Nils Mattsson Kiöping on the Trail Of Travelling Bengt


Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna (1591-1643), portrait by Jakob Heinrich Elbfas, Wikimedia Commons.

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

Chapter 33: Persia, the Shah’s hunts and Bengt Oxenstierna’s graffiti

For hunting he uses falcons, among which is a white raven with a red beak, which is as swift in striking birds as the falcons. He also has 200 leopards which have been trained so that no game in the fields or forests can pass them by without them catching it in three leaps. And if he does not catch the beast in three leaps, then he puts his tail between his legs, goes back and is ashamed.

Summing up, this King’s splendour, along with the activities in this city, of all kinds of crafts, of the number of people, is too hard for me to describe from fresh memory, and it would take a long time. Instead they who have Olearius’s diary about the Holsatian envoys’ journey to Persia can experience this city’s characteristics in detail.

Thus I want to move on briefly to the Kingdom of Persia itself, and name the towns that I have visited, and describe them in simple terms. Here in Issphahan and the suburb Julfa, where all Christians live, I found the late Lord Bengt Oxenstierna’s name in an Augustinian monastery inscribed with a nail on the wall in Latin. And it goes as follows in Swedish.

My GOD is a good companion to me
And virtue is in close company with me,
Thus I fear no danger,
I was not proud even in success;
But I go everywhere unafraid

Bengt Oxenstierna, a good Swedish Baron
In the year 1611,
Since our Saviour was born.

Adam Olearius (Ölschläger; 1599-1671) served as secretary to an ambassador from Frederick III, Duke of Holstein-Gottorp, to the Shah of Persia. Olearius published a book about his experiences in 1647 which appeared in English in 1662.

Bengt Bengtsson Oxenstierna (1591-1643, posthumously known as Travelling Bengt) was a Swedish royal councillor and diplomat who travelled extensively in continental Europe and the Near East. He was the first Swede to make a documented visit to Persia and served briefly at the court of Shah Abbas I. NMK’s reported year 1611 is however erroneous. Lord Bengt began his journey to Persia in 1616, so the inscription may have read 1617. NMK reports similar inscriptions in Shiraz and Baghdad, see ch. 41 and 48.

NMK’s Swedish version of the inscription is in rhymed couplets. If the original inscription was indeed in Latin, then NMK must have translated it rather freely. I have aimed to preserve the sense but not the rhymes.

I wonder if NMK really did see any inscriptions of Bengt’s or if the insistent references to him are attempts by NMK to borrow credibility for his book.


John Massey’s Red Wedding


The newlyweds in 1979

Aard regular John Massey reminds us that the East is Red.

The colour that Chinese language does not have a name for is pink. Chinese clearly perceive pink the same as Europeans do, and have no difficulty in naming it correctly as pink in English, but in Chinese language it is usually referred to as ‘light red’ or ‘pale red’, which is really not an accurate descriptor of pink.

But red is regarded as a propitious colour in Chinese culture, and that extends to pink as well – so pink is regarded as a kind of continuum with red in terms of it being ‘lucky’.

I had absolutely no problem with my bride being clad in a bright red silk qipao, form fitting and split up the sides to her thighs (she wore a traditional European style white wedding dress for the ‘foreign devil style’ church service in the early morning, then changed into the red qipao for the ‘real wedding’, which went on almost endlessly for the rest of the day and half of the night).

But I was utterly appalled on my wedding night, when we finally got to retire to bed in the early hours of the morning, to find that my mother-in-law had been in and the bed cover and pillow slips were all bright pink silk, elaborately embroidered with dragons and phoenixes. Phoenices. Whatever. Hey, Mum, real men don’t sleep on pink silk pillows! Worse, she had added additional embroidery to them herself, which she was very good at, and had sewn coins into them, in order to invoke a prosperous and productive union. So we fell into an exhausted (and in my case heavily inebriated, because of all of the traditional toasting I had to do all bloody day long with black label whisky) sleep under the weight of a bed cover weighed down with bits of the local currency.

My wedding day was an absolute trial, requiring a great deal of stamina. The bright side was that I played a lot of ma jong at my own wedding, and won quite a bit of money. Also, one of my wife’s uncles was a traffic cop – he drove us, and when we got stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the large restaurant where the ‘real’ wedding was to be held, he calmly got out of the car, stood in the middle of the intersection and directed the traffic until the jam was cleared, then got back into the car again – totally unflappable. Plus, members of the large extended family who attended the wedding in their hundreds had given us a lot of money as wedding gifts, and this police uncle had the foresight to carry his service revolver on him, suitably concealed, so he accompanied me as my armed guard when I went to the bank to deposit all of the cash.

August Pieces Of My Mind #1


Spent 2½ happy days at the Visby Medieval Week.

  • Facebook suggests that I might like to be friends with this Japanese lady whose profile pic has her wearing a sombrero and a big fake moustache.
  • Today I received my first issue of Fornvännen in 20 years whose contents are unknown to me.
  • Degerfors means Grand Rapids.
  • The trick on Twitter isn’t to have many followers. You need to have a large proportion of followers who follow hardly anyone else and so will see all your tweets.
  • Like a bone knife handle or a pair of fine shoes, a mummy is an artefact made from a cadaver.
  • Facebook is kind of amazing. In a thread started by an old acquaintance, a member of Hedningarna is at this moment contributing free advice on caring for the various types of chipboard found in 1960s summer houses.
  • The solution to all animal ethics problems isn’t veganism. It’s farming and eating humans as well, to make our system of values consistent.
  • Movie: Ed Wood (1994). A heart-warming tale of a young, hugely ambitious film maker who overcomes impossible odds to make a series of ridiculously bad films. Grade: OK.
  • Cool confirmation that colour perception is context-dependent. You know, the “Is the dress blue?” issue. I saw something pale pink out of the corner of my eye. Looking straight at the object I realised that it was the purple bathroom rug being lit by the white light of a cloudy morning.
  • Imagine a toaster that produced the same result regardless of the starting temperatures of the machinery and the bread.
  • Robots and AI will increase unemployment. But this will lead to less demand for products and services: jobless people can’t buy stuff. So the system will reach a new equilibrium just before it is no longer profitable to buy a factory robot. There will be intense cost competition on the robot market though.
  • There used to be a famous line of German art guide books named Reclams Kunstführer. And suddenly I realise that Adolf Hitler probably wanted to become the Kunstführer back in his landscape painting days.
  • Early in Darrell Schweizer’s beautifully written novel The Mask of the Sorcerer, Fafhrd and the Grey Mouser have a unnamed cameo. They commit some violent and callous acts and are then promptly snared and killed by a necromancer. An indication of Schweizer’s feelings about Sword & Sorcery?
  • Got a dark blue berry stain on my shirt. It did not come out with soap. Tried to bleach it with lemon juice, whereupon it turned a vivid pink.
  • As I stood in line for dinner, the plastic notification disc they’d given me wouldn’t stop its periodic angry buzzing. No matter how I stroked it consolingly and spoke softly to it.
  • Movie: Burning (2018). Young writer meets flaky girl and sinister playboy. Then nothing interesting happens for 2½ plotless nice-looking hours. Grade: Fail.



View from Östra Ingersby towards a neighbouring hamlet

A bit more than two years ago I learned that my surname and patrilineage are from the Fryksdalen area in Värmland province. The family had forgotten all about this, probably as a result of my great grandpa and my grandpa both dying young. (My people migrated to Stockholm around 1900 from all over southern Sweden, so Fryksdalen has contributed only 1/16 of my stock.)

This past weekend my wife and I took a trip to Fryksdalen to see the landscape around my ancestors’ hamlets — Persby and Östra Ingersby in Sunne parish, Svenserud and Bävik in Östra Ämtervik parish – and the churches where they celebrated their rites of passage. Turns out it’s a beautiful area, hilly to an extent that surprised me, being effectively the southern foothills of the great Scandy mountain range.

In addition to seeing the ancestral spots, we swam two of three Fryken lakes, took a guided tour of classic author Selma Lagerlöf’s home at Mårbacka, survived the crushing psychedelic art overload that is the Alma Löv Museum, and participated in Farmer’s Day at Gunnerud. Tractor racing, an informative study visit to 200 milch cows and roasted oat-flour pancakes with diced bacon! I also read a celebrated novel set in Sunne by Göran Tunström, Berömda män som varit i Sunne (1998) .

Here’s a photo album that will give you an idea of what the area is like.


Lake Övre Fryken

Nils Mattsson Kiöping at the Court of the Shah

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


Chapter 31: Persia, Isfahan

Issphahan is the royal seat of Persia and is in its extent three times the width of Paris in France. And though I have never been to Paris, and so cannot know about its size, it is true that Isfahan (which was once, and still is on maps, named Hagistan) is so large that it takes six days on horseback to travel around it outside the walls, but three days inside them. It has four suburbs, of which the finest is Julfwa, which is at least as large as all of Stockholm with Norrmalm and Ladugårdslandet. Here all the Christians live and have their own jurisdiction and court.

The judge is an Armenian and keeps court as magnificently as a Prince. And if it happens that a Turk has done an injustice to a Christian, then the case will be heard in the Turkish Kadi, and the Turk punished by his authorities. But if the guilt is with the Christian, then he is sent to the Christian Council, and they cannot pardon anyone, but must immediately punish the criminal.

The Christians can freely practise their faith here, indeed, the King himself often joins their congregations and watches their divine service with great solemnity. The monks are in great favour with the King, and are strictly protected, particularly the Augustinians, because they have a beautiful church there. The Carmelites have two, the Franciscans also two, but the Armenians have six.

Chapter 32: Persia, the Court of the Shah

With respect to the splendour and court of the Persian King, the ruling Lord at the time when I stayed there was a very pious and young man named Shah Abbas [Abbas II, regn. 1642-66], whom I and many other European Christians served as soldiers for 18 months. In 1652 his age was 22 years. He already had a little son and a daughter, and in addition to his recognised wives he had 400 concubines, all of whom were daughters of the country’s most important lords. He is certainly a Muslim, but nevertheless he likes to hint that he is friendlier to the Christians than to his own people.

All his tableware such as dishes, plates and bowls is of fine gold, indeed, some are so large that you cannot carry them in your hands, but on your head. Many are even so heavy that they have to carry them on stretchers trimmed with gold. And on all these vessels, instead of royal arms, he uses a mark roughly like this: [INSERT SCAN HERE].

In his stable where the royal horses are fed, which are 100 in number, there is exceptional cleanliness. All are tethered with golden chains and shod all around with golden shoes, covered with the finest golden cloth that is made and woven in the country. The vessels or tubs in which water is fetched for them are all of fine Arabian gold. For each horse in the stable hang beautiful saddles with saddle blankets, finely decorated, one better than the next, with diamonds, turquoises, rubies etc. and also the most splendid that can ever be, studded with big pearls. Summing up, everything you see there is nothing but pure gold, indeed the hinges that the gates hang on, as well as everything else.

On one side in the gate house he has a mountain cat standing, which harms people when he can reach them. He is the size of the largest lynxes but grey in colour.* On the other side a mountain rat shut in a cage: she was so tame that she took bread from people’s hands. Every time I walked past her she scratched the bars with her claws because I always gave her something to eat from my hand. She was just like a rat in colour and shape, but was the size of a half-year-old pig. Outside the gate lay nine lions which were only tethered with thin ropes around their necks, and each had a little dog to to play with. One was white as snow but tawny at the front, the others were pale, and none of them did people any harm.

* SAOB suggests that this is a Pallas’s cat, Otocolobus manul. That feline is however typically far smaller than a lynx.

July Pieces Of My Mind #3


This came sailing. Heavy with water after a long voyage. No sign of crew or passengers. A wave then got it afloat during the night and it left as quietly as it came.

  • If all goes well we’ve got less than 18 months left of this appalling nonsense from the White House.
  • Peter F. Hamilton’s universe, several hundred years into the future, is technologically futuristic but culturally contemporary. People listen to rock music and wear denim. The Guide Michelin is still rating restaurants even on other planets. He is not interested in making up unfamiliar culture.
  • I’m more than halfway through with my translation of Nils Mattsson Kiöping now. Looking forward to hitting the Royal Library to read up on the secondary literature for the introduction and additional annotation. He mentions a lot of small towns in Asia that aren’t easy to identify on current maps, particularly when their names are spelled by a 17th century Swede and then misprinted by Johann Kankel.
  • Cousins L and J drove and rowed me to a desert island!
  • Haha, Ted Chiang is awesome. In his new collection Exhalation is a story about deeply religious people who have a heliocentric cosmology and believe that God made the universe specifically for them. Then their astronomers discover that the universe is actually geocentric. And it’s centred on a planet in a nearby star system, not on their own world. 😀
  • You know how annoying Autocorrect is? Chances are, you’re almost always writing in the same language. Imagine how annoying this thing is for me, flipping constantly between Swedish and English.
  • OMG, Nils Mattsson Kiöping is such an asshole. When he and his buddies hear that Hindus in Surat hold all life sacred, they catch a bunch of fleas, go to a Hindu household, kill some fleas in front of them and demand a ransom for the remaining ones. Having made some money this way, they buy pigeons from some Muslims and then go back to the Hindus to extort more money!
  • Note to prospective parents: your kids will grow up and leave.
  • I haven’t listened to any music recently, so my brain has amused itself by playing fragments of “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” and “Take The Long Way Home” on repeat for several days.
  • I found the calling card of an Italian real estate agent in a Bruce Chatwin essay collection from the library. Her office is in Rome, just a short walk from the Vatican.
  • I have an odd architecture of the throat where pills get stuck. Imagine miserable hours of tasting penicillin as a pill fragment slowly dissolves. Now I’ve discovered an excellent way to get stuff down the chute: a big spoonful of oatmeal porridge.

July Pieces Of My Mind #2


Kvarnsjön in Grödinge, Sörmlandsleden part 61

  • An insect collided with my ear, just a very brief contact. Now it stings like nettleburn. Bumblebee?
  • An important reason for the odd American practice of non-religious circumcision was a long-abandoned 19th century theory of the cause of disease. Nobody remembers the theory, they just continue the practice blindly.
  • My current contract ends on August 31. If you have work of an archaeological, editorial, teachy, writy, translaty character, please give me a shout! Maybe hand my CV to your boss?
  • Dreamed last night that my wife was somehow in my boyhood room and testing out firearms. She shot out a window.
  • ”Artefact biography” was one of archaeology’s countless fad perspectives. It held that the artefact itself was not as important as its individual history and the (possibly fictitious) memories it nudged when you handled it. Against this, I have always replied ”Well this is usually completely opaque to posterity and thus useless to discuss”. But just now, shaking an old blanket, I also realised this. Most people have no idea of the artefact biographies of most of their belongings.
  • So difficult to remember to charge my toothbrush. Because my tooth brushing routine contains no contingency code for what to do when the power runs out. I just think “Gotta charge this” then forget about it.
  • English has a famously rich lexicon. Yet it has lost its equivalents of Ge. heissen & wohnen, Sw. heta & bo. They were hight and abide.
  • Second Life is still up and running and populated. And I still haven’t tried it.
  • The Swedish social healthcare system has gone on-line, and it’s awesome.
  • Suspecting one of the usual summer bouts of Lyme disease that hikers and geocachers have to contend with at this latitude, I got a video chat appointment in less than 40 minutes. Brief interaction with a friendly doctor, and now there’s an electronic prescription for antibiotics available to me at every pharmacy in the country. I really don’t know why I would use one of the privately run alternatives.
  • Old North African bus driver listening to AC/DC.
  • “Do you remember when you were young? You shone like the sun” Barrett was 29 when the song was recorded.
  • Cool motif in scifi: revisit a site or building that is old today, show what it’s like 700 years into our future.
  • Sunny summer Saturday. Had breakfast, went for a quick soak in the mirror-surfaced lake, collected trash along the shoreline. Plans: read scifi, nap, cycle into town, dinner with old friends.
  • I enjoy burning used teabags.
  • AD 1 followed 1 BC with no year zero. Because the AD chronology was established in the 6th century, before mathematical zero was known in Europe.
  • Etymology: effectless –> feckless

Stora Träsket, Sörmlandsleden part 60. I slept well in an open-walled hut here.


Nils Mattsson Kiöping in Tabriz and Hamadan

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

Chapter 29: Persia, Media
Media is not a particularly large country and also belongs to the King of Persia. A very dry, mountainous and infertile place. There are no towns to speak of here, only Tauriss or Tabriss, which was in ancient times called Eccbatana,* and is now very dilapidated and ruined by the Persians, because in the time of Shah Gesi the inhabitants rebelled and wanted to make a king of their own. Thus the aforementioned king had all strongholds torn down and most of the inhabitants deported.

Here in Tabriz is shown the lavish palace of King Ahasuerus,** and although it is very broken down, you can nevertheless tell that it was once an amazingly fine structure. Just outside of it a Franciscan monk named Father Hieronymus showed me a spot where he said that Haman was hanged.*** This Tabriz is right along the Caspian Sea: they trade mainly in fish.**** Here at Tauris or Tabriss (once called Eccbatana) are many high mountains which Alexander the Great conquered first before charging the town, and he got such an enormous treasure that it could not be described, which made Alexander so arrogant that he wanted to be hailed as a god. Here are also many memorials to this day of Alexander the Great.

* Tabriz and ancient Ecbatana are in fact neither identical nor located near each other.
** The King of Persia in the Book of Esther.
*** Again, see the Book of Esther.
**** Tabriz is in fact hundreds of kilometres from the sea and not very near any lake either.

Chapter 30: Persia, Hamadan
In this country are two large and important cities: Issphahan where the King of Persia lives, and Amadan. This city of Amadan is eight days’ travel south-west from Isphahan and was once (as still in Scripture) named Susa.* This city is very famous, not only for its age, but also for the fine craftsmen who live there. Here all kinds of golden, silver and silk cloth are woven and made, indeed, the finest tapestries and blankets that can ever be found.

No other people than Jews live in this city except for the Lord who rules it, who is a Persian and a Muslim. They are also allowed to practice their religion freely and have their church there. The Governor’s representatives also forced them to let us see their divine service and other notable things. Thus they first showed us the tomb of Queen Esther and Mordecai, item the tomb of the Prophet Daniel, which the Jews prized greatly. Outside the city at the River Ulaj,** which runs through the city, stood a white pillar where they said that the Prophet Daniel would have had the vision about four great rulers in the world.

The Christian Armenians showed us a beautiful house, though very broken down, which they claimed to be the synagogue from which the Three Kings would have travelled to offer the Saviour gold, frankincense and myrrh. This place is very healthy and pleasant, abundant in all kinds of foodstuffs. Among everything else that grows here is a kind of white wine which, though its taste is a little bitter, is nevertheless very healthy for a person. These Jews have the same manners in selling and buying as the Persians, in that they sell firewood, milk, water, wine etc.: to sum up, all kinds of foodstuffs etc.

* Another erroneous identification: the ruin mounds of ancient Susa are about 300 km west of Isfahan and were the site of only a small village in the 17th century.
** The river or canal Ulai is mentioned twice in the Book of Daniel (8:2, 16) but the name has not been current in recent centuries. NMK is extrapolating from his belief that Hamadan is identical to biblical Susa.

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.