Nils Mattsson Kiöping in Armenia

Here’s another two chapters of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. These chapters about Armenia open the book’s section on Persia under the rule of Abbas II, the seventh Safavid shah who ruled from 1642-66. I have introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 27: Persia, Armenia part 1
The Armenians believe that CHRIST is true God and born Man, and as long as he walked here on earth was both God and Man. But as soon as he went to Heaven, he left human nature behind, and is now true God and no Man.

This country is not very large in itself, because I cannot really know the width, not having travelled around it, but only the same way back as I went forth. Although this land is under the King of Persia the inhabitants are nevertheless all Christians. There is no other religion in this country, only a few Muslims who live with the Governor who is placed there by the King of Persia and lives in Eriwana [Yerevan].

This is an honest people, particularly to the Christians from Europe, whom they love like someone descended from Heaven if he only proves that he is not circumcised. For this reason he has to show his shameful parts without any shyness. Most of the inhabitants are merchants who ply a great trade in precious stones and all kinds of expensive wares in India, with the Great Mogul of Tartary [the Mughal Emperor Shah Jahan, regn. 1628-58] and Persia, then bringing their wares into Europe.

Chapter 28: Persia, Armenia part 2
In September of 1656 I met two Armenian merchants in Amsterdam, with whom I have on several occasions spoken in Isspahan during the time when I was employed by King Shah Abbas in Persia, that is, in 1652. One is named Karakan and the other Rudolph Constantine.

This country is populous, a humble and industrious people. Here grows an abundance of barley, wheat and wine, as well as much fine cattle and all sorts of foodstuffs. In their religion, particularly with the chanting and other church customs they are not unlike Catholics, except that they celebrate Mass in their native tongue and their priests marry. Their Patriarch at the time when I was there, named Philippus [Philip I was the Catholicos of all Armenians from 1633 to 1655], was a pious and good man who lived in the city Eriwana.

This city is at the foot of Mount Ararat and is an open space and can put up no resistance to an enemy. In the city there are both nunneries and monasteries. On the north side of the mountain is a little town named Nachseidwan, that is, the first settlement. Because the inhabitants fully believe that Noah, after he stepped off the Ark onto the earth, did not only perform his sacrifice there, but also built his first hut.

This country is very famous: firstly, because they remain so constant in the Christian creed, also for their virtue, fidelity and honesty to all people, particularly to the Christians; secondly, for Mount Ararat which is so steep on all sides that it is impossible for anyone to get up there. There are no soldiers in this country, except for a few who attend to the Governor, but none are Armenian natives. Nor are there any other craftsmen than shoemakers, tailors and smiths, but everyone supports himself with trade. Nor can any Roman Papists stay for long here: in particular no monks or priests have any convents or congregations there.

You cannot travel between Issphahan and Armenia in less than 30 days with a guard and company. And with a company consisting of camels and donkeys, you cannot cover more than three good Swedish miles a day. Every year on the 10th of March, when the King of Persia reckons his New Year, they pay their correct taxes so the King will have no reason to complain about them. And once a year they receive a letter of confirmation for their religious customs. As for fish and salt, they get it from the Caspian Sea.

Author: Martin R

Dr. Martin Rundkvist is a Swedish archaeologist, journal editor, skeptic, atheist, lefty liberal, bookworm, boardgamer, geocacher and father of two.

14 thoughts on “Nils Mattsson Kiöping in Armenia”

  1. Was Sweden using the Gregorian calendar in the 17th century, or were they (like England) still on the Julian calendar?

    I ask because I see NMK places the Persian New Year (Nowruz) on 10 March. Nowruz is celebrated on the vernal equinox, which is closer to 20 or 21 March by the Gregorian calendar (I have been invited to Nowruz celebrations a couple of times). But if Sweden were still on the Julian calendar, that would account for the ten-day discrepancy.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. There was an exhibit of Armenian art in late 2018 in NYC at the Met. For a long time, Armenia was an important trading city on the silk route and grew quite wealthy. It was the first Christian city on the way west. Needless to say there were a lot of fabulous textiles on exhibit, but also pieces of churches and stone models of churches. Often a wealthy trader would build and endow a church and then keep a model of that church in his home. The other big thing was to endow a scriptorium, often a monastery, devoted to copying books. Some of the books were rather impressive and not all of them religious works. (Amusingly, we were interviewed by a Russian news channel, possibly RT.)

    By the 17th century, the silk traveled by sea in ships controlled by the Europeans. Armenia was on its way to becoming a backwater. Books, I gather, were now printed, though I don’t know if the printing was done in Armenia.

    P.S. The Boston area has a big Armenian community. As a grad student, I lived down the block from an Armenian language newspaper. Years later, when I was working in town, the haberdasher across the street from where I worked had been bombed. There was glass and debris all over the sidewalk and a police line had been set up. It had been Armenian terrorists. The owner of the shop was some kind of Turkish consul.

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  3. According to Google Maps, it’s about 20 hours by car from Isfahan to Yerevan. How unromantic. I remember going through the Brenner Pass with my parents. It was a highway, not all that different from the one we took to visit relatives in Pittsburgh.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The US Interstate system does not have a castle on every second hilltop though, and you can’t stop and hike through vineyards and Bronze Age sites. In the 17th century, these were 17th century highways, in the 4th century BCE they were Iron Age wagon-roads …

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The wonderful thing about the US Interstate Highway System is that it allows you to drive from coast to coast without seeing anything.

        That’s harder to pull off in Europe, because not all E routes are motorways, but IINM a drive from Sevilla to Stockholm can be done entirely by motorway (although Google Maps recommends a route involving a ferry).


      2. Because of climate change, there’s a growing demand for easy trans-European train travel. If Google Maps can be trusted, then I can get from Stockholm to Seville by train in 38 hours at best if there are no delays. But it would involve switching transportation eleven times and there is no way to pay for the whole trip on a single ticket. (Maybe if I bought an Interrail card?) Also it would be way, way more expensive than (subsidised) flying.

        Driving would take the same amount of effective time if there were two of us, but who wants to sleep in a car and drive 12 hours a day? And this too would be way more expensive than flying.


      3. People drive Perth to Melbourne non-stop except for fueling stops with two alternate drivers, which takes about 36 hours, but in that case it is understandable – in between there is a whole lot of nothing, places to stay to get some sleep are few and far between and very unpleasant, and sleeping in the car is a much more attractive option. And in this case it is a lot cheaper than flying.

        I did do the trip once with just my father driving, so I saw everything en route, and I’m glad I did, just for the experience of seeing it, but I don’t feel hugely enthusiastic about doing it again. For a while I did harbour a fantasy about driving all around Australia via the coastal routes, but I got over it, and besides I can imagine my wife’s reaction if I suggested we sell everything and invest in a sufficiently robust 4 wheel drive vehicle that we could sleep in during such a trip.

        As for driving across Europe, I can’t imagine wanting to sleep through half of it – just too much interesting stuff to see and places to stop at, to sample the local fare. Would need to be summer, though.


  4. I used to work with an Armenian, and a right little pain in the arse he was, too. He had hairs growing out of the outside of his nose. Sample of one, mind.


  5. No excuse for the Turks to try to genocide them, though, just for being pains in the arse and having hairy noses.


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