1902 Encyclopedia > Pskoff (Pskov), Russia

(Modern spelling: Pskov)
A government area and its capital city located in northwest Russia

PSKOFF, a government of the lake-region of north-west Russia, which extends from Lake Peipus to the source of the Dwina, having St Petersburg on the N., Novgorod, Tver, and Smolensk on the E., Vitebsk on the S., and Livonia on the W. It has an area of 16,678 square miles. In the south-east it extends partly over the Alaun heights —a broad ridge 800 to 1000 feet above the sea, deeply in-dented with numerous valleys and ravines, thickly covered with forests, and dotted with small lakes and ponds. In the district of Toropets these heights take the name of Vorobiovy Hills; extending westwards into Vitebsk, they send to the north a series of irregular ranges, separated by broad valleys, which occupy the north-western parts of Pskoff and give rise to the rivers flowing into Lakes Peipus and Ilmen. A depression 120 miles long and 35 miles broad, watered by the Lovat and Polist, occupies the inter-val between the two hilly tracts; it is covered throughout with forests and thickly studded with marshes overgrown with rank vegetation, the only tracts suitable for human occupation being narrow isolated strips of land on the banks of rivers, or between the marshes, and no communi-cation is possible except along the watercourses. These marshy tracts, which extend westwards into Vitebsk and north-eastwards towards St Petersburg, were even more impassable ten centuries ago, and, encircling the old Russian city of Pskoff, formed its best protection against the repeated attacks of its neighbours.

With the exception of the south-eastern corner, where Carboniferous rocks make their appearance, nearly the whole of the government consists of Devonian deposits of great thickness,—the Old Bed Sandstone, with sub-ordinate layers of various sandstones, and clays containing brown iron ore; and the White Limestone, which contains layers of dolomite, marls, clays with deposits of gypsum, and white sandstone, which is extensively quarried for building purposes. As regards the fauna the Devonian deposits of Pskoff are intermediate between those of Belgium, the Eifel, and Poland and those of middle Russia. The whole is covered with very thick sheets of boulder clay and bears unmistakable traces of glacial action; the bottom moraine of the Scandinavian and Finnish ice-sheet formerly extended over the whole of this region, which often takes the shape of ridges (hames or eshers), the upper parts consisting of Glacial sands and post-Glacial clays, sands, and peat-bogs. The soil is thus not only infertile on the whole, but also badly drained, on account of the impermeable nature of the boulder clay and the frequent occurrence of depressions having no distinct outlets to the rivers. Only those parts of the territory which are covered with thicker strata of post-Glacial deposits are suitable for agriculture.

The rivers are numerous and belong to three separate basins—to Lakes Peipus and Pskoff the rivers in the northwest, to Lake Ilmen those in the middle, and to that of the Dwina the rivers in the south-east. A great number of small streams pour into Lake Pskoff, the chief being the Velikaya, which flows from south to north and receives numerous tributaries, which are used for floating rafts, a wide region being thus brought into communication with Lake Peipus and thence with the Narova. The Velikaya, which is now navigable for only 25 miles from Lake Pskoff, was formerly deeper. The Lovat and Shelon, belong-ing to the basin of Lake Ilmen, are both navigable, and a lively traffic is carried on on both; while the Dwina flows for 100 miles on the borders of the government or within it, and is used only for floating timber. There are no less than 850 lakes in Pskoff, with a total area of 391 square miles. The largest is Lake Pskoff, which is 50 miles long and 13 broad, and covers 312 square miles, having a depth of from 3 to 18 feet; it is connected by a channel, 40 miles long and 3 to 10 wide, with Lake Peipus. Its islands, numbering nearly fifty, have an aggregate population of 2000 persons. The marshes on the banks of the Polist are nearly 1250 square miles in extent; one in the neighbourhood of Lake Dviniye is 27 miles long and 17 broad, and another on the Toropa extends for 17 miles, while many elongated marshes, 15, 20, and 30 miles long and from 2 to 3 broad, run parallel to one another in the . broad depression of the Lovat. Forests occupy nearly one-half (about 45 per cent.) of the entire area, and in some districts (Cholm, Toropets, Porkhoff) as much as two-thirds of the surface. Large pine forests are met with in the north; in other parts the birch and aspen prevail; but almost one-quarter of the forest area is covered with low brushwood.

The climate is very moist and changeable. The average temperature is 41° Fahr. (17°" 1 in January and 64°'8 in July).

The population of the government, which was 895,710 in 1881 (718,910 in 1863), consists almost exclusively of Great Russians, there being only 8000 Esthonians (in the district of Pskoff), about 500 Letts, and less than 1500 Jews. Many German traders live at Pskoff. The Russians and the greater part of the Esthonians belong to the Greek Church, or are Nonconformists (upwards of 12,000 in 1866, according to official figures). Of the total number of inhabitants only 58,900 live in towns, the remainder being distributed over no fewer than 15,000 small villages.

Notwithstanding the infertility of the soil the chief occupation is agriculture—rye, oats, barley, and potatoes being grown every-where ; but though corn is exported by the larger landowners to the average annual amount of nearly 1,600,000 bushels the amount imported is much greater (9,600,000 bushels). The annual export of flax is estimated at 530,000 cwts., Pskoff, Ostroff, Opotchka, Porkhoff, and Soltsy being important centres for the trade. The average annual crops during 1870-77 were 28,972,800 bushels of corn and 5,984,000 bushels of potatoes. The limited area of pasture lands is unfavourable for cattle-breeding, and in 1881 there were only 171,000 horses, 304,000 head of cattle, and 166,000 sheep; mur-rains are very frequent. Fishing is a considerable source of wealth on the shores of the larger lakes, small salted or frozen fish (snyethi) being annually exported to the value of £25,000 or £35,000. The timber trade is steadily increasing, the exports being estimated at present at nearly £50,000 ; wood for fuel is, however, at the same time imported from the government of St Petersburg. The popu-lation engage also in the preparation of lime, in stone-quarrying, in the transport of merchandise, and in some domestic trades. The manufactures are insignificant; their aggregate production in 1879 reached £518,800, and gave occupation to only 2350 persons. The total amount of merchandise loaded and discharged on the rivers within the government in 1880 was 1,761,000 cwts.

Pskolf is divided into eight districts, the chief towns of which are—Pskoff (21,170 inhabitants), Cholm (5550), Novorjeff (1915), Opotchka (4075), Ostroff (4200), Porkhoff (3925), Toropets (5760), Velikiya Luki (6600). Alexandrovskii Posad (2920) and Soltsy (5825, an important shipping place on the Shelofi river) have also municipal institutions.

PSKOFF, capital of the above government, is picturesquely situated on both banks of the broad Velikaya river, 9 miles from Lake Pskoff and 171 miles by rail south-west of St Petersburg. The chief part of the town, with its kremlin on a hill and several suburbs, occupies the right bank of the river, to which the ruins of its old walls descend; the Zapskovie, consisting of several suburbs, stretches along the same bank of the Velikaya below its confluence with the Pskova ; and the Zavelitchie occupies the left bank of the Velikaya,—all three keeping their old historical names. The cathedral in the kremlin has been four times rebuilt since the 12th century and contains some very old shrines, as also the graves of the bishops of Pskoff and of several princes, including those of Dovmont and Vsevolod. The church of Dmitrii Solunskii also dates originally from the 12th century ; there are others belong-ing to the 14th and 15th. The Spaso-Mirojskii monastery, founded in 1156, has many remarkable antiquities. The ruins of numerous rich and populous monasteries in or near the town attest its former wealth and greatness. The present town is ill built, chiefly of wood, and shows traces of decay. Many of the inhabitants live by agriculture or gardening; the remainder are engaged in loading and unloading merchandise on the Velikaya and at the rail-way station, in combing flax, fishing, and domestic trades. The manufactures are unimportant. Since the completion of the St Petersburg and Warsaw railway the trade of Pskoff has increased. In 1880 the exports reached 99,000 cwts. on the Velikaya and 463,000 cwts. by rail; the imports were 125,700 cwts. on the Velikaya and 591,600 cwts. by rail. Pskoff has regular steam communication with Dorpat. The population in 1882 was 21,170 (15,086 in 1866).

History.—Pskoff, formerly the sister republic of Novgorod, and' one of the oldest cities of Russia, maintained its independence and its free institutions until the 16th century, being thus the last to be brought under the rule of Moscow. Its annals, unquestion-ably the fullest and liveliest of any in Russia, affirm that it already existed in the time of Rurik ; and Nestor mentions under the year 914 that Igor's wife, Olga, was brought from Pleskoff (i.e., Pskoff). It was quite natural that a Russian fortified town should rise at the entrance of the Velikaya valley within the earliest period of the Russian colonization of that region ; the river had from a remote antiquity been a channel for the trade of the south with the north Baltic coast. Pskoff being an important strategic point, its pos-session was obstinately disputed between the Russians and the Germans and Lithuanians, and throughout the 11th and 12th centuries numerous battles were fought. At that time the place had its own independent institutions ; but, attacked as it was from the west, it became in the 12th century a " prigorod " of the Nov-gorod republic,—that is (so far as can be judged from the incom-plete testimony of historical documents), a city having its own free institutions, but included in certain respects within the juris-diction of the metropolis, and compelled in time of war to march against the common enemy. Pskoff had, however, its own prince (defensor municipii); and in the second half of the 13th century Prince (Timotheus) Dovmont fortified it so strongly, and was so-successful in repelling its enemies, that the town acquired much importance and asserted its independence of Novgorod, with which in 1348 it concluded a treaty wherein the two republics were recog-nized as equals. The institutions of Pskoff resembled those of Novgorod; it, in its turn, had several prigorods, and its rule ex-tended over the territory which now forms the districts of Pskoff, Ostroff, Opotchka, and Gdoff. Within this territory the "vyetche "' or " forum " of Pskoff was sovereign, the vyetches of the subordinate towns being supreme in their own municipal affairs. The city of Pskoff was divided into several sections or "kontsy," according to the prevalent occupations of the inhabitants, and the kontsy were divided into "ulitsy" (streets), which enjoyed extensive powers of self-government. The vyetche was supreme in all affairs of general interest, as well as a supreme court of justice, and the princes were elected by it; these last had to defend the city and levied the taxes, which were assessed by twelve citizens, who com-bined to some extent the functions of judges with those of a jury. Pskoff differed widely, however, from Novgorod in the more democratic character of its institutions ; and, while the latter con-stantly showed a tendency to become an oligarchy of the wealthier merchants, the former figured as a republic where the influence of the poorer classes prevailed. Its trading associations, supported by those of the labourers, checked the influence of the wealthier merchants.

This struggle (of which the annals give a lively picture) con-tinued throughout the 14th and 15th centuries, resulting sometimes, in armed riots. Notwithstanding these conflicts Pskoff was a very wealthy city. Its strong walls, whose ruins are still to be seen, its. forty-two large and wealthy churches, built during this period, as also its numerous monasteries and its extensive trade, bear testimony to the wealth of the inhabitants, who then numbered about 60,000. The " dyetinets" or fort, enclosed by a stone wall erected by Dov-mont, stood on a hill between the Pskova and the Velikaya, having: within its walls the cathedral of the Holy Trinity. Another stone wall enclosed the commercial part, the Ivromy (kremlin) or middle town. In 1465 the suburb Polonische became so prosperous that it also was enclosed by a wall, and included within the circuit of the town proper. Even the Zapskovie was enclosed by a wooden palisade in the 15th century and later on by a stone wall; while the Zave-litchie was a busy centre of foreign trade. As early as the 13th century Pskoff had become an important station for the trade between Novgorod and Riga. A century later it entered the Hanseatic League. Its merchants and trading associations had factories at Narva, Revel, Riga, and exported flax, corn, tallow, skins, tar, pitch, honey, and timber for shipbuilding, which were transported or shipped via Lake Peipus, the Narova, and the Embach to the ports on the Baltic and on the Gulf of Finland. Silks, woollen stuffs, and all kinds of manufactured wares were brought back in exchange and sold throughout northern Russia.

Nevertheless, the continuous struggle between the " black " and "'white" people (the patricians and the plebeians) offered many opportunities to Moscow for interference in the internal affairs of Pskoff, especially with regard to the election of the princes, which was often the occasion of severe conflicts. In 1399 the prince of Moscow arrogated the privilege of confirming the elected prince of Pskoff in his rights ; and though, fifty years later, Pskoff and Nov-gorod concluded several defensive treaties against Moscow the fall of both republics was inevitable, the poorer classes continuing to seek at Moscow a protection against the oppression of the richer citizens. After the fall of Novgorod (1475) Pskoff could no longer maintain its independence, and in 1510 it was taken by Vasilii Joannovitch. The vyetche was abolished and its bell taken away, and a waywode was nominated by Moscow to govern the city. Moscow merchants were settled at Pskoff, and put in possession of the fortunes of the former citizens. The conquered territory still maintained to some extent its self-government, especially with re-gard to trade, but the struggle between rich and poor was aggravated by the intervention of foreigners. The " lutschiye ludi" (wealthier
merchants) prohibited the " malomotchnyie" (poorer merchants) from entering into direct trade relations with foreigners, and compelled them to sell their wares to themselves or to become their agents. These disputes furnished Moscow at the end of the 17th century with a pretext for abolishing the last vestiges of self-government at Pskoff, and for placing all affairs of local administration in the hands of the Moscow waywodes. Thenceforward Pskoff' fell into rapid decay. It became a stronghold of Russia against Poland and was besieged for seven months by Stephan Bathory during the Livonian War, and later on by Gustavus Adolphus. Under Peter I. it became a fortified camp, and its walls were protected by earthworks. But it never recovered its former importance, and is now one of the poorer cities of the empire. (P. A. K.)

The above article was written by: Prince P. A. Kropotkine.

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