Archaeobotanical Investigations of a Burnt-down Storage Shed in the Civitas Rutenica Quarter: An Insight into the Daily Lives of Foreigners in Vilnius in the Late Fourteenth Century – the First Half of the Fifteenth Century

  • Giedrė Motuzaitė Matuzevičiūtė
  • Rytis Jonaitis
  • Irma Kaplūnaitė
Keywords: medieval Vilnius, Orthodox, Civitas Rutenica, cultivated plants, archaeobotany


The article focuses on the study of a domestic building that was used to store crops and burned down sometime in the fourteenth century–the first half of the fifteenth century (the time limits are confirmed by a radiocarbon date received from dating cereal grains directly 484 ± 44 BP [FTMC-23-1]). This domestic building was situated within the boundaries of the Civitas Rutenica quarter of Vilnius, which was populated by the first Orthodox Christians of Vilnius. The earliest Orthodox Christians arrived in Vilnius from the Duchy of Galicia-Volhynia and from the Slavic cities of Black Rus sometime in the second half of the thirteenth century. The archaeobotanical investigations of the storage shed have shown that the residents of Civitas Rutenica cultivated crops of rye and buckwheat. In total, about 40 litres of rye and a bag of buckwheat were recovered (the volume was not recorded during archaeological excavations). The crops contained unthreshed grains that were clearly left as seed to be planted the following year. A detailed analysis of those crop remains gives us two important insights into the lives of the population of Civitas Rutenica. There has been an ongoing debate on how the integration of the first Orthodox Christians took place in the city of Vilnius and whether their rights were restricted after Lithuania officially accepted Catholicism. The presence of cereal with chaff within the boundaries of the Orthodox city could imply that here people (at least some families) had rights to land ownership or rent, and that they were allowed to cultivate the land within or near the city boundaries. The data derived from studying archaeobotanical plant remains could also point towards the potentially positive relationships between the grand dukes of Lithuania and the Orthodox Christians of Vilnius. Nevertheless, it is important to note that the sample size is currently too small to make more conclusive observations. The dominance of rye and certain weed types at the archaeobotanical assemblage points towards the crop cultivation conditions on well-drained sandy soils that could have been in a close proximity to the Orthodox quarter, such as the slopes of the Vilnia River.