Johannes Schiltberger

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    Johannes, Johann, Hannes oder Hans Schiltberger is an interesting character, a Bavarian who was captured by Sultans Bayezid I in the crusade of Nicopolis at the age of about 16, then captured and recruited by Timur after the battle of Ankara in 1402, then fought for the Timurids after the Auspicious Amir died on the way to China in 1405, then fought for the Golden Horde, and eventually escaped in 1426 and returned to Christendom in 1427 where he wrote a memoir If you can handle Fraktur an old edition is at


    An English translation from 1879 by Commander J. Buchan Telfer, R.N., and Professor P. Bruun, Imperial University of South Russia (Odessa) is on Project Gutenberg at

    Hans Hellinger

    Oh neat, fascinating!

    This actually (almost) coincides with another really interesting incident where the Genoese organized a Crusade against the Golden Horde which went from 1397-99 (a successful experiment until ended by Tamrlane)

    Hans Hellinger

    Just reading the story now. Incredible tale. This begs to be a screenplay or at least a historical novel. Here is an auto-translate for those like me with limited German:

    “Johannes Schiltberger

    Johannes Schiltberger (* September (?) 1380 in Freising (or Munich); † after 1427; sometimes Johann, Hannes or Hans Schiltberger) was a participant in the Nicopolis crusade from the area around Aichach. He spent six years in Ottoman captivity, served after the Battle of Ankara until 1405 under Timur and until around 1417 under his successors in the army. He spent the years from 1417 to 1422 in the area of ​​the Golden Horde and also reached areas east of the Urals and the Caucasus. In 1426 he managed to escape and returned to Bavaria in 1427. He wrote down his experiences after his return from more than thirty years of imprisonment.

    He is sometimes referred to as the “German Marco Polo”. His report was printed several times after his death, the date of which has not been recorded, and was widespread in the late 15th and 16th centuries. It contains numerous cultural observations that were of great importance for the regions visited and the Central European perception of non-European areas.

    Schiltberger possibly came from a Bavarian noble family that can be traced back to the 11th century, that of the Marschalken von Schiltberg. [1] The ancestral castle was razed around 1450 after being destroyed in 1422. The branch of Johannes’ family had already settled in Munich at the time of his birth. As a presumably second or third born, he could not count on a rich inheritance, so that he hired himself out as a squire of Mr. Leonhard Reichartinger. [2]

    At the age of 15, Schiltberger went to war against the Ottomans as a squire in Reichartinger’s entourage from Munich. In the battle of Nikopolis, which the Christian army lost under the Hungarian King Sigismund on September 28, 1396, Schiltberger was captured by the Ottomans. Reichartinger was killed. The following year Schiltberger took part in the campaigns of Sultan Bayezids I, first as a foot soldier and later as a cavalryman.

    In the Battle of Ankara in 1402, Schiltberger and Sultan Bayezid were taken prisoner by the Mongols. He remained in Timur Lenk’s entourage until 1405, after Timur’s death he was handed over to his son Shah-Ruch, and later to his brother Miran Shah. After he had served Abu Bakr, the son of Miran Shah and grandson of Timur, he probably gave him in 1417 to the Kyptschak prince Čegre, who was briefly khan of the Golden Horde.

    After his death, Schiltberger belonged to the retinue of Prince Muhammad, but in 1426 he fled to Constantinople. From there he returned to his Bavarian homeland in 1427, where he served a neighbor, the later Duke Albrecht III, as a servant or chamberlain and commander of the bodyguard, as Johannes Aventinus reports. [3] When the Duke ascended the throne in Munich in 1438, Schiltberger stayed on his estate, where he probably died at an unknown time.

    According to the information in his travel report, Schiltberger has seen all the countries around the Black Sea, Egypt, Baghdad and Persia, the area from Herat to Delhi, Samarqand, Siberia and Constantinople. He wrote down his experiences in an autobiographical report. It appeared in print around 1473.
    Schiltberger’s report

    Schiltberger’s account is not written as a continuous story of his life or his imprisonment. Instead, he repeatedly inserts extensive descriptions that occasionally take on a downright ethnological character. He chose the names of the countries and cities he visited after “the language of the lant”, that is, according to local customs. Nevertheless, he did not hesitate to copy from other authors, such as Jehan de Mandeville. [4] He by no means hides this, but reports, for example, that he did not visit the St. Catherine’s Monastery on the Sinai Peninsula, but had to fall back on other witnesses.

    At the beginning of his 67 chapters, Johannes Schiltberger tells, in three chapters, about the departure of the crusaders, who were under the leadership of the Hungarian King and later Emperor Sigmund. The crusader army drove down the Danube to Bulgaria. When the battle with the Turks broke out, Schiltberger saved his master’s life. The following is a description of the defeat in the Battle of Nicopolis, in which Reichartinger was killed and Schiltberger was taken prisoner. The advance of the French warriors under Johann Ohnefurcht, the son of the Duke of Burgundy, had led to defeat. [2] The victorious Sultan Bayezid, who allegedly led 200,000 men, had all prisoners brought before them on ropes and ordered their execution after discovering that the Christians had previously executed several hundred Turkish prisoners. [2] The Turks who refused to kill their prisoners were replaced by others.

    Schiltberger, struggling with death through three wounds, was saved by the sultan’s son, who brought him to the younger prisoners, because none of the prisoners under twenty were to be executed. He himself writes that he was “barely sixteen years old” at the time. The sultan reportedly had ten thousand beheaded, the rest were taken prisoner. Schiltberger came to Adrianople, of which he reports – as is so often exaggerated – that it had 50,000 houses (ed. Neumann, p. 93). From there it went to Gallipoli (“kalipoli”) 15 days later. There, 300 prisoners were led on ropes into a tower (56), where the young prisoners stayed for a total of two months. When King Sigmund, who feared treachery and therefore shied away from the route through Wallachia (which Schiltberger hides), drove past there, they were brought before him. Johann Ohnefurcht was also among them, but he was ransomed.

    Schiltberger was assigned to the prisoners of the Sultan, whom he referred to as “King” (54–56). From there he moved to the capital Bursa (“wursa”, allegedly 200,000 houses, 94), where he fell ill due to his three wounds. As a result, it was not given away to a Hungarian follower, nor to the “King of Babilonia” – he calls it “wahdat” (Baghdad) -, to Tartary or to Greater Armenia, as happened to others.

    Instead, he initially served as the sultan’s footstep, whose campaigns Schiltberger describes in Chapters 4 to 14. He largely changes perspective and rarely reports in first person. He later received a horse and served another six years in the cavalry (here Schiltberger’s memory is apparently imprecise, as he doubles the period from six to twelve years). He then describes the conquest of Konya.

    At a time that cannot be precisely determined, 60 Christians from Bursa came together, as Schiltberger explains in Chapter 6, swore among themselves and chose two captains to attempt an escape. But they put 500 mounted men in a Klus (61-63), where a Turkish captain swore to them that he would save their lives if they surrender without a fight. They agreed. When the prisoners were brought before the Sultan, who was about to have them executed, the captain’s kneeling convince him that they had not harmed anyone. Instead of being executed, they were subjected to harsh captivity in which 12 men died. Once again, the Sultan’s eldest son, Emir Suleyman, managed to get the prisoners released. He made them swear allegiance, provided them with horses again and even increased their wages (ed. Neumann, 61–63).

    Now Schiltberger moved to Kayseri with Süleyman, Bayezid’s eldest son, but instead of Süleyman his brother Mehmed became master of the city (1399-?). Schiltberger was soon one of 20,000 auxiliary troops for the Mamluken Sultan ruling Egypt, who used them against insurgents. He then returned to Bayezid’s forces from Egypt. This now occupied Damascus, which was subject to Timur, then Sebast.

    Timur had conquered this city after 21 days of siege with allegedly one million men (“tens of a hundred dozen”), promising not to shed anyone’s blood, as Schiltberger reports. Instead, he had the defenders buried alive and captured the rest.

    Bayezid conquered Armenia back, whereupon Timur moved with “six hundred tusent mannen” against Bayezid, who faced him on July 20, 1402 with “two hundred thousand tusent mannen” near Ankara. The Ottoman army was defeated, Bayezid tried to flee with a thousand horsemen, but was taken prisoner.

    Schiltberger was also captured – here he is writing again in first-person form for the first time – and reports in chapters 15 to 21 of the campaigns and internal disputes in the kingdom of Timur. This and “XII Hundred Tusent Man” marched against Aleppo (400,000 houses) and stormed the city. From there it went with a million against “Babylon” (Baghdad), but Timur withdrew because of the excessive heat. Soon they went to India, where Timur had horses and camels tied on boards to lower them from high mountains into the valley. Timur faced an Indian king with 400 war elephants, on whose back there were towers with at least 10 men each (77). Timur had the elephants driven away by loading 20,000 camels with wood and setting it on fire. The Indian king had to pay tribute and provide 30,000 auxiliary troops who marched against Isfahan.

    After the conquest, the Isfahans betrayed Timur and cut down his 6,000-man crew. Timur returned and demanded the extradition of 12,000 archers. He had their thumbs cut off and sent them back. In addition, he had 7,000 children of his riders, who initially refused to ride down and burn the city down.

    After 12 years of absence, Timur returned to Samarkand, his capital. According to Schiltberger, he died there for several reasons. On the one hand because he fell ill during his last war in China, then because the youngest of his three wives had betrayed him and he had her beheaded, and finally because he had been betrayed by the tribute collectors. Schiltberger was with Timur from July 20, 1402 to February 17, 1405, i.e. until his death.

    Timur left two sons, “Shah Roch” and Miran Shah, the first received Samarkand, the second Persia – his capital became Herat. Schiltberger came to Shāh Ruch, in his country Khorasan. Shah Ruch occupied Armenia and handed it over to his brother and 20,000 men, including Schiltberger. “Here the Schiltberger stayed by des tümerlins sun miraschach.” (84).

    A year later, Miran suffered a defeat in the battle of Nagorno-Karabakh and was executed. Schiltberger came to live with Miran Shah’s son Abu Bekr for four years (approx. 1406–1410?).

    At his court there was a prince from the realm of the Golden Horde (“uss der great Tartariums”) (86) who wanted to inherit. He asked Abu Bekr to leave and took 600 horses with him. Schiltberger was there. They went through “silk country”, through Georgia, through another country where silk grew, then through Shirvan, which supplied kaffa cloths that were refined there. “The syden are also brought to Venice and Luckcha, because the good samat are served.” From there they moved through Schubram, then Derbent (on the border between “Persia” and “Tartaria”), then to Astrakhan, in the middle of the Volga (Edil) lay – then to the Volga Bulgarians. Their Christian priests led “kürchen with Latin and singing and reading ir prayer in tarterscher sprach” – Schiltberger suspects, so that the people were more faithful because the sermon was in their mother tongue.

    Now Schiltberger came to “Ebegu” (Edigü, approx. 1395-1418 one of the most powerful men in the area of ​​the Golden Horde), who offered to help the prince to the throne. Ebegu and Prince “Zeggrai” first moved to Siberia – Schiltberger’s mention of this name is the first ever – for two months: “There is a pirg in that country that is two and thirty days long. The people themselves warn that there is a desert at the end of the pirg … And in the same desert no one must have any knowledge of worms and animals. … The steeds are the size of the donkeys …. There are also dogs in the benant country who pull in carts and in sleighs. ”Schiltberger says they are clothed and big as donkeys. “And in that country she eats the dog.” Possibly they were Christian Ugrians, possibly Chanten or Mansi that Schiltberger met. “I’ve seen all of this and have been darby by the aforementioned king sun zeggrai”, Schiltberger emphasized his eyewitness (90).

    “Then the edigi and min lord of the zeggra came and sold the kunig. And Edigi makes mine gentlemen too expensive when he promised in Hett. The what will come in the next five months. ”(1412-13?). So Cegre became Khan of the Golden Horde for nine months after Edigi brought him to the throne. But Schiltberger’s new master was driven out by a “machmet” and fled to Descht-i-Kipchak (= “steppe of the hollow tree”), between Terek and the west bank of the Caspian Sea, which Schiltberger calls the “White Sea”. In further arguments, Schiltberger’s master was killed.

    Schiltberger reports how during his presence at the court of Cegres a woman named “saturmelikh” came to the court accompanied by 4,000 armed women (91f.). She asked for satisfaction for the killing of her husband by a Tatar. The perpetrator was a prisoner and had to kneel in front of her. Before Schiltberger’s eyes she drew a sword and beheaded him. Then she left the courtyard.

    On his trip, Schiltberger saw not only sled dogs, but also camels and giraffes in India (“It’s called Zunasa, it’s like a millet, when it’s a tall animal and has a long neck, it’s four or less long or longer. And it’s in front hoch füß und hinden kurtz ”). From Tartarei he reports that millet is eaten there, no bread and no wine, but horse and camel milk. But meat “salty first and then it s sy nit hurt, if it sausages from the worm of the horse back and sausages under the saddle of the horse, when the juice is compete with it. You do that when you don’t have to prepare the spis. It is also customary when you go up early in the morning, so you bring it soberly in the raw milk in a guldin bowl. ”(105) So the Tartars preserved their meat by placing it under the saddle and thereby squeezing it out. In addition, the rulers were given horse milk in golden bowls, which they drank soberly.

    He reports from Kaffa that the city had two curtain walls and consisted of 17,000 houses.

    From “starchus” (Circassia) he reports that “bas lüt lived there, when they advertised ire aigne kinder den haiden and stelae others say ire child and Verkoffens, and are also raw on the streets and have a special habit. You are also used to when the weather is bad, so put them in a chest, and put them on a high bomb in there. Dorunder then kills the people in the area and brings ir food and ir drink with them to under the bomb. They dance and have a great joy in dörwider. They sting ox and lember and give for big sake. They do it dry day after day and when jars zit come and die wil still die on the bomb. So they come back and do what they have done until the dead does it. They do it there when they menent, he sy heillig, dorumb that defeated them in the weather. ”In those places where it comes to describing unknown customs, Schiltberger is occasionally quite precise, especially when compared with the laconic language of earlier times Traveller. Presumably he was referring to the elaborate funeral rituals for someone who had been struck by lightning.

    He considered Cairo to be particularly large, because he assumed there were 144,000 houses there, but, as he correctly stated, only slaves, called Mamelukes, could become sultans. In fact, the Mamluk military slaves, who also served in other Islamic states, had ruled Egypt since 1250.

    He describes Constantinople in great detail as a city with a wall that shows “five toe hundred ture”. He writes: “Constantinople is called the crawling istimboli. But the Türcken hot stampol. ”He was particularly impressed by Hagia Sophia (137) and the memory of the siege of Constantinople, which began in 1394 and lasted seven years.

    He reports of the Armenians that they are “tütschen gar nice” (very fond of the Germans) and that they called the Germans “nymitsch”. Schiltberger distinguished between the three kingdoms “Tifflis”, “syos” (Sis) and “erfigau” (Lesser Armenia).

    After the end of Cegres, Schiltberger came to “Manstzuch”, a former advisor (“rauts herr”) to the dead (157). His new master fled to Circassia, where Schiltberger stayed for half a year. From there he moved to “magrill” (Mingrelia) in western Georgia.

    There Schiltberger made an appointment with four other Christians to dare to flee, as he reports in Chapter 30. After several days they saw a “kocken”, a Genoese merchant who took them away. But three days later they were ambushed by Turkish pirates, whom they escaped after an adventurous escape to Constantinople.

    After staying in Constantinople for several months, the Byzantine Emperor had them brought to the Danube Delta, to a castle called Kilia, from where Schiltberger traveled westwards via Akkerman in Wallachia. In Lemberg (“Limburgh”) he was ill for three months. Finally, after 32 years of absence, he finally reached his native Freising via Eger and Regensburg as well as Landshut, “because I am after porn”.

    This is followed by the Armenian and Turkish Our Father in the description.

    The report is structured in such a way that the captivity is described in the first 30 chapters, followed by a retrospective description of the places he visited in chapters 32 to 38. Egypt follows up to chapter 40


    The memoir has a very film-friendly opening with Schiltberger captured after Nicopolis and the Turks separating him from the others and then starting to kill all the men over the age of 20. He was almost 16.

    Hans Hellinger

    Definitely high drama, and a fascinating look inside the Submlime Porte, not to mention the court of Tamerlane!

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