Monomakh’s Cap used to crown the Russian tsars. Created in the early fourteenth century, the cap is topped by a simple gold cross, inlaid with precious stones, and trimmed with sable. Its origins are debatable, but Guzel Valeeva-Suleymanova argues that the symbolic crown of the Russian tsars was originally a Tatar female wedding headdress made by Golden Horde craftsmen in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century.
Sh. Marjani Institute of History, Kazan
Guzel Fuadovna Valeeva-Suleymanova– Soviet and Russian scientist; Doctor of Arts, Professor, Honored Scientist of the Republic of Tatarstan (2007). Chief Researcher at Sh.Marjani Institute of History of Tatarstan Academy of Sciences
Research interests: history of Tatar decorative and fine arts, architecture; Muslim art in the Volga-Ural region; studies of ethnic arts. Author of many scientific works, including several monographs.
Monomakh’s Cap is one of the oldest exhibits in the Armory of the Moscow Kremlin. Russian Tsars were crowned with this regalia from 1498 until 1682. Please tell our readers about this famous cap.
Monomakh’s Cap is a highly symbolic relic of the Russian Grand Princes and Tsars that is currently exhibited in the Imperial Treasury section of the Kremlin Armory of the Moscow Kremlin. The cap is elaborately ornamented with a scrolled gold overlay, decorated with applied filigree work, and inlaid with precious stones and pearls. A symbolic crown of the Russian autocracy, it was originally a Tatar female wedding headdress made by Golden Horde craftsmen in the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century.
The cap is composed of eight triangular gold plates with the apex cut off and with holes at the edges to fasten them to each other. It has a velvet lining. The plates are decorated with a sophisticated pattern using applied filigree and granulation made of the finest gold wire and inlaid with rubies, emeralds, and pearls. Originally, it had pendants descending on the forehead (according to the memoirs of Baron Sigismund von Herberstein, Ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire, who visited Moscow in 1517) and the cap was topped with a rod. In the sixteenth century, this rod was replaced with a cross, and in the seventeenth century the sable fur trim appeared.
The ornamentation of the cap (a lotus, a six-pointed star with a 12-petal rosette inscribed in it, a seven-petal rosette, leaves, and guilloché ornament), the technique of applied filigree (when framed spiral patterns are combined with scrolls twisted from left to right and on both sides of a plant shoot ornament), and the granulation technique – all are present the family of artifacts of the Volga region and Crimea from the fourteenth century. They are visible evidence of the Golden Horde’s school of jewelry craftsmanship. Details (ornamental motifs, the shape and method of stone setting) of women’s headdresses from the Simferopol hoard show affinity with the Monomakh’s Cap and its ornamentation; the filigree technique used on items found in excavations and hoards in Volga Bulgaria; and the so-called “Bukhara plaque,” all of which are jewelry works attributed to the Golden Horde. The ornamental motifs (lotus, six-pointed star, and guilloché ornament) can also be seen in works of Mamluk art of the Golden Horde Khanate period.
A certain principle is revealed in the decoration of the cap: four of the eight sectors feature a lotus motif, three of them in the front. The other four sectors bear the motif of the six-pointed star. Gold kolt pendants (an element of female headgear that hung at both temples and was common in the eleventh to thirteenth centuries as a sign of a family’s wealth) with a filigree openwork pattern in the form of a lotus flower from the city of Bolgar are the closest analogue to this motif; other lotus images appear on architectural tiles found in Bolgar, Saray-Batu, and other Golden Horde cities
The six-pointed star motif, for its part, appears in the ornamentation of architectural monuments in Bolgar city (the Sufi khanaka “Black Chamber”), Bulgar tombstones of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, pottery, and bracelets. The flower rosette motif, meanwhile, can be found in Bulgar metalwork from both the pre-Mongolian and the Golden Horde eras. Thus, the complex of ornamental motifs used in the cap’s décor are integral parts of the art of the Golden Horde and can be found on items belonging to the nobility of the city of Bolgar, as well as other cities of the Volga region and the Crimea. They also appear in Mamluk art.
We can find mention of the cap in the will of Ivan Kalita (1288-1340): “And of my clothes, to my son Semyon a red pearl jacket, a golden cap (…)” Kalita is known for his diplomatic relations with the Horde. In your opinion, could the cap have been a gift of Uzbek khan to Ivan Kalita or did it belong to the Mongol Princess Konchaka (baptized as Agafia), sister of the Uzbek khan and wife of Ivan’s brother Prince Yuri Danilovich? In other words, what is known about the origins of Monomakh’s Cap?
The cap was first mentioned in the 1340s among the expensive clothes and various precious objects owned by Moscow Prince Ivan Danilovich (known as Ivan Kalita), the grandson of Alexander Nevsky, who ruled from 1325 until 1341. According to one chronicle, Ivan Kalita blessed his elder son, Simeon Ivanovich (nicknamed Proud), with a golden cap. This cap is mentioned, among other written sources, in the spiritual letters of the Russian tsars as movable property to be left to the heirs. From Simeon, the eldest son, the headgear passed to his wife, and then to Simeon’s brother Ioannes II and his son, Dmitri Ivanovich Donskoy. Dmitry passed it on to his son, Vasily Dmitrievich. Thus, the golden cap was bequeathed by the great princes of Moscow to their eldest sons, starting with Ivan Kalita. In 1462 the headgear is mentioned by Vasily II, nicknamed Dark. Under Vasily III there emerged a legend that the cap was donated to Kiev Prince Vladimir Monomakh by Byzantine Emperor Constantine Monomakh (the latter died 50 years before Vladimir became prince). In 1498 Ivan III crowned his grandson Dimitry with golden headgear called Monomakh’s Cap.
The cap became a symbol of the centralized power concentrated in Moscow; it evidenced the might of the Russian state, which by that time had rid itself of subjugation to the Tatar khans. All Russian tsars up to and including Peter the Great were crowned with it. In 1721, when Peter the Great proclaimed Russia an empire, he changed the ritual of the crowning ceremony: the cap was carried ahead of the coronation procession.
How did the cap come to be inherited by Ivan Kalita? In my view, it occurred as a result of the marriage between khan Uzbek’s sister Konchaka and Ivan’s brother Yuri Danilovich. Having married Prince Yuri, Konchaka converted to Orthodoxy and became Agafia. In 1317, Yuri brought his wife Konchaka from the Horde and received the title of khan’s son-in-law. As the historian Solovyov reports: “Not without reason did Yuri live in the Horde […], he was able to get close to the khan’s family and married [the khan’s] sister, Konchaka, who was called Agafia when she was baptized… The khan’s son-in-law returned to Russia with strong Tatar ambassadors” (Soloviev S.M. Istoriia Rossii s drevnejchikh vremen, Spb.,1851-1879: 907). Konchaka met a tragic fate: after losing the battle with the Tver prince Mikhail Yaroslavich in December 1317, her husband Yuri Danilovich fled and Konchaka was captured in Tver, where, according to rumor, she was poisoned (Ibid: 308). According to chronicles, Konchaka-Agafia was buried near Rostov.
In my opinion, the cap was Konchaka’s wedding headdress and was adapted from a female headdress into royal regalia.
The khan granted Yuri Danilovich a label of the Grand Prince of Vladimir in 1318 but Yuri Danilovich was assassinated in 1325 by Tver prince Dmitry Mikhailovich, who, to justify himself, told Uzbek khan that Yuri had collected tribute and held it for himself. As he had no children, Yuri’s heir could only be his brother: Ivan Danilovich (Kalita). Thus, the assumption first expressed by the American scholar George Vernadsky—that Monomakh’s Cap belonged to Uzbek khan —has a solid foundation. The only thing that was not taken into account was the cap itself, which originally had a slightly different appearance: it featured pendants descending to the forehead, it was not furred, and it was not topped with a cross. In my opinion, the cap was Konchaka’s wedding headdress and was adapted from a female headdress into royal regalia.
How justified is the claim that Monomakh’s Cap was a woman’s headdress?
This is evidenced, first, by the pendants, as Ambassador Herberstein, who saw the cap, states: “The pileus (hat of a conical shape) is called a shapka in their language; it was worn by Vladimir Monomakh. The shapka is adorned with precious stones and wonderfully made of gold plates that wriggle like a snake” (Zapiski o Moskovii barona Gerbershtejna, Spb 1866: 37). The pendants are a must-have attribute of Turkic women’s headgear. Second, this version of events is supported by new archaeological and ethnographic materials describing the art of Volga Bulgaria, the Golden Horde, Crimea, the North Caucasus, the Tatars of the Volga-Ural Region, and kindred Turkic peoples (Nogais, Turkmens, Chuvash).
Important evidence includes details of Golden Horde female headdresses from the famous Simferopol hoard, which is in the collection of the State Historical Museum in Moscow. Fragments of a golden female headdress and a silver headdress top decorated with pearls and precious stones have been found in the hoard. The similarity between the headdresses from the aforementioned hoard and Monomakh’s Cap in terms of the way in which the stones are affixed to the top and to the sockets of the shatons, as well as the ornamentation of the shatons with scalloped scrolls in the form of circles, is striking.
The head ornament from the Simferopol hoard consisted of 19 shaped plaques sewn onto a now-defunct cloth base. Like Monomakh’s Cap, it was decorated with pearls, sapphires, amethysts, and emeralds. The positioning as well as the fastening of the metal cylindrical rod on the top of the two caps is similar, which allows us to conclude that the rod on the top of Monomakh’s Cap always belonged to it and was not, as Mark Kramarovsky has claimed, a later addition to it. The cap’s top and its ornamentation do not mesh stylistically with the rest of the decoration of the cap. Whereas peacock and owl feathers were placed on the top of Turkic female headdresses, a cross was inserted in the top of Monomakh’s Cap instead of the pre-existing feathers.
Shaped as a truncated hemispherical cone, the cap with pendants corresponds to Turkic female headdresses—taqiyya for Tatars and takhya for Turkmens; it can be found among the Chuvash, Udmurts, Bashkirs, and Turkmens. Such a headdress, with sewn-on coins and a silver cupola reinforced on the top, was known to the Nogai as a maiden’s cap. Its main decoration was kupba, a silver top in the form of a dome with a rod (for holding the feathers of an owl) and silver pendants. Such a headdress was worn before marriage; it was replaced after a girl’s wedding with women’s headgear. If a maiden’s cap had no feathers, it meant that the girl was betrothed. The tradition of decorating headdresses with owl feathers, also known to the Kazakhs, Kyrgyz, and semi-nomadic Uzbeks, is connected, according to researchers, with the Kipchak ethnic background of these peoples.
Ibn Batutta, an Arab traveler who visited the cities of the Golden Horde, reports that “noble Tatar women wore a golden circle on top of their hats, decorated with peacock feathers and studded with precious stones.” The Spanish ambassador Ruy Gonzales de Clavijo, who visited Timur’s headquarters, left a description of the headgear of the eldest queen, Sarai-Mulk-khanim. It was a kind of tall helmet beautifully decorated with different gems, above which was “a little arbor” with three rubies, from whence proceeded a tassel of white sultan feathers tied with gold thread and with stones and pearls at the end. This description calls to mind Monomakh’s Cap, the top of which is likewise inlaid with gemstones.
The excavations of the Belorechensk kurgans in the North Caucasus, which date to the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries, revealed pointed female headdresses with a cone-shaped crown and a lunula on a rod, with pear-shaped pendants on chains. The tradition of crowning female headdresses with bird feathers is connected with the influence of Kipchak fashion, although the appearance of hemispherical headdress with plaques, coins, and pendants relates to the ancient Sarmat-Alanian or (according to Sergey Tolstov) Scythian/Sarmatian culture. This tradition was developed in the Saltov culture of the Volga Bulgars in the tenth to twelfth centuries, as well as in the ethnographic materials of the peoples of the Volga-Ural region and some Turkmen tribes.
The legend of Monomakh’s Cap surfaced to support the claims that the power of the Russian tsars was inherited from the Byzantine emperors rather than from the descendants of Genghis Khan
What other narratives exist about the origin of the cap?
The Russian historiographical tradition, starting with Nikodim Kondakov (1844-1925), adhered to the view that Monomakh’s Cap had Byzantine origins. However, this opinion was disputed by Aleksandr Spitsyn who attributed the headgear to the Mongolian period. In the opinion of the American scholar George Vernadsky, the legend of Monomakh’s Cap surfaced to support the claims that the power of the Russian tsars was inherited from the Byzantine emperors rather than from the descendants of Genghis Khan. Vernadsky believed that the headgear was given to Ivan I by Uzbek khan, the Golden Horde ruler who was the grandson of Mengu-Timur, great-grandson of Batu khan, and great-great-grandson of Genghis Khan. Contemporary researcher Mark Kramarovsky, following Spitsyn, includes the cap in the circle of Golden Horde monuments of jewelry art. He considered that it was produced in Crimea or the cities of the Volga region in the early fourteenth or fifteenth centuries.
In “response” to my article “Korony russkikh tsarei—pamiatniki tatarskoi kul’tury” (Crowns of the Russian Tsars: Monuments of Tatar Culture), published in 1997 and proving the Golden Horde origin of the headgear, archaeologist Natalia Zhilina published her book Shapka Monomakha. Istoriko-kul’turnoe i tekhnologicheskoe issledovanie (Monomakh’s Cap: Historical, Cultural, and Technological Research). In her book, the author seeks to prove the Byzantine origin of the cap, describing its origin as “eastern,” not Golden Horde or Turkic-Tatar. The author does not use any ethnographic materials on headdresses of Turkic peoples, nor take into account serious arguments concerning the history of the headgear’s design changes. Therefore, the arguments for the Tatar origin (made by Spitsyn, Vernadsky, and Kramarovski) and the headgear’s status as a female headdress (Konchaka’s wedding headdress) remain legitimate even today.