Leen Helmink Antique Maps

Antique map of Russia by Herberstein

Stock number: 18780

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Sigismund von Herberstein (biography)


Moscovia Sigismundi Liberi Baronis in Herberstain. Neiperg et Gutenhag Anno M.D XLIX

First Published

Vienna, 1549




Woodcut engraving




First Modern Map of Russia. A rare and important cornerstone map for Russia collectors.

One of two maps of Russia compiled by Herberstein, who was ambassador from the Habsburg Emperor, Maximilian I to Moscow.

"The map, based on material by a Lithuanian, Ivan Lyatsky, was used by Sebastian Munster and others. Lyatsky himself also produced a map of Russia dated 1555."

(Moreland and Bannister)

Sigismund von Herberstein (1486-1566)

Siegmund (Sigismund) Freiherr (Baron) von Herberstein is most noted for his extensive writing on the geography, history and customs of Russia and contributed greatly to early Western European knowledge of that area.

As the foremost diplomat for the Holy Roman Empire, between 1515 and 1553, Herberstein carried out approximately 69 missions abroad, travelling throughout much of Europe, including Turkey. He was feted by the ruling Habsburgs and rewarded with titles and estates.

He was Emperor Maxmillian I's official ambassador of the Holy Roman Empire to Russia. He made two official trips to Moscowin, in 1517 to attempt to arrange a truce between Russia and Lithuania, and in 1526 to renew a treaty between the two signed in 1522. These extended visits (nine months in his 1517 visit) provided him with the opportunity to study a hitherto largely unknown Russian geography and Russian society.

Herberstein's knowledge of Slovene, acquired in his youth, allowed him to communicate freely with Russians, as Slovene and Russian both belong to the Slavic languages.

Between 1515 and 1553, Herberstein carried out approximately 69 diplomatic missions abroad, travelling throughout much of Europe, including Turkey. He was feted by the ruling Habsburgs and rewarded with titles and estates.

"Heberstein was twice at Moscow-in 1517 and 1526. Herberstein's knowledge of a Slavonic language facilitated his intercourse with local inhabitants on his travels in Russia, and his academic education gave him a desire for knowledge of a country so little known to Western Europe. He missed no opportunity to question the people he met, not only on the customs and government of the country, but also on its geography, and particularly that of the border regions. He verified the information he collected by cross-questioning different persons on the same subject, and he also tried to obtain various written documents and records of itineraries. He attempted to procure maps too, but as these, besides being very scarce, were kept strictly secret by the authorities, he tried to persuade those whose knowledge he could trust to prepare maps for him. According to Lyatsky, who however made this statement after having left Russia, he had asked him to compile a map but met with a refusal.

Herberstein does not tell us whether he succeeded in obtaining cartographic materials from any other person. But he certainly obtained plenty of oral information and some graphic material too. Thus we know that Grigoryi Istome and Vlasiy and Dmitriy Gerasimov, separately, described to him the navigation from the mouth of the North - Dvina, round Scandinavia, to Denmark. Somebody else gave him a travelling guide from the Dvina to the Ob'. By the time he came to Moscow this route was already fairly well known: in 1491 Andrey Petrov and Vasiliy Ivanov Boltin were despatched to the Pechora in quest of silver ore; in 1499 Prince Kurbskiy led an expedition to the Yugor region and crossed the Ural.

Herberstein reprinted the travelling guide to the Pechora and the Ob', and we know that it already contained information on the town of Kumbalik, i.e. Pekin. The reference to a sea-route by the north coast of Europe and Asia to China made by Paolo Giovio, following Gerasimov, suggests that Herberstein had also been told about this route at Moscow. About the campaign against the Kazan' Tartars in 1524 Herberstein had heard direct from one of its participants, Voevoda S. Chelyadin, whom he had met earlier (1514) at Vilna, where Chelyadin was living as a prisoner of war after the battle at Orsha. Herberstein helped and comforted him at that time and gave him 20 ducats.

At last, in the 1540's, Herberstein began to sort the materials he had collected and to write up his Notes. The first edition of his Rerum Moscovitarum comentarii, containing a copper-engraved map, appeared at Vienna in 1549. This map however was preceded by another, with the same title, which had been engraved by Hirsvogel three years earlier. But this map was of larger format (560 x 358 mm.) and would have had to be folded to fit the book. This presumably explains the production of a second map in reduced size (261 x 160 mm.). There are practically no alterations in this second map, save the omission or addition of a few names. The only notable alteration is the introduction of the Solovki. Comparing the two with each other or with later issues, we must bear in mind that the repetition of an engraving by different masters is naturally not merely a reproduction or a copy of the original-certain divergencies in the disposition of the names and their writing will always occur, especially if the map has been re-engraved for a new publisher, or in a different language."