Quoting this article on Grammatica Russica by Heinrich Wilhelm Ludolf:

The Russian city of Novgorod (literally ‘new town’) becomes (in the ablative case) Novogorodio. Moscow is Moscovia, though it also appears as Moscua (preface 5).

(emphasis is mine)

Moscovia is usually used nowadays as and old-fashioned reference to Russia, so it was quite a revelation for me that the term might originate not from any old Russian use, and not even from non-Russians incorrectly pronouncing a Russian word, but from a deliberate attempt to latinize the term.

I am looking for confirmation of this. I would also like to know whether the term entered western discourse specifically via Ludolf or whether it was a consensus of multiple latinization attempts (perhaps rather obvious/straightforward from the point of view of Latin.)

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    I don't know the full history and can't look into it at the moment, but Etymonline confirms that. I had never heard of the caricature usage, and I think you must have accidentally pasted the same link twice instead of providing the second one.
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 14:27
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    Have you checked the Wiki page for Moscow itself? Note this line: "the first written mentions in the 12th century were Московь, Moskovĭ".
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 15:54
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    Your link doesn't support the assertion "Moskovia" is used that way. i certainly never have heard it used that way. Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 21:08
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    Have you heard of the Muscovy Company? There is also Muscovy Street in the City of London. Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 8:56
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    @RogerVadim I cannot answer that. I am just sharing evidence that the word existed in 16th century England, which may be useful (or not). Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 9:15

2 Answers 2


Latin was the general language of civilised Europe until as recently as the 17th century - Newton’s Principia is written in it - so there is nothing unnatural about wanting to refer to Moscow and Muscovites in Latin.

Alexander Guagnino’s Rerum polonicarum tomi tres (published in 1584) devotes 100 pages or so to Muscovy and Ivan the Terrible. The attached picture shows him using Moschovia for Muscovy and Moschoviti for the Muscovites.

enter image description here

He says that in their own language the place is called Moskwa - or, more charmingly, MoskWa, since his printer didn’t have a lower-case W.


For the curious, the typographical style is that the second letter of a word whose first letter is a drop cap is always a full-sized capital letter. Here is an example in which the word as a whole is not in small caps: enter image description here

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    Russian history books note that Moscow was referred to as Moskovi in old chronicles: "Въ слѣдующемъ 1177 ( 6685 ) г. лѣтопись прямо называетъ Москву городомъ въ разсказѣ о нападенiи Гльба Рязанскаго на князя Всеволода : Глѣбъ же на ту осень приѣха на Московь ( въ другихъ спискахъ : Москву ) и пожже городъ весь и села ..."
    – njuffa
    Commented Nov 14, 2022 at 22:25
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    The rule is “second letter is a standard capital letter” - the rest of the word then being small-cap or lower-case, according to context. I’ve added an image to show this. Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 9:17
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    @VladimirFГероямслава It is still somewhat unclear to me whether -ovia was adopted from the old Russian or whether it was introduced to adapt the name to the Latin grammar. There is a three century gap between the document in the answer and the quote by at_njuffa.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 9:30
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    @RogerVadim The latin ending could easilly be derived from an oblique case or from an adjective. E.g., моско́вскій. Also check the etymology in wiktionary Поздне-др.-русск. на МосквѢ (Аввакум, Котошихин), др.-польск. родр.-дат.-местн. п. ед. ч. Мoskwi. Таким образом, первонач. основа на -і *Москы (род. п. *Москъв), откуда тур., алб. Моskоv «Россия», тур. Моskоv šähri «Москва». Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 12:54
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    But anyway, adding -ia is just an extremely common form of latinization when speaking about some area. When you have local vernacular Moskov', it is extremely straightforward to call the area Moskovia. There is no need to search where the -ia exactly was added, it is completely normal and omnipresent. Bohemani -> Bohemia, Frank -> Francia, Germani -> Germania. Commented Nov 15, 2022 at 12:59

This answer is meant as an addition to the answer by Martin Kochanski and comments below it. The angle, however, is different. Rather than focusing on historic documents and Latin as a language, I would like to bring more context in terms of history, politics, and other languages.


First of all, let me quote and comment on the original question:

"Moscovia is usually used nowadays as and old-fashioned reference to Russia"

Below I am going to explain why "Moscovia" is not just an old-fashioned reference to Russia.

"the term might originate not from any old Russian use, and not even from non-Russians incorrectly pronouncing a Russian word, but from a deliberate attempt to latinize the term"

Here there is an assumption that there was a popular (?) term used by local people to name their country and that term was latinized. Below I will explain the origin of the word "Moscovia" and why it most likely was not an attempt at latinizing some local term.


Now to be crux of the matter.

As others have pointed out, "-ia" is a popular suffix which leads to creation of Latin words denoting "realms"/"countries": Germani → Germania, Frank → Francia. Moscovia and Russia follow the same principle: Moscow-ia, Russ-ia.

Moscovia is certainly not an alternative name for Moscow. In the olden days people called that town "Москва" (Moskva) but as the language has grammatical cases, when they wanted to say "to Moscow" they said "в Московь". "Московь" is pronounced like "Moskov" with a soft "v", not like "Moscovi".

Let's further consider that Moscow ("Москва" / Moskva) is a town, which has become the centre of a significant political power around the times of Ivan the Terrible (although the town itself is of course older). That power with its seat at Moskva as well as the lands it ruled were called Moscovia at least by some.

Given the above, it should be clear that "Moscovia" was a standard way to name a country/territory ruled by the power in Moscow. Moscow → Moscovia.

Now, how did the locals call their country? The question may seem obvious but actually it is not. Back in those days the vast majority of people who lived there did not think in terms of countries. They thought in terms of towns and lordships. That was natural as almost everyone lived and died in just one village or town and there was no need whatsoever to even think about other lands.

So based on the above, I believe it is highly improbable that "Moscovia" was a latinization of a local term meaning the same thing. If you disagree, I'd love to hear what that local term might have been.

Now where does the word "Russia"/"Rossija" come from? To my best knowledge, the re-branding of the country was done under Peter the Great. It was under his rule that efforts were made to ensure the country is called "Rossija"/"Russia" both domestically and outside of Russia.

This re-branding was important as "Russ-ia" sounds like something related to "Rus". It was politically important to tether the name of the country to the well known ancient civilisation and claim that Moscovia is not just some realm around Moscow but is actually a direct inheritor of Rus (which was an old civilisation with a golden age around 11th century). The timing of the re-branding was right - by that point "Rus" was essentially destroyed by the Golden Horde and actually Moscow itself, so there were few who could object.

So it is quite confusing when things like "The Russian city of Novgorod" are written or said. Initially, Novgorod was a princely state as a part of Kievan Rus, founded at least a century or two before Moscow, and a thousand years or so before the words "Russia"/"Rossija" became widely used. It was a town of "Rus" for sure. Novgorod was fighting wars against the Grand Duchy of Moscow as early as the 13th century, while Grand Duchy of Moscow was acting as a tax-collector for the Golden Horde, pillaging the lands of Rus, those of Novgorod Republic included. Eventually, in 1570 Novgorod fell and was invaded by Moscow(ia) in an event known as the Massacre of Novgorod. The result was that Novgorod was included into the lands of Moscovia. In Russian and Soviet textbooks the event is called a "fight for unification of Russian lands".

So, Moscow(ia)'s has been pillaging the towns of Rus - including Novgorod - and was later re-branded as Rossija/Russia, claiming to be the only descendent of Rus. The reality is that there are other modern states which are arguably more direct descendants of Rus. For example, "the mother of all Rus towns is Kyiv" and few dispute the fact. But the Kyiv is the capital of Ukraine. So that's number one.

Number two is that Novgorod is a Russian town because if was invaded by Moscovia, presently called Russia. Historically, however, it is a Rus town, which is a massive difference.

Now to the difference between "Moscovia" and "Russia". Both words mostly refere to the same entity. Yes, "Moscovia" is seen as archaic. However, from historic and political points of view the difference is that "Moscovia" precisely names a country ruled by the power in Moscow, while "Russia" sounds as a direct descendant of "Rus", which creates a confusing and false historic narrative (yes, Russians may disagree). The word "Moscovia" is still used nowadays by people who want to be precise and avoid calling that country in a way suggesting it is "Rus".

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    How does this answer the question?
    – Cairnarvon
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 13:59
  • It answers it in multiple ways, but should better be read as an addendum to the answer by Martin Kochanski and the comments under that answer. "Moscovia is usually used nowadays as and old-fashioned reference to Russia" My point is that "Moscovia" is not just an old-fashioned reference to "Russia". Moscov-ia means a territory or political power with its seat in Moscow. Russ-ia no less obviously refers to the same thing but implies that it is "Rus". Which it is not. Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 21:14
  • "the term might originate not from any old Russian use" The suffix "-ia" is a popular suffix in Latin names like Germania (as mentioned by others in the comments). The people called their capital "Moskva", but in other grammatical cases it sounds differently. One of the forms was "Moskov" (with a soft "v"). It is not difficult to see how "Moscovia" had appeared out of that. "not even from non-Russians incorrectly pronouncing a Russian word, but from a deliberate attempt to latinize the term" Sorry, which term? Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 21:14
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    Hi, Denys. It was a little unclear to me too what angle you were adopting to answer the question, but your comments clarify that confusion. Can you add the above information from the comments into the answer as well?
    – cmw
    Commented Nov 16, 2022 at 21:54
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    @cmw I think the answer was made in good faith, but the angle taken has nothing to do with Latin language. If the question were posted in History or Politics SE, it would be a different story. I admit though that my formulation was unfortunate in the sense that multiple users (e.g., in the comments) have focused on the second paragraph, discussing the meaning of the term and how it is used nowadays. Part of the problem is that the question was advertised among the Hot network questions, attracting SE users with no particular interest in Latin.
    – Roger V.
    Commented Nov 17, 2022 at 8:24

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