The Battle of Sudbishche

  • 27.04.2021
  • Project


In the spring 2021, Oryol divers discovered a place where the Battle of Sudbischen took place in 1555. Both in name and, in essence, the battle between the Russian army and the Crimean horde, was essentially fateful for the history of Russia during the era of Ivan the Terrible.

The Battle of Sudbishche

Within the framework of the project “Water trade routes of the Oryol region”, in the middle of spring, the Oryol diving club “DIVO” organized an expedition in the vicinity of the legendary ancient Murava road, which passed in the center of Russia through the Oryol region. This was the main historical road between the Crimea and Moscow. Traders,
ambassadors, and ancient wars walked along this horseback path between the Oka and Don rivers. The Crimean Tatars made their numerous raids along it.

Together with the overland route, the waterways were actively used along the Murava road. Their research was very relevant because of some significant historical events that happened in the Oryol region till now remain a mystery. It was this circumstance that determined the primary tasks of the expedition such as the search for ancient piers and
marinas, places of crossings and bridges, and other historical structures. As part of this work, Oryol divers’ study archival materials, work with local historians and archaeologists, and conduct underwater research under their auspices!

After setting up the camp, preparing diving gear and equipment, the expedition members began prospecting work in the water area of the Gogol River. As a result of exploring the bottom of the river, a spear and several dozen arrowheads were found by divers. According to preliminary estimates, these discovered artifacts were at least 400 years
old. Most likely, the spearhead and fragments of the ammunition of medieval archers are nothing more than material evidence of the legendary Battle of Sudbischen, which, due to historical annals, came to pass in these locations.

The Battle of Sudbishche

Historians, regional specialists and archaeologists have tried to identify the battle site for a long time and repeatedly. The study of written sources and documents did not bring the desired result. Only one thing was known for certain. In June 1555 not far from Sudbisch, a battle realized between a squad of 7000 fighters of the voivode Ivan Vasilyevich Sheremetev and a 60-thousand horde of the Crimean Khan Devlet I Giray. The clash was preceded by a surprise attack by our warriors, as a result of which the enemy convoy was repulsed, in which, among other trophies, there were about 60,000 horses and 180 camels. After a fierce two-day battle, the enemies retreated, leaving 15,000 dead on the battlefield.

The Sudbisch battle was not only another evidence of the extraordinary steadfastness and fearlessness of Russian fighters, where five thousand Russian soldiers died in an unequal battle. But above all, saved the Moscow state and all of Europe from another devastating invasion. In the 16th century, the primary basis of the economic prosperity of the Crimean and Kazan states was raids on neighboring territories followed by the theft of slaves. According to some estimates, at least three million Russians fell prey to Tatar slave traders over the course of a century.

The members of the expedition decided to seek the assistance from specialists of an archaeological team from the Institute of Archeology of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Further work was carried out under the auspices of scientists. Archaeologists strongly recommended by means of a hydro-ejector melting of muddy sediments on sectors of the river where ancient objects were found on the eve.

The Battle of Sudbishche

Despite the frozen April water and rather capricious visibility, the hydro-technical work continued throughout the day. As a result, it was possible to find a significant number of arrowheads, many elements of horse tack and harness, unambiguously indicating the localization of fighting in this area. An archaeologist Oleg Radyush noted: “Most likely, there could have been a shooting battle, probably, during the erosion of the coastline, this part was washed away and accumulated near the dam. Considering that the village of Sudbischi was nearby and the battle occurred somewhere here, we can assume that this was an episode of the Sudbischen battle. “

Residents of the surrounding villages and settlements have previously found various artifacts in these places, but these were single specimens, in comparison with the finds made by divers. In the unanimous opinion of archaeologists, this was an explicit reference to the Battle of Sudbischen. With undoubted evidence, it could be argued that the discovered
fragments of weapons and ammunition belonged to the era of Ivan the Terrible. However, only subsequent full-scale field archaeological research will be able to bring the final clarity.

The search for material traces of military history outside settlements or fortifications was very problematic. Finding items that relate to the episode of the legendary battle at the bottom of the river is a rare piece of luck that gives a unique chance to reconstruct a historical event.

The Battle of Sudbishche
In Search of Findings

After the completion of the underwater part of the research, the members of the expedition began to carry out complex search activities on land under the auspices of the archaeologists. During their implementation, the site of a real clash was discovered, which occurred, judging by the artifacts raised from the ground, no later than the middle of the 16th century.

To the sounds of metal detectors, specialists in history marked the places of finds with special flags. This is followed by a geodetic survey of the area with an accurate referencing of all detected objects using a tacheometer and GPS navigators.

The list of finds is impressive: more than one and a half hundred arrowheads of various geometries, lead bullets and buckshot, a blade fragment, a quiver hook, belt pads and girth buckles, horseshoe nails, fragments of shoe and horse shoes.

During this expedition, including artifacts handed over by divers, more than 900 items were discovered in total. Further plans to organize large-scale excavations, which will become a new stage in the historical and archaeological research of the defense system of the southern borders of the Moscow state of the XVI-XVII centuries.

The archaeologist Oleg Radyush summed up the results: “With my archaeological team upon the invitation of Sergey Kulikov – the head of the “DIVO” diving club, we arrived at the place of unexpected finds and saw and held in our hands the artifacts extracted from the bottom of the river, we weren’t confident that there was any relation to the Sudbischen battle. With relative accuracy, it was possible to establish only the historical period – the late Middle Ages.

The Battle of Sudbishche
The bullet from the pisgals

Every day there were more and more discoveries. After studying the surroundings, we were able to localize the place of events: a plot of land approximately 900 by 400 meters was literally covered with various metal objects of that era, indicating that a major battle came about on this field. Then we found lead bullets and a coin minted in the first half of the reign of Ivan the Terrible, which made it possible to significantly narrow the time frame of the battle – the middle of the 16th century.

By now, in these three weeks of archaeological research, more than nine hundred artifacts have been found in the vicinity of the Gogol River: about four hundred arrowheads, more than fifty bullets, many other metal objects, as well as one lead core and a matchlock. All this made an assumption about the discovery of the site of the Sudbischensky battle even more probable. It became one of the first battles in the history of the confrontation between Russia and the Khanate of Crimea, in which both sides used firearms, both relatively heavy and manual. “

This place of historical discovery has attracted many people, scientists, and tourists. The head of the Oryol region – Andrei Klychkov noted : “The event that happened in our region has not only the value of district or regional scale , but at least on an all-Russian, or rather even on a European and global scale.”

Finally, we could note that finds that allow us to accurately contain the battlefield was a rare event. Even though the tactical course of the battle itself has been studied in detail as reported by the sources of the 16th century, the place where it came to pass still remained unknown. However, the spearhead, accidentally found by a diver at the bottom of the river near the village of Sudbischi, initiated a cascade of events that would fill the “blank spot” on the map of the legendary battle.