Nils Mattsson Kiöping in Persia

Here’s another chapter of my ongoing translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping’s 1667 travelogue. I have introduced a paragraph division for legibility.

Chapter 34: Persia, nature and culture
It is a very fertile country with wheat and barley, which they sow twice and reap twice a year. Also a very mountainous country, where lovely grapes grow all year round, both winter and summer, so that when one vine blooms, then the second is unripe, the third half ripe and the fourth ripe. And this goes on continuously every year. They also love gardens greatly, where they have all sorts, roses as well as fruit trees such as pears, white apples, almonds, plums, all kinds of sweet and sour limes, as well as several unknown to us, very large and delicious melons and watermelons, which cool a person excellently.

They have many wondrous springs or fountains in their gardens. Here are found the best horses that can ever be in Asia. So much dates grow in the countryside that they even feed their donkeys, sheep, oxen and cows with them. Here are abundantly found the best sheep that can ever be in the world. Of the most valuable trees, there are very tall cypresses here, and another one called Arbor de Raiss, which is at least one Italian mile around with the twigs, and more than 6,000 men could stand under it, and regardless of how hard it rained, not a drop would fall on them. Its branches are so long that they hang to the ground, and grow up again, they droop down again, and grow up again, so that one twig can easily reach for more than half a quarter mile from the trunk itself. It has large leaves but bears no fruit, but when you break a twig from it a white sap oozes out, which if it gets into a person’s eye, they will soon go blind.

Here are also a lot of deer, wild boar, which the Persians do not eat, but they do eat wild donkeys. Here is also a beast of prey which they call jackals, not unlike a wolf. These catch or greatly wound both birds and beasts, indeed, if they do not protect their dead in solid and deep tombs, then they dig them up and eat them. The Christians believe that this is the hyaena of which the naturalists write.* Several kinds of bird are found here, but no geese, only chickens and partridges, several hundreds together in the flock. Large and small turtle doves, cranes, herons, storks, kroppgäss** etc. The pelican is also seen here, but it never cuts up its chest over its dead chicks,*** nor is its beak suitable for it to cut with in this manner, as the naturalists report.

The Persians are white in complexion, though tending a little toward yellow. They are a proud, greedy, warlike people, similar to the Poles in their dress, except for the headgear, for which they have a mandel or turban. The King can in a matter of days muster several thousand cavalry of which some are equipped with mail coats, bows and arrows, and some with pikes. He uses nothing in particular for the infantry, they have extremely heavy muskets, and strike the cock over towards the muzzle and not to the stock. Their fuses are of cotton. On campaign he also uses cannon, but they are all managed by Christians. At the time when I was there, the artillery was directed by an Englishman and a Holsatian.

On the border between Parthia and Persia is a little town named Ilsikas where live only Muslims and all are farmers. Here also is grown the best wheat in the country, for which they are very famous, and when they say that “this is Nun de Iesikass”, then they love it more than any other grain grown in the country.

* Africa’s hyaenas and South Asia’s jackals occupy similar ecological niches but are not in fact closely related.

** Uncertain. Da. kropgaas and Ge. Kropfganz mean pelican, but NMK mentions the pelican separately here. In analogy with Sw. kroppduva, a kroppgås might be a goose that can inflate its crop. But geese have no crops to inflate, and NMK states that there are no geese in Persia (which there are in fact — he may be thinking of domestic geese).

*** Referring to the earlier version of the pelican’s tale where it kills and resurrects its chicks, not the more widespread one where it simply feeds them with its own blood.

Author: Martin R

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

16 thoughts on “Nils Mattsson Kiöping in Persia”

  1. Sub-Saharan Africa also has jackals (different species), and Western Eurasia (including Iran) and the Indian subcontinent have striped hyenas, so it’s sort of complicated. The two genuses coexist in the same ecologies, often in competition when scavenging, which could have given rise to the confusion. Maybe it would be safer or more succinct in the note simply to observe that it is a confusion between two distant genuses, hyenas being feliform carnivores (although with some evolved canine-like characteristics) and jackals belonging to the genus Canis.

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  2. Re pelicans, in “Allgemeines Polyglotten-Lexicon der Natur-Geschichte mit erklaerenden Anmerkungen” (1793-8), P. A. Nemnich states that Da./No. kropgaas is the Great White Pelican (pelecanus onocrotalus). Nemnich also has a Sw. section where the lemma does not occur, so it may have been a borrowing or dialect term to begin with. What’s more, NMK may well have seen Pink-backed Pelicans (pelecanus rufescens) on his journey as well, explaining the double mention. This if of course over a hundred years before any of these species were scientifically described.
    BTW, the En. term crop-gooose appears in C18th publications with no clear species attached to it, so it might not be amiss to use it here with equal blurriness.

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  3. I idly pondered whether “crop goose” might be a reference to the force-feeding of domesticated geese (and ducks) to produce foie gras. Seems like a very long shot, though, and doesn’t fit with the use of “krop” in relation to pelicans.

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  4. The Open Sanctuary Project appears to be full of it, waffling on about things that can go wrong with a goose’s crop and how to tell, evidently unaware that geese don’t have them.


    1. Indeed, the pelican debunking looks a bit out of place in a travelogue. If it was added as an afterthought long after the journey (as seems likely), that would explain the editorial blunder of leaving “crop-geese” in the list. NMK may simply have been unaware that the two creatures were the same.


  5. I was wondering about the terminology related to firearms. From the use of the term “fuse” I assume the weapons in question were matchlocks. The term “cock” would apply to flintlocks while the roughly corresponding word for matchlocks (at least in English) would be “serpentine.” Perhaps the terms in Swedish were interchangeable or the author used the flintlock term as he was more familiar with it.

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    1. Good point. I don’t know what sort of musket this is. But the word I have translated as “cock” is hane, which actually means “male chicken” more often than “gun part”.


      1. In German, its the same: Hahn or Kran can be English “tap: a device for controlling the flow of water from a spout” or “cock.” I don’t know early modern German firearms terms so well. Manouchehr Khorasani is the expert in Europe on 16th century Iranian firearms, Gabor Agoston and Tonio Andrade wrote some things from a higher/more comparative level.


  6. In fact in English, if you don’t know, the word cock can mean “tap” as well. Used in the compound “petcock” most frequently for the drain for automotive radiators. One online source states that the Iranians used mainly matchlocks in their military into the eighteenth century, so seventeenth century Iranian muskets were probably matchlocks. I’d like to know if in Swedish the term “fuse” was widely used used for what was called a “match” in English at the time. The only time I’ve seen that term used was in the subtitles for the Seven Samurai.


    1. I have translated Sw. lunta with “fuse”. The main Swedish historical dictionary SAOB defines it as “string, usually spun from coarse flax fibre or the like and impregnated with saltpetre etc. so that it can burn slowly and with a firm glowing point, used with early firearms for lighting the pan powder when the weapon was fired”.

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      1. Much as I hate to pedantically pester you, I don’t think English speakers ever used the word “fuse” as a equivalent for the admittedly archaic term “match.” Is the Swedish word “lunta” also used for the common modern English meaning of “fuse” as a cord that has been chemically impregnated to burn quickly and set off dynamite or fireworks? As an aside, are there holidays in Sweden where fireworks are fired off? Around here in the inner city on the Fourth and New Years the potentially PTSD triggering firework barrage is supplemented by the occasional discharge of a fully automatic weapon. I suppose in Sweden fully automatic weapons are pretty much reserved for the military, but in Merica they are largely taken in stride amongst the common citizenry.

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