Continuing the story of the first great embassy from Persia to the West.
During the two months following we now travelled in our galleys up the Volga, but every ten days we disembarked and went ashore to some village, for all along the river bank there are small settlements with houses that are built of wood. At each stopping place we changed some of our rowers, taking on fresh men...
The hills which the Volga has on either side of its banks are very high, and are populated by settlements. We saw on these hills numerous bears, lions, and tigers, also martens of many species.
That sentence stopped me cold. Lions and tigers?
Tigers I can see. The Asian tiger is almost extinct, but it used to range all over Central Asia and Siberia. So it's not so surprising that there were tigers on the lower Volga.
But lions? I thought lions had been extinct in Europe since Roman times, and I never knew they had roamed that far north and east. I half wonder if the writer was confusing some other cat, a lynx or something. Would a 16th century Persian know from lions? I'm really not sure.
Every hundred leagues or so along the river there stand cities of the Duke of Muscovy, adn the first that we came to was called Cherny Yar, the next Tzaritzyn, the third Samara, and so on with the rest we do not name. When there was a contrary wind blowing down the river, the boatmen would land the horses, [and] these towed the galleys with great ropes. Every night we were wont to land to sleep comfortably ashore in the fields, and our escort of a hundred soldiers then kept watch and ward for us.
Watch and ward against what, I wonder. Tigers?
At the end of two months journeying by river we came to a very great city of the Duke of Muscovy called Kazan, and its population, numbering over 50,000 households, are all Christians. This town is extemely full of churches, each having many great bells, and on the vesper of feast days no one can sleep or indeed stay in the city for the noise. On the day when we arrived at this city so great a concourse came to meet us and wonder at the sight, that we scarcely could pass through the squares and streets.We stayed in Kazan eight days, and they provided us with such abundant supplies that the food we could not eat had to be thrown out the window and wasted.
Kazan is due east of Moscow, near the northern end of the Urals, and roughly a thousand miles or 1600 km upriver from Astrakhan. That works out to eight or nine miles a day. Even going upriver, that's not blinding speed.
In this country none are poor, for the victuals are so cheap, that any that are hungry go out to find it on the highways. What they lack is good wine, and they have only one kind of drink, which is made from wheat or barley, and this is so strong that those who drink it are often drunk. For this reason there is a law and ordnance that no officer may carry any kind of weapon, otherwise they would be killing each other every other moment.
"What they lack is good wine". Well, the Safavid Persians were noted for their appreciation of fine wines, Koranic injunctions notwithstanding.
One has the feeling the Persians think if the Russians just had good wine, the drunkenness and violence would go away.
The climate here is extremely cold; hence all go clothed in marten skins, which are to be found in abundance...
They have great use for staves, and in eah house is a dog, as big as a lion, for they fear robbery by night... In the daytime the dogs are chained up, but at the first hour of the evening the bells ring to warn people that the dogs are about to be let loose in the streets, and thus the passengers abroad must take care. For they now set their dogs free, and no one then dare go out of his house, lest he should be torn to pieces by them.
I notice the local breed is "as big as a lion". Poetic exaggeration, or evidence that "lion" really meant "lynx" or some other feline? You make the call.
From Kazan we set forth in seven galleys with which the captain of the city supplied us, together with a guard of a hundred soldiers ordered to conduct us safely to the Court of the Duke of Muscovy. We continued to travel up the same stream, and advancing northward, began the more to feel the rigor of the climate of that region; and six days after leaving Kazan we came to a town on the same river bank, which is called Chekobsary. That same night the Volga, or Eder river, was frozen so thick... that perforce we had to change our way of travelling.
Next: Dashing through the snow!