New Book: Posol’skaia kniga … Moskovskogo gos. s Krymom 1567-1572

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Posol’skaia kniga po sviaziam Moskovskogo gosudarstva s Krymom 1567-1572 gg. Otv. red. M. V. Moiseev; podgot. teksta A. V. Malov, O. S. Smirnova; stat’i, komment. A. V. Vinogradov, I. V. Zaitsev, A. V. Malov, M. V. Moiseev. Moskva: fond “Russkie Vitiazi, 2016. 400 pp. [On the cover, indication of series “Krymskoe khanstvo v istochnikakh”; at head of title page: Institut Rossiiskoi istorii RAN.] ISBN 978-5-990-87-48-4-8.

The always welcome appearance of yet another of the hundreds of unpublished volumes of the Muscovite ambassadorial books is an occasion, first, to take stock of where we stand with regard to their publication. Not unexpectedly one of the reviewers listed for this volume is the prolific historian of Muscovite diplomatic administration, Nikolai Mikhailovich Rogozhin, whose colossal efforts over the years have produced the most complete reference inventories we have for the surviving ambassadorial books, reconstruction of the ones no longer extant, and careful analysis of the procedures by which the documentation of the Ambassadorial Office (Posol’skii prikaz) was produced. While it is now slightly dated (in view of recent publications such as the book under review here), his guide to that material (in its current form, updated through 2007, posted collaboratively with A. A. Boguslavskii) can be consulted at: It brings together the data published by Rogozhin in 1990, 1994 and 2003 (Obzor posol’skikh knig iz fondov-kollektsii, khraniashchikhsia v TsGADA [konets XV-nachalo XVIII v.]; Posol’skie knigi Rossii kontsa XV-nachala XVII vv.;  Posol’skii prikaz: kolybel’ rossiiskoi diplomatii, Ch. 3 and appendices). The guide provides a descriptive list of all the Posol’skie knigi from the late 15th to the beginning of the 18th century, organized by country (archival fond) and indicating which are extant, if and where they have been published, and indicates how, in the absence of the actual books, separate diplomatic files and the several 16th- and 17th-century inventories can be used to reconstruct at least some of the content of what is now no longer extant. The website allows one to search by names of the diplomatic officials who are featured in the texts.

As Rogozhin has explained, the “ambassadorial books” (posol’skie knigi) are compilations pulling together into quires documents that originally had been recorded generally in the less easily handled scrolls. The practice of the compilation into books for easier reference began already in the 16th century, and by the second half of that century assumed a more or less standardized form, grouping the documents by event and generally in chronological order. That is, the paperwork connected with the receipt or sending of an embassy would be brought together; this generally would include instructions to both the diplomatic officials and to the individuals charged with accompanying, transporting, or supplying those coming or going on diplomatic missions. The books included copies of official letters sent or received (if received in a foreign language, usually just the Russian translations) and reports such as the end-of-mission stateinye spiski or interim communications by those Muscovite officials sent to foreign courts. Not everything was copied from the original or draft files; in some cases editing or interpolations changed content. So where other, overlapping documentation exists, it may well need to be consulted to obtain a full picture of diplomatic activity.

There are hundreds of these ambassadorial books preserved primarily in RGADA. Some cover many years and many different missions, but especially as one moves into the later 17th century, an individual book may contain only a single end-of-mission report from an envoy. While some of the standard older series (notably Sbornik Imperatorskogo Russkogo istoricheskogo obshchestva [SIRIO] and Pamiatniki diplomaticheskikh snoshenii drevnei Rossii s derzhavami inostrannymi [PDS]) published a good many of the books, and other publications include significant parts of some, for the most part until very recently, these publications have tended to condense or select from the full texts. Back in 1999 at a conference celebrating 450 years since the creation of the Muscovite Ambassadorial Office, Rogozhin advocated that there be a new series that might eventually make all this diplomatic documentation available, but to the best of my knowledge, little has been done to advance such an ambitious project (see his “Obrazovanie i deiatel’nost’ Posol’skogo prikaza,” in Rossiiskaia diplomatiia: istoriia i sovremennost’ [M., 2001], esp. p. 63).

Hence we make do with (and, of course welcome) individual volumes, where in recent years we such publications have included books from the files on relations with England, with Kabarda, with the Kalmyks, with the Nogais, with Orthodox clerics in the Middle East, and now with the Crimea. At least some of these publications can now be found in digital files at the website:

The publication of the Crimean books is of particular interest. The first five books in the series, covering 1474-1519 (RGADA, f. 123, op. 1, d. 1-5) were published in SIRIO, vols. 41 and 95, documenting a period when good relations with the Crimea were a key plank in Muscovite foreign policy. Small parts of d. 8 (1533-39) and 10 (1562-64) have been published. There is a gap in the series between 1548 (d. 9) and 1562 (d. 10), but then books/dela 10-15 form a complete series through 1578, followed by another gap. The volume under consideration here contains the entire text of RGADA, f. 123, op. 1, d. 13, and has appeared almost simultaneously with a similarly edited volume containing d. 14 (1571-77), which I have not yet had the opportunity to examine.

Over the whole of the period from the late 15th down through the 17th century, the Crimean books constitute one of the largest deposits in the Muscovite diplomatic archives, given the frequency with which exchanges took place. This is understandable in a period of active Muscovite expansion in the east and south that made a priority of relations with successor states of the Golden Horde and their neighbors. After taking control of the Volga in the 1550s, trade with Persia increased in importance, and willy-nilly, Muscovy began to face challenges in its dealings with the Ottoman Empire. Military and diplomatic initiatives in other directions (e.g., during the Livonian War) made keeping peace in the south (and cultivating possible alliances there) essential, as the main contributor to this new volume, A. V. Vinogradov, emphasizes in his excellent monograph devoted to what proved to be a critical turning point in Muscovite-Crimean relations following the Russian conquest of Kazan and Astrakhan and encompassing the long reign of Crimean Khan Devlet-Girei I (Russko-krymskie otnosheniia 50-e-vtoraia polovina 70-kh godov XVI veka, 2 vols. [M.: 2007]). While he drew on a range of other sources, in that study, Vinogradov leaned heavily on the Crimean posol’skie knigi, nos. 10-14; short of the rest in that series being published, one can learn a great deal about their content from his study.

Book no. 13, published here, encompasses the second part of what turned out to be at that time a rare event for Muscovite diplomacy, the establishment of a resident embassy in another country. When Afanasii Fedorovich Nagoi was sent to the Crimea in 1563, the anticipation was, as had previous envoys, he would return within a year or so, but diplomatic protocols combined with the developing tensions between the two states, meant that he was not allowed to return to Moscow until 1573. As was usual, his staff included a secretary and a number of Tatar  interpreters, and he was joined a year after his arrival by another high-ranking diplomat, F. A. Pisemskii (who would much later head an embassy to England). A century would elapse before Muscovy had another long-term embassy abroad (in Poland-Lithuania following the truce of Andrusovo in 1667).

As the history of European diplomacy shows, having a resident ambassador in another country could make a huge difference in the ability of a government to regulate its relations there and to obtain crucial intelligence that might have a broader bearing on foreign policy. Hence part of the great interest in the content of this book. While the way had been prepared in previous interactions with the Crimea, Nagoi and his staff were uniquely positioned to learn about the inner workings of the Crimean court and cultivate the “pro-Moscow” factions there. Even while carefully watched by their hosts, the members of the embassy could obtain information by visiting ports (in particular Kafa) and from conversations with captives the Crimeans had taken in their raids to the north. For all of the benefit of this well-developed intelligence network though, whose gleanings were dutifully recorded in diary form by the embassy, its value was circumscribed by not being able to send the information in timely fashion on to Moscow. That could be done only on the occasion of an officially sanctioned exchange of messengers; with one exception, Nagoi was unable to send out reports by clandestine means. 

There is a huge amount to be learned here about Muscovite-Crimean relations and the way in which they developed in the context of the complicated “Great Game” in Eastern Europe involving, inter alia, Muscovy, the Crimea, the Nogais, the Ottomans, Poland-Lithuania, and others. One can appreciate the sophistication of Muscovite diplomacy and its procedures, the special accommodations made in relations with the Tatars (e.g., in the titulature of the documents), the degree to which intelligence reports could be brought to bear in decision making. There is a great deal here to be learned about the Crimea which we cannot get from any other source. One comes away with a vivid impression of the difficulties faced by Devlet-Girei in balancing competing interests within his own political circle, playing off Muscovy against Poland-Lithuania, and trying to maintain some independence from his nominal suzerain, the Ottoman sultan. With the death of Suleyman the Magnificent (1566), Ottoman attentions now began to focus more intensely on the Black Sea area, culminating in the abortive campaign to Astrakhan in 1569, which the Crimeans managed to undermine while ostensibly providing support. Yet within two years, their cavalry would be on the outskirts of Moscow, which they set ablaze.

In addition to the full text publication of RGADA, f. 123, op. 1, d. 13, the book contains introductory essays by Vinogradov, A. V. Malov and M.V. Moiseev concerning the text, Muscovite-Crimean relations and more broadly the history of the Crimea in the first half of the 16th century. The notes, most written by Vinogradov, identify often in some detail the individual actors or comment on specific events, and there are indexes of personal and geographic names. 

The publication to date of the posol’skie knigi has tended to emphasize the earliest ones in the series for the various polities with which the Kremlin dealt. Were the current volumes for the Crimea (nos. 13, 14) to be supplemented by the publication from f. 123 of nos. 7-12 and 15, we would then be blessed with a complete set for the first century of Muscovite-Crimean relations, complemented by recent volumes containing the Nogai books.