Lascaris Cananus: Updated

By: | Post date: 2009-09-18 | Comments: 2 Comments
Posted in categories: Linguistics, Mediaeval Greek
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Well, I now have both the Lundström and the Blomqvist editions of Lascaris Cananus next to me, so I can update my preceding post on him.

Thanks to your intrepid correspondent, the 1902 edition, Lundström, Vilhelm (ed.) 1902. Laskaris Kananos. Reseanteckningar från de nordiska länderna. Upsala; Leipzig: Lundequist (Smärre Byzantinska skrifter; 1)—is now online at

The 2002 edition—Jerker Blomqvist 2002. The Geography of the Baltic in Greek Eyes. In Amdem, Bettina et al. (eds), Noctes Atticae: 34 articles on Graeco-Roman antiquity and its Nachleben. Copenhagen: Museum Tusculanum. 36-51—is on Google Books, which skips a couple of pages:

The text appears in a scrapbook kept by Gemistos Plethon on the geography of the north. The early Scandinavian scholars took Kananos at face value, flattered that a Greek bothered to talk about their countries, and pardoned his occasional exaggerations—no, the day in Bergen is not a month long, Bergen ain’t Finmark; and yes, they had money in Bergen by 1439.

A hundred years on, people are more sceptical; or at least, Blomqvist is. He finds that Cananus manages to simultaneously place Norway at the western extreme of the Baltic Sea, and East of Lithuania. He concludes Cananus did not go to Scandinavia; instead, he pieced together his account from contemporary mariners—presumably Italian, given the flavour of the place names; and Ptolemy. Mediterranean sailors had been monopolised out of the Baltic by the Hansa, so their information on the Baltic was sketchy—they all thought the Baltic was sausage-shaped. But their knowledge was still better than Ptolemy, who had first called it the Wenedic sea—and who thought Scandinavia was some island vaguely around Poland.

Cananus *may* have gone to Iceland, although Lundström notes his description of Iceland is a lot like that of mediaeval Englishmen:

Cananus: And I saw men strong and sturdy; and their food was fish, and their bread was fish, and their drink was water.
Eulogium Hist. IV 105: Whence the whole island lives in common off fish, the hunt, and meat for the most part. … That people is quite thick-set, robust, and quite pale, dedicated to fishing and the hunt.
Ranulph. Higden. Polychr. I. 31: Iceland … has a people that is taciturn, truthful, covered in furs, and given over to fishing.

The date of 1438–1439 comes from how Cananus describes the administration of Livonia: the central administration of the Teutonic Knights had briefly taken over the running of Riga. Blomqvist is not sure Cananus knew the difference between “under the control of the Duke of the Grand Master of the white robes and black cross”, and “under the control of the Duke, of the Grand Master of the white robes and black cross”—i.e. whether the Duke is the Grand Master, or the Grand Master’s deputy.

The bit in Cananus that Greeks as opposed to Scandinavians care about is the association of Lübeck with the Zygiotai. Since we can now second guess Cananus, I go back to Jakob’s remark that 1400 is a bit late for Lübeck to be Slavic speaking, and I’ll also note that there’s a country missing in Cananus’ list: it wasn’t on the Baltic back then, but we can no longer trust Cananus realised that. Lübeck is supposed to be the capital of Sthavonia (which is how the manuscript spells it), and noone disagrees that he means Sthlavonia, “Slavic Country”. I think Cananus thought Lübeck was in Poland.

To finish with Cananus’ geographical missteps, this is a map of Europe in 1400 according to Christos Nüssli’s exceedingly cool Euratlas Historical Map of Europe:

Wikipedia’s article on the Hansa has this map of our region—which is Hansa territory—from the same time:

The next map, courtesy of my Mad Graphix Skillz, is not a rigorous reconstruction of Cananus’ Europe at all; and I certainly wasn’t checking with the more correct Nüssli. But it will serve to prove the point that Cananus wasn’t talking about quite the same Baltic that Nüssli is:

Back to language stuff. The text has snippets of the vernacular: ἔφτασα (spelled in the ms. εὔτασα), for Ancient ἔφθασα “I arrived”, ὑπάρχουν for ὑπάρχουσι “there exist”, ἑξῆντα for ἑξήκοντα “sixty”. Messy spelling, although that’s pretty usual whenever there are snippets of the vernacular. Lundström argues that Lascaris Cananus must be the historian John Cananus, because the historian excused himself for his crap Greek. But everyone those days excused themselves for their crap Greek, so it proves little.

OK, revised translation, based on Blomqvist’s edition, and revised table of place names.

I, arriving much land of Europe (sic), and I have “walked” around its whole coast, from the Hyperborean Ocean. Here there is a very large gulf, called in Classical Greek Wenedic; its perimeter is 4000 miles, and its diameter from the northernmost cape of the so-called Cape of Norway, down to its corner in the district of Prussia, is 2000 Italian miles, which have 1000 fathoms per mile; in our [measurement], with 750 fathoms in the mile, it is 2250 miles. And it is surrounded, from its east and west side, [by six districts?]

“Wenedic” is Ptolemy. 2000 Roman miles is 2960 km. 2250 Greek miles is 2993.6 km. “By six districts” is Lambros’ emendation; Lundström also suggests “these districts”, or even “three districts on either side”.

And first of all, going from the east, and in its northernmost parts is the district of Norway, which also has a presiding city called Bergen Vågen. In that city engraved [currency] is not in circulation, neither gold nor silver nor copper nor iron. They exchange with merchandise, both buyers and sellers. Moreover in that city the day is a month long; from the 24th of the month of June until the 25th of July, the whole is daytime, and there is no night at all.

The German and Russian translators were thrown by ἀλλὰ ζοῦν “but they live”, and assumed it was instead a participle, referring to living merchandise—”barter in livestock”. But Lundström already knew this was an indicative, and Blomqvist emends it to ἀλλάζουν “they exchange”.

This is where Norway gets to be East of Sweden and Estonia, and Lundström hopes that Cananus meant to write “West” instead.

After that district is the district of Sweden, which also has a presiding city Stockholm. In that city they mint engraved [currency] which is adulterated silver. These two districts are ruled by the king of Denmark.

Under the Kalmar Union.

After Sweden comes the district of Livonia. And this district has a presiding city which is called Riga, and the town of Revel. These [cities] are ruled by the archbishop, in both secular and spiritual [matters]. And the district is ruled by the Duke [of] the Grand Master of the white clothes and the black cross.

καὶ χώρα Ῥήβουλε “and the town of Revel” had been misread as καὶ ἑτέρα Ῥήβουλε “and another one [called] Revel”.

The white clothes and black cross, as linked last time, are the uniform of the Teutonic Knights.

After that district and in the corner of the gulf is the district of Prussia. And it has a presiding city called Danzig.

After that is the district of Slavonia, which has a presiding city called Lübeck. From this district come the Zygiotai in the Peloponnese, since there are many villages there, which speak the language of the Zygiotai.

The manuscript has <Sthabunía>, and Lundström momentarily wonders whether this is meant to be <Esthonia>; but Livonia already includes Estonia.

After that district is the district of Denmark, which has a city called Copenhagen. That [city] is also the kingdom [seat] of the king of Denmark.

These are the six districts around the gulf.

I also arrived at the island of the Fish-Eaters, which is commonly called Iceland; but according to the wise Ptolemy, it seems to me, it is Thule. There I found the a day six months long, from the beginning of spring until the turn of autumn. For I passed from England1 to that island, and the sailing was 1000 miles; and I [erred] there for 24 days, and I saw men strong and sturdy; and their food was fish, and their bread was fish, and their drink was water.

ἐπλημέλησα “err” is a scribal error, and Blomqvist is reluctant to emended it as ἐπλήρωσα “I fulfilled, I spent”.

Then I turned back to England2.

And the mileage from the aforementioned city of Bergen Vågen to Sluis in south Flanders in a straight line is 3500 miles; and from Sluis to the Sacred Promontory in Portugal is 2164 miles. Namely, all together 5664 miles, without setting into harbours.

Both Lundström and Blomqvist think that 2064 in the manuscript is an error for 2164, because the text has ἑ- ξιντα, which could involve an eye skipping over ἑκατὸν ἑξῆντα.

And the revised place names:












Ptolemy: Venedic


Norbegías, Norbégias


Both genitives are consistent with a nominative <Norbégia> whose accentuation is Italian




Modern form *may* be analogy from Rōsía for Russia




Modern Greek has gone full /ˈ(m)ber(n)ɡen/ rather than just /ˈmberɣen/



Modern Greek has gone full /ˈ(m)ber(n)ɡen/ rather than just /ˈmberɣen/




Latin Suecia, Italian Svezia; again, recessive accentuation consistent with Italian




Italian Stocolma. Modern form preserves /k.h/, and makes it declinable.




Vasiljev speculates this is via Slavic, and may indicate Cananus went to Denmark via Novgorod. But Datia shows up elsewhere, e.g. a 1459 Italian map.




Inphlántē in Chalcocondyles, via Polish Inflanty. Livonia included modern Latvia and Estonia. Lundström had emended it to <Libonía>.






Now Tallinn; Revel was the name of the city since the Danish conquest of 1219. Latvian Rehwele, and Lundström thinks Kananos heard /w/ as /v/.




At the time, German -ig was not yet [iç].




(Cf. Slobenía “Slovenia”)

Assuming Sthabunía is an error for Sthlabunía, this uses the characteristically Byzantine epenthesis of /θ/ in /s.l/ (with which I derailed a comment thread at the Magnificent Nikos Sarantakos’ blog)




Middle German Lubek, Lubeke, Mediaeval Latin Lupeca, Lubicca. Again Modern Greek embraces /(m)b/ in transliteration, Byzantine doesn’t.




Danish København: Lundström quotes the original Köben(de)haffn, and attributes <Kupanábē> to a Nordic Köbanhavn, with <-e(n)> for vocalic /n/. Modern Greek and English from Low German (those Hansa people).




Modern Greek here has affixed the suffix -ia; ditto Greenland Groilandía, Holland Ollandía. However more recent -lands have been left as -landē (now with a delta, natch): Tailándē, Kuinslándē.




The English are Inglínoi in Chalcocondyles, but <ē> and <i> are both /i/. Googling hints that Inglini was in use in Latin as well.




Italian Inghilterra




Klózioi in Chalcocondyles, French l’Ecluse from Latin exclusa “gateway”



Phlamandía, Phlándra

The first Modern form is modelled on French Flamand “Fleming”, the second of French Flandre “Flanders”. Phlamandia seems to be locally modelled on the ethnic Phlamandos, and the only parallel I can find googling is Polish Flamandia. Lundström had emended < Philantría> to <Philantría> <Phlantría>, which is naughty.


Pórte Gále


<Portugallía> in Chalcocondyles.


  • opoudjis says:

    You've mentioned -lant- now for me, for which my thanks!

    That's a second patterning together of Greek of Polish, after their common derivation of Flamandia.

    What's going on with Lundström is that I'm dyslexic in my dotage; damn my slovenly brain. Lundström had emended Filandria to Flandria—and tidied up the country names in general.

  • Language says:

    Great stuff. I still think you should mention German Livland as the only explanation for the -lant- in Greek and Polish, though. And what's going on with "Lundström had emended <Philantría> to <Philantría>"?

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