Russia: Tsarist and Communist

By Anatole G. Mazour | Go to book overview

22
Development of the Sciences in Russia

EARLY TRAVELERS

UNTIL THE reign of Peter I science was little pursued in Russia. Even alchemy and astrology, the pseudosciences of medieval Europe, were hardly known. A few individuals, at the invitation of the Moscow government carried on minor research in the fields of chemistry and botany, but these were rare cases that left no detectable trace upon scientific advances in the country as a whole.

To this general statement there is one exception--the national scientific curiosity prior to Peter I in the field of geographic exploration. A keen and early-awakened interest in the world beyond the seas brought an advance of geographic knowledge and called for the development of cartography. In 1466, for illustration, a merchant by the name of Afanasii Nikitin set out upon a 'sinful voyage beyond three seas, the first being the Sea of Derbent, or Sea of Khwalis [Caspian], the second the Indian Sea, or Sea of Hindustan [Indian Ocean], and the third the Black Sea, or Sea of Stambul'. After spending nearly three years in India, Nikitin returned to his native town of Tver to write an account for posterity almost five centuries ago.

Other more notable travelogues go back to the sixteenth century, accounts of journeys which were to arouse the curiosity of others and stimulate ever wider exploration of eastern areas, thereby extending geographic knowledge. These explorations throughout the seventeenth century gradually opened up the entire north and northeastern areas of Siberia. Individual adventurers managed to cover incredibly vast areas, wandering from the Urals eastward and gradually reaching as far as the Sea of Okhotsk and the Pacific Ocean. Among these early explorers the figure of Semion I. Dezhnev ( 1605-1673) stands out, a man who covered the extensive distance from Tobolsk to Yakutsk and from there sailed along the Indigirka to the Arctic. Thence he proceded to Kolyma and the Anadyr River. In the course of his wanderings Dezhnev uncovered much that had been unknown: he was the first to learn that Asia and America were separate continents. Afterwards he explored the shores of northeastern Asia, the Chukotski Peninsula, and the Anadyr River and finally he returned to Moscow with valuable cargoes of furs and walrus tusks.

To western geographers the names of many of the seventeenth-cen

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