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Herberstein's mile

Zharkikh M.I.

Application of mathematical statistics for the studies of historical sources is able to enrich our understanding of past and extract new information from the documents introduced into scientific practice long ago. In this article I will try to illustrate this thesis with an example of historical metrology.

Austrian Baron Sigismund Herberstein (1486-1566) – author of the "Notes on Muscovite Affairs" – made a detailed geographical description of Eastern Europe. This description covers the lands of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania (Lithuania itself, Belarus and part of Ukraine), lands of the Moscow State, territory of the Tatar states. It was compiled by the guide principle, indicating the names of geographical features, the distance from the preceding one, sometimes – the direction of way or size of the object described. Almost all distance in description Herberstein submit in miles, so it is important to find out what is the value of this measure and how accurate is the Herberstein's orographic data.


We can propose certain assumptions about the methods of calculating distances in Herberstein's orography.

First, the large dependence of the mile length from the country, which drove the traveler (actually, the quality of roads in any country) suggests that the basis of calculation was set to time travel. Reduced speed due to deterioration of roads (especially in Muscovy annoyed frequently crossing small rivers) are very difficult to assess objectively – we see that Herberstein failed.

Second, substantial value is discrete distances referred by Herberstein, which is reflected in intervals of mile length.

Thirdly, unimportant difference between the mile length, calculated using the description and the own way shows that Herberstein convert Moscow versts to usual for him miles (based on personal observation) and with this module turned all versts distance in the distance in miles. Questions about what the unit of length used its informants in Lithuania, remains open.

Note that a twofold reduction of "mile for Muscovy" compared to "mile for Germany", which might seem to us very serious shortcoming, it was not catastrophic for Herberstein's contemporaries. After all these details of his guide had not only the theoretical value of orographic, but also quite practical: the time you can get from point A to point B? And to answer this question variable Herberstein's mile suited very well.