager number of sets, witch permits to distinguish between different local varieties. You can also see here the costume and details of clothing of Azerbaijanian women that live in Daghestan. Of great interest is the collection of women's kialagai-type kerchifs, as well as their footwear and knitted socks. The collection of Armenian clothes, permitting as it does to demonstrate some local versions of their costume. It include two sets of women's clothes form Akhaltsikh, some men's and women's garment from the Artvin and Ardagan uyezd of the Batumi provinces, as well as some Armenian clothes from Shushi and Tiflis (Tbilisi). In 1916 A. Miller brought five complete sets of clothes and various decoration details from the vicinity of Lake Van. Equally important was the acquisition of the clothes in 1958, when the Museum received a sample of the costume of the Goris Region, the only genuine traditional Armenian costume surviving to modern times. The value of the Museum's collection of Georgian costume lies in the fact that it contains the main types of their national dress, urban clothes and clothes characteristic of different ethnic groups and minorities. There are several complete outfits worn by highland Khevsurs, their men's clothes complete with weapons, as required by tradition. The Museum's collections give a very vivid picture of how Kartalins, Pshavs, Tushins, Svans and Kakhetians dress. West Georgia is best represented by the clothes of Adzhars and Lazes, of indisputable value to the researcher is the attire of a Georgian nobleman.

Jewellery and weapon

The staff's unflagging interest in study of clothes provided also a stimulus for collecting Jewellery and personal ornaments, as well as weapons, for they used to be commonly regarded as details of dress. A particularly large number of Jewellery and personal ornaments of different types came from villages in Daghestan and Transcaucasia. Apart from articles made of silver, characteristic of the Caucasus as whole, the collection has a umber of enameled gold things, which exemplify both the originality of the jeweler's art in the South-east Caucasus and the influence of neighboring Iran. It was characteristic of Daghestan and the Transcaucasus to use precious metals not only in personal ornaments but in household plate as well. From amongst the jewellery that forms costume decoration details, the staff has built up over the years of the Museum's existence a fairly large and diverse collection of men's and women's silver belts. The exhibits of the jeweller's art the Museum possesses make it possible to identify the specific features of ornamentation and workmanship of each of the poruction centers, which existed in the Adyghe community, in Vladikavkaz, in Kubachi, in Lak community, in Zakatal and elsewhere. The Museum is unable to provide sufficient materials for a documented study of weapon-making centers in the Caucasus, yet the main characteristics of Caucasus-made weapons can be easily observed. Especially remarkable is a dagger made in Armenia dated 1827, but fine workmanship is also characteristic of the sabers and broadswords from highland Georgia and of the collection of cavalry swords and daggers from the gifts received by the Imperial Family, as well as of the ancient Adyghe weapons that once belonged to their noblemen. The Museum has a fine collection of chain mail and helmets made in Iran, as well as Iranian and Kurdish cold steel, including very old weapon. There are also very interesting swords with sinuous blades, skillfully engraved with mythological scenes. The weapon in the collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography chiefly belongs to the elite culture of the Caucasian peoples.

Caucasian carpets, felt and mat

Another category of the elite exhibits is the Caucasian carpets from Azerbaijan and Armenia, including the Karabakh center of carpet-weaving. It consists of carpets produces in different periods from the mid-19th century to recent times. A few exhibits reflect the tradition of carpet-weaving in Northern Daghestan. The best of Georgian carpet-weaving is represented by our pardag in napless carpets from the mountainous parts of Eastern Georgia. The Museum possesses variously made patterned felts and mats. The mats from Adyghe areas of the Northern Caucasus, Daghestan, and the felts from the Daghestan, the mountainous part of Georgia and Armenia.

The indigenous economy and crafts

The Museum's collections reflect the essential characteristics of the indigenous economy. They show the implements and stock-in-trade for every type of high- and lowland agriculture. The collection includes grain-growing and viticulture tools, everything needed for bread-making is also shown. There are voluminous materials on distant-pasture sheep breeding, characteristic of highlands area, on the processing of wool and milk, and on shepherd's life. The fullest collection are founded for following: the jewellery's craft in Kubachi, the goldsmith's and blacksmith work, mason's work and silk-weaving in Azerbaijan, copperware-making in Armenia. The Museum possesses a large collection of textile-printing blocks, its bulk consisting of exhibits of Armenia origin. One can hardly fail to notice the presence in the collections of tools for design-stamping on leather from the Northern Caucasus, for dagger-making from Daghestan and for wool processing from all parts of the Caucasus. A considerable proportion of cottage industry products are works of folk art. This applies to the exhibits of the Caucasus collections, which display high standards of workmanship and technology of handiwork and cottage industry production and demonstrate the tenacity of the ancient tradition of design and its symbolism.


The Museum possesses a wide range of wrought iron lamps of different shapes, a large variety of artistically designed fitting for the hearth, a wide assortment of utensils for frying meat. Wrought iron figurines in the collection mostly come from the smithies of the Great Caucasus, Armenia and Georgia. The Museum's iron utensils represented by large number of dish: flat trays, different vessels. Their ornamentation is based on the symbolism of streams and drops of water. Moslem life is impossible without vessel for ablutions. The most striking and significant copperware comes from the village of Lagich, a major center of coppersmith's trade in the Eastern Caucasus.


The collection of Caucasus wood cravings is also extensive and includes horn-like salt-cellars from Daghestan, spoon-holders decorated with designs depicting details of highlander's stone house, large cups for beer from Northern Caucasus, Khevsur boxes for needlework, craved window surrounds from Azerbaijan.


The ceramic objects in the Caucasus collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography exemplify different types of pottery techniques, including hand-modeled ceramics made by Armenian women from the village of Balkhar. The Museum treasures its collection of unique ceramic objects conventionally known as Ispik trays.


Among women's handcrafting Caucasian lace-making, weaving and embroidery cannot but be mentioned. The latter, done in gold-thread in different part of the Caucasus, is particularly, as well as the special kind of needlework known as kaitag that was used for making highly original panels for purposes that are no longer quite clear nowadays. Any Museum that has a collection of kaitag embroidery treats it as a prized possession.

Ritual objects

The Museum possesses a number of key ritual objects used in the traditional festivals of the Caucasian people, including objects from burial crypts in Ossetia, a smithy from Abkhazia, sanctuaries from the mountains in Georgia. There are also large numbers of various amulets and objects of religious ritual.

On the whole the Caucasus collection vividly demonstrates different national colours and strength. At present the Caucasian collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography keeps growing.

Materials made by Vladimir Dmitriev