Hudud al-'Alam, The Regions of the World
V. Minorsky
 


462   Commentary   §52

§ 52. Burādhās (?).

Chwolson, Izvestiya ... Ibn Dasta, pp. 71-80; Bretschneider, Mediaeval Researches, i, 311 (on Mongol times); I. N. Smirnov, Les Populations finnoises, i/2: les Mordves, traduit par P. Boyer, Paris 1898; A. V. Markov, Russo-Mordvan relations in history (in Russian), Tiflis 1914 (in annex Toumansky's translation of our § 52); Barthold, Burṭās in EI; Finno-Ugorskiy sbornik, ed. by the Academy of the U.S.S.R., 1926. See Map xii.

Although according to Persian phonetics  in  is consistent with an intervocalic position, the first  appears superfluous in view of , in I.R., 140, and Gardīzī, and  in Bakrī. All these spellings point to a special tradition to which also belongs the form  (§ 51) instead of . The usual Arabic transcription of the name is  which is found in Mas'ūdī, Murūj, ii, 14, Iṣṭ., I.Ḥ., as well as in our source (rightly [?] in the chapter on the rivers, § 6, 43., but wrongly in § 51). The form Burṭās is confirmed both by Russian chronicles (under A.D. 1380) and official documents (seventeenth century), as well as by the still extant names of places in the region to the south of the middle course of the Volga. Marquart, Arktische Länder, p. 277, explains Burṭās from old Iranian *mrtāsa "man-eater". [1] On the other hand A. V. Markov confronts the name with the Finnish word meaning bridge (puurdas, pordas, purte, &c., which also is of Iranian origin, cf. Avestan pərətu, Kurdish purd) and Bakrī's alternate spelling Furdās would be in favour of the original form *Purdas if only we could believe in the independent character of Bakrī's form which may be due to a mere misspelling, cf. supra, pp. 458-9.

I. Rusta, 140, places the Burdās between the Khazar and Bulkār at 15 days from the former and at 3 days from the latter and adds that their territory was 17 days by 17 days (ibid., 141). Iṣṭ., 227, reckons 20 days from the Khazar capital to the Burṭās boundary, adding that the Burṭās country was 15 days long. In the description of the Volga Iṣṭ., 222, says that after its bend to the east (read: south-east) it "flows past the Rūs, then Bulghār, then Burṭās". [2] Mas'ūdī, Murūj, ii, 14, in a confused passage speaks of a Burṭās river which from the upper regions flows into the river on which the Khazar capital stands (nahrun fauq al-madīna yaṣibbu ilā nahri-hā min a'ālī-hā yuqālu la-hā Burṭās). This river could be taken either for the upper course of the Volga itself, or the Don (supposing that it was considered as an affluent of the Volga, cf. § 3, 8.), or the Oka, but in the Tanbīh, 62, Mas'ūdī aggravates his statement by saying that "into the Khazar river . . . flows the Burṭās river. The Burṭās are a great nation of Turks [?] living between the lands of Khuwārizm [?] and the Khazar king-
 

1. Already Tomaschek, Kritik d. ältesten Nachrichten über d. skytischen Norden, in Sitzungsb. Wien. Akad., 1889, t. 107, pp. 7-16, suggested an identification of the Herodotian  with the Mordva whose name he compared with the old Persian  commented in Greek as .

2. A rigorous interpretation of this text would indicate that Burṭās lay downstream from Bulghār (both these names in Iṣṭ., 222, stand without article).


§ 52   Buradhas   463

dom and depending on the Khazar. This [?] river is navigated by large vessels (carrying) various merchandise from the Khuwārizm lands and other places. From the Burṭās (country) are exported black foxes which are the best of furs, &c." The passage must be full of confusion. No other authority mentions the Burṭās in the direction of Khwārazm and such a position in the steppes would entirely contradict the possibility of export of furs. As regards the river the text seems to refer simply to the Volga. No waterway [except the Yayq?] could be utilized for trade from Khwārazm to the Khazar country and, judging by Iṣṭ.'s indications, one would think that by some mistake Mas'ūdī has substituted Khuwārizm for *Bulghār. Of all the sources the Ḥ.-'Ā. (§ 52) most positively locates the Burādhās to the west of the Ātil river (§ 6, 43. which simply follows Iṣṭ., 222, is less clear).

The fact that the Pechenegs are mentioned as the northern neighbours of the Burādhās suggests that the Pechenegs occupied some territory on the right bank of the Volga between the Burādhās and Rūs. I.R., 140, Bakrī, 44, and Gardīzī, 96, say only that struggles were going on between the Burṭās and the Pechenegs and, moreover, speak of the Pechenegs as neighbours of the Slavs. [1] On the western neighbours of the Burṭās cf. notes to § 53 and diagram on p. 440.

Generally speaking our chapter on the Burādhās drastically abridges the source used by I. Rusta and Gardīzī and omits many details. The item about the two kings seems to be a misunderstanding. I. Rusta says that the Burdās have no chief (ra'īs) but "in every community of theirs (maḥalla) there is an elder (shaykh), or two (shaykhayn) to whom they have recourse in the matters which happen to them" (ditto in Gardīzī). The religion is described as in I.R. and Gardīzī, and the burning of the dead as in I.R. [2]

Since Frähn's time the Burṭās have been usually identified with the Finnish Mordva who, as long as we have known them, have lived between the Oka and Volga. Their remnants (since 20.xii.1934 organized into an autonomous republic with the centre at Saransk) are still found in the same region. Two tribes compose the Mordva people: the Moksha in the basin of the Moksha river which flows to the Oka from the east and of which the southernmost head-water is still called Burṭās, and the Erz'a in the basin of the Sura which flows to the Volga to the east of the Oka. [3]

Rubruquis who travelled in A.D. 1253 writes, ed. Paris 1839, pp. 251-2:

"Ad aquilonem [from the Don region] sunt silve (sic) maxime quas habitant duo genera hominum: Moxel, scilicet qui sunt sine lege, puri pagani. Civitatem non habent. Habundant apud eos porci, mel et cera, pelles preciose et falcones. Post istos sunt alii qui dicuntur Merdas quos Latini vocant Merdinis et sunt Saraceni. Post istos est Etilia [Volga]."
The des-
 

1. This latter fact, as bearing on the location of the Pechenegs, already attracted Marquart's attention in Komanen, 98.

2. Several tombs of the L'ada mound situated in the Mordva region (on the Saratov-Tambov railway) show traces of cremation of the dead, see I. X. Smirnov, o.c., 249-50.

3. Location rough. The emigration of the Mordva to the east of the Volga dates only from the 17th-18th century.


464   Commentary   § 52

cription proceeds west to east: Moxel stands for Mokša-ley (many Mordvan names are composed with ley "river"). The Merdini (Mordvini) are evidently the eastern Erz'a but the difficult point is the name Merdas which Rubruquis applies to the latter. Is it a deformation of Mordva, or of Burtas? In the latter case the term Merdas ( < Burtas?) would be applied to a region outside the basin to which the river presently called Burtas belongs. It is more probable that Merdas is meant to be a form of Mordva, which name down to the sixteenth century referred only to the Erz'a. Markov to whom we owe this latter remark says in conclusion, o.c., 19, that the names Burtas (tenth century), Meščera (eleventh century), and Moxel (thirteenth century) equally refer to the eastern-Finnish ancestors [1] of the present-day Moksha occupying the Moksha basin (inclusive of the rivers Tsna and Burṭās). [The mention of the Meščera is doubtful.]

The identification Burtas = Mordva (or better Moksha) still meets with some opposition. I. N. Smirnov, o.c., 271, gave expression to the following views: "i. que les Burtas sont un peuple différent des Mordves; 2. que jusqu'au Xe siècle au moins ils ont occupé la rive gauche de la Volga; 3. qu'au XVIe siècle ils occupent la rive droite de ce même fleuve, tout près des Mordves." He thinks then, ibid., 270, that "les Burṭās seraient des Tchouvaches ou du moins de très proches parents des Tchouvaches". This theory, so far as Arabic sources go, attaches too much importance to the passage from the Tanbīh (v.s.), and on the other hand forgets that according to Iṣṭ., 225, the language of the Bulghār (of which Chuvash is at present considered to be a survival) was different from that of the Burṭās. However, even lately Prof. M. Vasmer kindly wrote to me (Berlin, 7.xi.32) that the Burṭās must be distinguished from the Mordva, and that, judging by the toponymy of the Volga region, they formerly lived to the north of the Mordva. He finally adds that such was also the view of the late Prof. A. A. Shakhmatov ("ich hatte den Eindruck, dass auch er bereit war, die Burtas von den Mordven zu trennen"). I must confess that I do not quite see the point of the argument about the toponymy, for the Burtas river flowing into the Tsna is the southernmost source of the Moksha river; of the other names quoted in Smirnov, o.c., 266-70, the Burtas of Kadom and the village of Burtas of Krasnoslobodsk both belong to the Moksha basin. Therefore, as regards the tenth-century Burṭās, [2] I think that their identity with the Moksha is to be retained. The Arab sources may reflect a temporary supremacy of that particular clan, or it may be that the latter first came under the notice of Muslim travellers. It is only natural that the numerous and sturdy Mordva people (even now, after long series of invasions and struggles, counting over 1 million representatives) could not fail to be mentioned by the Arabs. The details on the forests (I.R., 140;
 

1. And as a corollary the identification of Iṣṭṭ.'s  (v.s., §44, 3.) with Erz'a would become impossible.

2. In later times (after the 13th century) there may have been some movements of the population obscuring the situation. In the seventeenth century some "Burtas" are called "Tatar", i.e. Muslims (?), cf. Smirnov, o.c., 266.


§§ 52-3   Buradhas   465

wa hum fī mashājir), [1] the honey, and the Burṭāsī furs suit the Mordva quite well. The travellers like Rubruquis and Herberstein quite particularly insist on these details. [2] The freedom enjoyed by the Burṭās women (I.R. and Gardīzī) in the choice of their lovers can be traced down to recent times in the habits of the Mordva, cf. Smirnov, o.c., 337, who speaks of the "liberté des moeurs des garçons et des filles".
 

1. The kh.l.nj (kh.l.ng) trees abounding in the Burṭās forests, I.R., 141, have been compared by Chwolson with Mordvan kileng "birch" (the Chuvash form for "birch" khorin does not resemble the Arabic word).

2. The only puzzling detail is that according to I.R. the Burṭās possessed camels and cows.
 

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