Monument to Athanasius Nikitin in the city of Feodosia
Monument to Athanasius Nikitin in the city of Feodosia

The secret mission of Ofonas tveritin


By the grace of God I crossed three seas. Digger is badly dono, ollo pervodiger is given. Amen! Smilna rahmam ragim. Ollo akbir, akshi hudo, ilello aksh hodo. Isa ruhoalo, aalikusolom. Hello akber!

“Walking across three seas”

Monument to Athanasius Nikitin in the city of Feodosia
Monument to Athanasius Nikitin in the city of Feodosia

And who was he in general: a Russian or a Russian, a merchant or someone else, Athanasius or not Athanasius, Nikitin or Nikitin?Athanasius Nikitin went on his incredible journey in 1468 – 552 years ago. He saw Astrakhan, Derbent, Absheron, Shirvan, Persia, Arabia, India, the Horn of Africa. Why did a simple merchant need it?

His “Walking Across Three Seas” (“Walking Across Three Seas”), which told descendants about the journey of a Tver merchant to Persia and India, is a recognized monument of literature of world importance. But what does this story have to do with Ukraine? By what right is a monument to Nikitin erected in Ukrainian Feodosia?


Written at the end of the 15th century, Walking Across Three Seas has been passed down in three editions (“excerpts”). The two oldest manuscripts are almost indistinguishable: the one contained in the Second Chronicle of Sophia and kept in Moscow, and the one that has been in Lviv for centuries and is now kept in Kyiv, in the Museum of Literature. They are called by one name “Chronicle excerpt”. Another derivation was found in the Trinity-Sergius Lavra, it is called the Trinity. It is this option and found it in the early XIX century, a prominent Russian historian Karamzin. The third conclusion is called Sukhanovsky, but it is a very edited copy of the XVII century.

Karamzin partially published excerpts from the Trinity Exodus in 1818 in the fourth volume of the History of the Russian State, and the full publication of Walking Across the Three Seas (the original name is the same, “with a candle” of the letter “i “) took place in 1821, when P. Stroev published an excerpt from the Sofia Chronicle. After the publication and drawing the attention of historians to the journey of the Tver merchant to India, attempts began to establish a chronology of events and dates. Sreznevsky suggested that the journey took place in 1466-72, but in the 1980s researchers convincingly proved that Nikitin left Tver in 1468, arrived in India in 1471, and returned in 1475.

Karamzin fondly compared Ermak’s trip to Siberia with his admiration for the American conquistadors, and Athanasius Nikitin’s travels with Vasco da Gama’s voyages. This, of course, was an exaggeration, because Nikitin’s journey had no commercial success, and no lasting consequences at all.



Page from the Trinity version of the manuscript
Page from the Trinity version of the manuscript

“For the prayer of our holy fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the servant of your sinful Athos son of Mikita .”Not much is known about the figure of the author, but almost nothing, except for the facts given in his work. It is unknown when, what he did before 1468 – it is unknown. He called himself a merchant, which looks very doubtful. He died around 1475 somewhere near Smolensk, allegedly…


In the closest to the lost original manuscript, Chronicle (Lviv and Sofia), versions of the author’s document are called – “Ofonas Tveritin”. Only in the Sukhanov izvod (and this, I recall, already the XVII century) the author is called “Athanasius Nikitin”.

The original for Karamzin, ie Trinity, version of the manuscript, signed “Athanasius Nikitin”, but when published the name was changed to “Nikitin”. Such was the political essence of the moment – the beginning of the last century. In those years, the tsar formed an official imperial ideology, cleaned up history, Russia for convenience began to be identified with the Russian state, all had to serve one purpose, namely – to strengthen the imperial “unity”, even despite the historical truth.

I am a Rusyn

“And I saw that I wasn’t a Beserman – a Rusyn . This is how the author of the manuscript defines his ethnicity. “Rusyn” at that time (and until the XVIII century) had a completely different ethno-political color than in our time. “Rusyns talk to a Pole in Polish,” wrote the rector of Mohyla Lazar Baranovych ironically in the 17th century. (in verse in Polish), referring to the Ukrainian. Rusyn (before the emergence of political Ukrainianness) was a word identical to the current ethnonym Ukrainian, although it could well include Lithuanian-Belarusians. Until the time of antagonism between “Rusynism” or “Little Russia” and “Ukrainianness” could not exist. And these very concepts were conditional and rather vague. There are Cossacks, girls, Ukraine in Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar, but there is no mention of Ukrainians.It was as if Taras Hryhorovych had never heard the word “Ukrainian.”

Similarly, in the fifteenth century there was neither “Russia” nor “Russians” in at least the current sense. Disputes over the nationality of Ofonas Mykytyn are meaningless.

Even more – Nikitin was not a Muscovite, he lived in Tver, and in that era, in addition to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and the Grand Duchy of Moscow, there was also the Grand Duchy of Tver. Although territorially the CGT was smaller than the current Tver region of the Russian Federation, its history is interesting and quite rich.


Game of Thrones: ON, VKM, VKT

In 1263, the Prince of Tver received a label, ie permission from the khan to collect tribute from all the principalities of Russia and take it to the khan’s “commonwealth”, in the capital Horde city, which was named Sarai for the splendor of architecture . Only in the 1330s, after a long and fierce struggle accompanied by intrigue, slander, and political assassinations, did the right to collect tribute pass to Moscow, which continues to collect tribute to this day.

The Grand Duchy of Tver was an ally of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Olgerd’s wife, Ulyana, was the daughter of Grand Duke Alexander of Tver, the granddaughter of King Yuri, and, accordingly, the great-granddaughter of King Lev Danilovich, after whom the city of Lviv was named. Grand Duke Michael, the last in the dynasty, was married to the daughter of the last prince of Kiev Semyon. When Ivan III captured Tver, Mykhailo Borysovych fled to the Grand Duchy of Lithuania and received an estate in Volhynia, where he died.

Since he had no children, the estate passed to Prince Hlynsky.

But between the princes of Russia there was fierce competition for the right to sit on this lucrative cash flow. The same Karamzin wrote very frankly in the History of the Russian State : tyrants, and later bribe-taking friends of our Lords, could easily be deceived into difficult accounts. The people complained, however, of the selfishness of the barbarians. “

Ivan I Kalita destroyed the independence of the Tver principality in 1485, laying the foundations of the Moscow state. The foundations have not disappeared, the whole Russian statehood stands on them. While the VKM and VKT competed for the right to the label, the GDL strengthened and grew, fighting for the right not to pay the Tatars at all. And if we talk about the border of civilization – it was not geographically, but historically.



The manuscript was written at the end of the 15th century, also by a man from the border of Muscovy, who was just gaining strength, and Lithuania, which was a completely different linguistic and ethnic community than the modern Republic of Lithuania. Its text is an interesting historical evidence of the language of that time, whatever it was written about.

For example, the storm on the Caspian Sea, which shattered the merchant’s ship, the author calls “furtovina”. Easter – “Great day”. It is also interesting to use the word “paropok” meaning “boy”: “Parops and girls go naked until the age of seven, shame is not covered” (“Boys and girls walk naked until the age of seven, shame is not covered “). In Sukhanovsky izvod it is written already closer to ours: “паробки”.

Aeneas was a motor worker…

Or the form of word formation that is now considered colloquial in Western Ukrainian: “ся жалуют” (ie, complain, complain); this is from the paragraph, which refers to the monkey prince: “Yes, who cares, and they complain to their prince,” but about the Indian monkeys a little later.

And this paragraph in general sounds an indisputable evidence of the globalization of that era: “By the grace of God I crossed three seas. Digger is badly dono, ollo pervodiger is given. Amen! Smilna rahmam ragim. Ollo akbir, akshi hudo, ilello aksh hodo. Isa ruhoalo, aalikusolom. Ollo akber. A ilyagailya ilello. Ollo is the first tiger. Ahamdu lillo, shukur hudo afatad. Bismilnagi razham ragim. Huvo can climb, la lyasaillya guya alimul gyaibi wa shagaditi… »  – and so on in the text.



At present, the Athanasius Nikitin passenger train runs in Moscow on the Moscow-St. Petersburg route, although from the point of view of historical justice it was better to run it on the Tver-Nizhny Novgorod-Astrakhan-Derbent route.

Leaving Tver, Nikitin drove with a trade caravan Kalyazin, Uglich, Kostroma. But with the Moscow diplomat Vasily Papin, with whose embassy Nikitin hoped to travel, the traveler missed, plans changed a little.

Kazan and the then capital – Sarai, and then sailed the Caspian Sea to the coast of modern Dagestan, where robbers seized one of the merchant ships and took people prisoner. In Derbent, Nikitin managed to persuade a representative of Shirvan Shah to assist in the release of prisoners.

Then Nikitin headed south to Baku, a city where “an unquenchable fire is burning.” And Baku is almost Persia, and it so happened that the failure of a commercial expedition led to a dizzying journey through Persia and India. From Baku Nikitin reached Tabriz, Demavend, then Bender-Abbas. Leaving the territory of present-day Iran, the merchant went to Muscat, a city in the Sultanate of Oman.

And by sea – to India. The current states of Gujarat, Karnataka, Telengana – this is where Nikitin traveled.



The Malabar coast of India is a coastal strip in the present-day states of Karnataka and Kerala. The Apostle Thomas, known by the appendix “The Unbeliever”, according to church tradition, convinced of the authenticity of the wounds of Christ, went, like the other apostles, to preach the faith to different peoples. And he came to India, found perhaps the most exotic of the traditional Christian denominations – the Malabar Church. According to another version, more likely, the founder of the Malabar Church was another Thomas, an Armenian who lived three centuries later.

Athanasius Nikitin for some reason devoted most of his years in India to Bidar, a city in the Sultanate of Bakhman. Today it is a city in the state of Karnataka.

«And believe in India all 80 and 4 faiths, and all believe in Booth. And faith with faith nipiet, neither yasty, nor marries. And others eat lamb, and chickens, and fish, and eggs, and beef does not eat any faith… Indians do not eat any meat, no beef, no lamb, no chicken, no fish, no pork “ (” And believe in There are only 80 and 4 in India, and everyone believes in the Buddha, and faith does not drink, eat, or marry by faith, and some eat lamb, and chicken, and fish, and eggs, and no faith eats beef. , no beef, no lamb, no chicken, no fish, no pork ”).

The traveler was destined to live for a short time, and he did not acquire wealth, but the last years of his earthly journey were full of events and impressions. All he had left was a horse, which he had to sell for sixty-eight feet in the town of Bidari, where “snakes walk the streets, and its length is two fathoms” (“snakes walk the streets, and its length is two fathoms “). ie five meters).

Then the author of the manuscript cites interesting and sensational facts about India: “And monkeys, they live in the woods. And they have a monkey prince, let him go with his ration. Yes, who cares, and they complain to their prince, and he sends his army to him, and they, coming to the hail, destroy the courtyards and beat people. And their armies, they say, are very many, and they have their own language “ (And the monkeys, they live in the woods.And they have a monkey prince, and walks with his army.he sends his army against it, and when they come to the city, they destroy the yards and beat the people.And the troops, they say, are very many, and they have their own language “).

And about the war elephants, the sultan’s palace, customs and life of the inhabitants of an exotic country…



As mentioned earlier, Nikitin does not look like a merchant. There was no need for direct, direct trade relations between Tver or even Russia in general and India. The “logistics chain” already existed at that time, Persian traders could deliver to Russia via Astrakhan any Indian goods, although elephants – only patches; and other, more convenient and profitable trade routes at that time still did not exist.

Nikitin himself writes at the beginning of the story: “I went from the Holy Golden Savior and with His mercy, from my sovereign from Grand Duke Mikhail Borisovich of Tver, and from Bishop Gennady of Tver and Boris Zakharich . 

It is unlikely that the merchant who carried the “junk” (ie fur) will be blessed by the prince (head of state), voivode (minister of defense) and spiritual leader of the Tverites. If he was a merchant, why did he try to join Vasyl Papin’s embassy and only be forced to sail on merchant ships?

Wander for three years in a foreign country without any serious business interest? It is unlikely that such abuse due to the limitless hospitality of Indians: “The earth Ыndѣyskoy GOST stavyat to be podvorem and ѣsty hospodarыny cook for guests, and the guest bed stelyut hospodarыny, and spyat with hostmy” (“The Indian guests spread over the land courts, and the maids cook for the guests, and the maids make the bed, and sleep with the guests ”).

In India, Nikitin was often called Yusuf Khorosani, a Persian merchant, which is very inappropriate in a merchant environment, quite cosmopolitan, multilingual and multi-religious, where its rules of the game and one of them – racial, ethnic and religious tolerance, but the honest name – the most expensive capital. I risked an honest name – for what?

When he returned, he did not reach his native Tver, dying (did they help?) Somewhere near Smolensk, but options are possible. Maybe only a person named Athanasius Nikitin, Ofonas Nikitin or something else disappeared, but another person continued to live?

If the Prince of Tver sent Nikitin on this risky journey, it is obvious that Nikitin had to report to him, Mikhail Borisovich. Why did the manuscript “Walking” end up in the hands of Moscow deacon Vasily Mamirev, who presented these records to Ivan III?

According to one hypothesis, Nikitin was sent on a secret mission – to steal a recipe for making damask in India. The CGT was waiting for the inevitable armed conflict with the VKM. One Tver warrior with a damask sword would be worth ten Muscovites, armed with ordinary swords. So, despite its exotic nature, this hypothesis is worth mentioning, at least.

According to another version, Nikitin’s mission was to reconnoiter the political situation. The dates are the same: it was in 1468 that Grand Duke Ivan III of Moscow went to war in Kazan, so Tver got a respite and could prepare for pre-Moscow aggression.



In India, Nikitin spent three years, the way home passed through Persia and the Turkish Tabzon, then the Black Sea and eventually led to the Crimea. Nikitin stepped on the Crimean shore in Balaklava, then went through Gurzuf to Kafu: “And the sea passed, to take us to Balikaye, and from there to Tokorzov, and there stood esmya 5 days. By the grace of God, I came to Kafu 9 days before Filipov’s assassination. Hello first leader! ” (And having passed the sea, the wind carried us to Balaklava, and from there to Gurzuf, and there they stood for 5 days. By God’s grace I came to Kafa 9 days before the Philippian fast. God is the Creator!).

In 1474, Nikitin was finally able to rest from his adventures, finding himself in a city where East and West met. It was here that he began to write the manuscript that glorified his name.

 “And in Sevastiy lips and in the Gurzyn land, good is abundant to all. Yes, the Turkish land is very rich. Yes, in the Wallachian land, everything is plentiful and cheap. And the Podolsk land is abundant for everyone. A Rus er er tangrid saklasyn; ollo sakla, bad sakla! Bu daniada munu kibit er ektur; нечикь Урус ери бегляри акой тугиль: Урусь ерь абоданъ болсынъ; I am growing up. Ollo, Khudo, Bohъ, danъyrы “ (” In Sivashsky province in the Georgian land just enough. And Turkish land is very generous. And in Voloska land of abundance and cheap all the food. And Podolsky land all rich. And Russia protects Tengri! Allah save it! Lord, save it! There is no country like it in the whole world, although the princes of the Russian land are unjust. May Russia settle down and justice stand in it! God, God, God, God! “) .

The Genoese colony of Coffee ended the last year of its existence. In the spring of 1475, Athanasius Nikitin went north with a merchant caravan. It was one of the last caravans, and perhaps the last before the Ottoman conquest of the southern coast of Crimea. The Genoese colonies in the Crimea were doomed, the Turkish sultan sentenced them, and the metropolis could not help. The only force the colonies hoped for was the GDL or VKM. But the miracle did not happen….

Human princes, unlike the mythical ape prince, did very unjustly.


Historical watershed

From Kafa, through Perekop, further along the Dnieper, Nikitin arrived in Kyiv. I quote Karamzin again: “There is no doubt that ancient Kiev, adorned with monuments of Byzantine art, enlivened by the confluence of foreign merchants, Greeks, Germans, Italians, surpassed Moscow in the fifth or ten centuries in many respects.”

Both Crimea, Ukraine, and Tver expected epoch-making changes. Already in the summer of 1475, shortly after Nikitin’s departure from the Crimea, Kafa fell without a fight, opening the city gates to the Turks. While Nikitin was traveling, the Bishop of Novgorod died in 1470, and the people of Novgorod appeared to the Metropolitan of Kyiv, not Moscow, for the appointment of a new bishop. Constantinople). The Prince of Moscow regarded this step as a betrayal, so Ivan III marched on Novgorod; Tver in this war sided with Moscow.

The watershed between the Dnieper and the Volga is on the Valdai Upland. But the frontier of civilization in the XV century was just beginning to be seen.

The fall of Novgorod, a European city with ties to the Hanseatic League and its own development, led to a colossal expansion of Muscovy’s possessions, but this process was accompanied by the brutal deportation of Novgorod, which killed thousands of the city’s best people and, most importantly, the European free spirit. northeastern Russia. Expelled by Moscow, which did not tolerate the slightest manifestations. Exiled not just for long – forever. Ethnic cleansing and deportation will become a sinister tradition of the Moscow state, no matter what it is later called: a kingdom, an empire, a republic, a union or a federation. This is how the “canonical territories” gathered together. But in a few years after Novgorod, Tver itself will fall.

At that time, fifty Ukrainian cities already had the Magdeburg right. And in 1494, Kyiv received this status. “Magdeburg” lasted here longer than anywhere else in the Russian Empire, until 1835, when, literally: “Tsar Nicholas put her to sleep.” In Kyiv, Magdeburg, and all over the world, princes were unjust, but the principles of limitation of power and independent justice developed by civilization made it possible to resist arbitrariness.

And this allowed a few centuries later to make a major technological breakthrough, which proved the superiority of the legal system over autocracy.

So Nikitin created the monument for himself with his incredible life, his fascinating journey and amazing travel notes. A monument to him in Feodosia – in its place. Attempts by the Russian imperialists to draw Nikitin into their history seem out of place

Historical science does not exist to satisfy curiosity, not to glorify modern rulers, but to teach not to repeat the mistakes of the rulers of the past. Muscovy has recruited Ofonas Mykytyn from Tver to serve its state ideology, and this is a crime against history.

Twelve years ago, a monument to Athanasius Nikitin was erected in July 2008 in Feodosia, formerly Kafi. If, instead of sculpting one of the symbols of the “Russian world” from Nikitin, they read the book of the great traveler, if they understood the despair with which Nikitin returned to his homeland without finding the truth even beyond the three seas…

 “Ollo, bad, God, taxpayers” (God, God, God, God).

To guarantee whether or not, Nikitin prayed all the prayers in all the languages ​​he spoke: Persian, Russian, Tatar, Arabic… The Almighty, in the end, understands all languages ​​- can hear.

And what is written remains.

If you have found a spelling error, please, notify us by selecting that text and pressing Ctrl+Enter.

The project was implemented with the support of the Ukrainian Cultural Foundation

Valery Verkhovsky

Author of culturological articles, journalist of the newspaper "Crimean svitlytsia"

Spelling error report

The following text will be sent to our editors: