Grigorii Nikolaevich Potanin

The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Potanin, Grigorii Nikolaevich


Born Sept. 22 (Oct. 4), 1835, in the village of Iamyshevskii, near Pavlodar; died June 30, 1920, in Tomsk. Russian geographer, ethnographer, publicist, and folklorist.

Potanin graduated from the Omsk Cadet Corps in 1852. Between 1853 and 1858 he was in military service in Semipalatinsk and Omsk. From 1859 to 1862 he studied at the University of St. Petersburg. For taking part in the student disturbances of 1861 he was exiled to Siberia, and for belonging to the Society for Siberian Independence he was imprisoned from 1865 to 1874 and later sentenced to hard labor and exile. He belonged to the sociopolitical movement of the Siberian Oblastniki.

In 1863 and 1864, Potanin was a member of an expedition of the Russian Geographical Society led by the Russian astronomer K. V. Struve to Zaisan Lake and the Tarbagatai Range. He went on expeditions to northwestern Mongolia and to Tuva in 1876 and 1877 and in 1879 and 1880 to northern China, eastern Tibet, and central Mongolia from 1884 to 1886 and in 1892 and 1893, and to the Greater Khingan Mountains in 1899. He was accompanied by his wife. A. V. Potanina, on all these expeditions except those of 1863–64 and 1899.

Potanin gathered extensive data on the geography of hitherto little-known and unstudied regions of Central Asia and collected numerous plant and zoological specimens. He amassed valuable materials on the culture, way of life, and folk art of many Turkic and Mongol peoples of Siberia and Central Asia, as well as of the Tanguts, Chinese, Dungans, and other peoples. His works contain valuable information on the history of the epic literature of the Turkic and Mongol peoples. In his folkloric studies he upheld the theory of borrowing. Potanin initiated a series of expeditions through Siberia and organized the Society for the Study of Siberia in Tomsk. A ridge of the Nan Shan mountains and the largest glacier of the Tabyn-Bogdo-Ola massif in the Altai region were named in his honor.


Ocherki Severo-Zapadnoi Mongolii, fascs. 1–4. St. Petersburg, 1881–83. (Republished as Puteshestviia po Mongolii. Moscow, 1948.)
Erke: Kul’t syna neba ν Severnoi Azii. Tomsk, 1916.
Tangutsko-Tibetskaia okraina Kitaia i Tsentral’naia Mongoliia, 2nd ed. Moscow, 1950.
Vostochnye motivy ν srednevekovom evropeiskom epose. Moscow, 1899.
Saga o Solomone. Tomsk, 1912.


Obruchev, V. A. Grigorii Nikolaevich Potanin: Zhizn’ i deiatel’nost’. Moscow-Leningrad, 1947.
Obruchev, V. A. Puteshestviia Potanina. Moscow, 1953.
Koshelev, la. R. Russkaia fol’kloristika Sibiri (XIX-nach. XX vv.). Tomsk, 1962.
Azadovskii, M. K. Istoriia russkoi fol’kloristiki, vol. 2. Moscow, 1963.
The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.