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Russian fairy tales on belt buckles of the 17-18 centuries: Indrik the beast, Kitovras - Polkan, Sirin bird, Alkonost, etc
Russian fairy tales on belt buckles of the 17-18 centuries: Indrik the beast, Kitovras - Polkan, Sirin bird, Alkonost, etc

For the Russian people, the belt was not just a functional wardrobe item, but also a strong amulet, enclosing its owner in a symbolic protective circle. It was believed that a properly girded person could not be harmed by evil spirits. Therefore, much attention was paid to belt buckles, with the help of which the belt was closed and opened.

In addition, in Russian society, the status of a person has always been important, which means that much attention was paid to the proper status of attributes. One of these attributes was a buckle belt, which was always visible over clothing. The more beautiful and richer the yarn, the higher the status of its owner. That's why today Russian belt buckles 17-18 centuries represent a large and little-studied layer in Russian history and culture. In the first part, we have already talked about where did the belt buckles come from in Russia and how they were worn… In this article, we will tell you about some of the fabulous stories on them.

The fierce beast is a lion

The lion's symbolism contains many qualities that attract men who have chosen the military path. In the eyes of people, the lion is a beast with unstoppable strength and energy, at the same time restrained and independent.

Inkwells of the 17th-18th centuries depicting a fierce beast

This creature, unstoppable in battle, always persistently and consistently comes to victory. The fierce beast is also depicted on the inkwell (A).

Reconstruction of Russian belt buckles of the 17th-18th centuries depicting a fierce beast Reconstruction of Russian belt buckles of the 17th-18th centuries depicting a fierce beast Reconstruction of Russian belt buckles of the 17th-18th centuries depicting a fierce beast Reconstruction of Russian belt buckles of the 17th-18th centuries depicting a fierce beast Belt ending (A) and a schematic representation of a lion on a movable buckle lock (B). A unique specimen of the image of a lion on a buckle, it is very similar to the carvings of lions on the pediments of ancient Russian cathedrals (B)

Additional belt detailsThe image of the "Fierce Beast" - a lion, was widely used in the manufacture of overlays decorating belts. The tradition of such adornments has survived to our time, the harnesses of officer's daggers are decorated with similar overlays.

Belt pads - "Zer fierce"

An interesting example is the pattern on the buckle for attaching the harness straps. A standing warrior with a sword in his left hand and a scabbard in his right (A) is a modified mirror image of the drawing of the Archangel Michael on the pectoral and pectoral crosses of the 15th - 16th centuries (B).

Indrik the beast - Unicorn

In the "ABCs" from Russia of the 16th - 17th centuries, the indrik-beast was shown as an invincible terrible beast, more reminiscent of a snake, whose entire power was contained within a single horn:.

Buckles with the image of the Unicorn. With an inscription - IНДIPКЪ SВhРЬ - (A), without an inscription (B). A depiction of a unicorn on an inkwell of the 17th century (B)

Like many fabulous creatures, it is a combined image of two different mythical creatures - a monster living underground with one horn, the idea of ​​which was formed from the finds in the land of mammoth tusks and the centuries-old tradition of Europe with the idea of ​​this animal as a deer with a horn in its forehead and a horse mane. The unicorn was considered a symbol of strength and purity, and only a virgin was capable of catching it.

Reconstruction of buckles - "Unicorn"

In the symbolism of images on buckles, the unicorn is a fairly frequent character, especially when paired with a lion - "a fierce beast". These two symbolic beasts were often used in heraldry. The most striking example is as holders of a shield with the coat of arms of Great Britain. A similar image is widely known on Russian inkpots of the 17th century.

Reconstruction of the buckle - "The unicorn conquers the dragon."

An interesting example is the buckle where the Unicorn defeats the dragon. The defeated dragon is under the feet of the beast, which is reminiscent of the plot with St. George (A).

Lion and unicorn

On buckles, the unicorn and lion are found in three versions. In the first version, they are depicted together at the Tree of Life (A). In the second option, the tree is absent (B). As a rule, these images are close to the Western tradition of depicting characters.

Reconstruction of the "Lion and Unicorn" buckles made in the Western tradition
Reconstruction of the "Lion and Unicorn at the Tree of Life" buckles in an imitative version Reconstruction of the "Lion and Unicorn at the Tree of Life" buckles in the Russian version

However, as the buckles are made imitatively, the images acquire Russian features (B).In the third version, the lion and the unicorn coexist on separate halves of the buckle and have a purely Russian embodiment.

Inkwell "Lion and Unicorn" in Russian version

Kitovras - Polkan

It says about this character:

Russian belt buckles of the 17th-18th centuries - Kitovras

Like some other characters, the image of Kitovras is borrowed from ancient Greek mythology, this is a centaur - half-man-half-horse. Its other name is "Polkan (half-horse)". Narratives about Tsar Solomon and Kitovras were popular in Russia.

Sokol - Finist, Volga, Volkh

This character, presented on a half buckle, has ancient roots in the pagan mythology of the Slavic tribes. Having entered Russian folklore under different names and in different guises, he personifies the deep image of the winged God of the Clan - the creator of the world, it is from here that a certain swastiality follows in the guise of figurines on a buckle of the 17th century. The images of an eagle and a falcon are partially intertwined in time, this can be clearly seen in various myths and fairy tales. The image of Rod in the form of an eagle is known in later myths and reflects the struggle and victory of the Creator of the World over the ancient god Lizard, the Lizard's submission to Rod and the fulfillment of his duties to ensure the continuity of the solar cycle under the supervision of Rod.

A falcon with a buckle from the pre-Mongol period (A) and a buckle from the second half of the 17th century (B)

The nobility and fearlessness of this bird contributed to the desire of the princes to choose a peregrine falcon as their totem, which later became the coat of arms or part of the coat of arms. In the fabulous version, the hero Volga Svyatoslavich or Volkh Vseslavievich could turn into a falcon, continuing the battle with the enemy in this image. The image on the half of the buckle corresponds exactly to this image of the warrior falcon. Another character of Russian fairy tales who turns into a falcon is Finist Yasny Sokol. But the lyricism of this image reflects more the female perception of this beautiful, proud and courageous bird.

Bova Korolevich

Guidon, Dodon, Saltan, Polkan. These characters, familiar to us from the fairy tales of Alexander Pushkin, got into his poetry from the "History of a certain brave knight and a glorious hero about Bova Korolevich". This medieval adventure story, which found its embodiment even in the symbolism of belt buckles of the second half of the 17th century, was very popular. On the presented buckle, known to the author in a single copy, we see a rider in a crown sitting on a heroic horse, holding a kladenets sword in his right hand.

Image of Bova Korolevich on a half buckle. / Variants of the image of a galloping horseman on medallions of keys - clasps (A, B)

The ribbon inscription represents the character - "BOVACOROL" (A). Unfortunately, it was not possible to read the inscription further. The right half of the buckle could carry both a mirror image of the first one and the image of "Kitovras - Polkan", with which Bova fought.

Depictions of a horseman galloping and blowing a horn in the 17th century inkstands

Another image of a galloping horseman is known to the author only on round medallions of key-clasps, moreover, in the version with a good professional drawing (A) and in the primitive version (B). Given the general trends in depictions of this type of buckle, it is possible that buckles with such a prancing horseman depiction existed.

Sirin, Alkonost and other birds

Alkonost - so they called the bird of love and eternal longing. When a person heard the singing of Alkonost, with delight he forgot everything in the world. But Alkonost did nothing bad to people.

Russian belt buckles of the 17th-18th centuries - "Bird Sirin"

Phoenix is ​​a bird that, with its singing, put the sick on the feet and returned sight to the blind. She ate golden apples, which gave eternal youth, health and immortality.

Russian belt buckles of the 17th-18th centuries - "Bird Sirin"

Sirin - a dark bird bringing death from the underworld. And it was the image of Sirin that was used more often than other mythological heroes in folk art as an adornment of various objects.

The peacock, which can often be seen in various compositions of folk paintings, is a pava bird. The image of this bird has been known since ancient times - it was found both in Kievan Rus and in Byzantium. It is interesting that this bird was only feminine. In the paintings, you can see these birds standing on opposite sides of a tree or bush. As a rule, they are shown in close-up. Sometimes you can recognize a rooster, cuckoo or duck in the folk images of the pavas. But this image looks more like a crane.

Belt ending with a Sirin bird on the front and a Phoenix bird on the back. / The Phoenix bird flying over the trees of the Garden of Eden (A). A depiction of the Sirin bird on an inkwell of the 17th century (B)

Over time, the image of Sirin was somewhat leveled and departed from the Greek source. This fabulous bird has ceased to be a messenger of trouble, but has transformed into a kind amulet and protector… She was depicted on cabinets and chests to help preserve good, as well as on women's jewelry to protect their owner from the evil eye and damage.

Belt endings and overlays with the "Bird of Sirin" storyline

The image of the Alkonost bird has undergone unexpected transformations on Russian soil; it has become a bird of sorrow. Another bird of joy, Gamayun, also changed its purpose, she became a fortuneteller and a symbol of world wisdom. Various roots are intertwined in the image of the Phoenix bird (Fire of the bird), this bird of paradise (peacock) has become a symbol of the resurrection of Christians and a character in folk tales.

Samson tearing apart the lion

The image of Samson in Russia was allegorical and was used in minting coins. As noted in their studies by O.P. Mamontova and V.V. Zaitsev on Moscow money, which was minted in the second half of the 1620s, portrayed Samson fighting Leo. This plot for coins was widespread at the end of the reign of the great Moscow prince Vasily Dmitrievich. The popularity of the plot about Samson, who dealt with the lion, is justified historically - this image has become a symbol of the young son and heir of Vasily Dmitrievich.

Russian belt buckles of the 17th-18th centuries - "Samson and the Lion"

At that time, Vasily I made serious efforts to ease the princely power, and everything in order to secure the hereditary rights of his own son. And the image on the reverse side of Samson's coins was supposed to form in people the image of a young heir as a hero who is ready to perform feats and will be able to defeat the “yoke of the Gentiles”.

Russian belt buckles of the 17th-18th centuries - "Samson and the Lion"

Historians note that although the image of Samson on 15th century money is somewhat sketchy, it is highly likely that this particular image and plot was borrowed for buckles in the 17th century.


Griffins are formidable winged creatures that personify the highest powers of our world. They are endowed with such qualities as power and strength, vigilance and inevitability of righteous punishment. Nevertheless, in the opinion of the Russian people, griffins are initially sympathetic to humans. Outwardly, it is a mythical monster with the body of a lion, but the head and wings of the griffin are eagle's. Being a symbiosis of the images of two royal animals, the griffin symbolizes power over the main spheres of world existence: the eagle rules the air, and the lion reigns on earth.

Russian belt buckles 17-18 centuries - "Griffin"

Often in the legends and legends of different peoples, the griffin is a guardian and a warrior. A mythical creature stands guard over the Tree of Life, wealth or mystical knowledge. Not just a plot "Flight of Tsar Alexander" (Macedonian) on griffins was popular in Russia and throughout the Christian world.

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