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History / Guillaume de Rubruk / Metrology

Guillaume de Rubruk


Nicholas Zharkikh

Measures of distance used by Rubruk can be divided into two groups. The first we include measures derived from other processes, the second special units of length or distance.

I compile all cases the use of distance measures in Rubruk's text in a table, that can be used as guide.

Day of the way

Chapter Rubruk's text Distance in modern terms Length of unit
1 I was two months on the way to Sartach, which I might have traveled in one had I gone with horses 1200 km 20 km on bulls, 40 km on horses
1 mighty plain [of Crimea] which stretches out for five days to the border of this province to the north 165 km, starting from the Staryj Krym to Perekop 33 km
14 a camp which was five days off, as oxen travel
14 we should have to travel fifteen days
14 in ten days covered the distance to the next camp
14 extends in places over thirty days in breadth
14 Alania extends from the Danube to the Tanais (which is the boundary between Asia and Europe), and which it takes two months hard riding, as ride the Tartars, to cross. Between the mouths of rivers only 900 km, from Galati to Voronezh 1050 km 15 km
14 beyond the Tanais to the Etilia, between which two rivers are ten good days
16 a certain lake [Caspian Sea] which has a circumference of four months journey 3900 km 30 km
16 the Tanais and the Etilia, in the north where we crossed them, are only distant the one from the other ten days
17 So we found Sartach three days from the Etilia
19 some ten or fifteen days, were the pasture lands of the Mo'al
20 One can go around it [Caspian sea] in four months
21 from that place to the cities of Greater Bulgaria to the north there are five days. If we suppose the southern cities of Bulgaria to be area of Tetyushi, then 5 days to the south will be Samara bow; and if we suppose the southern border to be at Samara bow, then 5 days will be Khvalynsk
21 From the Iron Gate, which is the door out of Persia, there are more than thirty days through the desert, going up along the Etilia, to this Bulgaria 1575 km 52.5 km
22 I am to take you to Mangu Chan. The journey is a four months 5000..5100 miles 42.5 km. In fact Rubruk traveled this way for 102 days 12 days of rest in Cailac = 90 days, i. e. 56 km
23 After traveling twelve days from the Etilia, we found a great river which they call Jagac The distance between the lower Volga (but above the separation of Akhtuba) to the Ural River is 480 km In this area travelers been traveling 40 kilometers per day. The rest (4500..4600 km), they droved in 78 days, which is 58 km / day
25 a sea or lake [Balkhash] which is twenty-five days in circumference. 1000 km 40 km
26 it can he seen from two days off
31 When we were five days from it [Möngke's court]
33 ten days hence there is a goodly city called Caracarum
39 from the place where I had found Mangu Chan to Cathay was twenty days journey between south and east
39 while to Onan Kerule, which is the true country of the Mo'al, and where is the ordu of Chingis, was ten days due east
50 Two days thence we found another town called Samaron
53 From Cologne to Constantinople is not over forty days in a cart 2000 km 50 km
53 From Constantinople it is not so far as that to the country of the King of Hermenia. 750 km to Cilicia


15 tombs of Comans visible two leagues off
21 the ordu of Baatu with people scattered all about for three or four leagues.
29 at about three leagues from it we found a village entirely of Nestorians.
49 the valley through which flow these branches of the river is more than seven leagues wide


1 1400 miles the length of the Black Sea 1125 km 0.8 miles
1 there are three hundred miles between Sinopolis and Cassaria 300 km 1 km
1 there are seven hundred miles from these points to Constantinople in length and breadth Traverse Yalta Burgas = 560 km; Zonguldak Odessa = 560 km 0.8 miles
1 seven hundred to the east, which is Hyberia Traverse Yalta Batumi = 600 km 0.86 km
1 the river Tanais falls into the sea of Pontus, through an opening twelve miles wide 15 km 1.25 km
1 forms a kind of sea to the north which has a width and breadth of seven hundred miles The mouths of the Don Arabat arrow = 375 km; Temryuk Berdyansk = 172 km 0.54 km
0.24 km
15 forming a big sea of seven hundred miles before it reaches the Sea of Pontus
50 [Derbent] is more than a mile long Length of Derbent on top of the mountain to the sea = 2.7 km, width 200.. 400 m All the question what we understand as town. Eastern half inside the walls was not built, and the actual town building occupied the western part (in the early 18th century about 1.35 km). For this stretch one can take a mile in 1.2 km.


a [Azov sea] with nowhere a depth of over six paces


2 And they make these houses so large that they are sometimes thirty feet in width.
2 I myself once measured the width between the wheel-tracks of a cart twenty feet, and when the house was on the cart it projected beyond the wheels on either side five feet at least.

A flight of arrow

31 they get off their horses about an arrow's flight from the dwelling of the Chan

A flight of stone

2 at a half stone's throw
2 there will be the distance of a stone's throw between the iurt of one wife and that of another
32 the distance of two crossbow shots from it
47 about a stone's throw from it
50 its [Derbent] width, however, is but a stone's throw. The distance between the walls of Derbent 200..400 m

In the first group of measures more often (24 times) is found "the day of the way". Rubruk distinguishes a great day (if ride horses) and small (if ride bulls). This small day in his opinion, less than twice as large (usually used without definitions). In cases where Rubruk's noted for distance in days can be binded to the modern geographical objects and measure the kilometers (there are 7 such cases), we see that length of day varies greatly (from 15 to 52.5 km per day).

Four times Rubruk indicates the distance in the leagues. One indication the width of the valley, where the Volga branches flowing (7 Leagues) can be measured. The width of this valley varies slightly about 20..25 km, hence league = 2.9..3.6 km. Overall this is consistent with the old (before reform in 1674) Paris league (3.25 km).

Eight times Rubruk indicates the distance in miles. If we reject obviously exaggerated size of the Azov Sea, the other Rubruk's notes shows the length of a mile in 0.8..1 km, which generally meets the Italian nautical mile. Also noteworthy that the 6 occurrences of mile measuring falls on the first chapter; to write it Rubruk probably used the data of Italian sailors.

One time Rubruk uses unit "step" and "flight of arrow", twice "foot", 5 times "flight of stone". Using these distances as a flight of arrow and shot of crossbow indicates some Rubruk's familiarity with military affairs of his time.

Units of weight in Rubruk's mention a few, actually, the only Mongolian unit "iascot" mentioned 12 times (often Rubruk added explanation that 1 iascot weights 10 mark; in medieval Europe mark weighed about 250 grams in the different principalities differently.) Thus, 1 iascot 2.5 kg of gold was great value and could not used in daily circulation. However, no smaller currencies he said.

Very valuable are Rubruk's notes that "The common money of Cathay is a paper of cotton The ordinary money of the Ruthenians are skins of vaire and minever" (Ch. 39). Staying in Mongol Empire, he was not observed cash flow, and emphasized that one cannot buy for the money anything, but only in exchange for some tissue or something else. Three times he mentioned the Byzantine gold coins iperpers, and twice bezants (actually, the same Byzantine iperpers only named European word).

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