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1) The History of the Life and Travels of Rabban Sawma (also in the mid 1200s)

2) William of Rubruck’s Account of the Mongols (1253-1255 CE)

3) ‘The Han Koong Tsu, or Autumn of the Palace of Han’

Professor Anooshahr will contextualize these readings during his Tuesday and Thursday lectures, so I highly recommend you to attend the lectures in order to respond to these questions. Remember that these two historical figures Rabban Sawma and William of Rubruck were travelers across Medieval Europe and the Eurasian empire of the Mongols, respectively. Sawma was a monk traveling from the East to the West and gives a perspective of the West. While, William of Rubruck was a figure from the Crusades who travelled across the Mongolian empire. They shared a similar time-period and it would be fruitful for you to compare their experiences to reflect on the similarities and distinctions in their representation of the Eurasian world.

For this week, you have to answer


questions within 250 words (Total): (Answer all questions)

1) Explain from the account of Rabban Sawma what kind of a description do you get of the medieval world.

2) Use the account of William of Rubruck to explain what views of the Mongols you get from it.

3) What does the Han Koong Tsew demonstrate about the Chinese view of the Mongols?

First published in 1928. Printed by Harrison & Sons, Ltd., St. Martin’s Lane, London, W.C. 2
[The numbers in parentheses on this and following pages refer to the numbers of the pages in
Bedjan’s edition (the second) of the Syrian text, and are added to facilitate reference to this text.]
Now MAR YAHBH-ALLAHA, the Catholicus, increased in power, and his honour before the
King and Queens grew greater daily. He pulled down the church of MAR SHALITA which was
in MARAGHAH, and he rebuilt it at very great expense. And instead of using [the old] beams
[and making a single roof] he made [the new church] with two naves (haikili); and by the side of
it he built a cell in which to live. For his affection for the house of King ARGHON was very
warm, because ARGHON loved the Christians with his whole heart. And ARGHON intended to
go into the countries of Palestine and Syria and to subjugate them and take possession of them,
but he said to himself, “If the Western Kings, who are Christians, will not help me I shall not be
able to fulfil my desire.” Thereupon he asked the Catholicus to give him a wise man (48), “one
who is suitable and is capable of undertaking an embassy, that we may send him to those kings.”
And when the Catholicus saw that there was no man who knew the language except Rabban
Sawma, and knowing that he was fully capable of this, he commanded him to go [on the
Then RABBAN SAWMA said, “I desire this embassy greatly, and I long to go.” Then
straightway King ARGHON wrote for him “Authorities” (pukdana) to the king of the Greeks,
and the king of the PEROGAYE (Franks?) that is to say Romans, and Yarlike [i.e. the
“Ordinances” of the Mongolian kings], and letters, and gave him gifts for each of the kings
[addressed by him]. And to RABBAN SAWMA he gave two thousand mathkale (£1,000?) of
gold, and thirty good riding animals, and a Paiza (see above, pp. 62, 63). And RABBAN
SAWMA came to the cell of the Catholicus to obtain letter from MAR YAHBH-ALLAHA, and
to say farewell to him. The Catholicus gave his permission to depart (49), but when the time for
his departure arrived, it did not please the Catholicus to permit him to go. For he said [unto
Rabban Sawma], “How can this possibly take place? Thou hast been the governor of my cell,
and thou knowest that through thy departure my affairs will fall into a state of utter confusion.”
And having said such words as these they said farewell to each other, weeping as they did so.
And the Catholicus sent with him letters, and gifts which were suitable for presentation to Mar
Papa (the Pope), and gifts [i.e. offerings] according to his ability.
And RABBAN SAWMA set out on his journey, and there went with him a number of excellent
men from among the priests and deacons of the Cell of the Catholicus. And he arrived at BETH
RHOMAYE [i.e. the territory of the Romans] on the borders of the Sea of Meka [the Black
Sea?], he saw the church that was there, and [then] went down [i.e. embarked] in a ship and his
companions were with him. Now there were more than three hundred souls in the ship, and each
day he consoled them with [his] discourse on the Faith. Now the greater number of those who
dwelt in the ship were Romans (i.e. Byzantine Greeks), and because of the savour of his speech
they paid him honour in no small degree.
And after [some] days he arrived at the great city of CONSTANTINOPLE (50), and before they
went into it he sent two young men to the Royal gate (Sublime Porte) to make known there that
an ambassador of King Arghon had come. Then the king commanded certain people to go forth
to meet them, and to bring them in with pomp and honour. And when RABBAN SAWMA went
intothe city, the king allotted to him a house, that is to say, a mansion in which to dwell. And
after RABBAN SAWMA had rested himself, he went to visit the king BAEIAET’E [Andronicus
II] and after he had saluted him, the king asked him, “How art thou after the workings of the sea
and the fatigue of the road?” And RABBAN SAWMA replied, “With the sight of the Christian
king fatigue hath vanished and exhaustion hath departed, for I was exceedingly anxious to see
your kingdom, the which may our Lord establish!”
And after they had enjoyed food and drink RABBAN SAWMA asked the king to be allowed to
see the churches and the shrines [or tombs] of the Fathers [i.e. Patriarchs], and the relics of the
saints that were therein. And the king handed RABBAN SAWMA over to the nobles of his
kingdom and (51) they showed him everything that was there.
First of all he went unto the great church of . . ., [i.e. the Church of Divine Wisdom], which has
three hundred and sixty doors [i.e. pillars] all made of marble. As for the dome of the altar it is
impossible for a man to describe it [adequately] to one who hath not seen it, and to say how high
and how spacious it is. There is in this church a picture of the holy MARY which LUKE, the
Evangelist, painted. He saw there also the hand of MAR JOHN the Baptist, and portions [of the
bodies of] LAZARUS, and MARY MAGDALENE, and that stone which was laid on the grave
of our Lord, when Joseph the . . . brought Him down from the Cross. Now MARY wept on that
stone, and the place hereon her tears fell is wet even at the present time; and however often this
moisture is wiped away the place becometh wet again. And he saw also the stone bowl in which
our Lord changed the water into wine (52) at KATNE (Cana) of Galilee; and the funerary coffer
of one of the holy women which is exposed to public view every year, and every sick person
who is laid under it is made whole; and the coffer of MAR JOHN OF THE MOUTH OF GOLD
(Chrysostom). And he saw also the stone on which SIMON PETER was sitting when the cock
crew; and the tomb of King CONSTANTINE, the Conqueror, which was made of red stone
(porphyry?); and also the tomb of JUSTINIAN, which was [built of] green stone; and also the
BETH KAWMA (resting place) of the Three Hundred and Eighteen [orthodox] Bishops who
were all laid in one great church; and their bodies have not suffered corruption because they had
confirmed the [True] Faith. And he saw also many shrines of the holy Fathers, and many amulets
of a magical character (talismata) and image[s] in bodily form made of bronze and stone
And when RABBAN SAWMA went [back] to King BAEIAET’E he said, “May the king live for
ever! I give thanks unto our Lord that I have been held worthy to see these things. And now, if
the king will permit me, I will go and fulfil the command (53) of King ARGHON, for the
command to me was to enter the territory of the Progaye [i.e. Franks].” Then the king entreated
him with great kindness, and gave him gifts of gold and silver.
And he departed from Constantinople and went down to the sea. And he saw on the sea-shore a
monastery of the Romans, and there were laid up in its treasure-house two funerary coffers of
silver; in the one was the head of MAR JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, and in the other that of MAR
PAPA who baptized CONSTANTINE. And he went down to the sea [i.e. embarked on a ship]
and came to the middle thereof, where he saw a mountain from which smoke ascended all the
day long and in the night time fire showed itself on it. And no man is able to approach the
neighbourhood of it because of the stench of sulphur [proceeding therefrom]. Some people say
that there is a great serpent there. This sea is called the “Sea of Italy.” Now it is a terrible sea, and
very many thousands of (54) people have perished therein. And after two months of toil, and
weariness, and exhaustion, RABBAN SAWMA arrived at the sea-shore, and he landed at the
name of which was NAPOLI (Naples); the name of its king was IRID SHARDALO [ =IL RE
SHARL DU or, the King Charles II?]. And he went to the king and showed him the reason why
they had come; and the king welcomed him and paid him honour. Now it happened that there
was war between him and another king, whose name was IRID ARKON [=the King of Aragon,
JAMES II?]. And the troops of the one had come in many ships, and the troops of the other were
ready, and they began to fight each other, and the King of ARAGON (?) conquered King
CHARLES II, and slew twelve thousand his men, and sunk their ships in the sea. [According to
Chabot this naval engagement took place in the Bay of Sorrento on St. John’s Day, June 24,
1287, and the great eruption of Mount Etna on June I8]. Meanwhile RABBAN SAWMA and his
companions sat upon the roof the mansion in which they lived, and they admired the way in
which the Franks waged war for they attacked none of the people except those who were actually
combatants (55). And from that place they travelled inland on horses, and they passed through
towns and villages and marvelled because they found no land which was destitute of buildings.
On the road they heard that MAR PAPA [Honorius IV who died in 1287] was dead.
And the Cardinals said unto him, “For the present rest thyself, and we will discuss the matter
together later”; and they assigned to him a mansion and caused him to be taken down thereto.
Three days later the Cardinals sent and summoned RABBAN SAWMA to their presence. And
when he went to them they began to ask him questions, saying, “What is thy quarter of the world,
and why hast thou come?” And he replied in the selfsame words he had already spoken to them
(57). And they said unto him, “Where doth the Catholicus live? And the Cardinals. And thus they
did, and [their act] was pleasing to those Cardinals. And when RABBAN SAWMA went into
their presence no man stood up before him, for by reason of the honourable nature of the Throne,
the twelve Cardinals were not in the habit of doing this. And they made RABBAN SAWMA sit
down with them, and one of them asked him, “How art thou after all the fatigue of the road?”
And he made answer to him, “Through you prayers I am well and rested.” And the Cardinal said
unto him, “For what purpose hast thou come hither?” And RABBAN SAWMA said unto him,
“The Mongols and the Catholicus of the East have sent me to Mar Papa concerning the matter of
Jerusalem; and they have sent letters with me.” And the Cardinals said unto him, “Fro the present
rest thyself, and we will discuss the matter together later”; and they assigned to him a mansion
and ccaused him to be taken down thereto
Three days later the Cardinals sent and summoned RABBAN SAWMA to their presence. And
when he went to them they began to ask him questions, saying, “What is thy quarter of the world,
and why has thou come?” And he replied in the selfsame words he had already spoden to them
(57). And they said unto him, “Where doth the Catholixus live? And which of the Apostles
taught the Gospel in thy quarter of the world ? ” And he answered them, saying, “MAR
THOMAS, and MAR ADDAI, and MAR MARI taught the Gospel in our quarter of the world,
and we hold at the present time the canons [or statutes] which they delivered unto us.” The
Cardinals said unto him, “Where is the Throne of the Catholicus?” He said to them, “In
BAGHDAD.” They answered, What position hast thou there?” And he replied, ” am a deacon in
the Cell of the Catholicus, and the director of the disciples, and the Visitor-General.” The
Cardinals said, ” It is a marvellous thing that thou who art a Christian, and a deacon of the
Throne of the Patriarch of the East has come upon an embassy from the king of the
Mongols.”And RABBAN SAWMA said unto them, “Know ye, O our Fathers, that many of our
Fathers have gone into the countries of the Mongols, and Turks, and Chinese and have taught
them the Gospel, and at the present time there are many Mongols who are Christians. For many
of the sons of the Mongol kings and queens (58) have been baptized and confess Christ. And
they have established churches in their military camps, and they pay honour to the Christians,
and there are among them many who are believers. Now the king [of the Mongols], who is
joined in the bond of friendship with the Catholicus, hath the desire to take PALESTINE, and the
countries of SYRIA, and he demandeth from you help in order to take JERUSALEM. He hath
chosen me and hath sent me to you because, being a Christian, my word will be believed by you.
“And the Cardinals said unto him, “What is thy confession of faith? To what ‘way’ art thou
attached ? Is it that which Mar Papa holdeth to-day or some other one?” RABBAN SAWMA
replied, “No man hath come to us Orientals from the Pope. The holy Apostle whose names I
have mentioned taught us the Gospel, and to what they delivered unto us we have clung to the
present day.” The Cardinals said unto him, “How dost thou believe? Recite thy belief, article by
“I believe in One God, hidden, everlasting, without beginning and without (59) end, Father, and
Son, and Holy Spirit: Three Persons, coequal and indivisible; among Whom there is none who is
first, or last, or young, or old: in Nature they are One, in Persons they are three: the Father is the
Begetter, the Son is the Begotten, the Spirit proceedeth.
“In the last time one of the Persons of the Royal Trinity, namely the Son, put on the perfect man,
Jesus Christ, from MARY the holy virgin; and was united to Him Personally (parsopaith), and in
him saved (or redeemed) the world. In His Divinity He is eternally of the Father; in His humanity
He was born [a Being] in time of MARY; the union is inseparable and indivisible for ever; the
union is without mingling, and without mixture, and without compaction. The Son of this union
is perfect God (60) and perfect man, two Natures (keyanin), and two Persons (kenomin)–one
parsopa (. . .)
The Cardinals said unto him, “Doth the Holy Spirit proceed from the Father or from the Son, or
is it separate?” RABBAN SAWMA replied,
“Are the Father, and the Son, and the Spirit associated in the things which appertain to the Nature
(keyana) or separate?” The Cardinals answered, “They are associated in the things which concern
the Nature (keyana) but are separate in respect of individual qualities.”RABBAN SAWMA said,
“What are their individual qualities?” The Cardinals replied, “Of the Father, the act of begetting:
of the Son the being begotten: of the Spirit the going forth (proceeding). RABBAN SAWMA
said, “Which of Them is the cause of that Other?” And the Cardinals replied, “The Father is the
cause of the Son, and the Son is the cause of the Spirit.” RABBAN SAWMA said, “If they are
coequal in Nature (keyana), and in operation, and in power, and in authority (or dominion), and
the Three Persons (kenome) are One, how is it possible for one of Them to be the cause of the
Other? For of necessity (61) the Spirit also must be the cause of some other thing; but the
discussion is extraneous to the Confession of faith of wise men. We cannot find a demonstration
resembling this statement of yours.
“For behold, the soul is the cause both of the reasoning power and the act of living, but the
reasoning power is not the cause of the act of living. The sphere of the sun is the cause of light
and heat, and heat is not the cause of light. Thus we think that which is correct, namely, that the
Father is the cause of the Son and the Spirit, and that both the Son and the Spirit are causations
of His. Adam begot Seth, and made Eve to proceed [from him], and they are three; because in
respect there is absolutely no difference between begetting and making to go forth (or proceed).”
Then the Cardinals said unto him, “We confess that the Spirit proceedeth from the Father and the
Son, but not as we said, for we were only putting thy modesty [or, religious belief?] to the test.
“And RABBAN SAWMA said, “It is not right that to something which is one, two, three, or four
causes should be [assigned]; on the contrary I do not think that this resembleth our Confession of
Faith. “Now though the Cardinals restrained (62) his speech by means of very many
demonstrations, they held him in high esteem because of his power of argument.
Then RABBAN SAWMA said unto them, “I have come from remote countries neither to
discuss, nor to instruct [men] in matter of the Faith, but I came that I might receive a blessing
from MAR PAPA, and from the shrines of the saints and to make known the words of King
[ARGHON] and the Catholicus. If it be pleasing in your eyes, let us set aside discussion, and do
ye give attention and direct someone to show us the churches here and the shrines of the saints;
[if ye will do this] ye will confer a very great favour on your servant and disciple.”
Then the Cardinals summoned the Amir of the city and certain monks and commanded them to
show him the churches and the holy places that were there; and they went forth straightway and
saw the places which we will now mention. First of all they went into the church of PETER and
PAUL. Beneath the Throne is a naos, and in this is laid (63) the body of SAINT PETER, and
above the throne is an altar. The altar which is in the middle of that are, temple has four
doorways, and in each of these two folding doors worked with designs in fro; MAR PAPA
celebrates the Mass at this altar, and no person besides himself may stand on the bench of that
altar. Afterwards they saw the Throne of MAR PETER whereon they make MAR PAPA to sit
when they appoint him. And the also saw the strip of fine [or thin] linen on which our Lord
impressed His image and sent to King ABHGAR of URHAI (Edessa). Now the extent of that
temple and its splendour cannot be described; it stands on one hundred and eight pillars. In it is
another altar at which the King of their Kings receives the laying on of hands [i.e. is consecrated
and crowned], and is proclaimed “Ampror (Emperor) King of Kings,” by the Pope. And they say
that after the prayer Mar Papa takes up the Crown with his feet and clothes the Emperor with it
(64), that is to say, places it upon his own head [to show], as they say, that priesthood reigneth
over sovereignty[or kingship].
And when they had seen all the churches and monasteries that were in Great Rome, they went
outside the city to the church of MAR PAUL the Apostle, where under the altar is his tomb. And
there, too, is the chain wherewith Paul was bound when he was dragged to that place. And in that
altar there are also a reliquary of gold herein is the head of MAR STEPHEN the Martyr, and the
hand of MAR KHANANYA (ANANIAS) who baptized PAUL. And the staff of PAUL the
Apostle is also there. And from that place they went to the spot where PAUL the Apostle, was
crowned [with martyrdom]. They say that when his head was cut off it leaped up thrice into the
air, and at each time cried out CHRIST! CHRIST! And that from each of the three places on
which his head fell there came forth waters which were useful for healing purposes, and for
giving help to all those who were afflicted. And in that place there is a great shrine (65) wherein
are the bones of martyrs and famous Fathers, and they were blessed by them.
And they went also to the Church of my Lady MARYAM , and of MAR JOHN the Baptist, and
saw therein the seamless tunic of our Lord. And there is also in that church the tablet [or slab] on
which our Lord consecrated the Offering and gave it to His disciples. And each year Mar Papa
consecrates on that tablet the Paschal Mysteries. There are in that church four pillars of copper
[or brass], each of which is six cubits in thickness; these, they say, the kings brought from
Jerusalem. They saw also there the vessel in which CONSTANTINE, the victorious king, was
baptized; it is made of black stone [basalt?] polished. Now that church is very large and broad,
and there are in the nave (haikla) one hundred and forty white marble pillars. They saw also the
place where SIMON KIPA [i.e. Simon the Rock] disputed with SIMON [Magus], and where the
latter fell down and his bones were broken.
From that place they went into the church of MART MARYAM, and [the priests] brought out
for them reliquaries made of beryl (crystal?), wherein was (66) the apparel of MART
MARYAM, and a piece of wood on which our Lord had lain when a child. They saw also the
head of MATTHEH the Apostle, in a reliquary of silver. And they saw the foot of PHILIP, the
Apostle, and the arm of JAMES, the son of ZABHDA! (ZEBEDEE}, in the Church of the
Apostles, which was there. And after these [sights] they saw buildings which it is impossible to
describe in words, and as the histories of those buildings would make any description of them
very long I abandon [the attempt].
After this RABBAN SAWMA and his companions returned to the Cardinals, and thanked them
for having held him to be worthy to see these shrines and to receive blessings from them. And
RABBAN SAWMA asked from them permission to go to the king who dwelleth in Rome; and
they permitted him to go, and said, “We cannot give thee an answer until the [new] Pope is
And they went from that place to the country of TUSZKAN (TUSCANY), and were honourably
entreated, and thence they (67) went to GINOH (GENOA). Now the latter country has no king,
but the people thereof set up to rule over it some great man with whom they are pleased.
And when the people of GENOA heard that an ambassador of King ARGHON had arrived, their
Chief went forth with a great crowd of people, and they brought him into the city.
And there was there a great church with the name of SAINT SINALORNIA (SAN LORENZO),
in which was the holy body of MAR JOHN the Baptist, in a coffer of pure silver. And RABBAN
SAWMA and his companions saw also a six-sided paten, made of emerald, and the people there
told them that it was off this paten from which our Lord ate the Passover with His disciples, and
that it was brought there when Jerusalem was captured. And from that place they went to the
country of ONBAR, [according to Bedjan, Lombardy] and they saw that the people there did not
fast during the first Sabbath of Lent. And when they asked them, “Wherefore do ye do thus, and
separate yourselves from all [other] Christians” (68), they replied, “This is our custom. When we
were first taught the Gospel our fathers in the Faith were weakly and were unable to fast. Those
who taught them the Gospel commanded them to fast forty days only.”
William of Rubruck’s Account of the Mongols
At this place where we reached Etilia, the Tartars have made a new village with a mixed
population of Ruthenians and Saracens, and they ferry across the envoys going to and coming
from the ordu of Baatu; for Baatu is on the farther bank to the east, neither does he go beyond
this point we had reached when he comes north in summer, and he had begun moving southward
(when we arrived). From January to August he goes up to the cool country, as do all of them, and
in August they begin moving back.
[At Khan Batu’s court]
So we went down the river in a boat from this village to his (Baatu’s) ordu, and from that place to
the cities of Greater Bulgaria to the north there are five days. I wonder what devil carried this
religion of Machomet [=Muhammad] thither. From the Iron Gate, which is the door out of
Persia, there are more than thirty days through the desert, going up along the Etilia, to this
Bulgaria, along which route there is no city, only some villages near where the Etilia falls into
the sea; and these Bulgarians are the worst kind of Saracens, keeping the law of Machomet as no
others [J: and adhere more strictly … than do any of the others].
When I saw the ordu of Baatu, I was astonished, for it seemed like a great city stretched out
about his dwelling, with people scattered all about for three or four leagues. And as among the
people of Israel, where each one knew in which quarter from the tabernacle he had to pitch his
tents, so these know on which side of the ordu they must place themselves when they set down
their dwellings. A court (curia) is orda in their language, and it means “middle,” for it is always
in the middle of the people, with the exception, however, that no one places himself right to the
south, for in that direction the doors of the court open. But to the right and left they may spread
out as they wish, according to the lay of the land, so long as they do not bring the line of tents
down right before or behind the court.
We were first taken to a certain Saracen, who gave us no food. The next day we were taken to
the court, and they had a great awning spread, for the dwelling could not hold all the men and
women who had come thither. Our guide cautioned us to say nothing until Baatu should have bid
us speak, and then to speak briefly. He asked also whether you had already sent ambassadors to
the Tartars. I said that you had sent to Keu Chan, but that you would not even have sent envoys
to him and [a] letter to Sartach if you had not believed that they were Christians. Then they led
us before the pavilion, and we were warned not to touch the ropes of the tent, for they are held to
represent the threshold of the door. So we stood there in our robes and barefooted, with
uncovered heads, and we were a great spectacle unto ourselves [J: presented quite a spectacle for
them]. Friar John of Policarp had been there; but he had changed his gown, fearing lest he should
be slighted, being the envoy of the lord Pope. Then we were led into the middle of the tent, and
they did not require us to make any reverence by bending the knee, as they are used to do of
envoys. We stood before him the time to say: “Miserere mei, Deus,” [J: the Miserere mei Deus
(i.e., Pslam 50, or 51 in the authorized version)] and all kept profound silence. He was seated on
a long seat as broad as a couch, all gilded, and with three steps leading up to it, and a lady was
beside him. Men were seated about on his right, and ladies on his left: and where the room on the
women’s side was not taken up by them, for there were only present the wives of Baatu, men
occupied it. A bench with cosmos and big cups of gold and silver, ornamented with precious
stones, was in the entry of the tent. He looked at us intently, and we at him, and he seemed to me
to be about the height of my lord John de Beaumont, may his soul rest in peace. And his face was
all covered at that time with reddish spots. Finally he bid me speak, and our guide told us to bend
the knee and speak. I bent one knee as to a man, but he made sign to me to bend both, which I
did, not wishing to dispute over it. Then he bid me speak, and I, thinking I was praying God,
having both knees bent, began my speech by saying [J: reflecting to myself that I could be at
prayer, seeing I was on both knees, I took my first words from a collect, saying…]: “Oh lord, we
pray God from whom proceedeth all good things, and who gave you these worldly goods, to give
you hereafter celestial ones, for the former without the latter are vain.” And as he listened
attentively, I added : “You must know for certain that you shall not have the celestial goods
unless you have been a Christian ; for God saith: ‘He who shall have believed and have been
baptized, shall be saved, but he who shall not have believed shall be condemned’.” At this he
quietly smiled, and the other Mo’als began clapping their hands, laughing at us, and my
interpreter stood dumbfounded, and I had to reassure him that he be not afraid. Then silence
being reestablished, I said: “I came to your son, because we had heard that he was a Christian,
and I brought him [a] letter from the lord King of the French. He (i.e., Sartach) it is who has sent
me here to you. You must know the reason why.” Then he caused me to rise, and he asked your
name and mine, and that of my companion and of the interpreter, and he had it all written down,
and he also asked against whom you were waging war, for he had heard that you had left your
country with an army. I replied: “Against the Saracens who are profaning Jerusalem, the house of
God.” He also asked whether you had ever sent envoys to him. “To you,” I said, “never.” Then
he made us sit down, and had us given of his milk to drink, and they hold it to be a great honor
when anyone drinks cosmos with him in his dwelling. While sitting there I was looking down,
but he bid me turn my face up, either wishing to see me better, or on account of their sorcery, for
they hold it to be a bad omen or sign, or as portending evil, if one sits before them with face
turned down as if in sorrow, and especially so if he rest his chin or his cheek in his hand. Then
we went out, and after a little while our guide came to us, and while conducting us to our lodging
said to me: “The lord King requests that you remain in this country, but Baatu may not do this
without the permission of Mangu Chan. So you and your interpreter must go to Mangu Chan. As
to your companion and the other man, they will go back to Sartach, where they will await your
return.” Then the interpreter Homo Dei began to lament, deeming himself lost, and my
companion to declare that they might sooner cut off his head than separate him from me; and I
said that without a companion I could not go, and moreover that we really required two servants,
for should one happen to fall ill, I could not be left alone. So he went back to the court and told
Baatu what I had said. Then he commanded; “Let the two priests and the interpreter go, and the
clerk return to Sartach.” He came back and told us the decision; but when I wanted to speak
about the clerk, that he might come with us, he said: “Say no more about it, for Baatu has settled
it, and I dare not go again to the court.” The clerk Gosset had twenty-six yperpera of your alms
and no more; of these he kept ten for himself and the boy, and he gave the sixteen others to
Homo Dei for us; and so we parted from each other with tears, he going back to Sartach, and we
remaining there.
On the eve of the Assumption (14th August [1253]) he (Gosset) reached the ordu of Sartach, and
the next day the Nestorian priests were dressed in our vestments in the presence of Sartach. As
for us, we were taken to another host who was to provide us with lodgings, food and horses, but
as we had nothing to give him he did it all meanly. We drove about with Baatu for five weeks,
following the Etilia down its course. Sometimes my companion was so hungry that he would say
to me, almost with tears in his eyes: “It seems to me I shall never get anything to eat [J: I feel as
if I have never eaten].” The market always follows the ordu of Baatu, but it was so far away from
us that we could not get there, for from lack of horses we had to travel afoot. Finally some
Hungarians who had been clerks found us out, and one of them still knew how to sing with much
expression [J: to chant many things by heart], and was looked upon by the other Hungarians
almost as a priest, and was called to the burial of their dead; and another of them was well versed
in grammar [J: had received a competent training in grammar], for he understood accurately all
we said to him, though he could not reply. These men were a great consolation to us, bringing us
cosmos to drink and sometimes meat to eat. I was greatly distressed when they asked me for
some books, as I had none to give them, having only a Bible and a breviary. So I said to them:
“Bring us tablets (cartas), and I will write for you as long as we are here.” And this they did, and
I wrote on both sides of them the hours of the Blessed Virgin and the office for the dead. One
day a Coman joined us, who saluted us in Latin, saying: “Salvite, domine!” Much astonished, I
returned his salutation, and asked him who had taught it him. He said that he had been baptized
in Hungary by the brethren of our order, who had taught it to him. He said, furthermore, that
Baatu had asked him a great deal about us, and that he had told him of the condition [J: rules] of
our Order.
I saw Baatu riding with all his horde (turba); and all the heads of families were riding with him,
but according to my estimate there were not over five hundred men. At last, about the feast of the
Elevation of the Holy Cross (14th September), there came a rich Mo’al to us, whose father was a
chief of a thousand, which is a high rank among them, and he said: “I am to take you to Mangu
Chan. The journey is a four months one, and it is so cold on it that stones and trees are split by
the cold. Think it over whether you can bear it.” I answered him: “I trust that, by the grace of
God, we may be able to bear what other men can bear.” Then he said : “If you cannot bear it, I
shall abandon you on the road.” I replied: “That is not right; we are not going of ourselves, but
are sent by your lord, so, being entrusted to your care, you should not abandon us.” Then he said:
“All will be well.” After that he made us show him all our clothing, and what seemed to him of
little use he made us leave with our host. The next day they brought each of us a sheepskin
gown, breeches of the same material, boots according to their fashion, felt stockings, and hoods
such as they use. The day after the Elevation of the Holy Cross (15th September) we started on
our ride, with two pack horses for the three of us, and we rode constantly eastward until the feast
of All Saints [=November 1st]. And through all that country and beyond, the Cangle used to live,
and they were a branch (parentela) of the Comans. To the north of us was Greater Bulgaria, and
to the south the Caspian Sea.
After traveling twelve days from the Etilia, we found a great river which they call Jagac [=Iagac,
the modern Ural R.], and it comes from the country of Pascatir in the north, and falls into this
previously-mentioned sea (i.e., the Caspian). The language of Pascatir is the same as that of the
Hungarians, and they are shepherds without any towns whatever, and on the west this country
confines on Greater Bulgaria. From this country eastward, and on that side to the north, there are
no more towns; so Greater Bulgaria is the last country with towns. ‘Twas from this country of
Pascatir that went forth the Huns, who were afterward the Hungarians; hence it is the same as
Greater Bulgaria. Isidorus says that with their fleet horses they crossed the barriers which
Alexander had built among the rocks of the Caucasus to confine the savage tribes, and that as far
as Egypt all the country paid them tribute. They ravaged all the world as far as France, so that
they were a greater power than are now the Tartars. With them also came the Blacs, the Bulgars
and the Vandals. For from that Greater Bulgaria come the Bulgars, who are beyond the Danube
near Constantinople. And beside Pascatir are the Illac, which is the same word as Blac, but the
Tartars do not know how to pronounce (the letter) B, and from them come those who are in the
land of Assan. They call both of them Illac, the former and the latter. The language of the
Ruthenians, Poles, Bohemians and Sclavons is the same as that of the Vandals, and the hand of
all of them was with the Huns, as now is that of the greater part of them with the Tartars, whom
God has raised up out of the remote parts of the earth, a mighty people but a stupid race,
according to what the Lord saith: “I will move them to jealousy (that is, those who do not keep
his law) with those which are not a people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation.”
This is fulfilled to the letter as to all the nations who do not keep the law of the Christ. That
which I have told of and of Pascatir I know from the preaching friars who went there before the
advent of the Tartars, but since then it has been subjugated by the neighboring Saracen Bulgars,
and some of the people have become Saracens. The rest may be learned from the chronicles, for
it is a well established fact that those provinces from Constantinople (westward) and which were
called Bulgaria, Blackia end Sclavonia were provinces of the Greeks, and that Hungary was
So we rode through the country of the Cangle from the feast of the Holy Cross (15th September
[J: Sept. 14th]) to the feast of All Saints (1st November), and nearly every day we went, as well
as I could estimate, about the distance from Paris to Orleans, and sometimes more, according to
the supply of horses. For sometimes we changed horses two three times in a day, while at others
we went for two or three days without finding anyone, so we had to go slower. Out of twenty or
thirty horses we, as foreigners, always got the worst, for they invariably took their pick of horses
before us. They always gave me a strong horse, on account of my great weight; but I dared not
inquire whether he rode easily or not, nor did I venture to complain if he proved hard, but I had
to bear it all with equal good grace. Consequently we used to have to endure extreme hardships.
Oft times the horses were tired out before we had reached the stage, and we had to beat and whip
them, put our clothing on other pack horses, change our saddle horses for pack horses, and
sometimes even the two of us ride one horse.
Sometimes out of number [J: There is no counting the times] we were hungered and athirst, cold
and wearied. They only gave us food in the evening; in the morning we had something to drink
or millet gruel while in the evening they gave us meat, a shoulder and ribs of mutton, and some
pot liquor. When we had our fill of such meat broth, we felt greatly invigorated; it seemed to me
a most delicious drink and most nourishing. On Fridays I fasted without drinking anything till
evening, when I was obliged, though it distressed me sorely, to eat meat. Sometimes we had to
eat half-cooked or nearly raw meat, not having fuel to cook it; this happened when we reached
camp after dark, and we could not see to pick up ox or horse dung. We rarely found any other
fuel, save occasionally a few briars. In a few spots along the banks of some of the streams were
woods, but such spots were rare. At first our guide showed profound contempt for us, and was
disgusted at having to guide such poor folk; but after awhile, when he began to know us better,
he would take us to the yurts (curia) of rich Mo’al, where we had to pray for them, and if I had
had a good interpreter, I [would of] had opportunities for bringing about much good. This
Chingis, the first Chan, had four sons, whose descendants are very numerous; and these all have
big ordus, and they- multiply daily and are scattered all over this vast sea-like desert. Our guide
took us to many of these, and they would wonder greatly at our not receiving gold, silver, or
costly clothing. They inquired also of the great pope, if he were as old as they had heard, for they
had heard that he was five hundred years old. They asked about our countries, if there were many
sheep, cattle and horses there. As to the Ocean sea, they were quite unable to understand that it
was endless, without bounds.
The eve of All Saints (31st October) we left the road to the east, for the people had already
moved a good deal to the south, and we made our way by some alps due south continually for
eight days. In that desert I saw many asses called culam, and they greatly resemble mules; our
guide and his companion chased them a great deal, but without getting one, on account of their
great fleetness. The seventh day we began to see to the south some very high mountains, and we
entered a plain irrigated like a garden, and here we found cultivated land. On the octave of All
Saints (8th November) we entered a certain town of Saracens called Kinchat [=Kenjek], and its
captain [i.e., governor] came out of the town to meet our guide, bearing mead (cervisia) [J: ale]
and cups. For it is their custom that in all towns subject to them, they come out to meet the
messengers of Baatu and Mangu chap with food and drink. At that season of the year there was
ice on the roads in those parts, and even earlier, from the date of the feast of Saint Michel (29th
September) we had had frost in the desert. I inquired the name of this province; but as we had
already passed into another territory, they were unable to tell me anything beyond the name of
the town, which was a very small one. And there came a big river down from the mountains,
which irrigated the whole country wherever they wanted to lead the water, and it flowed not into
any sea, but was absorbed in the ground, forming many marshes. There (at Kinchat) I saw vines,
and twice did I drink wine.
The next clay we came to another village nearer the mountains, and I inquired concerning these
mountains, which I understood to be those of the Caucasus [*actually the Kirgizskii range],
which confine at either extremity on the sea, from the west to the east, and which we had already
crossed at the sea previously mentioned into which the Etilia flows. I asked also concerning the
town of Talas in which were Teuton [=German] slaves of Buri, of whom Friar Andrew had
spoken (to me), and concerning whom I had made much inquiry at the ordus of Sartach and
Baatu. I was unable to learn anything concerning them, only the following circumstances of the
death of their master Buri. Not finding his pasture lands good, one day while drunk he spoke to
his men, saying: “Am I not of the race of Chingis Chan as well as Baatu? (for he was the nephew
or brother of Baatu) Why should I not go to the banks of the Etilia like Baatu, to graze there?”
Now these words were reported to Baatu, and he wrote to Buri’s men, telling them to bring him
their lord in chains, and this they did. Then Baatu asked if he had spoken such words, and he
confessed that he had, though he sought to excuse himself as being drunk, for they usually
condone the offences of drunken men. But Baatu replied: “How dare you mention my name in
your drunkenness!” and he had his head cut off.
As to those Teutons I was unable to learn anything concerning them all the way to [J: until I
reached] Mangu Chan’s ordu, but in the village just referred to I gathered that Talas was beyond
us in the direction of the mountains, vi days’ travel. When I reached the ordu of Mangu Chan I
gathered that Mangu had transported these Teutons, with Baatu’s permission, the distance of a
month’s travel to the east of Talas, to a certain town called Bolat, where they are digging for gold
and manufacturing arms, so I could neither go nor come back their way. However, in going I
passed quite near that town (of Bolat), perhaps three days from it, but I was unaware of it, nor
could I have turned from my route if I had known it.
From the village I have mentioned we went eastward, close to the mountains above referred to,
and from that point we entered among the subjects of Mangu Chan, who everywhere sang and
clapped their hands before our guide, because he was an envoy of Baatu. For they show each
other this mark of honor; the subjects of Mangu receive in this fashion the envoys of Baatu, and
those of Baatu the envoys of Mangu. The subjects of Baatu, however, are the stronger, so they do
not observe the custom so carefully [J: Baatu’s people, however, give themselves rather more airs
and are not as careful to observe the practice]. A few days later we entered the alps in which the
Caracatai used to live, and there we found a great river which we had to pass in a boat. After that
we entered a valley, where we saw a ruined camp [J: fort], whose walls were nothing but mud,
and the soil was cultivated there. And after that we found a goodly town, called Equius, in which
were Saracens speaking Persian, though they were a very long way off from Persia. The next
day, having crossed these alps which project from the high mountains in the south, we entered a
beautiful plain with high mountains to the right, and a sea or lake which is twenty-five days [J:
fifteen days (*according to Rockhill, the MSS. differ on this point)] in circumference to the left.
And all this plain is well watered by the streams which come down from the mountains, and all
of which flow into this sea. In the summer time we came back along the north shore of this sea,
and there likewise were great mountains. In this plain there used to be many towns, but most of
them were destroyed, so that the Tartars might graze there, for there were most excellent
pasturages in that country. We found there a big town called Cailac [=Qayaligh], where there
was a market, and many traders frequented it. Here we rested twelve days, waiting for a certain
secretary of Baatu, who was to be associated with our guide in the matters to be settled at
Mangu’s ordu. This country used to be called Organum [=Urgench, the region’s capitol city], and
the people used to have a language and letters of their own [=Sogdian]; but now it is all occupied
by Turcomans. Moreover, the Nestorians of those parts used to perform their services in that
language, and write books in those letters, and perhaps it was by them that those people were
called Organa on account, as was told me, of their having been excellent guitar players (or
organiste). ‘Twas here I first saw idolaters [=Buddhists], of whom you must know there are
many sects in the east.
[Religious Debate at the Khan’s Court]
The next day, which was Sunday before Pentecost (24th May [1254]), they took me to court; and
the grand secretaries of the court came to me, and one was the Mo’al who handed the Chan his
cup, and the others were Saracens, and they inquired on the part of the Chan why I had come.
Then I repeated what has previously been said; how I had come to Sartach, and from Sartach to
Baatu, and how Baatu had sent me thither; then I said to him: “I have nothing to say from the
part of any man. (This he must have known from what Baatu had written to him.) I have only to
speak the words of God, if he wishes to hear them.” They interrupted me, asking what words of
God I wished to speak, thinking that I wanted to foretell some piece of good fortune to him, as
many others do. I replied to them: “If you want me to speak the words of God to him, procure for
me the interpreter.” They said: “We have sent for him; but speak (now) through this one as well
as you can; we understand you very well.” And they urged me greatly that I should speak. So I
said: “Of him unto whom much has been given much [J: more] shall be required. And
furthermore, of him to whom much has been given much love is required [J: He to whom more
hath been given must love the more]. By these words of God I teach Mangu, for God hath given
him great power, and the riches which he has were not given him by the idols of the Tuins, but
by Almighty God, who made heaven and earth, in whose hand are all kingdoms, and who
removes it (i.e., power) from one nation to another on account of the sins of men. So if he shall
love Him, it shall be well with him; if otherwise, he must know that God will require all things of
him to the last farthing.” Then one of the Saracens said: “Is there anyone who does not love
God?” I replied: “God says: ‘If one love me, he keepeth my commandments; and he who loveth
me not keepeth not my commandments.’ So he who keepeth not the commandments of God
loveth not God.” Then he said: “Have you been to heaven, that you know the commandments of
God?” “No,” I replied, “but He has given them from heaven to holy men, and finally He
descended from heaven to teach us, and we have them in the Scriptures, and we see by men’s
works when they keep them or not.” Then he said: “Do you wish, then, to say that Mangu Chan
does not keep the commandments of God?” I said to him: “Let the dragoman come, as you have
said, and I will, in the presence of Mangu, if it pleases him, recite the commandments of God,
and he shall judge for himself whether he keeps them or not.” Then they went away, and told
him that I had said that he was an idolater, or Tuin, and that he did not keep God’s
The next day (25th May) (the Chan) sent his secretaries to me, who said: “Our lord sends us to
you to say that you are here Christians, Saracens and Tuins. And each of you says that his
doctrine is the best, and his writings–that is, books–the truest. So he wishes that you shall all
meet together, and make a comparison [J: and hold a conference], each one writing down his
precepts, so that he himself may be able to know the truth.” Then I said: “Blessed be God, who
put this in the Chan’s heart. But our Scriptures tell us, the servant of God should not dispute, but
should show mildness to all; so I am ready, without disputation or contention, to give reason for
the faith and hope of the Christians, to the best of my ability.” They wrote down my words, and
carried them back to him. Then it was told the Nestorians that they should look to themselves,
and write down what they wished to say, and likewise to the Saracens, and in the same way to
the Tuins.
The next day (26th May) he again sent secretaries, who said: “Mangu Chan wishes to know why
you have come to these parts.” I replied to them: “He must know it by Baatu’s letters.” Then they
said: “The letters of Baatu have been lost, and he has forgotten what Baatu wrote to him; so he
would know from you.” Then feeling safer I said: “It is the duty of our faith to preach the Gospel
to all men. So when I heard of the fame of the Mo’al people, I was desirous of coming to them;
and while this desire was on me, we heard that Sartach was a Christian. So I turned my footsteps
toward him. And the lord king of the French sent him a letter containing kindly words, and
among other things he bore witness to what kind of men we were, and requested that he would
allow us to remain among the men of Mo’al. Then he (i.e., Sartach) sent us to Baatu, and Baatu
sent us to Mangu Chan; so we have begged him, and do again beg him, to permit us to remain.”
They wrote all these things down, and carried it back to him on the morrow.
Then he again sent them to me, saying: “The Chan knows well that you have no mission to him,
but that you have come to pray for him, like other righteous priests; but he would know if ever
any ambassadors from you have come to us, or any of ours gone to you.” Then I told them all
about David and Friar Andrew, and they, putting it all down in writing, reported it back to him.
Then he again sent them to me, saying: “You have stayed here a long while; (the Chan) wishes
you to go back to your own country, and he has inquired whether you will take an ambassador of
his with you.” I replied to them: “I would not dare take his envoys outside his own dominions,
for there is a hostile country between us and you, and seas and mountains; and I am but a poor
monk; so I would not venture to take them under my leadership.” And they, having written it all
down, went back.
Pentecost eve came (30th May). The Nestorians had written a whole chronicle from the creation
of the world to the Passion of Christ; and passing over the Passion [J: (correcting Rockhill): and
they went beyond the passion], they had touched on the Ascension and the resurrection of the
dead and on the coming to judgment, and in it there were some censurable statements, which I
pointed out to them. As for us, we simply wrote out the symbol of the mass, “Credo in unum
Demn.” Then I asked them how they wished to proceed. They said they would discuss in the first
place with the Saracens. I showed them that that was not a good plan, for the Saracens agreed
with us in saying that there is one God: “So you have (in them) a help against the Tuins.” They
agreed with this. Then I asked them if they knew how idolatry had arisen in the world, and they
were in ignorance of it. Then I told them, and they said: “Tell them these things, then let us
speak, for it is a difficult matter to talk through an interpreter.” I said to them: “Try how you will
manage against them; I will take the part of the Tuins, and you will maintain that of the
Christians. We will suppose I belong to that sect, because they say that God is not; now prove
that God is.” For there is a sect there which says that whatever spirit (anima) and whatever virtue
[J: whatever soul or any power] is in anything, is the God of that thing, and that God exists not
otherwise. Then the Nestorians were unable to prove anything, but only to tell what the
Scriptures tell. I said: “They do not believe in the Scriptures; you tell me one thing, and they tell
another [J: if you tell them one story, they will quote you another].” Then I advised them to let
me in the first place meet them, so that, if I should be confounded, they would still have a chance
to speak; if they should be confounded, I should not be able to get a hearing after that. They
agreed to this.
We were assembled then on Pentecost eve at our oratory, and Mangu Chan sent three secretaries
who were to be umpires, one a Christian, one a Saracen, and one a Tuin; and it was published
aloud: “This is the order of Mangu, and let no one dare say that the commandment of God differs
from it. And he orders that no one shall dare wrangle or insult any other, or make any noise by
which this business shall be interfered with, on penalty of his head.” Then all were silent. And
there was a great concourse of people there; for each side had called thither the most learned of
its people, and many others had also assembled.
Then the Christians put me in the middle, telling the Tuins to speak with me. Then they–and
there was a great congregation of them–began to murmur against Mangu Chan, for no other
Chan had ever attempted to pry into their secrets. Then they opposed to me one who had come
from Cathay, and who had his interpreter; and I had the son of master William. He began by
saying to me: “Friend, if you think you are going to be hushed up (conclusus), look for a more
learned one than yourself.” I remained silent. Then (the Tuin) inquired by what I wished to begin
the discussion, by the subject how the world was made, or what becomes of the soul after death.
I replied to him: “Friend, this should not be the beginning of our talk. All things proceed from
God. He is the fountain-head of all things; so we must first speak of God, of whom you think
differently from us, and Mangu Chan wishes to know who holds the better belief.” The umpires
decided that this was right.
He wished to begin with these questions, as they consider them to be the weightiest; for they all
hold this heresy of the Manichaeans [J: they all belong to the Manichaean heresy], that one half
of things is evil, and the other half good, and that there are two (elemental) principles; and, as to
souls, they believe that all pass from one body into another. Thus a most learned priest among
the Nestorians questioned me (once) concerning the souls of animals, whether they could escape
to any place where, after death, they would not be forced to labor. In confirmation furthermore of
this error, as I was told by master William, there had been brought from Cathay a boy who, from
the size of his body, was not more than twelve years old [J: three years old], but who was
capable of all forms of reasoning, and who said of himself that he had been incarnated three
times; he knew how to read and write.
So I said to the Tuin: “We believe firmly in our hearts and we confess with our mouths that God
is, and that there is only one God, one in perfect unity. What do you believe?” He said : “Fools
say that there is only one God, but the wise say that there are many. Are there not great lords in
your country, and is not this Mangu Chan a greater lord? So it is of them, for they are different in
different regions.”
I said to him: “You choose a poor example, in which there is no comparison between man and
God; according to that, every mighty man can call himself god in his own country.” And as I was
about to destroy the comparison, he interrupted me, asking: “Of what nature is your God, of
whom you say that there is none other?” I replied: “Our God, besides whom there is none other,
is omnipotent, and therefore requires the aid of none other, while all of us require His aid. It is
not thus with man. No man can do everything, and so there must be several lords in the world,
for no one can do all things. So likewise He knows all things, and therefore requires no
councilor, for all wisdom comes of Him. Likewise, He is the supreme good, and wants not of our
goods. But we live, move, and are in Him. Such is our God, and one must not consider Him
“It is not so,” he replied. “Though there is one (God) in the sky who is above all others, and of
whose origin we are still ignorant, there are ten others under him, and under these latter is
another lower one. On the earth they are in infinite number.” And as he wanted to spin (texere)
some other yarns, I asked him of this highest god, whether he believed he was omnipotent, or
whether (he believed this) of some other god. Fearing to answer, he asked: “If your God is as you
say, why does he make the half of things evil?” “That is not true,” I said. ” He who makes evil is
not God. All things that are, are good.”
At this all the Tuins were astonished, and they wrote it down as false or impossible. Then he
asked: “Whence then comes evil?” “You put your question badly,” I said. “You should in the first
place inquire what is evil, before you ask whence it comes. But let us go back to the first
question, whether you believe that any god is omnipotent; after that I will answer all you may
wish to ask me.”
He sat for a long time without replying, so that it became necessary for the secretaries who were
listening on the part of the Chan to tell him to reply. Finally he answered that no god was
omnipotent. With that the Saracens burst out into a loud laugh. When silence was restored, I
said: “Then no one of your gods can save you from every peril, for occasions may arise in which
he has no power. Furthermore, no one can serve two masters: how can you serve so many gods
in heaven and earth?” The audience told him to answer, but he remained speechless. And as I
wanted to explain the unity of the divine essence and the Trinity to the whole audience, the
Nestorians of the country said to me that it sufficed, for they wanted to talk. I gave in to them,
but when they wanted to argue with the Saracens, they [the Saracens] answered them: “We
concede your religion is true, and that everything is true that is in the Gospel: so we do not want
to argue any point with you.” And they confessed that in all their prayers they besought God to
grant them to die as Christians die.
There was present there an old priest of the Iugurs, who say there is one god, though they make
idols; they (i.e., the Nestorians) spoke at great length with him, telling him of all things down to
the coming of the Antichrist into the world [J: the coming of Christ in judgement], and by
comparisons demonstrating the Trinity to him and the Saracens. They all listened without
making any contradiction, but no one said: “I believe; I want to become a Christian.” When this
was over, the Nestorians as well as the Saracens sang with a loud voice; while the Tuins kept
silence, and after that they all [J: everyone] drank deeply.
A Chinese view of the Mongols
The Han Koong Tsu, or Autumn of the Palace
of Han
Enter Hanchenyu, K’han of the Tartars, reciting four verses.
Khan. The autumnal gale blows wildly through the grass, amidst our woolen tents. And the moon
of night, shining on the rude huts, hears the lament of the mournful pipe: The countless hosts,
with their bended horns, obey me as their leader.
Our tribes are ten distinguished friends of the family of Han. I am Hanchenyu, the old inhabitant
of the sandy waste; the sole ruler of the northern regions. The wild chase is our trade; battle and
conquest our chief occupation. The Emperor Wunwong retired before our Eastern tribes;
Weikeang trembled at us, and sued for our friendship. The ancient title of our chiefs has in the
course of time been changed to that which I now bear. When the two races of Ch’in and Han
contended in battle, and filled the empire with tumult, our tribes were in full power: numberless
was the host of armed warriors with their bended horns. For seven days my ancestor hemmed in
with his forces the Emperor Kaoute; until, by the contrivance of the minister, a treaty was
concluded, and the Princesses of China were yielded in marriage to our K’hans. Since the time of
Hoeyte and the Empress Leuhow, each successive generation has adhered to the established rule,
and sought our alliance with its daughters. In the reign of the late Emperor Seuente, my brothers
contended with myself for the rule of our nation, and its power was weakened until the tribes
elected me as their chief. I am a real descendant of the empire of Han. I command a hundred
thousand armed warriors. We have moved to the South, and approached the border, claiming an
alliance with the Imperial race. Yesterday I dispatched an envoy with tributary presents to
demand a princess in marriage; but know not if the Emperor will ratify the engagement with the
customary oaths. The fineness of the season has drawn away our chiefs on a hunting excursion
amidst the sandy steppes. May they meet with success, for we Tartars have no fields—our bows
and arrows are our sole means of subsistence.
Enter Minister of Han, reciting verses.
Minister. Let a man have the heart of a kite, and the talons of an eagle. Let him deceive his
superiors, and oppress those below him; Let him enlist flattery, insinuation, profligacy, and
avarice on his side, And he will find them a lasting assistance through life. I am no other than
Maouyenshow, a minister of the sovereign of Han. By a hundred arts of specious flattery and
address I have deceived the Emperor, until he places his whole delight in me alone. My words he
listens to; and he follows my counsel. Within the precincts of the palace, as without them, who is
there but bows before me—who is there but trembles at my approach? But observe the chief art
which I have learned: It is this: to persuade the Emperor to keep aloof from his wise counselors,
and seek all his pleasures amidst the women of his palace. Thus it is that I strengthen my power
and greatness. But, in the midst of my lucubrations—Here comes the Emperor.
Enter Emperor Yuente attended by Eunuchs and Women.
Emperor. [recites verses]. During the ten generations that have succeeded our acquisition of
Empire, my race has alone possessed the four hundred districts of the world. Long have the
frontiers been bound in tranquillity by the ties of mutual oaths. And our pillow has been
undisturbed by grief or anxiety. Behold in us the Emperor Yuente, of the race of Han. Our
ancestor Kaoute emerged from a private station, and raised his family by extinguishing the
dynasty of Ch’in, and slaughtering their race. Ten generations have passed away since he left this
inheritance to us. The four boundaries of the empire have been tranquil; the eight regions at rest!
But not through our personal merits; we have wholly depended on the exertions of our civil and
military rulers. On the demise of our late father, the female inmates of the palace were all
dispersed, and our harem is now solitary and untenanted; but how shall this be endured!
Minister. Consider, sir, that even the thriving husbandman may desire to change his partner; then
why not your Majesty, whose title is the Law of Heaven, whose possessions are the whole world!
May I advise that commissioners be dispatched to search throughout the empire for all of
whatever rank that is most beautiful between the ages of fifteen and twenty, for the peopling of
the inner palace.
Emperor. You say well. We appoint you at once our minister of selection, and will invest you
with a written authority. Search diligently through our realms; and when you have selected the
most worthy, let us be provided with portraits of each, as a means of fixing our choice. By the
merits of your services, you may supply us with an occasion of rewarding you on your return.
Minister. [repeats verses]. The huge ingots of yellow gold I appropriate to myself. I heed not the
seas of blood which flow by perverting the laws. During life I am determined to have abundance
of riches; what care I for the curses of mankind after my death? Having received the Emperor’s
commission to search far and wide for the most beautiful damsels, I have fixed upon ninety and
nine. Their families were glad to invite my selection by rich gifts, and the treasure that I have
amassed is not small. On arriving yesterday at a district pertaining to Chingtoo city, I met with a
maiden, daughter of one Wongehang. The brightness of her charms was piercing as an arrow.
She was perfectly beautiful—and doubtless unparalleled in the whole empire. But, unfortunately,
her father is a cultivator of the land, not possessed of much wealth. When I insisted on a hundred
ounces of gold to secure her being the chief object of the Imperial choice, they first pleaded their
poverty—and then, relying on her extraordinary beauty, rejected my offers altogether. I therefore
left them.
[Considers awhile.]
But no!— I have a better plan.
[He knits his brows and matures his scheme.]
I will disfigure her portrait in such a manner that when it reaches the Emperor it shall secure her
being doomed to neglected seclusion. Thus I shall contrive to make her unhappy for life.—Base
is the man who delights not in revenge! [Exit.
Night.—Enter the Lady Chaoukeun, with two female attendants.
Chaoukeun. [recites verses]. Though raised to be an inhabitant of the Imperial dwelling I have
long been here without the good fortune to see my prince. This beautiful night must I pass in
lonely solitude, with no companion but my lute to solace my retirement. I am a native of
Chingtoo city; and my father’s occupation is husbandry. My mother dreamed on the day I was
born that the light of the moon shone on her bosom, but was soon cast low to the earth. I was just
eighteen years of age when chosen as an inhabitant of the Imperial palace; but the minister
Maouyenshow, disappointed in the treasure which he demanded on my account, disfigured my
portrait in such a manner as to keep me out of the Emperor’s presence; and now I live in
neglected solitude. While at home, I learned a little music, and could play a few airs on the lute.
Thus sorrowing in the stillness of midnight, let me practise one of my songs to dispel my
griefs. [Begins to play on the lute.]
Enter Emperor, attended by a Eunuch, carrying a light.
Emperor. Since the beauties were selected to grace our palace, we have not yet discovered a
worthy object on whom to fix our preference. Vexed and disappointed, we pass this day of
leisure roaming in search of her who may be destined for our Imperial choice. [Hears the lute.] Is
not that some lady’s lute?
Attendant. It is.—I hasten to advise her of your Majesty’s approach.
Emperor. No, hold! Keeper of the yellow gate, discover to what part of our palace that lady
pertains; and bid her approach our presence; but beware lest you alarm her.
Attendant. [approaches in the direction of the sound, and speaks]. What lady plays there? The
Emperor comes! Approach to meet him. [Lady Advances.
Emperor. Keeper of the yellow gate, see that the light burns brightly within your gauze lamp, and
hold it nearer to us.
Lady. [approaching]. Had your handmaid but known it was your Majesty, she would have been
less tardy; forgive, then, this delay.
Emperor. Truly this is a very perfect beauty! From what quarter come such superior charms?
Lady. My name is Chaoukeun: my father cultivates at Chingtoo the fields which he has derived
from his family. Born in an humble station, I am ignorant of the manners that befit a palace.
Emperor. But with such uncommon attractions, what chance has kept you from our sight?
Lady. When I was chosen by the minister Maouyenshow, he demanded of my father an amount
of treasure which our poverty could not supply; he therefore disfigured my portrait, by
representing a scar under the eyes, and caused me to be consigned to seclusion and neglect.
Emperor. Keeper of the yellow gate, bring us that picture, that we may view it. [Sees the picture.]
Ah, how has he dimmed the purity of the gem, bright as the waves in autumn. [To the attendant.]
Transmit our pleasure to the officer of the guard, to behead Maouyenshow and report to us his
Lady. My parents, sir, are subject to the tax in our native district. Let me entreat your Majesty to
remit their contributions and extend favor toward them!
Emperor. That shall readily be done. Approach and hear ur Imperial pleasure. We create you a
Princess of our palace.
Lady. How unworthy is your handmaid of such gracious distinction! [Goes through the form of
returning thanks.] Early to-morrow I attend your Majesty’s commands in this place. The Emperor
is gone: let the attendants close the doors: I will retire to rest. [Exit.
Enter K’han of the Tartars, at the head of his Tribes.
Khan. I lately sent an envoy to the sovereign of Han, with the demand of a princess in marriage;
but the Emperor has returned a refusal, under the plea that the princess is yet too young. This
answer gives me great trouble. Had he not plenty of ladies in his palace, of whom he might have
sent me one? The difference was of little consequence. Let me recall my envoy with all speed,
for I must invade the South with our forces. And yet I am unwilling to break a truce of so many
years’ standing! We must see how matters turn out, and be guided by the event.
Enter Minister of Han.
Minister. The severity with which I extorted money, in the selection of beauties for the palace,
led me to disfigure the picture of Chaoukeun, and consign her to neglected seclusion. But the
Emperor fell in with her, obtained the truth, and condemned me to lose my head. I contrived to
make my escape—though I have no home to receive me. I will take this true portrait of
Chaoukeun and show it to the Tartar Khan, persuading him to demand her from the Emperor,
who will no doubt be obliged to yield her up. A long journey has brought me to this spot, and
from the troops of men and horses
I conclude I have reached the Tartar camp. [Addresses himself to somebody.] Leader, inform
King Hanchenyu that a great minister of the empire of Han is come to wait on him.
Khan. [on being informed]. Command him to approach. [Seeing Maouyenshow.] What person
are you?
Minister. I am a minister of Han. In the western palace of the Emperor is a lady, named
Chaoukeun, of rare and surpassing charms. When your envoy, great king, came to demand a
princess, this lady would have answered the summons, but the Emperor of Han could not bring
himself to part with her, and refused to yield her up. I repeatedly renewed my bitter reproaches,
and asked how he could bear, for the sake of a woman’s beauty, to implicate the welfare of two
nations. For this the Emperor would have beheaded me; and I therefore escaped with the portrait
of the lady, which I present, great king, to yourself. Should you send away an envoy with the
picture to demand her, she must certainly be delivered up. Here is the portrait. [Hands it up.
Khan. Whence could so beautiful a female have appeared in the world!? If I can only obtain her,
my wishes are complete. Immediately shall an envoy be dispatched, and my ministers prepare a
letter to the Emperor of Han, demanding her in marriage as the condition of peace. Should he
refuse, I will presently invade the South: his hills and rivers shall be exposed to ravage. Our
warriors will commence by hunting, as they proceed on their way; and thus gradually entering
the frontiers, I shall be ready to act as may best suit the occasion. [Exit.
The Palace of Han. Enter lady, attended by females.
Princess. A long period has elapsed since I had to thank his Majesty for his choice. The
Emperor’s fondness for me is so great, that he has still neglected to hold a court. I hear he is now
gone to the hall of audience, and will therefore ornament myself at my toilet and be ready to wait
on him at his return. [Stands opposite a mirror.
Enter Emperor.
Emperor. Since we first met with Chaoukeun in the western palace, we have been as it were
deranged and intoxicated; a long interval has elapsed since we held a court; and on entering the
hall of audience this day, we waited not until the assembly had dispersed, but returned hither to
obtain a sight of her. [Perceiving the Princess.] Let us not alarm her, but observe in secret what
she is doing. [Comes close behind and looks over her.] Reflected in that round mirror, she
resembles the Lady in the Moon.
Enter President, and an Officer in waiting.
President. [recites verses]. Ministers should devote themselves to the regulation of the empire;
They should be occupied with public cares in the hall of government. But they do naught but
attend at the banquets in the palace. When have they employed a single day in the service of their
This day, when the audience was concluded, an envoy arrived from the Tartars to demand
Chaoukeun in marriage, as the only condition of peace. It is my duty to report this to his Majesty,
who has retired to his western palace. Here I must enter. [Perceiving the Emperor.] I report to
your Majesty that Hanchenyu, the leader of the northern foreigners, sends an envoy to declare
that Maouyenshow has presented to him the portrait of the princess, and that he demands her in
marriage as the only condition of peace. If refused, he will invade the South with a great power,
and our rivers and hills will be exposed to rapine.
Emperor. In vain do we maintain and send forth armies; vain are the crowds of civil and military
officers about our palace! Which of them will drive back for us these foreign troops? They are all
afraid of the Tartar swords and arrows! But if they can not exert themselves to expel the
barbarians, why call for the princess to propitiate them?
President. The foreigners say that through your Majesty’s devoted fondness for the princess, the
affairs of your empire are falling into ruin. They declare that if the government does not yield her
up, they will put their army in motion, and subdue the country. Your servant reflects, that Chowwong [Last Emperor of the Shang Dynasty] who lost his empire and life entirely through his
blind devotion to Takee, is a fit example to warn your Majesty. Our army is weak, and needs the
talents of a fit general. Should we oppose the Tartars, and be defeated, what will remain to us?
Let your Majesty give up your fondness for the princess, to save your people.
Officer. The envoy waits without for an audience.
Emperor. Well; command that he approach us.
Enter Envoy.
Envoy. Hanchenyu, K’han of the Tartars, sends me, his minister, to state before the great
Sovereign of Han that the Northern tribes and the Southern empire have long been bound in
peace by mutual alliances; but that envoys being twice sent to demand a princess, his requisitions
have been refused. The late minister, Maouyenshow, took with him the portrait of a beautiful
lady, and presented it to the K’han, who now sends me, his envoy, on purpose to demand the
Lady Chaoukeun, and no other, as the only condition of peace between the two nations. Should
your Majesty refuse, the K’han has a countless army of brave warriors, and will forthwith invade
the South to try the chances of war. I trust your Majesty will not err in your decision.
Emperor. The envoy may retire to repose himself in his lodging. [Exit the Envoy.] Let our civil
and military officers consult, and report to us the best mode of causing the foreign troops to
retire, without yielding up the princess to propitiate them. They take advantage of the compliant
softness of her temper. Were the Empress Leuhow alive–let her utter a word—which of them
would dare to be of a different opinion? It would seem that, for the future, instead of men for
ministers, we need only have fair women to keep our empire in peace.
Princess. In return for your Majesty’s bounties, it is your handmaid’s duty to brave death to serve
you. I can cheerfully enter into this foreign alliance, for the sake of producing peace, and shall
leave behind me a name still green in history.—But my affection for your Majesty, how am I to
lay aside!
Emperor. Alas, I know too well that I can do no more than yourself!
President. I entreat your Majesty to sacrifice your love, and think of the security of your
Dynasty. Hasten, sir, to send the princess on her way!
Emperor. Let her this day advance a stage on her journey, and be presented to the envoy. Tomorrow we will repair as far as the bridge of Pahling, and give her a parting feast.
President. Alas! Sir, this may not be! It will draw on us the contempt of these barbarians.
Emperor. We have complied with all our minister’s propositions—shall they not, then, accede to
ours? Be it as it may, we will witness her departure—and then return home to hate the traitor
President. Unwillingly we advise that the princess be sacrificed for the sake of peace; but the
envoy is instructed to insist upon her alone—and from ancient times, how often hath a nation
suffered for a woman’s beauty!
Princess. Though I go into exile for the nation’s good, yet ill can I bear to part from your
Majesty! [Exeunt.
Enter Envoy, escorting the Princess, with a band of music.
Princess. Thus was I, in spite of the treachery of Maouyenshow, who disfigured my portrait, seen
and exalted by his Majesty; but the traitor presented a truer likeness to the Tartar king, who
comes at the head of an army to demand me, with a threat of seizing the country. There is no
remedy—I must be yielded up to propitiate the invaders! How shall I bear the rigors—the winds
and frosts of that foreign land! It has been said of old that “surpassing beauty is often coupled
with an unhappy fate.” Let me grieve, then, without entertaining fruitless resentment at the
effects of my own attractions.
Enter Emperor, attended by his several officers.
Emperor. This day we take leave of the princess at Pahling bridge! [To his ministers.] Can ye not
devise a way to send out these foreign troops, without yielding up the princess for the sake of
peace? [Descends from his horse and seems to grieve with Chaoukeun.] Let our attendants delay
awhile, till we have conferred the parting cup.
Envoy. Lady, let us urge you to proceed on your way—the sky darkens, and night is coming on.
Princess. Alas! when shall I again behold your Majesty? I will take off my robes of distinction
and leave them behind me. Today in the palace of Han—tomorrow I shall be espoused to a
stranger. I cease to wear these splendid vestments—they shall no longer adorn my beauty in the
eyes of men.
Envoy. Again let us urge you, princess, to depart; we have delayed but too long already!
Emperor. ‘Tis done!—Princess, when you are gone, let your thoughts forbear to dwell with
sorrow and resentment upon us! [They part.] And am I the great Monarch of the line of Han?
President. Let your Majesty cease to dwell with such grief upon this subject!
Emperor. She is gone! In vain have we maintained those armed heroes on the frontier. Mention
but swords and spears, and they tremble at their hearts like a young deer. The princess has this
day performed what belonged to themselves: and yet they affect the semblance of men!
President. Your Majesty is entreated to return to the palace: dwell not so bitterly, Sir, on her
memory: allow her to depart!
Emperor. Did I not think of her, I had a heart of iron—a heart of iron! The tears of my grief
stream in a thousand channels—this evening shall her likeness be suspended in the palace, where
I will sacrifice to it—and tapers with their silver lights shall illuminate her chamber.
President. Let your Majesty return to the palace—the princess is already far distant! [Exeunt.
The Tartar Camp. Enter K’han at the head of his tribes, leading in the Princess.
Khan. The Emperor of Han having now, in observance of old treaties, yielded up to me the Lady
Chaoukeun in marriage, I take her as my rightful queen. The two nations shall enjoy the benefits
of peace. [To his generals.] Leaders, transmit my commands to the army to strike our
encampment, and proceed to the north. [They march.
The river Amur. Tartar army on its march.
Princess. What place is this?
Envoy. It is the River of the Black Dragon, the frontier of the Tartar territories and those of
China. This southern shore is the Emperor’s; on the northern side commences our Tartar
Princess. [to the Khan]. Great King, I take a cup of wine, and pour a libation toward the South–my last farewell to the Emperor—[pours the libation] of Han, this life is finished. I await thee in
the next!
[Throws herself into the river. The Khan, in great consternation, endeavors to save her, but in
Khan. Alas! alas!—-so determined was her purpose against this foreign alliance—she has thrown
herself into the stream, and perished! ‘Tis done, and remediless! Let her sepulcher be on this
river’s bank, and be it called “the verdant tomb.” She is no more; and vain has been our enmity
with the dynasty of Han! The traitor Maouyenshow was the author of all this misery. [To an
officer.] Take Maouyenshow and let him be delivered over to the Emperor for punishment. I will
return to our former friendship with the dynasty of Han. We will renew and long preserve the
sentiments of relationship. The traitor disfigured the portrait to injure Chaoukeun—then deserted
his sovereign, and stole over to me, whom he prevailed on to demand the lady in marriage. How
little did I think that she would thus precipitate herself into the stream, and perish!—In vain did
my spirit melt at the sight of her! But if I detained this profligate and traitorous rebel, he would
certainly prove to us a root of misfortune: it is better to deliver him for his reward to the Emperor
of Han, with whom I will renew, and long retain, our old feelings of friendship and amity.
Enter Emperor, with an attendant.
Emperor. Since the princess was yielded to the Tartars we have not held an audience. The lonely
silence of night but increases our melancholy! We take the picture of that fair one and suspend it
here, as some small solace to our griefs. [To the attendant.] Keeper of the yellow gate, behold,
the incense in yonder vase is burned out: hasten then to add some more. Though we can not see
her, we may at least retain this shadow; and, while life remains, betoken our regard. But
oppressed and weary, we would fain take a little repose.
[Lies down to sleep. The Princess appears before him in a vision.]
Princess. Delivered over as a captive to appease the barbarians, they would have conveyed me to
their Northern country: but I took an occasion to elude them and have escaped back. Is not this
the Emperor, my sovereign? Sir, behold me again restored.
[A Tartar soldier appears in the vision.]
Soldier. While I chanced to sleep, the lady, our captive, has made her escape, and returned home.
In eager pursuit of her, I have reached the imperial palace.—Is not this she?
[Carries her off. The Emperor starts from his sleep.]
Emperor. We just saw the Princess returned—but alas, how quickly has she vanished! In bright
day she answered not to our call—but when morning dawned on our troubled sleep, a vision
presented her in this spot. [Hears the wild fowl’s cry.] Hark, the passing fowl screamed twice or
thrice!—Can it know there is no one so desolate as I? [Cries repeated.] Perhaps worn out and
weak, hungry and emaciated, they bewail at once the broad nets of the South and the tough bows
of the North. [Cries repeated.] The screams of those water-birds but increase our melancholy.
Attendant. Let your Majesty cease this sorrow, and have some regard to your sacred person.
Emperor. My sorrows are beyond control. Cease to upbraid this excess of feeling, since ye are all
subject to the same. Yon doleful cry is not the note of the swallow on the carved rafters, nor the
song of the variegated bird upon the blossoming tree. The princess has abandoned her home!
Know ye in what place she grieves, listening like me to the screams of the wild bird?
Enter President.
President. This day after the close of the morning council, a foreign envoy appeared, bringing
with him the fettered traitor Maouyenshow. He announces that the renegade, by deserting his
allegiance, led to the breach of truce, and occasioned all these calamities. The princess is no
more! and the Khan wishes for peace and friendship between the two nations. The envoy attends,
with reverence, your imperial decision.
Emperor. Then strike off the traitor’s head, and be it presented as an offering to the shade of the
princess! Let a fit banquet be got ready for the envoy, preparatory to his return. [Recites these
At the fall of the leaf, when the wild fowl’s cry was heard in the recesses of the palace,
Sad dreams returned to our lonely pillow; we thought of her through the night:
Her verdant tomb remains—but where shall we seek herself?
The perfidious painter’s head shall atone for the beauty which he wronged.
From: Charles F. Horne, ed., The Sacred Books and Early Literature of the East, (New York:
Parke, Austin, & Lipscomb, 1917), Vol. XII, Medieval China, pp. 399-414.
Scanned by Jerome S. Arkenberg, Cal. State Fullerton. The text has been modernized by Prof.
This text is part of the Internet East Asian History Sourcebook. The Sourcebook is a collection of
public domain and copy-permitted texts for introductory level classes in modern European and
World history.

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