Collections оf the Peoples of Central and Southern Europe
The collections on the Ashkenazi jews culture
Сollection on the culture of the peoples of Central Asia
Collection of the peoples of the Volga and Urals regions
Collection on culture of the peoples of Caucasus and Crimea

The museum collection which was forming as the complex of collection on culture of multinational population of the Russian Empire also includes cultural artifacts of the peoples living beyond its borders. In general these are exhibits acquired among the peoples who populated the territory of states bordering with the Russian Empire or among the peoples culturally or linguistically related to them. The decision about inclusion of these collections in museum was made by the Commission on Elaboration of the Museum Programme in January-April 1901 and confirmed by the General Assembly of the Imperial Academy of Sciences on October 4 1903. In opinion of scholars of early XX century this material could be used as comparative one for study of ethnography of the peoples of Russia.  The most of cultural artifacts of the peoples of Western Europe and Asia were collected in first two decades of XX century.

The history of formation of collections on the peoples of Central and Southern Europe

In collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography there are more than 6000 exhibits characterizing daily life and culture of the peoples of Central and Southern Europe: Czechs, Slovaks, Poles, Bulgarians, Serbians, Croatians, Slovenians, Macedonians and Montenegrins, as well as Albanians, Hungarians, Romanians. In general formation of collection on culture of these peoples took place in the early XX century.

The museum archive conserved the correspondence with ethnographic museums of Warsaw, Belgrade, Prague, Sofia, which allows to conclude that foreign colleagues enthusiastically responded to the request and actively collaborated in formation of the museum collection. 

In 1907-1910 in Czechia and Slovenia the group of scholars headed by famous archeologist and ethnographer Lubomir Niederle gathered very interesting collection including ceramics and sets of wood and metal objects. Artists and foreign students studied in the higher schools of Petersburg were also involved in work of gathering exhibits. For example, the collection from Montenegro was gathered with participation of the Montenegrin student Mirko Madenitz, which registration as in case of other Montenegrin exhibits he made himself.

In 1920s certain wane in collection activities related to the ethnography of Central and Southern Europe started. It could be noted only the transfer of exhibit  from the Gatchina Palace-Museum (two Montenegrin children costumes)  and of  the artist K.D. Dalmatov collection (about 100 painted eggs made by Slovakian craftsmen).

In 1948 the museum storages were significantly replenished by the transfer of the collection the State Museum of the Peoples of the USSR. The most valuable part of it is materials of the All-Russia Ethnographic Exhibition of 1867 which also included collections on Western and Southern Slavs.

Many famous persons were involved in  gathering material and photographic collections including the head of the Russian Ambassador Church in Vienna M. F. Raevsky (1811–1884).  He maintained extensive correspondence with many scholars and leaders of Slavic national liberation movement, whom 300 invitations were sent and the programme of gathering collections and photographs was translated in German. The Slavic Illyrian, Serbian, Solvenian cultural-enlightening organizations (Matice) were engaged in work. In result excellent collection of objects of the peoples inhabiting the Slavic countries were gathered in unusually brief time (1865–1867). 

Especially interesting inputs from the exhibition of 1867 are the folk costume sets from various countries, the earliest of which date to XVIII – early XIX century. Their value is still high, for due to various political and war cataclysms which Europe suffered in XIX and XX centuries, many Slavic museums lost their collections. 

In 1953 storages were replenished by the exhibits from the Museum of I. V. Stalin Gifts formed of the presents of laborers of Socialistic countries in the post-war period.  

In 1960-1990s department collection slightly increased due to gifts of museums and individual citizens of socialistic countries as well as the objects passed from temporary exhibitions shown in the USSR. 

The composition of collection on the peoples of Central and Southern Europe

Today the collection of museum on these peoples consists of sets of men, women and children clothes, dolls in national costumes, details of house interior (textile, wood, metal), utensils, musical instruments,  attributes of family and calendar rites,  objects of folk craft and applied arts, gift production which date to XVIII–XXcc.

The museum collections on the Ashkenazi Jews culture numbering more than 2400 items is one of the most complete collections of this kind presenting to a visitor the ethnoconfessional specifics of culture of this people evolved in the Eastern European diaspora by late XVIII century. From the Middle Ages Ashkenazi is the term designated the Jews lived on the Rhine and then in all German lands; later it was  spread to all their  Yiddish speaking  descendants.

F.K. Volkov - the founder  of Jewish collection

The Ethnographic Department of the Russian Museum was one of the first museums in Russia of XX century which included in its collection programmes the Jewish rarities.  The start of was made by Ukrainian anthropologist and ethnographer F.K. Volkov who donated to the museum 15 objects and 5 photographs in 1907.

The objects of religious cult of A.A. Miller

In later years the business trips of other museum fellows significantly replenished the Ashkenazi collections. The collection of A.A. Miller containing 54 objects is diverse in its thematic: covers for the Torah scroll, attributes of festive and family rituals, texts of prayers, wedding documents, and clothes. Later in 1911 A.A. Miller bought for museum the unique silver menorah - symbolic lamp for the feast of Hanukah. The work of last years on deciphering stamps on the Jewish silver objects allows to include it in the bests examples of Jewish jewelry art of XVIII century.

The interest of Miller in the culture of Jews was quite professional. Being the leading specialist on the ethnography of the peoples of Caucasus he gathered one of the first ethnographic collections on the Mountain Jews, one of numerous ethnic group of this region. His Ashkenazi and Caucasian Jewish collections reflect profound understanding of common confessional base and regional specifics of both subcultures.  

The contribution of A.K. Serzhputovsky to the Jewish collection  

The voyage of A.K. Serjputovsky to the Kingdom of Poland added to the Ashkenazi collection of the museum 12 items of man and woman clothes, and in 1923 he brought collection of Jewish woman wigs and headdresses from his expedition to Belarus.

Replenishments from private collections

In traditions of museum the Jewish collection was also forming by gifts of individuals and purchases from “collectors of rarities, merchants of antiquities”  M.E. Sverdlov, (1910), B.M.A. Veselovskaya-Shanyavskya (1911), A.I. Novodvorsky (1911).  In 1914 the Russian Museum received the lion share of collection of the famous Pskov collector F.M. Plyushkin. Obviously “the Jewish rarities” later came to the Ashkenazi collection of the Ethnographic Department also found their place in his collection thanks to their aesthetic merits.  Indeed 16 items are from the collection of F.M. Plyushkin.

The role of S.A. An-sky in museum Judaica

The decisive role in formation of ethnographic collection on the Ashkenazi Jews played the transfer of a part of collections belonged to Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society in Saint Petersburg (1908—1929). These collections were gathered during expeditions to Jewish towns of Volyn’ and Podolia in 1912—1914 and organizer and leader of expeditions was the famous Jewish public аctivist, writer and folklorist S.A. An-sky. It pseudonym, the real name is Sh.Z.A. Rapport (1863—1920). The expedition materials of An-sky at first comprised the base of the Jewish Museum of the Jewish Historical-Ethnographic Society which was opened in 1917.

In May 1918 An-sky fearing tumults and pogroms in Petrograd handed over for keeping in Russian Museum a part of collections which were declared the state patrimony and included in collections of state museums.  Thus, part of the Jewish Museum collections was incorporated in the Jewish storages of the Ethnographic Department.  

 The An-sky collection in the Russian Museum of Ethnography numbering 295 gives comprehensive idea about traditional culture of Jewish shtetl in Russia in XIXC century.  The synagogue textile, invaluable silver objects and amulets are particularly interesting among the items of this collection.

The clothes are represented by several woman costumes, breast-covers (brustikhl), and headdresses, garments of the Kaidanov Tzadik, the rabbi caftan, man headgears, and belts.  The collection of  brusthils—  stable element of Jewish woman costume which had amulet function is unique.

An-sky gathered hundreds of drawings of ornaments from the Jewish tombstones, illustrated Pinkas — the books of Jewish communities, sketches and postcards. The collections of the Russian Museum of Ethnography keep six painted luboks — the unique authentic masterpieces of Jewish folk painting conserved to our days.

The OZET materials in museum  

In the middle 1920s the Jewish section was organized in structure of the Bielorussian Department of the RME. Later in 1930s when I.M. Pulner was appointed the head of the Jewish section, it became independent research subdivision. His priority task was creation of the exhibition “Jews in the Tsarist Russia and the USSR”. The exhibition was thought to be relevant in the light of occurred historical event— establishment of the Jewish Autonomous Oblast in 1934. The preparation of exhibition lasted almost two years.

During this time I.M. Pulner  made several  business trips and expeditions to the Jewish Autonomous Oblast (1937), Ukraine  (1938, 1939), Georgia, Azerbaijan (1938), gathering materials on traditional culture and new Soviet thematic.  In the summer of 1938 after liquidation of the OZET and its Central Council  its huge archive containing in photographic documents almost entire history of organization of Jewish agricultural centers in Ukraine, Crimea, Caucasus in 1920s and the history of “national construction” in the Jewish Autonomous Oblast until 1938 was transferred to museum with help of Pulner. Part of these photographs was included in materials of the exhibition “Jews in the Tsarist Russia and the USSR” which opened March 10 1939.

Contribution of I.M. Pulner to the Jewish collection

In brief period of work from 1937 to 1941 I.M. Pulner acquired 12 collections numbering about 400 items.  For instance, with help of the musicologist M. Beregovsky rare collection of Klezmer musical instruments entered museum from Kiev in 1938. Collections of print drawing and printed rugs, lithographs with images of Jewish tombstones, old Mizrah (wall decoration to mark eastern direction) and other items were received from the Ukrainian Museum of Folk Art.  The collections of lekekh-bretlakh (ginger bread molds), children toys used at the feasts of Purim and Lag BaOmer, hand-made carved chess with the Judaic symbolic was handed over to museum from the Jewish museum of Odessa.  The collection of ritual and festive cookies acquired by I.M. Pulner in the town of Bershadi numbers 101 items and is one of the most complete among collections of this kind.

Cooperation with the artist S.B. Yudovin enriched the Ashkenazi collection.  In 1938 S.B. Yudovin made a trip to the locality of Beshenkovichi in Belarus from where he brought abundant material on the local Purimshpil (the Purim Feast theatrical play, which plot is based on the Book of Esther), sketches of Purimshpil actors’ costumes, theatrical prop and a series of drawings with ornaments of Jewish tombstones.  All this together with 60 of his own graphic works S.B. Yudovin gave to the Jewish collections of the Ethnographic Museum.

Valuable acquisitions from the Museum of Ethnology

In 1948 the Ashkenazi collection was replenished by collections of the State Museum of the Peoples of the USSR, where the most valuable were the materials of I.M. Pulner who worked in Byelorussian expedition under commission of the Museum of Ethnology in 1931.   In 1954 one more large Jewish collection was formed of unregistered earlier objects. This complex collection consists of 87 items. Most of them are silver cult and ritual objects, jewelry, details of clothes, woman wigs.

The new stage in history of the RME Jewish collection

From late 1950s to early 1990s collection was replenished thanks to occasional gifts, purchases and transfers from official organizations. The early 1990s is new stage in history of the Ashkenazi Jewish collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography: the exhibition “By the route of An-sky. Life of Jewish town in the Tsarist Russia” was made on the base of collection, mostly on the An-sky materials. The work on exhibition concept and catalogue required attribution of artifacts.  Demonstration of the exhibition in leading Jewish museums of Europe, Israel, and the USA convincingly showed to what degree the Ashkenazi collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography is comparable with largest Jewish collections of the world and how unique it is.  Today these collections are the most important and probably the only complete source for studies in traditional culture of the Ashkenazi Jews in Russia of late XVIII-early XX cc.  

Today the collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography on Central Asia and Kazakhstan numbers about 40,000 artifacts and it’s not only the largest among museum collection of similar kind, but also the only one which unites so comprehensively ethnographic materials on all the peoples of this region.

The start of collection: the scientific exploit of S.M. Dudin

The formation of museum collections on the peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan began in 1900.  In this time the Central Asia was one of the less studied and less known regions to Europeans.  Geographical distance, religious isolation and respective hostility of population to foreigners made it inaccessible for explorers.  Realization of first expeditions to Central Asia with purpose of gathering ethnographic collections was proposed to S.M. Dudin, an artist and excellent specialist in documental photography who already worked in Central Asia in archeological expeditions and was expert in Central Asian applied art. The collection gathering of S.M. Dudin in Central Asia became real scientific exploit demanding of him complete commitment.

S.M. Dudin passed hundred of kilometers  from western borders of Central Asia to Kashgar through fertile oases, deserts and steppes, worked in all the large  cities of region and many agricultural villages, visited nomadic camps and high-land villages  courageously overcoming both the difficulties of road and suspicious attitude of population.

In result of three trips he made extensive collection of ethnographic rarities, numbering almost 40000 items, in which traditional everyday culture of the most peoples of region Tajiks, half-nomadic and settled Uzbeks, Turkomans, Kirghizes, Kazakhs, and smaller ethnographic groups Baloch, Uyghurs, Afghans is represented in all its richness and diversity.  Collection materials of S.M. Dudin became the base on which all the further collection work of museum in Central Asia and Kazakhstan was realized.

Creation of regional department and F.A. Fielstrup

In the first decades of XX century there were no more expeditions to Central Asia equal in scale to similar travels of S.M. Dudin. Only from 1920s after establishment of separate regional department in museum the systematic and planed expedition-gathering work started. Simultaneously a collective of professional ethnographers, responsible researchers and enthusiastic collection-makers was forming. The first of them was specialist in Turkic studies and ethnographer F.A. Fielstrup. In 1920-1930s he gathered the most valuable materials on husbandry, hunting with birds of prey, dwelling, clothes and beliefs of Kazakhs and in particular Kirghizes with whose culture his research interests were related. 

F.A. Fielstrup traveled around the Zhetysu and the Fergana Valley, he was the first ethnographer who worked in Tian Shan where cultural traditions of Kirghizes longer conserved «their unique character intact”.  Everywhere the scholar purchased for museum ethnographic rarities. Detailed description of exhibits and careful recording of local terminology made his collection the invaluable scientific source on ethnography of Turkic peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, especially Kirghizes.

Formation of Kirghiz collections

Important place in collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography belongs to materials gathered in joint expedition to Kirghizia of the RME fellow B.K. Balakin and the fellow of the Moscow Folk Studies Museum E.I. Makhova on the eve of Great Patriotic War. In result numerous and in the most of cases rare objects of yurt furnishing, utensils, clothes, and jewelry were purchased. In the post-war period during more than 25 years S.M. Leikina studied the Kirghiz ethnography and formed collection on the culture of this people. In course of her expedition work embracing  dozen trips in different areas of Central Asia and Kazakhstan she purchased for museum almost 1 000 exhibits, more than half of which were related to traditional-everyday culture of Kirghizes.  In one of her expeditions to the Kirghiz-Ichiliks, unique ethnographic group particularly long conserved many relics of Turk culture in their daily life; she gathered more than 200 extremely valuable rarities not sufficiently represented even in Kirghiz ethnographic museums.  In late the 1980s diverse   collection on Kirghizes was enriched by the collection on the Jirgatai Kirghizes – one more local group living in Pamir in long-termed neighborhood with Mountain Taijks. Today in museum storages ethnographic objects the most comprehensively represent two main groups of Kirghiz people: the northern one and the southern Kirghizes and the most specific ethnolocal groups.

Formation of collection on Kazakh culture

In Kazakh collections one distinguishes complexes on southern, western and central areas of Kazakhstan, which borders coincide with historically formed areas of main tribal unions’ development. The exploration of southern Kazakhstan areas by ethnographers already started with expeditions of S.M. Dudin.  From his voyages he brought splendid examples of textile production: carpets, patterned felts, embroidered objects and many other works of folk crafts.  The collections on Kazakhs on Western Kazakhstan and the Adai-Kazakhs of Mangyshlak who characterized by their long conservation of nomadic life and patriarchalism of their lifestyle were gathered separately. 

The northern and north-eastern territories of Kazakhstan - the areas of early historical contacts of Kazakhs with Russia were the most comprehensively studied and represented in museum storages.  The collections including very archaic and typical elements of Kazakh everyday culture were gathered during expeditions of F.A. Fielstrup and A. P. Bulgakov in first decades of XX century. In following years this work was continued by the Department’s fellows S.M. Leikina, A.S. Morozova, B.Z. Gamburg and A.V. Konovalov. The areas of Kazakhs’ living on the territory of Uzbekistan were explored and the materials on the Kosh-Agach Kazakhs – particular group which migrated to South Altay more than century ago and up to our days live among Telengits and Russians were gathered in 1970-1980s.  

The work had to be done in the hardest conditions.  A.S. Morozova remembered after one of her trips to Kazakhstan: “The way ran completely off-road in wilderness, especially on the shore of the Balkhash, where there were   barbarous agglomeration of rocks, salt marshes, blurred by rains and lakes looking impassable. Sometimes we have to sleep on the open air, in field and in tent during the rain.”  These words excellently express attitude of museum ethnographers to their expedition work full of bright impressions but very uneasy.

The history of collection on various tribes of Turkomans

Turkomans were especially diverse in respect of their territorial distribution and clan and tribal composition. For many years of expedition work the materials on almost all the Turkoman groups on the territory of modern Turkmenistan and also living in Russia and Uzbekistan were successfully gathered.  S.M. Dudin brought excellent collection of clothes, utensils, objects of house interior, horse and camel harness, weaving and felt-making production and especially rich collection of carpets of Teke, Yomuds, Ersari and other Turkoman tribes. In 1940-1960s A.S. Morozova carried out expedition and collection work among different groups of Turkomans. Particular attention she paid to local and age sets of traditional clothes, for it was related to research interests of scholar.

The Turkoman collection was always replenished thanks to individual donations. In 1902 General A.A. Bogolyubov, the head of the Trans-Caspian Area of Turkestan Governor-Generalship gave to the Ethnographic Department 37 rare carpets from his collection.  It was a token of gratitude to the Emperor Nicolas II who with his personal funds helped A.A. Bogolyubov to publish first in the world  research monograph about Central Asian carpets.  Eighty years later museum acquired   300 well annotated items of traditional clothes, carpets, felt rugs and adornment from collector Y.A. Yakovlev.

The collections of the Romanovs’ Royal Family on Uzbeks and Tajiks

The collection of  traditional daily life culture objects of  the settled Uzbeks and Tajiks living in the center of the most brilliant achievements of Central Asian civilization (city building, architecture, applied arts and crafts) which always attracted attention of Europeans   is the most numerous and comprehensive.  The first exhibits were acquired by S.M. Dudin. He worked in ancient cities of Bukhara, Samarkand, Kokand and surrounding villages from which he brought more than 2500 Uzbek and Tajik ethnographic exhibits.

In 1920 the Central Asian collection replenished with many outstanding works of crafts and applied arts from private and palace collections of Petersburg and its suburbs.  Among them the objects once presented to the Romanovs family by the Emirs of Bukhara as ambassador and personal gifts have particular value.  These are man robes embroidered with silk and gold, horse harness, curtains, coverlets, festive arms with gold and silver inlays and precious stones, silk and velvet textiles ornamented in the ikat technique, works of Bukhara jewelry.   They not only acquaint with mastery of craftsmen, but also reflect difficult period of relationship between the Russian powers and Central Asian rulers.  

The role of museum personnel in replenishment of Uzbek collection

The first after long interruption museum expedition to Uzbek areas in Khorezm in 1931. Untill XX century the population of the Khorezm oasis conserved in their culture elements which roots date to time immemorial and analysis of expedition materials gives much to recreate the picture of ethnic processes in region. 

M.B. Sazonova who paid particular attention to study and collection of Uzbek clothes and adornments   researched the ethnography of Khorezm Uzbeks more than 50 years. She published dozens of works promoting scientific popularization of storage materials. The museum always paid much attention to research on traditional crafts and trades as one of the most important fields of Uzbek economic activities in past. For example, B.Z. Gamburg studied and collected instruments of silk weaving, iron casting, smithery, and agricultural tools.  Thanks to expeditions of B.Z. Gamburg in 1960-1970s complex collections on culture of various groups of Uzbeks of Surkhandarya and Samarkand areas were formed.

M. D. Perlina worked on replenishing storages with samples of embroidery, printed textiles, and articles of clothes, objects of folk applied art of both modern and earlier periods. In total the museum concentrates 18500 Uzbek and Tajik artifacts and photographs.  

On history of the Tajik collections

The collection of artifacts on Tajik ethnography reflects cultural peculiarities of historically developed subdivisions of this people: the plain, mountain and Pamir Tajiks. Excellent collection including agricultural tools, utensils, articles of interior furnishing, and unique examples of ancient clothes was brought by museum personnel from the expedition to Darvaz and Pamir.

In 1972 the museum storages were replenished by extensive very diverse on its thematics collection formed by a group of leading ethnographers of Tajikistan and donated to the museum by the Government of the Tajik Soviet Republic. In 1970s the museum fellows B.Z. Gamburg and E.G. Tsareva bought about 700 exhibits on the culture of mountain and Pamir Tajiks. The collection reflects almost all the ethnographic topics: economy, crafts, dwelling, clothes, children’s education, feasts, beliefs. Importance of these collections is especially great because they were results of last large-scale expeditions of museum fellows to Tajikistan.

Late replenishment of collection was predominantly made by purchasing separate exhibits, mostly wall embroideries and festive female clothes from private persons. In 1988 the ethnographer A.K. Pisarchilk handed to museum unique collection of Tajik ceramics which her family collected in course of almost 50 years.

Today the Russian Museum of Ethnography became the only museum where Tajik material culture is represented so abundantly and comprehensively.

Establishing of Karakalpak collection

The museum collection on the Karalpak ethnography numbering more than 2000 items can be also considered unique.  Distanced for thousands of kilometers from the territory of this people, the Russian Museum of Ethnography in Petersburg became the most important center in which concentrated excellently formed collection giving clear idea about main features of ethnic specifics of this people. The first Karakalpak collection gathered by the artist A.S. Melkov entered museum only in 1930, but it immediately established the bases for ethnographic studies of people.  The collection reflects quite comprehensively economical activity of Karakalpaks, the specifics of their dwelling, certain crafts and trades, traditional costume. The next Karakalpak collection was acquired by the museum only 30 years later.

It was gathered by the artist I.V. Savitski, great expert in applied art of Karakalpaks who was in love with culture of this people. His collection included not only ethnographic objects, but mostly the masterpieces of folk art. In 1960s two more expeditions of the Department’s fellows to Karakalpakia took place, in  course of them agricultural tools and craft instruments, not significantly represented in previous collections  were purchased. Scholars didn’t pay much attention to this people, that’s why every Karakalpak historical artifact in collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography or in collections of other museum with time gets more and more scientific and cultural value.

“Small-numbered peoples” of Central Asia:  Baloch, Uighurs, Central Asian Arabs, Bukharan Jews, Dungans,Romani. Formation of collections

The culture of so-called “small-numbered peoples” of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, the ethnic majority of whom live beyond the borders of these regions, is also underrepresented. However, it makes each of few artifacts of their past even more valuable. S.M. Dudin included in his collections several beautiful and today rare Baloch carpets and some objects of Afghan ethnography on the territory of Central Asia.  Moreover, he gathered collection on the Uighur traditional culture. In 1906 the excise inspector A.V. Adrianov who collaborated with the Ethnographic Department for years sent to museum 13 Hotan carpets.

The collection on the Central Asian Arabs gathered by B.Z. Gamburg in 1981 in the Kashdaryinskaya Oblast of Uzbekistan and the collection on the ethnography of Bukharan Jews of the Tashkent collector V.V. Kucherov became the most voluminous and comprehensive.  Later the museum collection on the small-numbered peoples of region was replenished with exhibits on ethnography of Dungans, the Central Asian Romani and Indians which in 1948 were handed to museum as a part of extensive collection on the peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan from the USSR Ministry of Science.

General information about collection

Today the collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography on the ethnography of Central Asia and Kazakhstan numbers 40,000 items and is not only one of the largest among museum collections of similar kind but also the only one which so completely units ethnographic materials on all the peoples of region.   

Every object of the Central Asian collection, every set of objects opens up the curtain, under which  the cultures of Central Asian peoples surprisingly  original, bright and attractive by enigmatic language of its symbols is hidden which Europeans always tried to understand traveling to the East, gathering museum collections and exploring the amazing world full of enchantment of antiquity.   

Economic life: Agriculture and husbandry

The economic activity of the peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan, in the first order agriculture and husbandry determined their lifestyle in the past (settled or nomadic) is abundantly represented in the museum collections.  Various objects of domestic animal care comprised very important part of material world not only of nomads and semi-nomads, but also of agriculturalists.  The special husbandry objects on which some protective  signs are depicted, for instance in embroidered or woven patterns of horse or camel harness, in stamping motifs of leather vessels for kumis  used for magical guard of  animals are of great interest as relics of the livestock breeders’ worldview. 


The materials on various kinds of hunting, first of all on falconry which was the most widespread among nomads are amply presented. Caps of various shapes put on the head of the bird of prey to calm it before hunting, stands, ties for legs, animal dummies for birds training and teaching, utensils for their feeding, special huntsmen gloves characterize this ancient type of activity which earlier had no only economic significance but also was endowed in traditional worldview with specials magic content.   

Paper making

In culture of agricultural peoples collectors were predominantly attracted by the objects related to crafts and trades. The objects associated with hand-made production of paper conserved in Kokand up to the early XX century, and figurative tobacco boxes of gourds and cases of papier-mâché belong to the number of unique exhibits.

Copper embossment and smithery

Materials on metal work including jewelry art, copper embossing, iron cast and smithery in various centers were complex.  Production of many centers was excellent examples of folk art. Ample collection of copper vessels is kept in museum storages.  Some of items date to late XVIII century.

Archaic pottery

The storages also keep many ceramic objects from archaic molded vessels which the women in the villages of Mountain Tajikistan did just few time ago to painted high quality ceramics from all the ceramic centers of region.


The most valuable part of the Central Asian collection is his jewelry, first of all women’s ornaments. They include adornments of glass, kauri shells, precious metals and stones. They show numerous types of head and breast adornments, bracelets and rings, acquaint with sets of wedding ornaments not only of different peoples but also of different local groups. The archaic-shaped adornments of Khorezm   Uzbeks, Kazakh men’s wedding rings with ancient clan and tribe symbolic and headdresses of Kazakh and Karakalpak brides resembling warrior  helmets of ancient Saka which already in the late XIX century were rarity  belong to this category. The Turkoman jewelry art is represented in the museum by excellent examples of adornments typical for various tribal groups.

The famous Central Asian textiles

The pride of museum is its collection of Central Asian textile. Among examples of hand weaving of all the peoples of region the weaving art of Tajiks and Uzbeks is is particularly well shown. Cotton and half-silk striped fabrics alocha and bekasab, printed fabrics chit  which was made with carved wood stamps, thin one-colored and patterned silks shoii  which produced Samarkand and Bukhara weavers, Quality silk textiles are represented in collections by thousands of samples showing diversity of local types of designs and color combinations.  The collection of silk, half-silk and velvets decorated in the ikat technique very difficult to work is exceptionally comprehensive.

Collection of embroideries and gold embroidery items  

The pearl of the Central Asian collection is its embroideries. The art of embroidery is one of the brightest phenomena of folk art. In collections one can find the embroideries known under the common name of syuzani, embroidered wall sacks, clothes partly or completely decorated with embroidered patterns, headdresses.  Bands serving to fasten felt covers of yurt, details of horse and camel harness, small bags and purses, men’s belt kerchiefs and other objects are decorated with embroidery. The rarest objects of this collection are wedding face curtains of the Mountain Tajik women, Turkoman and Karakalpak head cloaks, Karakalpak cuffs for dresses and fur coats, breast embroideries of the Mountain Tajik and Kirghiz women important place in collection belong to gold embroidery items: festive robes, blankets, curtains of Bukhara gold embroiders.

Unique collection of carpets and felts

The collection of carpets is unique. Carpets are represented in the most comprehensive way in Turkoman collection; this fact reflects enormous importance they had in culture of this people. The most remarkable part of Kazakh textile collection is patterned felts in which production Kazakhs had no rivals. Many beautiful patterned felt items are kept in museum storages. For the Kirghiz textile culture is typical production of patterned mats for walls, interior partitions and yurt doors.

Ritual objects

Similar role in folk culture belongs to traditional culture which in museum collection is represented in all ethnic, local, age-and-gender and social diversity.  The ritual clothes especially distinguish.  Like in collections of other museums the rarest are the costumes of derviches — the representatives of the orthodox direction in Islam.

It’s known that cult objects and things related to religious beliefs are the most difficult “to be extracted” from the folk culture. The presence in museum collection of such objects as amulets, ritual costumes, cradle, in which the dead baby was carried to cemetery or doll which was buried when in family someone got ill sometimes creates the only opportunity for researcher to penetrate on the deepest spheres of people’s spiritual life.

Yurt furnishing

In past carpets, felts, woven and embroidered items, colorful mats created unrepeatable image of nomad dwelling — yurt. In culture of every people utensils are diverse and original reflecting their aesthetic and magic notions, ethnogenetic traditions, that’s why the objects of yurt furnishing comprise one of the most important parts of the Central Asia collection.

The Middle Volga region and the Urals is particular cultural-historical region geographically situated at the junction of Europe and Asia. It predetermined its multinational character. Among the main massive of Russian population the peoples belonging to two large ethno-linguistic groups − Finno-Ugric one (Komi, Udmurts, Mordva, Mari) and Turkic group (Chuvashes, Tatars, Bashkirs) live here. All these people passed complex way of ethnogenesis  in course of which mutual influence and diffusion of culture took place, that’s why every people is subdivided into a series of local groups with their cultural  specifics.  

Gathering of collection in the early XX century

The bases of collection of 30000 items were established in 1902-1914: the period distinguished by very active collection gathering. It was typical for this time acquisition of collections by museum personnel during expeditions and involvement in collection gathering of famous scientists and local correspondents. Among the latter were peasant and craftsmen, priests, local teachers. Among the people dedicated their life to study of history one shouldn’t fail to mention such scholars− experts in Volga ethnography as G.H. Akhmarov, M.E. Evsevev, I.K. Zelenov, S.K. Kuznetzov, S.I. Rudenko, S.I. Sergel, I.N. Smirnov. A.A. Miller, N.B. Nikolsky.

Other sources of museum replenishment with collections  

The significant part of collection entered the museum from the State Museum Foundation and the Glavvystavkov and exhibitions: the Paris World Exhibition (1900), the All-Russia Craft Exhibition 1902, the All-Soviet Agricultural Exhibition (1923) and Craft-Industrial (1925). Moreover, interesting exhibits come from Antireligious and Archeological Cabinets from the governments of the Volga republics.   

In 1948 together with collections of Moscow Museum of the Peoples of the USSR the RME received materials of the largest expeditions — the Eastern-Finnic and Votskaya realized by this museum in 1920s.

Gathering of materials in contact zones

After establishment of Separate Department of the Peoples of the Volga Region and Urals in 1938 systematic gathering of exhibits to  fill the gaps on these people started.  In result of many years of expedition and collection activities of the Department staff headed by well-known ethnographers G.A. Nikitin and later T.A. Kruykova the storages became sufficiently complete and diverse in their thematics.  

In 1960-1990s special attention was paid to collection of materials reflecting complex ethnic processes of mutual influence and diffusion of cultures of neighboring peoples. The exhibits from the areas with mixed multinational population, so-called contact zones provoke particular interest in this respect.

Today the collection on ethnic culture of the peoples of the region is the largest and the most comprehensive respecting ethnographic themes and geographical scope of all the museum collection on the territory of Russia. The scientific value of this collection is priceless; the scholars from regional specialized scientific-research institutions, professors of higher schools, post-graduate students and students constantly consult it. The museum collection was also used for composition of regional atlases on history of national culture of the peoples of Volga region. Many monographs and articles are written on its base.

At the first stage many collectors simultaneously gathered exhibits among several peoples. To these scholars one can group S.K. Kuznetsov, worked among Mari, Komi, Chuvahes and  Bashkirs, S.I. Rudenko  studied Bashkirs, Mari, Chuvahs, Komi, and the peoples of Siberia, I.K. Zelenov traveled to Udmurts, Tatars-Kryashens, Besermyans, I.N. Smirnov  studied U dmurts, Besyarmayns, Mordva, Mari, Tatars-Kryashens and  T.A. Kryukova worked among Komi, Mari, Udmurts, Besermyans, Tatars, Chuvashs, Bashkirs. In result of activity of these enthusiastic people the base of the Department’s collection was formed.

One can also include in number of these collectors S.I. Sergel who gathered about 500 various objects on the culture of Komi-Zyrians which have great museum value.

The unique contribution of S.I. Rudenko

S.I.Rudenko was equally enthusiastic collector who being a student of Saint Petersburg University started gathering of collections among Bashkirs and later other peoples of the Volga region in 1906.

About 8000 items gathered by S.I. Rudenko for the museum in various regions of Russia comprise 52 collections; of which 18 collections with total number of 2000 items are on the peoples of Volga region. Particular value has exhibits on traditional culture of Bashkirs.

In his report of 1907 S.I. Rudenko wrote: “In these collections the entire Bashkiria is quite comprehensively represented…Respecting completeness of collection I can also note that I don’t consider it to be full, however, it can lack just ten or twenty original objects (in respect of variation of existing) items, which ocassionaly escaped my attention or remained beyond the areas I studied.

The Modrva collections of S.I.Rudenko contain old woman clothes, jewelry, utensils. All the exhibits are accompanied by detailed annotations with indication of local terminology. The material on the Chuvash Pre-Christian beliefs is unique: yerekhi — Chuvashs’ guardian spirits, anthropomorphic wooden tombs, instrument for making “living fire” with which incensed village during epidemics and epizootic Most of these rarities were published by S.I. Rudenko in his articles and books.

I.K. Zelenov and his collection

The collections acquired for the museum by I. K. Zelenov are scientifically comprehensive. He was countryside teacher and knew folk culture from inside. Having permission of the Ethnographic Department I.K. Zelenov as early as in 1904 sent to museum collection on culture of Udmurts, among the items of which particular place belong to the objects of traditional cult. 

The value of collection of Udmurts cult objects and study of their use in ritual practice undertaken by I.K. Zelenov can hardly be underestimated not only in scientific respect, but also in relation with question about so called Multan Affair. Not long before Zelenov’s trip the criminall case against a group of Udmurt priests of the village Multan of the Sarapul District accused in performing rituals with human sacrifices was opened. The real picture of Udmurt secret prayers, where human sacrifices were unthinkable recorded by I.K. Zelenov in expedition at legal process allowed to withdraw charges in fact brought against the entire people.

Equally interesting is collection of Chuvash Pre-Christian rarities, among them a bast box – the dwelling of yerekh, the spirit-protector of lineage women.

The collection of I.K. Zelenov  on the culture of Besermyan a small ethnographic group of Udmurts, the question of ethnogenesis of which is still  discussing is also unique. The clothes in collection of collector presented with detailed annotations were valuable base for research on the problem of Besermyans origin.

Particular place of M.E. Evsevev among collectors.

M.E. Evsev’ev - the people teacher, one of enlighteners of the Mordva people occupies particular place among collection gatherers of the Department. In 1908-1914  he established close ties with museum and in the time free of his teacher’s work carried out  active collection gathering in main areas of Mordva living. He gathered 31 collections containing the articles of clothes, utensils; some of them date to XVIII century. These are ancient wedding shirts pokai, some types of belt pendants, headdress, and adornments. Being intermediate link between archeological objects and materials of XX century the objects of this type are interesting for study of development of costume and archaic phenomena remained in ornamentation, separate details of clothes and technique of their making.  The archive of the Russian Museum of Ethnography contains huge and valuable documentary material collected by him as supplementary to collection of artifacts.

The collection of G.H. Akhmarov and I.N. Smirnov

The Professor G.N. Akhmarov - great expert in ethnography of the peoples of Volga Region, especially Tatars was among the collectors who helped to form collection of the Volga Region at the Ethnographic Department. The Tatar collection of collectors contain the articles of house furnishing - embroidered towels, prayer rugs (they were hanged on house walls) clothes, woman jewelry, objects of cult. The G.T. Akhmarov collection on Tatar costume is reliable source for study of clothes in social age and gender respects. The researcher paid much attention to gather objects among city Tatars.

According to commission of the Ethnographic Department the exhibits on culture of the peoples of the Volga region were purchased by the Professor of the Kazan University I.N. Smirnov. In 1902-1914 he explored Mordvinian, Mari, Udmurt, Tatar and Chuvash villages and acquired more than 400 objects. Some of them for example the clothes of Mordva-Karatai are unique because long ago got out of use and don’t represented in any other museum of Russia.

Outstanding role in formation and studies of collections of the region

In the late XIX - early XX cc. the interest of progressive Russian intelligentsia in traditional national culture was so high that not only ethnographers, but also scholars of other specialization: archeologists, geographers and artists enthusiastically gathered exhibits for established Ethnographic Department.  One of these successful collectors was archeologist Professor P.P. Efimenko. During excavations in Tonsheevskya volost of the Kostroma Governorate in 1908 he simultaneously gathered ethnographic objects. He acquired big and interesting collection of Mordvinian clothes (650 items). Unfortunately it almost wasn’t annotated. To fill this gap and introduce the collection in scientific circulation, in 1934 T.A. Kryukova repeated the route of P.P. Efimenko; the result of this trip was significant informative and explicative material for this collection.

T.A. Kryukova occupies special place among renowned researchers and collectors on ethnography of the peoples of the Volga region and the Urals. She worked at the Russian Museum of Ethnography 45 years studying cultural traditions of the Finno-Ugric people, predominantly of the Mari. In 1932 she started systematical expedition research in culture of the Mari people; she gathered the main part of the Mari collection of the Soviet period. During fourteen field seasons and numerous business trips she explored various groups of Mari both living in autonomous republic and beyond its borders.

T.A. Kryukova belongs to this unique type of scholars who give to work their entire life. In result of long-termed expedition work the storages of department were replenished with 68 collections consisting of 4 000 keeping items.

According to plans composed by the first head of department G.A. Nikitin and T.A. Kryukova, the systematic exploration of those areas where pre-revolutionary collectors couldn’t visit was suggested. Most frequently these are the localities where a small group of people live surrounded by other nationalities, firmly conserving some elements of lifestyle, long ago lost by ethnos in the main territory of living. 

Acquisitions of 1970-90s

Further from 1970s the fellows of the Department of Ethnography of the Peoples of Volga Region and the Urals many times carried out ethnographic exploration and collection of materials among ethnographic and confessional groups of various peoples living in contact zones. The results of these expeditions were fruitful and unexpected. For instance, during the expedition to  North Udmurts of the Kirovskya in 1977-1979 with participation of T.A. Kryukova, E.N. Kotova and L.M. Loiko the costume sets long ago lost by the Udmuts living on the main territory  and date to XVII-early XIX cc., were acquired.  

They have strict social age division: the costumes of old women, widows, young married women, maidens, including old maids— all these can be detected by specific patterns on shirts. Expeditions to Eastern Mari, “Bavlinsky” Undmurts (small ethno-local group migrated from the southern areas of Udmurtia to the southern areas of Tataria and south-eastern Bashkiria in XVII-XIX cc. were also fruitful.  There like among the North Udmurts the entire costume sets and separate parts of clothes already non-existing in the areas of the main geographical distribution of ethnos.

From 1950s one more direction of gathering activity was acquisition of modern applied art objects. For this purpose department personnel carried out exploring of  folk craft teams  including  “Pakha-tere” (“The Beautiful Embroidery”) of Chuvahes, the plant “Laborer” of Mari,  the “Agidel” of Bashkirs and selection of the best examples of these crafts production.  In 1980-1990s the storages are replenished through purchasing-storage commission and thanks to some donators.   

The volume of collection

In result of many years of collection gathering by full-time fellows and museum correspondents today the Department’s collections numbering more than 23000 artifacts and about 7000 photographs are unique source base for researchers.

 The museum is rightfully proud of its outstanding collections of artifacts of traditional culture of the peoples of Caucasus, one of the most ethnographically fascinating regions of Europe. They already started to enter in the first years of museum work, the first collection dates to 1903. The collection of Crimean ethnography items which came to museum from materials of the All-Russia Craft and Industry Exhibition of 1902 is no less interesting. The museum collection on the peoples of Caucasus surpasses 25 000 objects.

General view on collection

Gathering of Caucasian artifacts corresponded to all of tasks which were given to museums in late XIX — early XX cc. including Alexander III Russian Museum which part was the Ethnographic Department. In opinion of scholars who were at the origin of the museums of national type the museum containing ethnographic objects should fulfill several tasks. Such museum is powerful mean of achieving national self-conscience representing Russia in its ethnographic specifics through national and state ideas. The study of non-Slavic peoples should serve for comparative research in ethnography of Russia and for demonstration of the sphere of Russian cultural-political influence in the East.

However, throughout its history gathering of Caucasian collections at the Russian Museum of Ethnography corresponded to the part of Russian National idea which put the presentation of real ethnic situation in regions of Russia higher than demonstration of cultural-political influence of center.

In who one can state that the specifics of traditional culture of the most of Caucasian peoples and partly of the peoples of Western Asia and the Black Sea Littoral Zone is reflected in the collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography. The museum collections are the most valuable source for study of traditions and modern state of Caucasus and Crimea as specific territories with particular historical and national flavor.

K.A. Inostrantzev and Caucasian studies in museum

One of the first collectors was K. A. Inostrantzev, the specialist in the Muslim East and Sassanid Iran, researcher of Arabian and Persian manuscripts. From the first days of his work in museum he must transform himself from the desk scientist to field working ethnographer predominantly operating in Caucasus. The first trip of scholar to region was made in 1902 with purpose of forming groups of museum correspondents at place. K.A. Inostrantzev agreed with some members of local administration, of whom the maximal contribution was made by an officer of the Ministry of Agriculture A.S. Piralov who prepared collections on various peoples of South Caucasus and Dagestan.  However, very soon the necessity of personal collection gathering work by the museum staff became evident. In 1903-1904 K.A. Inostrantzev made trips to Caucasus where he gathered collection on the Terek Cossaks, the Nogais, the Chechens, The Avars, the Andis, the Dargins, the Laks and the Azerbaijani.

Although all of the replenishments have great value one should particularly note the Nogai collection which included so unique objects as the Nogai cart and other attributes of the Nogai nobility’s wedding ritual. In 1906 the work place of scholar became Bolshya Kabarda and Karachai.  Among the objects purchased there the costume of woman of the Karachai princely lineage is the most interesting. In next year 1907 K.A.Inostrantzev gathered collection in Lankaran, where he received the gifts of the Mir-Achmad Talysh-Khan (details of palace decoration). Unfortunately they were destroyed in the years of the Leningrad blockade. These replenishments confirm the skill of K.A.Inostrantzev to conduct work among representatives of local elite. In total he gathered 31 collections of artifacts, which materials were supplemented by photographic collection. However, by the end of 1908 the scholar resigned and his request was satisfied.

Contribution of local intelligentsia

In the years of work of K.A. Inostrantzev in the museum the method of preparation of collectors from local youth studying in capitals proved to be perfectly effective. Especially noticeable are the names of students Z.P. Valaev who gathered collections on the Ossetian and Balkar cultures and S. A. Gatuev, the gatherer of the Chechen collection.

Among the representative of local intelligentsia in these years one can name the collectors of Armenian and Azerbaijani artifacts   the Archideacon of the Armenian Apostolic Church S.V. Ter-Avetisyan, the Orthodox priest from Svanetia I.F.Nizheradze, the physician M.O.Zandukeli and the student F.T.Sakhokia who gathered collections on the ethnography of Georgians. In 1903 the first collection of rich Tiflis merchant and collector M. M .Charukhchev entered the museum. In spite of difference in worldview and education all these people were well aware of necessity to represent the Caucasian artifact in museum of distant northern capital.  

Similar role in collection activities played the members of Russian officials who found themselves in the forefront of contact between Russia and the East; for instance to them belonged the agent of the Russian Accounting-Credit bank in Urmia (Iran) A. N. Petrov.

The third of Caucasian collection A.A.Miller

In 1908 A. A.Miller replaced K. A. Inostrantzev as the head of Oriental studies. The entire scholar career of A.A. Miller is marked by unity of two professions –ethnologist-museologist and archeologist. The collections of artifacts on Caucasian ethnography gathered by him include 1 076 keeping items that comprise almost one third of the entire Caucasian collection.  Three stages are marked in scholar activity of A.A. Miller: formation of museum collection of the Pre-Revolutionary period, the work on gathering diverse historical material in rear of the Caucasian Army in 1919, archeological-ethnographical study of the North Caucasus as the head of the North-Caucasian Expedition of the State Academy of History of Material Culture in    1923—1933. 

In 1907 A. A. Miller made his first trip to Abkhazia. His Abkhazian collection comprising two thirds of the museum collection on culture of this people had no analogues even in the Abkhazian Museum of Sukhumi until loss of its collection in course of Georgian-Abkhazian conflict of 1990s. It’s enough to mention the unique set of items associated with the cult of smithy. 

In 1907—1909 A.A. Miller worked in the Eastern Caucasus establishing the bases of studies in Azerbaijani culture at the Russian Museum of Ethnography. He gathered unique collection on culture of the Mountains Jews from Kub; brought many Georgian and Armenian collections from Tiflis. The scholar discovered many carpet-making centers in Azerbaijani including among the Tats and Lezgins.  

The researcher worked in the North-Western Causcasus among Adygs of Kuban, Bzhedukhs, Shapsugs, Besleneevtsi. In ten years some of objects gathered by him: items of clothes, details of dwelling, arms couldn’t be either purchased or see in daily life.   

Collections of A.K. Serjputovski

Other museum fellows and representatives of Russian intelligentsia also worked on A. A. Miller programme. Significant contribution to creation of the museum Caucasian collection made A.K. Serzhputovsky being specialist in ethnography of Byelorussians. In  1910—1911 he purchased for museum vast collection in the difficult to access areas of Western Dagestan among the peoples of the Avar language group.  He was one to whom the world is indebted for documental confirmation of existence of unique small-numbered ethnic groups like Bezhtintsi, Ginukhtsi, Botlikhtsi, Bagulals, Karatintsi and Avar and Andi collections. In 1910s A.K. Serzhputovsky worked on the Caucasian Black Sea coast from where he brought so unique objects of the Black Sea Shapsug’s culture and exclusive set of Abkazian and Georgrian-Megrelian daily life culture. 

And again about of collectors of Petersburgian and local intelligentsia  

Great importance for reflection in the museum of material culture of Dagestan peoples had collections of the woman-artist A.L.Mlokosevich who predominantly worked in Avar villages and tragically perished during expedition.  The culture of different peoples of Dagestan also has been reflected in storages of the Russian Museum of Ethnography thanks to local resident, the Kubachi collector Mahomed-Oglu Said.

The professor of the Imperial Academy of Arts A.P.Eisner, A.A. Florensky and A. B. Loris-Kalantar actively worked among Armenians and Kurds. In Geogria in the end of the last decade of XX century local physician M.O.Zandukeli, privat-docent of the Saint Petersburg University N.S.Derzhavin, artists A.L.Mlokosevich and L.V.Dmitriev-Kavkazsky.  Large Khevsurian collections acquired the future museum fellow and in that time student G.A.Bonch-Osmolovsky.

Gathering of ethnographic materials in Crimea

The collections of Crimean rarities are no less interesting, first of them came to museum from the materials of All-Russia Craft-Industrial Exhibition of 1902. In 1905 K.A.Inostrantsev brought excellent collections of clothes and embroideries from the villages of southern coast of Crimea. In 1913 A. A. Miller made a trip in the sea area. During several years his respondents handed to museum the cultural artifacts of Crimean peoples. The collections of P. N. Beketova and famous scholar specialist in Turkic studies A.N. Samoilovich, and collection gathered by influential Criomean intelligentsia.

From private collections

The characteristics of museum collection work on the peoples of Caucasus and Crimea in the period between the first Russian revolution and the First World War would be incomplete without information of replenishments from private collection, For example, many objects of different ethnic origin came from the famous Pskov collector of antiquities F.M.Plushkin. The administrator of the Russian Museum the Grand Duke Georgii Mikhailovich handed to museum a collection of specific ceramic vessels from the Kharagouli village and Persian, Turkish, and Crimean objects

Last collections under guidance of A.A. Miller

In 1915-1916 museum after a certain pause again started active collection work.  The disciple of A. A. Miller K.Z. Kavtaradze went to the Eastern Caucasus. There he purchased Azerbaijani, Armenian and Georgian collection as well as the Jewish ones from Derbent.  A. A. Miller personally followed the Russian army advancing in the Caucasus to the Turkish Armenia where he bought almost the entire set of everyday objects reflecting realities of Western Armenia.  The 1920s are characterized by active expedition work of A.A. Miller in the Northern Caucasus and replenishment with exhibits from palace collections.   The leadership of A. A. Miller taken over the North Caucasian Expedition of the State Academy of History of Material Culture was productive and resulted in significant replenishment of Adyg and Ossetian materials. One should especially note the funeral inventory from the ground tombs of the North Ossetia which kept the artifacts of the late Middle Age and exceptionally complete set of objects linked with highlanders’ agriculture (instruments for working the soil and harvest, attributes of agrarian feasts.

The last trips for gathering objects conceived under the guidance of A. A. Miller were the expeditions of L. V. Kostikov and K. G. Danilina to Kumyks and F. A. FIelstrup to Rutuls and Tsakhurs of 1929-1933.

Replenishments from the imperial palaces

In the first decades of the Soviet government main principles of museum collection work didn’t change, but the museum itself was transformed into institution open for the public.  The objects from collections of palaces and private mansions started to enter the museum storages.   The gifts of Oriental sovereigns to Russian emperors and the objects of ethnic antique were handed from the Palace of Arts (this was the name of the  Winter Palace in the first years of the Soviet government), the Anichkov Palace, the Gatchina Palace and other palaces. Among them one should note the items made in Dagestan, Kabarda, Ossetia, Georgia, gala clothes and arms belonged to the Emperors Alexander III and Nicholas II and other members of the Royal Family.  Thus, the most representative objects of traditional material ethnic culture of the middle class and the elite of Caucasus population were gathered together.

Collection work in Crimea in 1920s

In 1920s the museum collection was significantly enriched by the objects of culture of the peoples of Crimea. The main collectors there were the well-known specialists in Oriental studies G. A. Bonch-Osmolovsky and F. A. Fielstrup. Young ethnographers S. A. Trusova and L. V. Makarova worked together with them.

Contribution of E. H. Studenetskaya to the museum Caucasus

The establishment of the State Museum of Ethnography on the base of the Ethnographic Department was accompanied by almost complete change of its staff: in this aspect the museum’s history was part of history of entire country. 

Fortunately for the Caucasus studies the leading figure of the next period of its history became E.N. Studenetskya, professional ethnographer, educated in traditions of humanities in the early XX century. Evgenia Nikolaevna gathered 56 collections consisting of 1 200 exhibits, took more than 2 000 pictures.

The first expedition of E.N. Studenetskya was carried out in the mountain Svaneti, she formulate the task of truthful reflection of situation in national culture and search in ethnographer’s fieldwork progressive elements of daily life and culture which corresponded to the essence of the Soviet epoch.  A certain contribution to the epoch was gathering of objects belonged to the poorest strata of population. 

The sphere of main interests of E. N. Studenetskya was studies in ethnography of the peoples of North Caucasus and in the sphere of museum collections- research on national costume. Her most interesting acquisitions for museum storages in the early 1930s are dealt with these lines of investigation.

By the late 1930s two branches of field studies emerged in the museum Caucasus studies: North Caucasian and Southern Caucasian ones. In the pre-war years V.P. Muratkhan started in Georgia who gathered many collections on almost all the ethnographic groups of Georgians.  

The Great Patriotic War and gatherers of after-war years

The smooth running of expeditions to Caucasus implying its multifaceted research was interrupted by the Great Patriotic War, evacuation of a part of museum, subsequent restoration of building and permanent exhibitions.  In 1946 expeditions restarted in conditions of war consequences and deportation of several Caucasus peoples and ethnic groups. In 1940-1960 E. N. Studenetskaya acted as a gatherer of Georgian and Kabardian collections. In the middle 1950s the work in Dagestan renewed; it was carried out by the museum fellows L. F. Vinogradova, N. P. Soboleva, E. G. Torchinskaya, A. L. Natanson, however, the leading role in these studies belonged to L.F. Vinogradova.

The Museum of Ethnology

In 1948 the museum Caucasian collection received valuable replenishment from the Moscow State Museum of the Peoples of the USSR. In total the Moscow objects comprised 3 865 items. The pre-revolutionary ones were gathered by outstanding Russian scholars M.M. Kovalevsky, G. I. Radde, N.N.Kharuzin. The second part of the Moscow collection was formed in the Soviet years. Its base was established by the All Soviet exhibitions of 1920s. Later the collection of Moscow museum was forming by gatherings during expeditions. The participants of expeditions were leading scholars− experts in Caucasus studies E. M. Shillling, N. F. Yakovlev, V. K. Gardanov, L. A. Dobruskin, B.A. Kuftin and others. The most valuable replenishments were Georgian, Kubachi and Adyg. Also valuable was the RME replenishing on the cultures of Abkhazes, Armenians, Azerbaijani, Talyshes and the peoples of Crimea.  

Replenishments of 1960-1980s

In 1960-1980s the work on gathering ethnographic material in Georgia (E.N.Studenetskaya, N.P.Soboleva), Armenia (A.L.Natanson), and Azerbajan (E.G.Torchinskya) continued. Large collection on ethnography of Azerbaijani was formed and collections on culture of Udins, Tats, Talyshes, Assyrians and Kurds were replenished by efforts of E.G. Torchinskya. 

In the postwar time collection of exhibits on the peoples of Crimea was very limited but it’s impossible not to mention about activity of social worker and collector of exhibits on ethnography of Krymchaks E. I. Peisakh. It is he to whom the museum is obliged by presence of collections on ethnography of this small-numbered Crimean people.  

From 1960s preparation of permanent exhibitions of museum on modernity started to influence gathering of exhibits, however, experience of museum ethnographers allowed to select  without error the objects remained in the frames of tradition.  

In 1970-1980s expeditions of V.A. Dmitriev to Chechenia, Ossetia, Kabardia and Adyg areas, E.Ya. Selinenkova in Georgia, A. M. Bianki in Armenia and E.B.Kochetova to Dagestan were realized to replenish material collection. Simultaneously the volume of replenishments from organizations related with folk crafts was growing.  One should especially mention a series of collection received by the Russian Museum of Ethnography from the Society of Safeguarding of Monuments of Georgia” and the society “Arsi” closely collaborated with the museum.

The 1980s were the period of active replenishing of the works of art like copper utensils, carpets, carpet-like products and jewelry including adornments and arms from private persons.

The volume of Caucasian collection

In result of one hundred years of collectors’ activity the Caucasian collection of artifacts of the Russian Museum of Ethnography surpassed 25 000 items. It allows to judge about various aspects of life of specific ethnocultural zone with multinational population.

The peoples of North Caucasus in the museum collection

The museum collection includes materials related to the united culture of Western Circassians as well as the culture of their separate ethnographic groups. The culture of Circassian ethnic groups can be studied through collections of Circassian and Cabardian objects; there is also small collection of objects of Abazin culture.

The multinational Dagestan

The culture of multinational Dagestan is reflected quite completely. The museum has collections on culture of Nogais (the group of Kara-Nogais), Kumyks, Avars and such peoples of Avar group like Andi, Bezhtintsi (Kapuchintsi), Bogulaltsi, Botlkhtsi, Godoberintsi, Ginukhtsi, Gunzebtsi, Tsez, Karatins, Tindals and also collections on culture of Dargins and related to them Kaitagtsi, Kubachi, Laks, Lezgins, Tabasarans, Rutuls, Tsahurs, Aguls.  Some collections also present the Mountain Jews living in Dagestan and Azerbaijan.   

Diverse collection on Karachaevtsi and Balkartsi

The Ossetian traditional culture is presented by objects gathered among two groups of this people: Irons and Digors. There is small Ingush collection entered in 1908; Chechens are represented larger, one can judge about their culture by utensils, clothes and patterned felts; there is also ancient women’s headdresses provoking great interest of scholars.

Collections on Southern Caucasus Peoples

Different territorial groups of Azerbaijani are well represented in the museum. There are several collections on Moslems Tats and Talyshes. Several objects belong to the culture of one of mysterious Caucasian peoples — the Udis. 
The Armenian collection is the source on two main ethnographic regions— Eastern and Western ones and several local groups.  Apart of Armenian culture artifacts the museum has items from the regions of North Caucasus, the Black Sea Hemshins and the Turkish Armenia. 

The Georgian ethnography is abundantly represented by traditional and modern objects. There are exhibits reflecting the specifics of entire ethnos and ethnographic groups of Georgian peoples. The Western Caucasus is also represented by collection of objects on the Abkhazian ethnography. 

The Russian Museum of Ethnography has objects on culture of the peoples living in neighboring with Caucasus region countries. The collections on ethnography of Assyrians, Kurds, Iranians, Turks and the Black Sea Greeks could be assigned to this category. There also small number of Indian, Abyssinian and Romani objects.

The culture of the Crimea peoples

The museum gathered comprehensive collection on the peoples of Crimea: Crimea Tatars, Karaims, Karaites, Krymchaks and small but valuable collection on Crimean Greeks. The Crimean Tatar culture is reflected quite completely in the spheres of agriculture and vine cultivation, city crafts, there is collection of clothes; the examples of embroidery and patterned weaving are especially well represented.

The costume of Caucasian peoples in museum collection

Folk clothing and its accessories are one of the most representative categories of cultural artifacts. The national costume of the peoples of North Caucasus is represented by various clothes sets from hunting clothing to festive attire. Among them one should note the set of shepherd clothes of Karachays and Balkars and several woman costume of Circassian type from the present to the Empress Maria Feodorovna. Two corsets of Circassian girls and collection of girls’ high caps decorated with braid and gold embroidery are undoubtfully unique.

The details of clothing from the medieval tombs of Ossetia and Ingushetia have special value as a historical source.

The clothes of the Dagestan peoples are well represented in the museum.  There are complete woman costume of the southern Avars with headdress, costumes of Avar boy and shepherd, man and woman clothes of Tsez and Karata, woman clothes of Botlikh and Bogulal peoples. The clothes of the Dargin peoples is less comprehensively represented, however, there are complete Kaitag woman costume, Kubachi women clothes, man and women fur coats; one of the last acquisition was child caftan with numerous adornments-amulets.  The museum also keeps the clothes of the peoples of southern Dagestan including the Mountain Jews. One should especially mention Nogai man and woman clothes.  The collection of clothes of the peoples of Dagestan also includes several types of headdresses and large number of footwear.

The Azerbaijani collections contain four sets of man clothes with diverse variants of man headdress.  The costume and clothing details of Dagestan Azerbaijani women are also presented here.  Large collection of woman kerchiefs, examples of footwear and knitted socks is particularly interesting. Collection of Armenian clothes allows to show some local variants of costume.  There are woman costume sets from Akhaltsikhe, from the Districts of Artivn and Ardagan of the Batumi Oblast’, from Shusha and Tbilisi.  In 1919 A.A. Miller brought from the outskirts of the City of Van five complete sets of clothes.  In 1958 valuable acquisition was the only remaining traditional Armenian costume from the region of Gori.

In collection of Georgian clothing there are costumes of common national type and ones of different ethnographic and social groups (merchants, street sellers, craftsmen).  There are several complete costumes of Khevsurian highlanders supplemented with arms as tradition required. The clothes of Kartli, Pshavi,  Tushetians, Svans, Kaketians are represented quite comprehensively, there is also Imeritian man costume.  The Western Georgia is the best represented by the clothes of Adjarians and Las, the costume of Gurian nobleman is of interest for researchers. Clothes are well represented in collection on Assyrian and Kurd culture.

Jewelry and arms

Constant interest in study of clothes was also stimulus for collection jewelry and arms, because these objects were treated as a part of traditional costume. Especially many adornments came from Dagestan villages and various regions of the Southern Caucasus. Apart of silver jewelry the most typical for all Caucasus was a series of gold objects with enamel reflecting the specifics of jewelry art in South-Eastern Caucasus and influence of neighboring Iran.  Production of both jewelry and utensils applying precious metals   was typical for Dagestan and Southern Caucasus. Relatively large and diverse collection of man and woman belts was gathered of jewelry.  The objects of jewelry art allow to speak about national preferences in ornament and technique, about production centers: Adyghe, Vladkavkaz, Lak, Kubachi, Zakatali, Baku, Tbilisi, Akhaltsikhe and some others. 

Museum possesses comprehensive collection of arms, which allow to elucidate clearly main characteristics of Caucasian arms.  Armenian dagger dated by 1827, sabers and broadswords from mountain regions of Georgia, collection of the best examples of Caucasian sabers and daggers from the gifts to the Royal Family members, old Adyghe arms deserve special mention. The museum has remarkable collection of chain armors and helmets of Iranian production, Iran and Kurd blade and pole weapons.  The swords with curved blades skillfully decorated with images of mythological subjects are particularly interesting.  

In the museum collection arms predominantly reflect the elite culture of Caucasian peoples.

Caucasian carpets, felts and mats

Another category of elite objects are Caucasian carpets and carpet-like products from Azerbaijan and Armenia including the Krabakh center of carpet making.  Among them are the objects from the middle XIX century to last years. The carpet collection of Southern Dagestan is less representative. In initial period of museum existence an interesting collection of Tat carpets was gathered. Several examples reflect traditions of carpet making in Northern Dagestan. The best of the Georgian carpet making are the flat carpets from the mountain regions of Eastern Georgia. Patterned felts and mats made in different techniques are also kept in museum. Mats come from the Adyghe regions of North Caucasus, Dagestan and Kurdistan, felts were made in North Caucasus, Dagestan, Mountain Georgia and Armenia.

Reflection of economy and trades

The Museum’s collection permeates to reflect comprehensively all the variants of economical-cultural types of mountain and plain agriculture. Collections have various instruments for such occupations as grain farming, vine cultivation; the set of instruments related to different stages of bread making is featured. Material on livestock husbandry in mountain areas, wool treating and dairy production, and shepherd daily life is rather numerous. The most completely represented crafts are the Kubachi jewelry making, blacksmithing, masonry, silk-weaving, and jewelry making in Azerbaijan, coppersmithing in Armenia.   The museum keeps collection of print desks; most of them are Armenian exhibits. It’s impossible to miss instruments for leather embossing from North Caucasus, dagger making in Dagestan, wool treatment among all the peoples of North Caucasus.  One could make idea about measures and weights of North Caucasus and Dagestan, instruments for measurements and weighing from Southern Caucasus. 

Significant part of products is etalons of folk art. They testify high level of development of technology of manual and artisanal industries, resistance of ancient design traditions and its symbolic content.   

Metal products

The museum has examples of hammered iron lamps, objects for furnishing oven, and utensils for cooking meat.  The iron figurative objects are predominantly related to blacksmith industry of various areas of the Greater Caucasus.

Iron figurative objects predominantly belong to blacksmithery of various regions of the Greater Caucasus, Armenia and Georgia. Copper utensils are represented by diverse kinds of tableware, large flat trays and vessels for water. The ornament of jar is filled with symbolic of water streams and drops. The life of Muslim household would have been impossible without jars for ablution. The large center of coppery− the village of Lagich in the Eastern Caucasus present the brightest  outstanding group of copper works.

Carpentry objects

The collection of carved wood objects is numerous; these are Dagestan “horned” salt cellars, spoon stands with decoration imitating details of highlander’s stone house; North Caucasian big cups for beer, Khevsurian caskets for instruments of woman needlework; carved window frames from Azerbaijan. One should note collection of unique wood objects with metal incision from the Dagestan (Avar) village Untsukul.


Ceramic objects from the Museum Caucasian collection show different technique of pottery: Armenian women handmade ceramics and women earthenware from the village Balkhar. Kymuk, Lezgin, Azerbaijani, Armenian Talysh and especially Georgian ceramics are presented. The museum has collection of unique ceramic dishes conventionally named ispikskie.

Textile objects

Among the production of women handicrafts and needlework it’s impossible to miss lace, braiding and embroidery.  The embroideries made with gold thread in various areas of Caucasus and the so-called Kaitag embroideries in which technique a kind of specific picture were made are particularly interesting.  Collection of Kaitag embroideries is considered to be the object of pride for every museum.

Attributes of feasts, rites and religious cult 

The museum collection contains some objects related to traditional festivals of the peoples of Caucasus. These are items from the Ossetian burial vaults, the Abkhazian smithy, the  shrines of Mountain Georgia;  objects used in rites of the “ploughmen’s return feast” among the Circassian peoples, in actions of “the bachelors union” among Kubachintsi, in performances of Armenian shadow theater and family rituals.  The museum has large number of various amulets and objects of religious cult.


In general, the museum collection on the peoples of Caucasus shows national flavour. Among the objects with vividly expressed ethnic specific one can note the Adyg cup for honorable guests, on which surface everybody carved his lineage sign; fan with two-headed human figure purchased from Circassian sorceress;  felt masks of the peoples of North Caucasus and Dagestan; a bull skull with metal pendants between its horns from the Abkhazian shrine. The armchair of Ossetian elder, the banner of Didoi troop, the Kubachi bronze cauldrons, the Armenian embroidery with image of labyrinth,  the clay salt cellar in shape of pregnant woman figure, the  sacred cup from Khevsurian shrine belong to the same category. The Kurd multi-bladed dagger, the carpet with image of caravan served as an attribute of the Kurd princess’s wedding ceremony, Iran staffs with Zoroastrian symbolics and the staff of dervish made of the nose of the sawfish. Today the Caucasian collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography continues to be replenished.


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