Moscow archaeologists find unique pub seal

Moscow archaeologists find unique pub seal
Vytegorsky pub’s neck seal found during excavations on Bersenevskaya Embankment

A unique medieval pub seal has been discovered on Bersenevskaya Embankment in Moscow. The first such artefact ever found in Russia, it belonged to the Vytegorsky pub. This is the earliest-known prototype of modern corporate seals to have survived to our day.

“It’s a unique find. It indicates its belonging to a definite establishment: the Vytegorsky pub. This is the first such seal to have been found so far,” said Alexei Yemelyanov, Head of the Moscow Department of Cultural Heritage.

The round-shaped seal is 19 by 20 millimetres in size and weighs around three grams. It bears traces of a broken earlet with a lace hole. The seal is made from tin bronze, an alloy of copper and pewter. One side is completely smooth. On the other side, one can distinctly see a four-line inscription reading: “The seal of the Vytegorsky kabak” (“kabak” is the Russian name for “pub”). The inscription is ornamented with two plants.

The find has been dated roughly to the 15th–18th centuries. But as the artefact was discovered just a few weeks ago, a deeper analysis is still ahead.

“There are quite many round neck seals among the excavated items or in museum and private collections. But those seals usually bear the names or sometimes the occupation of their owners. For example, some of the earlier-found neck seals had to do with the Orthodox clergy. Others bore educational instructions like ‘Don’t be afraid of death, be afraid of sin’ or ‘A seal is a fortress for a wise man,’” Mr Yemelyanov said.

Where exactly the Vytegorsky pub was located and what its representative could have possibly been doing in Moscow remains unclear. Two versions have been suggested. According to one, the pub was situated in the town of Vytegra, not far from Vologda. In that case, the seal might have been dropped by someone who represented the pub’s administration during a stay in Moscow on a business visit. In version two, the Vytegorsky kabak was a Moscow pub. But then it’s unclear where Vytegra comes in.

The first mention of the Vytegorsky pogost (Vytegra is now part of the Vologda Region) goes back to 1496. The village stood on a trade route between Veliky Novgorod and Sheksna on the bank of the river Vytegra from which it got its name. In the early 18th century, a wharf and a shipyard were built there as part of a planned trade route from St Petersburg to Arkhangelsk. In 1773, the village officially became a town. For more than a century, it was an important centre in Russia’s northern waterways system.