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Histoire de la maritimité
Vivre avec la mer : techniques, commerce et spatialités

Monasteries and the maritime history of the Russian North from the 16th century to the early 18th century

Les monastères et l’histoire maritime de la Russie du Nord du xvie siècle au début du xviiie siècle
Anastasia Bogomazova et Margarita Dadykina
p. 37-62


L’article examine le processus de maritimisation de l’État russe à travers la formation et le fonctionnement des flottes des riches monastères du Nord au début de la période moderne : Solovetsky, Anthonievo-Siysky, Krestny Onezhsky et autres. Les autrices analysent les caractéristiques qualitatives et quantitatives des flottes des monastères (types de navires utilisés dans l’économie des monastères, nombre de navires appartenant aux monastères et dynamique du changement). Elles soulignent l’importance des navires dans la vie des monastères nordiques, l’intensité de leur utilisation, la mobilité, le rôle des types spécifiques de navires dans l’économie des monastères et leurs services.

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1The historical literature predominantly considers Pre-Petrine Russia as a purely continental country with some potential of becoming maritime in the future. Importantly, those works consider the very notion of being maritime almost exclusively through the military perspective. This is true both for the international and Russian historical literature. Indeed,

  • 1 Kraikovski, 2015, p. 40-43.

Russian history has its own tradition of scholarship on the relationship of Russians and the sea, although the tradition could be reinvigorated by new perspectives that focus on the different groups involved in this relationship and less passive constructions of the environment1.

2Meanwhile, the sea clearly was important for Russian history long before Peter the Great. As early as the end of the xvth century the young Moscow State annexed Novgorod, which had strong connection with the Baltic, White and Barents Seas, and incorporated the vast area known as the Russian North. Through these territories the Moscow state did the first step towards positioning the country as a maritime country strongly connected by the sea both economically and culturally.

  • 2 Lajus, 2011.
  • 3 Kraikovski, 2002.
  • 4 Kraikovski, 2015 ; Dadykina, Kraikovski, 2019

3The Russian North is a vast territory that stretches from the town of Vologda in the south to the Barents Sea in the north, with the White Sea as the core space and the great rivers of the Dvina and the Onega as links to central Russia. It has gradually been colonized by Slavs and then Russians since at least the xith or xiith centuries. Initially the area was incorporated into the Novgorod Republic, and then, in the xvth century, into Muscovy (since the middle of the xviith century, the Russian state). By the xviith century the Russian North was quite a specific part of the Russian state with a strong local identity and culture2. The climate of the Russian North is harsh, with minimum possibilities for plough agriculture. Therefore, the industries dealing with the sea, such as marine mammals hunting, fishing, or the salt-cooking industry became alternatives for the people living in the area. The territory provided several major resources for the economic development of both monasteries and rural settlements. The abundance of underground brine and fuel timber became the basis for the salt producing industry3. Marine mammals from the White Sea and the Arctic Ocean provided skins and blubber. Fish deserves some special attention. The rivers and the sea were rich with fish, including prized species like salmon and cod. The local economy included salmon fisheries, with Atlantic salmon being caught by weirs during spawning migrations and seasonal fishing expeditions to the Barents Sea coast of the Kola peninsula for cod and halibut4.

  • 5 Dadykina et al., 2017.

4In a word, the region was good for industry and trade and by the late xvith century it had become one of Russia’s most developed regions, incorporating the port of Archangelsk the major gateway for Russian commerce with Europe. We need to mention that the White Sea has a « severe character » as the Pomors (the population of the White Sea coast) used to say. Navigation in the White Sea starts in June and ends in October with the freezing of sea water. In addition, from the end of August, severe storms are frequent at sea and navigation becomes dangerous. In the xvth-xviith centuries, therefore, the transportation of goods and in general maritime mobility were carried out predominantly along the coast5.

  • 6 Miller, 2010.

5Monasteries, with their ambitions and possibilities (through religion and economic power), became the main creators of the Russian North economy. Through the complicated system of formal and informal communications the monks controlled vast networks of heterogeneous actors, including those involved in maritime activities. Monastic expansion in the Russian North started in the late xivth century when Sergius of Radonezh founded the Trinity monastery to the north-east of Moscow, which soon became a model for Russian monasteries for centuries to come6. His vision included a search for hardships, which monks had to overcome in the name of God, as an inextricable part of the monastic spiritual experience on the path to the ideal Christian life and, eventually, the salvation of soul. With its harsh climate, poor population and enormous forests, the Russian North seemed the perfect place for such a religious escape from the world. As a result, Saint-Sergius of Radonezh's disciples began moving northwards, generation after generation, founding monasteries further and further from the center of Russia. This process is known in Russian history as the monastic colonization of the Russian North. In this paper we will consider maritime aspects of monastic colonization through the history of the greatest friary in the Russian North ‒ the Solovetsky monastery. Then we will compare this case with several other Northern Russian monasteries.

The Solovetsky monastery as the maritime center of the Russian North

  • 7 Kraikovski, Lajus, 2021, p. 46-48.
  • 8 Kraikovski et al., 2018

6Founded on the islands in the south-western part of the White Sea in the first half of the xvth century, the Solovetsky monastery became, by the end of the xvith century, not just the spiritual center of the Russian North, but also an organizer of the defense of the northern lands, a representative of power on the distant shores of the White Sea, as well as an important economic center for the development of these lands (Fig. 1). Through centuries it remained one of the most powerful, rich and artistically impressive spiritual, administrative, economic and cultural centers of the Russian North7. After the monastery was established, the community exerted multifaceted control over the area, including the technological management of the surrounding environment. The hegumen (head of monastery) Philip (Kolychev), who later became Metropolitan of Moscow and was canonized by the Russian Orthodox church as Saint-Philip, initiated the rebuilding of the monastic complex as a powerful fortress, the construction the canal system and other parts of the monastery infrastructure which created the sea-oriented and sea-connected landscape8.

Fig. 1 – View of the Solovetsky Monastery from the West (« The Tsar’s pier »)

Fig. 1 – View of the Solovetsky Monastery from the West (« The Tsar’s pier »)

Early xxth century postcard

From the personal collection of A. Bogomazova

  • 9 Kraikovski, Lajus, 2021, p. 39. For details, see Ivanov, 2007; Savich, 1927 ; Lajus et al, 2005; La (...)

7Therefore, the Solovetsky monastery became the only maritime monastery in the literal sense of the term, since it was surrounded by the sea on all sides, standing « in the middle of the sea on the island », as the inventory of the xviiith century indicates. This monastery was built on the Solovetskie Islands9 :

An archipelago of six large and more than a hundred small islands, it is situated in the White Sea about fifty kilometers from the mainland and 165 kilometers south of the Arctic Circle. Its climate is milder than that in the interior of the Russian North due to the influence of the sea. The monastery received numerous economic and taxation privileges and developed a sophisticated infrastructure, including a transportation network and industrial facilities controlled by the monks on the islands and in the large coastal areas. In the seventeenth century, the church dominated the regional salt market and governed the rich fishing grounds along the coasts of the White Sea and its rivers.

  • 10 Savich, 1927; Filin, 2002.

8The maritime services and enterprises (fishing, hunting, salt-making) became an integral part of the monastery maritime economy. Some of those grounds were situated in the areas known for the exclusive productivity of valuable fish, predominantly salmon. For instance, based on the Solovetsky monastery archives, Alexander Savich identified several fishing grounds owned by the monastery along the productive Vyg River. The monks operated a number of weirs on the Vyg River and at the mouth of the Soroka River. Soon after the founding of Solovetsky monastery, the monks began paying particular attention to the quite abundant Varzuga fisheries10. During the entire next century, the monastic authorities used a variety of strategies and methods to gain possession of the area. The monastic management system, surprisingly efficient for early modern Russia, became one of the most important advantages used by the monks during this expansion.

  • 11 Kraikovski, Dadykina et al., 2020.
  • 12 Bogomazova, 2015.

9The structure of the monastic community was more or less uniform in all Russia, including those in the North. The head of the monastery was the hegumen, later archimandrite, and the council of elders, which included the cellarer and the treasurer. Offices formed the basis of monastic administrations, both central and local, called Service (Sluzhba). Sluzhby situated in the main monastic building were responsible for particular branches of monastic economy, like, for example, the drying service (Sushilennaia Sluzhba) in the Solovetsky monastery responsible for provision. The local monastic Sluzhba controlled all of the monastery’s activities in a particular area, including contacts with the local state administration and peasants. « Thus, the Sluzhba was the bedrock of monastic fisheries management, and it aimed first of all to control the people involved in the industry, to ensure a productive catch, and to manage the process of fish catching and processing11 ». All the monks were obliged to work as part of their monastic duty, therefore following the uniform regulations and the strategies developed by the monastic authorities. This system of management fully applied to the maritime activities. In the xviith century the Solovetsky monastery had a well-developed infrastructure that supported the activities of the monastic fleet and included a special Karbas Service, as well as berthing and coastal structures (docks, barns for storing ships and equipment) in the monastery itself and in its mainland services and industries. The condition of ships was maintained, they were tarred and repaired. If a boat did not fall into a storm and was not broken, it could serve, as befits a wooden ship, for 10, 15, or even 20 years12.

  • 13 Bogdanova, 2013.

10Geography determined the development of maritime transportation in the monastery. Indeed, all the monastic possessions can be divided into three geographic regions13. The first group included estates « located along the White Sea coast or near it » (estates in the Dvinsky and Kola districts, as well as Liametskaia, Purnemskaia, Nizhmozerskaia and the Kushretskaia volosts of the Kargopol district). The second ranged « estates, quite remote from the White Sea, but at the same time located along the channels of the main Pomor rivers, the Northern Dvina and Onega » (Pol’skoe village, Piial’skoe usol’ye, Pertemskoe village, Vladychenskoe village, Kargopol district, as well as estates in the Ustyug district). The third group consisted of estates located in the central districts (in Bezhetsk and Moscow). We will pay particular attention to the monastic estates belonging to the first two groups. By location, the possessions of the Solovetsky monastery, belonging to the first group, can be divided into four smaller groups : the grounds on the shores of the Dvinskaia guba (bay) ; the banks of the Onezhskaia guba ; the Karelian coast of the central part of the White Sea basin ; the banks of the Kandalakshskaia guba. From the second group, we will be interested in fisheries on the Onega River (Piial’skoe, Vladychenskoe, Firsovskoe and Pol’skoe usol’ye) remote from the seacoast.

    • 14 Arnold, 2013.
    • 15 Arnold, 2013, p. 27; Dadykina 2016.
    • 16 Dadykina, 2019.

    For monks, both individually and as a community, the creation of the new form of space with the markers of God’s presence, what we may label as the holy space, constituted the core of their life14. As Ellen Arnold notes, the holy space knew no clear division between the spheres of natural, human and divine15. The slightness of this universe allowed monks to negotiate with nature through practices in which God spoke on its behalf. The idea of Transfiguration as a transformation of wild landscape into the holy space became therefore decisive for all the monastic activities and in full measure can be seen in the interaction of the monastery with the marine space through shipping and shipbuilding. Like any important matter, the start of the boat construction or the opening the fishing season, was always accompanied by a prayer service, which indicated the presence of God. It was served by especially invited priests who received not only payment, but also refreshments. Kalachs (special Russian sweet bread) were endowed by sea-workers supporting the ritual. The same ceremony happened during navigation : its beginning was sanctified by a prayer. Upon returning home, the hired sea-workers were given out kalachi. In the correspondence of the different service’s elders and the authorities of the monastery we must meet the indication of God's permission (« as God wills16 »).

  • 17 Laushkin, 2007.

11The patron saint of sea travelers was St. Nicholas ; on the seacoast and on the islands, both monks and peasants built numerous chapels dedicated to him. The Solovetsky monastery’s founding fathers Zosima and Herman were also known as the patrons of marine crafts. Icons depicting them in the xviiith century were necessarily taken on board17. Thus, the saints became part of the religious spiritual space, included into the concept of maritime life.

The fleet of the Solovetsky monastery: structure and formation

12The fleet quite predictably became the main instrument of incorporation of maritime practices into the routine monastic life. The study of the monastery’s fleet is an important part of the research of the monastery's maritime economy, which also included the coastal infrastructure and a number of industries fully or partially associated with the sea. The monastery built, acquired, stored, repaired sea-going vessels, and used them for transport and trade purposes. A special Karbas Service, according to late xviith century data, was responsible for the storage and maintenance of the monastic ships. The monastery had a number of equipped vessels, both on the islands and on the mainland. The formation of the Solovetsky fleet took place at the end of the xvth-xvith centuries, with the heyday in the first half of the xviith century.

  • 18 The pood is 16,38 kg.
  • 19 The sazhen is 1,5 to 2,2 m.

13The types of vessels that the Solovetsky monastery used in its economy are impressively various. Lodia was the largest one and had the biggest carrying capacity. Depending on their size, the sources mention large and small lodias. For instance, the lodia named dvinianka in 1695 was approx. 20 m long, and approx. 7.1 m wide. The ratio of the length of this boat to its width was therefore 2.8. Lodia could have a deck. Also, on the lodia there could be a covered cabin. The boats of the Solovetsky monastery mentioned in the documents normally carried one mast and one sail, although two-masted boats were known in the Russian North since at least the 1620s. The carrying capacity of the boats of the Solovetsky monastery fluctuated between 1800 and 2400 poods (29.5-39.31 tons)18, the carrying capacity of some boats reached 2700 poods or even more (over 44 tons). The length of the sail of the Solovetsky boats at the beginning of the xviith century, was 8 to 8.5 sazhen (approx. 14 to 18 m)19.

14The length of the canvas used for the manufacture of the sail in 1638-1639 was 800 linear cubits, and the area of the canvas, respectively, was 194.4 to 203.04 m2. The carrying capacity of the boat of the Kolezhemskoe usol’ye, for which such a sail was sewn, was at least 2600 poods. The main purpose of the boats was transport and cargo transportation.

15Soima was the second largest type of vessels. In terms of size, among them were large, small and semi-soimas vessels. The length of the soima in 1612 could be from 12.35 to 15.12 m, the depth of the side 12 planks ; the length of the smaller soimas was from 10.58 to 12.96 m, the depth of the side 10 planks. Sources mention opened soimas, as well as soimas covered with roofs. The documents of the Solovetsky monastery mention soimas with only one sail. The length of the canvas used to make sail for the large soima in the 1657 was 54 m, and the area of the fabric was about 24.3-25.38 m2. The carrying capacity of the soima of the Solovetsky monastery averaged about 10 tons. The main purpose of the soima was to connect the mainland grounds with the monastery and among themselves, to transport small loads. Soimas were also used in fishing.

16The vessels named karbas were in fact a vast group of small sailing and rowing vessels. Karbases could be large and small, the height of their side ranged from 2 to 7 planks, the documents of the Solovetsky monastery mention karbases with a side height of 2-6 planks. In the xviith century the majority of karbases were opened though some could be covered or had decks. The sail of a large covered karbas in its size (fabric area 42.8 m2) and in price exceeded the sail of a large soima. The carrying capacity of karbas of the Solovetsky monastery of the xvith-xviith centuries cannot be determined. The main purpose of the karbas was to connect the mainland grounds with the monastery and between themselves ; they were also used in hunting and fishing expeditions. Karbases with large cabins were used to transport people.

17Another type of small vessel was shniaka. Shniakas mentioned in the documents of the Solovetsky monastery had one sail. They were cheaper than karbases. In the xviith century, as well as in the xixth and early xxth centuries, shniakas were mainly used in the Murmansk fishing industry. Additionally, the monastery had special river vessels named doshchaniki (plank vessels) and used them for cargo transportation from the Kholmogory to Vologda towns. Sometimes doshchaniki were used for the coastal stripe from one service to another.

  • 20 Starkey, Thór, Heidbrink, 2009.

18However, we can question to what extent this variety of names reflected the functional purposes of every particular type of vessels, or the features of its design. Indeed, the weak differentiation of concepts within one category (social structure, household utensils, etc.) was a characteristic feature of medieval thinking and vocabulary and the case of the traditional culture of the Russian North is very demonstrative in that regard. In the early modern period we can see a gradual unification and consolidation of typological units within certain categories that describe different spheres of human life. This observation is important in relation to the development of typologies of ships. In the xviiith century the system of names and types of battleships was established almost everywhere, but before that time different countries and regions had their own nomenclature of ship names20. Therefore, we argue, the names of vessels in the sources of the Solovetsky monastery reflect rather local tradition than any sort of strict technical regulations.

19The number and types of sea-going vessels belonging to the Solovetsky monastery can be counted on the base of register books, but river vessels were not taken into account in these documents. Additionally, the monastic records used to divide the ships into two groups. The first one consisted of the vessels that were recorded as a property of the monastery itself while the second one included those that were listed under control of the salt producing services. For example, in 1613, 8 lodias were mentioned in the monastery's allotment book, and at that time there are at least 14 lodias in its salt services, that is, almost twice as many as in the fleet controlled by the central authorities of the monastery itself.

  • 21 Inventory of the Solovetsky monastery in the 1514, Opisi Solovetskogo monastyria XVI veka, 2003, p. (...)
  • 22 Inventory of the Solovetsky monastery in the1549, Opisi Solovetskogo monastyria XVI veka, 2003, p. (...)

20According to the earliest surviving inventory of the Solovetsky monastery21, compiled in 1514 when the former hegumen Euthymius transferred his authority to priest Gelasius and the cathedral elders, the monastery had four boats (lodias) with full equipment. The inventory also mentions karbas sails, although the document says nothing about karbases. According to the allotment book of the monastic property in 1549, the monastery has « four lodias with all supplies, with anchors and sails, and fifteen large and small karbases22 ».

  • 23 For more details see: Frantsuzova, 2017.

21The number of sea-going vessels of the Solovetsky monastery increased gradually until the 1630s-1640s. Thus, in 1514 the monastery had 4 large sea vessels (lodias), in 1549 4 lodias and 15 karbases. In 1570, there were 7 lodias and 15 karbases, in 1597-1613 8 boats and 20 karbases, in 1613 8 boats and 30 karbases. As we can see, in the xvith century and in the first decade of the xviith century the number of large sea vessels belonging to the monastery itself increased very slowly (from 4 lodias in 1514 to 8 in 1613). We see a sharp increase only between 1549 and 1570 : the number of large cargo ships increased from 4 to 7 lodias, that is, almost doubled. This increase falls on the time when Philip was a hegumen and can be explained by his efforts, as the general development of the monastic economy at that time was a result of his transformations. A slow increase in the number of lodias on Solovetskie Islands at the end of the xvith century and the beginning of the xviith century can be explained by the fact that in the xvith century the monastic economy on the mainland appeared, and in the last third of the xvith century new salt-making industries were created (Fig. 2)23.

Fig. 2. Salt Enterprises and Fisheries of Solovetsky Monastery

Fig. 2. Salt Enterprises and Fisheries of Solovetsky Monastery

Designer: Artyom Husak

  • 24 SPb II RAS. Coll l. 2. f. 128. l. 115; f. 130. l.111; f. 137. l. 186. RGADA. f. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 40 (...)

22The monastery supported this expansion with new lodias, both purchased and received as donation24.

  • 25 SPb II RAS. Coll l. 2. f. 141. l. 213.
  • 26 Prihodo-raskhodnye knigi Soloveckogo monastyrya. 1571-1600 gg., p. 254, 265, 454 – 455, 462.
  • 27 RGADA. Coll. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 217. l. 205 rev.; l. 81.
  • 28 RGADA. Coll. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 217. l. 99.

23The heyday of the Solovetsky monastery fleet dates back to the 1630s-1640s : in 1632-1640, the monastery possessed 23 lodias, 13 soimas and 40 karbases25 ; in 1645, 20 lodias, 10 soimas and 40 karbases. In total, in the Solovetsky monastery itself in 1632-1640 there were 76 ships. Noticeably, we may suppose that the available sources do not provide the complete data, and therefore the real monastic fleet could have been even bigger. The question arises as to whether all the monastery ships were accounted for in the diversion books. It is known that the monastery had soimas and shniakas at the end of the xvith century and at the beginning of the xviith century26. In 1610-1611, in the settlement of Sumskoĭ ostrog, the carpenter Tikhon made two new soimas by order of the monastery. In the same year, the monastery sold one old soima27. In the same 1610-1611, ten rubles were sent from the monastery to Keret’ with elder Sofron on the soima28. However, in the inventories of the monastic property, the soimas begin to be taken into account only from 1632, and the shniakas, from 1697 (for the first time the shniaka was named in the diversion book of the Karbas Service of the Solovetsky monastery). Perhaps they were not in the monastery in the years when the descriptions of the monastery property were carried out. The second explanation might assume that soimas could be counted together with lodias : so in the later transfer book of the karbas service in 1697 and the inventory of the monastery in 1705, one soima was counted among the lodias.

  • 29 Bak et al. (ed.),1984, p. 208.

24The number of ships decreased sharply by 1676. Probably those were the consequences of the Solovetsky uprising of 1667-1676. The monastery rejected religious reform by patriarch Nikon, was besieged by the governmental forces, captured and devastated29. Of course, this played an important role in the crisis of the monastic economy, including the decrease of the fleet. However, already in the 1660s, we see that the number of lodias in the monastery economy was decreasing, therefore, the siege was probably just the last blow and the decline had deeper causes.

  • 30 Mouravieff, 1842, p. 187.

25By the end of the xviith century, the number of ships belonging to the monastery increased to the level of the heyday of the 1630s-1640s. In 1697, the monastery had 18 lodias, 5 soimas, 39 karbases and various fishing vessels, and one shniaka. At the beginning of the xviiith century again, there was a drop in the number of monastic ships : 11 lodias, 3 soimas, 20 karbases. Additionally, the document mentions two small transportation boats used for the needs of the head of the Solovetsky monastic community. As in 1651, he received the rank of archimandrite, the highest possible rank for the monastic hegumen in the Russian Orthodox Church30, these two vessels were known as the Arсhimandrite boats.

  • 31 Spring fishing, this is what the Pomors call the spring fishing for sea animals and cod in the Nort (...)
  • 32 RGADA. Coll. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 555. l. 5916592.
  • 33 RGADA. Coll. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 555. l. 591.

26Sea-going ships were based not only in the monastery itself, but also in its many coastal services, in salt and fishing industries. By the second half of the xviith century, we see that the nomenclature of vessels in the documents becomes more complete. In addition, the sources of that time included for each vessel the specification on how and where exactly it was used be that fishing, marine animal hunting, salt transportation for this or that service. According to the description of the Solovetsky monastery, compiled by Prince V.A. Volkonsky and clerk Almaz Chistoĭ, after the suppression of the Solovetsky uprising in June 1676, the monastery had six boats (with fishing gear), eight spring-fishing karbases31, two fishing boats with ship’s gear, four seals with fishing gear and two fishing karbases32. In the inventory of 1676 for the first time it is stipulated that not only sea vessels are taken into account, which are at the moment in the monastery on the island, but also those who have gone « on the way » : « There are six lodias of the Solovetsky monastery. And one of them is in the Sumskoĭ ostrog, the other at the Onega estuary33. »

  • 34 Accounts Books of Solovetski monastery, p. 254; RGADA. Coll.1201. Inv. 1. f. 217. p. 121; f. 15. p. (...)

27The story of shniaka as the type of vessel used in the monastic economy deserves special attention. Shniaka was first mentioned in the transfer book of the Karbas Service in 1697. However, the monastery definitely had shniakas in both the xvith and the first half of the xviith century. In 1584, the monks sold « a shniaka and a sail to a Kargopol dweller, and they took 13 altyn 2 dengas (70 kopecks) for all ». In 1608-1609, a Murman shniaka was bought in the Sumskoĭ ostrog for 20 kopecks. In 1616, the monastery « sold the old shniaka » for 98 kopecks34. Nevertheless, the mention of them in the monastery documents for the xvith and xviith centuries are rare.

Table 1. The number of ships of the Solovetsky monastery in the xvith-early xviiith centuries





Other vessels




no information




no information








end of inventory is lost



no information





no information





no information









end of inventory is lost














14 (8 spring-fishing + 4 seal + 2 fishing)



18 (in place 15 + 3 "on the way")



32 (1 - shniaka)






2 boats of the Archimandrite


  • 35 Bogomazova, 2015 ; Kopytova, 2012.

28The dynamics of change in the number of ships belonging to the Solovetsky monastery is presented in table 1. By the end of the xviith century the number of sea vessels belonging to the monastery increased, however the level of the heyday of the 1630s-1640s was never surpassed. And by the 1700s, there was again a drop in the number of monastery ships35.

Sea vessels in the services of Solovetsky monastery

29As it was mentioned above, the sea ships existed not only in the monastery itself, but also in its many coastal services, in the salt industries, in fishing. The sources have not been preserved equally well in all services. For some of them like that of Nenoksa, many accounts and transfer books were preserved, allowing us to trace the presence of ships (at least lodias) in the salt services for several decades. For others, the income and expense books for the period under consideration were lost. In the accounting books of the salt services, one can find references to cases of receiving boats from the monastery or their purchase, repair, or using the vessels for the delivery of the produced salt to the major market in the settlement of Kholmogory. Transfer books, compiled when the service was assigned to a new clerk, mention the whole range of vessels used in a particular place.

30Since at least the 1590s, almost all the Solovetsky monastery’s services that already existed on the White Sea coast had at least one lodia. We do not have information for an earlier period. Opening a new service, or reviving the old one, the monastery immediately or soon endowed it with lodia. No data was found on the presence of a lodia in Kekhta, Shueretskoe usol´e, as well as in salt services located on the Onega River and its tributaries, as well as in the Kusheretskoe usol´ye.

31When lodias were given out to the salt services from the monastery, the vessels arrived at the « place of registration » fully equipped with food supplies and goods necessary for everyday life onboard. When needed, the lodia was replaced by sending another one from the monastery, new or used. The new boats, of course, served longer, if no trouble happened to them at sea. Usually, there was one lodia in the service although in the second half of the century, in several services their transfer and census books note two large ships at once : the old and the new.

  • 36 Bogomazova, 2017.

32Salt boats were an integral part of the fleet of the Solovetsky monastery. Speaking about the size of the fleet of the Solovetsky monastery in the xvith-xviith centuries in general, one should bear in mind not only the vessels named in the inventories of the monastery, but also the vessels that were in its coastal part of possessions. Moreover, in the first 15 years of the xviith century most of the large cargo ships, lodias, were located in the salt services. So, in 1613 in the monastery itself there were eight lodias and, probably, at least 14 more lodias in its salt fields (one each in Kuia, Nenoksa, Luda, Liamtsa, Purnema, Unezhma, Niukcha, Virma, Letniaia reka (river), Kolezhma, Por’ia guba, Pil’skaia guba and Chupa). That is, the salt services lodias accounted for about 64 % or two-thirds of the total monastery fleet. By 1632, the number of monastery lodias proper increased to 23 and exceeded the number of salt services lodias36.

33Karbases were found in all services, even in small ones and those remote from the sea coast, from two to 36. Thus, to the number of karbases indicated in the inventories of the Solovetsky monastery, one can safely add 20-40 karbases found in the services (if counted one at a time, two per service, actually more). In the xviith century doshchaniki (plank boats) were only in Nenoksa and only there were used to deliver salt to Kholmogory. Being river vessels, they could go out to sea, just like sea vessels entered the mouths of large rivers (Northern Dvina River, Onega River). It can be assumed that this type of vessels could have been used precisely in Nenoksa because it is located closer than other salt services to the mouth of the Northern Dvina and Kholmogory, therefore, the way there by sea was shorter. In addition, it is likely that the inhabitants of these particular places sewed planks boats and went to them.

34In some salt services, there were soimas (for example, in Liamtsa, Kolezhma, Kem’, Chupa, Piiala ; possibly in Kuia) and since 1640-1660s shniakas appeared in Virma, near the Kandalakshskaia guba : the Chernaja (Black) River, as well as in Vladychno. In Pil’skaia guba shniakas were used for at least twenty years, from 1648 to 1671. In Unezhma, the Murman shniaka is named in the 1699 diversion book, it was bought by elder Sadoff until September 25th, 1699.

Purchase and use of sea vessels in the monastic economy

35The main sources of replenishment of the monastery fleet were the purchase of ships, building them upon commission, and contributions as a donation. The boats were bought mainly in Onega, soimas and karbases also on the western coast of the White Sea in the settlements of the monastery patrimony, where fishing industries were developed. At the end of the 1670s, more than half of the lodias for the monastery were bought by the elders of the Piial’skoe usol’e, located on the river Onega. The main region where the lodias were built were the settlements in the lower reaches of the river Onega. The contributions accounted for about a third of all ships possessed by the monastery. Just as in the case of the purchase, the residents of the Onega volosts donated lodias, while the soimias and karbases came from the residents of the western part of the White Sea.

36Almost every year the monastery purchased from 1 to 5 lodias, and received some more lodias with contributions. The lodias acquired by the monastery not only expanded the monastery fleet, but also served to replace the old or lost lodias and maintain the monastery fleet at a certain level. One can imagine the actual need for the new vessels based on the fact that during its heyday the monastery every year had at least 35-38 lodias on the move.

37The boats served mainly for the delivery of bread and goods from Kholmogory (bought in Vologda and in Kholmogory) to the Solovetsky monastery, and from there on the trades, as well as for sending salt, boiled in the monastery salt industrial complexes, to Kholmogory. There, the salt was transferred to river vessels (built of planks) and transported to Vologda, where one of the largest salt markets was located. The loading capacity of a boat in the xviith century was 30-40 tons on average (sometimes up to 45 tons). Soimas and karbases served for communication between the monastery and its mainland services and industries, soimas could also carry small loads (up to 10 tons). Soimas and various kinds of karbases were used in the fields, and hummock karbases made it possible to move « along the hummocks » and to maintain communication between the monastery and the trades in early spring and late autumn.

38The monastery rarely sold its own ships. During the 1570s-1670s, we found only five cases of sale of lodias in the monastic income and expense books, while the monastery sold small vessels more often. Since there are no cases of sale of ships in the income and expense books of the salt services, it can be assumed that such operations were not typical for them, although they could independently purchase the necessary ships.

Composition of the fleet of other monasteries of the Russian North

  • 37 Bryzgalov, Yasinski, 2009, p. 3-4.
  • 38 RGADA. Coll. 1195. Inv. 1. f. 274. l. 81–81 rev., 89 rev., 98 rev., 101 rev., 109, 112 rev., 125.

39Sea vessels in the xvith-xviith centuries were used not only in the Solovetsky monastery, but also in other monasteries on the shores of the White Sea. For instance, in 1586, the Archangel Michael monastery situated in Arkhangelsk town bought a lodia. In the Nikolo-Korelsky monastery and its possessions in 1603, there were 3 lodias, 1 soima, 2 shniakas, 24 karbases, 2 pavozka boats and 8 boats37. In 1677, in the Krestny Onezhsky monastery and its possessions there were at least one boat, 18 karbas and fishing ships, 3 barges38.

  • 39 GAAO (State archive of Arkhangesk region). Coll. i-191 (Nikolo-Korelsky monastery). Inv. 1. f. 9. l (...)
  • 40 RGADA. Coll. 26 (Rank XXVI. « State institutions and duties in the reign of Peter I ». Collection o (...)

40If we compare the number of ships in the Nikolo-Korelsky monastery in 1603 and in the Solovetsky monastery in 1604 (tables 2 and 3), there were more sea-going ships in the Solovetsky monastery itself than in the Nikolo-Korelsky. Yet, if we talk about the total number of ships, both in monasteries and in their industries, Nikolo-Korelsky had more vessels. However, ships in the monastic services are noted in the inventory of the Nikolo-Korelsky monastery but not in the inventory of the Solovetsky monastery. Therefore, our estimation is rather problematic. Approximately, relying on the data of neighboring years, it is possible to calculate only the number of lodias in the Solovetsky patrimony. And this figure surpasses the number of lodias of the Nikolo-Korelsky monastery39, both if we compare the lodias in the monasteries themselves, and in the estates. In 1704, the Kholmogory Archibishop’s house had at least one lodia and a lodge karbas, and the Trifono-Pechengsky monastery had two soimas, a karbas for each soima, 10 « industrial ships » (used in the fields) and 9 « industrial ships, tons of small ones that the family has for fishing40 ».

Table 2. Sea vessels of the Nikolo-Korelsky monastery in 1603

Nikolo-Korelsky monastery and services


monastery itself

7 boats, 11 karbases, 1 shnyak, 1 soimaa, 1 small lodia


l lodia with a sail and anchors and with all the tackle of the boat, 2 karbases of the lodia, a salt boat (pavosok).


1 lodia with an anchor and a sail, and with all the tackle of a boat", 4 karbases, 1 boat, 1salt boat.


7 karbases, murman shnyaka, lodia for fishing

Table 3. Comparison of the number of ships in the Solovetsky and Nikolo-Korelsky monasteries at the beginning of the xviith century

Sea vessels

Solovetsky monastery, 1604

Nikolo-Korelsky monastery, 1603


8 in monastery itself
+ 8 in the services

1 in monastery
+ 3 in the services


0 in monastery + ?
in services



20 + ? in services

11 + 13 in services


0 in monastery + ?
in services

7 + 1 in Una


0 in monastery + ?
in services

1 + 1 in Varzuga

41In the economic life of the Kandalakshsky monastery, founded in the xvith century in the south of the Kola Peninsula, salt production and fisheries played an important role. Both were associated with the sea. For the management of the maritime economy, which was not as extensive as that of other large northern monasteries of the xvith and xviith centuries, the monastery needed sea vessels.

  • 41 Vypiska iz piscovoĭ knigi Alaĭia Mihalkova, 1890, p. 460.

42Already the scribe book of Alaĭ Ivanovich Mikhalkov, 1607-1608 to 1610-161141, the earliest known cadaster description of this area, contains indications that the monastery has its own vessels. So, behind the monastery « on the other side of the sea » there was a monastery barn, where the ship's tackle was kept. Also, the scribe book of Alaĭ Mikhalkov gives information from the previous (not extant) scribal book – Vasily Agalin and Stepan Sobolev's clerk in 1574-1575, which mentions « the shelter of the monastery lodia ». Consequently, the monastery in the last quarter of the xvith century had boats, but we do not know the details.

  • 42 Vkladnaia kniga Kandalakshskogo Prechistenskogo monastyria 1562/63-1687 gg., 2013.

43At the end of the xviith century, lodias, shniakas, fishing vessels and karbases were donated to the Kandalakshsky monastery. According to the supplementary book of the Kandalakshsky monastery in the 1560s, the monastery received about 68 ships (in whole or in shares) as contributions. According to the inventory of 1705, there were 2 dilapidated lodias and 10 karbases, in 1710, a soima and 2 small fishing karbases on the Kolvitskoe Lake. In 1713, the monastery acquired 2 soimas. In 1727, the inventory of the monastery included a soima with tackle and 5 small dilapidated karbases. In 1729, a dilapidated boat with dilapidated tackle and a new ship « on the Murmansk » (on the Murmansk coast of the Barents Sea, where fishing was carried out), bought in 1729 by the elder monk Pakhomiĭ. In later inventories of the monastery property (1742-1761), the vessels are not mentioned42.

  • 43 GAAO. Coll. i-57 (Mikhailo-Arkhangelsky monastery). Inv. 2. f. 304. l. 1.
  • 44 Dadykina, 2016, 2019.

44The « non maritime » monasteries, located inland, but possessing industries on the shores of the White Sea, had in their maritime domains the vessels necessary to support the activities of these industries. So, for example, in 1682, in the Luda usol’e of the Trinity-Sergius monastery there was a lodia : in September of this year, the Luda clerk elder left it for safekeeping in the Archangel Michael monastery43. The Spaso-Prilutsky monastery was also one of those who needed vessels, and could create an efficient communications system. In addition to the main body of land situated around Vologda, in its possession were salt enterprises in Sol Vychegodskaia, Tot’ma and the farthest – on the White Sea coast in Una. The monastery received the lion's share of its budget revenues from the salt trade, which included both the resale of the purchased cheap salt in Kholmogory and the production of their own salt enterprises. Three of them, as well as the stores and offices in Kholmogory and Vologda can be considered as « places », territories with « tamed nature ». The problem for the monastery was to link these small « mastered » areas, far removed from each other. The role of the thread was played by the Northen river system – the path from the Vologda by the Sukhona River then to the Dvina River and into the White Sea44. These river path would become one of the main ways connecting the inner regions of the Russian State with the sea and Ocean (the largest Russian Volga River led only to the inner sea, the Caspian, and could not open the way into the Ocean).


45The processes of economic development of the Russian North as a territory directly connected with the sea played an important role in the formation of the maritime nature of the Russian State in the early modern Time. The main actors in this process were the peasant populations of the Russian North and monasteries, the latter fulfilling the function of management and organization. The economy of the northern monasteries, due to the peculiarities of the climate and natural environment, turned out to be closely related to a variety of practices, to one degree or another, focused on interaction with the sea.

46The Solovetsky monastery, the most maritime of all Russian northern monasteries, managed by the xviith century to build such an economic system, which best reflected the process of maritimization through adaptation to natural conditions and transformation of the landscape, the creation of an infrastructure closely connected with the sea, maritime economy (fishing, salt production , hunting for sea animals, transportation of goods and products) and religious practices (the cult of Saint Nicholas, rituals, chapels and churches on the coast of the White and Barents Seas as part of the maritime religious space). The monastery maritime infrastructure consisted not only of the fleet itself, it combined mooring and onshore facilities (harbor, jetties, ships storage and equipment barns).

47A necessary tool that made possible the development of these practices was the formation of the monastery fleet, which entailed the establishment of relations with shipbuilders, the creation of a system for providing various parts of the monastery economy with the required number of sea vessels. The increase in the number of vessels and the expansion of their nomenclature is an important marker of the decisive role performed by the northern monasteries in the long-term process of formation of the Russian maritime tradition.

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1 Kraikovski, 2015, p. 40-43.

2 Lajus, 2011.

3 Kraikovski, 2002.

4 Kraikovski, 2015 ; Dadykina, Kraikovski, 2019

5 Dadykina et al., 2017.

6 Miller, 2010.

7 Kraikovski, Lajus, 2021, p. 46-48.

8 Kraikovski et al., 2018

9 Kraikovski, Lajus, 2021, p. 39. For details, see Ivanov, 2007; Savich, 1927 ; Lajus et al, 2005; Lajus et al., 2001; Kraikovski, Dadykina et al., 2020.

10 Savich, 1927; Filin, 2002.

11 Kraikovski, Dadykina et al., 2020.

12 Bogomazova, 2015.

13 Bogdanova, 2013.

14 Arnold, 2013.

15 Arnold, 2013, p. 27; Dadykina 2016.

16 Dadykina, 2019.

17 Laushkin, 2007.

18 The pood is 16,38 kg.

19 The sazhen is 1,5 to 2,2 m.

20 Starkey, Thór, Heidbrink, 2009.

21 Inventory of the Solovetsky monastery in the 1514, Opisi Solovetskogo monastyria XVI veka, 2003, p. 36.

22 Inventory of the Solovetsky monastery in the1549, Opisi Solovetskogo monastyria XVI veka, 2003, p. 51, 85, 167.

23 For more details see: Frantsuzova, 2017.

24 SPb II RAS. Coll l. 2. f. 128. l. 115; f. 130. l.111; f. 137. l. 186. RGADA. f. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 40. l. 197 and f. 236.

25 SPb II RAS. Coll l. 2. f. 141. l. 213.

26 Prihodo-raskhodnye knigi Soloveckogo monastyrya. 1571-1600 gg., p. 254, 265, 454 – 455, 462.

27 RGADA. Coll. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 217. l. 205 rev.; l. 81.

28 RGADA. Coll. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 217. l. 99.

29 Bak et al. (ed.),1984, p. 208.

30 Mouravieff, 1842, p. 187.

31 Spring fishing, this is what the Pomors call the spring fishing for sea animals and cod in the Northern Ocean and the White Sea.

32 RGADA. Coll. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 555. l. 5916592.

33 RGADA. Coll. 1201. Inv. 1. f. 555. l. 591.

34 Accounts Books of Solovetski monastery, p. 254; RGADA. Coll.1201. Inv. 1. f. 217. p. 121; f. 15. p. 33.

35 Bogomazova, 2015 ; Kopytova, 2012.

36 Bogomazova, 2017.

37 Bryzgalov, Yasinski, 2009, p. 3-4.

38 RGADA. Coll. 1195. Inv. 1. f. 274. l. 81–81 rev., 89 rev., 98 rev., 101 rev., 109, 112 rev., 125.

39 GAAO (State archive of Arkhangesk region). Coll. i-191 (Nikolo-Korelsky monastery). Inv. 1. f. 9. l. 59–59 rev., 61 ob., 64 rev.–65, 70 rev.–71.

40 RGADA. Coll. 26 (Rank XXVI. « State institutions and duties in the reign of Peter I ». Collection of the State Archives of the Russian Empire). Inv. 1. Book. 60. Part 1. l. 28 rev.–29, 53.

41 Vypiska iz piscovoĭ knigi Alaĭia Mihalkova, 1890, p. 460.

42 Vkladnaia kniga Kandalakshskogo Prechistenskogo monastyria 1562/63-1687 gg., 2013.

43 GAAO. Coll. i-57 (Mikhailo-Arkhangelsky monastery). Inv. 2. f. 304. l. 1.

44 Dadykina, 2016, 2019.

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Table des illustrations

Titre Fig. 1 – View of the Solovetsky Monastery from the West (« The Tsar’s pier »)
Légende Early xxth century postcard
Crédits From the personal collection of A. Bogomazova
Fichier image/jpeg, 240k
Titre Fig. 2. Salt Enterprises and Fisheries of Solovetsky Monastery
Crédits Designer: Artyom Husak
Fichier image/jpeg, 122k
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Anastasia Bogomazova et Margarita Dadykina, « Monasteries and the maritime history of the Russian North from the 16th century to the early 18th century »Artefact, 14 | 2021, 37-62.

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Anastasia Bogomazova

Anastasia Bogomazova works as a specialist of the Russian State Archive of Ancient Documents (RGADA, Moscow). She is a lecturer at the Moscow State Institute of Culture and a tourist guide of the Solovetsky Maritime Museum. She has been studying the history of the Solovetsky Monastery for ten years. Her articles include « Ispol´zovanie krupnykh morskikh sudov v khozyajstve solianykh promyslov Solovetskogo monastyria v kontse xvi-pervoĭ chetverti xvii v. » (« The use of large marine vessels in the economy of saltworks of the Solovetsky Monastery in the late xvith-first quarter of the xviith century »), Klio, 2017, n° 12 (132), p. 105-114 ; « Morskoĭ flot Solovetskogo monastyria v xvi–nachale xviii v. » (« The marine of the Solovetsky Monastery in the xvith-early xviiith century »), Studenoe more-severnye rubezhi (Frozen sea-Northern Frontiers, Politicheskaia ėntsiklopediia Moscow, 2019, p. 32-38.

Margarita Dadykina

Margarita Dadykina is an Associate Professor at the Department of History in the National Research University Higher School of Economics (Saint-Petersburg, Russia). Her research interests are the economic and environmental history of Early Modern Russia as well as source studies (paleography, diplomatic and codicology). Her main publication are Cabaly Spaso-Prilutskogo monastyrja vtoroĭ poloviny xvi– xvii veka [Cabals (loan notes) of the Spaso-Prilutsky monastery of the second half of xvith-xviith century], Aliance-Archeo, Moscow-Saint-Petersburg, 2011 and with Julia Lajus and Alexei Krajkovsky, Pmorskie promysly na Shpitsbergene v xviii- nachale xix veka [Hunting activities of Russian Pomors on Shpitsbergen in the xviiith-early xixth century], Aliance-Archeo, Moscow-Saint Petersburg, 2017.

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