Zenon Kohut (Edmonton), Volodymyr Mezentsev (Toronto), Yurii Sytyi (Chernihiv)


In 1995-2021, Ukrainian and Canadian archaeologists and historians conducted annual excavations in the town of Baturyn, Chernihiv Oblast (fig. 1). Last year, the field research was suspended due to Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine. Nevertheless, scholars at the Canadian Institute of Ukrainian Studies (CIUS) at the University of Alberta, the Chernihiv College National University, and the Hetman Capital National Historical and Cultural Preserve, despite wartime conditions, have continued their investigations and publications on the history and culture of early modern Baturyn on the basis of abundant archaeological source materials collected in previous years.

The Canada-Ukraine Baturyn Archaeological Project is administered by The Peter Jacyk Centre for Ukrainian Historical Research at the CIUS Toronto Office (https://www.ualberta.ca/canadian-institute-of-ukrainian-studies/centres-and-programs/jacyk-centre/baturyn-project.html). Prof. Zenon Kohut, a former director of CIUS and an eminent historian of the Cossack state, founded this project in 2001 and currently acts as its academic adviser. Archaeologist Dr. Volodymyr Mezentsev, research associate of CIUS in Toronto, is the project’s executive director. Archaeologist Yurii Sytyi of the Hetman Capital National Preserve heads the Baturyn archaeological team, which is based at Chernihiv University.

Fortunately, Baturyn has escaped Russian occupation, bombardments, and ruination. Its five advanced museums with their collections of antiquities of the local National Preserve, as well as the reconstructed citadel, hetman palaces, court hall, and churches of the 17th to 19th centuries, have been safely preserved and are open for the public (fig. 1).

In 1669, Baturyn was assigned as the capital of the Cossack realm, or Hetmanate. The town prospered the most during the reign of the enlightened and Western-oriented Hetman Ivan Mazepa (1687-1709, fig. 2). He and his capital became known across Europe.

In 1708, responding to Moscow’s increasingly despotic overlordship in central Ukraine, the hetman concluded an alliance with Sweden and led a revolt against the Russian tsar. That year, while putting down Mazepa’s uprising, the Muscovite army seized, sacked, and burned Baturyn to the ground. As a further punitive measure, in order to terrorize supporters of the rebellious hetman and all of Left-Bank Ukraine, tsarist troops brutally executed the captured Cossacks and state officials and massacred the entire civilian population, up to 14,000 Ukrainians in total.

After decades lying in ruins, the devastated Baturyn was rebuilt and repopulated by Hetman Kyrylo Rozumovsky (1750-64), who reinstated it as the capital of the Cossack polity. However, after its abolition by the Russian Empire in 1764 and particularly following the death of the last hetman in 1803, the town fell into decay and turned into a rural settlement while Ukraine remained stateless. In independent Ukraine, Baturyn has revived as a town and become the main centre for the preservation, study, and popularization of the historical and cultural legacy of the Cossack state capital and its rulers (fig. 1). Even during the present Russo-Ukrainian War, in the past year, nearly 11,500 Ukrainians visited the town’s museums of antiquities, famous hetman palaces, and spectacular sculptural monuments.

In early modern Ukraine, heating stoves were commonly faced with ornamented ceramic tiles, or kakhli (figs. 4-7). Tiled stoves hruby were an important adornment of the interiors in residential houses. Mazepa promoted the local manufacture of stove tiles in Baturyn, which was booming prior to its destruction in 1708. The 25-year excavations there have yielded one of the largest collections of early modern ceramic tiles in Ukraine, which is stored in the town’s Archaeological Museum. These artefacts are mainly ornamented by floral and geometric relief patterns, but there are also representations of men, angels, animals, birds, coat of arms, and religious symbols.

Tiles with images of the European officers discovered in Baturyn are unique among the earthenware of the Cossack state (figs. 4, 5). They were employed to decorate stoves at the Cossack elite homes of Mazepa’s era, remnants of which have been excavated by archaeologists. Two of these tiles, glazed green, yellow, and brown, feature similar stylized reliefs of a standing warrior in profile with a beard, moustache, and long hair or wig (fig. 4). He is dressed in a military jacket girded with a belt and wears a brim hat, holding an unsheathed sword in the upright position in his left hand. A sabre in scabbard is slung on his left hip, and a curved bow rests on the right shoulder.

Another tile from around 1700, covered by a rare turquoise-colour glazing, bears the relief full-frontal figure of a standing warrior in Baroque Western costume and footwear from the end of 17th or early 18th centuries (fig. 5). The man is dressed in a fitted mid-length military coat, extending to below his knees, with a broad hem, knee-high stockings, and heeled shoes with long tongues. His sheathed sword is slung on the right hip. Using computer graphic techniques, the colour reconstruction of the whole tile has been prepared. The broken parts of the man’s figure, including his head, wig, and tricorne hat from the turn of the 17th-18th century, as well as the left shoulder and hand, were hypothetically recreated there.

In spite of some stylization, the relief of a warrior on this tile is more realistic, detailed, and informative than other anthropomorphic depictions on such wares of the Cossack capital. The above-described three tiles likely picture European mercenary officers from Mazepa’s infantry or artillery regiments. Documents attest to the participation of several officers, primarily Germans, and rank-and-file soldiers from Central European and Balkan countries in the hetman forces. For example, the Saxon officer Friedrich von Königsek was a senior commander (heneral’nyi osavul) of the Cossack state artillery. He gave his life as a hero defending Baturyn from the Russian onslaught in 1708. At that time, foreign mercenaries served in the armies of many European countries.

During the excavations of debris of the hetman’s residence in the citadel, as well as the dwellings of well-to-do Cossack officers (starshyna) in the former Baturyn fortress, suburbs, and environs, several fragments of terracotta (unglazed) tiles with a profile view of a Western horseman in relief have been found (fig. 6). His chest and arms are protected by the armours. Below the belt we see the flaps of the relatively short camisole. The rider’s brimmed hat is decorated with a plume. He has a beard and short hair put out below his hat on the back.

Left hand holds the spear atilt, ready for attack. On the larger tile fragment, the stretched left leg of the horsemen, wearing close-fitting pants, as well as the rear half of the walking horse, have preserved. This article presents a hypothetical computer graphic reconstruction of the entire square terracotta tile.

Among the Baturyn stove tiles featuring horse riders, on this fragment, human and equine anatomic forms, a garment, weapon, and military accoutrement are executed more realistically, expressively, and dynamically, with comparatively less stylization and local folk features. Based on his uniform, armament, and armour, this horseman can be associated with Western European heavy cavalryman, a cuirassier or reiter, from the Thirty Years’ War (1618-48). The authors believe that Baturyn’s tile-makers (kakhliari) copied this representation from a Western realistic drawing or engraving of the 17th or early 18th century (e.g., fig. 9).

The fragment with relief of a Cossack on horseback, covered by green glazing, which has been unearthed in the hetman capital, is a remarkable specimen of the Cossack genre tiles (fig. 7). The torso and head of this horseman are turned in 3/4 front pose, while his leg and the horse are shown in profile. His knee-length typical Cossack coat (zhupan or kuntush) has a wide skirt. It is girded with a belt and ornamented by galloons on the chest. He is dressed in traditional broad trouser or sharovary and low-heeled boots.

This Cossack has a long and luxuriant moustache. In his left hand he holds a spear in the high ward position. The forelegs of the cantering horse are partly preserved. Applying computer graphic extrapolation techniques, line drawing and hypothetical shaded colour reconstruction of the complete composition on a square, green-glazed ceramic tile have been prepared.

It is noteworthy that this artefact from Mazepa’s time displays one of the earliest authentic images of the sharovary in Ukraine (fig. 7). This style of trouser was a characteristic component of the male ethnographic costume throughout central and eastern Ukraine in the 18th and 19th centuries.

The relief of the mounted hetman’s Cossack in national dress and footwear was fashioned in the stylized distinctive vernacular manner. Presumably, this tile portrays a rank-and-file Cossack from the light cavalry regiment known as kompaniitsi, who were armed with spears. These cavalrymen together with the infantry musketeers or serdiuky served as the hetman’s bodyguard and most reliable professional elite troops. They were devoted to Mazepa and provided the main basis for his power.

Tiles bearing similar motifs of mounted Cossacks carrying spears or sabres were widespread across 17th-18th-century central Ukraine. They symbolised Cossack’s glory and epoch and often faced the stoves in residences of hetmans, colonels, and other Cossack officers.

Except for the mounted cuirassier dating to the first part of the 17th century, the local tile makers were able to depict the contemporaneous Cossacks and European mercenaries whom they observed in Mazepa’s capital. Therefore, these artefacts are valuable visual sources for the study of visages, haircuts, clothing, footwear, ornaments, weapons, military accoutrements, horse harness, and the multinational composition of hetman’s army (figs. 4, 5, 7).

Among the settlements of the Cossack realm, Baturyn is unique for the prevalence in its Mazepa-era tile finds of images of the Western officers and soldiers. This can be explained by its status as the capital of the Ukrainian Cossack state, including hetman’s residences and troops with many foreign mercenaries. Furthermore, Baturyn was engaged in broad-ranging international diplomatic, commercial, and cultural relations, as well as imported from Europe numerous illustrated publications and fine artworks, particularly during Mazepa’s reign.

Having received his university education in Poland, Germany, Holland, France, and Italy, Mazepa was fascinated with the European arts, literature, and culture. Written sources testify that during his hetmancy Western books, newspapers, and portrait paintings were brought to Baturyn. He could order local artisans to decorate stove tiles at his palace in the citadel with representations of armed European cavalrymen, and also provide them with original graphic templates, for instance, some Western book illustrations from his own unrivalled library or from court collections of engravings and paintings.

Probably, following the authoritative example of their hetman, government officials, Cossack officers, and some well-to-do burghers in Baturyn also employed similar Western military motifs in adorning the tiled stoves at their homes (figs. 4-6). Thus, the emulation of the hetman’s decorative practice and the local manufacturing of these popular stove tiles resulted in their wide dissemination throughout Mazepa’s capital until its sack in 1708.

The masterly reliefs of mounted knights fashioned in the Gothic style on Polish stove tiles in the 15th and 16th centuries were the prototypes for the designs of Cossack horsemen in relief on tiles produced in Baturyn and Ukraine during the next two centuries (cf. figs. 7, 8). We also surmise that the ceramists in Mazepa’s capital used as templates some professional drawings of infantry officers and cavalrymen on Dutch majolica revetment tiles, or their Central European imitations, as well as Western engravings with analogous military subjects from the 17th and early 18th centuries (e.g., fig. 9). However, these masters creatively reinterpreted, adapted, and stylized the realistic graphic images of European warriors and their horses to a considerable degree, transforming them into relief moulding and colour glazing techniques on stove tiles, in keeping with the tradition of Ukrainian decorative applied ceramic art of that time.

Indeed, the anthropomorphic tiles are the most informative, thought-provoking, and representative Baturyn earthenware items from its golden age during Mazepa’s illustrious rule (figs. 4-7). Their depictions allow us to trace the cultural connections between the hetman capital and the West, including the stimulating influence of Baroque drawings on the town’s decorative ceramics.

These artefacts provide an important new insight into the culture and lifeways, artistic tastes, and Western orientation of the hetman, the Cossack officer class, and wealthy burghers in Mazepa’s capital. Thus, our research on the anthropomorphic stove tiles excavated by the archaeologists in Baturyn helps to elucidate the high culture of the Cossack Ukraine capital and its dynamic development within the sphere of European civilization.

Regrettably, after the sheer destruction of Baturyn by the Russian army in 1708, even during its revitalization under Hetman Rozumovsky in the second half of the 18th century, local manufacturing of stove tiles embellished with human, animal, Christian, heraldic, and other reliefs never recovered in the town. These artistic skills perished along with the exterminated Cossack defenders, craftsmen, artists, and all inhabitants of Mazepa’s razed capital. Only thanks to the 25-year excavations of its ruins archaeologists have discovered, reconstructed, and analysed the discussed above four tile samples with the warriors from the devastated capital of the Cossack state (figs. 4-7).

For more anthropomorphic tiles that have been unearthed there and its detailed examination, please see a nicely published richly illustrated booklet for the general public and scholars by these authors titled Кахлі з фігурами воїнів Івана Мазепи з розкопок Батурина (Stove Tiles Featuring Ivan Mazepa’s Warriors from Excavations of Baturyn), Toronto: “Homin Ukrainy”, 2022, 44 pp. in Ukrainian, 61 colour illustr. (fig. 3). This eleventh issue and earlier brochures of the Baturyn project series are available for purchase for $10 from the National Executive of the League of Ukrainian Canadians (LUC) in Toronto (tel.: 416-516-8223, email: luc@lucorg.com) and through the CIUS Press in Edmonton (tel.: 780-492-2973, email: cius@ualberta.ca). The booklets can also be purchased online on the CIUS Press website (https://www.ciuspress.com; https://www.ciuspress.com/product-category/archaeology/?v=3e8d115eb4b3). Their publication was funded by the BCU Foundation (Roman Medyk, chair) and the Ucrainica Research Institute (Orest Steciw, M.A., president and executive director of LUC) in Toronto.

Since 2001, CIUS and the Ucrainica Research Institute have sponsored the Canada-Ukraine Baturyn Project. In 2022, CIUS supported it with a grant from the Dr. Bohdan Stefan Zaputovich and Dr. Maria Hrycaiko Zaputovich Endowment Fund. The Ukrainian Studies Fund in New York also supports the Baturyn project with annual subsidies. In 2022-23, the research on the history and culture of the hetman capital and preparation of associated publications were supported with donations from the Ucrainica Research Institute, the National Executive of LUC (Borys Mykhaylets, president), LUC – Toronto Branch (Mykola Lytvyn, president), the National Executive of the League of Ukrainian Canadian Women (LUCW, Halyna Vynnyk, president), LUCW – Toronto Branch (H. Vynnyk, president), BCU Financial (Oksana Prociuk-Ciz, CEO), the Ukrainian Credit Union (Taras Pidzamecky, CEO), the Prometheus Foundation, the Benefaction Foundation in Toronto, and Zorya Inc. (Greenwich, Conn.). The most generous individual benefactors of the Baturyn study are Olenka Negrych, Dr. George J. Iwanchyshyn (Toronto), and Michael S. Humnicky (Murfreesboro, TN).

Soon after the victory of the Armed Forces of Ukraine and the liberation of southeastern Ukraine from the Russian invaders, we plan to renew annual excavations in Baturyn. In any case, both Ukrainian and Canadian scholars will continue their off-site research and publications on the history and culture of the hetman capital. Clearly, until the end of the war, it will be impossible to obtain any funding for this academic project in Ukraine. Therefore, continued benevolent support from Ukrainian organizations, foundations, companies, and private donors in North America is vital to sustain further historical, archaeological, and artistic investigations of Mazepa’s capital and the publication of its findings this year. Canadian citizens are kindly invited to support this ongoing work with donations by cheque sent to: Ucrainica Research Institute, 9 Plastics Ave., Toronto, ON, Canada M8Z 4B6. Please make your cheques payable to: Ucrainica Research Institute (memo: Baturyn Project).

American residents can send their donations to: Ukrainian Studies Fund, P.O. Box 24621, Philadelphia, PA 19111, USA. Cheques can be made out to: Ukrainian Studies Fund (memo: Baturyn Project). These Ukrainian institutions will issue official tax receipts to all donors in Canada and the United States. They will be gratefully acknowledged in related publications and public lectures.

For more information about the Baturyn project, readers can contact Dr. Volodymyr Mezentsev in Toronto (tel.: 416-766-1408, email: v.mezentsev@utoronto.ca). The authors kindly thank Ukrainians in North America for their generous support of the historical and archaeological research on the Cossack capital in past years and for helping to our historical front during the genocidal war waged by Russia against Ukraine and its Cossack heritage.

9 captions for 15 pictures

Fig. 1. 17th-century Baturyn citadel with the hetman’s residence, reconstructed in 2008 based on archaeological data. Aerial photo from the archives of the Hetman Capital National Preserve. Photos of the structures by V. Mezentsev..

Fig. 2. “Glorification of Ivan Mazepa, Hetman of Ukraine”. Painting by Ihor Hrechanovsky with a panorama of the Baturyn citadel, 2020. Museum of the History of the Poltava Battle in Poltava. Photo by O. Hrechanovsky.
Fig. 3. Richly illustrated booklet titled in translation “Stove Tiles Featuring Ivan Mazepa’s Warriors from Excavations of Baturyn” (Toronto: “Homin Ukrainy”, 2022).
Fig. 4. Glazed ceramic stove tile featuring a European mercenary officer of Mazepa’s era. Photo by A. Konopatsky, line drawing by S. Dmytriienko. All tiles excavated at Baturyn are in the collections of the Museum of Archaeology at the Hetman Capital National Preserve.

Fig. 5. Glazed ceramic tile bearing the relief of a European mercenary officer from the stove at Vasyl Kochubei’s mansion in Baturyn, ca. 1700. Photo by A. Konopatsky, contour rendering and hypothetic computer graphic reconstruction of the whole tile by S. Dmytriienko.


Fig. 6. Fragment of a terracotta tile of Mazepa’s time with the relief of a Western European heavy cavalryman of the early 17th century. Photo by A. Konopatsky, line drawing and hypothetic computer graphic reconstruction of the entire tile by S. Dmytriienko.


Fig. 7. Glazed ceramic tile fragment depicting a mounted Cossack from Mazepa’s troops. Photo by A. Konopatsky, contour drawing and hypothetic computer graphic reconstruction of the complete tile by S. Dmytriienko.

Fig. 8. Glazed ceramic stove tile featuring the relief of an armoured knight on horseback, 15th-16th century. National Museum in Kraków, Poland. Photo by V. Mezentsev.

Fig. 9. 17th-century Dutch ceramic revetment tiles with the drawings of a standing officer and a mounted cuirassier. Left photo is from an open Internet-site. Right photo is from the website of the Regts – Delft Tiles, Holland, reproduced courtesy of this firm (https://www.regtsdelfttiles.com/antique-delft-tile-with-a-knight-and-horse-full-gear-17th-century.html).