1558 - Anthony Jenkinson
The 14. day of Iuly passing by an old castle, which was Old Astracan, and leauing it vpon our right hand, we arriued at New Astracan, which this Emperour of Russia conquered sixe yeeres past, in the yeere 1552. It is from the Mosco vnto Astracan sixe hundred leagues, or thereabout. The towne of Astracan is situated in an Island vpon a hill side, hauing a castle within the same, wailed about with earth and timber, neither faire nor strong: The towne is also walled about with earth; the buildings and houses (except it be the captaines lodging, and certaine other gentlemens) most base and simple. The island is most destitute and barren of wood and pasture, and the ground will beare no corne: the aire is there most infected, by reason (as I suppose) of much fish, and specially sturgion, by which onely the inhabitants liue, hauing great scarsitie of flesh and bread. They hang vp their fish in their streets and houses to dry for their prouision, which causeth such abundance of flies to increase there, as the like was neuer seene in any land, to their great plague. And at my being at the sayd Astracan, there was a great famine and plague among the people, and specially among the Tartars called Nagayans, who the same time came thither in great numbers to render themselues to the Russes their enemies, and to seeke succour at their hands, their countrey being destroyed, as I said before: but they were but ill entertained or relieued, for there died a great number of them for hunger, which lay all the Island through in heapes dead and like to beasts vnburied, very pitifull to behold: many of them were also sold by the Russes, and the rest were banished from the Island. At that time it had bene an easie thing to haue conuerted that wicked Nation to the Christian faith, if the Russes themselues had bene good Christians: but how should they shew compassion vnto other Nations, when they are not mercifull vnto their owne? At my being there I could haue bought many goodly Tartars children, if I would haue had a thousand, of their owne fathers and mothers, to say a boy or a wench for a loafe of bread woorth sixe pence in England, but we had more need of victuals at that time then of any such merchandise. This Astracan is the furthest hold that that this Emperour of Russia has conquered of the Tartars towards the Caspian sea, which he keepeth very strong, sending thither euery yere prouision of men and victuals, and timber to build the castle.
There is a certaine trade of merchandise there vsed, but as yet so small and beggerly, that it is not woorth the making mention, and yet there come merchants thither from diuers places. The chiefest commodities that the Russes bring thither are redde hides, redde sheepes skinnes, woodden vessels, bridles, and saddles, kniues, and other trifles, with corne, bacon, and other victuals. The Tartars bring thither diuers kindes of wares made of cotten wooll, with diuers kindes of wrought silkes: and they that come out of Persia, namely from Shamacki doe bring sowing silke, which is the coursest that they vse in Russeland, Crasco, diuers kinds of pide silkes for girdles, shirts of male, bowes, swords, and such like things: and some yeeres corne, and wallnuts, but all such things in such small quantitie, the merchants being so beggerly and poore that bring the same, that it is not worth the writing, neither is there any hope of trade in all those parts woorth the folowing.
The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation
2nd edition, London 1598-1600