Ancient Russia literature
Travel over Three Seas
"Travel over three seas' is the ancient Russian work in the style of diary records. The author - Tver merchant Athanasius Nikitin - describes the travel through Derbent and Baku by land to Persia and then to India. Travel lasted from 1466 to 1472. On his way home, not reaching Smolensk, Athanasius Nikitin died.
The most probable dating of travel is 1471-1474, according to another hypothesis - 1466-1472. Going with goods to Northern Azerbaijan (Shirvan), A.Nikitin was robbed by Tatars. Among people who had debts in Russia and whose way home was closed because of bankruptcy danger A.Nikitin went further south. He set out from Derbent to Baku, from there subsequently through Gurmyz to India. In some scientific and popular scientific works A. Nikitin is named "a commercial scout, enterprising merchant tracing a new way to India" etc. There is no basis for such assumptions: A. Nikitin undertook the travel perforce, at his own risk, without any official aid. And when Nikitin at last returned to Russia, he was hardly more able to repay his debts than in the beginning of the travel. The only fruit of the travel were Nikitin's records - "Travel over three seas", which, as it seems, he kept on the way, expecting, that his notes would be read by his 'Russian Christian brothers'.
In 'Travel' Nikitin in details describes the route, at times specifying distance from one city to another in days, tells about his misadventures. A lot of attention is paid by him to the description of India: he is amazed by customs, morals and manners, clothes, he describes in details luxurious lifestyle of khans, religious holidays. More than once professional interest of the merchant declare itself - Nikitin speaks about local goods and prices.
The Tver merchant being in foreign country did not understand everything around; he might rush to wrong conclusions trusting superstition and legends. But where A.Nikitin was not guided by stories of his interlocutors, but by his own observations his conclusions were true and sober. Despite of all peculiarity of India in comparison with Russia Nikitin saw there a picture of human relations well familiar to him: "And the land is densely populated, rural people are very poor, noblemen are very strong and rich".
A.Nikitin stayed basically in the territory of the strongest Muslim state of Southern India - the states of Bahmanids, he could notice the difference between Moslem conquerors and local population - the "Gundustan" people. Nikitin noted, that khan "rides men", though "he has a lot of good elephants and horses". Opposite to 'the East Indians' (the Hinduists), Moslems repeatedly tried to convert Nikitin into Islam, and the power of the Muslim sultan possibly could empress him. But records of the author, which he kept in India, about his adherence to Christianity and the fact of his return to Russia give the basis to think, that A.Nikitin did not give in to these attempts. Dialogue with representatives of different religions exerted, probably, influence on his outlook and resulted in some kind of synthetic monotheism which he himself expressed in the words: "And the right (i.e. correct, true) belief only the himself God knows, and the right belief is to know the sole God, to praise God's name at any place", attributes of "the right belief" for Nikitin were only monotheism and moral purity. It justified in A.Nikitin's eyes that he used a Muslim name and Muslim prayers.
Separation from the native land was very painful for the Tver traveller. But the love for the native land, really, did not overshadow recollections about injustice and woes of Russia, and he writes down in Turkic language an emotional confession (presented in A.D. Zheltyakov's translation): "Russian land be by God saved!. There is no land like Russia in this world. But why don't Russian princes live like brothers! Prosper the Russian land as there is little justice there.'
"Travel over three seas " is not artificially stylized composition, but a document, created by man, of amazing artistic force. 'Travel' is an example of that spontaneous beginning of fiction from business written language, which is typical of the XV century.
A.Nikitin never reached native Tver city, he died within the limits of the Great Lithuanian princedom on his way to Smolensk. His records fell into the hands of clerk Vasily Mamyrev, who handed them over to the compiler of independent annalistic code of the 80s, which in its turn found its reflection in Lvov and Sofia second annals in which we find 'Travel'. Other version may be found in the collection of the end of the XV century, containing also Ermolinskaya annals.