Stories of Napoleon Bonaparte's stolen gold have been muttered for over two centuries. Rumor has it, the fiercely successful French statesman and his soldiers looted the grand palaces and churches of Moscow during a retreat in his failed 1812 invasion of Russia before hiding the loot in a secret location.
Now, a Russian historian claims to have a new lead and believe he knows where the treasure is buried. Speaking to local newspaper Rabochy Put, Viacheslav Ryzhkov argues that the treasure is, in fact, at the bottom of Lake Bolshaya Rutavech, close to the town of Rudnya near Russia’s western border with Belarus.
Among the stolen loot is believed to be gold ingots, jewelry, cannons, ancient armor, and a large Christian cross from the Ivan the Great Bell Tower. Previous theories have suggested that the treasure was buried by the soldiers on the way back to their homeland of France. Others have speculated that it was dumped in a different lake in western Russian, Lake Semlevskaya, based on detailed records of his army’s whereabouts during the retreats.
However, Ryzhkov argues that the story of Lake Semlevskaya is a red herring, not least because archaeologists have studied this body of water a fair amount over the past century and found nothing out of the ordinary.
Instead, he believes that Napoleon sent a convoy of his troops to this lake as a decoy while the real deal was snuck away to Lake Bolshaya Rutavech. This idea is largely based on soil analysis and a 1989 chemical analysis of water in Lake Bolshaya Rutavech that notes a suspiciously high concentration of silver ions.
He argues that Napoleon's army set up a temporary dam to allow them to build a crypt in the middle of the lake, a distance of 50 meters (164 feet) from the shore. The dam was then reopened and the lake level rose, hiding the treasure with it.
“Napoleon did not throw jewels in barrels into the lake, it would be too simple. He ordered to hide them, buried at the bottom of the lake under the water castle," Ryzhkov told Moscow-based tabloid Moskovskij Komsomolets (MK).
Not everyone is convinced, however. "This is fiction. For centuries historians and archivists have documented Napoleon's daily progress on the Russian campaign...," professional treasure-hunter Vladimir Poryvayev told the MK newspaper. "It is completely improbable that he could abandon his army and take off with a 'gold train' of 400 horse-drawn carts."
“Did these Frenchmen have scuba gear for the production of such complex underwater work? It’s fantasy!” he added.
Nevertheless, Ryzhkov remains confident that he will be able to locate the lost treasures with a helping hand from experts and a bit of technological know-how.
“I personally don’t need treasures,” he told Rabochy Put. "The loot must be returned. It was stolen from the churches – let them return it to the temples.”