Arctic exploration by service class men. Exchange, trading, fair




The Russian exploration of the Arctic rested on partnership rather than on enmity. Here, the pivotal role belonged to trading, which not only formed economic relations with the Arctic peoples, but also was a tool of diplomacy and politics. As early as in the Middle Ages, a sustainable network of trade routes emerged in the North, giving rise to active movement of people, goods, and ideas, cross-fertilizing near and far cultures. In the early 16th century, the Russians knew well the sea route from Archangel to the Gulf of Ob and the mouth of the Yenisei, but the most intense trade relations did not start developing before Yermak’s campaign against Siberian Khan Kuchum (1581–1585), which opened the way to exploration of Siberia and its annexation to Russia. Siberia’s indigenous population received into Russian allegiance paid yasak, a special tax in fur skins. Sable skins were of the highest value. Cossacks and merchants could only buy valuable furs from the locals after yasak collection. The trade with aborigines was by barter, was based on mutual agreement, and considered their tastes and preferences. For example, a copper kettle was of higher value for an Arctic hunter than a big bundle of sable skins placed in it. The language of exchange and trade became a language of dialogue of cultures, a condition of their rapprochement, and in the end gave an impetus to the formation of the country’s common economic and cultural space. By the mid-18th century, an Old Resident population formed on the banks of Northeastern Siberia’s rivers. They were descendants of Cossacks, Russian hunters, who after the extermination of fur animals took to river fishing, deer farming, and dog breeding, and later intermarried with local indigenous people – the Evens, Yukagirs, Koryaks, Chukchi, or Yakuts. The most known Old Resident groups in the Arctic are Zatundra peasants, Russkoye Ustye, Pokhodsk, and Markovo people. Adopting much of the lifestyle of neighboring tribes – trades, means of transport, utensils, clothes, and kitchen, but retaining the Russian language, Orthodox faith, and folklore, each Old Resident group has created its special unique culture. The symbols of trade relations were fairs; it was there that cultures met, riches were demonstrated and valuables exchanged, so that a dense network of common economic, cultural, and official ties was set up. The fairs established in the Northeast in the 18th century promoted stringer ties with the indigenous peoples, especially with the Chukchi who were warlike and who had not taken Russian allegiance until then. At the annual Anyui fair, the Chukchi willingly exchanged red and silver fox skins, walrus tusks, or beaver, otter, and marten skins received from Alaska Eskimos for brick tea, leaf tobacco, iron axes, pikes, knives, coppers, kettles, smoking pipes, kerchiefs, needles, beads etc. brought by Russian tradesmen. The Chukchi’s interest in trading with the Russians helped voluntary establishment of peaceful relations and to stop the war of conquest with the Koryaks and other neighboring peoples. In the early 20th century, active trading started at the Anadyr, Yeropol, Vankarem, Palpalskaya, and Kamenskoye fairs, which further enhanced the Chukchi’s good neighborhood with neighboring peoples.


V.V. Gorbacheva – author K.Yu. Solovyeva – Album compiler