The Black Grave of Ancient Chernihiv

Located in the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, Chernihiv Ancient consists of thirty-four architectural monuments which were designated as a National Architecture-Historical Sanctuary in August 1967. These historic buildings reflect the ancient culture of the city and are a major attraction for tourists visiting the capital city of the Chernihiv Oblast. The site is on the list for consideration by UNESCO (United National Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) as a World Heritage Site.

Among the buildings of Chernihiv Ancient are Detynets of Chernihiv (or Chernihiv’s motte); Savior-Transfiguration Cathedral; Chernihiv’s Collegium; House of Lyzohub; House of Archbishop; Governor’s House; Church of Preparatory Friday; Catherine Church; Beautiful Square; Trinity-Ilna Monastery with Antonie Caves; Yelet’s Dormition Monastery; and Black Grave (kurgan). The Black Grave is the largest kurgan (burial mound) in the oblast of Chernihiv and is noted as a Monument of Archeology of national importance.

The construction of the kurgan has been compared to that of the barrows of Gnyozdovo near Smolensk in Russia and is believed to date back to the late 10th century. When Russian archeologist Dmitry Samokvasov excavated the burial mount in 1872-1873 he found the bodies of two Norse warriors who had been cremated, noting that they were most likely father and son. The fact that they were surrounded by sacrificial animals, slaves, arms and armor, along with a variety of decorative items suggests that the buried warriors were two princes of Chernigov, although this has not been confirmed in the Slavonic chronicles, which name Vladimir the Great’s son Mstislav the bold as the earliest ruler of Chernihiv from 1024-1036. Among the items found in the Black Grave were two helmets and chain mail shirts, along with a cauldron of ram bones, gold byzantine coins, and a miniature idol made of bronze depicting the Norse mythological god Thor. There were also silver bound horns of aurochs intricately decorated with floral motifs and animals, and a commemorative stone was placed at the top of the mound. All these items are now on display in Moscow’s State Historical Museum, but visitors to Chernihiv Ancient can still view the mound from which they were removed.