Skomorokhy. Itinerant minstrels in Kyivan Rus’. The first written reference to them dates back to 1068, but they were active in Kyivan Rus’ long before then. They are depicted in the frescoes of the Saint Sophia Cathedral in Kyiv (see fresco of skomorokhy). According to some scholars the skomorokhy developed under the influence of foreign models. Others suggest that they evolved from pagan priests (volkhvy) in the rural areas of Kyivan Rus’. The latter hypothesis is supported by the recorded condemnation by the church authorities of the skomorokhy as representatives of paganism. By the 11th century the skomorokhy had become professional entertainers who performed songs, dances, mime shows, acrobatics, games, puppet shows, short dramatic scenes, and animal tricks for the common people as well as for nobles and court dignitaries. By the 12th century, when court singers started joining their troupes, the skomorokhy added bylyny to their repertoire. As Kyivan Rus’ began to decline in the 12th and 13th centuries, many skomorokhy moved to safer principalities in the north and particularly to Novgorod the Great. There they survived as a social group until 1572, when they were forcibly moved to Moscow by Ivan IV. In 1648 they were proscribed by Aleksei I, a blow from which they never recovered. The influence of the skomorokhy in Ukraine can be seen in Ukrainian theatrical productions of the 16th century.

Zguta, Russell. Russian Minstrels: A History of the Skomorokhi (New York 1978)

[This article originally appeared in the Encyclopedia of Ukraine, vol. 4 (1993).]

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