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Ibn Fozlan, the oldest Arabic author who gives any detailed account of the Russians (and a very remarkable one it is), says he "never saw people of form more perfectly developed; they were tall as palm-trees, and ruddy of countenance," but at the same time "the most uncleanly people that God hath created," drunken, and frightfully gross in their manners. (Fraehn's Ibn Fozlan, p. 5 seqq.) Ibn Batuta is in some respects less flattering; he mentions the silver-mines noticed in our text: "At a day's distance from Ukak are the hills of the Russians, who are Christians. They have red hair and blue eyes; ugly to look at, and crafty to deal with. They have silver-mines, and it is from their country that are brought the saum or ingots of silver with which buying and selling is carried on in this country (Kipchak or the Ponent of Polo). The weight of each saumah is 5 ounces" (II. 414). Mas'udi also says: "The Russians have in their country a silver-mine similar to that which exists in Khorasan, at the mountain of Banjhir" (i.e. Panjshir; II. 15; and see supra, vol. i. p. 161). These positive and concurrent testimonies as to Russian silver-mines are remarkable, as modern accounts declare that no silver is found in Russia. And if we go back to the 16th century, Herberstein says the same. There was no silver, he says, except what was imported; silver money had been in use barely 100 years; previously they had used oblong ingots of the value of a ruble, without any figure or legend. (Ram. II. 159.)
But a welcome communication from Professor Bruun points out that the statement of Ibn Batuta identifies the silver-mines in question with certain mines of argentiferous lead-ore near the River Mious (a river falling into the sea of Azof, about 22 miles west of Taganrog); an ore which even in recent times has afforded 60 per cent. of lead, and 1/24 per cent. of silver. And it was these mines which furnished the ancient Russian rubles or ingots. Thus the original ruble was the saumah of Ibn Batuta, the sommo of Pegolotti. A ruble seems to be still called by some term like saumah in Central Asia; it is printed soom in the Appendix to Davies's Punjab Report, p. xi. And Professor Bruun tells me that the silver ruble is called Som by the Ossethi of Caucasus.
Franc.-Michel quotes from Fitz-Stephen's Desc. of London (temp. Henry II.):-- "Aurum mittit Arabs ...
Seres purpureas vestes; Galli sua vina;
Norwegi, Russi, varium, grysium, sabelinas."
Russia was overrun with fire and sword as far as Tver and Torshok by Batu Khan (1237-1238), some years before his invasion of Poland and Silesia. Tartar tax-gatherers were established in the Russian cities as far north as Rostov and Jaroslawl, and for many years Russian princes as far as Novgorod paid homage to the Mongol Khans in their court at Sarai. Their subjection to the Khans was not such a trifle as Polo seems to imply; and at least a dozen Russian princes met their death at the hands of the Mongol executioner.↑ 2.0 2.1
The Lac of this passage appears to be WALLACHIA. Abulfeda calls the Wallachs Aulak; Rubruquis Illac, which he says is the same word as Blac (the usual European form of those days being Blachi, Blachia), but the Tartars could not pronounce the B (p. 275). Abulghazi says the original inhabitants of Kipchak were the Urus, the Olaks, the Majars, and the Bashkirs.
Rubruquis is wrong in placing Illac or Wallachs in Asia; at least the people near the Ural, who he says were so-called by the Tartars, cannot have been Wallachs. Professor Bruun, who corrects my error in following Rubruquis, thinks those Asiatic Blac must have been Polovtzi, or Cumanians.
[Mr. Rockhill (Rubruck, p. 130, note) writes: "A branch of the Volga Bulgars occupied the Moldo-Vallach country in about A.D. 485, but it was not until the first years of the 6th century that a portion of them passed the Danube under the leadership of Asparuk, and established themselves in the present Bulgaria, Friar William's 'Land of Assan.'"--H.C.]