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The decoding of the Robinson Crusoe's route through Russia in 1704

by Pavel Mityushev,
a member of the Russian geographical society of the belles-lettres lovers

full version (in Russian) is here

In the second part of Daniel Defoe's novel "The Further Adventures of Robinson Crusoe" (1719), Robinson makes a trip from China to Europe via Russia. This story is well-known. But to the moment, the considerable part of the geographical items of his trip had not been identified (or had erroneously). In this work the real Crusoe's rout is determined on the basis of the sources and documents.

The method of geographical identification has been proposed. The two main principles of the method are:
a) "Don't look for a cat which not exists". In any fiction book (which "The Further Adventures…" certainly is) some part of toponyms may be wittingly a fiction.
b) "See in the source, not in the land". Daniel Defoe was not himself a traveller and he has never visited Russia. So he could plan the Crusoe's trip by maps only (those he could take).

At first, we verified all toponyms and hydronyms of the Russian part of Crusoe's trip according to the first edition of the novel (W. Taylor, 1719). Because in the later editions, especially after 1801, some distortions in a spelling of a row of toponyms occures. For example, "Veussima" became "Veuslima", "Ozomya" – "Ozomoys" etc.

Than, the Defoe's possible cartographical source was determined. The main historical maps of the Russian North were researched: the map by Siegmund Freiherr von Herberstein (1546), by Antonio Jenkinson (1562), by William Borowgh (1570), by Hessel Gerritsz (1613), by Erik Palmquist (1673), the maps and travelogs by Ysbrants Ides and Adam Brand (1698) - and others. As the result it has been shown that the map by Guillaume de l'Isle (Delisle, Carte de Moscovie, 1706) was the Defoe's source (see ill. 1).

Map by Guillaume de l'Isle

ill. 1. North-East part of European Russia on the map by Guillaume de l'Isle (1706)

The European part of Crusoe's Russian trip was researched first. The toponyms from the Defoe's novel between Solikamsk town and Vychegda river were identified by Delisle's map. The result was the next (see ill. 2):
Kirtza (Defoe) = Kirsa (Delisle),
Veussima (Defoe) = Voysema (Delisle),
Lawrenskoy (Defoe) = Larenscoi (Delisle).

Map by Guillaume de l'Isle

ill. 2. River Vychegda area on the map by Guillaume de l'Isle

Further, it has been shown that the only possible way to get Voysema (on Vychegda river) from Solikamsk in 1704 was the Old Siberian Road (now not existed and signed at Delisle's map not very correctly). The real Crusoe's itinerary in terms of the Delisle's map was the next (see ill. 3):
[Solikamsk] - Iam Usga – Vizinga - Ulpisko Relais – Voysema – Larenscoi - [Vychegda river – North Dvina river – Arkhangelsk town].

Map by Guillaume de l'Isle

ill. 3. Robinson Crusoe's route through Russia (European part) on the map by Guillaume de l'Isle

The last our step was the identification of the names from Delisle's map (actually ancient) – not always sufficient evident. Our research showed that:
Iam Usga = modern Uzhga (Ужга, N60.521, E51.063);
Ulpisko Relais = Il'insko-Podomskoye (Ильинско-Подомское, N61.115, E47.948);
Voysema = Vozhema (Вожема, N62.015, E48.722);
Larenscoi – had placed near modern Urdoma-pier (not Urdoma village), now not exists (N61.786, E48.377). See ill. 4.

Madern map of the Robinson Crusoes trip

ill. 4. Robinson Crusoe's route through Russia (European part) on the modern topographical map

The Siberian part of the Robinson Crusoe's trip was decoded as well (see ill. 5). It has been shown that the mysterious "Plothus" and "Jarawena" (see ill. 6) from the novel (Plathus and Jaravana by Delisle's map) are modern town Chita (Чита, N52.045, E113.456) and village Shiringa (Ширинга, former "Yeravninsky ostrog", N52.230, E112.939) correspondingly. Also, Naun = modern Xixigar (China), Adinskoy = modern Ulan-Ude (Улан-Уде), etc.

Map by Guillaume de l'Isle

ill. 5. Robinson Crusoe's route through Russia (Siberian part) on the map by Guillaume de l'Isle

Map by Gullaume de l'Isle

ill. 6. Robinson Crusoe's route through Russia (east part of Siberia)

In this work the real way of the Robinson Crusoe's trip through Russia in 1703-1704 has been decoded. That is (in modern geographical terms):
Bening (China) – Xixigar (China) – Argun – Nerchinsk – Chita – Shiringa village – Ulan-Ude – Eniseysk – Tobolsk – Solikamsk – Uzhga – Vizinga - Il'insko-Podomskoye – Vozhema (on Vychegda river) - Urdoma-pier – down by Vychegda river - down by North Dvina river – Arkhangelsk – Hamburg (by ship).

May 2010, Moscow

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