Libmonster ID: UA-12103
Author(s) of the publication: Valery PERKHAVKO

by Valery PERKHAVKO, Cand. Sc. (Hist.), RAS Institute of Russian history

"The Tale of the Rout of Mamai" (late 15th-early 16th centuries) narrates: in 1380, the Moscow Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich set out to the Kulikovo Field to fight against troops of the Golden Horde, headed by the commander Mamai, and as informants, interpreters, ambassadors took with him 10 guests-residents of Surozh ("what will happen to him, the guests would be able to tell in far countries"). It seems that they, representatives of the "best people" from the merchants, also made feasible contribution to the victory of Russian army in the Battle of Kulikovo, which paved the way to the liberation of the country from the Mongol-Tatar yoke.

The chronicler even mentioned names of the merchants--associates of the prince Dmitry, who got for his feat of arms the honorary nickname "Donskoi" (the Kulikovo Field is situated on the bank of the Don, nowadays Kurkino district of the Tula Region), among them are Timofei Vesyakov, Dmitrei Chernoi, Dementei Salarev, Vasily Kapitsa, Sidor Yelferyev, Konstantin Volk, Kuzma Koverya, Semion Ontonov, Mikhail Salarev, Ivan Shikh (in other lists of The Tale of the Rout of Mamai one can see different variants of the same surnames). And the merchants in Moscow together with other citizens greeted the victor, who was returning from the battlefield, and that was depicted in one of the miniatures of the Illuminated Manuscript of The Tale of the Rout of Mamai (17th century). Who were then these guests-residents of Surozh and what is their place in our history?

The first reference to Russian merchants--intermediaries between a producer and a consumer--can be found in agreements of the 10th century with Byzantine Empire,

Science in Russia, No.5, 2011

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in its capital--Constantinople-already then there was their settlement. Domestic trade business was rapidly developing, and our enterprising predecessors looked for new thruways and markets (primarily, foreign markets), and in the 12th century they even started to set up first corporations. However, the forward movement, which started so swiftly, was stopped by the Mongol-Tatar invasion and made itself felt again only at the end of the 13th century.

In time the merchant class stratified, and in the subsequent century, in large cities, including Moscow, emerged groups of the richest and privileged merchants. The highest rank and therefore numerically small category was called guests (they were exempt from a number of duties, had some benefits, often owned country estates), and their "aristocracy" was called surozhane. Let us explain: the scientist and writer Vladimir Dal (Corresponding Member of the St. Petersburg Academy of Sciences from 1838), who compiled the Explanatory Dictionary of the Live Great Russian Language in the mid-19th century, used the term "surovskoi", or "surozhskoi", i.e. silk, and the word "suroga", meaning a person who sold such merchandise in retail.

In the 14th century the chronicler called the Sea of Azov "Surozhskoye" (sometimes together with the Black Sea) after the Crimean town Surozh (today Sudak)--at that time the most important staging post, attracting a lot of merchants from Eastern and European countries, and the countries of the Mediterranean. From 1365 it was a part of Genoese possessions, the local fortress, built in 1371-1469, the only Italian stronghold in the Crimea, which has survived to this day, is evidence of this fact. The French diplomat

Guillaume de Rubruck, who visited this busy port in 1253, wrote about it: "All merchants are attracted by it, those coming from Turkey and going to northern countries, and those returning from Russia and northern countries and willing to get to Turkey. Some bring ermines, squirrels and other precious furs; others bring cotton fabrics, fustian, silk cloth and aromatic roots."

According to archeological diggings, which have been underway since the 1950s--Russian articles of the 11th-13th centuries (copper crosses, ornaments, clay glazed Easter eggs with patterns, stone "pryaslit-sa"*, etc.),--our merchants visited this town, too. As to "Surozhskiye" merchants, they often visited Rus already in the 13th century and sold mainly expensive eastern silk fabrics, spices, paper of Italian production, wine, dye-stuffs, and bought here furs, wax, honey and linen goods, which were popular in the Golden Horde, the Byzantine Empire, Italy and Turkey. Sometimes they bought even more exotic goods, for example, merlins--raptorial birds, excellent hunters. Some of these merchants (mainly Greeks and Italians by birth), in order to use opportunities of the rich Russian market, moved to Moscow for permanent residence (such is the origin of famous merchant dynasties: the Salarevs, Khovrins, Shikhovs, etc.).

By the end of the 14th century, the privileged group of metropolitan guests, which constitutes the subject of our story, getting huge profits from trade with Genoese settlements of the Crimea, the Golden Horde, Constantinople, and other countries of the Mediterranean and the East, was approaching the boyars by their property

* Pryaslo is a load to make a hand-spindle heavier and to fix thread on it.--Ed.

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and social status. Obviously, it can be explained in many respects by the fact that the member-merchants implemented orders of Moscow grand princes, high-born grandees, who were eager to exchange the surpluses of their patrimonial crops for costly goods from overseas.

At the same time eminent merchants were extremely interested to maintain good relationships with the authorities of the Golden Horde, the Genoese administration of Surozh and Caffa (modern Feodosiya)--another large commercial center, where Russian goods were popular from late 14th century. By the way, it was in Caffa, that Mamai, in order to strengthen his army before the Battle of Kulikovo, hired the Italian infantry, which suffered considerable losses in action. He escaped to this town a year later defeated by the khan Tokhtamysh, and here he was murdered by someone from the inhabitants (according to one of the manuscripts of "The Tale of the Rout of Mamai",--a merchant).

Guests-residents of Surozh went to trade not only in the Crimea and Northern Black Sea Coast, but also in the Caspian, Transcaucasia, and according to indirect data,-even in Central Asia. In such cases their routes passed on the Volga, middle and lower streams of which were controlled by the Golden Horde. Vast trade with a large spectrum of southern states, the most profitable activity in the 14th-15th centuries, favored a fast accumulation of capital in the hands of the highest ranks of Moscow merchants at that time.

The image of a successful merchant is impressed in our folklore. The epic hero Churila Plenkovich, son of an old Plenk Sarozhenin (i.e. a resident of Surozh), presented to the prince Vladimir "a golden treasury, great number of black sables, a multitude of Pechera foxes, one-color silk cloth". The story-tellers described very precisely an assortment of guests' goods, and examples of such records in Russian epic literature are not rare.

As for the Western countries, the leading role in trade with them belonged to clothiers, another privileged group of the merchant class. Though they occupied a lower level of the social ladder, as compared with the residents of Surozh, they were not called "guests", and therefore, they could not enjoy the great benefits of the latter. The main object of their activities was cloth. The aristocracy and prosperous groups of tradespeople preferred to wear clothes made of expensive English or

стр. 67

Map of the European part of Russia, 1575. Abraham Orteliy (Flemish cartographer).

Flemish cloth, the rest were satisfied with cheaper and coarse cloth from Germany and Poland or low-quality local fabrics.

It is necessary to point out that the range of such goods was considerable: every town manufactured its own fabric, of a fixed pattern, that is why materials we received from various Western European centers, differed by technologies of production, quality, color, and packaging. But thanks to long experience, Moscow merchants knew all such subtle points. Tireless clothiers could be met in Vilno (today Vilnius, Lithuania), Kiev, Novgorod, Polotsk (today Belarus), Pskov, Derpt (Tartu), Revel (today Tallinn, Estonia). They used to bring there precious furs, leather, wax, honey, and bought fabrics and other Western European goods, they sold on the Russian market, not only making up for traveling and other expenses, but also making good profit.

Quite often enterprising men, growing rich due to trading, engaged in usury, lending money to less successful colleagues, financed representatives of the aristocracy, and some of the richest merchants even became landowners (the earliest available evidence of it refers to late 14th century). As an illustration we can use the names of villages situated near Moscow: Khovrino, Salarevo, Sofrino, Troparyovo, after the merchants' surnames famous in the 15th century. But if the guests, like noblemen, were allowed to buy lands, then, public service was obligatory for them in the 14th-15th centuries, was it? This question interests researchers for a long time.

The merchants, as inhabitants of an urban trading quarter, made up a part of popular home guard, but residents of Surozh and clothiers were enlisted for military service only in cases of emergency, which, at that time were not a rare occurrence. Thus, in 1382, Moscow was

стр. 68

suddenly attacked by the army of the Golden Horde under Khan Tokhtamysh. And mainly the citizens had to defend the capital, not professional warriors. Locked inside the Kremlin, they shot at the approaching enemy from bows, spilled boiling water and tar over them, threw stones. One of them, the clothier Adam, standing on the Frolovskiye (Spasskiye) gates, killed a son of the horde tsarevich with a well-aimed shot from the crossbow (according to "The Tale of the Invasion of Tokhtamysh", the 1430s). This moment was depicted in one of the miniatures of the Illuminated annalistic code of the 16th century (nevertheless, the army of Tokhtamysh captured the capital, plundered and burnt down country estates of boyars and rich merchants).

Therefore, the top representatives of the merchant class also took part in the defense of the native city. As for "military service", apparently, according to the historian, Academician (from 1972) Lev Cherepnin, the residents of Surozh and clothiers "had a certain privilege" in this respect, as they made up a part of the home guard headed by their own voevodes (commanders), and were regarded as "an independent military unit, by no means mixing its members with their servants".

стр. 69

However, at the safe time, grand princes preferred to use guests in trade and diplomatic fields, as they knew not only Russian, but also Greek, Italian and Tatar languages, knew well enough the political climate and customs of neighbor countries and had there certain contacts. They could give a helpful advice or valuable information. For example, in the summer of 1380, the Moscow Grand Prince Dmitry Ivanovich learned beforehand about the fact that Mamai with a huge army, which included natives from Northern Caucasia and Genoese mercenary troops from the Crimea, started an advance towards Rus. Probably, among the spies, who provided this information, were residents of Surozh, who frequently visited the Golden Horde. The khan Tokhta-mysh shared this opinion as well: two years after these events, in order to guarantee suddenness of the attack on Moscow, according to the chronicler, he "sent his Tatars to the Volga environs and ordered to slaughter all Russian guests, and take their ships for their own use, in order to stop going of news to Russia".

There are no written documents concerning special corporations with certain privileges represented by Moscow residents of Surozh and clothiers of the 14th-

Dutch map of Muscovy-great principality. 1593.

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15th centuries. Though, indirect data indicate the embryos of such associations, where members had some obligations with regard to each other, enjoyed benefits and privileges, obviously, pooled their resources for common feasts, built churches. For example, there exists written evidence about the fact that until 1479 Moscow guests possessed the wooden temple of John Chrysostom (near the Lubyanka Square).

"The best representatives" of the Russian merchants of the 14th-15th centuries tried their best to raise above the "black people"--basic mass of urban population--and to merge with boyar circles. As for the social position of distinguished tradesmen, proceeding from their economic interests, it is logical to assume that all of them, feeling the burden of feudal "barriers", were for unification of Russian lands and creation of a single state. Indeed, in general, the merchant class was for this idea, but some of its representatives hesitated and far from always supported grand princes of Moscow, striving to play a more independent political role.


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Valery PERKHAVKO, MERCHANTS-AMBASSADORS-INTELLIGENCE OFFICERS // Kiev: Library of Ukraine (ELIBRARY.COM.UA). Updated: 22.09.2021. URL: (date of access: 23.10.2021).

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