I love it when a book sends me off to visit other books, and Sharov’s Репетиции (The Rehearsals; see this post) has given me that pleasure. A passage about Patriarch Nikon had me returning to my favorite book of Russian history, James Billington’s classic The Icon and the Axe (see this 2006 post), and the discussion there of Nikon’s stint as a monk on the Solovetsky Islands reminded me that I hadn’t gotten around to reading Roy Robson’s Solovki, which I got a couple of years ago. So I dived in.

I’m going to spend most of the post complaining, so let me start by saying it’s well written and Robson has clearly done a lot of research — you can learn a great deal from the book. There are fine black-and-white photographs and other images to illustrate the text. But Robson doesn’t seem very interested in geography, and that’s a significant drawback for someone who is, like me. Those images include a too-small segment of the 1740 Carte de Moscovie dresse par G. de L’Isle that is pretty to look at but should have been supplemented by a more accurate map that would show the places mentioned in the text; the founder of the monastery, Savvatii, started his career at the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, which is below the southern border of the segment, and then moved to Valaam, which is actually shown on the 1740 map but not mentioned in Robson’s caption, so the uninstructed reader will never notice the tiny caption “Valamo Ostrof” towards the north end of “Lac Ladoga.” Then, when even the remote Valaam proves too crowded for him (younger monks kept showing up to get his “wise counsel”), he heads for true isolation, and Robson writes: “Traveling eastward from Valaam toward the White Sea, Savvatii sought a place to settle as a hermit.” But a glance at a map will show that the Solovetsky Islands cannot reasonably described as “eastward from Valaam”; north-northeast, maybe, but “northward” would be the obvious choice.

The worst, however, comes later in the same paragraph: “On his way, Savvatii met his future companion German, who had built a small cabin in the woods, a solitary monastic cell near Soroka on the Vyg River, not far from the village of Belozersk.” I’m pretty sure “Belozersk” is a mistake for Belomorsk, which has now engulfed Soroka (Соро́ка), and it’s a very unfortunate one because he’s already mentioned the Kirillo-Belozersky Monastery, which is near the actual Belozersk. In any case, the thing that should have been mentioned about Soroka is not that it’s near some village but that it’s directly across the water from the Solovetsky Islands. Sheesh.

And on pp. 65-67 he provides a transcription of an important document written by an unknown author in the early 17th century which his footnote calls “Memorial on Abbey of Solovski” (a Google Books search on that phrase finds only Robson’s book). It looks impressive with its appearance of Ye Olde Originall Spellynge: “The Abbaie of Solofskie or Sollaveskie is situat with in the White Sea uppon the Terretorie of Russia…” Unfortunately, when I became confused by parts of the document and tried to find out more, I discovered from Rude & Barbarous Kingdom Revisited: Essays in Russian History and Culture in Honor of Robert O. Crummey (Google Books, which unfortunately does not allow me to discover the author of the article I’m quoting) that Robson used the transcription by Aleksandrenko, which “inadvertently left out several words, resulting in garbled sentences,” and “omitted one entire line […], rendering the surrounding text unintelligible.” Furthermore, Robson added a bunch of errors of his own. As a result, “guifts” (i.e., gifts) becomes “guestes,” “preferrmt” (preferment) becomes “per ferrmt,” “They have” becomes “This hause,” and so on. That opening bit I quoted should read “The Abbaie of Solofskie or Sollavescie is scituat within…” He would have done better to have just modernized the text.

The penultimate sentence, typically garbled, reads:

Their must be Canon, demy a canon and Culverin for batterie, if otherwyse wee cannot prevaile by scallodoe, and Pettarces.

That should be:

Their must be canon, demy canon & culverin for batterie, if otherwyse wee cannot prevaile by scalladoe, & Pettarres.

“Pettarres” is presumably petards, but I haven’t gotten anywhere with “scalladoe”; it’s a real thing, since Google Books finds hits like “and to that pourpose enter the pallace of Dalkeithe by a scalladoe,” but I have no idea what it might be. Anybody know?


  1. Collins dictionary here:

    has “scalado” listed as an alternate form, and describes siege ladders.

  2. Excellent! Thanks very much indeed.

  3. January First-of-May says

    Literally the first non-name Google hit for “scalladoe” is “without mines or by scalladoe [escalade] I do not know how we should have supplanted them”, i.e. it equates “scalladoe” with “escalade”, which Wiktionary defines as “an act of scaling walls or fortification” (note: not a literal siege ladder, which would probably have been pluralized in OP’s context).

    Google hits aside, and entirely unaware of meaning, I would indeed have expected “scalladoe” to be an alternate spelling of something spelled “scalado” and borrowed from (probably) Italian.
    I see that Wiktionary does have “scalado” as a synonym of “escalade”, though with no etymology.

  4. The spelling “scalladoe” is deceptive because one expects it to be stressed on the first syllable, unlike all of its relatives.

  5. Exactly.

  6. It’s often used by scalawags.

  7. David Eddyshaw says

    It’s obviously to be stressed on the last syllable, seeing as how it’s a variant of the notoriously euphonious “cellar door.”

  8. Apparently the essay is by Chester Dunning “The Richest Place in the World: An Early Seventeenth Century English Description and Military Assessment of Solovetskii Monastery”

  9. Thanks! I bow before your superior Google-fu.

  10. I had to investigate the history of Soroka in my still-unfished quest to find roots of my great grandmother Pelagea who bestowed “Finnish” DNA to her descendants. My grandma had tales about the family, some taller than others, but the gist of it is that Pelagia’s family lived up North where crops didn’t really grow well, so they made living largely by fishing. But the fisheries ( тони – I don’t know if there is a good English equivalent) are said to have belonged to Solovki monastery. At some point the rents have become to high to make ends meet, and the family took off to the city, becoming dockworkers in Arkhangel (grandma had tales specifically about their work on unloading salt barges from Sol-Vychegodsk upriver).

    The most famous тони fisheries were along the White Sea coast, with the rivers part-blocked by wooden stakes, and the nets spread near the openings. Solovki monastery used to possess fabulous fishing resources. There was a problem with the storyline, though: Peter I took away all of the monasteries’ remote properties, lands, forests, fisheries, and serfs. Only on-site properties were still allowed (in this specific case, only Solovki Islands proper). Solovki turned out to enjoy some exceptions. Peter I already let it keep a base in Soroka. In 1764-1765, the monastery was elevated in rank and subordinated directly to the Holy Synod, and at the same time it was allowed to have bases in Kem, Soroka and Veliky Ustyug. Perhaps with some fisheries too? But neither of these places are close to Arkhangelsk (although Ustyug is close to Sol-Vychegodsk…)

  11. I’m glad I made the post just so it could prompt that comment — what great background info! Robson goes into detail on the economics of Solovki; fishing was important, but the vital factor was salt:

    Without the good fortune of salt production, Solovki would have probably stayed a minor monastery with little influence on Russian history. With salt, however, its fortunes were far more impressive. The name ”Solovki” was itself derived from the Russian word for salt. From the fifteenth through the seventeenth centuries, salt was the centerpiece of Solovki’s development, and by the early seventeenth century the monastery was the greatest producer of salt in the north […]. To make salt on a large scale, Solovki needed to mobilize every resource available to it—land, labor, engineering, timber, and time. Salt could be extracted from seawater, but there were higher yields and greater profits to be gained by taking highly salinated brine from deep in the earth, a natural occurrence along the White Sea.

    It was incredibly labor-intensive — apparently it took months and sometimes years to get a gusher of salt water going with the primitive equipment they had, and then the brine had to be heated and evaporated in an iron чрен (which took huge amounts of wood).

    The “derived from the Russian word for salt” thing is folk etymology; it’s from Saami suolov island.

  12. I visited Solovki in the summer of 1990, the monastery is quite a big place. But I wouldn’t want to live up there during winter…

  13. Yeah, apparently the Soroka locals begged Savvatii and German not to try living there, telling them there was no way they’d survive the winter. But with God’s help…

  14. Dmitry Pruss says

    There is a classic treatise on White Sea salt production and use, Розен Б. Северная соль. Архангельск, 1957
    As early as in the early 1800s, imported Liverpool and French/Portuguese “shpanka” salts were available and actually often cheaper than the local salt. And local salt contained massive amounts of admixtures (silt, soot). But famous “terroirs” of White Sea salmon were made only with the local salt. Dvina salmon with seawater salt, and Onega salmon, with salt-spring salt, apparently from Krasnogrsky Monastery on Pinega river. (I know that geography doesn’t seem to make sense). Herrings were salted in Soroka. Unlike salmon, which was sold across Russia, White Sea herring, codfish and halibut were for regional consumption, often wholesaled by Veliky Ustyug merchants. Outside of Northern Russia, they had no market because people there had no taste for the stinky law-salt fish, related to Swedish sturstromming. Central and Southern Russia used imported “Holland” herrings (not actually from the Netherlands, but much cheaper and inferior Norwegian and Swedish knock-offs). The “Holland” herring was salted without guts and gills, which weirds me out. What, those XIX c. Russians loved their herrings without guts, not like us XX c. Soviets??? Anyway up North they were “normal” Russians. The Ustyug market took herrings with guts. The most important thing about the Northern salted fish, apart from its stench, was its extremely low price. So, even though wholesale salt wasn’t too expensive (less than 40 kopeks per pud, which is something like a quarter a pound in today’s USD), the fishermen had all the incentive to use less and no real reason to use more.

    In my granny’s tales, though, salt was expensive. The dockworkers put it into their pockets and their boots and smuggled out of the docks to supplement their meager pay. Supposedly once a merchant ordered the laborers to not leave the docks until the unloading is complete, to minimize pilfering. The workers were to spend nights in the ship hold. But they urinated and pooped into the salt under the cover of darkness, and the merchant quickly relented. Is there an element of truth there? I suppose it’s possible, but granny dearly loved her scatological stories. If it has an element of truth, though, then it must have been imported salt, not the domestic one from upriver.

  15. LH is always a place for reveling in the obscure, but this account of 19th century fish pickling lore is a standout. Thank you.

  16. Dmitry Pruss says

    19th century fish pickling lore

    Thank you. Salt herring is a big old country Jewish thing (safely kosher and often served on newsprint, avoiding non-kosher plates, I am explained) so it must have a special place in Yiddish folklore? I fondly remember my other granny’s herring Vorschmack, but now I have to wonder. Did the Ashkenazi people also eat their herring with roe- and sperm-sacks served alongside the fish???

  17. @Dmitry Pruss: We discussed weirs, including the salmon weirs you just mentioned, previously here.

  18. often served on newsprint, avoiding non-kosher plates, I am explained

    I doubt it. There simply was no other throw-away packaging material. This reminded me about this little anecdote from Lem’s Observation on the Spot (translated from Russian by deepl with my minimal corrections):
    My father, eternal memory to him, had an antique shop in Chortkov and a lot of free time, so he read philosophers and took no alcohol in his mouth, except for a paisakhovka once a year. An anti-alcohol magazine “Blessed Sobriety” was published in Lvov at that time, and one of the editors, knowing about my father’s lofty interests, asked him to write an article. Alcoholism, my father replied, was a disgusting thing, and it would have been better not to have it. But even with arguments of the heaviest calibre it would not work, because it is not drunks who read “Blessed Sobriety”, but only teetotalers, in order to establish their sense of superiority, and if they wrap a herring for a drunkard in this newspaper and he sees my article, he will either use it for you know what, or immediately get drunk because of the regret that he gave in to such an unwholesome habit.

  19. David Eddyshaw says

    “The tradition in the UK of fish battered and fried in oil came from Western Sephardic Jewish immigrants from Holland.”

    “British fish and chips were originally served in a wrapping of old newspapers” (as it was in my youth. Really the only acceptable function for the Daily Mail, proving that even the meanest and lowliest of God’s creatures has its place in the Great Scheme.)

  20. Thanks @Brett. It’s awesome to be reminded how much progress has happened in 5 years – but ultimately there is no answer still. I know Pelageya’s name, patronymic, and age now, I’ve seen the ruins of her house, but I still don’t know her surname or where she came from, and still rely on the same legends as you already see.

    An interesting thread there is Pelageya’s mtDNA which is a branch estimated to be only 3 centuries old (and not more than 450 years old), but which spans Russia, Finland, and Sweden’s Norrbotten County at Finnish border. The Russians in this collection are Old Believers from Vyatka to Siberia. It feels like too short a time to cover such a geographical span! What could be the story behind it? Old Order Russians escaping Peter I’s genocidal wars? Orthodox Karelians fleeing Swedish-occupied territories in the XVII century?

  21. While we are on pickled fish, in the Israeli version of the game of Statues, the phrase which lets the players move is “one, two, three, salted fish”. That must come from northern Europe, but the only thing close to it in the WP list is the Estonian “Herring, herring, one, two, three.” I wonder where it came into Israeli Hebrew from. Lithuania?

  22. Stu Clayton says

    Herring, herring, one, two, three,
    Snatched from the waters off Dundee;
    How could even Judi Dench
    Convey on stage thy fearful stench ?

  23. @Y, when I was a schoolboy, children (Russian) counted “kamanO-maganO, U! – Ye! – Fa!”
    And sometimes “kamano-magano, one two three”. UEFA is the Union of European Football Associations.

    As for herring vorschmack was the only dish of Jewish cuisine consistently present in my childhood.

  24. Trond Engen says

    Hat: The “derived from the Russian word for salt” thing is folk etymology; it’s from Saami suolov island.

    From Proto-Sami *suolōj < Baltic sala “island”, related to Proto-Finnic *salo, per Wiktionary, which goes on:


    Western Samic:
    Southern Sami: sååle
    Ume Sami: suoloj
    Pite Sami: suolo
    Lule Sami: suoloj
    Northern Sami: suolu

    Eastern Samic:
    Inari Sami: suálui
    Skolt Sami: suâl
    Kildin Sami:
    суэл (suel)
    Ter Sami: sïelaj

    I was first surprised to see a clearly Sami toponym thus far south, rather than Karelian or Chud. It clearly shouldn’t have, because Southeastern Sami languages (long lost) were spoken along the whole western coast of the White Sea before the Karelian expansion.

    Now I’m surprised that the local Sami language had Northwestern vowels rather than being somewhere between Eastern Sami and Karelian. It probably shouldn’t have, but in this case I’ll need J Pystynen to tell me why.

  25. Trond Engen says

    (Changing my mind — and the first sentence of each paragraph — from “It first surprised me …”, but forgetting to change the next sentence to “I […] shouldn’t be …”.)

  26. John Cowan says

    Eat things with their guts still inside? Yuecccch. Not gonna even try.

  27. PlasticPaddy says

    No sardines, John?

  28. Trond Engen says

    Or shrimps?

  29. Trond Engen says

    I have fond memories of the time when we had access to bucketloads of small herring. Served pan fried with guts and all, usually around midnight.

  30. No sardines, John?

    Let alone shiokara.

  31. Dmitry Pruss says

    Red mullet (Russian барабулька) is a beloved Mediterranean / Black sea tradition too. But I must add that large herrings such as the ones used for salting aren’t *eaten* with all the guts even if they were fermented un-gutted. Typically, only roe and sperm sacks were eaten.

  32. Apropos “Finnish” DNA and, more broadly, genetic, linguistic, and cultural role of the Finno-Ugric substrate in the ethnogenesis of the Eastern Slavs, the smoldering controversy may have just flared up again following the publication of a new book of the infamous A. Klyosov “Народы России. ДНК-генеалогия”. I just spotted a caustic review here: http://xn--c1acc6aafa1c.xn--p1ai/?page_id=34629 The ugly thread about Finnic vs. Slavic roots occupies a major place in the discussion. Apparently both Russian nationalists and their detractors agree that the Ugro-Finnic roots would somehow disqualify the Russians from equal standing with the fellow Slavic peoples, and, respectively, deny the existence of such regional roots or capitalize on their existence.

  33. I was first surprised to see a clearly Sami toponym thus far south, rather than Karelian or Chud.

    It might well be mediated by Karelian. I don’t know if any pre-Russian Karelian name of the islands has been attested, but Finland and Karelia are themselves also full of placenames of Sami origin of course.

    Reflexes of Proto-Samic *ō to the effect of /ua/ or /ue/ could be just local development only in the five or six attested eastern languages (the last two being the recently dead Akkala Sami and the century+dead Kemi Sami); but even if not, possible Karelian mediation would surely have turned any of these into an /uo/ that would then be adopted into Russian as /o/.

    Alternately, the oblique stem is Inari suollu-, Skolt suõlˈlu-, from Proto-Samic *sōlujë-, with a 2nd syllable *u that did not trigger umlaut to / . So even if it is a loan directly from Sami and the local variety at the time did have a to the effect of *suəloi, an oblique stem to the effect of *suollu- could have been the source of Russian /sol-/.

  34. @Trond Engen: In North America, shrimp* are generally eaten de-veined, meaning the gut has been removed. If one prefers shrimp with the head on, prior de-veining is obviously not possible. However, shrimp are not usually served or sold with their heads, except as components of certain ethnic cuisines. If you buy headless shrimp, they may or may not already be de-veined; however, once the head is off, it is really easy to yank the whole gut out. Doing so, you will unavoidably see the remaining filth inside their digestive tracts, and observing the contents of their viscera can certainly make John Cowan’s attitude seem like the most reasonable one. (I prefer, when de-veining shrimp, to concentrate on being impressed by how much of their bodies are made of muscle, as opposed to internal organs. The vein is quite tiny compared to the sheath of delicious flesh surrounding it.)

    * The idiomatic plural is a zero plural: “shrimp,” not “shrimps.” Speakers familiar with other dialects of English in which the small edible crustaceans are usually called “prawns” tend to make the mistake of expecting the default plural to be the parallel “shrimps.”

    The use of the zero plural is presumably related to the fact that shrimp, being proverbially small,** are normally vended in bulk. They are sold by weight, not number, and they (at least in the United States) are categorized not by their individual weights by how many of them will make a pound (e.g. “40 count”). However, while the zero plural probably originated from a mass usage, it is also the normal form when the referent is a count plural: “The shrimp and grits at the Blue Fin Restaurant comes with tomatoes, leeks, Andouille sausage, and twelve shrimp.”

    ** If the noun shrimp is being used metaphorically, to denote something (or, more likely, someone) small, then the plural actually is the regularized “shrimps”: “‘Look at those little shrimps!’ cried the bully, crooking his finger in the younger boys’ direction.”

  35. Shrimps is non-standard, to be sure, but where I am it’s colloquially unremarkable; perhaps through seeing it enough times in Chinese restaurant menus and such. Personally, I have flipped over the years, and I am more comfortable now with reading “Andouille sausage and twelve shrimps” than ditto “shrimp”, whereas in the past it would have been the reverse.

    (For comparison, I would find “deers” and “sheeps” odd, perhaps something a child would say.)

  36. John Cowan says

    No sardines for me. What Brett said, except that I don’t happen to cook shrimp (seafood in general I eat in restaurants). I have to consume enough metaphorical shit in my lifetime to eliminate any desire for an overburden of the literal variety, even if thoroughly cooked.

    Mysterious are the ways of taboo: for me to eat ova, they must be avian.

  37. Lars Mathiesen (he/him/his) says

    My father’s motto in these matters was “Seven pounds of dirt a year.” He was very active in scouting.

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