Dec 092012

Shepard (2008: 496, 497, 503) on a storied title:

The Khazars’ power could hardly have failed to make an impression on those from the Nordic world who joined with indigenous populations of the eastern lands in a common quest for silver, and in fact the head of their first recorded polity to the east of the Baltic sported the same title as that of the Khazar ruler, chaganus or kagan. The Khazars probably supplied the inspiration for authority-symbols and customs, including that of setting a more or less sacral figurehead at the polity’s head. As with the Khazars, this totem-like overlord (reportedly residing on an immense bed-cum-throne) acted in tandem with a military commander who handled earthly affairs in the later ninth and early tenth centuries (Lewicki 1985: 75-6; Montgomery 2000: 21-2; Golden 1982: 45-50, 52-3; Golden 2006).

[...] Later in the [ninth] century, the well-informed Abbasid director of posts and intelligence Ibn Khurradadhbeh noted that northern traders brought furs and swords down to the Black Sea coast and paid customs duties to the Byzantines, probably at Cherson in the Crimea (Lewicki 1956: 76-7). He terms them ‘Rūs’, and in fact persons ‘stating that they, that is their people (gens), were called Rhōs’ were already at the Byzantine emperor’s court by 838. Reportedly, their ‘king called chaganus’ had sent them ‘for the sake of friendship’.

[...] [Sviatoslav] also sought conspicuously to align himself with the peoples of the steppes. A Byzantine eyewitness account and the Rus Primary Chronicle agree that Sviatoslav took on the hair- and lifestyle of a Eurasian steppe chieftain: his scalp was shaven save for one long strand of hair, denoting nobility of birth, and a ring was in one ear; life in the saddle was his delight, ‘making many wars’ and sleeping beneath the open sky.

Mikkelsen (2008: 543-544) on Norse Muslims in Volga Bulgaria and the challenges of Islamic orthopraxis in the far north:

The most famous Arabic source concerning the descriptions of the Vikings is Ibn Fadlan who wrote an account of a journey from Baghdad to the Volga Bulgars in 921-2. His main task was to spread the Muslim faith to this people (Wikander 1978). He tells that he saw among these people 5,000 men and women, who had all converted to Islam. They were called al-baringâr, which is interpreted as an Arabic rendering of the Old Norse name vœringar, another name for Vikings (Lewicki 1972: 12; Wikander 1978: 21). Ibn Fadlan built a mosque of wood for them to perform Islamic service and he taught them to pray. There are some difficulties in interpreting this part of the Arabic source (ibid.). It is, however, interesting if Vikings really were converted to Islam in Volga Bulgar, although the number of converted is probably highly overstated.

[...] Amin Râzi, describing Rûs among the Volga Bulgars, says that they highly valued pork. Even those who had converted to Islam aspired to it and were very fond of pork (Wikander 1978: 73). [...] The Spanish Arab Abu Hamid who visited Bulgar in the twelfth century complained that it was very cold and there were only four-hour days during winter and twenty-hour days in summer. When he visited Bulgar, Ramadan — the Muslim’s month of fasting — came in summer. As the fasting is set to last all day when the sun is shining, Abu Hamid admitted he had to abstain from fasting (Wikander 1978: 78-9).

Works Cited:

Mikkelsen, E. (2008). The Vikings and Islam. In Brink, S., & Price, N. (Eds.). The Viking World, 543-549. Routledge: Abingdon and New York.

Shepard, J. (2008). The Viking Rus and Byzantium. In Brink, S., & Price, N. (Eds.). The Viking World, 496-516. Routledge: Abingdon and New York.

Jul 012012

From The Mongols of Afghanistan (1962: 292):

In some parts of the Hazâraǰât, the old Turkic animal calendar is still used to designate the years. This calendar was still used in Kâbul in the not too distant past, and some old people still remember the Turkic year designations. In the Hazâraǰât, it is still common to hear a man say that he was born in the year of such and such an animal. The following “calendar poem”, recited in a mixture of Turkic and Persian, was used in the old days to explain the meanings of the Turkic animal terms:

Sačqân zi mûš
Pars az palang
Lûî az nähäng
Yûnût faras
Pîč îl zi šâdî
Et îl zi kalb dân
Tangûz zi khûk dân

Sačqan is from mouse
Pars is from leopard
Lûî is from dragon
Yûnût is horse
Pîč îl (year) is from monkey
Et îl know ye is from dog, swiftly he rushes against everything
ûd (~hûd) baqar
tušqân zi khargûš
hilân zi mâr
qôî gusfänd
takhâ murgh-é têz čäng
farâkhîš šay-é khîz
bî-abäd zäd-äš bâ-säng.

ûd (~hûd) is ox
tušqân is from rabbit
hilân is from snake
qôî is sheep
takhâ is the hen, fleet of claw
tangûz know ye is from hog, ye must strike him with stones

The correspondence to the Chinese zodiac’s animal ascriptions is not coincidental (and the same would seem to go for the very similar Mongolic and Tibetan animal calendars). I’m not up-to-date with the contemporary scholarly consensus — if one exists — but the the inclusion of dragon and monkey (forgone for more locally familiar substitutes in other Turkic versions) together suggest a Chinese or other southern East Asian origin.

Schurmann, F. (1962). The Mongols of Afghanistan: An ethnography of the Moghôls and related peoples of Afghanistan. ‘s-Gravenhage: Mouton.

Mar 062012

From the 1971 English translation of Zarevand’s Miatzyal yev angach Turania gam intch gu dzrarken Turkeru (United and independent Turania: Aims and designs of the Turks) (1926):

Typical and quite revealing is the bragging of a Magyar who considers himself a ‘Turanian’ (meaning Ural-Altaic) kinsman of the Turks. In the course of an interview he tells an author in 1919 in Buda-Pest: “All these subject nationalities, Serbs, Slovaks, Rumanians, whom the Supreme Council (of the Paris Peace Conference) is cutting off from our body politic, must inevitably return (to us), for they are naturally subordinate, and we are naturally the masters. But you can’t be expected to understand that, for you are Indo-European, Aryan, and we are Turanians”.

From a more unexpected place — the liner notes for the komuz piece “Attila Khan”, Track 8 in the Smithsonian Folkways album Tengir-Too: Mountain music of Kyrgyztan:

“I dedicate this küü to the honor of the great Attila Khan. The melody represents a spiritual connection to those times. The Turks are one people, and the Mongols and Huns were our ancestors.” — Nurak Abdrakhmanov (b. 1947), composer and performer

Possibly some Meskhetians and Uzbeks feel differently.

Jan 112012

From The Journeyer, Gary Jennings’ fictional account of Marco Polo’s travels, a Persian saying famously recounted by late-seventeenth-century traveller Jean Chardin:

It was the serpent of Eden who bequeathed to Arabs the Arabic language, for he contrived that language in which to speak to Eve and seduce her, because Arabic, as every man knows, is the most subtle and suasive of languages. Of course, Adam and Eve spoke Farsi when they were alone together, for the Persian Farsi is the loveliest of all languages. And the avenging angel Gabriel always speaks Turki, for that is the most menacing of all languages.

This doesn’t seem to be as stock a template for isocolon as the proper way to address God, women, men, and horses, or the apportioning of administrators, engineers, and cooks in Heaven and Hell, but there’s a partial counterpart in this story from Central Europe:

The Transylvanians have a legend that when God decreed to banish Adam and Eve from Paradise He sent his Hungarian angel Gabriel to drive them out.

See here for the rest of the tale (the next two archangels are Wallachian and German).

Jul 212011

An interesting segment in China’s cosmopolitan empire: the Tang dynasty (Lewis, 2009):

By the ninth century, the Uighurs’ domination of the money-lending profession in Chang’an had become notorious, and these foreigners were universally despised for their arrogance and contempt for Chinese law. In the early decades of the ninth century, as prices steadily rose, many Chinese businessmen and officials fell into debt to the Uighurs and were forced to pledge land, furniture, slaves, and even sacred relics or family heirlooms to their Turkic creditors. When a Uighur murdered a Chinese merchant in broad daylight, he was helped to escape by his chief while the Chinese government stood by helpless. (170)
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