During the late Middle Ages, several European travelers would cross the territories of present-day Ukraine to reach East Asia – chiefly China. The travelogs and maps handed down to us are precious sources to understand Western Europeans’ conception of those territories and the ethnic groups living therein. Much of what was known in the past in terms of history and geography of several territories East of Europe is narrated in two books written in the 13th century. The first, Historia Mongolarum, was compiled by the Franciscan monk Giovanni da Pian del Carpine (1185–1252) during his travels towards East Asia. The introduction begins by chronicling several populations inhabiting the area facing Mongol invasion and the subsequent destruction of many cities in the area (amongst which Kyiv is termed ‘the mother of all Russian cities’) corresponding to the Mongol invasion of the Kyivan Rus’ around 1240.
The second book, Itinerarium, was also written by a Franciscan monk and missionary, of Flemish origins, William of Rubruck (c. 1220–1293), in the form of a letter to King Louis IX of France (r. 1226–1270). Different from Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, William of Rubruck is more concerned with his own travels rather than with the events taking place there. His stay in the cities of Crimea, primarily in Sudak (which would become a Genoese settlement in 1365) is a remarkable witness of the region’s cosmopolitanism during that period, when the area was at crossroads between Europe and Asia.
Along the same lines, the experience of Giosafat Barbaro (1413–1494), a Venetian merchant who would spend 16 years in Tanais, the Genoese commercial outpost on the Black Sea, is significant to understanding the Crimean Peninsula. The final document presented in this section is a map (1474) of outstanding importance: it is the one drawn by the Florentine geographer and polymath Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli (1397–1482), said to have inspired Cristoforo Colombo on his voyage to reach the Indies. [FM]