A brief history of Moscovia and of other less-known countries lying eastward of Russia as far as Cathay, gather'd from the writings of several eye-witnesses
Milton, John, 1608-1674.


A brief Description.

THE Empire of Moscovia, or as others call it, Russia, is bounded on the North with Lapland and the Ocean; Page  2 Southward by the Crim Tartar; on the West by Lituania, Livo∣nia and Poland; on the East by the River Ob, or Oby, and the Nagayan Tartars on the Volga, as far as Astracan.

The north parts of this Coun∣try are so barren,* that the Inha∣bitants fetch their Corn a 1000 miles, and so cold in Winter that the very Sap of their Wood-fewel burning on the fire, freezes at the Brands end where it drops. The Mariners which were left a ship∣board in the first English Voyage thither,* in going up onely from their Cabins to the Hatches,* had their breath so congeal'd by the cold, that they fell down as it were stifl'd. The Bay of Saint Ni∣cholas,* where they first put in, lyeth in 64 degrees;* call'd so from the Abby there built of Wood; wherein are 20 Monks; unlearned, as then they found them, and great Drunkards: Page  3 their Church is fair, full of Ima∣ges, and Tapers. There are be∣sides but 6 Houses, whereof one built by the English. In the Bay over against the Abby is Rose Island,* full of damask and red Roses,* Violets, and wild Rose∣mary; the Isle is in circuit 7 or 8 miles: about the midst of May the snow there is clear'd, having two months been melting; then the ground in 14 daies is dry, and Grass knee-deep within a month: after September Frost returns, and Snow a yard high: it hath a House built by the En∣glish near to a fresh fair Spring North-east of the Abby on the other side of Duina is the Castle of Archangel;* where the English have another House. The River Duina* beginning about 700 miles within the Country, having first receiv'd Pinega* falls here into the Sea, very large and swift, but shallow. It runneth pleasantly Page  4 between Hills on either side; be∣set like a Wilderness with high Firre, and other Trees: their Boats of Timber without any Iron in them, are either to sail, or to be drawn up with Ropes against the stream.

North-east beyond Archangel standeth Lampas,* where twice a year is kept a great Fair of Rus∣ses, Tartars and Samoeds: and to the Land-ward Mezen, and Slobotca two Towns of traffick between the River Pechora, or Petzora, and Duina; To Seaward lies the Cape of Candinos,* and the Island of Colgoieve about 30 leagues from the Bar of Pe∣chora in 69 degrees.

The River Pechora or Petzora holding his course through Sibe∣ria, how far, the Russians therea∣bouts know not, runneth into the Sea at 72. mouths, full of Ice: abounding with Swans, Ducks, Geese and Partridge, Page  5 which they take in Iuly, sell the Feathers, and salt the Bodies for Winter Provision. On this River spreading to a Lake stands the Town of Pustozera* in 68 degrees, having some 80, or 100 Houses, where certain Merchants of Hull winter'd in the year 1611. The Town Pechora small and poor hath 3 Churches. They traded there up the River 4 daies jour∣ney to Oustzilma a small Town of 60 Houses.* The Russians that have travail'd, say that this River springs out of the Mountains of Iougoria and runs through Per∣mia. Not far from the Mouth thereof are the Straits of Vaigats, of which hereafter: more east∣ward is the Point of Naramzy,* and next to that, the River Ob. Beyond which, the Muscovites have extended lately their domini∣on. Touching the Riphaean* Moun∣tains whence Tanais was ancient∣ly thought to spring, our men Page  6 could hear nothing; but rather that the whole Country is Cham∣pain, and in the northmost part huge and desert Woods of Firre, abounding with Black Wolves, Bears, Buffs, and another Beast call'd Rossomakka, whose Female bringeth forth by passing through some narrow place, as between two Stakes; and so presseth her Womb to a disburthening. Tra∣vailing southward they found the Country more pleasant,* fair and better inhabited, Corn, Pasture, Meadows and huge Woods.*Ar∣kania (if it be not the same with Archangel) is a place of English trade, from whence a days jour∣ney distant, but from Saint Ni∣cholas a 100 versts, Colmogro* stands on the Duina:* a great Town not wall'd, but scatter'd. The English have here Lands of their own, given them by the Emperour, and fair Houses; not far beyond, Pinega running be∣tween Page  7 Rocks of Alabaster and great Woods, meets with Duina. From Colmogro to Vstiug* are 500 versts or little miles, an ancient City upon the Confluence of Iu∣ga,* and Sucana into Duina which there first receives his name. Thence continuing by water to Wologda;* a great City so nam'd of the River which passes through the midst; it hath a Castle wall'd about with Brick and Stone, and many wooden Churches, two for every Parish, the one in Winter to be heated, the other us'd in Summer; this is a Town of much Traffick a 1000 miles from Saint Nicholas. All this way by water no lodging is to be had but un∣der open Sky by the River side, and other provision onely what they bring with them. From Wo∣logda by Sled they go to Yeraslave* on the Volga, whose breadth is there at least a mile over; and thence runs 2700 versts to the Ca∣spianPage  8 Sea,* having his head Spring out of Bealozera, which is a Lake,* amidst whereof is built a strong Tower wherein the Kings of Mos∣covy reserve their Treasure in time of War. From this Town to Rostove, then to Pereslave a great Town situate on a fair Lake; thence to Mosco.

Between Yeraslave and Mosco which is 200 miles, the Country is so fertile, so populous and full of Villages, that in a forenoon 7 or 800 Sleds are usually seen com∣ing with Salt Fish,* or laden back with Corn.*

Mosco* the chief City, lying in 55 degrees, distant from Saint Nicholas 1500 miles, is reputed to be greater than London with the Suburbs,* but rudely built, their Houses and Churches most of Timber, few of Stone, their Streets unpav'd; it hath a fair Castle four-square, upon a Hill, two miles about, with Brick Page  9 Walls very high, and some say 18 foot thick, 16 Gates, and as many Bulwarks; in the Castle are kept the chief Markets, and in Winter on the River being then firm Ice. This River Mos∣cua on the south-west side enclo∣ses the Castle, wherein are nine fair Churches with round gilded Towers, and the Emperour's Pa∣lace; which neither within, nor without is equal for state to the King's Houses in England but ra∣ther like our Buildings of old fashion with small Windows, some of Glass, some with Latices, or Iron Bars.

They who travail from Mosco to the Caspian,* go by Water down the Moscua to the River Occa;* then by certain Castles to Rezan, a famous City now rui∣nate; the 10th day to Nysnovo∣grod where Occa falls into Volga, which the Tartars call Edel. From thence the 11th day to Ca∣zanPage  10 a Tartan City of great wealth heretofore, now under the Rus∣sian; wall'd at first with Timber and Earth, but since by the Em∣perour Vasiliwich with free Stone. From Cazan to the River Cama falling into Volga from the Pro∣vince of Permia, the People dwelling on the left side are Gen∣tiles, and live in Woods without Houses:* beyond them to Astra∣can, Tartars of Mangat, and Na∣gay; on the right side those of Crimme. From Mosco to Astra∣can is about 600 leagues. The Town is situate in an Island on a Hill-side wall'd with Earth, but the Castle with Earth and Tim∣ber; the Houses except that of the Governour's, and some few others, poor and simple; the Ground utterly barren, and with∣out Wood: they live there on Fish, and Sturgeon especially; which hanging up to dry in the Streets and Houses brings whole Page  11 swarms of Flies, and infection to the Aire, and oft great Pestilence. This Island in length 12 leagues, 3 in breadth is the Russian limit toward the Caspian, which he keeps with a strong Garrison; being 20 leagues from that Sea into which Volga falls at 70 mouths. From Saint Nicholas, or from Mosco to the Caspian they pass in 46 daies and nights, most part by Water.

West-ward* from Saint Nicho∣las 1200 miles,* is the City No∣vogrod 58 degrees, the greatest Mart-town of all this Dominion, and in bigness not inferior to Mosco. The way thither is through the western bottom of Saint Nicholas Bay, and so along the Shoar full of dangerous Rocks to the Monastery Solofky, wherein are at least 200 Monks; the People thereabout in a man∣ner Savages, yet Tenants to those Monks. Thence to the Page  12 dangerous River Owiga, wherein are Waterfalls as steep as from a Mountain, and by the violence of their descent kept from free∣zing; so that the Boats are to be carried there a mile over land: which the Tenants of that Abby did by command, and were guides to the Merchants without taking any reward. Thence to the Town Povensa standing with∣in a mile of the famous Lake Onega 320 miles long; and in some places 70, at narrowest 25 broad, and of great depth. Thence by some Monasteries to the Ri∣ver Swire; then into the Lake Ladiscay much longer than One∣ga: after which into the River Volhusky which through the midst of Novogrod runs into this Lake, and this Lake into the Baltick sound by Narv and Revel. Their other Cities toward the western bound are Plesco, Smolensko on Vobsco.

Page  13The Emperour exerciseth ab∣solute power:* if any man die without male issue,* his Land re∣turns to the Emperour. Any rich man who through age, or other impotence is unable to serve the Publick, being inform'd of, is turn'd out of his Estate, and forc'd with his Family to live on a small Pension, while some other more deserving, is by the Duke's authority put into possession. The manner of informing the Duke is thus. Your Grace, saith one, hath such a Subject, abounding with Riches, but for service of the State unmeet, and you have o∣thers poor and in want, but well able to doe their Country good service. Immediately the Duke sends forth to enquire, and cal∣ling the Rich man before him, Friend, saith he, you have too much Living, and are unservicea∣ble to your Prince; less will serve you, and the rest maintain others Page  14 who deserve more. The man thus call'd to impart his Wealth, repines not, but humbly answers, that all he hath is God's, and the Duke's: as if he made restitution of what more justly was ano∣thers, than parted with his own. Every Gentleman hath rule and justice over his own Tenants: if the Tenants of two Gentlemen agree not, they seek to compose it, if they cannot, each brings his Tenant before the high Judge of that Country. They have no Lawyers, but every man pleads his own Cause, or else by Bill or Answer in writing delivers it with his own hands to the Duke: yet Justice by corruption of infe∣riour Officers is much perverted. Where other proof is wanting, they may try the matter by per∣sonal combat, or by champion. If a Debtor be poor, he becomes bondman to the Duke, who lets out his labour till it pay the dept; Page  15 till then he remains in bondage:* another tryal they have by lots.

The Revenues* of the Empe∣rour are what he list, and what his Subjects are able; and he o∣mits not the coursest means to raise them: for in every good Town there is a drunken Tavern, call'd a Cursemay, which the Em∣perour either lets out to farm,* or bestowes on some Duke, or Gen∣tleman in reward of his Service; who for that time is Lord of the whole Town, robbing and spoi∣ling at his pleasure; till being well enricht, he is sent at his own charge to the Wars, and there squeez'd of his ill got wealth; by which means the waging of war is to the Empe∣rour little or nothing chargeable.

The Russian armeth not less in time of war than 300 thousand men;* half of whom he takes with him into the Field,** the rest bestows in Garrisons on the Bor∣ders. Page  16 He presseth no Husband∣man or Merchant, but the Youth of the Realm. He useth no Foot, but such as are Pioners, or Gun∣ners, of both which sort 30 thou∣sand. The rest being Horsemen, are all Archers, and ride with a short Stirrup after the Turkish. Their Armour is a Coat of Plate, and a Skull on their Heads. Some of their Coats are cover'd with Velvet, or cloth of Gold; for they desire to be gorgeous in Arms, but the Duke himself above mea∣sure: his Pavilion cover'd with cloth of Gold, or Silver, set with pretious Stones. They use little Drums at the Saddle bow instead of Spurs; for at sound thereof the Horses run more swiftly.

They fight without order;* nor willingly give battail but by stealth or ambush;* of cold and hard Diet marvelously patient; for when the Ground is cover'd with Snow froz'n a yard thick, Page  17 the common Souldier will lie in the Field two months together without Tent, or covering over head; onely hangs up his Man∣tle against that part from whence the Weather drives, and kindling a little fire, lies him down be∣fore it, with his Back under the Wind: his Drink, the cold Stream mingl'd with Oat-meal, and the same all his Food: his Horse fed with Green Wood and Bark, stands all this while in the open Field, yet does his service. The Emperour gives no pay at all, but to Strangers; yet repaies good deserts in war with certain Lands during life; and they who often∣est are sent to the wars, think themselves most favour'd,* though serving without Wages. On the 12th of December yearly the Em∣perour rides into the Field which is without the City, with all his Nobility on Jennets and Turky Horses in great state: before him Page  18 5000 Harquebusiers, who shoot at a bank of Ice till they beat it down, the Ordnance, which they have very fair of all sorts, they plant against two wooden Houses fill'd with earth at least 30 foot thick, and beginning with the smallest, shoot them all off thrice over, having beat those two Hou∣ses flat. Above the rest 6 great Cannon they have, whose Bullet is a yard high, so that a man may see it flying; then out of Mor∣ter-pieces they shoot wild-fire in∣to the Aire. Thus the Emperour having seen what his Gunners can doe, returns home in the same order.

They follow the Greek Church,* but with excess of Superstitions;* their Service is in the Russian Tongue. They hold the Ten Commandments not to concern them, saying that God gave them under the Law, which Christ by his death on the Cross hath abro∣gated: Page  19 the Eucharist they re∣ceive in both kinds; they ob∣serve 4 Lents,* have Service in their Churches daily, from two hours before dawn to Evening; yet for Whordom, Drunkenness and Extortion none worse than the Clergy.

They have many great and rich Monasteries,* where they keep great hospitality. That of Trojetes hath in it 700 Friers, and is wall'd about with Brick very strongly, having many Pie∣ces of Brass Ordnance on the Walls; most of the Lands, Towns and Villages within 40 miles belong to those Monks, who are also as great Merchants as any in the Land. During Easter Holy-daies when two Friends meet they take each other by the hand; one of them saying, the Lord is risen; the other answering,* it is so of a truth; and then they kiss, whe∣ther Page  20 Men or Women. The Em∣perour esteemeth the Metropoli∣tan next to God, after our La∣dy, and Saint Nicholas, as being his spiritual Officer, himself but his temporal.* But the Musco∣vites that border on Tartaria are yet Pagans.

When there is love between two,* the Man among other tri∣fling Gifts,* sends to the Woman a Whip, to signify, if she offend, what the must expect; and it is a Rule among them, that if the Wife be not beaten once a week, she thinks her self not belov'd, and is the worse; yet are they very obedient, and stir not forth, but at some Seasons. Upon ut∣ter dislike, the Husband divor∣ces;* which Liberty no doubt they receiv'd first with their Re∣ligion from the Greek Church, and the Imperial Laws.

Their Dead they bury with new Shooes on their Feet,* as to Page  21 a long Journey;* and put Letters testimonial in their Hands to Saint Nicholas, or Saint Peter, that this was a Russe of Russes and dy'd in the true Faith; which, as they believe, Saint Pe∣ter having read, forthwith ad∣mits him into Heaven.

They have no Learning,* nor will suffer to be among them;* their greatest friendship is in drinking; they are great Tal∣kers, Lyars, Flatterers and Dis∣semblers. They delight in gross Meats and noysom Fish; their Drink is better, being sundry sorts of Meath; the best made with Juice of a sweet and crim∣son Berry call'd Maliena, grow∣ing also in France;* other sorts with Black-cherry, or divers o∣ther Berries: another Drink they use in the Spring drawn from the Birch-tree Root, whose Sap after Iune dries up. But there is no People that live so miserably Page  22 as the Poor of Russia; if they have Straw and Water they make shift to live; for Straw dry'd and stampt in Winter time is their Bread; in Summer Grass and Roots; at all times Bark of Trees is good Meat with them; yet many of them die in the Street for hunger, none relieving, or regarding them.

When they are sent into Fo∣reign Countries,* or that Strangers come thither,* they are very sumptuous in apparel, else the Duke himself goes but meanly.

In Winter they travail* onely upon Sleds,* the Wayes being hard, and smooth with Snow, the Rivers all froz'n: one Horse with a Sled will draw a man 400 miles in 3 daies; in Sum∣mer the way is deep, and tra∣vailing ill. The Russe of better sort goes not out in Winter, but on his Sled; in Summer on his Horse: in his Sled he sits on a Page  23 Carpet, or a white Bears Skin; the Sled drawn with a Horse well deckt, with many Fox or Wolve Tayles about his Neck, guided by a Boy on his Back, other Servants riding on the tayle of the Sled.

The Russian Sea breeds a cer∣tain Beast* which they call a Morse;* who seeks his Food on the Rocks, climing up with help of his Teeth; whereof they make as great account, as we of the Elephant's Tooth.