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Anthony Jenkinson’s Explorations on the Land Route to China

Anthony Jenkinson’s Explorations on the Land Route to China

Working with the historian Dan Waugh at the University of Washington, Lance Jenott prepared a fine online presentation on Anthony Jenkinson’s 16th century travels to Central Asia. Included on the site are passages from Jenkinson’s text that describe Central Asian falconry. Jenott wrote a nice primer on the British traveller, and I believe it’s better to quote it than try to improve it:

[The Muscovy Company] dispatched its factor Anthony Jenkinson to Moscow with instructions to seek passage through the tsar’s domain in order to explore routes to Central Asia, Persia, and ultimately China. The political situation in Russia was particularly accommodating to this mission, because the tsar had recently extended the boundaries of Russia to the east (at the expense of the Tartar khanates) as far as the north shore of the Caspian Sea.

After being granted a license to travel, as well as receiving letters from the tsar addressed to foreign kings asking for his safe-conduct, Jenkinson, a Tartar interpreter, and two other company employees, Richard and Robert Johnson, departed Moscow eastward in April 1558. In Astrakhan they joined a group of local merchants, sailed across the Caspian and from thence traveled east overland with the ultimate goal of reaching China. By December they had reached the famous Central Asian city of Bukhara, but were forced to turn back after learning that the routes beyond had been ravished by war. The explorers returned to Moscow in September 1559.

Upon his return, Jenkinson sent a report of his travels to his employers in England, and in this report he mentions the spectacular Tartar tradition of hunting wild horses with eagles. Jenkinson’s claims were repeated often in later centuries, but were never to be corroborated. Travel through Central Asia remained difficult, and if any Western travellers again witnessed hawking on horses, they kept it out of print. The relevant passages appears in a section describing the nomadic life of the Tartars encountered by Jenkinson:

There are many wild horses which the Tartars do many times kill with their hawks, and that in this order.

The hawks are lured to seize upon the beasts’ necks or heads, which with chasing of themselves and sore beating of the hawks are tired: then the hunter following his game doeth slay the horse with his arrow or sword. In all this land there groweth no grass, but a certain brush or heath, whereon the cattle feeding become very fat. The Tartars never ride without their bow, arrows, and sword, although it be on hawking, or on any other pleasure, and they are good archers both on horse back, and on foot also.