Drawings from Adam Olearius’ Book “Travels of the Ambassadors sent by Frederic, Duke of Holstein, to the Great Duke of Muscovy and the King of Persia

Adam Olearius’ book “Travels of the Ambassadors sent by Frederic, Duke of Holstein, to the Great Duke of Muscovy and the King of Persia”

In the convolute consisting of six Hamburg editions of 1696.

Adam Olearius (1599-1671) was a secretary and an adviser to the ambassadors sent to Muscovy and Persia, a scholar, an author of the book “Beschreibung der muscowitischen und persischen Reise” (Travels of the Ambassadors sent by Frederic, Duke of Holstein, to the Great Duke of Muscovy and the King of Persia). He was born in Saxony and graduated from the Leipzig University. During the Thirty Years’ War, he had to move to the court of Frederic III, Duke of Holstein, who sent several ambassadors to Muscovy and Persia to establish trade relations with these countries and to give their detailed scientific description. The scholar visited Russia as a member of these delegations three times.

Adam Olearius died at the age of 71 and was buried in the cathedral of Schleswig.

The book of Adam Olearius titled “Travels of the Ambassadors sent by Frederic, Duke of Holstein, to the Great Duke of Muscovy and the King of Persia” is a wonderful literary work of the 17th century and an excellent source of understanding of Russian people’s life at that time. The traveller gives a large complex of information on geography, topography, ethnography of western and eastern regions of Russia, of the Center and the Volga Region.

This book contains a lot of important data about everyday life of Muscovy in the first half of the 16th century, customs, wedding traditions, the status of women in the society, upbringing of children, relations of the Russians with contiguous countries and people. Adam Olearius paid great attention to church rites, having underlined splendour of priests’ vestments and wealth of the Russian Orthodox Church.

The author notes plenty of subsoil resources in the country, intensive extraction of ore, and construction of plants. He writes a lot about crafts and trade. Adam Olearius gives a detailed description about articles of local handicrafts. In his opinion, many of them are not worse, but even better than German ones. He tells about Russian trade, its main routes both by sea and by land. He is interested in trade relations between Russia and the East.

The traveller describes the administrative staff of the country, finances, army, legal procedure and regional management.

The attitude of the Russians to the West is very interesting as Adam Olearius has seen and recorded it. Like his predecessors, he notes that Russian people take kindly to foreigners and their culture, willingly learn everything which they seem to be necessary. The author writes: “They are not short of good heads for learning. There are very talented people with good mind and memory among them”.

But Adam Olearius didn’t manage to avoid tendentiousness when interpreting some facts. It becomes apparent in deliberate emphasis when he describes intemperance, rudeness, drunkenness and even breaking of morals of the Russians.

The writing work of Adam Olearius was first published in Schleswig in 1647 under the title of “Offt begehrte Beschreibung der Newen Orientallschen Reise… den Konig Persien”. The book had many illustrations supplementing and explaining the text. All pictures were made according to the author’s drawings from nature and were reproduced under his supervision. Then the book was added three times and republished in 1656, 1663 and 1696. The fourth edition was issued after the author’s death. The writing work of Adam Olearius evoked a wide response in Europe and was translated into several European languages.

It was first translated into Russian in the 17th – early 18th centuries, but this translation wasn’t published. The full Russian translation was made in the “Readings of the Moscow Society of History and Russian Antiquities” in 1869-1870. P.P. Barsov translated the last German edition which was published during the lifetime of Adam Olearius in 1663.

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