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Mykola Zharkikh (Kyiv)

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Problems of translation

Nicholas Zharkikh

Rubruk, having traveled through Europe and Asia more than 10 thousand kilometers, seen on the way many different people. Altogether, according to my calculations Rubruk mentioned six religious systems, 10 different languages, 8 writing systems (ninth – Latin writing – he obviously does not noted, do not mention he Ruthenian writing too), 54 names of ethnic groups. So his constant complaints about the complexity of the translation had an objective basis.

Try to organize his ethnographic observations in a table, where ethnic groups are grouped on grounds of belonging to a religious system, and for each ethnic group indicated the definition of language and writing.

Distribution of mentions by religious…

Distribution of mentions by religious systems

Religion Ethnos Number of mentions Language Writing


Christians Franks 32 french
Latins 2
Christians, schismatics, have priests Greeks 9 greek greek
Christians, have priests Ruthenians 26 The language of the Ruthenians, Poles, Bohemians and Sclavons is the same as that of the Vandals
Christians of the Greek rite, not schismatics Alans 20 greek writings
Christians Hungarians 19
Poles 2
Germans (12)
Christians Curges, whom we call Georgians Curges (11), Georgians (4)
Christians, iconoclast, have priests armenians 26
All references to Christians 262


59 [Sogdian] [Sogdian]; know Uighur writing, have books in the Syrian language and do divine service in it
Nestorians Naimans 5
Total mentions of Nestorians 64


Turks 9 turkish
Saracen Persia 23 persian
Saracen merdas 1
Saracen Lesgi 4
arabic arabic
syrian syrian
All references to Muslims 107


idolaters, Tuins; have priests
idolaters (16), Tuins (16) have books
idolaters Iugurs 13 Among the Iugurs the Turkie Coman language has its source and root. their [Uighur] writing took Tatars
All mention of Buddhists 45


have diviners-priests, some kind of idolaters sect – Tuins
Mongols (48), Tatars (93) mongolian uighur script
Total mentions of the Mongols 141

Other people

Goths 1 German
Coman 17 + Capchat (3)
Cathay 30 [chinese writing – 39]
Pascatir, Great Hungary 7 The language of Pascatir is the same as that of the Hungarians
pure pagans Moxel 2
Caracatay 4
Merkit 2
Blacs 4
Bulgars (Danube + Volga) 18
Cangle 3
Tanguts 3 The Tanguts write from right to left like the Arabs
Tibetans 3 writing is similar to our
Jews 3
Those referred to only one time Zikuia Suevi Hiberi cherkys Huns Vandals Czechs Slavs Longa Solanga Muc Kerkis Orengai Caule Manse Englishmen Crosminians Keraits
All references to other nations 118

The greatest number of mentions accounted for representatives of Christianity. There are mentions of "Christians" without closer definition of the people, mentions of the people whose faith Rubruk outlined as a Christian, and the people whose faith Rubruk not outlined, but we know about their affiliation to Christianity from other sources. Within this group Rubruk emphasized the special situation of the Armenian and Greek Christian rite. On Greeks, Russians and Armenians, he said that they have priests. About Alan, he said, they "are not however schismatics like the Greeks, for without any respect to persons they honor all Christians". Perhaps the schismatics in his view – those who unequally treats latin representatives and other Christians. But the whole question of internal differences in faith within the Christian community he had avoided – perhaps because these differences issued him a meager compared to other religions.

Christians for Rubruk are own ones, representatives of other religions – strangers, even among these strangers he felt grading from less alien to the more strange: Nestorians – Muslims – Buddhists – Mongols. Separately standing pagan religion, none of which Rubruk described in detail.

Nestorian community was dispersed from Palestine to Mongolia and nowhere created the compact majority. Only Naimans Rubruk considered to be people of Nestorian faith, and that with reservations that it was formerly, in times of "King John" (somewhere in the early 13th cent.). Practically we can assume that he did not see any Nestorian people, and the community made up of representatives of different nations. Nestorians had their patriarch in Baghdad, who occasionally sent missions to Mongolia; there were no priests as a separate state among them; liturgical books written in Syrian alphabet and the Syrian language, which was the language of worship. This language they absolutely not understand. Their spoken language was, perhaps, Mongolian or language of the people among whom they lived (Rubruk don't outline it specifically). Their theological knowledge were scanty. They only used the sign of the cross (but Rubruk specially emphasized that they would never tolerate images of Jesus crucified and never told stories of his godparents torment).

Nestorians did not practice the sacraments of Confession and Confirmation. For Communion Rubruk seriously doubted – ought to take it from the Nestorians. Baptism Nestorians acknowledged only their own hands, and allowed the Christians to their sacraments only under condition that they rebaptised by Nestorian rite.

The sum of all these differences suggests that the Nestorians were not part of the Christian religious community, as it often has to read – they created a separate community, clearly separated from the others.

About Muslims Rubruk mentioned quite often and always with hostility, but he did not submit any specific details about their religion, .

An even greater dislike Rubruk called Buddhists, whom he called idolaters and Tuins. He was interested in their faith and gave many details of their theological ideas and religious life.

At the opposite pole of the axis "own – strangers" were the Mongols. Rubruk with some surprise noted that the Mongolian belief has developed a system of theoretical concepts, which he felt as if a branch of Buddhism and wrote about them as a sect, separated from the Tuins community. But Mongolians themselves did not believe to be Tuins, and made a whole investigation whether Rubruk really said Möngke Khan to be Tuin.