Kotoshikhin, Grigory Karpovich

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(c. 16301667), Muscovite official, émigré, and author.

As an under-secretary of the Muscovite Chancery for Foreign Affairs, Grigory Kotoshikhin was one of the few seventeenth-century Russians allowed to travel to the West, on diplomatic missions to Poland and Sweden. In 1663 he began to give information on foreign policy to the Swedish agent in Moscow. The following year he fled abroad, finally settling in Stockholm. At the behest of the Swedish government he compiled a lengthy description of the Muscovite state. Fatally injuring his landlord in a drunken quarrel, Kotoshikhin was sentenced to death. On the eve of his execution he embraced the Lutheran faith.

Kotoshikhin's manuscript was soon translated into Swedish but then forgotten. Rediscovered in the late 1830s, it was published in Russia in 1840 under the title On Russia in the Reign of Alexis Mikhailovich. Though its importance as a historical source was immediately recognized, the evaluation of Kotoshikhin's account in Russia and the Soviet Union would long be influenced by ideological considerations. In the nineteenth century, Westernizers praised Kotoshikhin for exposing Muscovite backwardness, while Slavophiles condemned him for blackening Muscovite reality. In the late Stalin period and beyond, the dictates of hyper-nationalism obligated scholars to excoriate Kotoshikhin as a traitor who defamed his country to please his Swedish hosts.

There are indeed a few passages in which Kotoshikhin lashes out at Muscovite ignorance, dishonesty, superstition, and xenophobia and lauds the "blessed freedom" of the West. But these passionate outbursts, almost certainly interpolations in the original text, are in striking contrast with the content and tone of the rest of the account, which is severely factual and almost entirely free of broad generalizations and value judgments. The level of accuracy is remarkably high, particularly for someone writing in a foreign country with no sources other than the Law Code of 1649. Kotoshikhin emphasized those topics that were of interest to the Swedish government; these corresponded well with what he knew best. There are lengthy descriptions of the central administrative institutions, diplomatic protocol, and court ceremonial; somewhat shorter discussions of the nobility, the army, provincial administration, merchants and trade, and the marriage customs of the upper class; and virtually nothing on the peasantry or the Orthodox Church. Kotoshikhin portrays a government of legal norms and bureaucratic process, and provides strong though not unimpeachable evidence on the constitutional role of the estates of the realm in electing or confirming each tsar from 1584 to 1645.

On Russia in the Reign of Alexis Mikhailovich has been republished a number of times (1859, 1884, 1906, 1984, and twice in 2000; Pennington, 1980, is the definitive edition of the text, with exhaustive linguistic commentaries). It remains a uniquely valuable source. No other Muscovite ever wrote anything comparable, and no Western traveler ever had Kotoshikhin's expert knowledge.

Kotoshikhin was born ahead of his time. From the reign of Peter the Great onward, Russians were able to adopt Western ways and values while remaining loyal to their native land. In Kotoshikhin's generation this was not yet possible.

See also: alexei mikhailovich; law code of 1649; slavophiles; westernizers


Weickhardt, George. (1990). "Kotoshikhin: An Evaluation and Interpretation." Russian History 17: 127154.

Benjamin Uroff