Author: Johann Schiltberger
Title: Als Sklave im Osmanischen Reich und bei den Tataren. [The Bondage and Travels of Johann Schiltberger, a Native of Bavaria, in Europe, Asia, and Africa.] Time: 1394-1427
Destination: Mainly Greater Central Asia
Length: 33 years
Type: “overland” – slavery and warfare
A regular (medieval) guy
This is an interesting book, but there is something to consider before reading it: JS, much like Marco Polo or John of Mandeville, whom I will be reviewing later, is a writer of the late Middle Ages. This means he doesn’t tell his story with a narrative plot or even a strict time frame. Instead, he tries to give us his version of the “facts”.
not a story, but just „facts“
And while some of those “facts” might be too strange for us to believe, it gets very obvious that he has adopted many things from other sources, just like the other two travelers mentioned above.
Johann Schiltberger’s ordeal of three decades
Anyway, here’s the story in a nutshell: JS is only a young boy when he embarks on what historians have later dubbed the “Last Crusade”. Eventually, he gets captured in the Battle of Nicopolis and serves as a slave to the Ottomans for six years. When the Ottomans themselves get defeated by the infamous Tamerlane, JS becomes a slave to the Timurid Empire for fifteen years, and after that he ends up in the hands of the Golden Horde for another five to nine years. Eventually, after at least one failed attempt to break out, he finally manages to return home to Bavaria in 1427.
I think this book is more enjoyable than many others from the same time period, because it seems, at its core, like a sort of “first-hand experience” made by a “regular guy”. Of course JS likes to tell stories about dragons and unicorns every now and then, and his observations might seem a bit strange at times. But the story itself, revolving around battles and strategies and famous warlords like Tamerlane, reads very well.
Unlike many other authors of his time, JS doesn’t seem like a man with a mission. He just talks about stuff that has happened to him, and spices it up with some fantastic stories.
An interesting book.
And an 8/10.