Volume 1, Chapter 19 -- Travels of Josaphat Barbaro, Ambassador from Venice to Tanna, now calledAsof, in 1436.


Josaphat Barbaro, a Venetian, was sent, in the year 1436, by the republic of Venice, as ambassador to Tanna, now called Asof, which at that time was in the hands of the Genoese. This relation was printed in a small and scarce collection at the Aldus press in Venice, by Antonio Minutio in 1543, and was afterwards inserted in the collection of Giovanne Baptista Ramusio. The following is an abstract of that journey. He went afterwards into Persia in 1471, as ambassador to Ussum Hassan, or Assambei, a Turkomanian prince of the white weather tribe, and was sixteen years among the Tartars; and on his return to his native country wrote an account of both these expeditions. He died at Venice at a very advanced age, in 1494.

These travels are not given in any regular order, nor is any itinerary mentioned. It would appear that he resided for some time at Tanna, now Asof, making several journeys into the Crimea, and among the nations which inhabit between the Don and the Wolga, the Black Sea and the Caspian; and that he returned home by way of Moscow, Novogorod, Warsaw, and Francfort on the Oder, and through Germany into Italy.

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Josaphat Barbaro began his journey to Tanna in 1436, and explored that country with great assiduity, and a spirit of inquiry that does him much honour, partly by land and partly by water, for sixteen years. The plain of Tartary is bounded on the east by the great river Ledil, Edil, or Wolga; on the west by Poland; on the north by Russia; on the south by the Great or Black Sea, Alania, Kumania or Comania, and Gazaria, all of which border on the sea of Tebache.[2] Alania has its name from the people called Alani, who call themselves As in their own language. These people were Christians, and their country had been ravaged and laid waste by the Tartars or Mongals. The province of Alania contains many mountains, rivers, and plains, and in the latter there are many hills made by the hand of man, serving for sepulchral monuments, on the top of each of which there is a flat stone with a hole in it, in which a stone cross is fixed. About 110 years before the journey of Barbaro, or in 1326, the religion of Mahomet was adopted by the Tartars or Mongals; though, indeed, before that period there were some Mahometans in the country, but every one was permitted to follow what religion he chose. In consequence of this, some worshipped wooden images, which they carried about with them on their carts or moveable huts: But the compulsatory establishment of the Mahometan religion takes its date from the time of Hedighi, Edigi, or Jedighei, who was a general under the Tartarian emperor Sidahameth khan. This Hedighi was the father of Naurus, in whose days Ulu-Mohameth, or Mahomet the great, was khan of the Tartars.

A misunderstanding happened between the Naurus and the khan Ulu-Mohameth, in consequence of which Naurus retired to the river Ledil or Wolga, attended by the Tartar tribes who adhered to him personally, and joined himself to Khezi-Mohamet, or little Mahomed, who was a relation to the khan or emperor. Naurus and Khezi resolved to make war against Ulu, and accordingly marched with their combined forces by way of Giterchan or Astrakan, and through the plains of Tumen, or the great step or desert, which extends from the Wolga to the Don, and quite down the mountains of Caucasus. On this march westwards they kept southwards close to Circassia, and turned off towards the Don and the sea of Asof, both of which were frozen over. In order to find food for their cattle and horses, they marched in separate parties, at so great a distance from each other, that some crossed the river Don at a place called Palastra, while others crossed it where it was covered with ice, near Bosagaz, which two places are 120 miles separate from each other; yet so well were their movements combined, that they came upon Ulu-Mohameth quite unexpectedly, and he was constrained to fly with his wife and children, leaving every thing in confusion behind him, as Khezi Mohameth became emperor or khan in his stead, and again crossed the Don in the month of June.

Proceeding westwards to the left from Tanna or Asof, along the coast of the sea of Zabachi, or the Palus Maeotis, and then for some distance along the Great or Black Sea, quite to the province of Mingrelia, one arrives, after three days journey, at the province of Chremuch, Kremuk, or Kromuk, the sovereign of which is called Bisserdi,[3] and his son is named Chertibei,[4] which signifies the true or real lord. Bisserdi possesses a beautiful country, adorned with fertile fields, considerable rivers, and many fine woods, and can raise about a thousand horse. The higher order of the people in this country chiefly subsist by plundering the caravans. They have excellent horses; the people are valiant, inured to war, and very artful; but have nothing singular in their manners and appearance. Their country abounds in corn, cattle, and honey; but produces no wine. Beyond this country there are other provinces, which have a different language, and are not far from each other.[5] These in their order, considering Kremuk as the first, are, 2. Elipehe (Chippiche, or Kippike); 3. Tartarkosia (otherwise Tatakosia, Titarcossa, Tatartofia, or Tatartussia); 4. Sobai; 5. Chernethei (otherwise Cheuerthei, Khewerthei, Kharbatei, Kherbarthei, or Khabarda); 6. As, or the Alani. All these provinces extend for twelve days journey, quite to Mingrelia; which latter province borders on the Kaitacchi or Chaitaki, who live about the Caspian mountains; and partly also near Georgiana, and on the shores of the Black Sea, and on the range of mountains which extends into Circassia. On one side likewise Mingrelia is encompassed by the river Phasis, which falls into the Black Sea. The sovereign of this country is called Bendian, or Dadian, and is in possession of two fortified towns near the sea, one of which is called Vathi, or Badias, and the name of the other is Savastopol.[6] Besides these he has several other castles and fortified rocks. The whole country is stony and barren, and millet is the only kind of grain that it produces. They get their salt from Kaffa. They manufacture some dark coarse stuffs, and are a gross and barbarous people. In this country Tetarti signifies white, and the word is likewise used to denote silver coin: thus likewise the Greeks call silver money Aspro,[7] the Turks Akeia, and the Kathayans Teugh, all of which words signify white; and hence, both in Venice and in Spain, certain silver coins are all called bianchi, which has the same signification.

We must now give some account of Georgiana, Georgia, or Gurgistan, which lies opposite to the last mentioned places, and borders on Mingrelia. The king of Georgia is called Pancratius, and is sovereign of a delightful country, which produces bread, corn, wine, cattle, and all other fruits of the earth in great abundance; and they train up their vines around trees as in Trebisond. The people are very handsome and well made, but they have the most horrid manners, and the worst customs of any people I ever met with. Their heads are shaved, except a few hairs all around, like our rich abbots; and they wear whiskers, six inches long. On their heads they wear a cap of various colours, with a feather on the top. Their bodies are covered by a strait-bodied jacket, having tolerably long skirts, which are cloven behind, quite up to their loins, as otherwise they could not conveniently sit on horseback; but I do not blame them for this fashion, as the French wear the same kind of dress. On their feet and ankles they wear boots, but the soles are so strangely made, that when a man walks, his heels and toes only touch the ground, while the middle of the foot is raised up so high, that one may thrust the fist through below; and thence they walk with great difficulty. I should blame them for this, if I had not known that the same fashion prevails in Persia. At their meals, they have the following custom, which I saw in the house of one of their great men. They use a quadrangular table, about half an ell across, having a projecting rim, on the middle of which they heap up a quantity of boiled millet, which is without salt or fat, or any other seasoning, and this they eat to their meat by way of bread. On another similar table, but having live coals underneath, there was some wild boar's flesh, but so little roasted that the blood ran out when it was cut, and of this they are very fond. For my part, I thought it quite disgusting, and was forced to content myself with a little millet, as we had no other provisions. There was wine, however, in abundance, which was handed round the company with great hospitality.

In this country there are a great number of woods and mountains. One of its districts is named Tiflis, in which is a town of the same name, situate on the Kur or Kyrus, which runs into the Caspian. Gori is likewise a fortified place in the same country, and lies nearer to the Black Sea.

Going from Tanna or Asof, by the river Don, and along the sea of Tabache or Asof, quite to Kaffa, and keeping that sea close on the left hand, we come to an isthmus or narrow neck of land, which connects the peninsula of the Crimea; with the mainland, and which is named Zuchala.[8] This is similar to that called Essimilia, formerly the Isthmus of Corinth, which connects the Morea or Peloponnesus with the continent of Greece. Near this isthmus of Zuchala, there are large salt water lakes, from which the salt crystallizes in summer, and is taken out in large quantities for the supply of the surrounding nations.

Within the peninsula, and on the sea of Tabache or Asof, the first province we come to is Kumania, deriving its name from the people called Kumanians. The chief province is called Gazzaria or Chazaria, in which Caffa is situated; and the measure of length used by merchants in all these countries is called the Gazzarian ell, which is even used at Tanna.[9.

The low country of the island of Kaffa[10] is occupied by the Tartars, who are governed by a prince named Ulubi,[11] the son of Azicharei. They are able, in case of need, to bring 3000 or 4000 horse into the field. These people possess two walled towns, which are by no means strong. One of these, Sorgathi,[12] is by them likewise called Incremia or Chirmia, which signifies a fortification. The other is Cherchiarde or Kerkiarde,[13] which signifies forty places in their language.[14] On the island, which the Italians call the Cimmerian Bosphorus, close to the mouth of the sea of Asof, is Cherz, Kersch, or Kars.[15] Then come Kaffa,[16] Saldaia,[17] Grassui,[18] Cymbalo,[19] Sarsona or Cherson,[20] and Kalamita.[21] Farther on from Kaffa lies Gothia, and still farther Alania, which is without the island towards Moncastro.[22]

The Goths of these places speak a dialect of the German language, as I learned from a German servant who accompanied me on my travels; for he conversed with them, and they understood each other tolerably well, just as a native of Friuli in the Popes dominions might understand a Florentine.[23] From the vicinity, or intermixture of the Goths and Alanians, originates the denomination of Gotitalani. The Alanians were the first inhabitants of this county: The Goths came at an after period and made a conquest of part of the country inhabited by the Alanians; and, as the two nations mingled together, this mixed name became likewise into use. All these people profess the Greek religion, which is likewise followed by the Tscherkassians, or Circassians.

Having already made mention of Tumen and Githerean, I shall now relate some remarkable particulars concerning them. Going from Tumen eastwards, or rather to the north-east, in seven days journey we arrive at the river Ledil,[24] on the banks of which stands Githercan,[25] a small insignificant town, laid waste, and in ruins. It was formerly a very considerable and celebrated place; as before the devastation of it by Tamerlane, the spices and silks which go to Syria[26] were carried by Githercan, and thence to Tanna, from whence they were brought, by six or seven large gallies to Venice; for at that time no other nation besides Venice traded to Syria. The Ledil or Wolga is a large and very broad river, which discharges itself into the Sea of Baku, or the Caspian, twenty-five Italian miles below Astracan; and both this river and the Caspian, which is tolerably salt, contain innumerable quantities of fish called tunnies and sturgeons. One may sail up this river to within three days journey of Moscow in Russia; and the inhabitants of that place go every year with their vessels to Astracan, to procure salt. The passage downwards is easy, as the river Mosco runs into the Oka, and that again into the Wolga. In this river there are many islands, and many forests along its banks. Some of these islands are thirty miles in circumference; and in the forests there are trees of such vast size, that one of them may be hollowed into a boat, that will require eight or ten horses, and twice as many men, to draw it against the stream.

Crossing the river Wolga, and going fifteen days journey to the north-west, along the river, we meet with innumerable hordes of Tartars. But in travelling northwards, towards Russia, we come to a small town called Risan,[27] which belongs to a relation of the grand duke of Russia. The inhabitants of this place are all Christians, and follow the usages of the Greek church. This country abounds in corn, cattle, honey, and other good things; and they import a species of beer called Bossa;[28] and the country abounds in woods and villages without number. Somewhat farther, and about half way between Riazan and Moscow, is a town called Colonna. The fortifications, both of Riazan and Colonna, are built of timber, as are also the houses; as nothing is to be seen in these parts constructed of brick or stone. Three days' journey from Colonna, to the north-west, we come to the city and province of Moscow, or Mosqua, where the great Duke Jvan or John resides; and through this province there runs a river of the same name, having several bridges over it; and from which the city and province have probably acquired their names. The castle of Moscow is situated upon a hill, and is encompassed round with woods.[29]

The fertility of this country, in respect to corn and cattle, may be understood from this circumstance, that flesh is not sold by weight, but they give it out in large pieces, as much as would weigh four pounds.[30] Seventy hens may be bought for a ducat, worth four or five shillings; and a goose may be had for less than threepence. In this country, the cold of winter is very severe, and the rivers are long frozen over: Taking advantage of this circumstance, they carry oxen and other beasts to market in winter, ready slaughtered, skinned, and embowelled; which they set up on their feet in the market places, frozen as hard as a stone, and in such numbers, that one may buy 200 or more of them at a time. Cutting them in pieces, as in our markets, is quite impossible, as they are as hard as marble, and are delivered out whole. The only fruits to be met with are apples, nuts, and small walnuts. When the Russians have a mind to travel, especially if the distance is very great, they prefer the winter season, when the whole country is covered over with frozen snow, and all the rivers are passable on the ice. They then travel with great convenience and expedition, being only subjected to the severity of the cold. At this season, they use sledges, which are to them as waggons are to us; and in them they take every thing along with them, with the utmost ease, that they have a mind to. In the summer, the roads are extremely miry, and full of inequalities, proceeding from the country being extremely woody; and they do not therefore take long journeys at that season, more especially as it is very thinly inhabited. They have no grapes, but make a species of wine from honey, and a kind of beer from millet, into which they put hop blossoms, of which the odour is so strong, as to occasion sneezing, and which intoxicates like wine. I must not omit to mention in this place, that, about twenty-five years ago, the great duke, on finding that his subjects were much addicted to drinking, which made them neglect their affairs, gave orders that no more beer or mead should be made; by which means, he obliged them, to live sober and regular lives. Besides this, he did many other things for the advantage of his dominions.

Before the reign of this prince, the Russians paid tribute to the Tartars; but they have now conquered a country called Kasan, which is 500 miles to the east of Moscow, and the chief city of which lies on the left bank of the Wolga, in descending towards the sea of Bochri, or the Caspian.[31] This country of Kasan enjoys considerable trade, especially in furs, of which large quantities are carried from thence by way of Moscow to Poland, Prussia, and Flanders. These furs come from a great distance to the north-east, out of the empire of Zagathai,[32] and from Moxia;[33] both of which northern districts are inhabited by Tartars, part of whom are idolaters, particularly the Moxians, who continue so to this day.

Having received some account of these Moxians, I shall relate what I know concerning their religious customs. At a certain season they lead a horse into the middle of their assembly, and fasten it strongly by the head and feet to five stakes, driven into the ground for that purpose. After this, a particular person goes to some distance, with his bow and arrows, and shoots at the heart of the animal till he has killed him. The horse is then flayed, and the flesh eaten after the performance of certain ceremonies. They then stuff the horses skin with straw, and sew it up, so as to appear entire, fixing pieces of wood under the skin of the legs, that the stuffed animal may stand up as it did when alive. They next construct a scaffold, amid the branches of a large tree, upon which they fix the stuffed horse skin, and worship it as a god; offering up to it the furs of sables, ermines, grey squirrels, and foxes, which they hang among the boughs of the sacred tree, just as we offer up wax-lights to the images of the saints. The food of this people consists mostly of flesh, and that chiefly of venison, got by hunting; but they likewise catch abundance of fish in the rivers of their country. Many of the Tartars are idolaters, and carry the idols which they worship about with them, on carts, in their moveable huts; and some of them have the strange custom of worshipping each day, the animal they meet first in a morning, after going out of their houses.

The grand duke of Russia has likewise conquered Nowgorod, or Novogorod.[34] This is an extensive province, about eight days journey to the north-west of Moscow, which was formerly a republic. The inhabitants were without sense or reason, and had a great many heretics among them; but at present, the catholic faith makes its way among them by degrees, though some are still misbelievers. In the meantimes, however, they lead more rational lives, and justice is properly administered.

Poland is twenty-two days journey from Moscow; and the first place we come to in Poland is a fortified town, called Trocki, or Trozk,[35] to which we arrive through woods, and over hills, travelling a long way in an uninhabited desert. There are, it is true, certain places by the way, in which travellers may rest a while, and make a fire, if ordered beforehand; and sometimes, though very rarely, one finds a small hamlet or two, a little way out of the road. Going beyond Trozk, one meets with more hills and forests, in which there are some habitations; and nine days journey beyond Trozk, we come to a fortified town called Loniri or Lonin.[36] After this, we quit that part of Poland called Lithuania, and come to a district named Varsonich,[37] which belongs to certain lords, who are subject to Kazimir, or Cassimir, King of Poland. This part of the country is fertile, and contains a great many walled towns and villages, but none of any great importance. From Warsaw, it is seven days' journey to the frontiers of Poland, through a good and beautiful country; where one meets with Mersaga,[38] a tolerably good town, where Poland ends. Respecting the towns and provinces of Poland, I shall say nothing farther, for want of proper information; except that the king and his sons, and whole household, are very good Christians, and that the eldest of his sons is king of Bohemia.

Travelling four days more beyond Poland, we came to Francfort, a city which belongs to the Margrave of Bandenburgh. But having reached Germany, I shall say nothing of it, as we are now in a manner at home, and in a country with which most people are well acquainted.

[1] Forster, Voy. and Disc, in the North p. 165.
[2] Called likewise the sea of Zabachi, Ischaback-Denghissi, the Palus Maeotis, and Sea of Asof.--Forst.
[3] This is explained to signify Deodati, or Given by God.--Forst.
[4] The Ch is used in Italian orthography before e and i to indicate the letter k. Hence Cheremuch is Kererouk, and Chertibei, Kertibei, or Kertibey. In the perpetually varying nomenclature, from vicious orthography, and changes of dominion, it is often difficult to ascertain the nations or districts indicated. This is peculiarly the case in the present instance, and the sequel, which enumerates a number of the Caucasian petty tribes, lying between, the sea of Asof and the Caspian, now mostly subject to the Russian empire, whose momentary names and stations we dare not pretend to guess at.--E.
[5] This odd expression, that these provinces are not far from each other, certainly means that they are not large.--E.
[6] Otherwise called Sebastopolis, also Isguriah or Dioskurios.--Forst.
[7] Hence Asper, the ordinary denomination of silver coin in modern Turkey, is evidently borrowed from the Greek.--E.
[8] Now Precop.--E.
[9] Kumania and Gazzaria, here said to be provinces of the Crimea, or island of Kaffa, must have been small districts of that peninsula, inhabited by tribes of the Kumanians and Gazzarians of the country between the sea of Asof and the mouths of the Wolga, now frequently called the Cuban Tartary. The whole of that country, together with the country between the Wolga and Ural rivers, often bore the name of Kumania. But the destructive conquests of the Mongals, has in all ages broken down the nations of those parts into fragments, and has induced such rapid and frequent changes as to baffle all attempts at any fixed topography, except of lakes, rivers, and mountains.--E.
[10] The ancient Taurica Chersonesus; the Crimea of our days, now again called Taurida by the Russians.--E.
[11] Probably Ulu-beg, or the great prince.--E.
[12] Soragathi or Solgathi, is named by Abulfeda Soldet or Kirm; and is at present called Eskikyrym, or the Old Citadel.--Forst. From the name of this place, Chirmia, Kirmia, Kirm, or Crim, the name of the peninsula and its inhabitants, Chrimea, and Crim-Tartars, are evidently derived.--E.
[13] Kerkiardi is the Kerkri of Abulfeda, and signifies in Turkish forty men. Some call the place Kyrk, and the Poles name it Kirkjel. It is situated on an inaccessible mountain, and was one of the castles belonging to the Goths who dwelt in those mountains, absurdly called Jews by some authors; of whom some traces remained not long ago, as their language contained many words resembling German.--Forst.
[14] I should suspect that this term, here applied to one place only, had been originally the general appellation of the forty castles belonging to the Goths, who long defended themselves in the Tauric Chersonese. The ridiculous conversion of these Goths into Jews, may be accounted for, by supposing that some ignorant transcriber had changed Teutschi into Judei, either in copying or writing from the ear.--E.
[15] The Pantikapaeum of the ancient Bosphorian kings. The Ol-Kars of Abulfeda.--Forst.
[16] This is nearly on the same spot with the Theodosia of the Greeks and Romans.--Forst.
[17] Otherwise Soldadia, Soldadia, or more properly Sugdaja, now Sudak or Suday, by which name it is mentioned in Abulfeda.--Forst.
[18] Grasui, or Grusui, now unknown, perhaps stood at a place now called Krusi-musen, which seems to preserve some traces of the name.--Forst
[19] Called likewise Cimbolo, the [Greek: Symbolan Hormoos] or [Greek: lymaen], the Buluk-lawa of the moderns, or Limen.--Forst.
[20] Otherwise Sherson and Schurschi; which was formerly called Cherson Trachea, and was built 600 years before the Christian era, by the inhabitants of Heraclea in Pontus. It was also called Chersonesus, or the Peninsula; but that term properly signified the whole of the peninsula between this harbour and Symbolon or Limen, which was entirely occupied by the Greeks. The Russians took this place in the reign of Wolodimer the great, and it is called Korsen in their annals. By the Turks, it is named Karaje-burn. It must be carefully distinguished from another Cherson on the Dnieper, at no great distance, but not in the peninsula.--Forst.
[21] This seems a corruption of Klimata; as all the towns named by Barbaro formerly belonged to [Greek: chastxa ton chlimata]  of the Greeks, and all belonged till lately to the Turks.--Forst.
[22] This is a place at the mouth of the Dniester called Ak-Kierman by the Turks; Tshelatalba by the Walachians; Belgorod by the Russians; Aspro Kastra by the Greeks; and Moncastro by the Genoese. It was the Alba Julia, of the Romans.--Forst.
[23] This circumstance was before noticed by Rubruquis, and is likewise mentioned by Busbeck. Father Mohndorf met with many slaves in the gallies at Constantinople, who were descended from the Goths, and spoke a dialect of German. Now that the Crimea belongs to Russia, it is to be wished that the remaining traces of the Gothic language may be inquired after; as this language might serve to explain and illustrate the remains we still possess of Ulfila's translation of the gospels into Gothic; while the names and customs of this people, together with many of their phrases and turns of expression, might throw light on the manners and customs of the ancient Germans. It is even possible, that some families among them, of the higher rank, may still possess some books in their ancient language, which would be a very important discovery.--Forst.
[24] Otherwise called Erdir, Erdil, Atel, Athol, Etilia, and now the Volga or Wolga.--Forst.
[25] Likewise named Citracan and Astrakhan, Astracan.--Forst.
[26] There is an obvious blunder here, for this account of the trade must be understood as follows: "That the trade in silks and spices from the East, which now come by way of Syria, came over land by way of Astracan to Tanna, whence it was transported by sea to Venice." The concluding sentence, "That no other nation but the Venetians then traded with Syria," is quite inexplicable; as the Syrian trade could not possibly come to Venice by way of Astracan and Tanna. The various routes of trade from India or the East to Western Europe, before the Portuguese discovered the way by sea, have been well illustrated by Dr Robertson; and will be explained in the course of this work.--E.
[27] Riazan on the Oka, the capital of a province or the same name.--E.
[28] Even at present, they make an inebriating liquor in Russia, from millet, called busa, which is very heady, and is probably what is named bossa in the text--Forst.
[29] I strongly suspect that this passage is wrong translated, and that it ought to have been, that the castle as encompassed with wooden walls, as it is well known that the city of Moscow environs the castle or Kremlin.--E.
[30] This expression has no meaning. Barbaro probably wrote that four pounds could be had at Moscow for the same money that would buy one in Venice.--E.
[31] The Caspian, besides the names of Bochri and Bakhu, is likewise called the sea of Khozar, and the sea of Tabristan.--E.
[32] Zagathai was one of the sons of the great conqueror Zingis Khan, and received that part of the empire for his share, which comprehended Turkistan, Mawaralnahar, and Kuaresm; which extensive country took from him the name of Zagathai.--Forst.
The furs mentioned in the text could not be brought from this country, which besides, is to the south-east of Kasan. To the north-east lies Siberia, the true country of fine furs; and which Barbara, by mistake, must have named Zagathai: though perhaps it might at one time form part of that extensive empire.--E
[33] Moxia is the country of the Morduanians, one tribe of whom call themselves Mokscha, or Moxa.--Forst.
[34] This word signifies the New Castle; of this name there are two cities and provinces in European Russia, Novogorod proper, and Nisney Novogorod: The former is the one here meant.--E.
[35] This is near Wilna in Lithuania.--Forst.
[36] I imagine that Slonym is here meant; formerly a place of note, and which used to be the appanege of one of the Lithuanian princes.--Forst.
[37] Varsonich is an evident corruption for Varsovich, or Warsaw, the capital of Masurea or Masovia.--Forst.
[38] It is not easy to determine the situation of Mersaga; but, as on the borders of Poland, towards Brandenburgh, and in the direction of Francfort on the Oder, it is probable that Meseriz, or Miedzyrzyez, is here meant.--Forst.


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