It is presumed that the domra was brought to Russia by the Mongolian people who invaded Russia and vast parts of Europe in the 13th and 14th Century. This presumption was affirmed by several of the travellers at that time. Plano Carpini who visited the Mongolian Empire in 1246 told that music instruments were played at the meals of the Chans – instruments that according to the description looked like the domra as we know it today and which was called the Dumbur or the Dumbra. Another traveller, Rubrukvis, who visited the Chans Batyj, Mangu and Sartach (the son of Batyj) in 1253, also tells about similar instruments. However, as he did not know the Mongolian names for these instruments, he calls them the Citherula and the Cithar. It is possible that these instruments were the ancestors to the Russian domra.
In Russian writings, the domra is mentioned especially in the 17th Century. For instance, it is known that there were booths on the market place in Moscow where you could buy and sell domras, Tambourines and other music instruments. Unfortunately, not even one piece of the domra is left, neither a picture nor a fairly complete description of the domra of that time.
Professor Famitsyn, who worked with the reconstruction of the domra, has told that even though the Russian domra is different from its’ Mongolian relatives, it is nevertheless the same instrument.
Already from very old days, domras in different sizes existed in Russia. In an old writing from 1644, a small domra is described and called “Domrisjko”. In the connection of a mortgage business at Prince Golitsyn (1690) a “big domra with bastinadoes in a case made of wood, price 1 Rubie” is mentioned.
This shows that ensemble playing existed at that time. You can presume that besides “Domrishkas” and “big domras with bastinadoes”, domras of different sizes – as for instance the Alto or the Tenor existed.
Now-a-days, we know two types of domras: The Andrejeff-type with three strings and tuned in quarter and the Ljubimoff type with four strings and tuned in fifth.
(Source: A. Noveselskij “Russiske folkemusikinstrumenters historie” Moscow 1931 told in “Balalajka Blade” no.3 publisced by Evgeni Pavlovski, Copenhagen 1964).