Zbruch Idol

Zbruch IdolThe Zbruch Idol (Polish: Światowid ze Zbrucza; Ukrainian: Збручанський ідол, Russian: Збручский идол) is a 9th century sculpture,[1] and one of the rarest monuments of pre-Christian Slavic beliefs. The pillar is commonly associated with the Slavic deity Svantevit, although opinions on the exact meaning of all the bas-reliefs and their symbols differ. Some argue that the three tiers of bas-reliefs represent the three levels of the world, from the bottom underworld, to the middle mortal world and the uppermost, largest, world of heavenly gods.

It is believed that the sculpture was disposed of in a pit some time after the baptism of Kievan Rus, like the idols in Kiev and Novgorod. In 19th century, when the Zbruch River (a tributary of the Dniester) changed its bed, the area where the pillar was buried became submerged.[2] It was discovered during a drought near the village called Liczkowce under Polish rule, now Lychkivtsi (Личківці), Ukraine, just north of Husiatyn, in 1848. The statue is now on display in the Archaeological Museum in Kraków, Poland, with exact copies located in a number of museums, including the State Historical Museum in Moscow.


The Zbruch Idol is a four-sided pillar of grey limestone, 2.67m (08.76feet) in height, and has three tiers of reliefs engraved upon each of the four sides. The lower tier is 670NaN0; the middle tier is 400NaN0; and the top tier is 1670NaN0. It is possible that during the 1848 excavation of the monument its lower layer was broken off and lost.[2] The reliefs are in rather poor condition, though some traces of original polychrome were found in 1960s.[1] The reliefs depict the following characters:

  • Three sides of the lowest tier show a kneeling, bearded entity who appears to support the upper tier on his hands; the fourth side is blank.
  • The middle tier shows a smaller entity with extended arms on all four sides.
  • The four sides of the uppermost tier have the largest figures of the idol, with four faces united beneath a tall rounded hat. Each of the sides has a distinct attribute: a ring or a bracelet; a drinking horn and a tiny "child" figure; a sword and a horse; and an eroded solar symbol.

Discovery and controversy

The statue was discovered in August 1848 in the village of Liczkowce in Podolia, during a drought that made the bottom of the river visible. The owner of the village, Konstanty Zborowski, donated it to Count Mieczysław Potocki, who in 1850 reported it to the Kraków Scientific Society.[2] It was also Potocki who first suggested that the statue might represent Światowid.[2] Initially kept in the Library of the Jagiellonian University, in 1858 it was moved to the temporary exhibition of antiquities in the Lubomirski family palace and then to the headquarters of the Kraków Scientific Society. However, it was not until 1950 that it was placed on permanent exhibition. Since 1968 it has been kept in the Kraków Archaeological Museum.[2]

Ever since the discovery of the monument there has been debate about what exactly the idol represents.[1] [3] [4] Soon after the discovery, Joachim Lelewel theorized the top tier represented two bearded males and two females, being the four seasons: female with the ring, Spring; male with the horn, Summer; female with the horse and sword, Autumn; and the male without any attributes, Winter.

Andrei Sergeevich Famintsyn in his 1884 work "Ancient Slav Deities"[5] argued against Lelewel's theory, and instead claimed that the Zbruch pillar is a representation of a single deity and that all four sides of each tier represented one entity. Following Potocki, he identified the deity as a representation of the Slavic four-headed god Svantevit, until then primarily associated with the island of Rügen. The reasoning was that historical sources mentioned the deity of Rügen as being kept in a wooden temple together with a sacred sword, a drinking horn and a horse. Famintsyn was also the first to recognize the three-tiered structure as being related to the three levels of the world, linking it to the Slavic deity Triglav.

The identification of the deity with Svantevit was also supported by Gabriel Leńczyk, who was also the first to identify the eroded solar symbol on the side, previously believed to be without attributes.[6] Another theory was presented by Henryk Łowmiański, who in his 1979 monograph on the religion of Slavs[7] claimed that the idol was altogether non-Slavic, as it was made of stone, and not of wood, which was the basic construction material of the Slavs.

Boris Rybakov in his 1987 work Paganism of Ancient Rus[8] argued that four sides of the top tier represent four different Slavic gods, two female and two male, with their corresponding middle-tier entities always of the opposite gender. In Rybakov's hypothesis, the male deity with the horse and sword is Perun, the female with the horn of plenty is Mokosh, the female with the ring is Lada, and the male deity with the solar symbol, above the empty underworld, is Dažbog, (the God of sunlight for whom the sun was not an object but an attribute, thus the symbol's position on his clothing rather than in his hand). Further, Rybakov identifies the underworld deity as Veles.

Rybakov also identified the side with the male figure holding a horn as the front of the idol, based on the bottom-tier figure, which is shown with legs as if seen from head-on, the two adjoining sides showing the legs from the side, and the fourth side left blank. Finally, Rybakov believes that the idol's overall phallic shape is meant to unite all of the smaller figures as a single larger deity, Rod.

Notes and references

  1. Roman Kozłowski. 1964. Badania technologiczne posągu Światowida z Muzeum Archeologicznego w Krakowie. Materiały archeologiczne. V. 61–67.
  2. Web site: Marta Zaitz. Światowid - kamienny posąg z IX wieku. Archaeological Museum of Kraków. 2005. Museum's Website. 2007-01-24.
  3. Book: various authors. Janusz Kotlarczyk. Wierzenia przedchrześcijańskie na ziemiach polskich (Pre-Christian Beliefs in Polish lands). 1993. Marian Kwapiński, Henryk Paner. 56–64. W poszukiwaniu genezy wielotwarzowych wyobrażeń Światowida, Świętowita, Rujewita i innych. Gdańsk.
  4. Book: Włodzimierz Szafrański. Prahistoria religii na ziemiach polskich (Pre-history of Religion on Polish Lands). 1987. Polish Academy of Sciences. 356–357, 417–418. Ossolineum. Wrocław. 8304026244.
  5. Book: Andrei Famintsyn. Божества древних славян (Ancient Slav Deities). 1884-1995. Aleteya. Sankt-Peterburg. 5852330038.
  6. Gabriel Leńczyk. 1964. Światowid zbruczański (Svantevit of the Zbrucz river). Materiały Archeologiczne.
  7. Book: Henryk Łowmiański. Religia Słowian i jej upadek (The Religion of Slavs and its Fall). 1979. Adam Mickiewicz University. Państwowe Wydawnictwa Naukowe PWN. Warsaw. 8301000333.
  8. Book: Boris Rybakov. Язычество Древней Руси (Paganism of Ancient Rus). 1987. Святилища, идолы и игрища. http://historic.ru/books/item/f00/s00/z0000030/st003.shtml. Nauka. Moscow.


  • Weigel. Bildwerke aus altslawischer Zeit. Archiw fur Anthropologie, 1882, Bd. XXI