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Located in the Upper Dnepr River, thirteen kilometers west of Smolensk, Gnezdovo was a key portage and transshipment point along the "Route to the Greeks" in the late ninth through the early eleventh centuries. The area provided easy access to the upper reaches of the Western Dvina, Dnepr, and Volga rivers. The archaeological complex consists of several pagan and early Christian cemeteries (17 hectares), one fortified settlement (1 hectare), and several unfortified settlements. More than 1,200 of the estimated 3,500 to 4,000 burial mounds have been excavated. While Balt and Slav burials are found in great number, the mounds with Scandinavian ethnocultural traits (cremations in boats and rich inhumations and chamber graves) receive the most attention. However, no more than fifty mounds can be positively identified as Scandinavian. Gnezdovo's burials are among the richest for European Russia in the tenth century and include glass beads, swords, horse riding equipment, silver and bronze jewelry, and Islamic, Byzantine, and western European coins.

Although much of Gnezdovo's settlement layers have perished, recent excavations reveal house foundations and pits containing the remains of iron smithing and the working of nonferrous metals into ornaments, not unlike production of the contemporaneous and betterpreserved sites of Staraia Ladoga and Riurikovo gorodishche. Gnezdovo's most intense period of settlement dates to the period from 920 to the 960s, when its settlements had reached their maximum size and when many of the largest burial mounds were raised. Gnezdovo was abandoned in the early eleventh century, when a new center, Smolensk, assumed Gnezdovo's role in international and regional trade.

See also: kievan rus; route to the greeks; vikings


Avdusin D.A. (1969). "Smolensk and the Varangians according to Archaeological Data." Norwegian Archaeological Review 2:52-62.

Heidi M. Sherman