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History / Guillaume de Rubruk / Rus' realities

Guillaume de Rubruk

Rus' realities

Nicholas Zharkikh

Although the Rubruk's path was not passed through the Ruthenian principalities, his work gives some information about the Rus' at that time. Limits of Rus' he outlining like this:

To the north of province lies Ruscia, which is everywhere covered with forests, and extends from Poland and Hungary to the Tanais (Ch. 14). Beyond Ruscia to the north is Pruscia, which has all been recently conquered by the Teutonic knights. This river [Tanais Don] is the eastern boundary of Ruscia, and takes its rise in the Meotide fens, which extend to the ocean in the north (Chapter 15).

Important information presents Rubruk on Rus' trade: import of salt from the Crimea and the export of furs in the southern countries through Sudak (read more about it below). "The ordinary money of the Ruthenians are skins of vaire and minever" (Ch. 39)

Rubruk recorded facts of Mongol rule over Rus':

it was all ravaged by the Tartars, and is still being ravaged every day (Ch. 14).

From Ruscia, Moxel, and from Greater Bulgaria and Pascatir, which is greater Hungary, and Kerkis, all of which are countries to the north and full of forests, and which obey them, are brought to them costly furs of many kinds, which I never saw in our parts, and which they wear in winter (Ch. 7)

When the latter [Russians] can give no more gold or silver they drive them off to the wilds, them and their little ones, like flocks of sheep, there to herd their cattle (Ch. 15).

Thus, the Mongol's policy on Rus in Rubruk's description was to desolate, collecting tribute in fur (ie the currency), gold, silver, bringing prisoners. It is important to note that Rubruk gave no mention of any city in Rus' and no principality, no representatives of the Rus' government. Maybe he had no occasion to gather all about it some more, but he remembered the towns in Greater Bulgaria.

Instead, very often (11 times) Rubruk mentions captives from Rus', settled on the area subjected to Mongols. In the western part, at the Don and Volga, Rubruk saw Russians settlement arranged in order of Batu for ferry travelers through these rivers. In the village on Don Rubruk had the opportunity to take a closer look to the Rus' clothes:

The Ruthenian women arrange their heads as among us, but their outside gowns they trim from the feet to the knee with vaire or minever. The men wear capes like the Germans; on their heads they wear felt caps, pointed and very high (Ch. 15).

I can not say that Mongol's treatment liked Ruthenian people. No, they resisted the invaders. Passive resistance consisted, in particular, in a determined refusal to drink mare's milk. This refusal has already acquired at the time the character pattern, which is distinguished Orthodox (Rus) from Tatar. Who drink mare's milk, he becomes a Tatar or at least commits a grave sin against the Orthodox faith, from which must serve penance. As part of overall national pattern, this custom is not subjected to any rational argument. Rubruk three times (in 12, 13, and 14 chapters) returned to this custom and made the belief that through it conversion of Tatars to Christianity will fail. The idea that Tatar honor drinking mare's milk is angrier for evil (recorded in the Galicia-Volyn chronicle), was extended not only among princes.

Captivated Rus' people have taken an active resistance:

On the road between him [Sartach] and his father [Batu] we were in great fear, for the Ruthenians, Hungarians and Alans, their [the Mongols'] slaves, of whom there are very great numbers among them, are in the habit of banding together twenty or thirty in number, and run off at night (armed) with arrows and bows, and whomsoever they find at night they kill (Ch. 20)

The name "cossacks" for these people had not yet applied, but in fact they were cossacks free people who are armed, they defended their freedom. They did not waited until the princes agree with the popes, and nobles with emperors to consider calls for negotiations to conclude an agreement of intent, which would be aimed at limiting the arbitrariness of the invaders.

Of course, there were only a few these rebel troops, it is possible that in general there was only one unit, but this does not detract from the value of its struggle. Also important to note that the insurgents operating in the area between the Sartach's and Batu's headquarters, where was concentrated the main Mongol forces in the region. It is difficult to imagine Sydir Artemovych Kovpak spread his camp between Berlin and Potsdam, or Shamil Basayev between Moscow and St. Petersburg. And the referred by Rubruk rebels operating in this most dangerous area.

Further east from the headquarters of Batu number of Rus' people decreases. In Karakorum Rubruk met two of them: a man who knew how to build a home (Ch. 34), and deacon, who made divination for monk Sergius (Ch. 43). Besides there is a general reference:

Then came a great number of Christians, Hungarians, Alans, Ruthenians, Georgians, Hermenians, all of whom had not seen the sacrament since their capture (Chapter 42)

We see that Rubruk's notes on Rus' and Rus' people at that time are fragmentary and occasional (Rubruk not interested specifically in Rus'), but they give important finishing touches to the image of our land in the mid-13th century.

Even more important is the unique notes of Rubruk-eyewitness on the southern lands of modern Ukraine: Crimea and Azov shore.

For the Black Sea he provided the "scientific" ancient name "sea of Pontus" and contemporary usual name "the Greater Sea". The peninsula it appears under the names "Gazaria" (the modern name, used by Catholics) and "Cassaria" (it used the Greeks, and Rubruk explains: "which is Cesaria"). The name of long disappeared Khazars be kept in Western European geographical nomenclature at least until the late 15th century.; instead names Cassaria / Cesaria for the Crimea, it seems, never acted.

I do not know how to explain this name. There were a lot of towns named Caesarea (Caesarea): in Israel (2), Turkey (3), Syria, Greece, Algeria, Italy. Areal of distribution of this name the Mediterranean; on the Black Sea such names are not known.

It is important to emphasize that Rubruk applied the name "Gazaria" to the whole Crimean peninsula, not just to the south coast or territories inhabited by the Greeks (in ch. 14 he writes that Perekop passed, they left the area of Gazaria).

On the western end of the peninsula Rubruk noted Kersona city (Kherson, old Chersonese) and do not forget to recall that there was martyred pope Clement (late 1 st century AD).

And as we were sailing past it we saw an island on which is a temple said to have been built by angelic hands.

This message is generally consistent with the message of st.Cyril hagiography (about 861, the event):

Hearing that the relics of Saint Clement still lying on the sea, he persuaded the archbishop with clerics and pious people. They boarded the ship and sailed to the place when the sea was quiet. And he came and began to dig with the singing of prayers. And after that appeared the holy relics and took these relics with great honor and glory, and brought them to the city.

Both sources as saying about the island, where in the 9th cent. Cyril organized a finding of the relics, where was later built the temple and Rubruk seen this temple in the mid-13th cent. It is amazing that this information fully confirmed by the archaeological research:

Excavations carried out in the 19th century, showed that on the small, frequently flooded island in Cossack bay (the sixth one from Chersonesus) really was a tiny temple, or rather, an chapel with the underground lower tier, where the tomb was constructed. Obviously, there was placed relics of St. Clement, and special narrow passage carried to the grave. This passage was ceiled by arches, which made it accessible to pilgrims. Courtyard with a chapel and a group of small buildings surrounded by a stone fence, delineating the boundaries of this small country monastery. It communicated with coast by a small isthmus. Now here is a military unit, and the island with a isthmus covered with earth. [Sorochan S.B., Zubar V.M., Marchenko L.V. Life and death of Hersonissos. Kharkiv: 2001, p. 662]

Said Cossack Bay is located on the far west of Heraclea peninsula on which the Chersonese situated. The mouth of it opens to the north, and to look inside the bay, one have to swim to the north of it (for example, going to the Chersonese). Perhaps the vessel on which Rubruck sailed from Constantinople, came to a some need to the Chersonese, and then along the southern coast of Crimea headed to Sudak. I think that parking in the Chersonese was not long, so it was not recorded by Rubruck.

I specifically dwelt on the probable route of Rubruck's navigation, as one have to read that "Willelm van Rubruk visiting Sugdea (Soldaia) in 1253, having gone there, probably from Sinop, said " [Bayer H.-F. The ethnic composition of Sugdaia and its hinterland in 1253 according to Willelm van Rubruk. An ancient antiquity and the Middle Ages, 2005, vol 36, p. 205]. Why from Sinop? From what is visible the likelihood?

Moving further east, Rubruk noted the high rocky coast of the peninsula, on the section between Chersonese and Sudak he noted 40 castles, almost all of which had a separate language; there were lived Goths, whose language Rubruk defined as German. One should guess that in Sudak he met a citizen of this country, and spoke with him in German.

Modern town Sudak Rubruk unconditionally calls "Soldaia" (ie the name of the Latin tradition). Further east, he does not remember any town until the Kerch Strait (which he calls "mouth of the Sea of Tanais"), where noted town Matrica (present Taman). So, Caffa (modern Feodosia) did not yet exist, which is consistent with data from other sources.

About Sudak Rubruk provides sufficient detail, and one can only wonder that they are absolutely not interested for "scientists" of the National Reserve "Sophia", which is managed the Sudak fortress.

Soldaia an important point of transit trade between the southern shore of the Black Sea (mainly Turkish lands) and the Nordic countries, main among them Rus'. From Rus' to the south being taken valuable furs, and from the south to Rus' cotton and silk fabrics, spices. Overall trade was carried luxury items. Furs were brought from Rus' in covered carts (an interesting touch of contemporary Rus' life).

Leaders in the urban community Rubruk did not find in Soldaia: they were still in winter went to Batu with a tribute and not returned yet. This important evidence about the nature of Mongol power in the Crimea.

Rubruk was placed in the episcopal church (an important touch to history of Sugdea metropolis, which operated at the time; perhaps is significant the title of the church hierarch the bishop, not the metropolitan, because Rubruk well understood the religious titles). It turned out that the bishop visited Prince Sartach another item to the history of the Mongols in the Crimea. Apparently, for this church one should attribute mention that the Russians and the Greeks in Gazaria have bells (Ch. 26).

Rubruk never missed the occasion note the fortifications (castles and fortresses) which met on his way, and sometimes (Derbent, ch. 50) gave a detailed description. He twice mentioned the destruction of the fortifications by the Mongols: 1, when the Baghdad Caliph tried to make peace with the Mongols, they have made a claim that Caliph has destroyed all his fortifications (Ch. 48); and 2, in a Sahensa's land they did ruined fortifications (Ch. 51). About this Mongol's practice we know from other sources (Burundai march to Volyn in 1259 and destruction of the fortifications of Volodymyr).

Given the clear Rubruk's interest to the subject of fortifications probably has a specific meaning his silence of existing (or destroyed in the recent past) fortifications in Sudak. Sudak under the Tatar rule had no fortifications, and this should be considered when compiling the history of this fortress.

Rubruk very carefully noted each his meeting with Catholics throughout the journey, from Batu's court and to the Iconium. He always wrote his name and from where he comes, what is doing and how to got to the location. So again it is instructive silence about Catholics in Sudak.

He was placed in greek church because there was no Latin one; while writing areas of trade, he does not mention Constantinople or further European cities (e. g. Venice, which at the time of the Latin Empire almost monopolized the navigation on the Black Sea). The conclusion is simple: at that time Sudak was not of interest to European transit trade; its Black Sea direction was formed later, already during the Golden Horde.

Listing Christian nations subject to the Mongols: Russians, Vlachss, Bulgarians of Minor Bulgaria, Soldaians, Kerkis [Circassians] and Alans (Ch. 20), Rubruk mentioned Soldaians. In my opinion, this word should not be considered an ethnonym (the name of the people), but demonym (name of the inhabitants of the locality). This word is derived from Soldaia the name of town in Latin tradition. It is clear that none of the local people could not have self name from the Latin language.

Depart to north Rubruk drove through beautiful mountains and forest (now the road to Sudak leads through the forest). On the plain beyond the forest Rubruk met the Mongol camp, their chief's name was Scatay (Ch. 11). It is easy to assume that camp was located somewhere between Belogorsk and Old Crimea, because there is only one way to journey from Sudak in the north (as in ancient times, and now). It is important that here Rubruk not mentioned any permanent settlement Old Crimea was established later.

With exceptional verbosity Rubruk describes the northern part of the Crimea:

Toward the end of this province are many and large lakes, on whose shores are brine springs, the water of which as soon as it enters the lake is turned into salt as hard as ice. And from these brine springs Baatu and Sartach derive great revenues, for from all Ruscia they come thither for salt, and for each cartload they give two pieces of cotton worth half an iperper. There come there also by sea many ships for salt, and all contribute according to the quantity.

To the north, where it [this area] contracts, having the sea to the east and the west, so that there is a great ditch from one sea to the other (Chapter 1).

We came finally to the end of this province (of Gazaria), which is closed by a ditch (running) from one sea to the other, and outside of it was the camp of these (Mongols); and when we came among them they were such horrible looking creatures that they seemed like lepers. They were stationed there to collect the tax from those who get sail from the salt lakes of which I have already spoken (Ch. 14)

Here is place where old-rus' Salt path led. I'm not quite clear where the Russians merchants (let's call them chumaks?) got cotton fabrics for duty, perhaps, in this way should pay those who came from the south. But essentially, that there is no mention of money yet. Great income from these industries collected not in cash form. Setting up own Tatar monetary system belongs to the later, Golden-Horde time (late 13th cent.).

Polovtsian sculptures exhibited at the National Museum of History of Ukraine

Polovtsian sculptures exhibited at the National Museum of History of Ukraine. Photo by N.I.Zharkikh, 2007

Rubruk takes a few, but very interesting news of the Polovtsians, whom he calls "Comans" or "Capchat" (ie, Kipchak). The area where they lived stretched from the Volga to the Danube, including the steppe Crimea (Ch. 1, 14, 16). Further to east, beyond the Volga, before the arrival of the Tatars lived Kangly which Rubruk originally thought as Comans (Ch. 20), and then (Chapter 22) said that they were some relatives of Comans.

The econome of Comans shepherds (Ch. 14). In Crimea, they collected tribute from the castles and towns; when Tatars came, many of Comans fled to the Crimea and died (Chapter 1).

On the road from Sudak until Sartach's court Rubruk wondered large number of Coman's graves (of course, he attributed to Polovtsian all mounds of all time, filled up in the area) (Ch. 11). He noted Polovtsian custom to bury all relatives in one place (Ch. 15) and gave the description of the tomb:

The Comans raise a great tumulus over the dead, and set up a statue to him, its face to the east, and holding a cup in its hand at the height of the navel (Ch. 10).

This description fully corresponds to preserved samples of Polovtsian statues. It is interesting to note also that in any other country Rubruk was not observed mounds.

In Batu court Rubruk meet Coman, who saluted him in Latin. It turned out that he was baptized in Hungary (Ch. 22). This episode recalls the next stage of the history of Comans, when they are retreated to Hungary under threat from the Mongols.

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