Continuing the story of the Great Persian Embassy to the West.
So far, the charismatic English adventurer John Shirley has convinced the Shah to send an embassy to Christian Europe. They plan to visit eight western monarchs: the Pope, the Holy Roman Emperor, the Seignory of Venice, and the kings of Poland, England, France, Scotland and Spain. But first they have to go north, into Russia...
We took leave in audience of Shah Abbas in Isfahan, where the court was then in residence, and started on our journey, it being Thursday evening, the 9th day of July, in the year of the Incarnation 1599. Now, those who went out rom the royal palace travelling at the King's command and expense, were all grandees of his court, of high rank, and they were habited and accoutred suitably for their voyage. The Persian ambassador was called Husayn Ali Beg, and with him were four gentlemen the secretaries of embassy, and fifteen servants. Next came the two [Portuguese] friars, and then Sir Anthony with five interpreters, and fifteen other Englishmen.
Right away some questions are arising. There were sixteen Englishmen in Isfahan? Where'd they come from? Shirley came via the Ottoman territories, but that's because he spoke fluent Turkish and could do the Richard Burton thing. And how did the two Portuguese friars deal with travelling with a bunch of heretics? They were subjects of the Spanish crown, which was still formally at war with England. Must have ade for some interesting chats around the campfire.
There were withal thirty-two camels carrying the presents, besides the needful number of riding-horses for those who went the journey, and the usual sumpter-beasts required for carrying the baggage...
Diverse were the feelings in the hearts of those who were thus departing, and different their expression: for some set forth most joyfully, but others very dolefully. To all the King had graciously given his royal word to bestow on us at our return many favours, but such were the tears of our relatives, the sad faces shown by our friends, teh sorrow and despair expressed differently but grievously by wives, fathers, and children, that we had perforce at last hurriedly to conclude and depart, and that evening leaving the capital, we forthwith took the road to the city of Kashan, our first stage.
Okay, you want to break out your maps of early modern Persia now.
The journey from Isfahan to Kashan occupied us four days; we rested there two and then went on to the town of Qum [the Shi'ite holy city, modern Qom]; and the next morning we reached the city of Savah. From Savah we travelled during three days, coming to the city of Qazvin, formerly the capital city of Persia... Here we remained eight days, for the Shah had ordered us to procure from here certain articles for gifts [for] the kings of the Christians, these in addition to those [with which] we were already in charge...
After leaving Qazvin, we came in five days to Gilan, a territory and a province where a different language to Persian is spoken, although... it is indeed an integral part of the kingdom of Persia.
Shah Abbas had conquered Gilan just a few years earlier; at this time, it was a border province, though the Shah's armies would soon push further north and west. The mystery language is surely Gilaky. Gilan province would go on to have a complicated and interesting history.
This province lies along the coast of the Sea of Baku, also called Qulzum, which is the Caspian Sea of the ancients, and as here we had to embark aboard ship, we were delayed ten days while the necessary arrangements were being completed. Now many of our friends and relations had come out accompanying us hither on the road from Isfahan, and when we had embarked in our ship very sorrowfully we bade them good-bye, we standing on board, and finally set sail.
The Caspian Sea was not very well known by the ancients, who till after the times of Caesar Augustus believed it to be a bay of the Ocean; but the Arabs knew otherwise and called it the "Closed Sea". It is 800 miles in length, and 600 in breadth; it receives into its waters many copious rivers, and although there is no lack of those who have stated that for this cause the water of the same is neither bitter nor salt, I who sailed over it, and once or twice tried to essay its taste, can affirm that it is gross, bitter, and salt, being indeed anything but palatable. The chief rivers that flow into this sea are the Chessel, the Geicon, the Teuso, the Coro, and the Volga. This last is in those parts known as the Eder, and on this river, as will later be described, we were destined to make our journey to Russia.
[We] put out to sea, and in a day and a night reached a little island far from the land, where a number of fisher-folk are wont to live, for the fish here are abundant and of many kinds.
It's hard to say where this could be. The Caspian has a number of small islands, but mostly near the coasts.
BTW, most of the Caspian is about a third as salty as the oceans. That's still too salty to drink, of course. Also, it varies widely; the southern part is saltier, the bay on the east is supersaline, while the north -- where most of the rivers come in -- can be almost fresh.
Most especially they catch hereabout great quantities of dog-fish [sturgeon], and the same provide the fish-skins which being first dried are afterwards used as bags for holding olive oil, and these skins are sold for a great price. Here we stayed a day and the night, waiting for fine weather, and the following day, as the sea appeared calm, we set sail. Very soon, however, it was manifest how little the seamen knew of the weather, for, after sailing three or four miles, a tempest arose, and the violence of the wind split our sails, whereby [we] thought that we should all drown. But in truth we Persians are so entirely unused to sea-faring, that most of us were now unapprehensive of either danger or death; and we laughed heartily at the Portuguese Friars, who had fallen to weeping, being apparently prepared to die. The storm lasted the whole of that night, and in the morning we found ourselves back once again at that port and town, in Gilan, where we had embarked some days before.
It appeared to some who were faint-hearted that we should best now disembark and return ourselves to Isfahan, for it seemed to them as though it were not the will of Heaven that we should undertake this long journey. But in sooth we all feared too much the wrath of Shah Abbas, and as fine weather had set in we again put to sea...
Shah Abbas could be jovial and generous, but he was a hard bastard when crossed. I'd have gone back to sea too.
Next: on to Astrakhan.