ABOUT THE ORIGINS OF RUSSIAN ORIENTAL STUDIES
Before the 18th century, there were no specially trained Orientalists in Russia. The people, who traveled to the oriental countries gathered data about them on their own initiative or in accord with their duties and compiled original, narrative and cartographic works.
Russian travelers left a number of descriptions of their journeys to the Middle East. “A Journey of Father Superior Daniil” (orig. «Хожение игумена Даниила») is the oldest of them. It was compiled in 1106–1107 and contented description of the journey of the Russian pilgrim to the Holy Land. The Father Superior Daniil described Palestine in details, especially Jerusalem.
The most famous description of a journey from Russia to the Oriental countries is “A Journey across Three Seas”1 (orig. «Хожение за три моря») by Athanasy Nikitin, a merchant from the city of Tver. During this journey, which Athanasy Nikitin undertook in 1466–1472, he visited and described India.2
In the 17th century, heads of Russian diplomatic missions to China, Ivan Petlin, Feodor Baykov, and Nikolay Spafary, compiled works about this country, which were translated from Russian into various European languages.
Generally, the Oriental policy of Russia was active and wide-range. New goals, that Russian diplomacy had to achieve, demanded greater amount of experts. Measures taken by Peter the Great3 in the field of Oriental studies in the first quarter of the 18th century set the stage for a perfectly new period in the history of this branch of science. Owing to these measures scientific researches on Oriental problems appeared at that time, and works about Asian peoples, original and translated from European languages, started being published in Russia. Having attached greater importance to Oriental studies, Peter I converted them in Russia from considering the totality of casual facts to purposeful process.4
“The territories more distant from Russia, including so major a country of the East as India, were not a focus of attention for the Russian Orientalism, probably because, in contrast to European powers, Russia limited its expansion to lands lying directly to the south of its frontiers. Furthermore, the centuries-old sharp rivalry with the Turks and the Persians was the paramount factor that conditioned the initial concentration of Russian Orientalism on the study of Iran and Turkey.”5
Moldavian ruler, Prince Dmitry Kantemir became an adviser of Peter I on Oriental issues. He is regarded as the first Russian Orientalist.6
Mostly Kantemir wrote in Latin about Moldavian and Othman history. His “The History of the Growth and Decay of the Othman Empire” (orig. “Historia incrementorum atque decrementorum Aulae Ottomanicae”7, 1714–1716) provided the first serious history of the Othman Empire. This research is based on oriental sources and gives a systematic view of the political history of the Othman Empire. “The author is guilty of strange blunders in Oriental history; but he was conversant with the language, the annals, and institutions of the Turks. Cantemir partly draws his materials from the Synopsis of Saadi Effendi of Larissa, dedicated in the year 1696 to Sultan Mustapha8, and a valuable abridgment of the original historians.”9
Ottoman power began to decline in the late 16th century after the imperial fleet was destroyed at the Battle of Lepanto10 in 1571. The Othman forces repeatedly besieged Vienna. Their final effort at taking the Austrian capital in 1683 failed. That failure and subsequent losses led them to relinquish Hungary in 1699. Corruption and decadence gradually undermined the government.
Kantemir’s “The History” surpassed the works of his precursors. They were “The General History of the Turks” (London, 1603) by Richard Knolles11, “The Present State of the Othman Empire” (London, 1668) and “The History of the Turkish Empire from the year 1623 to the year 1677” (London, 1680) by Sir Paul Rycaut12.
In 1719, “The History” was translated into Russian “at His Majesty’s command” by a translator of the College13 of foreign affairs Dmitry Grozin, but the translation was never printed and only served as a source of information for the Russian political and scientific circles.
In 1734–1735, Kantemir’s son Antiokh14, who was appointed as Ambassador of Russia to the Great Britain in the period 1732–1736, published “The History”, in London in two parts in one volume. He took to London the manuscript of “The History”, which was translated into English by Nicolas Tindal, furnishing the biography of his father that appeared with the English translation of the work.
In 1743, “The History” was published in Paris in French (“Histoire de L’Empire Othoman où se voyent les causes de son aggrandissement et de sa décadence˝), and in 1745, in Hamburg in Germany (“Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches nach seinem Anwachse und Abnehmen”). In 1756, it was republished in English. Antioch made an attempt to publish an Italian version of the work (“Dell’Accrescimento e Decadenza dell’Imperio Othomano o sia Epitome dell’Istoria Turca”), but it remained in manuscript form15.
In 1979, “The History” was first published in Ankara, the modern capital of Turkey, in Turkish (“Osmanlı İmparatorluğunun Yükseliş ve Çöküş Tarihi”) and later was republished in Turkey several times, but it remained unpublished in Russian, and the fact is a pity.
This work continued for many years the foundation of investigations and the primary source of information about the Turkish history. Voltaire16 said that it was his desk book on the Orient. During whole century, before publishing in 1835 “The History of the Othman Empire” by Joseph Hammer-Purgstall17, Kantemir’s “The History” had been the most important work on the Turkish history.18
Hammer-Purgstall published also an enormous critical article19 about the work of his predecessor, in which he pointed to the errors of Kantemir’s chronology and cast doubt as to the sources of data used by his precursor. “Hammer’s synthesis became outdated in its turn. Today new works are available, written by Turkish and other historians alike, who enrich our knowledge of the Othman Empire: with the lapse of time, the contemporary historian acquires a different perspective, which the Moldavian prince, involved, as he was in the events he himself described, could not be aware of.
The Cantemir’s work retains, however its documentary value. A new and complete edition of Kantemir’s work could restore to us, on the one hand, the picture of the Othman Empire as rendered by a historian and thinker of the 18th century, who pondered over the evolution of political institutions and, on the other hand, the picture of that same Empire as figured by whole generations of readers, who used the work as reference material.”20
In 1717, Kantemir wrote in Latin the first critical history of Romania as a whole under the title of “The History of Moldavia and Walachia” (orig. “Historia Moldo-Wlachia”21). This work is known also under the title of “The Ancient and Modern History of Dacia22.”23 Later it was expended by Prince Dmitry and as result appeared the work “The Chronicle of the Durability of Romanians-Moldavians-Walachians” (orig. “Antiquitatis Romano-Moldo-Vlachiae chronica”24). In 1721, he translated it into Moldavian (orig. “Hronicul vechimei a romano-moldo-vlahilor”), but first it was published in 1835–1836, in Jassy.
Kantemir’s other significant works in the field of oriental studies include “The Description of Moldavia”, that is the first comprehensive descriptions of Moldavia’s geography, history, politics, economy, and ethnography (orig. “Descriptio Moldaviae”25, 1716). It was written at the request of the Prussian Academy of Sciences. It is known also as “The Present State of Moldavia”26). The first edition of this work in German under the title of “Beschreibung der Moldau” from the journal “Magazin für die neue Historie und Geographie” (Bd III–IV. Hamburg, 1769–1770) was completed with a portrait and a biography of Dimitrie Kantemir, took over from the German edition of the work “History of the Growth and Decay of the Othman Empire” (see above). The second edition in German under the title of “Historisch-geographische und politische Beschreibung der Moldau” appeared in a separate volume and printed in 1771 in Frankfurt and Leipzig. This work was published in Russian by Vasily Levshin in Moscow in 1789.
“The Life of Konstantin Kantemir nicknamed the Old, Prince of Moldavia” (orig. “Vita Constantini Cantemyrii cognomento senis, Moldaviae Principis”27, 1716–1718), “The History of the Mahometans, from the Time of the False Prophet Mahomet, to the First Turkish Emperor” (see above), and “The Book of Sistima, or the State of the Mohammadian Religion” (orig. “Sistima de religione et statu Imperii Turcici”, 1719) also are among the works.
In the last work, which is known also as “System of the Mahometan Religion”28, Kantemir gives the information about Islam and its role in political and social life of the society. In 1721, “The Book of Sistima” was translated in Russian by Ivan Iljinsky. This work was dedicated to Peter I. The war of Russia with Persia from 1722 determined the publication of this book that contains practical knowledge about Mohammedan religion and culture, precise information for politic persons and Russian military leaders (its title in Russian is «Книга Систима, или Состояние мухаммеданской религии»). On January 2, 1723, at Emperor Peter’s order “The Book of Sistima” was published in Saint Petersburg in Russian29. It was only Kantemir’s scientific work that appeared in print when the author was alive. As a result, Kantemir became one of the founders of the Islamic, including the Koran and Sufism30, Arab, Iranian and Turkological studies in Russia.
Generally, Kantemir is the most prominent Turkologist and Balkanist of the 18th century and one of the most distinguished Orientalists in the world, who is noted for his Islamic studies.31
300 Years of Oriental Studies in Russia [300 лет российской востоковедной науки]. Moscow, 1997, p.5–7. (In ussian)
Anderson S.P. An English Consul in Turkey: Paul Rycaut at Smirna, 1667–1678. Oxf., 1989;
Darling L.T. Ottoman politics through British Eyes: Paul Rycaut’s “The Present State of the Ottoman Empire” // Journal of World History. 1994, vol. 5.
Dimitrie Cantemir a Historian of South East European and Oriental Civilization, p.20.
Duţu A. Dimitrie Cantemir a Historian of South-East European and Oriental Civilizations // Revue Roumaine d’Histoire. 1974, nr.1.
Gibbon Ed. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. XI. L., 1821, p. 424.
Gusterin P. First Russian Orientalist Dmitry Kantemir [Первый российский востоковед Дмитрий Кантемир] / M., 2008.
Hammer-Purgatall, Josif von. Sur l’histoire ottoman du Prince Cantemir // Journal Asiatique. S. III. Vol. IV. Paris, 1824, p.24–54.
Russian Oriental Studies. Edited by Vitaly Naumkin. Leiden - Boston, 2004, p. viii.
Schlottmann К. Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall. W., 1858.
1It means Caspian Sea, Arabian Sea, and Black Sea.
2A seamount in the Indian Ocean named in honor of A. Nikitin.
3Peter I (1672–1725; in Russian - “Pyotr Pervy”) - a ruler of Russia (tsar since 1682; reigned 1689–1725), who in 1721 was proclaimed Emperor. He was one of his country’s greatest states men, organizers, and reformers. Peter’s personality left its imprint on the whole history of Russia. A man of original and shrewd intellect, exuberant, courageous, industrious, and iron-willed, he could soberly appraise complex and changeable situations so as to uphold consistently the general interests of Russia and his own particular designs. He did not completely bridge the gulf between Russia and the Western countries, but he achieved considerable progress in development of the national economy and trade, education, science and culture, and foreign policy. Russia became a great power, without whose concurrence no important European problem could thenceforth be settled. His internal reforms achieved progress to an extent that no earlier innovator could have envisaged. “Tsar” (also spelled “czar”) is title associated primarily with rulers of Russia.
4300 Years of Oriental Studies in Russia. Moscow, 1997, p. 5–7. (In English. The title in Russian is «300 лет российской востоковедной науки»).
5Russian Oriental Studies. Edited by Vitaly Naumkin. Leiden — Boston, 2004, p. viii.
6See: Pavel Gusterin. Первый российский востоковед Дмитрий Кантемир / First Russian Orientalist Dmitry Kantemir. M., 2008.
7The History of the Growth and Decay of the Othman Court” is correctly. St Petersburg’s Branch of the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences: the Archives of Orientalists, fund 25, description 1, units 1–6.
8Mustafa III (reigned 1695–1703).
9Gibbon Ed. The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire. Vol. XI. L., 1821, p. 424.
10Naval engagement between allied Christian forces (Venice, the pope, and Spain) and the Othman Turks during an Othman campaign to acquire the Venetian island of Cyprus. The allies, under Don John of Austria, were victorious.
11Richard Knolles (1550 ? – 1610) - an English historian. He availed himself largely the work of the French antiquary Jean Jacques Boissard (1528–1602) “Vitae et Icones Sultanorum Turcicorum” (Francfort, 1596).
12Paul Rycaut (1629–1700) — an English diplomat and Orientalist. His works are of paramount importance for the history of the Greek and Armenian churches in the Othman Empire. See: Anderson S.P. An English Consul in Turkey: Paul Rycaut at Smirna, 1667–1678. Oxf., 1989; Darling L.T. Ottoman politics through British Eyes: Paul Rycaut’s “The Present State of the Ottoman Empire” // Journal of World History. 1994, vol. 5.
13When Peter I came to power the central departments of Russia were the prikazy, or offices, of which there were about 80, functioning in a confused and fragmented way. To replace most of this outmoded system, Peter I in 1718 instituted 9 “colleges”, or boards, the number of which was by 1722 expanded to 13.
14Also spelled “Antioch Dmitrievich Cantemir”.
15The Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts: fund 181, description 16, unit 1363 “A”.
16Voltaire (1694–1778) - a French writer and philosopher (orig. François-Marie Arouet).
17Hammer-Purgstall J. Geschichte des osmanischen Reiches. Bd 1–10. Pest, 1827–1835. Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall (1774–1856) - an Austrian diplomat and Orientalist, foreign honorary member of Imperia. Academy of Sciences in St. Petersburg. Also, see: Schlottmann К. Joseph von Hammer-Purgstall. W., 1858.
18In 1876–1878, “The History of the Growth and Decay of the Othman Empire” was published in Bucharest in Romanian (“Istoria Imperiului Ottoman”) in the complete works of the author (Operele princepelui Dimitrie Cantemir. Vol. III–IV).
19Hammer-Purgatall, Josif von. Sur l’histoire ottoman du Prince Cantemir // Journal Asiatique. S. III. Vol. IV. Paris, 1824, p. 24–54.
20Dimitrie Cantemir a Historian of South East European and Oriental Civilization, p. 20.
21The Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts: fund 181, description 15, unit 1325. Dimitrie Cantemir. Opere complete. IX. I. Bucureşti, 1983.
22Dacia is the historic region of the Carpathian Mountains associated with the area that is in present north-central and western Romania.
23The Life of Demetrius Cantemir…, p. 298.
24The Russian State Archives of Ancient Acts: fund 181, description 16, unit 1420.
25St. Petersburg’s Branch…, units 7–8.
26The Life of Demetrius Cantemir…, p. 298.
27St. Petersburg’s Branch…, unit 9. In: Operele principelui Dimitrie Cantemir. T. VII. Bucureşti, 1883.
28The Life of Demetrius Cantemir…, p. 297.
29In 1977, it was published in Bucharest in Romanian (“Sistemul sau întocmirea religiei mahomedane”).
30Sufism is the mystical Islamic belief and practice in which Muslims seek to find the truth of divine love and knowledge through direct personal experience of God. It consists of a variety of mystical paths that are designed to ascertain the nature of man and God and to facilitate the experience of the presence of divine love and wisdom in the world.
31Also, see: Duţu A. Dimitrie Cantemir a Historian of South-East European and Oriental Civilizations // Revue Roumaine d’Histoire. 1974, nr. 1.