Legends and tales of giants – people of enormous growth, can be found in many ancient peoples and cultures. Stories about giants, claiming to be authentic and told by travelers or chroniclers are encountered much less often and the more valuable these testimonies.
According to these records, sometime hundreds of years ago, people of unusually tall height could be met on the territory of the Northern Urals and Siberia. And these were not separate cases of physical anomalies (gigantism), which sometimes occur in our time, as there are reports of entire tribes (!) of Slavic giants.
One of the documentary evidence of the Slavic giant belongs to Ahmed ibn Fadlan, who in 921-922 A.D., together with the embassy of the Baghdad caliph, visited the tsar of the Volga Bulgars, having visited the Slavic lands beforehand. The book, written by Ibn Fadlan, is an invaluable source on the history of pre-Christian Rus (Slavic lands), including the Urals, but the fragment of interest that we are intesrested in is usually shyly concealed. And it is told in it no less than about the giants who lived in the vicinity of the Bulgarian capital.
The Arabian traveler told of how, while still in Baghdad, he heard from one captive Turk that at the headquarters of the ruler of the Bulgarian kingdom one captive is kept in captivity – “a man of extremely huge physique”. When the embassy arrived on the Volga, Ibn Fadlan asked the king to show the giant.
Unfortunately, the giant not too long before the visit of the Arab was killed because of his violent and spiteful character. As eyewitnesses have told, from one glance of the gigantic creature children fainted, and pregnant women had miscarriages. The wild giant was caught far away in the North, in the country of Wisu (according to modern istorians, it is a chronicle village located somewhere in the area of Pechora) and was delivered to the capital of Volga Bulgaria.
He was kept outside of the city, chained to a huge tree. And there, he was strangled.
Ibn Fadlan was shown the remains: “And I saw that his head is like a large barrel, and here his ribs are like the largest of dry fruit branches of palm trees, and in the same way the bones of his shins and both his ulnar bones.I was amazed at this and retired.”
Incidentally, there is information relating to the end of the XIX century: when the autopsy of one of the cemeteries in the Volga region (although to the south of the places mentioned by Ibn Fadlan, in the Saratov province), there was found the skeleton of a giant man.
If someone thinks that they want to mystify him, then let him get acquainted with another testimony: it can be found in a book with a poetic title “A gift to the minds and a sampling of wonders.” It belongs to the pen of another Arab traveler, scholar and theologian Abu Hamid al-Garnati. More than a hundred years after Ibn Fadlan, he also visited the capital of the Volga Bulgaria and met there the same kind of giant, but only alive, and even talked with him:
“And I saw in Bulgar in 530 (1135-1136 A.D.) a tall man from the descendants of the aditas, whose growth is more than seven cubits, named Danki.He took the horse under his arm, as a man takes a small lamb.And his strength was such that he broke with his hand the horse’s shank and tore the meat and veins, as others tear greens.
And the ruler of Bulgar made him a chainmail, which was carried in a wagon, and a helmet for his head, the size of a cauldron.When there was a battle, he fought with a club of oak, which he held in his hand like a stick, but if he hit an elephant with it, he would kill him.And he was kind, modest; when he met me, he greeted me and greeted me respectfully, although my head did not reach him to the waist, may Allah have mercy on him.”
Similar information was preserved in Scandinavian sources. They relate to the raids of the Varangians to remote areas of the Slavic North. Here tireless robbers-explorers have repeatedly encountered tribes of giants, and – just as ordinary giants of the male gender, also as tribes consisting exclusively of female individuals (so to speak, Amazons-giants):
“When they swam for a while along the shore, they saw that there was a very tall and huge house there. <…> They saw that the temple was very large and built of white gold and precious stones.They saw that the temple was open.It seemed to them that everything inside was shining and sparkling, so that nowhere was there even a shadow. <…>
There they saw a table, as befits a king, covered with expensive cloth and [made] with various precious vessels of gold and precious stones. <…> 30 giants were talking at the table, and the priestess was in the center.They [the Vikings] could not understand whether it was in the image of a person or some other creature.It seemed to all of them that it looked worse than it could be expressed in words.”
After some time, a similar picture was described by the Danish historian-chronicler Saxo Grammatik (1140 – about 1208 A.D.), telling about the voyages of the Viking squad on the White Sea, with the difference that here it was not the temple and the “Amazons”, but the cave where the giants lived.
The Slavic North is in fact full of stories about the giants. At the beginning of the XX century, among the Pomors, floating to the New Earth, there was a saying, that in one of the coastal caves there are giant human skulls with bared teeth.
Siberian tales of meetings with giants were collected and recorded by the world-famous archeologist, Alexei Pavlovich Okladnikov (1908-1981). Hunter and reindeer herder Nikolai Kurilov from the lower reaches of Lena told him that a man who hunted fox in winter discovered on the coast of the Arctic Ocean huge human footprints that came out of the sea.
The hunter decided to find out where the tracks lead to by land. After two days of riding, he saw before him a mountain, towering in the middle of taiga, like an island. There were a lot of tracks here. Suddenly a woman appeared several meters tall. She took Nikolai Kurilov by the hand and led him into the house where the giant man was.
He said to the hunter: “It’s my own fault that I showed my tracks, otherwise you would not have come here.Go back home, just do not tell anyone about what you saw.And I will help you to return.Do not go out until I have a sled ready.Will leave then.”After some time, the giant returned to the house and ordered: “Now come out.”There was a continuous fog all around, nothing could be seen. The giant placed the hunter on the sled, blindfolded him and said: “When you reach your land, let the dogs go.”
The return journey took the hunter only one day and without spending the night. When the hunter opened his eyes, he saw that it was not dogs that were taking him, but two wolves. Behind him, he own dog sled, loaded to the top. Arriving home, the hunter released the wolves, and they immediately disappeared. When he opened the cargo, he saw a mountain of expensive furs. The fact is that the giant asked an uninvited guest: “Why are you wandering alone along the seashore.”He replied that this is how he earns a living. That’s why the giant gave him so many furs out of pity.
Until old age, Nikolai Kurilov did not tell anyone, and only told right before his death.
A lot of legends have been preserved about taiga’s giants among different Siberian peoples. There is a belief that they take burning sticks out of hunters’ fires. These giants differ from ordinary people not only in height, but also in long thick brows or in that they are entirely covered with hair. Therefore their other name is “bearded people”. The “bearded” live not one by one, but in whole villages. The shape of the houses is dome-shaped, inside they were illuminated not by furnaces, but by an unknown “glowing stone”.
In many legends, the giants’ tribe’s land is connected with the islands of the Arctic Ocean. In the middle of the XIX century, according to the eyewitness, the following story was recorded. A certain industrialist inspected hunting equipment on the islands near the Kolyma estuary. There he was caught by a blizzard, and he last his way. Long he wandered through the icy desert, and finally the dogs brought him to an unfamiliar village, consisting of several huts.
Late in the evening the men of enormous height came from the fishery and began to ask the stranger: who he was, where, on what occasion, and why did he come here, had he heard of them before and, at last, was he not sent by whom? The industrialist who told the whole story, was kept by them under supervision for six weeks, placed in a separate house and not allowed take a single step away. Often he heard the sound of a bell, from which he decided that he was in a schismatic skete (village).
Finally, the natives agreed to let the industrialist go, but took an oath of him to keep silent about everything that he had seen and heard. Then they blindfolded him, took him out of the village and walked very far. When parting, a large number of white arctic foxes and red foxes were presented to him.
At the same time, the Verkhoyansk police chief informed Bishop Benjamin of Irkutsk that there was an “island of unknown geography” on the Arctic Ocean. It is in good and clear weather from the island of New Siberia to the north-east is seen as a dot.
There are inhabitants on this island. They are called “bearded”, because, they say, the people are completely overgrown with hair. With them very rarely and on the threat of death have relations the wild Chukchi, who pass on this information under the secret to other Chukchi. Those, in turn, and also secretly, tell about everything to the Russians.
The folk tradition states that the bearded men on the islands of the Arctic Ocean had lived a long time ago and that some bishop with his suite was brought here and thrown ashore. As if he had heard the sounds of bells on that island, but the “bearded” did not allow him to enter their dwelling. They trade only on the shore, and they do not let strangers come to their islands.
In addition, at the end of the XX century, one Kolyma old man, hearing about Sedov’s expedition to the North Pole, said: “Well, it means that people will invariable go to the houses with golden roofs,”hinting at the mysterious islanders spoken of by the legends of the Slavs and the indigenous population of the coastal Arctic Ocean.
Translated by: Dmitriy Kushnir