Suzdalia's eastern trade in the century before the Mongol conquest - article ; n°4 ; vol.19, pg 371-384

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Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique - Année 1978 - Volume 19 - Numéro 4 - Pages 371-384
Thomas S. Noonan, Le commerce de Suzdal' avec l'Orient au siècle précédant la conquête mongole.
Le présent article traite des relations commerciales de Suzdal' avec l'Orient entre 1150 et 1235 environ et du rôle qu'y jouèrent les Bulghars de la Volga. L'auteur émet l'idée que le commerce de la Russie avec l'Orient par la Volga — qui était actif aux IXe et Xe siècles — n'a pas cessé au XIIe ni au début du XIIIe siècle. Cependant ce commerce initial qui empruntait l'itinéraire volgien a subi de grands changements au milieu du XIIe siècle. L'auteur suggère l'existence d'un monopole ou condominium exercé à la fois par les Bulghars de la Volga et par Suzdal' sur le commerce volgien entre la Russie et l'Orient au cours du siècle précédant la conquête mongole. Ce condominium était fondé sur les étroites relations commerciales qui, de longue date, avaient uni Suzdal' et les Bulghars de la Volga.
Thomas S. Noonan, Suzdalia's eastern trade in the century before the Mongol conquest.
This article focuses upon Suzdalia's trade ties with the East during the period ca. 1150-ca. 1235 and the role of the Volga Bulgars in this trade. The author argues that the active ninth-tenth century eastern trade of Rus' via the Volga did not cease in the twelfth and early thirteenth centuries. However, this earlier eastern trade of Rus' by way of the Volga had been greatly altered by the mid-twelfth century. The author suggests that a joint Volga Bulgar-Suzdalian monopoly or co-dominium over the Volga trade between Rus' and the East existed during the century before the Mongol conquest. This co-dominium was based on the longstanding and close trade relations between Suzdalia and the Volga Bulgars.
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Thomas S. Noonan
Suzdalia's eastern trade in the century before the Mongol
conquest
In: Cahiers du monde russe et soviétique. Vol. 19 N°4. Octobre-Décembre 1978. pp. 371-384.
Résumé
Thomas S. Noonan, Le commerce de Suzdal' avec l'Orient au siècle précédant la conquête mongole.
Le présent article traite des relations commerciales de Suzdal' avec l'Orient entre 1150 et 1235 environ et du rôle qu'y jouèrent
les Bulghars de la Volga. L'auteur émet l'idée que le commerce de la Russie avec l'Orient par la Volga — qui était actif aux IXe et
Xe siècles — n'a pas cessé au XIIe ni au début du XIIIe siècle. Cependant ce commerce initial qui empruntait l'itinéraire volgien a
subi de grands changements au milieu du XIIe siècle. L'auteur suggère l'existence d'un monopole ou condominium exercé à la
fois par les Bulghars de la Volga et par Suzdal' sur le commerce volgien entre la Russie et l'Orient au cours du siècle précédant
la conquête mongole. Ce condominium était fondé sur les étroites relations commerciales qui, de longue date, avaient uni
Suzdal' et les Bulghars de la Volga.
Abstract
Thomas S. Noonan, Suzdalia's eastern trade in the century before the Mongol conquest.
This article focuses upon Suzdalia's trade ties with the East during the period ca. 1150-ca. 1235 and the role of the Volga Bulgars
in this trade. The author argues that the active ninth-tenth century eastern trade of Rus' via the Volga did not cease in the twelfth
and early thirteenth centuries. However, this earlier eastern trade of Rus' by way of the Volga had been greatly altered by the
mid-twelfth century. The author suggests that a joint Volga Bulgar-Suzdalian monopoly or co-dominium over the Volga trade
between Rus' and the East existed during the century before the Mongol conquest. This was based on the
longstanding and close trade relations between Suzdalia and the Volga Bulgars.
Citer ce document / Cite this document :
Noonan Thomas S. Suzdalia's eastern trade in the century before the Mongol conquest. In: Cahiers du monde russe et
soviétique. Vol. 19 N°4. Octobre-Décembre 1978. pp. 371-384.
doi : 10.3406/cmr.1978.1335
http://www.persee.fr/web/revues/home/prescript/article/cmr_0008-0160_1978_num_19_4_1335THOMAS S. NOONAN
SUZDALIA'S EASTERN TRADE
IN THE CENTURY
BEFORE THE MONGOL CONQUEST
Several considerations have prompted this attempt to analyze and
evaluate Suzdalia's eastern trade in the period 1150-12401. The collapse
of the Khazar kaganate c. 965, the cessation of the dirham flow into
Russia c. 1015, and the occupation of the south Russian steppe by the
Polovtsy in the second half of the eleventh century have combined to
create the impression that Russia's eastern trade declined precipitously
during the eleventh and twelfth centuries2. One purpose of this study
is to examine the validity of this assumption.
Historical scholarship, perhaps influenced by the idea of a decline,
has tended to ignore Russia's eastern trade during the twelfth and early
thirteenth centuries. When not overlooked completely, the eastern trade
of this era is often overshadowed by comparison with the very active
and well documented eastern trade of the ninth and tenth centuries.
All too often, in fact, the eastern trade of Kievan Russia is treated as
a whole without taking chronological differences and regional variations
into account3. Recognizing that Russia's pre-Mongol eastern trade
covered a period of some 450 years (c. 800-1240) and involved many
different parts of Russia, this study will seek to determine the charact
eristics of one region's trade with the East during a time when this
trade is usually neglected. This undertaking will also enable us to
compare Suzdalia's eastern trade between 1150 and 1240 with Russia's
eastern trade along the Volga in the ninth and tenth centuries. A
further aim is thus to explore the extent to which Russia's eastern trade
had changed or evolved during the Kievan period.
One of the few relevant studies to appear in recent years is Iu.A.
Limonov's brief but detailed article on the eastern trade of Vladimir-
Suzdal', a pioneering work for which we are all indebted4. But, certain
deficiencies in his approach and treatment should be recognized. While
Limonov collected a considerable quantity of data, he did not attempt
to determine the specific patterns and characteristics of this trade nor
did he consider whether the eastern trade of the twelfth and thirteenth
centuries had changed from what it had been earlier. Furthermore, he
* Presented at the 1977 annual meeting of the Rocky Mountain/Southwest
Slavic Association, Denver, Colorado.
Cahiers du Monde russe et soviétique, XIX (4), oct.-déc. 1978, pp. 371-384. 372 THOMAS S. NOONAN
tends to disregard the impact of the Mongol conquest by using many
sources from the post-1240 era. His implicit yet untested assumption
is apparently that the Mongol conquest and Mongol rule did not alter
Suzdalia's eastern trade. Not sharing this assumption, we shall confine
ourselves to the pre-Mongol era. In addition, he utilizes some thi
rteenth-century sources which in fact refer to Russia's eastern trade in
the tenth century. Although Limonov's article was unquestionably
a major advance, for it did call attention to this aspect of the eastern
trade in a most compelling manner, we cannot ignore its deficiencies.
Our hope is to improve upon the foundation established by Limonov.
Almost all our evidence about Russia's eastern trade in the ninth
and tenth centuries concerns Russian merchants who went to the Volga
Bulgar and Khazar lands to trade in the international markets found there.
In fact, Russia's eastern trade, as reflected in the written sources from
this period, really amounted to the trade conducted along the Volga in
non-Russian markets between Russian and non-Russian merchants.
The Volga Bulgar and Khazar markets were the key intermediaries
linking Russia's trade with that of the East5.
Given the ninth and tenth-century background, our first task in
examining Suzdalia's eastern trade in the period 1150-1240 is to deter
mine the status of the international markets of the Volga at this time.
Had the significance of these markets as centers where merchants from all
over met declined sharply or come to an end ? Having resolved this
question, we must then ask another. Did the middle and lower Volga
continue to function as an intermediary between Russia and the East?
More specifically, what were the relationships between Suzdalia and
the international markets of the Volga in the period 1 150-1240? Let's
begin by briefly reviewing the commercial situation along the Volga
in the period under consideration.
The disintegration of the Khazar state did not bring an end to the
commercial importance of the lower Volga in the pre-Mongol era. The
city of Saksin in the lower Volga was a major trade center in the twelfth
and first half of the thirteenth centuries6. Much of our information
about Saksin in the twelfth century is provided by the Spanish Arabic
traveller Abu Hamid al-Garnati who came to the city around 1131 and
remained there for most of the next two decades. Abu Hamid reported
that innumerable merchants of various nationalities as well as foreigners
and Arabs from the Magrib were to be found in Saksin. He also noted
that many Volga Bulgars lived in the middle of the city around a large
mosque while the people of Suvar, also inhabitants of the Volga Bulgar
state, had their own separate mosque7. Many of these
and Suvar residents of Saksin were undoubtedly merchants8.
In addition to Abu Hamid' s first-hand account, we possess another
contemporaneous report of Saksin's far-flung trade. In his History of
Tabaristdn, written about 12 15, Ibn Isfandiyár mentioned Saksin's
extensive trade with Amul along the south Caspian coast. Muslim
merchants from Irak, Syria, Khorasan, Tabaristàn and India travelled suzdalia's eastern trade 373
to Saksin via Amul and this trade apparently explains why up to 400
large sea ships made the trip across the Caspian between Saksin and
Amul each year. Besides the Trans-Caspian trade, Saksin was also
visited by merchants from Baku and Darband along the east Caucasian
coast and from Khwarezm in Central Asia9.
The available sources clearly demonstrate that the importance of
the lower Volga as a major international commercial center did not
end with the collapse of the Khazar kaganate. At some unknown time
after the demise of the Khazars, the city of Saksin arose in the lower
Volga to assume the role once performed by the Khazar capital of I til'.
By the middle of the twelfth century, Saksin was a famous and prosperous
trade center attracting merchants from both such neighboring lands as
the Caucasus, Central Asia, and the southern Caspian as well as from
such more distant regions of the East as India10.
In addition to Saksin, the Volga Bulgar lands in the region of the
Volga's junction with the Kama river were still a major trade center
in the century before the Mongol conquest11. Abu Hamid visited the
city of Bulgar where he encountered people from all parts of the world
including Muslim merchants12. Ibn Isfandiyâr reported that merchants
from Tabaristan were also to be found among the Volga Bulgars13.
These sources, while not as extensive as we would wish, make it clear
that the Bulgar lands continued to be a major commercial market
visited by various eastern merchants.
The evidence also suggests that the Bulgars played a very major
role in the trade that went along the Volga itself. Ibn Isfandiyur noted
the commerce which the between the Bulgars and
Saksin14. The Volga Bulgar communities Abu Hamid observed in
Saksin were most likely connected with this trade16. We can thus
conclude that a considerable quantity of goods were shipped along the
Volga between the Bulgars and Saksin and that the Volga Bulgars
occupied a key position in this traffic.
Before leaving the subject of commerce along the Volga in the pre-
Mongol era, a few words on another possible source are in order. I
refer to the report of the Hungarian Dominican Julian who travelled to
Magna Hungaria near the Volga Bulgar lands in the mid-1230's. Accord
ing to one version, Julian, upon reaching the city of Bunda somewhere
north of the lower Volga, "attached himself to a Mahomedan merchant
who was going to Magna Bulgaria."16 Another version of the text,
however, mentions a Saracen priest (Sarraceni sacerdotis) who was
going to Magna Bulgaria17. Hopefully, those who are experts on
Julian's journey and possess access to the texts will let us know whether
Julian went to Great Bulgaria from some city in the south with a Muslim
priest or a Muslim merchant. Because of this confusion, Julian's account
has not been included among the sources for the Volga trade in the
pre-Mongol era.
Our evidence, while limited, nevertheless indicates that both Bulgar
and Saksin were major Volga trade centers in the twelfth and early
thirteenth centuries. Merchants from numerous areas of Asia regularly
visited Saksin and some of them continued their journey further north
to the Volga Bulgar lands. Bulgar merchants were especially active THOMAS S. NOONAN 374
in the Volga trade of the time apparently conducting an active commerce
with Saksin. In short, the importance of the Volga for eastern merchants
did not decline or cease after the tenth and eleventh centuries.
Having established the existence of a lively trade between the Volga
markets and the East in the century before the Mongol conquest, we
must now try to determine the relations between these Volga centers
and Suzdalia. Were Saksin and Bulgar intermediaries for Russia's
eastern trade in the period 1 150-1240?
Unfortunately, we do not possess the numerous written sources
describing Russian merchants along the Volga which exist for the ninth
and tenth centuries. Nevertheless, there is information which points
to the existence of trade relations between Suzdalia and the Volga Bulgars
in the period 1 150-1240. First of all, we have Abu Hamid's reference
to the animal like a small cat with black skin called a water sable (otter?)
which was found in the river of the Slavs (Oka?) and whose skin was
exported to Bulgar and Saksin18. If the river of the Slavs was in reality
Riazan' the Oka, and as most Suzdalian believe, regions this would adjoining indicate the Oka that were special supplied furs from to the the
Volga Bulgars19. Presumably this was a continuation of the long
standing export of Russian furs to the Bulgars which had begun much
earlier. Abu Hamid does not indicate whether Russian or Volga Bulgar
merchants brought this fur to Bulgar. In any case, the old fur trade
between Russia and the Bulgars was still active in the century before
the Mongol conquest.
Further evidence comes from the tale of the 1174 murder of Grand
Prince Andrei Bogoliubskii of Suzdalia. Here we find references to the
merchants from Russia and Tsargrad (Constantinople) as well as to
Latin, Bulgar, and Jewish merchants who were in Suzdalia at this time20.
From this report, it is clear that merchants from many lands gathered
in Suzdalia. Given its location along the upper Volga and lower Oka
routes leading to other parts of Russia and the furs which it could obtain
from the Trans- Volga region, it is not hard to understand why Suzdalia
had become a commercial center of some significance. Most important
for our concern, this chronicle account leaves no doubt that Volga Bulgar
merchants visited the major Suzdalian cities in the pre-Mongol era.
Perhaps the most convincing testimony on Suzdalian-Bulgar trade
in the century before the Mongol conquest was provided by the eigh
teenth-century Russian historian, V.N. Tatishchev, who used some
sources now lost. In describing the background of the 1183-1184
Suzdalian-Bulgar conflict, Tatishchev states that the Volga Bulgars
were constantly trading in Suzdalia where they sold grain, valuable
objects or cloths (uzorochiie), and other goods in the cities along the
Volga and Oka. After some Russians plundered these Bulgar merchants
along the Volga and ravaged their villages, the Bulgars twice asked
Grand Prince Vsevolod of Suzdalia for justice. When Vsevolod was
unable to catch the culprits, the Bulgars raided Russian lands along the
Volga and Oka which, in turn, precipitated a retaliatory raid suzdalia's eastern trade 375
into the Bulgar lands21. This account of Bulgar merchants who were
regular visitors to Suzdalia leaves no doubt about the existence of an
active Suzdalian-Bulgar trade in the period 1150-1240.
Further evidence about Suzdalian-Bulgar trade is found in Tatish-
chev's report of the 1229 treaty. In that year, ambassadors of the
Bulgar prince and Grand Prince Iurii of Suzdalia met near the Russian
frontier on the island of Korenev, probably located on the Volga or one
of its tributaries, and concluded a six-year peace. According to its
terms, merchants were now able to travel unhindered to the lands of
both sides with their goods and they were to pay the duties established
in the rules of each city. Tatishchev goes on to state that because of
a two-year famine in Russia, many people had died. Following the
conclusion of the treaty, Bulgars came along the Volga and Oka "to all
the Russian cities" and sold them grain. The Bulgar prince even sent
Iurii a large supply of grain as a gift22.
For those who might be reluctant to accept Tatishchev's evidence,
we should recall the chronicle report of 1024 when, during an earlier
famine, the Russians went by the Volga to the Volga Bulgars from whom
they bought grain23. Nor should we forget Tatishchev's account of
the 1006 Russian- Volga Bulgar commercial treaty which allowed mer
chants from both sides to trade in the lands of the other24. Thus, there
were long-standing precedents for the events of 1229, events which
prove conclusively the existence of a well organized and regulated trade
between Suzdalia and the Volga Bulgars during the century before the
Mongol conquest.
Tatishchev's entry for 1229 also contains an account of the death
of the martyr Avramii in the Bulgar lands. According to this story,
Avramii, a famous merchant who had travelled to many lands to conduct
his trade, had converted to Christianity and preached his faith to others.
The Bulgar prince and eiders heard of this and demanded that Avramii
renounce Christianity. When he refused, Avramii was executed25.
The Russian chronicles, which also report on Avramii's death, mention
that he was buried in the Christian cemetery of the city of Great Bolgar26.
The tale of Avramii's martyrdom provides important but indirect
evidence of Russian-Bulgar trade. We can safely assume that the
Christianity to which Avramii converted was Orthodoxy and the
Christian cemetery in Great Bolgar was an Orthodox cemetery. Since
the Bulgar Orthodox merchant Avramii was apparently well-known in
Suzdalia, and his death was mentioned along with other memorable
events of 1229 in Suzdalia, we can conclude that Avramii travelled
regularly from the Bulgar land to Suzdalia. It was no doubt during
the course of trade trips to the Suzdalian cities that this native of the
Muslim Volga Bulgar state decided to convert to Christianity. Thus,
the story of Avramii is fully consistent with our other information on
Suzdalian-Bulgar trade in the pre-Mongol era.
The existence of a Christian (Orthodox) cemetery in Great Bolgar
indicates that there was a Christian community in the Bulgar capital.
Given the attitude of the prince and the elders toward Bulgars like
Avramii who converted, we can assume that most members of this com
munity were born as Christians. In other words, they were apparently THOMAS S. NOONAN 376
foreigners who resided in Great Bolgar or visited there frequently.
There is no reason not to believe that many of these Orthodox foreigners
who resided in or visited the Bulgar capital were Russian merchants were active in the Russian-Bulgar trade27. In short, not only did
Volga Bulgar merchants visit Suzdalia, but Russian merchants very
probably travelled to Great Bolgar where some may even have resided
on a more or less permanent basis.
When we review the evidence cited above — Abu Hamid's report on
furs from the river of the Slavs sent to Bulgar and Saksin, the Bulgar
merchants in Suzdalia mentioned in connection with Andrei Bogoliub-
skii's murder, the 1183 report on Bulgar merchants who visited Suzdalia
regularly, the 1229 agreement allowing unrestricted trade between the
Volga Bulgars and Suzdalia which paved the way for Bulgar grain sales
in Suzdalia, and the death and burial of the famous Orthodox Bulgar
merchant Avramii — there can be no question that the century before the
Mongol conquest was characterized by a lively Suzdalian-Bulgar trade.
This Suzdalian- Volga Bulgar trade was, as before, a vital link in
Russia's eastern trade. The non- Russian centers of the Volga, now
Great Bolgar and Saksin, continued to act as the intermediaries between
Russia and the East. The furs and other Russian goods sent to Great
Bolgar Saksin were purchased there by Muslim merchants who
had come from all over the East. In short, the collapse of the Khazar
state, the cessation of the dirham flow into Russia, and the occupation
of the south Russian steppe by the Polovtsy had not led to any marked
decline in Russia's eastern trade. The international markets of the
Volga still served as middlemen between Russian and Muslim merchants.
At first glance, Suzdalia's eastern trade in the period 1150-1240
might seem to be a mere continuation of Russia's earlier eastern trade
along the Volga. In fact, while some continuities are observed, Suz
dalia's eastern trade was radically different. The eastern trade of the
twelfth and early thirteenth centuries was characterized by a Suzdalian-
Bulgar co-dominium in which each side monopolized one essential part
of the commerce between Russia and the East. In this section, we
shall attempt to demonstrate the existence of this co-dominium.
It has already been noted that the ninth and tenth-century sources
depict Russia's eastern trade almost entirely in terms of Russian mer
chants visiting the Bulgar and Khazar markets along the Volga. Russian
merchants at this time travelled regularly to the Bulgar land, to Itil' in
the lower Volga, and even accross the Caspian Sea to Baghdad. By
the twelfth and early thirteenth centimes, the situation of Suzdalian
merchants in the Volga markets had greatly changed. Neither Abu
Hamid nor Ibn Isfandiyar mention Russian merchants in Saksin or
Bulgar. It is particularly striking that Ibn Isfandiyar, who specifically
notes the merchants from numerous countries who visited Saksin, has
nothing to say about Russian merchants. The Christian (Orthodox)
cemetery in Great Bolgar and the 1229 treaty, granting Suzdalian mer
chants the right to trade in the Bulgar lands unhindered, indicate that suzdalia's eastern trade 377
Suzdalian merchants were present among the Volga Bulgars. But, we
have no evidence that these Suzdalian merchants travelled down the
Volga beyond the Bulgar lands.
Limonov does not discuss whether Russian merchants visited the
Volga markets at this time. However, in passing, he mentions two
thirteenth-century sources, the Tarikh-i-Fakhrnddin Mubarakshah (The
history of Fakhruddin Mubarakshah) and Mohammad al Awn's Jawami-
ul-Hikayat (The book of Hikayat), which describe Russian trade along
the Volga28. But, the source of Limonov's references is P.M. Kemp's
book on Russian-Indian relations29. Kemp specifically states that the
account of the Slavs and the Volga found in the T arikh-i-F akhruddin
Mubarakshah "comes originally from the X-XI century geographers."30
Similarly, Kemp notes that the information on the Russians and Slavs
in Awfi "refers to a much earlier date."31 It is well-known that the
accounts of Russians and Russian trade along the Volga found in tenth-
century sources were incorporated into many later eastern works. Such
is the case with these two sources. Neither of the two works mentioned
by Limonov can be used to confirm the presence of Russian merchants
along the Volga in the century before the Mongol conquest.
George Vernadsky attempted to show that the Suzdalian princes
were, if only intermittently, active along the entire Volga down to and
including the Caspian. As evidence, he cited the account of a Russian
raid on Shirvan along the Caucasian coast around 1174 and a reference
(found in The Igor Tale) connecting Grand Prince Vsevolod III of Suz-
dalia with the Volga32. The report of the 1174 Russian raid by the
Persian poet Khazani does not say from whence the Russians came or
by what route they reached the Caspian. Vernadsky assumes, however,
that they probably had come down the Volga from Suzdalia. From
Mas'udi we know that earlier Russian raids into the Caspian sometimes
went up the Don, by portage to the Volga, and then down the lower
Volga into the Caspian33. Thus, we cannot automatically assume that
all Russian raiders in the Caspian came from the upper Volga. Fur
thermore, Russian princes of this era launched numerous campaigns
into the steppe against the Polovtsy, one of which was immortalized
in The Igor Tale. The 1174 raid on the Caucasian coast may have
been connected with the adventures of one of these Russian princes from
the middle Dnieper region34. In any event, an isolated Russian raid
along the shores of the Caspian is hardly proof that Suzdalian merchants
were to be found along the Volga in the period 1 150-1240.
The use of The Igor Tale to demonstrate Suzdalian naval activity
along the Volga is even less convincing. In the passage which Vernadsky
cites, the unknown author asserts that the situation of the Russian
princes invading the Polovtsy lands would be greatly improved if Grand
Prince Vsevolod were among them for then so many Polovtsy would
be captured that the prices for slaves would drop sharply35. To demons
trate Vsevolod' s power, he states :"For you can with your oars scatter
in drops the Volga..."36 Vernadsky sees the author's poetical remarks
as an allusion to Suzdalian naval campaigns along the Volga, "one of
which may have been the Shirvan expedition of 1174."87 Vernadsky
is partially correct. As Nabokov notes, the author refers here to the 378 THOMAS S. NOONAN
fact that Vsevolod attacked the Volga Bulgare in 1183 and sank several
of their boats.38 But, the destruction of some Volga Bulgar ships during
a local conflict along the upper Volga hardly indicates that the Suzdalians
were able to sail down the Volga to the Caspian. In brief, Vernadsky
does not provide conclusive evidence that Suzdalians even sailed down
the Volga as raiders.
The absence of Suzdalian merchants from the markets of the lower
Volga and Caspian can hardly be considered accidental. Quite clearly,
they must have been deliberately excluded from these markets. Given
the Volga Bulgar control over that part of the Volga lying between
Suzdalia and Saksin, it seems logical to conclude that the Bulgars pre
vented Suzdalian merchants from sailing down the Volga. In other
words, the Bulgars denied Suzdalian merchants direct access to any
other eastern market except their own. It was the Bulgars, not the
Suzdalians, who were to sell Russian exports in such markets as Saksin.
The Volga Bulgars also discouraged Muslim merchants from venturing
beyond the Bulgar lands. Abu Hamid's description of the fur trade
reveals the way in which these restrictions operated. Muslim merchants
brought sword blades from the Islamic countries to Bulgar. These blades
were then carried to the Visu (Beloozero Ves') lands by Bulgar merchants.
Visu merchants then took the blades along with carpets and sheep bones
to the Iura (Iugra) lands near the Arctic coast. Here, the merchants
conducted silent or dumb trade with the natives: the goods were left in
certain places and when the merchants returned they found sable furs
which they subsequently sold for large sums. Abu Hamid emphasized
that the swords exported to Bulgar from the Islamic lands and used to
barter for furs produced great profits39.
Abu Hamid's report makes it clear that Bulgar merchants were
necessary intermediaries in this trade. The Muslim did not,
and most likely could not, trade directly with the peoples of the north.
Islamic merchants came to Bulgar with swords and other goods which
they exchanged there with merchants for a variety of furs
the latter had obtained from the peoples of the north. During the
century preceding the Mongol conquest, the furs of northern Russia
were thus transported to Islam via the intermediacy of the Volga Bulgars.
Without great risk, one can assume that the Bulgars also tried to prevent
Muslim merchants from travelling to Suzdalia and obtaining furs directly
from Russian merchants there.
The commercial policy of the Volga Bulgars in the twelfth and early
thirteenth centuries was to control the movement of precious furs and
other goods from northern Europe to the East by keeping Muslim mer
chants from having direct contact with Suzdalian and Visu merchants.
To this end, Suzdalian merchants were not allowed to sail down the Volga
and Muslim merchants were not allowed to go beyond the Bulgar lands.
At the same time that Bulgar merchants were seeking to monopolize
north Russian exports to the East, Suzdalian merchants were apparently
attempting to dominate eastern imports coming into Russia by way of
the Volga. This development can be seen in the twelfth-century Ruko-
pisanie or Testament by which the Novgorod Prince Vsevolod Mstisla-
vich gave to Church of Ivan Predtecha certain monopoly rights in Nov- suzdalia's eastern trade 379
goroďs trade. The fifth article of this charter lists the taxes various
merchants had to pay for having their wax weighed at the church.
The so-called "lower land" merchants, i.e., those from Suzdalia, had to
pay either in silver grivny (bars?) or in pepper40. In other words, the
Suzdalian merchants had a sufficient quantity of highly desired pepper
that could be used in lieu of silver or other currency to pay for the
weighing of their wax. The "lower land" merchants must have obtained
this pepper from either Bulgar merchants visiting Suzdalia or from Bulgar/
Muslim merchants in Great Bolgar.
Article five of Prince Vsevolod's Rukofiisanie can be interpreted in
several ways. Most obviously, it shows that in the twelfth century
eastern imports such as pepper were brought to Novgorod through
Suzdalia. In other words, Suzdalia's eastern trade was not confined
to SuzdaUa alone but had now developed connections with other regions
of Russia. Equally as important, and sometimes overlooked, is the fact
that only the Suzdalian merchants had the option of paying in pepper
or silver. The merchants from Polotsk, Smolensk, Torzhok (Novyi
Torg), and Novgorod who had their wax weighed at the Church of Ivan
Predtecha were all charged a different fee41. We have no reason to
believe that these merchants from other Russian lands did not desire
to obtain imported pepper eastern or Bulgar merchants. Nor
can we believe that the Ivanskoe sto, the merchant guild centered in the
Church of Ivan Predtecha, only wanted to collect pepper from Suzdalian
merchants. Clearly, merchants from all over northern and central
Russia wanted pepper to sell while the Ivanskoe sto would naturally try
to obtain as much pepper as it could from all merchants. Yet, only
Suzdalian merchants had to pay in either pepper or silver.
The distinction made between Suzdalian and other north Russian
merchants in article five of the Rukofisanie indicates that the merchants
from Suzdalia were the only ones who could pay the weighing fee in
pepper. In fact, the Ivanskoe sto seems to have encouraged payments
in pepper since the alternative for Suzdalian merchants was precious
silver. The Suzdalian merchants were apparently treated in this way
because they must have had a monopoly on the pepper coming into
Russia via the Volga. The merchants of Suzdalia were able to dominate
the eastern trade of the Volga in such a way that they alone controlled
the sale of pepper imports to other Russian lands. There can be little
doubt that Suzdalian merchants also dominated the sale and distribution
within Russia of other eastern imports coming by the Volga route.
In the same way that the Volga Bulgars prevented Muslim merchants
from travelling beyond the Bulgar lands, Suzdalians seem to have pro
hibited Bulgar merchants from venturing beyond Suzdalia. We have
already noted the numerous references to Bulgar merchants in Suzdalia.
At the same time, no evidence has yet been uncovered to show that
Bulgar merchants visited other parts of Russia in the twelfth and early
thirteenth centuries. It is not mere chance that we do not hear of these
merchants in Beloozero, or Torzhok, or Smolensk, or Novgorod. We do
not hear of them because they did not travel to these cities. And, the
reason they did not travel elsewhere was that Suzdalia prevented it.
Suzdalia could only monopolize the sale of pepper and other eastern