Athanasius Nikitin - Encyclopedia

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ATHANASIUS NIKITIN, of Tver (fl. 1468-1474), Russian merchant, traveller and writer, the earliest known Russian visitor to India. He started in 1468 on his "wanderings beyond the Three Seas" (Caspian, Euxine and Indian Ocean), and descended the Volga, passing by Uglich, Kostroma, Nizhniy Novgorod, Kazan, Sarai and Astrakhan. Near the latter he was attacked and robbed by Tatars; but he succeeded in reaching Derbent, where he joined Vasili Papin, the envoy of Ivan III. of Moscow to the shah of Shirvan; from Nizhniy Novgorod he had travelled with Hasan Bey, the Shirvan shah's ambassador, returning to his master with a present of falcons from Ivan. At Derbent Nikitin vainly endeavoured to get means of returning to Russia; failing in this, he went on to Batu, where he notices the "eternal fires," and thence over the Caspian to Bokhara. Here he stayed six months, after which he made his way southward, with several prolonged stoppages, to the Persian Gulf, through Mazandaran province and the towns of Amul, Demavend, Ray (near Tehran), Kashan, Nain, Yezd, Sirjan, Tarun, Lar and Bandar, opposite New (or insular) Hormuz. From Hormuz he sailed by Muscat to Gujarat, Cambay and Chaul in western India. Landing at Chaul, he seems to have travelled to Umrut in Aurangabad province, south-east of Surat, and thence to Beder, the modern Ahmedabad. Here, and in adjacent regions, Nikitin spent nearly four years; from the little he tells us, he appears to have made his living by horse-dealing. From Beder he visited the Hindu sanctuary ("their Jerusalem") of Perwattum. He returned to Russia by way of Calicut, Dabul, Muscat, Hormuz, Lar, Shiraz, Yezd, Isfahan, Kashan, Sultanieh, Tabriz, Trebizond and Kaffa (Theodosia) in the Crimea. He has left us descriptions of western Indian manners, customs, religion, court-ceremonies, festivals, warfare and trade, of some value; but the text is corrupt, and the narrative at its best is confused and meagre. His remarks on the trade of Hormuz, Cambay, Calicut, Dabul, Ceylon, Pegu and China; on royal progresses and other functions, both ecclesiastical and civil, at Beder; and on the wonders of the great fair at Perwattum - as well as his comparisons of things Russian and Indian - deserve special notice.

Two MSS. are known: (1) in the library of the cathedral of St Sophia in Novgorod; (2) in the library of the Tratsa Monastery (Troitsko-Sergievskaya Lavra) near Moscow. See also the edition by Pavel Mikhailovich Stroev in Sofiiskii Vremennik (A.D. 862-1534), pt. ii. pp. 145-164 (Moscow, 1820-1821); and the English version in India in the 15th Century, pp. lxxiv.-lxxx.; 1 -32 (separately paged, Nikitin's being the third narrative in the volume, translated and edited by Count Wielhorski; London, Hakluyt Society,)8J7). (C. R. B.)

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