A “chess” treasure from time of Ivan the Terrible found in Moscow

A “chess” treasure from time of Ivan the Terrible found in Moscow
Ten silver coins were hidden in a 16th century bone chess piece.

On Prechistinka Street, Moscow archaeologists have discovered a treasure dating back to the time of Ivan the Terrible. Ten coins were hidden in a hollow bishop chess piece made from bone. The find is estimated to date back to the mid-16th century.

The chess piece was excavated from a construction ditch while gas networks were being changed under the My Street renovation programme. Archaeologists are monitoring all the work related to ground digging as there might be cultural finds.

 “A chess piece of a bishop, made out of bone, contained 10 silver coins embossed by hand. The total amount is five kopeks,” said Alexei Yemelyanov, Head of the Moscow Department of Cultural Heritage.

He added that, according to preliminary estimates, all coins were issued between the 1530s-1540s. In other words, the coins were circulated during the time of Ivan the Terrible. One silver coin was issued by the Tverskoy mint, the other nine coins were embossed at the Moscow mint.

The bone chess piece is hollow and consists of three parts pulled together by thread. Other chess pieces from this set must look likewise but these are missing.

“If each chess piece (a chess set has 32pieces – mos.ru) was like this, the total amount of hidden money could have equalled 160 kopeks,” Mr Yemelyanov noted.

Archaeologists assume that the owner of the chess set did not want to keep money in a jug and hid it in an unusual way, in hollow bone chess pieces. Though during the time of Ivan the Terrible small silver coins were called kopeyka, these coins were worth a lot. With one kopeyka you could have bought a goose. The owner of ten coins could have bought a small flock of geese.

The first mention of chess in Russian written matter can be found in the Kormchaya Book of the year 1262. It is also known that Ivan the Terrible could play chess. According to the historian Nikolai Kostomarov, it is during a chess game with Boris Godunov on 18 March 1584 that the tsar felt unwell and died shortly afterwards.

The chess piece and coins, excavated on Prechistinka Street, have been cleared and covered with protective agents. The latter will prevent the almost 500-year-old artefacts from decay. A decision is being taken on the artefact handover to a museum. The treasure is most likely to become part of the exhibition displaying archaeological finds discovered under My Street programme.

This year, the work under My Street programme was launched in Moscow in spring. The archaeological monitoring, accompanying the renovation programme, has already helped excavate a number of fascinating finds. Among them are a secret room, or “slukh” (ear), at the foundation of the Kitai-Gorod wall as well as over 150 historical objects once used by  Muscovites’ every day, found around Lubyanka.

The archaeological monitoring is to be carried out at all My Street construction sites between March and September. In previous years this work at the programme’s construction sites helped to unearth over one thousand artefacts and fragments of historical buildings.