January 20 in Russian history. Cornelis de Bruijn. Execution in Moscow.

Sorry for the long silence. That flu is awful and it doesn't end. Poor doctors don't know what to do :). I've spent more time with them in January than in the previous five years, I think.

A little bit more than 200 years ago, in autumn 1701, a Dutchman came to Russia. He departed from the Hague in June and in September he arrived to Arkhangelsk. He spent two years in Russia, till July 1703. In 1707-1708 he visited Russia once again and in 1711 he published a book about his travels to Russia, Persia and India. Besides, he visited Egypt, Palestine, Ottoman empire, His name was Cornelis de Bruijn (other spellings include Cornelius de Bruyn, Corneille le Brun, Kornelius de Bruin, etc.). He was a painter and he was able to earn enough for his travel to Italy in 1674-1677. On the other hand, a number of historians are a bit skeptical about his talents and suspect he made money from espionage. This way or the other, from Italy he moved to Greece and Asia Minor. He spent many years travelling all along the Eastern Mediterranean till, in 1693, he came back to the Netherlands, where he published his first book, Travels in the Principal Parts of Asia Minor. In 1701, he received a proposal to make another journey and write a new book, this time about Russia and Persia.

His adventurous character made him to agree and in 1701 he left to Russia. He came to Arkhangelsk, visited Vologda and Yaroslavl and came to Moscow in early 1702. He made friends with Alexander Menshikov, an associate of the tsar, and then with Peter the Great himself. In 1703, he resumed his journey, went down river Volga to Astrakhan and then to Persia, India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. There, numerous diseases made him to abandon his earlier plans and to retrace his way back to Persia, Russia and then home to the Netherlands.

De Bruijn died in 1726 or in 1727 in dire poverty. The only things left from him are some paintings, two books and a touristy inscription he scratched on the wall of the Achaemenid palace in Persepolis, which is still there.

De Bruijn's second book includes very interesting information about Russia. He wrote about the Samoyeds, who lived in Northern Russia, described many regions of the country, including my home town Samara and other cities along Volga, he analyzed the first periods of the Peter's reforms and wrote about the conflicts of the old Muscovy traditions and the new institutions of the newborn Russian empire, described the early years of the Russian fleet, left a topographical description of Moscow and so on. Many historians say that his Voyage to the Levant and Travels into Moscovy, Persia, and the East Indies is the best book about Russia written in the first half of the 18th century.

I have to admit that I don't know which calendar De Bruijn used in his book. The Gregorian calendar was adopted in the Netherlands about 120 years before De Bruijn. In Russia, the Julian calendar was in use, and the difference between them was 10 days in the 18th century. It might seem natural to suggest that De Bruijn used the Gregorian calendar, but it seems to me that either he used the Swedish calendar (the difference was 1 day with the Russian calendar) or the Russian 1873 edition of De Bruijn used the Old Style calendar. I assumed the latter. So, the following excerpt, dated by 9 January 1702, may or may not correspond to 20 January in New Style :).


(9 January Old Style)

On the 9th day of this month a terrible execution of a fifty-years old lady, who killed her husband, was committed in Moscow. It was ruled that she should be buried alive up to her shoulders. I was curious enough to have a look at her and I found her half-buried, and she seemed to me rather fresh and pretty. A white towel was tied around her head and neck, which she asked to untie, because it very tight. She was guarded by three or four soldiers who received orders not to allow her to eat or drink, which could prolong her life. But it was allowed to throw some copecks (small coins) to the hole where she was buried, for which she thanked by bowing her head. The money is usually used to buy the wax candles to be put in front of the icons of the saints, to whom the convicts appeal, or, in part, to buy the coffin for them. I am not certain whether the guards take some of this money in exchange for giving some food to the convicts secretly, because some of them live quite a long time being buried. But the woman I saw died on the next day after I had seen her. On the same day, a man was burned, whose crime I am not aware of.

The story of this woman was later used by Alexey Tolstoy in his book Peter the First.

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