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Mykola Zharkikh (Kyiv)

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Sources of the work

Nicholas Zharkikh

Sources that were used by Rubruk in his book can be divided into two groups: written sources and the oral stories of his contemporaries.

Among the writings the Bible takes a prominent place. Biblical quotations in the work presented in the following table:

Chapter Rubruk's text Source
Preface It is written in Ecclesiasticus of the wise man: "He shall go through the land of foreign peoples, and shall try the good and evil in all things." Ecclesiasticus (Wisdom of Sirach), 39, 4. This book is not a member of the Orthodox Bible, but is part of the Catholic one. Because it is similar in content to the book Ecclesiastes, it is also often called the book Ecclesiastes.
2 Nowhere have they any 'lasting city'; and of 'the one to come' they have no knowledge. P.Jackson assumed here the paraphrase of Heb., 13, 14: «For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come».
21 And as among the people of Israel, where each one knew in which quarter from the tabernacle he had to pitch his tents, so these know on which side of the ordu they must place themselves when they set down their dwellings. Numbers 3, 38
21 We stood before him the time to say: "Miserere mei, Deus". Psalter, 50
21 for God saith: "He who shall have believed and have been baptized, shall be saved, but he who shall not have believed shall be condemned". Matthew, 28, 16 and other Gospels
23 what the Lord saith: "I will move them to jealousy (that is, those who do not keep his law) with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation." Jeremiah, 6, 19: Hear, O earth: behold, I will bring evil upon this people, even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not hearkened unto my words, nor to my law, but rejected it.
27 these (soothsayers) precede them as the pillar of a cloud did the children of Israel, and they decide where to pitch the camp Exodus 13, 21
30 "the mistress of nations sat in sorrow, and there was no one to console her." This quote in the Bible I have found, perhaps this quote from a prayer. It is distantly similar to Lamentations, 1, 9: Her [=Jerusalem] filthiness is in her skirts; she remembereth not her last end; therefore she came down wonderfully: she had no comforter.
40 the brother who is aided by the brother is like a strong city. And there is no such a verbatim quote in the Bible. It is distantly similar (in opposite meaning) to Proverbs, 18, 19: A brother offended is harder to be won than a strong city.
45 God says: "If one love me, he keepeth my commandments; and he who loveth me not keepeth not my commandments." John, 14, 23
50 thus it is that in the book of Kings it is said of the sons of Senacherib, that their father having been killed they fled into the country of the Hermenians; while in Isaiah it is said that they fled into the country of Ararat. Kings 4, 19, 37; Isaiah, 37, 38.
51 what Isaiah said would have been fulfilled to the letter: "Every valley shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low." Isaiah, 40, 4

As seen from the table, the Bible stands for Rubruk mainly as a source of imaginative comparisons. Only once – in connection with Mount Ararat – he remembers the events of biblical history, tying them to the geographical realities.

Ideas that the nomadic life of the Mongols inherited from the biblical patriarchs, which , is absent in Rubruk's book.

Six times Rubruk invoked Isidoro (Isidore of Seville, 560 – 636):

- the name of Alania or Albania for Eastern Europe (Ch. 14, 21);

- the name of the Caspian Sea (Chapter 20, where Rubruk denies information taken from the Isidore that it seemed to be gulf of ocean, and correctly points out that the Caspian Sea is not connected with the ocean);

- fierce dogs in Alania kill lions (Chapter 21, with what Rubruk agreed);

- information about the Huns and Vandals (Ch. 23);

- information about the monster or ugly people (Ch. 39; when Rubruk stayed in Karakoram he collected information about them, but none heard about them and Rubruk expressed doubt about these literary data). In this episode Rubruk remembered also Solin (Julius Solin, 3 cent. A.D.). The work of Solin "collection of things worth mentioning" was used by Isidore, and it remains unclear whether Rubruk used Solin directly.

What the Isidore's work was used? Apparently, it was "Etymologiae" – a large encyclopedia in 20 volumes, where 13th and 14th volumes devoted to geography. This work Rubruk apparently managed to find in Tripoli, where he wrote the book; later (after sending it to the King) he has not returned to it. Of course, we must assume that a general acquaintance of Rubruk with Isidore's work happened before, even in France, but the specific reference could hardly be done from memory.

Traces of the use of literary sources can be seen in antic geographical terminology and reference to antiquity. Thus, Derbent for Rubruk was Iron Gate, built by Alexander the Great (Ch. 16, 21, 50), Tien Shan mountains he calls the Caucasus (Ch. 25; as geographers of middle ages, including Isidore, believed that the Caucasus extends to the east very far, even to India); country China, where he was not arriving, Rubruk rightly identified with Serica of ancient geographers (Chapter 28; information about Serica gave Ptolemy); on modern Azerbaijan Rubruk writed that in ancient times, the country name was Hyrcania (Ch. 51).

Finally, in the same 51st chapter we find a direct quote from Virgil: "pontem dedignatur Araxes (the bridge does not tolerate Araks)" (Aeneid, ch. 8, line 728).

Is all the information taken from Isidore, or even with any other written sources – now it is impossible to say. Search these sources must begin with a comparison of Rubruk's text with the work of Isidore; it may be subject to a separate article.

In the 19th chapter we find the following mention:

At the time when the Franks took Antioch the sovereignty of these northern regions belonged to a certain Con cham […] Now we read in the history of Antioch, that the Turks sent for succor against the Franks to King Con cham.

If one "read" then of course, it was a written essay. But what kind of work on the history of the First Crusade Rubruk used – it is not clear. Not seen also in his book other traces of this "History of Antioch".

In Rubruk's book there are two another references to written sources. These the two sources he met during his stay in Constantinople. In Ch. 23 he writes:

The rest may be learned from the chronicles, for it is a well established fact that those provinces from Constantinople (westward) and which were called Bulgaria, Blackia end Sclavonia were provinces of the Greeks.

Of course, here was mentioned some Byzantine chronicle.

The second message contained in the 51st chapter:

they have two prophets: the first is Methodius the martyr, who was of their race, and he prophesied concerning the Ismaelites, which prophecy has been fulfilled in the Saracens. The other prophet is called Acatron… I had read this prophecy in Constantinople, brought there by the Hermenians who live there, but had paid no particular attention to it; when I had had this conversation, however, with the bishop, it came back vividly to my memory.

The first mention is easy to learn – it is "Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius" (Byzantine eschatological work, perhaps 7th centuries. False attributed to Methodius of Olympus (he died 312)). This "Apocalypse" was translated into Latin, but Rubruk was not familiar with this translation, and became acquainted with it through the Armenians (so he mistakenly indicated that Methodius was Armenian).

The Akatron's prophecy was retelled by Rubruk in great detail, so that identifying of the source would not be a problem. But none of the Rubruk's commentators has not pointed this source (perhaps it was not preserved as a separate text). The contents of this prophecy shows that it was composed sometime in the 2nd quarter of the 13th century:

- used ethnonym "Tatars" who have to struggle with the Franks and Armenians (Tatars appeared in Transcaucasia in 1220);

- a wise man of the people of shooters came to Constantinople, "and seeing the churches and the ceremonies of the Franks" (these churches appeared after 1204);

- Franks from Jerusalem will attack Tatars (Franks possessed Jerusalem in 1099 – 1187 and 1229 – 1244);

- king of the Franks put his throne in Tabriz (north-western Iran). In Tabriz there was a headquarters of Mongol rulers, and from there they are constantly threatened the Armenians. Therefore, from the Armenian point of view the transition Tabriz under the authority of Christians meant the establishment of universal peace.

This prophecy, of course, created in Armenia and reflects Armenian political interests. These interests consisted in provoking the war between the Franks and Tartars in the hope that after the defeat of the Tatars Armenians gain a political advantage.

Among the sources of the second group – stories of Rubruk's contemporaries – the first place, no doubt, occupied André de Longjumeau. In his stories Rubruk refers to him seven times. Another time he remembered Andrew when explained in the Karakoram David's intrigue.

In Karakorum Rubruk was a lucky – he met there the captive Frenchman William, master goldsmith, who worked for Khan. From William he certainly learned a lot of details that came to the book, but to outline the scope of this information is impossible. Very valuable Rubruk's assistant was the son of master William, who perfectly knew the Mongolian language and was an interpreter. Many useful Rubruk heard, perhaps, from the Armenian monk Sergius, with whom he lived for a long time and sent Christian worship.

Once (Ch. 21) Rubruk mention John of Plano Carpini, who visited Batu before Rubruk. But there is no textual borrowings in Rubruk from the report of Plano Carpini, because Rubruk not personally met with John and could not read a report submitted to the Pope of Rome.

Instead, he certainly read the report of the Hungarian Dominicans Julian on a trip to the Bashkirs (1236). Although this report is well known in historiography and was published in Russian translation in 1940 [Annynsky S.A. Notes of hungarian missioners of 13 cent on Tatars and Eastern Europe. – Historical Archive, 1940, v. 3, p. 71 – 90], despite Rubruk's direct instruction: "That which I have told of and of Pascatir I know from the preaching friars who went there before the advent of the Tartars" (Ch. 23) – despite all this none of the commentators noted obvious links between the works of Julian and Rubruk.

I absolutely can not understand note of N.P. Shastina to this matter: "About these early preachers who belonged to the Dominican Order, known only mention in one of the census." Why I (theoretical physicist) with no problems found Rubruk's source and why this was impossible for the historian – the professionals in the Middle Ages?

Common points in these works are:

– the name "Greater Bulgaria" for the Volga-Kama Bulgaria;

– there were cities in Greater Bulgaria;

– Great Hungary (Julian) = Pascatir land or Great Hungary (Rubruk), that modern Bashkiria, lies near the Greater Bulgaria;

– there were no cities in this land, people – the shepherds;

– from this land came the Hungarians who settled Dunai Hungary;

– language of Pascatirs and Hungarians is the same.

It is possible that under the influence of Julian, who mentioned Assan's Bulgaria (modern Bulgaria near Black sea), Rubruk writes of "Blakia, which is the land of Assan, and minor Bulgaria as far as Sclavonia" (Chapter 1). Assan from the Julian's story was perhaps the king Ioann Assen 2nd (ruled in 1218 – 1241); but a Rubruk's contemporary was a son of Ioann Assen – Michael 2nd Assen (ruled in 1246 – 1256). From these cursory mention, in my view, one can not deduce the names of specific rulers, but reference to geographical area where rules Assan's dynasty, the Minor Bulgaria.

Julian noted Zikuia country and Matrica city in it, but the Rubruk's data is much more about them and therefore can not derive from Julian.

However, there are no traces in Rubruk of the Julian's letter to Perugia Bishop describing the second trip (1237). This letter remained unknown to Rubruk. Comparison of historical and geographic data of Julian and Rubruk showed a great progress in knowledge of medieval Europeans on Central Asia. But this comparison is beyond the scope of my article.

It is worth noting textual parallels between Herodotus "History" and the text of Rubruk.

Rubruk, ch. 35
[Ethiopian king said:]
“If he had been righteous he would not have coveted a land other than his own, nor would he be leading away into slavery men at whose hands he has received no wrong. Now however give him this bow and speak to him these words: The king of the Ethiopians gives this counsel to the king of the Persians, that when the Persians draw their bows (of equal size to mine) as easily as I do this, then he should march against the Long-lived Ethiopians, provided that he be superior in numbers; but until that time he should feel gratitude to the gods that they do not put it into the mind of the sons of the Ethiopians to acquire another land in addition to their own."
Then Mangu had made a very strong bow that two men could hardly string, and two arrows with silver heads full of holes, which whistled like a pipe when they were shot. And he told the Mo'al whom he was to send with this Theodolus:
"Go to the king of the Franks, to whom this man shall take you, and offer him these from me. And if he will have peace with us, and we conquer the land of the Saracens as far as his country, we will leave him all the rest of the earth to the west. If not, bring back the bow and the arrows to us, and tell him that with such bows we shoot far and hit hard."

Of course, I'm far from the assumption that Rubruk borrowed this text from Herodotus, reworking it to suit circumstances. Equally I can not assume that Khan Mongke at bedtime reading Herodotus and said to himself: "And what I'm worse than an Ethiopian king? Let me send a bow as a gift".

I think we can talk about common manners and understanding of people, distributed in space at 6500 km and time – in 1800 years. Bow, passed with the ambassador as a gift, would mean: "We are equally prepared as for peace and for war." This gift should be regarded as a universal symbol, equally understandable to all people regardless of language (well, something like a modern highway signs). The origin of this symbol, given the appointed time and spatial span of its existence, had to be pretty old.