Kolt is a traditional Old Russian female ornament of the 11th -13th centuries; it is a hollow metal pendant fastened to the headgear and often decorated with granulation, skan’ (filigree work), enamel, or patina. Presumably, the inner cavity was used for keeping a piece of fabric moistened with incense.
The original name of kolt remains unknown. The term kolt was adopted at the end of the 19th century on the basis of the ethnographic data and was derived from the Ukrainian “kovtki” (earrings), as well as the West Ukrainian dialects “koltîk”, and Novgorod “koltki” (earring pendants ), which was testified not only in dialects, but also in birch bark manuscript ¹ 644. Kolts were found in many buried treasures in the territory of Old Russia.
There were round and star-shaped kolts. Roundish gold kolts were decorated with plique-a-jour with images of birds, saints, and church stories. Star-shaped kolts made of gold and silver were covered with granulation and skan’ (filigree). Goldsmiths and silversmiths in search of the best play of light shaded silver with patina and gilding, and sometimes covered the smooth silver surface of kolt with thousands of microscopic ringlets and soldered a tiny kernel of silver on every ringlet.
Kolts and other ornaments related to the wedding ceremony often bear ancient pagan symbols associated with the magic of fertility. One can find about 50 various plots on kolts and bracelets. In the latest pieces of the 18th century the traditional compositions of images are broken, and their meaning is obviously lost. Kolts bear many different symbols of fertility, such as the Tree of Life, young sprouts, seeds and sprouting roots. All of them express the idea of growth, the idea of Life.
There were found gold princely kolts with a Christian plot depicting Saints Boris and Gleb. They are accompanied with a sprout ideogram. Boris and Gleb's raincoats are covered with heart-shaped ideograms of sprouts and round points (seeds, probably), and the saints’ nimbuses are green in almost all cases.
One of the most typical images on Kiev gold kolts is the composition of two Sirins with a sprout ideogram in the center. The fantastic maiden-birds are usually represented in caps, with their heads encircled in nimbuses. On their wings, and sometimes on plumage also the same ideograms of a sprout with a bud can be seen. The chest is always ornamented with several wavy lines of dark blue color. The association of the Sirins with water and fertility symbolism is beyond any doubt. Their wings connect these bird-maidens with the sky.
Kolts and bracelets of the 12th -13th centuries show that quite a lot of ornamental motives were perceived as magical and protecting and were associated with the idea of fertility and invocation ritualism.
In the beginning of the 13th century cheap kolts started to be cast of bronze in towns for sale in the market. After the Tartar Mongol Yoke kolts were not spread any more.
Now collections of kolts, temporal rings and many other works of medieval Russian jewelry art are kept in Russian museums. Especially rich collections belong to the State History Museum, the Armory Chamber of the Moscow Kremlin and the Patriarchal Vestry.
Author: Vera Ivanova