Volume 2, Chapter 2, Sections 6-10 -- The Journey of Ambrose Contarini, Ambassador from the Republic of Venice, to Uzun-Hassan, King of Persia, in the years 1473, 4, 5, and 6; written by himself: *section index*


Volume 2, Chapter 2, Section 6 -- Leaving Phasis, Contarini travels through Mingrelia and Georgia, into Media, and, passing the Caspian, arrives in Tartary.

Leaving Phasis, as before mentioned, on the 17th of September; and taking the road of Mingrelia, we came to Cotati, or Cutais, on the 21st of that month, extremely worn out through the consequences of our late illness, and the fatigues of the journey; and as the Greek whom I had hired never ceased to give me vexation, I here parted with him as handsomely as I could. We remained two days at Cutais, among people who knew us not, and whose language we were quite ignorant of. Leaving that place, and tracing back our former steps, we passed over several mountains in much fear, and arrived at Tiflis on the 30th of September, where we took shelter in the chapel of a certain Armenian catholic, who had more the appearance of a dead person than of a living man, but who rendered us every possible service. This man had a son who lived with him, and who, unfortunately for us, was seized with the plague, which had raged in that part of the country this year. From him one of my servants, named Maffeo of Bergamo, caught the distemper, who still kept about me during two days, though ill, as he was my own particular domestic. At length, growing worse, he had to take to his bed, when the distemper shewed itself; and as he lay in the same room with me, and the house could not afford me another, I was forced to take refuge in a hovel where some cows were kept at night; and as the Armenian refused to allow Maffeo to remain in his house, I was constrained to take him into the same place with myself, where Stephen took care of him, till God pleased to take him out of the world. After the death of Maffeo, I experienced great difficulty to procure another stable for myself, that I might get away from the morbid air of that in which my poor servant died. In this extremity we were utterly abandoned, except by one old man, who understood a little of our language, and who served us with much affection.

We remained at this place till the 21st October, and on the evening before our intended departure, the Persian ambassador, who had accompanied the patriarch, came to Tiflis. He complained grievously of having been plundered, through the fault of the patriarch, with whom he had travelled to Lavógasia, where he had left him, and was now on his road to complain to Uzun-Hassan. We agreed to travel in company from Tiflis, a city belonging to Pancratis.[1] From thence in two days we entered the territories of Uzun-Hassan, as we took the road towards Shamaki, or Cyropolis, which is situated in a fertile and pleasant country. On the 26th of October we separated, as the Persian went to Uzun- Hassan at Tauris, and I took the road for the dominions of Sivanse, in which Shamaki stands; but by means of the Persian ambassador I procurred a molah, or Mahometan priest, to guide me on the road to Shamaki. This country is greatly more beautiful and more fertile than the dominions of Uzun-Hassan, and is ruled over by Sivanse, king of Media.[2] Of this country Shamaki is the capital, at which place I arrived on the 1st November 1474. This city is not so large as Tauris, but, as far as I could judge, surpasses that place in the goodness and abundance of everything, especially in excellent cattle. It produces great quantities of excellent silk, of which they manufacture various kinds of very slight stuffs. While here, I had the good fortune to be rejoined by Marcus Ruffus, the Muscovite ambassador, who had parted from me at Phasis, as formerly related. Immediately on learning that I was in the city, he came to visit me, and we embraced with cordiality. I now earnestly entreated him to receive me and my domestics into his society for the remainder of the journey, to which he very readily agreed.

We left Shamaki on the 6th of November, for the city of Derbent, which is called, in the language of the country, the Caucassian Gates, or the Iron Gates. This city is under the dominion of Sivanse, and stands on the frontiers of Tartary. On our journey we travelled sometimes over plains and sometimes on mountains, and were tolerably well treated by the Turkish inhabitants, with whom we lodged by the way. About mid-way between these two cities we came to a large village, where we found great abundance of excellent fruits, particularly admirable apples. We arrived on the 12th of November at Derbent, and were advised to pass the winter in that place; as it was necessary, in our way to Russia, to cross the desert of Tartary, which is much easier in the spring of the year, and likewise because it was proper for us to cross over the Caspian to the Tartar city of Citracan. The city of Derbent is situated on the shore of the Caspian, which the Mardians call the sea of Bachaan or Bacou. This city is said to have been built by Alexander the Great, and is called the Iron Gate, because it entirely closes up the only passage from Tartary into Media and Persia, by means of a deep valley reaching from Circassia. Derbent is fortified with a thick well-built wall, reaching from the castle at the foot of the mountain all the way to the sea; but not above a sixth part of the space within the walls is inhabited, all that end nearest the sea being in ruins, among which are several tombs. The country about this city produces abundance of all kinds of fruits, among which are plenty of grapes, from which the inhabitants make wine.

The Caspian, or Sea of Hircania, which has no communication whatever with the ocean, is about the same size with the Euxine or Black Sea, and is very deep. They catch in this sea great quantities of sturgeons, and sea-wolves as they are called; and there are prodigious quantities of sea-dogs, or seals, having the head, feet, and tail like ordinary dogs. The only other remarkable fish is of a round form, about a yard and a half in diameter, with no perceptible head or other member, from which the natives extract a great quantity of oil, which they use in their lamps, and with which they anoint their camels. The inhabitants of this country, who are all Mahometans, are neither cruel nor barbarous, and used us exceedingly well; having once asked us who we were, and being answered that we were Christians, they troubled us with no farther inquiries. My dress at this time consisted of coarse and much worn cloth, lined with lambs skin, above which I wore a leathern robe, and my hat was of skin; in which dress I frequently went to the market to purchase flesh and other provisions, which I carried home myself. On one of these occasions a person eyed me attentively, and, turning to some of his comrades, said, this man was not born to the employment of carrying meat. Marcus Ruffus, who happened to be along with me, explained what the man had said; and I was astonished at being recognized in so shabby a dress, which I thought must have proved a sufficient concealment: but, in truth, as I have said before, they are a very good kind of people.

During my residence in Derbent, I was anxious to learn some certain intelligence respecting the state of affairs at the court of Uzun-Hassan, for which purpose I sent Demetrius de Seze, my interpreter, with letters to Josaphat Barbaro at Tauris, which is twenty days journey from Derbent. He returned at the end of fifty days, bringing answers from Barbaro, informing me that the king still remained at Tauris, but that he was utterly ignorant of his affairs.

Spring being arrived, we began to think of pursuing our journey, and Marcus procured a boat for transporting us to Curere.[3] The boats which are used in this country are drawn up on the shore all winter, as the sea is then too rough for their use. They are sharp at both ends, and wide in the middle, their planks being fastened with tree-nails, and their bottoms payed over with pitch; and as the natives use no compasses, or other maritime instruments, they always creep along the coast. These boats, which are very crazy and dangerous, are moved forwards by means of oars; and the people are very ignorant of navigation, though they believe themselves the best mariners in the world.

On the 5th of April 1475, we embarked, and departed from Derbent, being thirty-five persons in all, including the master of the boat and the crew. The rest of the passengers were merchants, carrying rice, silk, and silken goods to Citrarchan,[4] where they proposed to sell their commodities to the Russians and Tartars, or to barter them for other articles. Having coasted along during three days, with a favourable wind, always keeping about fifteen miles from the shore, the wind became contrary on the third evening, and increased during the night to so violent a tempest that we expected to have been lost. Although we had all reason to believe our bark would be dashed to pieces on the shore, we made every effort to gain the land, and fortunately our vessel ran into a kind of ditch or dock between sand banks, very near the beach, where she stuck fast, impelled by the united force of the winds and waves, and of our oars. Between us and the shore there was a pool, through which we had to wade, carrying our baggage on our shoulders; and we were almost perished with cold, owing to the wind, and our being drenched with water; yet we unanimously agreed to refrain from making a fire, lest that circumstance might attract the notice of the Tartars, whom we feared to meet with. At day light we noticed traces of horses having been on the spot, and the recent fragments of a ruined skiff, from which we were led to conclude, that some persons must have been here; but some other circumstances gave us reason to believe that the Tartars were not near the shore.

We remained undisturbed at this place till the 14th of April, when the wind and weather becoming favourable, we got our bark from the creek, and again resumed our voyage, and advanced near thirty miles the same day. Towards evening the wind became again contrary, but we avoided the dangers of an impending storm by taking refuge amidst some reeds, among which our mariners hauled the boat, so as to be out of danger from the waves, and we made our way to the land through the reeds, in doing which we were much fatigued and thoroughly drenched in water. We rested here all that night and the day following, which was Easter day, having nothing on which to commemorate that festival, except some butter, and a few eggs which we fortunately gathered on the sandy beach. The mariners and passengers were often inquisitive to know who I was; and, pursuant to the advice of Marcus Ruffus, I passed myself among them as the physician and servant of Despima, the consort of the grand duke of Moscovy, to whom I was going. A short time after this, one of our mariners happened to be afflicted by a large boil, and came to consult me in my assumed character; and as I had the good fortune to discover some oil in our bark, I made a poultice for him with bread and flour, by which he was soon cured. From this circumstance they actually believed me to be a physician, and were very anxious that I should remain among them; but Marcus drew me out of this difficulty, by saying that I had no medicinal preparations with me, but would soon return from Russia with a proper assortment.

[1] This name is probably corrupted for Bagration, or Bagrathion, which was once the family name of the sovereigns of Georgia, and, if I mistake not, there is, or was lately, a prince of that family and name in the service of Russia.--E.
[2] The kingdom of Media in the text, is obviously meant to indicate the province of Shirvan, on the west of the Caspian.--E.
[3] Perhaps Saray, on the eastern branch of the Wolga.--E.
[4] Probably Astracan is here meant.--E.



Volume 2, Chapter 2, Section 7 -- Arrival of Contarini at Citracan, and journey from thence, through several dangers among the Tartars, to Muscovy along with some merchants.

On the 15th of April we put again to sea with a favourable wind, and coasting along a series of reedy islands, we arrived on the 26th of that month at the mouth of the Wolga, a large river which flows from Russia into the Caspian. From the mouth of this river it is computed to be seventy-six miles to the city of Citracan,[1] which we reached on the 30th. Near this city there are excellent salines,[2] from which all the neighbouring provinces are supplied with salt. The Tartars who commanded in the city would not permit us to enter that evening, so that we had to pass the night in a hut without the walls. In the morning three broad- faced Tartars came and ordered us to go along with them to their prince. They treated Marcus with respect, saying that he was a friend of their sovereign; but alleged that I was his slave, as they consider all the Franks or Christians as their enemies. These news were most cruelly mortifying for me, and afflicted me severely; but I was obliged to submit in spite of me, and Marcus advised me to allow him to speak for me. Forced in this manner to return disconsolate to my hut, I was long exposed to every indignity and danger, to my great mortification and distress. The Tartars insisted that I was possessed of pearls, and even plundered me of some merchandize I had purchased in Derbent, intending to have bartered it in this place for a good horse to carry me during the rest of my journey. They informed me afterwards, by means of Marcus, that they intended to sell us all to certain people whom they waited for, and who were to go into Muscovy with other merchants. After many mortifications and distresses, it was resolved to hold a grand consultation concerning us at a large village named Alermi, about two miles from the city, where their lord resided. At this time I was not possessed of a single farthing, and was obliged to borrow money from the Russian and Tartar merchants, at a high interest, to supply our urgent necessities, for which Marcus became my bondsman.

One day, while Marcus was absent, the khan or prince of the Tartars,[3] broke open the door of our hut, and endeavoured to compel me by threats to deliver up the pearls which he believed I was possessed of, and I had infinite difficulty to escape out of his hands, and to persuade him not to put me to death. The Tartars used often to come to our hut in the night, when drunk with mead, demanding with loud outcries to deliver up the Franks to them, and the bravest among us were terrified at the dangerous situation in which we were among these savages. In this horrible situation we remained from the 1st of May to the 10th of August. The city of Citracan belongs to three brothers, who are sons to the brother of the Tartar emperor, and the inhabitants often make plundering inroads into the plains of Cinassia,[4] and along the borders of the Don. During the height of summer they travel with their flocks in search of pasturage, to the northern parts of Russia, and hardly spend above a month every year in Citracan. That city, which stands on the banks of the Wolga, is by no means large, its houses being built of earth: It is surrounded by a slight wall, and does not appear to have had any better buildings for a long time past. It is said to have had a very considerable fair formerly, and that the perfumes and spiceries which used to be brought to Venice, came first to this place from the east, whence they were carried to the Tanais or Don, which is only eight days journey from the Wolga. The prince of Citracan, whose name is Casinach, sends every year an ambassador to the grand duke of Muscovy, on purpose to extort a present; and on this occasion, several Tartar merchants accompany the ambassador, carrying silk, silken vestments, and other articles of trade, which they barter for saddles, furs, and other things which are in request among their countrymen.

The only way of travelling into Russia from this place, is through extensive deserts, on which account travellers have to go in large bands or caravans for mutual security, and to carry provisions for the journey. The Tartars care little for the latter precaution, as they have always plenty of spare horses, and kill one when needed, as they live entirely on flesh and milk, without caring for any other food. They use no bread, and only a few of their merchants who have been in Russia know any thing of this article. Previous to the commencement of our journey,[5] we provided provisions for the journey as well as we could. In this view we procured some rice with much difficulty, which, boiled in milk, and then dried in the sun, makes, when afterwards boiled in water, an excellent and nourishing food. We had likewise some onions, a small quantity of biscuit, and some other trifles, and I bought, during the journey, the salted tail of a sheep,[6] The usual road from Citracan to Russia lay between two branches of the Wolga, but the roads were then exceedingly dangerous, as the Tartar emperor was then at war with his nephew, who pretended a right to the throne, as his father had once been emperor. On this account it was proposed to pass over to the other side of the river, and to travel towards the straits between the Don and the Wolga, which are about five days journey from Citracan, after which it was presumed we should be out of danger.

Our baggage was accordingly carried across the river on rafts, and Marcus desired me to keep always along with him and the Tartar ambassador, named Auchioli. I and my interpreter accordingly set out about mid-day along with the ambassador, to go to the place where the boats waited for us, which was about twelve miles from the city, our other companions having already gone there. On our arrival about sunset, while I prepared to go into one of the boats on purpose to cross the river, Marcus seemed suddenly struck with an extraordinary panic, and commanded the interpreter and me to take to flight instantly to avoid inevitable danger. We mounted therefore immediately, having likewise a Russian woman along with us and a Tartar guide of a most horrible aspect, and set out at full speed. In this manner we followed our guide the whole of that night and part of the next day, without being ever allowed to stop. I frequently asked our guide, by means of my interpreter, what was the reason of all this, and where he proposed to carry me? At length he explained the cause of Marcus having made us set off, with such precipitation; as the khan had sent an order to examine all the boats, and he was apprehensive they would have detained me as a slave if I had been found.

About mid-day of the 13th of August 1475, we arrived at the banks of the river, and our Tartar guide endeavoured to find a boat in which to carry us into an island in which the flocks of Auchioli were kept; but not finding one, he cut down some branches, which he tied together so as to form a raft. On this he placed the saddles of our horses, and tying this raft to his horses tail, he mounted the horse, on which he swam across the river to the island, which lay a bow-shot from the shore. He then came back with the raft, on which he carried over the Russian woman; after which he came back for me, and I stripped myself naked before trusting myself to the crazy raft, that I might be in readiness to save myself by swimming, in case of any misfortune. He afterwards returned for our horses; and my interpreter swam across. The passage of the river being thus happily effected, the Tartar carried us to a wretched hovel, covered by a miserable woollen cloth, where he gave us some sour milk, which we found very refreshing, as we had been long without food, and were much fatigued. Immediately on our arrival in the island being known, several Tartars left their flocks to come and see us, seeming infinitely surprized and much gratified by the sight, as we were probably the first Christians who had ever been on the island. Being exceedingly fatigued and distressed in mind, I did not care to speak with them, yet our Tartar guide treated me with much kindness, and made me as good cheer as he was able. Next day, being the eve of the festival of the Virgin, he killed a fat lamb to entertain me, part of which he roasted, and part was boiled; and though contrary to the rules of our religion to eat meat on that day, I made a hearty meal, notwithstanding that every thing was disgustingly dirty. We had likewise sour milk to drink, and the Tartars drank mare's milk, of which they are very fond; but I would not drink this, though I could easily perceive my dislike did not please the Tartars.

I remained here two days; and at last, on the 26th of August, Marcus and the rest made their appearance on the other side of the river, and sent a boat for me in which were two of his servants, a Russian and a Tartar. Stephen Testa and John Ungaret, my two attendants, were very much rejoiced at seeing me again, as they believed me entirely lost, and we rested two days at this place before entering upon the desert. Marcus had been so attentive as to provide a horse for me, of which I stood in great need. In this caravan, which was under the command of the Tartar ambassador, there were about three hundred persons, Russians and Tartars, who carried with them above two hundred[7] horses, partly intended to serve as food by the way, and partly for sale in Russia. We arrived in good order at night on the banks of the river, and we rested every day at noon during the fifteen days of our journey, as we were now considered to be out of danger from any attack by the Tartars. I do not recollect the name of the emperor of the Tartars who inhabit this part of the country between the Wolga and the Tanais. This nation has no fixed place of abode, but shift their encampments from place to place, wherever they can find pasture and water for their cattle, on which they have their whole dependence, as they subsist entirely on flesh and milk. They have cows, heifers, and sheep of admirable beauty, the flesh of which is excellent, as they feed on fine pastures; but these people prefer mares milk to every other delicacy. Though I have not been in the country of these Tartars, I have been informed that it is flat and agreeable, having neither hill nor mountain; but the inhabitants addict themselves excessively to robbery and plunder, as their sole occupation, and continually infest the borders of Russia and Circassia by predatory incursions. Their horses are very wild and unmanageable, and are never shod. We were told that there is another tribe of Tartars beyond the Wolga, named wild Tartars, who allow their hair to grow extremely long. In the middle of winter they often make inroads to the very skirts of the city of Citracan, whence they carry off cattle, but do no other damage. These people, like all the Tartars, shift their encampments in search of pasturage and water.

After travelling for fifteen days along the eastern bank of the Wolga, we came to a small forest, where the Tartars and Russians of the caravan cut down trees to construct rafts for crossing the river. While they were at this work, we discovered a small bark which was by no means in good repair, by means of which our company proposed to convey our baggage across. Marcus crossed over with a part of our baggage, leaving me in charge of the rest, and sent back the boat when he was landed. In my trip with the remainder of our baggage, the boat began to leak when we were about half way over, the breadth of the river at this place being about two miles. Stephen and two Russians accompanied me in the boat, leaving Demetrius, my interpreter, and John Ungar in charge of the horses. We had much ado to bale out the water, but by the blessing of God, we got over in safety. After our baggage was landed, the Russians put off, to go back for the rest of our people and the horses; but the boat fell to pieces. This necessarily delayed our other servants and the horses from getting over till next day, during which interval they were badly off, as all our provisions were on our side. It was fortunate that I now examined the state of our provisions, which I found diminished much beyond expectation, so that we were under the necessity of abridging our allowance for the remainder of the journey, that we might not run short altogether. Our principal food consisted of millet, with garlic and onions, and some sour milk; and we found some wild apples at this place, which we roasted. In the course of two days, the whole baggage of the caravan was transported to the western side of the river by means of seven rafts, drawn by horses, and directed by the Tartars, the horses swimming and having the rafts tied to their tails. The sight of this was very amusing, but seemed very dangerous to those who were employed. After resting some time, we quitted the banks of the river, and resumed our journey. This river Wolga is certainly the largest and deepest river in the world, being, as well as I could judge, two miles broad, and has very high banks.

[1] Called Citrarchan in the former section, but certainly what we now call Astracan, then the capital of a Tartar principality, which now forms one of the provinces of the vast Russian empire.--E.
[2] These are large shallow ponds, in which sea water is exposed to evaporation, to procure salt.--E.
[3] In the original this person is called the cham of the Camercheriens. The Tartar government of Astracan belonged to one of the Mongal tribes of Kipschak; but the word used in the original may have been a local term, not now explicable.--E.
[4] Perhaps the kingdom or province of Cazan, higher up the Wolga.--E.
[5] Contarini has forgot to give us any account in what manner he procured leave to quit Astracan. Perhaps, by means of Marcus, he was permitted to pass for one of his attendants.--E.
[6] It may be necessary to remark, that the tails of a peculiar species of sheep, O. Platyurus, or the broad-tailed sheep, common among the Tartars, and other parts of the world, are said sometimes to weigh twenty-five pounds.--E.
[7] Probably an error for 2000.--E.



Volume 2, Chapter 2, Section 8 -- Contarini, after crossing European Sarmatia, arrives at Moscow, the capital of White Russia, and is presented to the Grand Duke.

After recommending ourselves to the protection of God, we continued our journey, through immense and terrible deserts, sometimes towards the north, and sometimes westerly,[1] always resting at noon, and taking up our quarters for the night on the bare ground, without any protection against the weather. To prevent us from being surprized in the night by the wandering Tartars, outguards were placed every night in three directions around our resting-place. During the greater part of this long and dreary journey, we were very ill off for water both for ourselves and our cattle, and we never saw any wild animals. One day we saw about forty horses, which we were told had escaped from a caravan of merchants the year before. We fell in one day with a small horde of Tartars, having twenty waggons, but I was not able to learn where they were going. As our provisions decreased rapidly, we were forced to use the remainder very sparingly, and were consequently reduced to a very short allowance.

On the 22d of September 1475, we entered Russia, and discovered a few huts in the middle of a wood. On the inhabitants learning that Marcus, their countryman, was in our caravan, they came to see him, that he might protect them from the Tartars, and brought him a present of honey and wax, a part of which he gave to us. This was a most providential supply, as we were so much reduced by fatigue and spare diet, that we were hardly able to sit on horseback. The first city we came to in this country was Rezan,[2] the prince of which place had married a sister of the Grand Duke of Russia. The castle and all the houses of this city are built of wood. We here procured bread and meat, and mead in abundance, to our great comfort and satisfaction. The next city we came to was Kolomna, passing a very large bridge over the Monstrus,[3] which flows into the Wolga. At this place, Marcus quitted the caravan, which travelled too slowly in his opinion, and pushed on for Moscow, where we arrived on the 26th of September, after a journey of forty-seven days through the desert, from the 10th of August, on which day we left Citracan. In a great part of this journey we found no wood, and were forced to cook our victuals with fires made of dried cow dung. We returned thanks to God on our arrival, for our preservation through so many and great dangers. On our arrival, Marcus procured a dwelling for us, consisting of a small stove- room and some chambers, with stabling for our horses. Though small and mean, I felt as if lodged in a palace, when I compared my present state of tranquil security with the dangers and inconveniences I had been so long subjected to.

Marcus made me a visit two days afterwards, and supplied me with some necessaries, exhorting me, as on the part of his sovereign, to keep a good heart. I returned his visit next day; and being very desirous to return home to Venice, I requested him to introduce me to the grand duke, which he promised to do as soon as possible, and I soon afterwards was desired to go to court. Immediately on my getting there, I was conducted to an audience; on which I made my obeisance in due form to the grand duke, to whom I returned thanks for all the attentions I had received from his ambassador, Marcus, in the course of my journey, by whose assistance and advice I had escaped a thousand dangers; assuring his highness that I attributed these marks of kindness as done to the republic of Venice, whose ambassador I was, and that the republic would unquestionably evince a due sense of the obligations, to which I owed my life and safety. The grand duke interrupted my harangue, by complaining with much emotion of the conduct of John Baptista of Treviso, and said a great deal on this subject, which is not proper for me to report. After a conversation of some length, in which I spoke to his highness about my departure, he closed my audience, postponing his answers to my requests to a future opportunity. The grand duke was very shortly to quit Moscow, on purpose to visit several parts of his dominions, and particularly the Tartar frontier, where one of his officers was stationed, with the command of 500 horse,[4] to repress the incursions of robbers on that side: I therefore endeavoured to procure an answer about my departure, and solicited a second audience for that purpose. On this occasion I was very politely received by the grand duke, accompanied by three of his principal barons. At first they expatiated at some length on the subject of John Baptista, formerly mentioned; but at length I received liberty to remain or to depart as I thought proper. They dismissed me with this vague answer, and the grand duke set out from Moscow soon afterwards. I owed a great deal of money to Marcus, which he had expended for me and my people, as he had defrayed the whole expences of our journey, and had supplied me with many things of which I stood in need. I requested permission from him to go away, giving him the most solemn assurance that I would transmit full payment to him immediately after my arrival at Venice. But he declared this was not in his power, as he was under the necessity of repaying the Tartarian and Russian merchants, who had advanced all these things for us, and to whom he had become security for payment. Finding every application to the duke and Marcus on this subject ineffectual, as I could not procure the necessary funds for my journey from either, I was under the necessity of sending Stephen Testa to Venice, to solicit a remittance from our illustrious senate, by which I might be enabled to pay my debts. Stephen left Moscow on the 7th of October, accompanied by one Nicolas Leopolitain,[5] who knew the country.

I became acquainted at Moscow with one Triphon, a goldsmith, a native of Ascravia or Cathara, who was employed in making several articles of silver plate for the grand duke. I likewise formed acquaintance with a very ingenious architect of Bologna, named Aristotle, who was building a new church in the market-place. As the house in which I lodged was small and disagreeable, I went to live with this person by the advice of Marcus: But I was soon after obliged to change my quarters by order from court, to a house near the castle, in which I remained for the rest of my stay at Moscow. This city, which is the capital of the Russian dominions, and the residence of the grand duke, or sovereign, is built on a small elevation, on the banks of the Mosqua, over which there are several bridges; the castle and all the houses of the city being built of wood, which is procured from several thick forests near the place. The soil of this country is fertile, and produces abundance of corn of all kinds, which sell here much cheaper than with us; The country abounds in cattle and swine, and with incredible numbers of poultry, ducks, geese, and hares; but they have no venison, either because there are no deer, or because the natives are ignorant of the art of taking them. But they have no vines, and their only fruits are cucumbers, wild apples, and nuts. The country is extremely cold, and the inhabitants are under the necessity of living for nine months of the year in stoves. They provide during winter for their living in summer.[6] When the whole country is enveloped in frost and snow, they use sledges drawn by horses, which are very convenient and useful for travelling; and are even used in summer on account of the miry bad roads, which are exceedingly difficult and unpleasant. The river ordinarily freezes over about the end of October, when the merchants erect booths on the ice, in which they expose their wares of all kinds for sale, as in a fair or market; and they here sell great numbers of cattle and swine, and great quantities of corn, timber, and all other necessaries of life; every thing being procurable in great abundance all the winter. About the end of November, they kill all the cattle, sheep, and other animals that are required for winter provision, and expose them for sale on the river in a frozen state; and the rigour of the season preserves these provisions for two or three months, without any risk of spoiling. Fish, poultry, and all other articles of food, are kept in the same manner. The horses run with great ease and swiftness on the ice yet they sometimes fell and break their necks. Both men and women of this country have very good faces, but their manners are exceedingly bad.

The Russian church is ruled over by a patriarch, whose election or appointment is dependent on the grand duke, and who does not acknowledge subjection to the Roman pontiff; and they hold all sectaries in abhorrence, as people doomed to perdition. The natives are much addicted to drunkenness, and he who excels in drinking is much esteemed among them. They have no wine, as I have said before, instead of which they drink mead, made of honey and water, which is very pleasant when sufficiently kept. It is not allowed to every one to make this liquor, for which purpose a license or permission must be had from the grand duke; for if every person had liberty to make mead, they would drink perpetually like so many beasts, and would kill one another. From morning till noon, they are employed in the market-place, occupied in their various businesses and employments, after which they adjourn to the taverns, in which they spend all the rest of the day. Every winter, great numbers of merchants come to Moscow from Germany and Poland, who purchase furs of all kinds, which are indeed exceedingly beautiful. Among these furs, are the skins of foxes, wolves, martins, sables, ermines, and many others, from Scythia and the alpine regions, many days journey to the north of Moscow. Many of these are likewise carried for sale to Novogorod,[7] a city towards the frontiers of Germany, eight days journey west from Moscow. The government of that city is democratic, and only pays a stipulated yearly tribute to the grand duke.

The country subject to the grand duke of Russia is of vast extent, and an infinite number of people are subject to his dominions, but they are by no means warlike. This empire extends from the north towards the west, to that part of Germany which is under the dominion of the king of Poland;[8] and some reckon among his subjects a wandering nation of idolaters, who acknowledge no sovereign, not even submitting to the authority of the grand duke, but when it suits their own convenience. These wandering tribes are said to worship during the day whatever first presents itself to their view, on going out in the morning; many other ridiculous things are reported of them, which I do not repeat, as I have not seen them, and can hardly give credit to the reports. The grand duke[9] appeared to be about thirty-five years of age, was handsomely made, and had very dignified manners, and an air quite royal. His mother was still alive, and he had two brothers. By a former wife he had two sons, who did not agree with Despina, the reigning grand duchess, and were not therefore on very friendly terms with their father. Despina, his second wife, had brought him two daughters, and was said to be again with child.

The grand duke returned to Moscow from his journey to the frontiers about the end of December; and, as I could not reconcile myself to the manners and mode of life of the Russians, I became exceedingly impatient to leave the country, and could not persuade myself to stay for the return of Stephen from Venice with money. For this reason, I made interest with one of the lords of the court, to prevail on the grand duke to supply me with money, and to give me leave to depart. A few days afterwards, the grand duke sent for me to court and invited me to dinner, when he agreed, from respect to the republic, to lend me as much money as was necessary to clear all my debts to the Tartarian and Russian merchants, and to enable me to return to Venice. The dinner was quite magnificent, consisting of every delicacy, and of abundance of exquisitely dressed dishes. When the repast was finished, I retired according to custom. Some days afterwards, I was again invited to court, and the grand duke gave orders his treasurer to give me all the money necessary for paying my debts, besides which, he presented me with 1000 ducats, and a magnificent dress of Scythian squirrels skins, to wear in his presence when I came to court. Before returning to my quarters, he ordered me to be presented to the grand duchess, who received me very graciously, and desired me to offer her respectful salutations to our illustrious republic, which I promised to do.

[1] This journey appears to have been through the country on the west of the Wolga, which they probably passed about Czariein, through the provinces of Saratov, Woronez, and Penza, avoiding the Ilafla, to Rezan or Riazan.--E.
[2] Rezan or Riazan, in the province of that name, on the Oka. In a considerable, part of the track of this journey, there are now towns and villages; but the whole of this south-eastern frontier of European Russia, appears to have been then entirely waste, and pervaded by the wandering Tartars. We are quite in the dark respecting the particulars of the route from Astracan to Rezan. It was certainty on the east of the Wolga at the first, to avoid the Tartars which occupied the country between the Caspian and Euxine. The passage of that vast river may have been at Czariein, at its great elbow, in lat. 48° 30'N. or about Saratov in 51° 20'N. neither of which towns seem to have then existed. From thence they would probably proceed, to avoid the larger rivers, between where Penza and Tchenbar now stand, and by the scite of Morbansk, towards Riazan.--E.
[3] In the original this large bridge is said to have been at Kolomna, which is on the river Mosqua, of very inferior magnitude; and flows into the Oka, which most probably is the Monstrus of the text.--E.
[4] In the original, the commander of this body of cavalry is said to have been a Tartarian general--E.
[5] The word Leopolitain, may possibly be a corruption for Neopolitan, or a native of Naples. Perhaps it may refer to Leopol, in that part of Poland now belonging to Austria, and called Galicia.--E.
[6] Such is the expression in the original, which ought perhaps to be reversed. Yet Contarini possibly meant to say, that the inhabitants of Moscow laid up a sufficient stock of money from the profits of their long winter labours, for their subsistence during summer; when, by the absence of the court, they had little employment.--E.
[7] There are two cities named Novogrod or Novgorod in Russia, nearly at equal distances from Moscow, one to the northwest, and the other to the southwest; the latter of which, named Novgorod Sieverskov, is probably meant in the text, and which ought rather to have been described as towards the frontiers of Poland. The other Novgorod did not then belong to the Russian sovereignty.--E.
[8] The geographical ideas of Contarini are very vague and superficial. This is perhaps the only instance wherein Poland; a portion of European Sarmatia, is considered as belonging geographically to Germany.--E.
[9] The reigning sovereign of Russia at the period was John III. who began to reign in 1463, and was succeeded in 1505 by Basil IV.--E.



Volume 2, Chapter 2, Section 9 -- Contarini leaves Moscow, and having passed through Lithuania, Poland, and Germany, arrives at Venice.

On the day before that which I had fixed for my departure, I was invited to dine at court. Before dinner, I was taken into one of the halls of the palace, where I found the grand duke, accompanied by Marcus and a secretary. His highness addressed me very graciously, and desired me to report all the marks of esteem and friendship he had shewn me, from respect to our illustrious republic, and offered me everything I could desire, and which lay in his power to grant. While speaking, I drew back from respect; but as I retired he always advanced. I answered everything to his satisfaction, and humbly offered my most grateful thanks for all his benevolence to me. He treated me with the utmost politeness and familiarity, and even condescended to shew me some robes of gold tissue, magnificently lined with Scythian sables; after which we went to dinner. The repast was extraordinarily magnificent, at which several of the barons and great officers of state assisted. When we rose from table, the grand duke called me to him, and gave me my audience of leave in the most gracious terms, speaking so loud as to be heard by all the company, and expressing his high esteem for the illustrious republic of Venice. After this, by his order, a silver cup was brought to me filled with mead, of which he made me a present, as a mark of high regard with which he honours ambassadors, and other persons to whom he shews favour. This present was to me a matter of very serious consideration, as the etiquette required me to empty its contents, and the cup was very large. When I had drained about a quarter of the liquor, knowing the sobriety of the Italians, and perceiving that I was much difficulted, the grand duke had the goodness to order the remainder to be emptied, and the goblet given to me. Having thanked the grand duke in as respectful terms as I was able, I took my leave and retired, accompanied by several barons and other persons of rank.

Every thing was now in readiness for my departure, but Marcus would by no means hear of my leaving Moscow, without taking a dinner with him, and accordingly gave me a magnificent entertainment. Louis, the patriarch of Antioch, of whom I have before made mention, came about this time to Moscow, and was detained there by order of the grand duke; but I made interest through Marcus for his release, which I obtained, and he was to have travelled along with me. But as he delayed too long, I set off without him. At length, on the 21st January 1476, we set out from Moscow in sledges, made like small huts, each drawn by a horse, and guided by a driver. In these sledges we carried our baggage and provisions along with us, and in them, journeys of great length may be made in a wonderfully short time. By order of the grand duke, I had a guide appointed to conduct me on the right road, and this was continued from place to place all, through his dominions. We slept the first night in a small village, where we found our lodgings exceedingly cold, but that was the smallest of our inconveniencies, and on this account I hastened our journey as much as possible. On the 27th of January, we arrived at Vieseme, and a few days afterwards at Smolensk on the frontiers of Lithuania, in the dominions of Casimir king of Poland. From Smolensk, till we arrived at Trach[1], a city of Lithuania, we travelled continually in a plain interspersed with some hills, the whole country being covered with wood, and our only lodgings were in miserable hovels; dining always about noon wherever we could meet with a fire which had been left burning by travellers who had passed before us. We had generally to break the ice to procure water for our horses; we lighted fires to warm ourselves; and our sledges served us instead of beds, as without them we must have slept on the ground. We went with such expedition, over the frozen snow, that we were assured we had travelled 300 miles in three days and two nights.

Casimir king of Poland, who then resided at Troki, immediately on learning my arrival, sent two of his gentlemen to compliment me in his name, and to congratulate me on my safe return. They likewise invited me to dine with his majesty on the following day, which was the 15th of February, and presented me on the part of the king with a robe of purple damask, lined with Scythian furs, in which I dressed myself to go to court. On this occasion, I went in a coach and six, accompanied by four noblemen and several other persons. The king himself did me the honour to receive me, and conducted me into a magnificent apartment, where he introduced me to two of his sons in presence of many nobles, knights, and gentlemen of the court. A chair was placed for me in the middle of the room; and when I offered to kneel on one knee while addressing the king, his majesty had the goodness to insist that I should sit down in his presence, which I did after some hesitation. I then gave a recital of all that had occurred in my travels, with some account of the dominions of Uzun-Hassan, and of the number of his forces, and of the empire and manners of the Tartars. The king and his courtiers listened to me with much attention during my whole speech, which lasted more than half an hour. I then thanked his majesty for the present he had made me, and for all his kindnesses to me, attributing his attentions to the esteem he entertained for our illustrious republic. His majesty was pleased, by means of an interpreter, to express great satisfaction at my safe arrival, as he hardly expected I should ever have been able to return; and that he was much pleased with the information I had given him respecting Uzun- Hassan and the Tartars, which he believed to be more authentic than any he had received before. After some other discourse, I was conducted to the hall where the dinner was served; soon after which his majesty came into the hall with his two sons, preceded by several trumpets. The king sat down at the head of the table, having his two sons on his right hand; the primate of the kingdom sat next on his majestys left, and I was placed next the bishop. The remainder of the table was occupied by about forty of the nobles. Each service was ushered in with the sound of trumpets, and all the meats were served on large silver dishes.

After dinner, which lasted two hours, I rose to depart, and asked the king if he had any farther orders to honour me with; when he was pleased to say very graciously, that he charged me to assure the senate that his most anxious desire was to cultivate perpetual friendship and good-will with our illustrious republic, and he was pleased to make his sons express the same friendly wishes. Having respectfully taken leave of the king, I was conducted back to my lodgings by several of the courtiers.

Being supplied with a guide, I departed from Troki on the 16th of February, and in nine days, passing through the city of Ionici, I arrived at Warsaw on the 1st of March. The country of Poland appeared very pleasant, and abundant in every, thing except fruit. During our journey we saw many villages and castles, and were well received everywhere, but we found no considerable city. After remaining four days in Warsaw, where I purchased horses for the rest of our journey, we set out from that place on the 5th of March, and came that day to a town call Messarig, where we began to travel with less assurance of safety, as this place is on the frontiers towards Germany. On the 9th I arrived at Frankfort on the Oder, from which place we found more commodious lodgings in traversing Germany, than we had been accustomed to for a long time. While passing the city of Gia[2], on the 15th of March, I had the good fortune to meet with Stephen Testa, whom I had sent from Moscow to Venice for money. I was quite delighted at this meeting, as from him I received good accounts from home. We now entered the city of Gia, where we rested two days. On the 22d we reached Nurenburgh, where we remained four days; from whence we went by Augsburgh, and several other fine cities of Germany, and arrived at Trent on the 4th of April, where we celebrated the festival of Easter. Being extremely anxious to revisit my beloved country, I set out from thence after three days stay, and reached Scala, in the dominions of our republic. In discharge of a vow that I had entered into, I went to visit the church of the blessed Virgin on Mount Arthon, and presented the offerings which I had promised at her holy shrine. I had already sent notice to my brother Augustine, that he might expect me in Venice towards evening of the 10th of April; but my extreme desire of getting back to my country, made me get home considerably earlier. Embarking at break of day, I arrived at three in the afternoon at Lucafusina; and, before going to my own house, I went, in the discharge of another vow, to the church of our Lady of Grace, and met my brother on my way in the Jews street. We embraced with great affection, and went together to the church. After finishing my devotions, I went to the palace, as the Pregadi were then assembled, it being on a Thursday. I was admitted into the council, to which I gave an account of the success of my embassy; after which, as our serene Doge was indisposed, I paid my respects to him in his apartment, and gave him a short history of my travels, and particularly concerning those things on which I had been commissioned. From thence I went to my own house, where I gave thanks to God for his infinite mercy, in having permitted me to return in health and safety, after so many dangers. To conclude: Although I might have composed this narrative of my travels in a more eloquent style, I have preferred truth in few words, to falsehood dressed up in ornamented language. I have been very brief in relation to Germany, as that country is in our neighbourhood, and is therefore well known to many, on which account it would have been both superfluous and tiresome to have given a minute description of what every one knows.

[1] This almost certainty a corruption of Troki--E.
[2] Though this place must assuredly be a town in Germany, between Frankfort on the Oder and Nurenburgh, its name is so disguised as to be quite unintelligible.--E.


Volume 2, Chapter 2, Section 10 -- Recapitulation of some circumstances respecting Persia.

The empire of Uzun-Hassan is very extensive, and is bounded by Turkey and Caramania, belonging to the Sultan, and which latter country extends to Aleppo. Uzun-Hassan took the kingdom of Persia from Causa,[1] whom he put to death. The city of Ecbatana, or Tauris, is the usual residence of Uzun-Hassan; Persepolis, or Shiras,[2] which is twenty-four days journey from thence, being the last city of his empire, bordering on the Zagathais, who are the sons of Buzech, sultan of the Tartars, and with whom he is continually at war. On the other side is the country of Media, which is under subjection to Sivansa, who pays a kind of yearly tribute to Uzun-Hassan. It is said that he has likewise some provinces on the other side of the Euphrates, in the neighbourhood of the Turks.[3] The whole country, all the way to Ispahan, six days journey from Persepolis, is exceedingly arid, having very few trees and little water, yet it is fertile in grain and other provisions. The king seemed to me about seventy years of age, of large stature, with a pleasant countenance, and very lean. His eldest son, named Ogurlu Mohamed, was much spoken of when I was in Persia, as he had rebelled against his father. He had other three sons; Khalil Mirza, the elder of these was about thirty-five years old, and had the government of Shiras. Jacub beg, another son of Uzun-Hassan, was about fifteen, and I have forgotten the name of a third son.[4] By one of his wives he had a son named Masubech, or Maksud beg, whom he kept in prison, because he was detected in corresponding with his rebellious brother Ogurlu, and whom he afterwards put to death. According to the best accounts which I received from different persons, the forces of Uzun-Hassan may amount to about 50,000 cavalry, a considerable part of whom are not of much value. It has been reported by some who were present, that at one time he led an army of 40,000 Persians to battle against the Turks, for the purpose of restoring Pirameth to the sovereignty of Karamania, whence he had been expelled by the infidels.[5]

[1] Uzun-Hassan, as formerly mentioned, was prince of the Turkmans of the white sheep tribe, and acquired the dominion of western Persia, by the defeat of Hassan-ali prince of the black sheep Turkmans, who is probably the person named Causa in the text.--E.
[2] This is a mistake, Persepolis is supposed to have been at, or near Istakar, above twenty miles N.N.E. from Shiras.--E.
[3] Diarbekir, with the cities of Arzunjan, Mardin, Roha, or Orfa, and Siwas, are said to have been committed by Timour to the government of Kara Ilug Ozman, the great grandfather of Uzun-Hassan, who may have retained the original possessions of his tribe after the acquisition of western Persia.--Mod. Univ. Hist. VI. 111.
[4] According to the authors of the Modern Universal History. B. VIII. ch. i. sect. 3. Uzun-Hassan had seven sons: Ogurlu Mohammed, Khahil Mirza, Maksud beg, Jakub beg, Masih beg, Yusuf beg, and Zegnel. Contarini strangely corrupts almost every name that occurs. Uzun-Hassan, he makes Unsuncassan; Ogurlu Mohammed, Gurlu mamech; Kalil mirza, Sultan chali; Yakub beg, Lacubei; Maksud beg, or Masih beg, Masubech; and omits three of the seven.--E.
[5] Uzun-Hassan is said to have been defeated in battle by the Turks, in 1471, near Arzenjan.--Mod. Univ. Hist. VI. 113.


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