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(From the unpublished work “The Granted Kettle-drums”)


Trans. by S.Yevdokimov

There is a large variety in the old Russian system of awards. The system includes such objects which, it seems, could not serve in any way as an award. The granting of a kettle-drum belongs to that kind of unusual award. It was a pair of musical instruments in the form of huge kettles covered with a leather membrane. The kettle-drum dates from the ancient Persia prototypes and was used in Russia as long ago as in the 16-17 c., mainly in the foreign cavalry regiments, as a common musical instrument, and after the establishment of regular cavalry it became the usually issued item.

The earliest kettle-drum granting in the Russian combatant forces traced from the end of the 16 c. is part of the hetman's kleinods(1) of the Little Russian (Malorossiysky) cossack army(2) (including the Zaporozhian kosh(3), but the first case of this regalia being granting for combat merit goes back to the Great Northern war 1700-1721 and takes its origin from the analogous Swedish award, and from our point of view, has a link in succession from the previous kleinod granting.

On July 9, 1702 in the environs of the Polish borough, Klishov, the Swedish army under King Charles XII utterly defeated the little combat effective Polish-Saxon forces united under the command of the Polish king, Augustus II. The charge of the Swedish guard's cavalry led by King Charles was crucial in the battle. In commemoration of this combatant event the distinguished Life Regiment was granted special silver kettle-druma with screws shaped as the Chimerical beasts' mask, and patched up by silver plaques (three plaques on one and four on the other). One plaque has a Latin memorial inscription engraved in it. Taking into account inaccuracy in spelling and abbreviations, the inscription can be translated in this way: “For the glorious victory of The Great King of Sweden Charles XII over Poles, Saxons, Tartars, Valachians and other foreign peoples, in the environs of Klishov in Poland in 1702.(4)

Considering the Poles' traditions at the end of the 16th c. (kings of which granted such regalia to the Little Russian hetman) the kettle- drums have been known in Europe for more than 100 years as the chief commander's kleinods and the similar Swedish granting in 1702 not only commemorated the feats of arms of the king's cavalry regiment in that singular way, but became the combatant monarch's kleinod.

Seven years later, in the Poltava field, “glorious victory” did not glow for the Swedish army. In the famous battle of June 27, 1709, the silver kettle-drum found itself among the numerous Russian trophies.(5) By the Czar Peter Alekseevich's oral order, as an award and with the traditional meaning of the leader's kleinod they were granted to the Life Squadron of General Field Marshal Prince Menshikov — the ancestor of the cavalry guard, thus showing the almost unique case when the enemy's trophy have been transformed into the combat award of the “victors”. In this granting a legend took its origin, which tells that the kettle-drum was captured by the forerunner of the Life Guard Cavalry Regiment.(6) But the fact is that the banners, silver kettle- drum and the King Charles' litter were taken by the Kiev Dragoon Regiment. This fact was confirmed indisputably by the “tales” of the Regiment's men which began to be used by scientists as early as by the 200th anniversary of the Poltava battle.(7)

The fact of awarding the drums to the Life Squadron, which took no part in the trophy's capture seems to emphasize the kleinod nature of the granting, which, to tell the truth, was completely forgotten by 1721, when the Life Squadron was sent for the raising of the Kronschlot Dragoon Regiment and handed over the once granted kettle-drum to the latter as combatant regalia. In this regiment they were retained in the same status after its renaming into the new Russian Life Regiment in 1725.

In 1730 during the reorganization of this privileged cavalry unit into the Cavalry Guard, there occurred correspondence on the matter of that old kettle-drum from which it becomes clear that the meaning of the old regalia was completely forgotten. Thus Oberkriegskommissar I. Saveliev reported :“... they are recognized fit, but the terms are over, and from where they are, and which exactly, what year, month, day not shown, and in the register their place in regiment not prescribed, and the uniform office did no submission...”.(8)

Thus, they took a hasty decision to get rid of the incomprehensible old things, and “unfit kettle-drum, one pair(9) was passed to the regimental arsenal for further transition to the Preobrazhensky church of Peter's palace in the suburban residence in Strelna, where they supplemented similar relics of the Northern war.(10) There, that first kettledrum granted for the feats of arms was forgotten for almost 100 years...

However in 1827 the Emperor Nicholas I paying interest to the attics of the church came to know, probably incidentally, about those old Swedish Cavalry Guard kettle-drums. On July 4, 1827, a monarch's order was issued to take it to the Regiment for use in exchange for the one granted by Anne in 1731.(11) The destiny of the latter is unknown. As to the Poltava regalia case, they were serving (with only screws and membranes being replaced) in the Life Guard Cavalry Regiment till 1917. They were retained side by side with the banners in the Winter Palace during the regiment stationing in the capital or in the suburban Emperor's residences during stationing in the environs. That kettle-drum covered by curtains was pictured by the artist E. P. Gau on the water-color interior of the Emperor Peter I's oak room in the great Peterhoff palace in the middle of the 19th c.(12)

Since the October revolution and the Cavalry Guard's abolition that old kettle-drum was retained in the same place and thus occurred in the nationalized collections of the State Hermitage. In 1932 they as well as numerous non-profile military-historical items were passed to the Military Historical and Quartering museum. During the museums' funds fusion of the Military Historical and Quartering museum and the Artillery museum in 1937 they were received by the latter.(13) In 1950 again, for some reasons, in the status of “non-profile” items they were passed to the Museum of A. V. Suvorov(14) in Leningrad where they have being kept up to the present time.

In 1970s in the Museum of A. V. Suvorov there was a project of their transition (as one of the most precious items) to the Poltava battle museum, which was supposed to be established in the Sampsonievsky cathedral in the Viborgskaya end in Leningrad. But the protracted complicated restoration of the cathedral plus interdepartmental discord put this project aside for an indefinite time.

There exist 27 mentions (including legendary ones) to the kettle- drums granting in the Russian army from 1576 until 1884. Only three original awards(15) were saved.

The Czar's first favor signs of that kind granted for merit in battle, appear to be the most precious from an historical aspect. As the relics of the glorious Poltava action, by their difficult way from the old days to the present, they give an example of interweaving of two sides of the history of these unusual cavalry regalia — as a kleinod and as an award.Captions

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The triumphal entry of the Russian army to Moscow on December 21, 1790 after the victory at Poltava. The fragment “Transportation of the kettledrum”. The engraving by P. Pikart. The Military Historical Museum of A. V. Suvorov. St.Petersburg.

The tradition of military triumphs established by Peter as early as in the time of his victorious Azov campaigns of 1695-1696 was continued during the Northern War. The Poltava triumph took special place in that list because of the importance of the victory. The march was opened by the mounted Life Guard Semyonovsky Regiment. It was followed with the artillery trophies, seized banners, and captured Swedish officers. Further proceeded a mounted company of the Life Guard Preobrazhensky Regiment, in its turn followed by captured officers and NCOs of the Swedish army, then by another set of artillery trophies, as well as banners and kettledrums of the Swedish army captured at Poltava. Then went Swedish staff officers and generals, the Royal Court and Office. They were followed by captured generals and Peter himself accompanied by the senior commanders of the Russian army. The march was concluded by the Life Guard Preobrazhensky Regiment in mounted formation and numerous carts with trophy (captured) ammunition.

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Battle of Poltava on June 27, 1709. The colored engraving by N. Larmessen after P. D. Marten's drawing. 1720s. The Military Historical Museum of A. V. Suvorov. St.Petersburg. It represents the final act of the Poltava battle — the counter-attack of Russian army led by Czar Peter himself. The czar on the prancing horse, dressed in the full dress uniform of the Preobrazhensky Regiment escorted by the suite of officers is rushing to the Swedish army. The engraving's background represents the battle itself.


Kettle-drummer of the Life Guard Cavalry Regiment. The sculpture by Gasenberg. The second half of the 19th c. MHMAETS.

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1) The kettle-drum's look today. The Museum of A. V. Suvorov.

2) The fragment of the kettle-drum, the leather fastening in the shape of a lion's muzzle.

3) The fragment of the kettle-drum, with a patch and the memorial inscription.


(1) Kleinod ( German 'Kleinod' and Polish 'kleinot' - a jewel, precious thing) - regalia, army's distinguishing sign. Kleinod were composed of a banner (gonfalon), bunchuks, mace and its varieties, kettle-drums, trumpets, drums, the army's seal.
(2) For more details see: Grabianka, G. The chronicle. Kiev, 1854. P. 21; M. P. Kh. (Khoroshikhin M.P.) Kleinod.// The Encyclopaedia of military and naval science. St.Petersburg, 1889. Vol.IV. P. 272; Bantysh-Kamensky, D. The history of Little Russia, St. P.; Kiev; Kharkov, 1903. P. 454.
(3) For more details on that see, in particular : M. P. Kh. Op.cit.; Kleinods // The Large Soviet Encyclopedia. 2nd edition. Vol.21. P. 404; Zvarnitsky, D. I. The History of Zaporozhian Cossacks. M., 1900. Vol.1. P. 299, 300; Velichko, S. The chronicle of events in South West Russia in the 17 c. Kiev, 1846. P. 51-52; The Acts concerning the history of Southern and Western Russia. St.Petersburg, 1885. Vol.XIII. Col.507, 49, 117.
(4)” Published incorrectly in: Shenk, V. K. The Emperor's Guard. St. Petersburg, 1910. P. 128; see also: Nikolayev. The historical review of regalia and insignia in the Russian army. St.Petersburg, 1898. Vol.1. P. 232.
(5) “One silver kettle-drum of the cavalry Life Regiment”.(See “The Detailed Communique” on the Poltava battle by 09.07.709.// Peter the Great's letters and papers. M.; Leningrad, 1950. Vol.9, issue 1. P. 264. No. 3297).
(6) The historiographer of the Cavalry Guards by mistake points to the old (by 1709) Russian Life Regiment — the forerunner of the first Lancer St. Petersburg Regiment of General Field Marshal Prince Menshikov as the one that had captured those kettle-drums. (See: Annenkov. The History of the Life Guard Cavalry Regiment. St. Petersburg, 1849. Pt.1. P. 311). The order No.24 of February 5, 1886, at the Military Department without any reasons referred to those regalia as taken during the Swedish capitulation at Perevolochna on June 29, 1709. (See: The List of the Guard's Units with Specification of their Seniority and awards which should be given to them // Mil. Dept. Order No.24 of 05.02.1886. App. P.28). From there, this information passed to the official reference book of the Emperor's Main Quarters.(Shenk, V. K. Op.cit. P. 128).

The author of the only special article on the granted kettle-drum combined both mistakes. (See Mensky, K. (Kamensky Ye. S.). The Kettle-drums in the Russian Army // Scout. 1898. No.393. P. 379). Most cautions and precision on their time data are contained in: Stackelberg, K. The One and a Half Century of the Cavalry Guard 1730-1880. St.Petersburg, 1881. P. 69.

(7) P-v. (? Polikarpov, P.). About the Army Units Participated in the "General Battle" at Poltava on July 27, 1709. The Cavalry Regiments //The Military Collection. 1909. No.5. P. 244-245. The first publisher in the USSR of the history of the Cavalry Guard kettledrum was senior researcher of the State Military Historical Museum of A. S. Suvorov, G. V. Kruglov (See: Kruglov G. The History of the Silver Kettle-drum// The Evening's Leningrad. 1972. No.130.
(8) Cited after: Nikolayev. Op.cit. 1899. Vol.II. P.146.
(9)” Ibid. P.147.
(10) It is mentioned as being kept there, but for some reasons as “presented by the Empress Elizabeth to the Cavalry Guard”: Svinyin, P. Strelna // The Son of Motherland. 1818. No.3. P. 92-93; Ardikutsa, V. E. Strelna. Leningrad, 1967. P.53.
(11) Annenkov. Op.cit. P.28, 312; Nikolaev. Op.cit. 1899. Vol.II. P. 146-147.
(12) Znamenov, V. Petrodvorets. The Water-colors of the 19th c. The set of cards. [S.l.], 1988. (No.3).
(13) The Act for the Museum Property Received from the Hermitage on 31.01.32. Pt.1. Item 724// The Documentary Fund. MHMAETS. Fund 1p. List 1. File 5. Sheet 256. Inv.No.16/116(a-b).
(14) Permission of the Academy of the Artillery Science No.844/3859 of 09.12.50. Inv.No. MS-646; MS-648.
(15) That of the Life Guard Cavalry Regiment (Swedish trophy of 1709) - in the Museum of Suvorov; of the Life Guard Cuirassier of His Majesty Regiment (Hetman's Little Russian of 1751) - in MHMAETS; of the Life Guard Cuirassier of Her Majesty Regiment (granted to the regiment in 1704) - in the Gatchina palace-museum (temporarily in Pavlovsk).