European Images of Muscovy

A slave-state where despotic superstition ruled - Herberstein's vision of sixteenth-century Russia set the agenda for future European attitudes.

West European diplomats, merchants, soldiers and technicians who either visited or resided in Muscovy in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries doubtless registered many impressions, and some might even have ordered them into more or less coherent patterns. But obviously only if they committed their impressions and reflections to writings which then were published could such individuals contribute to the Western image of Russia. The question, what was the Western image of Russia in these centuries?, must therefore be answered preliminarily with another question: what were then the most widely published works on the subject?

The two which assuredly take the palm are Baron Sigismund von Herberstein's Rerum Moscoviticarum Commentarii and Adam Olearius' Nezoe Beschreibung der Muscowitischen und Persischen Reyse. Herberstein's work, first published in 1549, went through some nineteen Latin, German, and Italian editions in the next 15D years, not counting extracts. Olearius' book first appeared in 1647, and the enlarged version printed in 1656 went through more than a score of German, French, English, Dutch, and Italian editions by the end of the century. The well-known English account, Giles Fletcher's Of the Russe Commonwealth (1591) is generally grouped with the other two as one of the three most important foreign reports on Muscovite Russia, even though it was published only three times in this period.

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