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The Saga Of Rouble
June 6, 2006 18:02

The rouble, or ruble (Russian: , plural ; see note on spelling below) is the name of the currency of the Russian Federation (and formerly, of the Soviet Union, and the Russian Empire).

The earliest inscription found which mentions the rouble was a piece of birch bark discovered in Novgorod and dating back to the late 13th century. The history of the word is complicated, with two major theories. It’s been long asserted that it is derived from the Russian verb rubit’, i.e., ‘to chop’. According to historians, "rouble" was a piece of a certain weight chopped off a silver ingot (grivna), hence the name. It was the Russian equivalent of the mark, a measurement of weight for silver and gold used in medieval Western Europe. Today, findings suggest that the weight of a rouble and a silver ingot were the same, around 200g. Modern scientists point to another technology of minting money – a two-step moulding procedure. Money bars used in Novgorod bear a kind of a seam on one of the edges.

Etymologists indicate similar meanings in other Slavonic languages. In Ukrainian, Belarusian and Polish the root of the word, rub, means ‘a scar’, and in Serbo-Croatian it stands for ‘a weld, seam, stitch, or border’. So the interpretation of the rouble obviously lies closer to ‘a bar with a seam’.

Furthermore, one rouble is divided into 100 kopeks, kopecks, or copecks (Russian: , plural ), a name which derives from the Russian kop'yo () – ‘a spear’. The first kopek coins, minted by Muscovy after the capture of Novgorod in 1478, carried the Moscow coat of arms with Saint George slaying a dragon with a spear. The modern Russian kopeck also carries this image. There also used to be coins worth half a kopeck (polushka) and quarter of a kopeck (denga).


At first, roubles were made in the shape of a bar. Coins appeared only under tsar Alexey Mikhailovich in 1654. Made of European silver thalers, they bore the inscription ‘rouble’, the two-headed eagle on the head and the tsar on his mount on the tail.

During the 1704 currency reform, Peter I standardized the rouble to 28 grams of silver. The reforms built one of the most advanced monetary systems in Europe, based on decimal numeration.

Later in the century coins came to carry portraits of emperors and empresses. Catherine the Great was the first to introduce banknotes. The gold rouble introduced in 1897 was equal to 0.774235 g of gold or 2⅔ French francs.

In early 1924, just before the next redenomination, the first paper money was issued in the name of the USSR featuring the state emblem with 6 bands around the wheat, representing the language of the then 4 constituent republics of the Union: Russian, Transcaucasian (Azerbaijani, Armenian, and Georgian), Ukrainian and Belarusian Republics.

After World War Two, the Soviet government carried out a redenomination by confiscating within one day the old currency to reduce the amount of money in circulation. This only affected the paper money. Old roubles were revalued at one tenth of their face value.

The 1961 redenomination was a repeat of the 1947 reform, with the same terms applying. The Soviet rouble of 1961 was formally equal to 0.987412 g of gold, but the exchange for gold was never available to the general public. During the period of high inflation of the early 1990s, the rouble was devalued 10,000 times. In 1998, redenomination cut the worth of banknotes by one thousand.

Today coins are minted of copper, nickel and zinc. There is also a large variety of anniversary coins isssued to celebrate a particular occasion, like the birth of Alexander Pushkin or the deeds of World War Two war veterans.

The recent move by the State Duma will give Russian rouble a face worth looking at. The law stipulates a graphic symbol for the national currency to promote it abroad and match its long-standing performance. The way how the symbol looks like is yet to be designed.

Historians point to this old picture as the representation of the rouble in the past.


In Russian, an old-fashioned folk name for the rouble is tselkovy (, wholesome), a shortening of the "tselkovy rouble", i.e. a wholesome, uncut rouble.

In the 19 and 20th centuries, the coins of kopeck denominations had individual names: 2 kop.= dvushka, 3 kop.= altyn (mostly obsolete by the 1960s), 5 kop.= pyatak 10 kop.= grivennik, 15 kop. = pyatialtynny, 5 altyn; the usage lived longer than the word "altyn"), 20 kop. = dvugrivenny (2 grivenniks), 50 kop. = poltina or poltinnik. The amount of 10 roubles (in either bill or coin) is sometimes informally referred to as a chervonets. Historically, it was the name for the first Russian 3-rouble gold coin issued for general circulation in 1701. The current meaning comes from the Soviet golden chervonets ( ) issued in 1923 that was equivalent to the pre-revolutionary 10 gold roubles.

All these names are obsolete. Nowadays the practice of using old kopeck coin names for amounts of roubles has very common usage. In modern Russian slang only these names are used:

Pyatyorka () for 5 rouble banknote.
Chirik () simplified chervonets for 10 rouble banknote.
Poltinnik () for 50 rouble banknote.
Pyatikhatka () for 500 rouble banknote. Originally pyatikatka (). The term is derived from "pyat’ Kat’" (five Catherines). Katya (Catherina) was a slang name for 100 rouble bill in tsarist Russia, as the bill had a picture of Catherine II on it. Katya for a 100 roubles bill is hardly ever used now, but the derivative, pyatikatka, for 500 roubles has lived till nowadays. A misspelled variant pyatikhatka became the most widely used due to the phonetics of the Russian language.
Shtuka (, the thing) for 1000 rouble banknote and generally amount of 1000 roubles.

Contemporary banknotes feature Russian cities designed to represent various geographical areas:

5 rouble banknote – Novgorod
10 rouble banknote – Krasnoyarsk
50 rouble banknote – St. Petersburg
100 rouble banknote – Moscow
500 rouble banknote – Arkhangelsk
1,000 rouble banknote – Yaroslavl
5,000 rouble – Khabarovsk (to be issued by end of June)


Tags: Russian rouble Russian economy    

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