Its literature provided a foundation for the development of other aspects of Novgorodian culture. Without "written memory" it would have been impossible to record and accumulate cultural experience, to instruct the public in subjects illustrated in painting, to pass on knowledge of Novgorod's history and its place in the history of the world, to furnish geographical and political information, or even to govern the vast territories under Novgorod's rule. Neither would it have been possible to develop the advanced forms of property ownership and of commerce on which the economy of the city state was based. Novgorodian artists and craftsmen also depended on the written sources, for both subject matter and technological advice. And finally, literature served to inculcate those high moral ideals without which no society can prosper, for mutual trust and confidence are a necessary condition of all public life.
Novgorodian icons and frescoes hardly need special praise. It is enough to remind the reader that in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries any antiquary or art collector, seeing an icon of surpassing beauty, once assigned it to the Novgorodian School simply on the ground of its artistic excellence. With good reason, for Novgorodian icons truly demonstrate an exceptionally high level of pictorial culture.
Novgorod produced a great cycle of bylinas, or folk epics, in character quite unlike any other Russian bylina cycle. They were not centred around the bogatyrs, warriors of almost supernatural strength and prowess, like the Kievan cycle. Novgorodians' favourite heroes were merchants, minstrels, and brave fellows: Sadko, a rich overseas trader and minstrel; Vasily Buslaevich, ushkuinik, a river pirate; Vavilo Skomorokh, a folk clown; the merchant Terentyishche, Big Terenty - and others of the same stature.
Men of Novgorod and the outlying areas explored the Russian North as far as the Urals, and settled in that territory in large numbers, founding numerous monasteries, exploiting natural resources, starting land cultivation in wooded regions, and trading with foreign countries.
The architectural aspect of Novgorod was influenced by its wide - ranging commercial and cultural contacts. The city was linked by trade with Scandinavian countries on the Baltic, with Kiev and Constantinople in the south, Smolensk in Western Russia, the littoral of the White Sea and the Transuralian regions in the north - east, and, via the Volga, with the Arabian states in the south - east.
Novgorod is situated on the upper Volkhov, a deep navigable river and part of the eleventh - to thirteenth - century main route of Eastern European trade, known as the way "from the Varangians to the Greeks". This great waterway connected the northern regions of Europe with its southern ones, and Europe itself with the lands around the Caspian Sea.