Cookies Policy

This site uses cookies. By continuing to browse the site you are agreeing to our use of cookies.

I accept this policy

Find out more here

Did Ivan IV’s Oprichniki Carry Dogs’ Heads on Their Horses?

No metrics data to plot.
The attempt to load metrics for this article has failed.
The attempt to plot a graph for these metrics has failed.
The full text of this article is not currently available.

Brill’s MyBook program is exclusively available on BrillOnline Books and Journals. Students and scholars affiliated with an institution that has purchased a Brill E-Book on the BrillOnline platform automatically have access to the MyBook option for the title(s) acquired by the Library. Brill MyBook is a print-on-demand paperback copy which is sold at a favorably uniform low price.

Access this article

+ Tax (if applicable)
Add to Favorites
You must be logged in to use this functionality

image of Canadian-American Slavic Studies

There has never been any agreement in Russian historiography on whether the Oprichniki (members of Ivan the Terrible’s special court, the oprichnina 1565-1572), carried dogs’ heads on their horses or, if so, on the significance of the dogs’ heads. This article for the first time examines together all four sources which attest to Ivan or Oprichniki carrying dogs’ heads, three sixteenth-century written European accounts by the Livonians Johann Taube and Elert Kruse, an Italian prior Gerio of Inghilterra previously not utilized concerning dogs’ heads, and an anonymous Flugschrift (pamphlet, flyer) only rarely included in discussion of dogs’ heads, and one material Russian source, a seventeenth-century candlestick base now in a museum in Aleksandrovsk, the former “capital” of the oprichnina whose provenance is mysterious. Although the written sources do not agree in describing whether Ivan, Ivan and one oprichnik, or all oprichniks carried just dogs’ heads or dogs’ heads and brooms, the candlestick base depicts exactly the image contained in Taube and Kruse, a rider with both dog’s head and broom. Textual and contextual analysis proves that the four European authors of the three texts wrote independently, and there is no reason to believe that the unknown artisan who carved the candlestick base was familiar with any of them. Questions of how many dogs’ heads would have been needed and whether, because of decomposition, Oprichniki could carry dogs’ heads year round, require further study. Although images of infernal dogs and dog-headed men are common in European culture, the substantial scholarly literature on dogs in Europe has not uncovered a single instance of an amputated dog’s head mounted on a horse’s neck. The coincidence of four Europeans independently inventing a previously unknown image is too great not to be based upon reality; this coincidence is compounded by the similarly independent creation of the same image by a Russian artist at least a half-century later. The dogs’ heads of the Oprichniki in these written and visual sources, however sensational, therefore reflect reality, not fantasy. Taube and Kruse’s interpretation of the symbolism of the dogs’ heads, that the Oprichniki would bite like dogs, is consistent with Ivan’s personal experience with hunting and guard dogs, despite the generally negative image of dogs in Russian culture. Additional semiotic interpretations of the significance of the dogs’ heads are superfluous.


Full text loading...


Data & Media loading...

Article metrics loading...



Can't access your account?
  • Tools

  • Add to Favorites
  • Printable version
  • Email this page
  • Subscribe to ToC alert
  • Get permissions
  • Recommend to your library

    You must fill out fields marked with: *

    Librarian details
    Your details
    Why are you recommending this title?
    Select reason:
    Canadian-American Slavic Studies — Recommend this title to your library
  • Export citations
  • Key

  • Full access
  • Open Access
  • Partial/No accessInformation