Novgorod & Vyborg Castle

Today we are going to dive deeper into a place we heard a little about in our discussions of the Kalmar Union (Sweden, Denmark, and Finland), Novgorod, and a castle that still stands as a reminder of the conflicts between the Kalmar state and Russia; conflicts that began long before the union and remained through the 20th century. (Spoiler alert: both now belong to Russia)!

(Veliky) Novgorod was the capital of the Novgorod Republic, that lasted from the 12th to 15th centuries, and was a major city for trade and military during this period. The earliest mention is in 859, making it the oldest town in Russia, and was a major city among Vikings. Several Viking kings sought sanctuary here, and a monument for Saint Olaf’s Church still exists. In 1080, the Swedes had been using the island of Gotland and its city Visby as its main trading center (pre- Hansa league), when Visby decided to expand to Novogrod and called it Gutagard. Later in the 13th century, Germany established their own post in Novogrod and declared it Peterof. They were also granted special privileges within the city. 

In 1136, they dethroned their prince and formed the Republic of Novgorod, which lasts until the 15th century. The state became prosperous through trade, and quickly became the prize in a game of tug-a-war between Sweden and Russia. It stood strong throughout the centuries and maintained its independence, but eventually the city grew to a size it could not handle. To keep from starving, they relied heavily on treaties with Russia to stay afloat. In Ivan III (the Great), annexed it into the Grand Duchy of Moscow (Russia at the time). In 1547, Ivan IV (the Terrible) turned the Grand Duchy into a Tsardom and became Russia’s first Tsar; 23 years later Ivan would slaughter the city in what is known as the Massacre of Novgorod 1570. From that point, the relationship with Novgorod and the Tsar was strained, but to this day it remains a Russian city, and is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Vyborg Castle lies on the border of Finland and Russia, and is considered a Russian monument, but it was originally found in 1293 during the Third Swedish Crusade by Torkel Knutsson. The Republic of Novogrod fought hard to maintain rights to the castle, but it was officially recognized as Swedish in 1323. In 1710, Tsar Peter the Great hosted the Siege of Vyborg, and the castle became Russian property, and you can visit the castle. 

*Featured image is The Veche in Novgorod, by Vasily Khudyakov

Notable Sources:

  • Karhu, Jani, and Chloe Wells. “Vyborg Castle as a Symbol of Power Institutions.” The Journal of Power Institutions in Post-Soviet Societies., Centre D’études Et De Recherche Sur Les Sociétés Et Les Institutions Post-Soviétiques (CERSIPS), 8 Oct. 2017, 
  • Косик, Оксана Іванівна, and Валерія Андріївна Овчаренко. “History of Urban Planning in Veliky Novgorod. The Evolution and Comparative Characteristics of the Architecture of Ancient Novgorod of the XI — XV Centuries and Landscaping the Urban Space of Modern Veliky Novgorod.” Theory and Practice of Design, no. 18, 2019, doi:10.18372/2415-8151.18.14360. 
  • “Veliky Novgorod.” Veliky Novgorod – New World Encyclopedia, 
  • “Vyborg Castle: Vyborg: St.Petersburg.” Vyborg Castle | Vyborg | St.Petersburg, 
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