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Department of South and Southwest Asia

Contact Information

Phone: (812) 328-43-77

Head of Department

Mikhail RODIONOV, D.Sc.

History of the Department

Like several other departments of MAE, that of South and Southwest Asia is a recent structural unit that has existed in its present form since 1993. Its two constituents, relating to South Asia (the Indian subcontinent) and Southwest Asia (the Middle East) had long been separate.

The study of these regions is a nearly century-long tradition at MAE. When the first Indian collections were acquired, no special department was concerned with this region, and, like the Mideastern collections, those from India were housed at the Department of Asian Civilizations. A separate Department of India was founded in the 1920s, after MAE had received A.M. and L.A. Mervart’s collections, and A.M. Mervart became its first head.

In 1937 MAE was subdivided into Cabinets, that of East and South Asia being one of them. Its head was N.V. K50108hner, who was also in charge of the Department of India, Indonesia and the Far East. After World War II, when Moscow Institute of Ethnography acquired the parental status, and that in Leningrad became its filial branch, the latter included the Sector of East and South Asia. In 1948, together with the Sector of the Middle East and Central Asia, it was merged in the Sector of the Orient. Within its Leningrad part, the Group of East and South Asia was established, directed by K50108hner, as before.

In the 1900s, several generations of Indologists were associated with the Museum, and many placed themselves on record in Orientalism. The most conspicuous personality in the first decades of the century was Academician S.F. Oldenburg, a prominent specialist in India and a top administrator. At MAE, he headed the Department of Antiquities of Russian and Chinese Turkestan.

Important figures of the 1920s were A.M. and L.A. Mervarts, T.A. Korvin-Krukovskaya, and later V.A. Chatopadhaya, V.E. Krasnodembskii, etc.

Among the persons associated with MAE in the 1930s–1970s were I.N. Vinnikov, a specialist in Central Asian Arabs, E.G. Gafferberg (Baluchi and other peoples of Afghanistan and Central Asia; O.L. Vil’chevskii (Kurds); V.P. Kurylev (Turks), N.A. Kislyakov (peoples of Central Asia, Iran, and Afghanistan; he headed the Department of the Middle East and Central Asia of MAE for many years). In the 1940s and 1950s, M.K. Kudryavtsev, B.Ya. Volchok, M.N. Serebryakova, and S.A. Maretina began their activities.

N.G. Krasnodembskaya has been working at MAE for many years. In the last decades, the staff was joined by younger specialists: M.F. Albedil’, E.N. Uspenskaya, I.Yu. Kotin (traditional culture of India), M.A. Rodionov and P.I. Pogorel’skii (Arab ethnology); I.V. Bogoslovskaya (Near Eastern clothing; currently she is Lecturer at St.-Petersburg University); and E.G. Tsareva (oriental textile).

Main Research Areas

All department staff members participate in the project Ethnographical Status of Living Beings, Things and Phenomena in Traditional Asian Societies (directed by M.A. Rodionov)[1].

Another joint project is The Collective and the Material World in Traditional Asian Societies: Migration, Interaction, and Transformation (History and Present) (2003-05, headed by M.A. Rodionov; E.G. Tsareva and I.Yu. Kotin, participants). The department has initiated an interdepartmental seminar on textile (convened by E.G. Tsareva), and on N.G. Krasnodembskaya’s initiative, the history of museum collections is being studied with reference to the collectors’ biographies.

Department Staff

Rodionov Mikhail, Head of Department, D.Sc. (culture, religion, social organization, and folklore of the Asian Arabs, field ethnography of southern Arabia, museology).

Albedil’ Margarita, Leading Researcher, D.Sc. (decipherment of proto-Indian system of writing, religion and mythology of India, museology, history of MAE).

Vasilkov Yaroslav, Chief Researcher, D.Sc (ethnography of India, folklore and comparative mythology).

Krasnodembskaya Nina, Leading Researcher, D.Sc. (languages of India, ethnography of southern India and Ceylon).

Kotin Igor, Senior Researcher, Cand.Sc. (history and ethnography of South Asia, Indian diaspora and Islam in Europe, ethnology and cultural history of Britain).

Tsareva Elena, Senior Researcher, Cand.Sc. (ethnography of the Middle East and Central Asia, history of textile in these regions).

Merenkova Ol’ga, Junior Researcher, Cand.Sc. (ethnography of India).

Principal Publications

The department staff have published numerous joint monographs, beginning from “Narody Perednej Azii” [Peoples of the Near East] (Moscow: Academy of Sciences Publ., 1957. 615 p.) and “Narody Yuzhnoj Azii” [Peoples of South Asia] (Moscow: Academy of Sciences Publ., 1963. 964 p.) in the eighteen-volume series “Narody mira” [Peoples of the World]. Next came The Traditional Culture of the Middle East and Central Asia (MAE Collections. Vol. XXXVI. L.: Nauka, 1970. 385 p.). Information on the Mideastern and South Asian collections of MAE can be found in other MAE collections as well, and in the journal Kunstkamera. Etnograficheskie tetradi (“Kunstkamera. Ethnographical notes”).

The most important recent publications by the department staff members are following:

  • Alimov I.A. Nefritovaya rosa: iz kitaiskikh sbornikov bitszi X–XIII vekov [The Jade Dew: Excerpts From 10th-13th-century Chinese Bitsi Collections]. SPb.: Azbuka, 2000. 192 p.
  • Alimov I.A. Vsled za kist’yu. Materialy iz istorii sunskikh avtorov sbornikov bitszi [Following the Brush. Biographies of Bitsi Writers of the Sung Era] SPb.: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 1996. Part I. 267 p.
  • Alimov I.A., Serebryakov E.A. Vsled za kist’yu. Issledovaniya, perevody [Following the Brush. Studies and Translations]. 2004. Part II. 448 p.
  • Albedil’ M.F. Protoindiiskaya tsivilizatsiya: Ocherki kul’tury [The Proto-Indian Civilization: Essays in Culture]. Moscow: Vostochnaya literatura, 1994. 295 p.
  • Albedil’ M.F. Induizm [Hinduism]. SPb: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie. 2001. 256 p.
  • Albedil’ M.F.V magicheskom kruge mifov [In the Magical Circle of the Myths] SPb, Paritet, 2002. 336 p.
  • Albedil’ M.F. Indiya – bespredel’naya mudrost’ [India – The Boundless Wisdom]. Moscow: Aleteja, 2003. 415 p.
  • Kotin I.Yu. Pobegi banyana. Migratsiya naseleniya iz Indii i formirovanie “uzlov” yuzhnoaziatskoi diaspory [Banyan Sprouts. Migrations from India and the Formation of “Knots” in the South Asian Diaspora]. SPb: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 2003. 272 p.
  • Krasnodembskaya N.G. Traditsionnoe mirovozzrenie singalov (obryady i verovaniya) [Sinhalese Traditional Worldview (Rites and Beliefs)]. Moscow: Nauka – Vostochnaya literatura, 1982. 213 p.
  • Krasnodembskaya N.G. Ot L’vinogo ostrova do Obiteli snegov (rasskaz o kollektsiyakh MAE po Yuzhnoi Azii) [From the Island of Lions to the Abode of Snows (A Tale of the South Asian Collections of MAE)]. Moscow: Nauka – Vostochnaya literatura, 1983. 108 p.
  • Krasnodembskaya N.G.Budda, bogi, lyudi i demony [Buddha, Gods, Humans, and Demons]. SPb.: Azbuka-klassika – Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 2003. 320 p.
  • Etiket u narodov Yuzhnoi Azii [South Asian Etiquette] / Ed. by N.G. Krasnodembskaya. SPb: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 1999. 299 p.
  • Maretina S.A. The Kachari State. The character of early state-like formation in the Hill Districts of North-East India. The Hague, Paris, New York, Mouton Publishers. 1978. P. 339–359.
  • Maretina S.A. Evolyutsiya obschestvennogo stroya u gornykh narodov Severo-Vostochnoi Indii [Evolution of Social Organization in the Highland Peoples of Northeast India]. Moscow: Nauka, 1980. 269 p.
  • Maretina S.A. Andamantsy. K probleme dozemledel’cheskikh obschestv [The Andamanese, with Reference to General Problems of Pre-Agricultural Societies]. SPb: MAE RAS, 1995. 225 p.
  • Maretina S.A. K probleme universal’nosti vozhdestv: o prirode vozhdei u naga (India) [On the universality of chiefdoms: The status of chiefs in the Nagas, India] // Rannie formy politicheskoi organizatsii: ot pervobytnosti k gosudarstvennosti”). Moscow, 1995. P. 79–104.
  • Maretina S.A. Assam. Megkhalaya [Assam. Megkhalaya] // Etnogenez i etnicheskaya istoriya narodov Yuzhnoi Azii. Moscow, 1994. P. 157–185.
  • Rodionov M.A. Maronity Livana [Maronites of Lebanon]. Moscow: Nauka – Vostochnaya literatura, 1982. 134 p.
  • Rodionov M.A. Etnografiya Zapadnogo Khadramauta (obschee i osobennoe v etnicheskoi kul’ture) [Ethnography of West Hadramauth (General Features and Peculiarities in Ethnic Culture)]. Moscow: Vostochnaya literatura, 1994. 234 p.
  • Rodionov M.A. Poslanie mudrosti (druzskie rukopisi IV RAN) [Message of Wisdom: Druzean Manuscripts of the Institute of Oriental Studies]. SPb: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 1995. 272 p.
  • Rodionov M.A. Islam klassicheskii [The Classic Islam”). SPb.: Azbuka-klassika, Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 2003. 218 p.
  • Simakov G.N. Sokolinaya okhota i kul’t khischnykh ptits v Srednei Azii (Ritual’nyi i prakticheskii aspekty) [Falconry and the Cult of Birds of Prey in Central Asia (Ritual and Practical Aspects)]. SPb.: Peterburgskoe Vostokovedenie, 1998. 320 p.
  • Simakov G.N. Sokolinaya okhota u narodov Srednei Azii i Kazakhstana v XIX-XX vv. [Falconry Among the Peoples of Central Asia and Kazakhstan in the 19th and 20th centuries]. Bishkek: Meltep, 2000. 212 p.
  • Uspenskaya E.N. Rajputy – rytsari srednevekovoi Indii [Rajputs – The Medieval Indian Knights]. SPb: Evraziya, 2000. 334 p.
  • Uspenskaya E.N. Radjputy: Traditsionnoe obschestvo. Gosudarstvennost’. Kul’tura [The Rajputs: Traditional Society, State Organization, Culture]. SPb: MAE RAS. 2003. 344 p.
  • Tsareva E.G. Rugs and Carpets of Central Asia. Leningrad–London: Aurora, Penguin Books, 1980. 256 p.
  • Tsareva E.G. Carpets of Central Asian Nomads. Genova: SEAGE, 1993. 120 p.


The department’s staff members have taken part in the Yemeni Complex Expedition from the Academy of Sciences (“Soviet-Yemeni” in 1983-91, “Russian-Yemeni” after 1991): M.A. Rodionov in 1983-94 (from 1989 on as leader of the ethno-linguistic team in Hadramauth), P.I. Pogorel’skii in 1984, 1990 and 1998. Extensive field data and ethnographical collections were acquired. In 2003 M.A. Rodionov worked in Yemen under a Russian-German project (to be completed in 2006). G.N. Simakov conducted field research in Central Asia and in the Caucasus. I.Yu. Kotin studied South Asian immigrants in Britain, Scandinavia, and Canada.


Since 2001 the department has been holding annual conferences attended by MAE staff and by their colleagues from other institutions of St.-Petersburg. Since 2003 it has been sponsoring the monthly interdepartmental seminar on textile convened by E.G. Tsareva and attended by specialists from various institutions of the city.

Current Research Projects

The department staff members participate in interdepartmental projects “Creators of the Kunstkamera”, directed by N.G. Krasnodembskaya, and Textile as an Historical Source (Based on Archaeological and Ethnographic Collections of MAE), directed by E.G. Tsareva.

Publishing the collections is among the department’s top priorities. Plans for 2004–06 include the preparation and publication of catalogue guides to collections of South and Southwest Asian textile at MAE.


MAE owns huge materials representing the traditional culture of the Middle East and totaling about 4,000 items falling into 179 collections. These contain Arab, Turkish, Iranian, and Afghani artifacts, as well as a few those made by Turkic-speaking people of Chinese Turkestan.

The first specimens from this region were received by the Kunstkamera as early as 1722, when Peter I, then on his Persian campaign, shipped several Persian stone cannonballs and the keys from Derbent, a city captured by the Russian troops, to St.-Petersburg. A little later, in the mid-1730s, the Kunstkamera received things that had been owned by Peter’s companion Jacob Bruce, including some Persian coins and other items.

The first Arab artifacts were received by the Ethnographic Museum in 1838 from Academician Ch.-M. Von Fr50084hn. He had acquired them in Cairo and they are now in the possession of the Department of Africa.

Because most of these were isolated specimens, the Middle Eastern collection was virtually nonexistent until the 1880s, when the Museum received the first Iranian assemblages (from Prince Rizah Koulie Mirza and from Academician V.R. Rosen) and those from Turkey (from Governor-General of Kars P.I. Tomich). In 1891, a highly valuable collection was received from the Russian Geographical Society on whose behalf it had been acquired by B.L. Grombchevsky in Kanjut, Hindu Kush. Specimens from other Mideastern countries began to arrive much later.

In the first decades of the 20th century, the Mideastern, primarily Iranian, collections were augmented to a considerable extent thanks to certain graduates of St.-Petersburg University Faculty of Oriental Languages (A.A. Romaskevich and V.A. Ivanov), who visited Iran and donated numerous artifacts to the museum, and so did Russian diplomats serving in Iran (A.A. Adamov and D.D. Belyaev).

Numerous specimens including Arab ones were received in 1939–40 from the State Ethnographical Museum (now Russian Ethnographical Museum).

In the 1950s–70s the relatively few Mideastern acquisitions were mostly occasional purchases or donations. The situation changed in the early 1980s, when the Academy of Sciences set up the Complex Soviet-Yemeni Expedition which united researchers from several institutions. Leningrad Branch of the Institute of Ethnography was represented by ethnographers M.A. Rodionov and P.I. Pogorel’skii, and by physical anthropologists. The activities of the former resulted in the acquisition of several hundred artifacts from southern Arabia, providing a basis for the new Mideastern exposition.

The second group of collections comes from South Asia, and the first of them originated during Peter’s rule. According to certain sources, Peter himself purchased Indian specimens in Europe. Figurines and ivory jewel boxes arrived in the 18th century.

However, the first complete ethnographic collections from South Asian countries were received in late 1800s thanks to the activities of the prominent Indologist I.P. Minaev, who visited India in the 1870s and 1880s and brought rare manuscripts and artifacts from there. In 1896, by order of Nicholas II, MAE received materials collected by him in 1890–91 on his trip to the Orient. These included valuable Indian articles.

In 1900 MAE acquired an ethnographic collection from Berlin Museum of Ethnology, containing Indian and Ceylonese collections of Doctor F. Jagor. In the early 20th century, numerous South Asian articles arrived, including those collected in India by Hait brothers, Baron A.A. Stahl von Holstein and A.N. Kaznakov, and in Ceylon (by N.I. Vorob’ev and Hans Meyer), etc.

Finally, in 1912, MAE received a collection assembled by a Russian diplomat M.S. Andreev, who later became a prominent specialist in Central Asian cultures. It contained a unique fragment of a wooden palace from the town of Nasik – the most valuable Indian specimen at MAE so far.

However, the largest contribution to the Indian collections was made by A.M. and L.A. Mervarts, members of the Academic expedition to India. During their five-year stay there (1914–18) they collected an enormous amount of artifacts reflecting diverse facets of life in South Asia (India and Ceylon).

In the mid-1920 MAE received South Asian artifacts from institutions such as the State Museum Foundation, the Expert Committee, former Stieglitz Museum, etc. Later, until the mid-1950s, acquisition of Indian specimens was mostly random. In 1950s and 1960s, due to the development of friendly ties with India, the accretion of South Asian collections was more rapid. Artifacts were received from various societies and organization of India and Ceylon, from separate persons, from participants of exhibitions held in Moscow and Leningrad, etc. In the same years large collections were received from several museums in Moscow and Leningrad including Moscow Museum of Oriental Cultures and Leningrad Museum of Theatre.

The Department also owns a large collection of photographs related to peoples of South Asia.

In later years, the key factors in the growth of South Asian collections were N.G. Krasnodembskaya’s trip to Sri Lanka and V.N. Mazurina’s work in Nepal. At present the total number of South-Asian collections exceeds 300, and the number of specimens is more than 12 thousand.


Middle and Near East. Isolated exhibits of Near Eastern origin have been displayed at the Museum since the beginning of Kunstkamera’s exhibitional activities. However, the first standing exposition specially featuring traditional Near Eastern cultures was only opened in 1925 after the reconstruction of the Museum.

In 1950 a new permanent exposition titled Peoples of the Near East was opened. Based on the museum’s ethnographic collections related to Iran, Afghanistan (including its minorities), Turkey, and the Arab countries, it functioned until 1978.

In 1999, after MAE had received materials from the Soviet-Yemeni Complex Expedition, a temporary exhibition was opened under the title Islam: Book and Sword. It eventually became the core of a new exposition focusing on the Middle and Near East. Exhibits, arranged by themes and peoples, introduce the visitors to the traditional culture of the Arab nations, the Muslim peoples of Turkey, North Africa, Iran, and Afghanistan. The exposition begins with the fragment of Ka’ba cover, handwritten and printed copies of the Koran and comments on it, reading and writing accessories, steel and armor. The next sections demonstrate costumes worn by peoples of the region, jewelry, samples of festive kitchenware, carpets, fabrics, and characters of puppet theatres. The Islam theme is developed in the section “Moharram” which shows attributes of the Shiah religious mystery.

South Asia. Like other Oriental rarities, isolated articles of South Asian origin have been exhibited at the Museum ever since the beginning. The first standing exhibition illustrating the traditional culture of South Asia was opened in 1925, after the reconstruction of the museum. Besides, in the 1930s, Indian collections were displayed on several thematic exhibitions at MAE.

In the first postwar years, a new permanent exhibition “Peoples of South Asia” was prepared at the museum. In was opened in 1949 and became a new permanent exhibition in 1998. It shows cultures of the Indian sub-continent: traditional beliefs, occupations, household, clothing, ornaments, fabrics, weapons, characters of South Indian Kathakali theatre, etc. The renewed exhibition was designed by the department staff members N.G. Krasnodembskaya, S.A. Maretina, E.N. Uspenskaya, and I.Yu. Kotin.

[1] Etnograficheskii status sushchestv, veshchei i yavlenii v kul’turakh Vostoka [Ethnographical Status of Living Beings, Things and Phenomena” in Oriental Cultures]: Part 1. The Dog. Collected Essays // Kunstkamera. Etnograficheskie tetradi. SPb., 1994. Vols. 5–6. P. 172–261; Part II. The Knife. Collected Essays // Kunstkamera. Etnograficheskie tetradi. SPb., 1999. Vol. 11. P. 133–236; Part. III. The Rain. Collected Essays // Kunstkamera. Etnograficheskie tetradi. SPb., 2003. Vol. 13. P. 138–193.