De moribus tartarorum, lituanorum et moscorum

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De moribus tartarorum, lituanorum et moscorum ("On the Customs of Tatars, Lithuanians and Muscovites") is a 16th-century Latin treatise by Michalo Lituanus ("Michael the Lithuanian"). The work, which was originally dedicated to Grand Duke of Lithuania Sigismund II Augustus, survived only in ten fragments that were first published in 1615 by Johann Grasser in Basel, Switzerland.[1]


The identity of the author, also known as Michalon Litwin or Michalo the Lithuanian, is not known. In the book's title his name is given in the genitive as "Michalonis Lithuani". Modern historians, including the Lithuanian Ignas Jonynas and the Russian Matvey Lubavsky, have identified the author as Michał Tyszkiewicz, the Lithuanian envoy to the Crimean Tatars in 1537–39.[1] The Polish historian Jerzy Ochmański meanwhile has proposed the publicist and humanist Venceslaus Nicolaus (Vaclovas Mikalojaitis, c.1490 – c.1560), who served as a secretary in the Grand Duke's chancery for about 30 years.[2]


The treatise is thought to date from around 1550: the author's ideas and writing style show the clear influence of humanism.

While the treatise contains some useful historical information, this should be treated with care. The work is neither a chronicle nor a travel book, but is rather a political essay which is critical of the author's motherland (Grand Duchy of Lithuania) and overly praises Muscovy and the Crimean Khanate for their centralized governments and united subjects.[3] The author examines the reasons behind Lithuania's decreasing power and influence, criticises the nobility and high Catholic officials, and advocates a strong centralized government.[2] He further idealizes the era of Vytautas the Great, when the ruling class supposedly did not pursue self-interests, and instead served the state.[1]

Michalo supports the theory that the Lithuanian nation was founded by the legendary dynasty of the Palemonids, in the times of the Late Roman Empire, and he proposes introducing Latin as the Grand Duchy's official language, thereby restoring forgotten ancestral traditions.[1] As proof of the similarity between Lithuanian and Latin, Michalo includes a list of 74 words that are similar in the two languages. He also compares ancient Roman traditions with pagan Lithuanian customs.[1]


  1. ^ a b c d e Sužiedėlis, Simas, ed. (1970–1978). "Michalo Lituanus". Encyclopedia Lituanica. III. Boston, Massachusetts: Juozas Kapočius. pp. 516–517. LCC 74-114275.
  2. ^ a b Zinkus, Jonas; et al., eds. (1985–1988). "Mykolas Lietuvis". Tarybų Lietuvos enciklopedija (in Lithuanian). III. Vilnius, Lithuania: Vyriausioji enciklopedijų redakcija. p. 83. LCC 86232954.
  3. ^ Introduction to the Russian translation: Михалон Литвин. О нравах татар, литовцев и москвитян. Moscow 1994