GUIZOLFI (GIEXULFIS), ZACHARIAS DE:
By: Herman Rosenthal
Prince and ruler, in the fifteenth century, of the Taman peninsula on the east coast of the Black Sea; descendant of Simeone de Guizolfi, a Genoese Jew, who, by marriage with Princess Bikhakhanim and under the protection of the Genoese republic, became ruler of the peninsula in 1419.
Beset by the Turks in 1482, Guizolfi and his Circassian subjects were compelled to retire from his stronghold Matriga (Taman), and sought refuge on the island of Matrice, whence (Aug. 12) he informed the directors of the Bank of St. George in Genoa of his position, and called for 1,000 ducats with which to retain the friendship of his allies, the Goths, who had exhausted his resources; he stated that unless he received the support of the republic he would remove to Wallachia, where the waywode Stefan had offered him a castle.
Notwithstanding the fact that the Turks had captured Tana (Azov) and most of the settlements in Chazaria, Guizolfi continued the war from Matrice, but with only a small measure of success. Learning that he had expressed a desire to come to Russia, and glad of an opportunity to attract the Circassians, the czar Ivan III., Vassilivich, directed Nozdrovaty, his ambassador to the Tatar khan Mengli Girei, to forward a message "sealed with the gold seal" to Zacharias (Skariya) the Jew, at Kaffa. This message, dated March 14, 1484, and forwardedby Luka and Prince Vasili, both court dignitaries, reads as follows:
"By the grace of God the great ruler of the Russian country, the Grand Duke Ivan Vassilivich, Czar of all the Russias, . . . to Zacharias the Hebrew.
"You have written to us through Gabriel Petrov, our guest, that you desire to come to us. It is our wish that you do so. When you are with us we will give you evidence of our favorable disposition toward you. If you wish to serve us, our desire will be to confer distinction upon you; but should you not wish to remain with us and prefer to return to your own country, you shall be free to go"
From a despatch in Latin dated Conario on the Kuban, June 8, 1487, and signed "Zachariah Guigursis," it is clear that Guizolfi, intending to accept the czar's hospitality, started for Russia, but while on the way was robbed and tortured by Stefan, the waywode of Moldavia, and returned home. Notwithstanding this experience, Guizolfi and his men declared themselves ready to join the czar provided that guides were furnished them. Replying to this despatch, March 18, 1488, the czar repeated his invitation, and informed Guizolfi that he had notified Dmitri Shein, his ambassador at the Crimean court, that he had requested Mengli Girei to send to Tscherkassy two men to guide Guizolfi to Moscow. He directed Shein to add to this number a Tatar from his own suite.
Several years passed before guides were sent, but in the spring of 1496 they reached the mouth of the Miyusha and Taigana rivers, where Guizolfi was to meet them four weeks after Easter. It had been arranged that in the event of either party reaching the rendezvous before the other, the first should wait until Whitsuntide, and if need be until Peter and Paul's Day. The guides waited until St. Nicholas' Day (Dec. 6), when they learned that Guizolfi was unable to advance on account of disturbances among his people, for "the man Zacharias is substantial, his family is great, and probably it is difficult to induce them to move." In his report to the czar the Crimean ambassador declares that, out of friendship for his royal master, the khan Mengli Girei would take Guizolfi under his protection, but fear she dare not do so, since Guizolfi has antagonized the Turks, who are the khan's protectors (ib. pp. 77-114).
From subsequent events it is evident that Guizolfi entered the service of the khan, for further negotiations were carried on, and in April, 1500, the czar, instructing his ambassador, refers to Guizolfi as "Zacharias the Fryazin [i.e., "the Italian"], who had lived in Circassia and is now in the service of Mengli Girei, but who never reached Russia" (ib. p. 309).
The czar's repeated invitations to Guizolfi seem to indicate that he hoped the latter's services would be valuable to him in extending Russian influence on the Black Sea. Yet it is strange that during a period of more than eighteen years Guizolfi did not succeed in reaching Russia. Whether the fact that Guizolfi was a Jew had anything to do with the impediments put in his way, it is difficult to ascertain, for no mention of him is to be found in Jewish writings. The different spellings of Zachariah's name in Italian and Russian documents—"Guizolfi," "Guigursis," and "Guilgursis"—may be attributed to errors of the Russian scribes.
- In addition to the works cited in the article, Atti della Società Ligure di Storia Patria, iv. 127, 128, Genoa, 1866;
- Löwe, Die Reste der Germanen am Schwarzen Meere, pp. 42, 86, 89, Halle, 1896;
- Sbornik Gosudarstvennykh Gramot i Dogovorov, ii. 24.