by Vladimir KULAKOV, Dr. Sc. (History), Institute of Archeology, Russian Academy of Sciences
The hustle and bustle of festivities on the 750th birth anniversary of the city of Kaliningrad came to an end. Formerly Konigsberg, the capital of East Prussia, it changed its name with the end of the Second World War. However, not every guest to the celebrations could suspect that the pavement of the city's Central Square concealed the relics of the genuine "hero" of the jubilee - the castle put up in 1255 and known as "Konigsberg". Which means "Kingsmountain".
Reconstruction of the "Konigsberg" castle (mid-16th century).
For centuries this magnificent citadel towered i proudly on the right bank of the Pregolya (Pregol), the main waterway of the ancient land of the Prussians*; the residence of their dukes (kings), it became a dominant landmark of the city bearing the same name.
This castle came to be complete between the years 1584 and 1595 in its trapezoid form crowned by a tower soaring sky-high. Thereupon all kinds of architectural frills were added. The last restoration works were carried out just before the outbreak of the Second World War (1939), something that stressed once more the citadel's historical significance.
However, the military conflagration started by the Nazis in Europe did not spare the erstwhile residence of Prussian dukes. Late in August 1944 the British Air Force raided Konigsberg-hundreds of bombers
* In the 13th century this land was seized by the Teutonic Order, a military monastic order founded by the German Crusaders at the end of the 12th century in Jerusalem. The order suffered a smashing defeat at the Battle of Griinwald (Tannenberg) in 1410. In 1466 it became Poland's vassal. In 1525 its possessions in the Baltic were secularized in the Duchy of Prussia. - Ed.
dropped their deadly load on the city's Central Square. Its pride, the ancient castle, became a heap of smoldering ruins. That's what Red Army soldiers could see upon entering Konigsberg on April 9, 1945.
Unfortunately no restoration works were undertaken in the post-war years-quite the contrary, there were attempts to erase this monument as a "bulwark of German militarism in the East". That meant a virtual decease of the citadel, and little by little its memory faded away.
But there came alia tempora: beginning in 1993 the Baltic Expedition of the RAS Institute of Archeology began systematic explorations on Kaliningrad's Central Square. Since the year 2000 our archeologists have been carrying out excavations jointly with the local museum of history and arts. All this work is financed by the editorial board of Der Spiegel, a magazine published in Hamburg, Federal Germany.*
As it came out, the castle's foundation survived intact, for all the devastation wrought by high explosives. Archeologists dug up parts of the foundations of the southern and western wings and basements with hundreds of precious items. Among these were archeological and ethnographical exhibits of the PRUSSIA museum that stood there before 1945, alongside fragments of antique interiors, commodities of the wine and food warehouses of the BLUTGERICHT restaurant as well as arms and equipment left by German soldiers fleeing from Konigsberg.
Recently, on the 30th of May 2005, Alexander Vasilyev of our geologic and archeological expedition found a silver box. Its shape confirmed what experts surmised long ago: such small chests, or caskets, were common for all times and peoples in keeping jewelry and other precious items.
The surface of this very casket was engraved with cryptograms typologically similar to the "codes" of medieval alchemists in Western Europe and then of freemasons. The chest contained eleven valuable articles, as found by Anatoly Valuyev, chief archeologist of the Kaliningrad Museum of History and Arts, after
* See: A. Valuyev et al., "Treasures from Ashes", Science in Russia, No. 4, 2000. - Ed.
The lay of the precious items within the casket.
meticulous in camera* work. Eight occurred in pairs-they were oval or square flat plaquettes made of metal, each showing cast or engraved images that have no peer in religious, heraldic, genre and other motifs of Europe of the Middle Ages. Some reproduce five- and six-pointed stars, and groups of anthropomorphous (man-like) figures, with two poising their swords over a third one sitting on what looks like a throne.
The oval plaquettes are of special interest. One depicts characters from Revelations of Saint John the Divine (the Apocalypse), in particular, the whore (harlot) of Babylon straddling a monster dragon. The others carry cryptograms with figures similar to those on the casket.
These articles are covered all over with inscriptions. A long text stands out: apparently it was written when casting molds were still at the gestation stage. One of the plaquettes is laced crosswise to emphasize some sacral message of this artifact. Another one shows Greek letters denoting the months of the year. And last, two oval plaquettes overlying the others in the casket portray a group of "fighting" personages who
* With reference to chamber work, i.e. done indoors, in laboratories and within other premises, in studying materials recovered by field workers. - Ed.
Cryptograms engraved on the casket.
seem to be imitating warriors of the more distant past. The rays emanating from the figures' heads can be identified as symbols of heavenly luminaries involved in some astrological action.
The picture on a solitary black gemma* set in yellow metal can be interpreted in a similar way. The silver oval depicts a crowned caudate beast perching on a throne. It is upheld by three smaller animals of lower rank. Judging by the Gothic letters (barely legible and not decoded as yet) inscribed along the perimeter, this item could have been manufactured late in the 15th century. This might be the oldest article of the treasure. The twin that could pair with it is absent. It might have been brought into the collection of the PRUSSIA museum that had several rarities like that.
A bronze finger-ring on the bottom of the casket is also one-of-a-kind item. This ring is covered with a layer of what looks like grease. A golden twisted thread entwining it lends some mystic significance to this article. Incised on the round shield of the ring by some unskilled hand are three bearded men, full face, as well as the ducal symbol, three church domes with "Episcopal" crosses and a prayer in Latin, "O Domine, Creator omnium..." The rest of the surface carries most different drawings-compasses and a set square, for one. Pictured here is also a sector of the celestial sphere with stars, the terrestrial globe with parallels and meridians, the incised names "Adam" and "Eve", and the cryptic message in Latin
* Gemma - carved stone of hard rock (precious or semiprecious) decorated with cameo (in relief) or intaglio (incised or sunken) designs,. - Ed.
The makeup of the treasure.
"Quintus dixit" ("The Fifth has said"); this might have been the maker of the ring and author of the inscriptions upon it.
Thus far only tentative conclusions could be made at this preliminary stage of our work. First, that the artifacts within the casket were collected between the late 15th and early 18th century, as evidenced by the paleography of the inscriptions. Second, the pictorial images and the texts appear to be of sacramental or rather, occult significance. Third, the twoness of most of the articles is indicative of their fortune-telling designation in compliance with the probabilistic principle of binary solution-"yes/no", "even/odd" (in our particular case, expressed in the difference of the metal). The other single (not paired) things might have served as amulets.
The occult features of the treasure points to the informal nature of the pursuits of the owner with a bent for astrology, alchemistry and fortune-telling. These taboo matters ceased to be so in Western Europe during the Renaissance. The Prussian ducal court teemed in those times with sundry "scholarly nonformals". But we cannot tell anything about the owner of the casket with alchemic cryptograms, and why it came to be hidden in the Duke's residence.
We hope we are in for more of the thrilling finds. But most of all we, archeologists, and all Kaliningrad townspeople for that matter, hope that the "Konigsberg" castle, the gem of the Baltic, will be restored in its pristine magnificence.
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