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Chapter 3

CELEBRATED TRAVELLERS BETWEEN THE TENTH AND THIRTEENTH CENTURIES.

BENJAMIN OF TUDELA, 1159-1173; PLAN DE CARPIN, OR CARPINI, 1245-1247; RUBRUQUIS, 1253-1254.

The Scandinavians in the North, Iceland and Greenland--Benjamin of Tudela visits Marseilles, Rome, Constantinople, the Archipelago, Palestine, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Damascus, Baalbec, Nineveh, Baghdad, Babylon, Bassorah, Ispahan, Shiraz, Samarcand, Thibet, Malabar, Ceylon, the Red Sea, Egypt, Sicily, Italy, Germany, and France--Carpini explores Turkestan--Manners and customs of the Tartars--Rubruquis and the Sea of Azov, the Volga, Karakorum, Astrakhan, and Derbend.


In the course of the tenth, and at the beginning of the eleventh century, a considerable amount of ardour for exploration had arisen in Northern Europe. Some Norwegians and adventurous Gauls had penetrated to the Northern seas, and, if we may trust to some accounts, they had gone as far as the White Sea and visited the country of the Samoyedes. Some documents say that Prince Madoc may have explored the American continent.

At all events we may be tolerably certain that Iceland was discovered about A.D. 861 by some Scandinavian adventurers, and that it was soon after colonized by Normans. About this same time a Norwegian had taken refuge on a newly discovered land, and surprised by its verdure he gave it the name of Greenland.

The communication with this portion of the American continent was difficult and uncertain, and one geographer says "it took five years for a vessel to go from Norway to Greenland, and to return from Greenland to Norway." Sometimes in severe winters the Northern Ocean was completely frozen over, and a certain Hollur-Geit, guided by a goat, was able to cross on foot from Norway to Greenland. We should keep in mind that the period of which we are speaking is the time when legends and traditions were very plentiful, and gained ready credence.

Let us return to well-authenticated facts, and relate the journey of a Spanish Jew, whose truthfulness is beyond question.

This Jew was the son of a rabbi of Tudela, a town in Navarre, and he was called Benjamin of Tudela. It seems probable that the object of his voyage was to make a census of his brother Jews scattered over the surface of the Globe, but whatever may have been his motive, he spent thirteen years, from 1160-1173, exploring nearly all the known world, and his narrative was considered the great authority on this subject up to the sixteenth century.

Benjamin of Tudela left Barcelona, and travelling by Tarragona, Gironde, Narbonne, Béziers, Montpellier, Sunel, Pousquiers, St. Gilles, and Arles, reached Marseilles. Here he visited the two synagogues in the town and the principal Jews, and then set sail for Genoa, arriving there in four days. The Genoese were masters of the sea at that time, and were at war with the people of Pisa, a brave people, who, like the Genoese, says the traveller, "owned neither kings nor princes, but only the judges whom they appointed at their own pleasure."

After visiting Lucca, Benjamin of Tudela went to Rome. Alexander III. was Pope at that time, and according to this traveller, he included some Jews among his ministers. Among the monuments of special interest in the eternal city, he mentions St. Peter's and St. John Lateran, but his descriptions are not interesting. From Rome by Capua, and Pozzuoli, then partly inundated, he went to Naples, where he seems to have seen nothing but the five hundred Jews living there; then by Salerno, Amalfi, Benevento, Ascoli, Trani, St. Nicholas of Bari, and Brindisi, he arrived at Otranto, having crossed Italy and yet found nothing interesting to relate of this splendid country.

The list of the places Benjamin of Tudela visited, is not interesting, but we must not omit to mention one of them, for his narrative is most precise, and it is useful to follow his route by the maps specially prepared for this purpose by Lelewel. From Otranto to Zeitun, his halting-places were Corfu, the Gulf of Arta, Achelous, an ancient town in Ætolia, Anatolia in Greece, on the Gulf of Patras, Patras, Lepanto, Crissa, at the foot of Mount Parnassus, Corinth, Thebes, whose two thousand Jewish inhabitants were the best makers of silk and purple in Greece, Negropont and Zeitoun. Here, according to the Spanish traveller, is the boundary-line of Wallachia; he says the Wallachians are as nimble as goats, and come down from the mountains to pillage the neighbouring Greek towns.

Benjamin of Tudela went on to Constantinople by way of Gardiki, a small township on the Gulf of Volo, Armyros, a port much frequented by the Venetians and Genoese, Bissina, a town of which no traces are left, Salonica, the ancient Thessalonica, and Abydos. He gives us some details of Constantinople; the Emperor Emmanuel Comnenus was reigning at that time and lived in a palace that he had built upon the sea-shore, containing columns of pure gold and silver, and "the golden throne studded with precious stones, above which a golden crown is suspended by a chain of the same precious metal, which rests upon the monarch's head as he sits upon the throne." In this crown are many precious stones, and one of priceless worth: "so brilliant are they," says this traveller, "that at night, there is no occasion for any further light than that thrown back by these jewels." He adds that there is a large population in the city, and for the number of merchants from all countries who assemble there, it can only be compared to Baghdad. The inhabitants are principally dressed in embroidered silk robes enriched with golden fringes, and to see them thus attired and mounted upon their horses, one would take them for princes, but they are not brave warriors, and they keep mercenaries from all nations to fight for them. One regret he expresses, and that is, that there are no Jews left in the City, and that they have all been transported to Galata, near the entrance of the port, where are nearly two thousand five hundred of the sects (Rabbinites and Caraites), and among them many rich merchants and silk manufacturers, but the Turks have a bitter hatred for them, and treat them with great severity. Only one of these rich Jews was allowed to ride on horseback, he was the Emperor's physician, Solomon, the Egyptian. As to the remarkable buildings of Constantinople, he mentions the Mosque of St. Sophia, in which the number of altars answers to the number of days in a year, and the columns and gold and silver candlesticks, are too numerous to be counted; also the Hippodrome, which at the present day is used as a horse-market, but was then the scene of combats between "lions, bears, tigers, other wild beasts, and even birds."

When Benjamin of Tudela left Constantinople, he visited Gallipoli and Kilia, a port on the Eastern coast, and went to the islands in the Archipelago, Mitylene, Chios, whence there was much trade in the juice of the pistachio-tree, Samos, Rhodes, and Cyprus. As he sailed towards the land of Aram, he passed by Messis, by Antioch, where he admired the arrangements for supplying the city with water, and by Latakia on his way to Tripoli, which he found had been recently shaken by an earthquake, that had been felt for miles round. We next hear of him at Beyrout, at Sidon, and Tyre, celebrated for its glass manufactory, at Acre, at Jaffa near Mount Carmel, at Capernaum, at the beautiful town of Cæsarea, at Samaria, which is built in the midst of a fertile tract, where are vineyards, gardens, orchards, and olive-yards, at Nablous, at Gibeon, and then at Jerusalem.

In the holy city, it was but natural that the Jew could see nothing that would have interested a Christian visitor. For him, Jerusalem appeared only a small town, defended by three walls and peopled with Jews, Syrians, Greeks, Georgians, and Franks of all languages and nations. He found four hundred horse-soldiers in the city ready for war at any moment, a great temple in which is the tomb of "that man," as the Talmud styles our Saviour, and a house in which the Jews had the privilege of carrying on the work of dyeing; but they were few in number, scarcely two hundred, and they lived under the tower of David at one corner of the city. Outside Jerusalem, the traveller mentions the tomb of Absalom, the sepulchre of Osias, the pool of Siloam, near the brook Cedron, the valley of Jehoshaphat, and the Mount of Olives, from whose summit one can see the Dead Sea. Two leagues from it stands the pillar of Lot's wife, and the traveller adds, "that though the flocks and herds which pass this pillar of salt are continually licking it, yet it never diminishes in size." From Jerusalem, Benjamin of Tudela went to Bethlehem, and inscribed his name on Rachel's tomb, as it was customary for all Jews to do who passed by it; and from Bethlehem, after counting twelve Jewish dyeing establishments, he went on to Hebron, which is now deserted and in ruins.

After visiting, in the plain of Machpelah, the tombs of Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob, and Leah, and passing by Beth-Jairim, Scilo, Mount Moriah, Beth-Nubi, Ramah, Joppa, Jabneh, Azotus, Ascalon, built by Esdras, Lud, Tiberias, where are some hot springs, Gish and Merom, which is still a spot visited by Jewish pilgrims, Kedesh and Laish, near the cavern, where the Jordan takes its rise, the traveller left the land of Israel, and entered Damascus.

The following is his description of this city, where the Turkish rule begins. "It is a very large and beautiful city, walled round, and outside the walls for fifteen miles are gardens and orchards, and of all the surrounding country, this is the most fertile spot. The town stands at the foot of Mount Hermon, whence rise the two rivers, Abana and Pharpar; the first passes through the city, and its waters are taken into the larger houses by means of aqueducts, as well as through the streets and markets. This town trades with all the world. The river Pharpar fertilizes the orchards and gardens outside the town. There is an Ishmaelitish mosque, called Goman-Dammesec, meaning the synagogue of Damascus, and this building has not its equal; it is said to have been Benhadad's palace, and it contains a glass wall, built apparently by magic. This wall has 365 holes in it, answering to the days of the year; as the sun rises and sets it shines through one or other of these holes, so that the hour of the day may thus always be known. Inside the palace or mosque are gold and silver houses, large enough to hold two or three persons at a time, if they wish to wash or bathe in them."

After going to Galad and Salkah, which are two days' journey from Damascus, Benjamin reached Baalbec, the Heliopolis of the Greeks and Romans, built by Solomon, in the valley of the Libanus, then to Tadmor, which is Palmyra, also built entirely of great stones. Then passing by Cariatin, he stopped at Hamah, which was partially destroyed by an earthquake in 1157, which overthrew many of the Syrian towns.

Now comes in the narrative a list of names, which are of no great interest: we may mention among them, Nineveh, whence the traveller returned towards the Euphrates; and finally that he reached Baghdad, the residence of the Caliph.

Baghdad was of great interest to the Jewish traveller; he says it is a large town three miles in circumference, containing a hospital both for Jews and sick people of any nation. It is the centre for learned men, philosophers, and magicians from all parts of the world. It is the residence of the Caliph, who at this time was probably Mostaidjed, whose dominion included western Persia and the banks of the Tigris. He had a vast palace, standing in a park watered by a tributary of the Tigris and filled with wild beasts, he may be taken as a model sovereign on some points; he was a good and very truthful man, kind and considerate to all with whom he came in contact. He lived on the produce of his own toil, and made blankets, which, marked with his own seal, were sold in the market by the princes of his court, to defray the expense of his living. He only left his palace once a year, at the feast of Ramadan, when he went to the mosque near the Bassorah gate, and there acting as Iman, he explained the law to his people. He returned to his palace by a different route which was carefully guarded all the rest of the year, so that no other passer by might profane the marks of his footsteps. All the brothers of the Caliph inhabit the same palace as he does; they are all treated with much respect, and have the government of provinces and towns in their hands, the revenues from them enabling them to pass a pleasant life; only, as they once rebelled against their sovereign, they are now all fettered with chains of iron, and have guards mounted before their houses.

Benjamin of Tudela visited that part of Turkey in Asia which is watered by the Euphrates and Tigris, and saw the ruined city of Babylon, passing by what is said to be the furnace into which Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were thrown, and the tower of Babel, which he describes as follows. "The tower built by the tribes that were dispersed is of bricks; its largest ground work must be two miles in circumference; its length is two hundred and forty cubits. At every ten cubits there is a passage leading to a spiral staircase, which goes to the upper part of the building; from the tower there is a view of the surrounding country for twenty miles; but the wrath of God fell upon it and it is now only a heap of ruins."

From Babel the traveller went to the Synagogue of Ezekiel, situated on the Euphrates, a real sanctuary where believers congregate to read the book written by the prophet. Then traversing Alkotzonath, &c., to Sura, once the site of a celebrated Jewish college, and Shafjathib, whose synagogue is built with stones from Jerusalem, and crossing the desert of Yemen he passed Themar, Tilimar, and Chaibar which contained a great number of Jewish inhabitants, to Waseth; and thence to Bassorah on the Tigris, nearly at the end of the Persian Gulf.

He gives no account of this important town; and thence he seems to have gone to Karna, to visit the tomb of the prophet Esdras; then he entered Persia and sojourned at Chuzestan, a large town, partly in ruins, which the river Tigris divides into two parts, one rich the other poor, joined by a bridge, over which hangs the coffin of Daniel the prophet. He went to Amaria, which is the boundary of Media, where he says the impostor David-el-roi appeared, the worker of false miracles, who is none other than our Lord Jesus Christ, but called among the Jews of that part by the former name. Then he went to Hamadan, where the tombs of Mordecai and Esther are found, and by Dabrestan he reached Ispahan, the capital of the kingdom, a city measuring twelve miles in circumference. At this point the narrative of the traveller becomes somewhat obscure; according to his notes we find him at Shiraz, then at Samarcand, then at the foot of the mountains in Thibet. This seems to have been his farthest point towards the north-east; he must have come back to Nizapur and Chuzestan on the banks of the Tigris; thence after a sea voyage of two days to El-Cachif, an Arabian town on the Persian Gulf, where the pearl fishery is carried on. Then, after another voyage of seven days and crossing the Sea of Oman, he seems to have reached Quilon on the coast of Malabar.

He was at last in India, the kingdom of the worshippers of the Sun and of the descendants of Cush. This country produces pepper, ginger, and cinnamon. Twenty days after leaving Quilon he was among the fire-worshippers in Ceylon, and thence, perhaps, he went to China. He thought this voyage a very perilous one, and says that many vessels are lost on it, giving the following singular expedient for averting the danger. "You should take on board with you several skins of oxen, and, if the wind rises and threatens the vessel with danger, all who wish to escape envelope themselves each in a skin, sew up this skin so as to make it as far as possible water-tight, then throw themselves into the sea, and flocks of the great eagles called griffins, thinking that they are really oxen, will descend and bear them on their wings to some mountain or valley, there to devour their prey. Immediately on reaching land the man will kill the eagle with his knife, and leaving the skin, will walk towards the nearest habitation; many people," he adds, "have been saved by this means."

We find Benjamin of Tudela again at Ceylon, then at the Island of Socotra in the Persian Gulf, and after crossing the Red Sea he arrives in Abyssinia, which he styles "the India that is on terra firma." Thence he goes down the Nile, crosses the country of Assouan, reaches the town of Holvan, and by the Sahara, where the sand swallows up whole caravans, he goes to Zairlah, Kous, Faiouna and Misraim or Cairo.

This last is a large town containing fine squares and shops. It never rains there, but this want is supplied by the overflow of the Nile once a year, which waters the country and renders it very fertile.

He passed Gizeh on leaving Misraim but does not mention the pyramids, and just names Ain-Schams, Boutig, Zefita, and Damira; he stopped at Alexandria, built by Alexander the Great, a city of great commerce, frequented by merchants from all parts of the world. Its squares and streets are thronged with people, and so long that one cannot see from one end to another. A dike or causeway runs out a mile into the sea, on which a high tower was built by the conqueror, and on the top of it a glass mirror was placed, by which all vessels could be seen while still fifty days' sail away, coming from Greece or the east on their way to make war upon or otherwise harm the town. "This tower," if we may credit the writer, "is still of use as a signal to vessels coming to Alexandria, for it can be seen night or day, a great flaming torch being kept lighted at night, visible 100 miles off!" What are our light-houses when even with the electric light they are only visible thirty miles away? From Damietta, the traveller visited several neighbouring towns, then returning there he embarked on board a vessel and twenty days afterwards landed at Messina. He wished to continue the census that he was making, so by way of Rome and Lucca he went to St. Bernard. He mentions visiting several towns both in Germany and France, where Jews had settled, and according to Chateaubriand's account, Benjamin of Tudela's computation brought the number of Jews to about 768,165.

In conclusion the traveller speaks of Paris, which he seems to have visited; he says, "This great town numbers among its inhabitants some remarkably learned men, who are unequalled for learning by any in the world; they spend all their time studying law, and at the same time are very hospitable to all strangers, but especially to all their Jewish brethren." Such is the account of Benjamin of Tudela's travels; they form an important part of the geographical science of the middle of the twelfth century. As we have used the modern names, it is easy to follow the short account of his route that we have given, on any atlas of the present day.

Next in order of succession we come to the name of Jean du Plan de Carpin, or as some authors render it simply, Carpini. He was a Franciscan or Grey Friar, born in 1182, at Perugia in Italy. It is well known what inroads the Mongolians had made under Gengis-Khan, and in 1206 this chieftain had made Karakorum, an ancient Turkish town, his capital. This town was a little north of China. His successor Ojadaï, extended the Mongolian dominion into the centre of China, and, after raising an army of 600,000 men, he even invaded Europe. Russia, Georgia, Poland, Moravia, Silesia, and Hungary, all became the scenes of sanguinary conflicts which almost always ended in favour of the invaders. The Mongols were looked upon as demons possessed with superhuman power, and Western Europe was terrified at their approach.

Pope Innocent IV. sent an ambassador to the Tartars, but he was treated with arrogance; at the same time he sent other ambassadors to the Tartars living in North-Eastern Tartary, in the hope of stopping the Mongolian invasion, and as chief in this mission, the Franciscan Carpini was chosen, being known to be a clever and intelligent diplomatist. Carpini was accompanied by Stephen, a Bohemian; they set out on the 6th of April, 1245, and went first to Bohemia, where the king gave them letters to some relations living in Poland, who he hoped might facilitate their entrance into Russia. Carpini had no difficulty in reaching the territory of the Archduke of Russia, and by his advice they bought beaver and other furs as presents for the Tartar chiefs. Thus provided, they took a north-easterly route to Kiev, then the chief town of Russia and now the seat of Government of that part, but they travelled in fear of the Lithuanians, who scoured the country at that time.

The Governor of Kiev advised the Pope's envoys to exchange their own for Tartar horses, who were accustomed to seek for their food under the snow, and thus mounted they had no difficulty in getting as far as Danilisha. There they both were attacked by severe illness; when nearly recovered they bought a carriage, and in spite of the intense cold set out again. Arrived at Kaniev, on the Dnieper, they found themselves in the frontier town of the Mongol empire, and hence they were conducted to the Tartar camp by one of the chiefs, whom they had made their friend by gifts. In the camp they were badly received at first, but being directed to the Duke of Corrensa, who commanded an army of 60,000 men forming the advanced guard: this general sent them with an escort of three Tartars to Prince Bathy, the next in command to the Emperor himself. Relays of horses were prepared for them on the road, they travelled night and day, and thus passed through the Comans' country lying between the Dnieper, the Tanais, the Volga, and the Yaik, frequently having to cross the frozen rivers, and finally reaching the court of Prince Bathy on the frontiers of the Comans' country. "As we were being conducted to the prince," says Carpini, "we were told that we should have to pass between two fires, in order to purify us from any infection we might carry, and also to do away with any evil designs we might have towards the prince, which we agreed to do that we might be freed from all suspicion."

The prince was seated on his throne in the midst of his courtiers and officers in a magnificent tent made of fine linen. He had the reputation of being a just and kind ruler of his people, but very cruel in war. Carpini and Stephen were placed on the left of the throne, and the papal letters, translated into a language composed of Tartar and Arabic, were presented to the prince. He read them attentively and then dismissed the envoys to their tents, where their only refreshment was a little porringer full of millet.

This interview took place on Good Friday, and the next day Bathy sent for the envoys, and told them they must go to the Emperor. They set out on Easter-day with two guides; but having lived upon nothing but millet, water, and salt, the travellers were but little fit for a journey; nevertheless their guides obliged them to travel very quickly, changing horses five or six times in a day. They passed through almost a desert country, the Tartars having driven away nearly all the inhabitants. They came next to the country of the Kangites to the east of Comania, where there was a great deficiency of water; in this province the people were mostly herdsmen, under the hard yoke of the Mongolians.

Carpini was travelling from Easter till Ascension-Day through the land of the Kangites, and thence he came into the Biserium country, or what we call Turkestan in the present day; on all sides the eye rested on towns and villages in ruins. After crossing a chain of mountains the envoys entered Kara-Kâty on the 1st of July; here the governor received them very hospitably, and made his sons and the principal officers of his court dance before them for their amusement.

On leaving Kara-Kâty the envoys rode for some days along the banks of a lake lying to the north of the town of Zeman, which must be, according to M. de Rémusat, the Lake Balkash. There lived Ordu, the eldest of the Tartar captains, and here Carpini and Stephen took a day's rest before encountering the cold and mountainous country of the Maimans, a nomadic people living in tents. After some days the travellers reached the country of the Mongols, and on the 22nd of July arrived at the place where the Emperor was, or rather he who was to be Emperor, the election having not yet taken place.

This future Emperor was named Cunius; he received the envoys in a most friendly manner, a letter from Prince Bathy having explained to him the object of their visit; not being yet Emperor he could not entertain them nor take any part in public affairs, but from the time of Ojadaï's death, his widow, the mother of Prince Cunius had been Regent; she received the travellers in a purple and white tent capable of holding 2000 persons. Carpini gives the following account of the interview: "When we arrived we saw a large assembly of dukes and princes who had come from all parts with their attendants, who were on horseback in the neighbouring fields and on the hills. The first day they were all dressed in white and purple, on the second when Cunius appeared in the tent, in red, on the third day they wore violet, and on the fourth, scarlet, or crimson. Outside the tent, in the surrounding palisade were two great gates, by one of which the Emperor alone might enter; it was unguarded, but none dared to enter or leave by it; while the other, which was the general entrance, was guarded by soldiers with swords, and bows and arrows; if any one approached within the prescribed limits he was beaten, or else shot to death with arrows. We noticed several horsemen there, on whose harness cannot have been less than twenty marks' worth of silver."

A whole month passed away before Cunius was proclaimed Emperor, and the envoys were obliged to wait patiently for this before they could be received by him. Carpini turned this leisure time to account by studying the habits of the people; he has given much interesting information on the subject in his account of his travels.

The country seemed to him to be principally very hilly and the soil sandy, with but little vegetation. There is scarce any wood; but all classes are content with dung for fuel. Though the country is so bare, sheep seem to do well. The climate is very changeable; in summer, storms are very frequent, many fall victims to the vivid lightning, and the wind is often so strong as even to blow over men on horseback: during the winter there is no rain, which all falls in the summer, and then scarcely enough to lay the dust, while the storms of hail are terrible; during Carpini's residence in the country they were so severe that once 140 persons were drowned by the melting of the enormous mass of hail-stones that had fallen. It is a very extensive country, but miserable beyond expression.

Carpini who seems to have been a man of great discernment took a very just idea of the Tartars themselves. He says, "Their eyes are set very far apart; they have very high cheek-bones, their noses are small and flat; their eyes small, and their eye-lashes and eyebrows seem to meet; they are of middle height with slender waists, they have small beards, some wear moustaches, and what are now called imperials. On the top of the head the hair is shaved off like monks, and to the width of three fingers between their ears they also shave off the hair, letting what is between the tonsure and the back of the head grow to some length; in fact it is as long as a woman's in many cases, and plaited and tied in two tails behind the ear. They have small feet. He says there is but little difference perceptible in the dress of the men and women, all alike wearing long robes trimmed with fur, and high buckram caps enlarged towards the upper part. Their houses are built like tents of rods and stakes, so that they can be easily taken down and packed on the beasts of burden. Other larger dwellings are sometimes carried whole as they stand, on carts, and thus follow their owner about the country.

"The Tartars believe in God as the Creator of the universe and as the Rewarder and Avenger of all, but they also worship the sun, moon, fire, earth, and water, and idols made in felt, like human beings. They have little toleration, and put Michael of Turnigoo and Féodor to death for not worshipping the sun at midday at the command of Prince Bathy. They are a superstitious people, believing in enchantment and sorcery, and looking upon fire as the purifier of all things. When one of their chiefs dies he is buried with a horse saddled and bridled, a table, a dish of meat, a cup of mare's milk, and a mare and foal.

"The Tartars are most obedient to their chiefs, and are truthful and not quarrelsome; murders and deeds of violence are rare, there is very little robbery, and articles of value are never guarded. They bear great fatigue and hunger without complaint, as well as heat and cold, singing and dancing under the most adverse circumstances. They are much prone to drink to excess; they are very proud and disdainful to strangers, and have no respect for the lives of human beings."

Carpini completes his sketch of the Tartar character by adding that they eat all kinds of animals, dogs, wolves, foxes, horses, and even sometimes their fellow-creatures. Their principal beverage is the milk of the mare, sheep, goat, cow, and camel. They have neither wine, cervisia, (a beverage composed of grain and herbs,) nor mead, but only intoxicating liquors. They are very dirty in their habits, scarcely ever washing their porringers, or only doing so in their broth; they hardly ever wash their clothes, more especially "when there is thunder about;" and they eat rats, mice, &c., if they are badly off for other food. The men are not brought up to any manual labour, their whole occupation consisting in hunting, shooting with bow and arrows, watching the flocks, and riding. The women and girls are very athletic and very brave, they prepare furs and make clothes, drive carts and camels, and as polygamy is practised among them, and a man buys as many wives as he can keep, there are enough women for all these employments.

Such is the résumé of Carpini's observations made during his residence at Syra-Orda while he was awaiting the Emperor's election. Soon he found that the election was about to take place; he noticed that the courtiers always sang before Cunius when he came out of his tent, and bowed down before him with beautiful little wands in their hands, having small pieces of scarlet wool attached to them. On a plain about four leagues from Syra-Orda, beside a stream, a tent was prepared for the Coronation, carpeted with scarlet, and supported on columns covered with gold. On St. Bartholomew's day a large concourse of people assembled, each one fell on his knees as he arrived, and remained praying towards the sun; but Carpini and his companion refused to join in this idolatrous worship of the sun. Then Cunius was placed on the imperial throne, and the dukes and all the assembled multitudes having done homage to him, he was consecrated.

As soon as this ceremony was over, Carpini and Stephen were commanded to appear before the Emperor. They were first searched and then entered the imperial presence at the same time as other Ambassadors, the bearers of rich presents; the poor papal envoys had nothing to present; whether this had anything to do with the length of time they had to wait before his Imperial Majesty could attend to their affairs we do not know; but days passed slowly by, and they were nearly dying of hunger and thirst, before they received a summons to appear before the Secretary of the Emperor, and letters to the Pope were given to them, ending with these words, "we worship GOD, and by His help we shall destroy the whole earth from east to west."

The envoys had now nothing to wait for, and during the whole of the winter they travelled across icy deserts. About May they again arrived at the court of Prince Bathy, who gave them free passes, and they reached Kiev about the middle of June, 1247. On the 9th of October of the same year the Pope made Carpini Bishop of Antivari in Dalmatia, and this celebrated traveller died at Rome about the year 1251.

Carpini's mission was not of much use, and the Tartars remained much as they were before, a savage and ferocious tribe; but six years after his return another monk of the minor order of Franciscans, named William Rubruquis, of Belgian origin, was sent to the barbarians who lived in the country between the Volga and the Don. The object of this journey was as follows,--

St. Louis was waging war against the Saracens of Syria at this time, and while he was engaging the Infidels, Erkalty, a Mongol prince, attacked them on the side nearest to Persia, and thus caused a diversion that was in favour of the King of France. The report arose that Prince Erkalty had become a Christian, and St. Louis, anxious to prove the truth of it, charged Rubruquis to go into the prince's own country and there make what observations he could upon the subject.

In the month of June 1253, Rubruquis and his companions embarked for Constantinople. From thence they reached the mouth of the river Don on the Sea of Azov where they found a great number of Goths. On their arrival among the Tartars, their reception was at first very inhospitable, but after presenting the letters with which they were furnished, Zagathal, the governor of that province, gave them waggons, horses, and oxen for their journey.

Thus equipped they set out and were much surprised next day by meeting a moving village; that is to say, all the huts were placed on waggons and were being moved away. During the ten days that Rubruquis and his companions were passing through this part of the country they were very badly treated, and had it not been for their own store of biscuits, they must have died of starvation. After passing by the end of the Sea of Azov they went in an easterly direction and crossed a sandy desert on which neither tree nor stone was visible. This was the country of the Comans that Carpini had traversed, but in a more northerly part. Rubruquis left the mountains inhabited by the Circassians to the south, and after a wearisome journey of two months arrived at the camp of Prince Sartach on the banks of the Volga.

This was the court of the prince, the son of Baatu-Khan; he had six wives, each of whom possessed a palace of her own, some houses, and a great number of chariots, some of them very large, being drawn by a team of twenty-two oxen harnessed in pairs.

Sartach received the envoys of the King of France very graciously, and seeing their poverty, he supplied them with all that they required. They were to be presented to the prince in their sacerdotal dress, when, bearing on a cushion a splendid Bible, the gift of the King of France, a Psalter given by the Queen, a Missal, a crucifix and a censer, they entered the royal presence, taking good care not to touch the threshold of the door, which would have been considered profanation. Once in the royal presence, they sang the "Salve Regina." After the prince and those of the princesses who were present at the ceremony had examined the books, &c., that the monks had brought with them, the envoys were allowed to retire; it being impossible for Rubruquis to form any opinion as to Sartach's being a Christian, or not; but his work was not yet finished, the prince having pressed the envoys to go to his father's court. Rubruquis complied with the request, and crossing the country lying between the Volga and the Don, they arrived at their destination. There the same ceremonies had to be gone through as at the court of Prince Sartach. The monks had to prepare their books, &c., and be presented to the Khan, who was seated on a large gilded throne, but not wishing to treat with the envoys himself, he sent them to Karakorum, to the court of Mangu-khan.

They crossed the country of the Bashkirs and visited Kenchat, Talach, passed the Axiartes and reached Equius, a town of which the position cannot be accurately ascertained in the present day; then by the land of Organum, by the Lake of Balkash, and the territory of the Uigurs, they arrived at Karakorum, the capital of the Mongolian empire, where Carpini had stopped without entering the town.

This town, says Rubruquis, was surrounded with walls of earth, and had four gates in the walls. The principal buildings it contained were two mosques and a Christian church. While in this city, the monk made many interesting observations on the surrounding people, especially upon the Tangurs, whose oxen, of a remarkable race, are no other than the Yaks, so celebrated in Thibet. In speaking of the Thibetans he notices their most extraordinary custom of eating the bodies of their fathers and mothers, in order to secure their having an honourable sepulture.

When Rubruquis and his companions reached Karakorum, they found that the great khan was not in his capital, but in one of his palaces which was situated on the further side of the mountains which rise in the northern part of the country. They followed him there, and the next day after their arrival presented themselves before him with bare feet, according to the Franciscan custom, so securing for themselves frozen toes. Rubruquis thus describes the interview: "Mangu-Khan is a man of middle height with a flat nose; he was lying on a couch clad in a robe of bright fur, which was speckled like the skin of a sea-calf." He was surrounded with falcons and other birds. Several kinds of beverages, arrack punch, fermented mare's milk, and ball, a kind of mead, were offered to the envoys; but they refused them all. The khan, less prudent than they, soon became intoxicated on these drinks, and the audience had to be ended without any result being arrived at. Rubruquis remained several days at Mangu-Khan's court; he found there a great number of German and French prisoners, mostly employed in making different kinds of arms, or in working the mines of Bocol. The prisoners were well treated by the Tartars, and did not complain of their lot. After several interviews with the great khan, Rubruquis gained permission to leave, and he returned to Karakorum.

Near this town stood a magnificent palace, belonging to the khan; it was like a large church with nave and double aisles, here the sovereign sits at the northern end on a raised platform, the gentlemen being seated on his right, and the ladies on his left hand. It is at this palace that twice every year splendid fêtes are given, when all the nobles of the country are assembled round their sovereign.

While at Karakorum, Rubruquis collected many interesting documents relating to the Chinese, their customs, literature, &c.; then leaving the capital of the Mongols, he returned by the same route as he had come, as far as Astrakhan; but there he branched to the south and went to Syria with a Turkish escort, which was rendered necessary by the presence of tribes bent on pillage. He visited Derbend, and went thence by Nakshivan, Erzeroum, Sivas, Cæsarea, and Iconium, to the port of Kertch, whence he embarked for his own country. His route was much the same as that of Carpini, but his narrative is less interesting, and the Belgian does not seem to have been gifted with the spirit of observation which characterized the Italian monk.

With Carpini and Rubruquis closes the list of celebrated travellers of the thirteenth century, but we have the brilliant career of Marco Polo now before us, whose travels extended over part of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.


Jules Verne

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