MARCO POLO, 1253-1324.
The interest of the Genoese and Venetian merchants in encouraging the exploration of Central Asia--The family of Polo, and its position in Venice--Nicholas and Matteo Polo, the two brothers--They go from Constantinople to the Court of the Emperor of China--Their reception at the Court of Kublaï-Khan--The Emperor appoints them his ambassadors to the Pope--Their return to Venice--Marco Polo--He leaves his father Nicholas and his uncle Matteo for the residence of the King of Tartary--The new Pope Gregory X.--The narrative of Marco Polo is written in French from his dictation, by Rusticien of Pisa.
The Genoese and Venetian merchants could not fail to be much interested in the explorations of the brave travellers in Central Asia, India, and China, for they saw that these countries would give them new openings for disposing of their merchandise, and also the great benefit to be derived by the West from being supplied with the productions of the East. The interests of commerce stimulated fresh explorations, and it was this motive that actuated two noble Venetians to leave their homes, and brave all the fatigue and danger of a perilous journey.
These two Venetians belonged to the family of Polo, which had come originally from Dalmatia, and, owing to successful trading, had become so opulent as to be reckoned among the patrician families of Venice. In 1260 the two brothers, Nicholas and Matteo, who had lived for some years in Constantinople, where they had established a branch house, went to the Crimea, with a considerable stock of precious stones, where their eldest brother, Andrea Polo, had his place of business. Thence, taking a north-easterly direction and crossing the country of the Comans, they reached the camp of Barkaï-Khan on the Volga. This Mongol prince received the two merchants very kindly, and bought all the jewels they offered him at double their value.
Nicolo and Matteo remained a year in the Mongolian camp, but a war breaking out at this time between Barkaï, and Houlagou, the conqueror of Persia, the two brothers, not wishing to be in the midst of a country where war was being waged, went to Bokhara, and there they remained three years. But when Barkaï was vanquished and his capital taken, the partisans of Houlagou induced the two Venetians to follow them to the residence of the grand Khan of Tartary, who was sure to give them a hearty welcome. This Kublaï-Khan, the fourth son of Gengis-Khan, was Emperor of China, and was then at his summer-palace in Mongolia, on the frontier of the Chinese empire.
The Venetian merchants set out, and were a whole year crossing the immense extent of country lying between Bokhara and the northern limits of China. Kublaï-Khan was much pleased to receive these strangers from the distant West. He fêted them, and asked, with much eagerness, for any information that they could give him of what was happening in Europe, requiring details of the government of the various kings and emperors, and their methods of making war; and he then conversed at some length about the Pope and the state of the Latin Church. Matteo and Nicolo fortunately spoke the Tartar language fluently, so they could freely answer all the emperor's questions.
It had occurred to Kublaï-Khan to send messengers to the Pope; and he seized the opportunity to beg the two brothers to act as his ambassadors to his Holiness. The merchants thankfully accepted his proposal, for they foresaw that this new character would be very advantageous to them. The emperor had some charters drawn up in the Turkish language, asking the Pope to send a hundred learned men to convert his people to Christianity; then he appointed one of his barons named Cogatal to accompany them, and he charged them to bring him some oil from the sacred lamp, which is perpetually burning before the tomb of Christ at Jerusalem.
The two brothers took leave of the khan, having been furnished with passports by him, which put both men and horses at their disposal throughout the empire, and in 1266 they set out on their journey. Soon the baron Cogatal fell ill, and the Venetians were obliged to leave him and continue their journey; but in spite of all the aid that had been given to them, they were three years in reaching the port of Laïas, in Armenia, now known by the name of Issus. Leaving this port, they arrived at Acre in 1269, where they heard of the death of Pope Clement IV., to whom they were sent, but the legate Theobald lived in Acre and received the Venetians; learning what was the object of their mission he begged them to wait for the election of the new Pope.
The brothers had been absent from their country for fifteen years, so they resolved to return to Venice, and at Negropont they embarked on board a vessel that was going direct to their native town.
On landing there, Nicolo was met by news of the death of his wife, and of the birth of his son, who had been born shortly after his departure in 1254; this son was the celebrated Marco Polo. The two brothers waited at Venice for the election of the Pope, but at the end of two years, as it had not taken place, they thought they could no longer defer their return to the Emperor of the Mongols; accordingly they started for Acre, taking Marco Polo with them, who could not then have been more than seventeen. At Acre they had an interview with the legate Theobald, who authorized them to go to Jerusalem and there to procure some of the sacred oil. This mission accomplished, the Venetians returned to Acre and asked the legate to give them letters to Kublaï-Khan, mentioning the death of Pope Clement IV.; he complied with their request, and they returned to Laïas or Issus. There, to their great joy, they learnt that the legate Theobald had just been made Pope with the title of Gregory X., on the 1st of September, 1271. The newly-elected Pope sent at once for the Venetian envoys, and the King of Armenia placed a galley at their disposal to expedite their return to Acre. The Pope received them with much affection, and gave them letters to the Emperor of China; he added two preaching friars, Nicholas of Vicenza and William of Tripoli, to their party, and gave them his blessing on their departure. They went back to Laïas, but had scarcely arrived before they were made prisoners by the soldiers of the Mameluke Sultan Bibars, who was then ravaging Armenia. The two preaching friars were so discouraged at this outset of the expedition that they gave up all idea of going to China, and left the two Venetians and Marco Polo to prosecute the journey together as best they could.
Here begins what may properly be called Marco Polo's travels. It is a question if he really visited all the places that he describes, and it seems probable that he did not; in fact, in the narrative written at his dictation by Rusticien of Pisa it is stated "Marco-Polo, a wise and noble citizen of Venice, saw nearly all herein described with his own eyes, and what he did not see he learnt from the lips of truthful and credible witnesses;" but we must add that the greater part of the kingdoms and towns spoken of by Marco Polo he certainly did visit. We will follow the route he describes, simply pointing out what the traveller learnt by hearsay, during the important missions with which he was charged by Kublaï-Khan. During this second journey the travellers did not follow exactly the same road as on the first occasion of their visit to the Emperor of China. They had lengthened their route by passing to the north of the celestial mountains, but now they turned to the south of them, and though this route was shorter than the other, they were three years and a half in accomplishing their journey, being much impeded by the rains and the difficulty of crossing the great rivers. Their course may be easily followed with the help of a map of Asia, as we have substituted the modern names in place of the ancient ones used by Marco Polo in his narrative.
Armenia Minor--Armenia--Mount Ararat--Georgia--Mosul, Baghdad, Bussorah, Tauris--Persia--The Province of Kirman--Comadi--Ormuz--The Old Man of the Mountain--Cheburgan--Balkh--Cashmir--Kashgar-- Samarcand--Kotan--The Desert--Tangun--Kara-Korum--Signan-fu--The Great Wall--Chang-tou--The residence of Kublaï-Khan--Cambaluc, now Pekin--The Emperor's fêtes--His hunting--Description of Pekin-- Chinese Mint and bank-notes--The system of posts in the Empire.
Marco Polo left the town of Issus; he describes Armenia Minor as a very unhealthy place, the inhabitants of which, though once valiant, are now cowardly and wretched, their only talent seeming to lie in their capacity for drinking to excess. From Armenia Minor he went to Turcomania, whose inhabitants, though somewhat of savages, are clever in cultivating pastures and breeding horses and mules; and the townspeople excel in the manufacture of carpets and silk. Armenia Proper, that Marco Polo next visited, affords a good camping-ground to the Tartar armies during the summer. There the traveller saw Mount Ararat, where Noah's Ark rested after the Deluge. He noticed that the lands bordering on the Caspian Sea afford large supplies of naphtha, which forms an important item in the trade of that neighbourhood.
When he left Armenia he took a north-easterly course towards Georgia, a kingdom lying on the south side of the Caucasus, whose ancient kings, says the legend, "were born with an eagle traced on their right shoulders." The Georgians, he describes as good archers and men of war, and also as clever in working in gold and manufacturing silk. Here is a celebrated defile, four leagues in length, which lies between the Caucasus and the Caspian Sea, that the Turks call the Iron Door, and Europeans the Pass of Derbend, and here too is the miraculous lake, where fish are said to exist only during Lent. Hence the travellers descended towards the kingdom of Mosul, and arrived at the town of the same name on the right bank of the Tigris, thence going to Baghdad, the residence of the Caliph of all the Saracens. Marco Polo gives an account of the taking of Baghdad by the Tartars in 1255; mentioning a wonderful story in support of the Christian idea of Faith, "that can remove mountains;" he points out the route from this town to the Persian Gulf, which may be reached in eighteen days by the river, passing Bussorah, the country of dates.
From this point to Tauris, a Persian town in the province of Adzer-baidjan, Marco Polo's route seems to be doubtful. He takes up his narrative at Tauris, which he describes as a large flourishing town built in the midst of beautiful gardens and carrying on a great traffic in precious stones and other valuable merchandise, but its Saracen inhabitants are disloyal and treacherous. Here he seems to divide Persia geographically into eight provinces. The natives of Persia, according to him, are formidable enemies to the merchants, who are obliged to travel armed with bows and arrows. The principal trade of the country seems to be in horses and asses, which are sent to Kis or Ormuz and thence to India. The natural productions of the country are wheat, barley, millet, and grapes, which grow in abundance.
Marco Polo went next to Yezd, the most easterly town of Persia Proper; on leaving it, after a ride of seven days through magnificent forests abounding in game, he came to the province of Kirman. Here the mines yield large quantities of turquoise, as well as iron and antimony; the manufacture of arms and harness as well as embroidery and the training of falcons for hunting occupy a great number of the inhabitants. On leaving Kirman Marco Polo and his two companions set out on a nine days' journey across a rich and populous country to the town of Comadi, which is supposed to be the Memaun of the present day, and was even then sinking into decay. The country was superb; on all sides were to be seen fine fat sheep, great oxen, white as snow, with short strong horns, and thousands of domestic fowls and other birds; also there were magnificent date, orange, and pistachio trees.
After travelling for five days they entered the beautiful and well watered plain of Cormos or Ormuz, and after two days' further march they reached the shores of the Persian Gulf and the town of Ormuz, which forms the sea-port of the kingdom of Kirman. This country they found very warm und unhealthy, but rich in date and spice trees, in grain, precious stones, silk and golden stuffs, and elephants' tusks, wine made from the date and other merchandise being brought into the town ready for shipment on board ships with but one mast, which came in numbers to the port; but many were lost on the voyage to India, as they were only built with wooden pegs, not iron nails, to fasten them together.
From Ormuz, Marco Polo, going up again towards the north-east, visited Kirman; then he ventured by dangerous roads across a sandy desert, where there was only brackish water to be found, the desert across which, 1500 years before, Alexander had led his army to meet Nearchus. Seven days afterwards he entered the town of Khabis. On leaving this town he crossed for eight days the great plains to Tonokan, the capital of the province of Kumis, probably Damaghan. At this point of his narrative Marco Polo gives an account of the "Old Man of the Mountain," the chief of the Mahometan sect called the Hashishins, who were noted for their religious fanaticism and terrible cruelty. He next visited the Khorassan town of Cheburgan, a city celebrated for its sweet melons, and then the noble city of Balkh, situated near the source of the Oxus. Next he crossed a country infested by lions to Taikan, a great salt-market frequented by a large number of merchants, and to Scasem; this town seems to be the Kashme spoken of by Marsden, the Kishin or Krishin of Hiouen-Tsang, which Sir Henry Rawlinson has identified with the hill of Kharesm of Zend-Avesta, that some commentators think must be the modern Koundouz. In this part of the country he says porcupines abound, and when they are hunted they curl themselves up, darting out the prickles on their sides and backs at the dogs that are hunting them. We now know how much faith to put in this pretended power of defence said to be possessed by the porcupine.
Marco Polo now entered the rocky mountainous kingdom of the Balkhs, whose kings claim descent from Alexander the Great; a cold country, producing good fast horses, excellent falcons, and all kinds of game. Here, too, are prolific ruby-mines worked by the king and which yield large quantities, but they are so strictly enclosed that no one on pain of death may set foot on the Sighinan mountain containing the mines. In other places silver is found, and many precious stones, of which he says "they make the finest azure in the world," meaning lapis-lazuli; his stay in this part of the country must have been a long one to have enabled him to observe so many of its characteristics. Ten days' journey from hence he entered a province which must be the Peshawur of the present day, whose dark-skinned inhabitants were idolaters; then after seven days' further march, about mid-day he came to the kingdom of Cashmere, where the temperature is cool, and towns and villages are very numerous. Had Marco Polo continued his route in the same direction he would soon have reached the territory of India, but instead of that he took a northerly course, and in twelve days was in Vaccan, a land watered by the Upper Oxus, which runs through splendid pastures, where feed immense flocks of wild sheep, called mufflons. Thence he went through a mountainous country, lying between the Altai and Himalayan ranges to Kashgar. Here Marco Polo's route is the same as that of his uncle and his father during their first voyage, when from Bokhara they were taken to the residence of the great khan. From Kashgar, Marco Polo diverged a little to the west, to Samarcand, a large town inhabited by Saracens and Christians, then to Yarkand, a city frequented by caravans trading between India and Northern Asia; passing by Khotan, the capital of the province of that name, and by Pein, a town whose situation is uncertain, but in a part of the country where chalcedony and jasper abound. He came to the kingdom of Kharachar, which extends along the borders of the desert of Jobe; then after five days' further travelling over sandy plains, where there was no water fit to drink, he rested for eight days in the city of Lob, a place now in ruins, while he prepared to cross the desert lying to the east, "so great a desert," he says, "that it would require a year to traverse its whole length, a haunted wilderness, where drums and other instruments are heard, though invisible."
After spending a year crossing this desert, Marco Polo reached Tcha-tcheou, in the province of Tangaut, a town built on the western limits of the Chinese empire. There are but few merchants here, the greater part of the population being agricultural. The custom that seems to have struck him the most in the province of Tangaut, was that of burning their dead only on a day fixed by the astrologers; "all the time that the dead remain in their houses, the relations stay there with them, preparing a place at each meal as well as providing both food and drink for the corpse, as though it were still alive."
Marco Polo and his companions made an excursion to the north-east, to the city of Amil, going on as far as Ginchintalas, a town inhabited by idolaters, Mahometans, and Nestorian Christians, whose situation is disputed. From this town Marco Polo returned to Tcha-tcheou, and went eastward across Tangaut, by the town of So-ceu, over a tract of country particularly favourable to the cultivation of rhubarb, and by Kanpiceon, the Khan-tcheou of the Chinese, then the capital of the province of Tangaut, an important town, whose numerous chiefs are idolaters and polygamists. The three Venetians remained a year in this large city; it is easy to understand, from their long halts and deviations, why they required three years for their journey across Central Asia.
They left Khan-tcheou, and after riding for twelve days they reached the borders of a sandy desert, and entered the city of Etzina. This was another détour, as it lay directly north of their route, but they wished to visit Kara-Korum, the celebrated capital of Tartary, where Rubruquis had been in 1254. Marco Polo was certainly an explorer by nature; fatigue was nothing to him if he had any geographical studies to complete, which is proved by his spending forty days crossing an uninhabited desert without vegetation, in order to reach the Tartar town.
When he arrived there, he found a city measuring three miles in circumference, which had been for a long time the capital of the Empire, before it was conquered by Gengis-Khan, the grandfather of the reigning emperor. Here Marco Polo makes an historical digression, in which he gives an account of the wars of the Tartar chiefs against the famous Prester John who held all this part of the country under his dominion.
Marco Polo after returning to Khan-tcheou left it again, marching five days towards the east, and arriving at the town of Erginul. Thence he went a little to the south to visit Sining-foo, across a tract of country where grazed great wild oxen and the valuable species of goat which is called the "musk-bearer." Returning to Erginul, they went eastward to Cialis, where there is the best manufactory of cloth made from camels' hair in the world, to Tenduc, a town in the province of the same name, where a descendant of Prester John reigned, but who had given in his submission to the great khan; this was a busy flourishing town: from hence the travellers went to Sinda-tchou, and on beyond the great wall of China as far as Ciagannor, which must be Tzin-balgassa, a pretty town where the emperor lives when he wishes to hawk; for cranes, storks, pheasants, and partridges abound in this neighbourhood.
At last Marco Polo, his father, and his uncle, reached Ciandu or Tchan-tchou of the present day, called elsewhere in this narrative Clemen-foo. Here Kublaï-Khan received the papal envoys, for he was occupying his summer palace beyond the great wall, north of Pekin, which was then the capital of the empire. The traveller does not tell us what reception he met with, but he describes most carefully the palace, the grandeur of the building of stone and marble, standing in the middle of a park surrounded by walls, enclosing menageries and fountains. Also a building made of reeds, so closely interlaced as to be impenetrable to water; it was a sort of movable kiosk that the great khan inhabited during the fine months of June, July, and August. The weather during the emperor's sojourn in this summer palace could not but be beautiful, for, according to Marco Polo, the astrologers who were attached to the khan's court were charged to scatter all rain and fog by their sorcery, and the travellers seem to believe in the power of these magicians. "These astrologers," he says, "belong to two races, both idolaters; they are learned in all magic and enchantments, above any other men, and what they do is done by the aid of the devil, but they make others believe that they owe their power to the help of God, and their own holiness. These people have the following strange custom: when a man has been condemned and put to death, they take the body, cook, and eat it; but in the case of a natural death they do not eat the body. And you must know that these people of whom I am speaking, who know so many kinds of enchantments, work the wonder I am about to relate. When the great khan is seated at dinner in the principal dining-hall, the table of which is eight cubits in length, and the cups are on the floor ten paces from the table, filled with wine, milk, and other good beverages, these clever magicians, by their arts, make these cups rise by themselves, and without any one touching them, they are placed before the great khan. This has been done before an immense number of people, and is the exact truth; and those skilled in necromancy will tell you that it is quite possible to do this."
Marco Polo next gives a history of Kublaï, whom he considers to possess more lands and treasures than any man since our first father, Adam. He tells how the great khan ascended the throne in the year 1256, being then eighty-five; he was a man of middle height, rather stout, but of a fine figure, with a good complexion and black eyes. He was a good commander in war, and his talents were put to the proof when his uncle Naïan, having rebelled against him, wished to dispute his power at the head of 400,000 cavalry. Kublaï-Khan collected (in secret) a force of 300,000 horsemen, and 100,000 foot-soldiers, and marched against his uncle. The battle was a most terrible one, so many men being killed, but the khan was victorious, and Naïan, as a prince of the blood royal, was condemned to be sewn up tightly in a carpet, and died in great suffering. After his victory the khan made a triumphal entry into Cathay, capital of Cambaluc, or, as it is now called, Pekin. When Marco Polo arrived at this city he made a long stay there, remaining until the emperor needed his services to undertake various missions into the interior of China. The emperor had a splendid palace at Cambaluc, and the traveller gives so graphic an account of the riches and magnificence of the Mongol sovereigns, that we give it word for word. "The palace is surrounded by a great wall, a mile long each way, four miles in length altogether, very thick, ten feet in height, all white and battlemented. At each corner of this wall is a palace beautiful and rich, in which all the trappings of war belonging to the great khan are kept; his bows, quivers, the saddles and bridles of the horses, the bow-strings, in fact everything that would be wanted in time of war; in the midst of each square is another building, like those at the corner, so that there are eight in all, and each building contains one particular kind of harness or trapping. In the wall on the south side are five doors, the middle or large door only being opened when the emperor wishes to go in or out; near this great gate on either side is a smaller one through which other people may pass, and two others for the same purpose. Inside this wall is another, having also eight buildings to be used in the same manner."
Thus we see that all these buildings constituted the emperor's armoury and harness-store; we shall not be surprised that there was so much harness to be kept when we know that the emperor possessed a race of horses white as snow, and among them ten thousand mares, whose milk was reserved for the sole use of princes of the blood royal.
Marco Polo continues his narrative thus:--"The inner wall has five gates on the south side, answering to those in the outer wall, but on the other sides the walls have only one gate each. In the centre of the enclosure made by these walls, stands the palace, the largest in the world. It has no second story, but the ground-floor is raised about eight feet above the ground. The roof is very high, the walls of the rooms are covered with gold and silver, and on this gold and silver are paintings of dragons, birds, horses, and other animals, so that nothing can be seen but gilding and pictures. The dining-hall is large enough to hold 6000 men, and the number of other rooms is marvellous, and all is so well arranged that it could not be improved. The ceilings are painted vermillion, green, blue, yellow, and all kinds of colours, varnished so as to shine like crystal, and the roof is so well built that it will last for many years. Between the two walls the land is laid out in fields with fine trees in them, containing different species of animals, the musk-ox, white deer, roe-buck, fallow-deer, and other animals, who fill the space between the walls, except the roads reserved for human beings. On the north-western side is a great lake, full of fishes of divers kinds, for the great khan has had several species placed there, and each time that he desires it to be done, he has his will in it. A river rises in this lake and flows out from the grounds of the palace, but no fish escape in it, there being iron and brass nets to prevent their doing so. On the northern side, near an arched doorway, the emperor has had a mound made, a hundred feet in height and more than a mile in circumference; it is covered with evergreen trees, and the emperor, being very fond of horticulture, whenever he hears of a fine tree, sends for it and has it brought by his elephants, with the roots and surrounding soil, the size of the tree being no impediment, and thus he has the finest collection of trees in the world. The hill is called 'green hill,' from its being covered with evergreen trees and green turf, and on the top of the hill is a house. This hill is altogether so beautiful that it is the admiration of every one."
After Marco Polo has concluded his description of this palace, he gives one of that of the emperor's son and heir; then he speaks of the town of Cambaluc, the old town which is separated from the modern town of Taidu by a canal, the same which divides the Chinese and Tartar quarters of Pekin. The traveller gives many particulars of the emperor's habits, and among other things, he says that Kublaï-Khan has a body-guard of 2000 horse-soldiers; but he adds, "it is not fear that causes him to keep this guard." His meals are real ceremonies, and etiquette is most rigidly enforced. His table is raised above the others, and he always sits on the north side with his principal wife on his right, and lower down his sons, nephews, and relations; he is waited upon by noble barons, who are careful to envelope their mouths and noses in fine cloth of gold, "so that their breath and their odour may not contaminate the food or drink of their lord." When the emperor is about to drink, a band of music plays, and when he takes the cup in his hand, all the barons and every one present, fall on their knees.
The principal fêtes given by the grand khan were on the anniversary of his birth, and on the first day of the year. At the first, 12,000 barons were accustomed to assemble round the throne, and to them were presented annually 150,000 garments made of gold and silk and ornamented with pearls, whilst the subjects, idolaters as well as Christians, offered up public prayers. At the second of these fêtes, on the first day of the year, the whole population, men and women alike, appeared dressed in white, following the tradition that white brings good fortune, and every one brought gifts to the king of great value. One hundred thousand richly-caparisoned horses, five thousand elephants covered with handsome cloths and carrying the imperial plate, as well as a large number of camels, passed in procession before the emperor.
During the three winter months of December, January, and February, when the khan is living in his winter palace, all the nobles within a radius of sixty days' march are obliged to supply him with boars, stags, fallow-deer, roes, and bears. Besides, Kublaï is a great huntsman himself, and his hunting-train is superbly mounted and kept up. He has leopards, lynxes and fine lions trained to hunt for wild animals, eagles strong enough to chase wolves, foxes, fallow and roe-deer, and, as Marco Polo says, "often to take them too," and his dogs may be counted by thousands. It is about March when the emperor begins his principal hunting in the direction of the sea, and he is accompanied by no less than 10,000 falconers, 500 gerfalcons, and many goshawks, peregrine, and sacred falcons. During the hunting excursion, a portable palace, covered outside with lions' skins and inside with cloth of gold, and carried on four elephants harnessed together, accompanies the emperor everywhere, who seems to enjoy all this oriental pomp and display. He goes as far as the camp of Chachiri-Mongou, which is situated on a stream, a tributary of the river Amoor, and the tent is set up, which is large enough to hold ten thousand nobles. This is his reception-saloon where he gives audiences; and when he wishes to sleep he goes into a tent which is hung all round with ermine and sable furs of almost priceless value. The emperor lives thus till about Easter, hunting cranes, swans, hares, stags, roebucks, &c., and then returns to his capital, Cambaluc.
Marco Polo now completes his description of this fine city and enumerates the twelve quarters it contains, in many of which the rich merchants have their palatial houses, for commerce flourishes in this town, and more valuable merchandise is brought to it than to any other in the world. It is the depôt and market for the richest productions of India, such as pearls and precious stones, and merchants come from long distances round to purchase them. The khan has established a mint here for the benefit of trade, and it is an inexhaustible source of revenue to him. The bank-notes, sealed with the emperor's seal, are made of a kind of card-board manufactured from the bark of the mulberry-tree. The card-board thus prepared is cut into various thicknesses according to the value of the money it is supposed to represent. The currency of this money is enforced, none daring to refuse it "on pain of death;" the emperor using it in all his payments, and enforcing its circulation throughout his dominions. Besides this, several times in the year the possessors of precious stones, pearls, gold, or silver, are obliged to bring their treasures to the mint and receive in exchange for them these pieces of card-board, so that, in fact, the emperor becomes the possessor of all the riches in his empire.
According to Marco Polo the system of the Imperial Government was wonderfully centralized. "The kingdom is divided into thirty-four provinces, and is governed by twelve of the greatest barons living in Cambaluc; in the same palace also reside the intendants and secretaries, who conduct the business of each province. From this central city a great number of roads diverge to the various parts of the kingdom, and on these roads are now post-houses stationed at intervals of twenty-two miles, where well-mounted messengers are always ready to carry the emperor's messages. Besides this, at every three miles on the road there is a little hamlet of about fourteen houses where the couriers live, who carry messages on foot; these men wear a belt round their waists and have a girdle with bells attached to it, that are heard at a long distance; they start at a gallop, quickly accomplishing the three miles and giving the message to the courier who is waiting for it at the next hamlet; thus the emperor receives news from places at long distances from the capital in a comparatively short time." This mode of communication also involved but small expense to Kublaï-Khan, as the only remuneration he gave these couriers was their exemption from taxation, and as to the horses, they were furnished gratuitously by the provinces.
But if the emperor used his power in this manner to lay heavy burdens upon his subjects, he exerted himself actively for their good, and was always ready to help them; for instance, when their crops were damaged by hail-storms, he not only remitted all taxes, but gave them corn from his own stores, and when there was any great mortality among the flocks and herds in any particular province, he always replaced them at his own expense. He was careful to have a large quantity of wheat, barley, millet, and rice, stored up in years of abundant harvest, so as to keep the price of grain at a uniform rate when the harvest failed. He was particularly careful of the poor who lived in Cambaluc. "He had a list made of all the poorest houses in the town, where they were usually short of food, and supplied them liberally with wheat and other grain according to the size of their families, and bread was never refused to any applying at the palace for it; it is computed that at least 30,000 persons avail themselves of this daily throughout the year. His kindness to his poor subjects makes them almost worship him." The whole affairs of the empire are administered with great care, the roads well kept up and planted with fine trees, so that from a distance their direction can easily be traced. There is no want of wood, and in Cathay they work a number of coal-pits which supply abundance of coal.
Marco Polo remained a long time at Cambaluc, and his intelligence, spirit, and readiness in adapting himself, made him a great favourite with the emperor. He was intrusted with various missions, not only in China, but also to places on the coast of India, Ceylon, the Coromandel and Malabar coasts, and a part of Cochin-China near Cambogia, and between the years 1277 and 1280 he was made governor of Yang-tcheou, and of twenty-seven other towns which were joined with it under the same government. Thanks to the missions on which he was sent, he travelled over an immense extent of country, and gained a great amount of ethnological and geographical knowledge. We can now follow him map in hand through some of these journeys, which were of the greatest service to science.
Tso-cheu--Tai-yen-fou--Pin-yang-fou--The Yellow River--Signan-fou-- Szu-tchouan--Ching-tu-fou--Thibet--Li-kiang-fou--Carajan-- Yung-tchang--Mien--Bengal--Annam--Tai-ping--Cintingui--Sindifoo-- Té-cheu--Tsi-nan-fou--Lin-tsin-choo--Lin-sing--Mangi--Yang-tcheu-fou-- Towns on the coast--Quin-say or Hang-tcheou-foo--Fo-kien.
When Marco Polo had been at Cambaluc some time, he was sent on a mission that kept him absent from the capital for four months. Ten miles southwards from Cambaluc, he crossed the fine river Pe-ho-nor (which he calls the Pulisanghi), by a stone bridge of twenty-four arches, and 300 feet in length, which was then without parallel in the world. Thirty miles further on he came to the town of Tso-cheu, where a large trade in sandal-wood is carried on; at ten days' journey from hence he came to the modern town of Tai-yen-fou, which was once the seat of an independent government. All the province of Shan-si seemed rich in vines and mulberry-trees; the principal industry in the towns was the making of armour for the emperor's use.
Seven days' journey further on they came to the beautiful commercial city of Pianfou, now called Pin-yang-foo, where the manufacture of silk was carried on. He soon afterwards came to the banks of the Yellow River, which he calls Caramoran or Black River, probably on account of its waters being darkened by the aquatic plants growing in them; at two days' journey from hence he came to the town of Cacianfu, whose position is not now clearly defined. He found nothing remarkable in this town, and leaving it he rode across a beautiful country, covered with towns, country-houses, and gardens, and abounding in game.
In eight days he reached the fine city of Quangianfoo, the ancient capital of the Tâng dynasty, now called Signanfoo, and the capital of Shensi; here reigned Prince Mangalai, the emperor's son, an upright and amiable prince, much loved by his people. He lived in a magnificent palace outside the town, built in the midst of a park, of which the battlemented wall cannot have been less than five miles in circumference.
From Signanfoo, the traveller went towards Thibet, across the modern province of Szu-tchouan, a mountainous country intersected by deep valleys, where lions, bears, lynxes, &c., abounded, and after twenty-eight days' march he found himself on the borders of the great plain of Acmelic-mangi. This is a fertile country and produces all kinds of vegetation; ginger is especially cultivated; there is sufficient to supply all the province of Cathay, and so fertile is the soil that according to a French traveller, M. E. Simon, an acre is now worth 15,000 francs, or three francs the metre. In the thirteenth century this plain was covered with towns and country-houses, and the inhabitants lived upon the fruits of the ground, and the produce of their flocks and herds, while the large quantity of game furnished hunters with abundant occupation.
Marco Polo next visited the town of Sindafou (now Tching-too-foo), the capital of the province of Se-tchu-an, whose population at the present day exceeds 1,500,000 souls. Sindafu, measuring at that time twenty miles round, was divided into three parts, each surrounded with its own wall, and each part had a king of its own before Kublaï-Khan took possession of the town. The great river Kiang ran through the town: it contained large quantities of fish, and from its size resembled a sea more than a river; its waters were covered by a vast number of vessels. Five days after leaving this busy, thriving town Marco Polo reached the province of Thibet, which he says "is very desolate, for it has been destroyed by the war."
Thibet abounds in lions, bears, and other savage animals, from which the travellers would have much difficulty in defending themselves had it not been for the quantity of large thick canes that grow there, which are probably bamboos: he says, "the merchants and travellers passing through these countries at night collect a quantity of these canes and make a large fire of them, for when they are burning they make such a noise and crackle so much, that the lions, bears, and other wild beasts take flight to a distance, and would not approach these fires on any account; thus both men, horses, and camels are safe. In another way, too, protection is afforded by throwing a number of these canes on a wood fire, and when they become heated and split, and the sap hisses, the sound is heard at least ten miles off. When any one is not accustomed to this noise, it is so terrifying that even the horses will break away from their cords and tethers; so their owners often bandage their eyes and tie their feet together to prevent their running away." This method of burning canes is still used in countries where the bamboo grows, and indeed the noise may be compared to the loudest explosion of fire-works.
According to Marco Polo, Thibet is a very large province, having its own language; and its inhabitants, who are idolaters, are a race of bold thieves. A large river, the Khin-cha-kiang, flows over auriferous sands through the province; a quantity of coral is found in it which is much used for idols, and for the adornment of the women. Thibet was at this time under the dominion of the great khan.
The traveller took a westerly direction when he left Sindafou, and crossing the kingdom of Gaindu he must have come to Li-kiang-foo, the capital of the country that is now called Tsi-mong. In this province he visited a beautiful lake which produces pearl-oysters; the fishing is the emperor's property; he also found great quantities of cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and other spices under cultivation.
After leaving the province of Gaindu, and crossing a large river, probably the Irrawaddy, Marco Polo took a south-easterly course to the province of Carajan, which probably forms the north-western part of Yunnan. According to his account all the inhabitants of this province, who are mostly great riders, live on the raw flesh of fowls, sheep, buffaloes, and oxen; the rich seasoning their raw meat with garlic sauce and good spices. This country is infested with great adders, and serpents, "hideous to look upon." These reptiles, probably alligators, were ten feet long, had two legs armed with claws, and with their large heads and great jaws could at one gulp swallow a man.
Five days' journey west of Carajan, Marco Polo took a new route to the south, and entered the province of Zardandan, whose capital Nocian, is the modern town of Yung-chang. All the inhabitants of the city had teeth of gold; that is to say, they covered their teeth with little plates of gold which they removed before eating. The men of this province employed themselves only in hunting, catching birds, and making war, the hard work all devolving upon the women and slaves. These Zardanians have neither idols nor churches, but they each worship their ancestor, the patriarch of the family. Their tradesmen carry their goods about on barrows like the bakers in France. They have no doctors, but only enchanters, who jump, dance, and play musical instruments around the invalid's bed till he either dies or recovers.
Leaving these people with gilded teeth, Marco Polo took the great road which conveys all the traffic between India and Indo-China, and passed by Bhamo, where a market is held three times a week, which attracts merchants from the most distant countries. After riding for fifteen days through forests filled with elephants, unicorns, and other wild animals, he came to the great city of Mien; that is to say, to that part of Upper Burmah, of which the present capital, of recent erection, is called Amarapura. This city of Mien, which may be, perhaps, the old town of Ava now in ruins, or the old town of Paghan situated on the Irrawaddy, possessed a veritable architectural marvel, in two towers, one built of fine stone, and entirely covered with a coating of gold about an inch in thickness, and the other, also of stone, coated with silver, both intended to serve as a tomb for the king of Mien, before his kingdom fell under the dominion of the khan. After visiting this province, the traveller went to Bangala, the Bengal of the present day, which at this time, 1290, did not belong to Kublaï-Khan. The emperor's forces were then engaged in trying to conquer this fertile country, rich in cotton plants, in sugar-canes, &c., and whose magnificent oxen were like elephants in height. From thence, the traveller ventured as far as the city of Cancigu, in the province of the same name, probably the modern town of Kassaye. The natives here tattooed their bodies, and with needles drew pictures of lions, dragons, and birds on their faces, necks, bellies, hands, legs, and bodies, and he who had the greatest number of these pictures they considered the most beautiful of human beings.
Cancigu was the most southerly point visited by Marco Polo, during this journey. Leaving this city, he went towards the north-east, and by the country of Amu, Anam, and Tonkin, he reached Toloman, now called Tai-ping, after fifteen days' march. There he found that fine race of men, of dark colour, who have crowned their mountains with strong castles, and whose ordinary food is the flesh of animals, milk, rice, and spices.
On leaving Toloman, he followed the course of a river for twelve days, and found numerous towns on its banks. Here, as M. Charton truly observes, the traveller is leaving the country known as India beyond the Ganges, and returning towards China. In fact, Marco Polo after leaving Toloman visited the province of Guigui with its capital of the same name, and what struck him most in this country, (and we cannot but think that the bold explorer was also a keen hunter) was the great number of lions that were to be seen about its mountains and plains. Only, commentators are of opinion that the lions he speaks of must have been tigers, for no lions are found in China, but we will give his own words: he says, "There are so many lions in this country, that it is not safe to sleep out of doors for fear of being devoured. And when you are on the river and stop for the night, you must be careful to anchor far from land, for otherwise the lions come to the vessel, seize upon a man, and devour him. The inhabitants of this part of the country are well aware of this, and so take measures to guard against it. These lions are very large and very dangerous, but there are dogs in this country brave enough to attack these lions; it requires two dogs and a man to overcome each lion."
From this province Marco Polo returned to Sindifu, the capital of the province of Se-chuen, whence he had started on his excursion into Thibet; and retracing the route by which he had set out, he returned to Kublaï-Khan, after having brought his mission to Indo-China to a satisfactory termination. It was probably at this time that the traveller was first entrusted by the emperor with another mission to the south-east of China. M. Pauthier, in his fine work upon the Venetian traveller, speaks of this south-easterly part of China as "the richest and most flourishing quarter of this vast empire and that also about which, since the 16th century, Europeans have had the most information."
As we return to the route that M. Pauthier has traced on his map, we find that Marco Polo went southwards to Ciangli, probably the town of Ti-choo, and at six days' journey from thence he came to Condinfoo, the present city of Tsi-nan, the capital of the province of Shan-tung, the birthplace of Confucius. It was at that time a fine town and much frequented by silk-merchants, and its beautiful gardens produced abundance of excellent fruit. Three days' march from hence, the traveller came to the town of Lin-tsing, standing at the mouth of the Yu-ho canal, the principal rendezvous for the innumerable boats that carry so much merchandise to the provinces of Mangi and Cathay. Eight days afterwards he passed by Ligui, which seems to correspond to the modern town of Lin-tsin, and the town of Piceu, the first city in the province of Tchang-su; then by the town of Cingui, he arrived at Caramoran, the Yellow River, which he had crossed higher up when he was on his way to Indo-China; here Marco Polo was not more than a league from the mouth of this great river. After crossing it he was in the province of Mangi, a territory included in the Empire of the Soongs.
Before this province of Mangi belonged to Kublaï-Khan it was governed by a very pacific king, who shunned war, and was very merciful to all his subjects. Marco Polo describes him so well that we will quote his own words. "This last emperor of the Soong dynasty was most generous, and I will cite but two noble traits to show this; every year he had nearly 20,000 infants brought up at the royal charge, for it was the custom in these provinces, when a poor woman could not bring up a child herself, to cast it away as soon as it was born, to die. The king had all these children taken care of, and a record kept of the sign and the planet under which each was born, and then they were sent to different places to be brought up, for there are a quantity of nurses. When a rich man had no sons, he came to the king and asked of him some of his wards, who were immediately given to him. As the children grew up they intermarried, and the king gave them sufficient incomes to live upon. When he went through his dominions and saw a small house among several much larger ones, he inquired why this house was smaller than those near it, and if he found it was on account of the poverty of the owner, he immediately had it made as large as the others at his own expense. He was always waited upon by a thousand pages and a thousand girls. He kept up such rigorous discipline throughout his kingdom that there was never any crime; at night, houses and shops remained open, and nothing was taken from them, and travelling was as safe by night as by day."
Marco Polo came first to the town of Coigangui, now called Hoang-fou, on the banks of the Yellow River, where the principal industry is the preparation of the salt found in the salt marshes. One day's journey from this town he came to Pau-in-chen, famous for its cloth of gold, and the town of Caiu, now Kao-yu, whose inhabitants are clever fishermen and hunters, then to the city of Tai-cheu, where numerous vessels are generally to be found, and at last to the city of Yangui.
This town of Yangui, of which Marco Polo was the governor for three years, is the modern Yang-tchou; it is a very populous and busy town, and cannot be less than two leagues in circumference. It was from Yangui that the traveller set out on the various expeditions which enabled him to see so much of the inland and sea-coast towns.
First, the traveller went westward to Nan-ghin, which must not be confounded with Nan-kin of the present day. Its modern name is Ngan-khing, and it stands in the midst of a remarkably fertile province. Further on in the same direction he came to Saianfu, which is now called Siang-yang, and is built in the northern part of the province of Hou-pe. This was the last town in the province of Mangi that resisted the dominion of Kublaï-Khan; he besieged it for three years, and he owed his taking it at last to the help of the three Polos, who constructed some powerful balistas and crushed the besieged under a perfect hail-storm of stones, some of which weighed as much as three hundred pounds. From Saianfu Marco Polo retraced his steps that he might visit some of the towns on the sea-coast. He visited Kui-kiang on the river Kiang, which is very broad here, and upon which 5000 ships can sail at the same moment; Kain-gui, which supplies the Emperor's palace with corn; Ching-kiang where are two Nestorian Christian churches; Ginguigui, now Tchang-tcheou, a busy thriving city; and Singui, now called Soo-choo, a large town, which, according to the very exaggerated account of the Venetian traveller, has no less than 6000 bridges.
After spending some time at Vugui, probably Hou-tcheou, and at Ciangan, now Kia-hing, Marco Polo reached the fine city of Quinsay, after three days' march. This name means the "City of Heaven," but it is now called Hang-chow-foo. It is six leagues round; the river Tsien-tang-kiang flows through it, and by its constant windings, makes Quinsay almost a second Venice. This ancient capital of the Soongs is almost as populous as Pekin; its streets are paved with stones and bricks, and if we may credit Marco Polo's statement, it contained "600,000 houses, 4000 bathing establishments, and 12,000 stone bridges." In this city dwell the richest merchants in the world with their wives, who are "beautiful and angelic creatures." It is the residence of a viceroy, who has besides, 140 other cities under his dominion. Here was to be seen also the palace of the Mangi sovereigns surrounded by beautiful gardens, lakes, and fountains, the palace itself containing more than a thousand rooms. Kublaï-Khan draws immense revenues from this town and province, and it is by tens of thousands of pounds we must reckon the income derived from the sugar, salt, spices, and silk, which form the principal productions of this country. At one day's journey south from Quinsay, Marco Polo visited Chao-hing, Vugui, or Hou-tcheou, Ghengui or Kui-tcheou, Cianscian or Yo-tcheou-fou (according to M. Charton), and Sonï-tchang-fou (according to M. Pauthier), and Cugui or Kiou-tcheou, the last town in the kingdom of Quinsay; thence he entered the kingdom of Fugui, whose chief town of the same name is now called Fou-tcheou-foo, the capital of the province of Fo-kien. According to Marco Polo, the inhabitants of this province are a cruel warlike race, never sparing their enemies, of whom, after they have killed them, they drink the blood and eat the flesh. After passing by Quenlifu, now Kien-ning-foo, and Unguen, the traveller entered Fugui, probably the modern town of Kuant-tcheou (called Canton amongst us), and the chief town of the province, where a large trade in pearls and precious stones was carried on, and in five days he reached the port of Zaitem, probably the Chinese town of Tsiuen-tcheou, which was the extreme point reached by him in this exploration of south-eastern China.
Japan--Departure of the three Venetians with the Emperor's daughter and the Persian ambassadors--Sai-gon--Java--Condor--Bintang--Sumatra--The Nicobar Islands--Ceylon--The Coromandel coast--The Malabar coast--The Sea of Oman--The island of Socotra--Madagascar--Zanzibar and the coast of Africa--Abyssinia--Yemen--Hadramaut and Oman--Ormuz--The return to Venice--A feast in the household of Polo--Marco Polo a Genoese prisoner--Death of Marco Polo about 1323.
Marco Polo returned to the court of Kublaï-Khan when he had finished the expedition of which we spoke in the last chapter. He was then entrusted with several other missions, in which he found his knowledge of the Turkish, Chinese, Mongolian, and Mantchorian languages of the greatest use. He seems to have taken part in an expedition to the islands in the Indian Ocean, and he brought back a detailed account of this hitherto little known sea. There is a want of clearness as to dates at this part of his life, which makes it difficult to give a correct narrative of these voyages in their right order. He gives a circumstantial account of the Island of Cipango, a name applying to the group of islands which make up Japan; but it does not appear that he actually entered that kingdom. This country was famous for its wealth, and about 1264, some years before Marco Polo arrived at the Tartar court, Kublaï-Khan had tried to conquer it and sent his fleet there with that purpose. They had taken possession of a citadel and put all its valiant defenders to the edge of the sword, but just at the moment of apparent victory a storm arose and dispersed all the enemy's fleet, and thus the expedition was useless. Marco Polo gives a long account of this attempt, and adds many curious particulars as to Japanese customs.
Marco Polo, with his father and uncle, had now been seventeen years in the service of Kublaï-Khan, and even longer absent from their own country; they had a great wish to revisit it, but the Emperor had become so much attached to them, and valued their services so highly, that he could not make up his mind to part with them. He tried in every way to shake their resolution, offering them riches and honour if only they would remain with him, but they still held to their plan of returning to Europe; the Emperor then absolutely refused to allow them to go, and Marco Polo could find no means of eluding the surveillance of which he was the object, until circumstances arose which quite changed Kublaï-Khan's resolution.
A Mongol prince, named Arghun, whose dominions were in Persia, had sent an ambassador to the Emperor to ask one of the princesses of the blood royal, in marriage. Kublaï-Khan acceded to his request and sent off his daughter Cogatra to Prince Arghun, attended by a numerous suite; but the countries by which they endeavoured to travel were not safe; the caravan was soon stopped by disturbances and rebellions, and after some months was obliged to return to the Emperor's palace. The Persian ambassadors had heard Marco Polo spoken of as a clever navigator who had had some experience of the Indian Ocean, and they begged the Emperor to confide the Princess Cogatra to his care, that he might conduct her to her future husband, thinking that the voyage by sea would probably be attended by less danger than a land journey.
After some demur Kublaï-Khan acceded to their request, and equipped a fleet of forty four-masted vessels, provisioning them for two years. Some of these were very large, having a crew of 250 men, for this was an important expedition worthy of the opulent Emperor of China. Matteo, Nicolo, and Marco Polo set out with the Chinese princess and the Persian ambassadors, and it was during this voyage, which lasted eighteen months, that it seems most probable that Marco Polo visited the islands of Sunda and other islands in the Indian Ocean, as well as Ceylon and the towns on the coast of India. We will follow him in his voyage and give his description of the places that he visited in this hitherto little known portion of the globe.
It must have been about 1291 or 1292 that the fleet left the port of Zaitem, under the command of Marco Polo. He steered first for Tchampa, a great country situated at the south of Cochin China, and which contains the present province of Saïgon, belonging to France. This was not a new country to Marco Polo, as he had visited it about 1280, when he was on a mission for the Emperor. At this time, Tchampa was under the dominion of the grand khan, and paid him an annual tribute in elephants; when Marco Polo visited this country before its conquest by Kublaï-Khan, he found the reigning king had no less than 326 children, of whom 150 were old enough to carry arms.
Leaving the peninsula of Cambodia, the fleet went in the direction of Java, the rich island that Kublaï-Khan had never been able to subjugate, where abundance of pepper, cloves, nutmegs, &c., grew. After putting into port at Condor and Sandur, at the extremity of the peninsular of Cochin China, they reached the island of Pentam (Bintang), situated near the eastern entrance of the straits of Malacca, and the island of Sumatra, called Little Java. "This island is so much in the south," he says, "that they never see there the polar star," which is true as far as the inhabitants of the southern part are concerned. It is very fertile, aloes growing most luxuriantly; and here wild elephants and rhinoceroses (called by Marco Polo unicorns) are found, and apes, too, in large numbers. The fleet was detained five months on these shores by contrary winds, and the traveller made the most of his time in visiting the principal provinces of the island, such as Samara, Dagraian, and Labrin (which boasts a great number of men with tails--evidently apes), and the island of Fandur or Panchor, where the sago-tree grows, from which a kind of flour is obtained that makes very good bread.
At last the wind changed, and enabled the vessels to leave Little Java, and after touching at Necaran, which must be one of the Nicobar Islands, and at the Andaman group, whose inhabitants are still cannibals, as they were in the time of Marco Polo, the fleet took a south-westerly course and arrived on the coast of Ceylon. "This island," says the traveller in his narrative, "was once much larger, for according to the map of the world that the pilots of these seas carry, it was once 3600 miles in circumference but the north wind blows with such force in these parts that it caused a part of the island to be submerged." This tradition is still held by the inhabitants of Ceylon. Here are collected in abundance, rubies, sapphires, topaz, amethysts, and other precious stones, such as garnets, opals, agates, and sardonyx. The king of the country was the possessor at this time of a most splendid ruby as long as the palm of the hand, as thick as a man's arm, and red as fire, which excited the envy of the grand khan, who vainly tried to induce its possessor to part with it, offering a whole city in exchange, but that could not tempt the King to let him have the jewel.
Sixty miles west of Ceylon the travellers came to Maabar, a great province on the coast of India. This must not be mistaken for Malabar, which is situated on the west coast of the Indian peninsula. This Maabar forms the southern part of the Coromandel coast, and is celebrated for its pearl fisheries. Here the magicians are at work, and are said to render the monsters of the deep harmless to the fishermen; they are astrologers whose race is perpetuated even to modern times. Marco Polo gives some interesting details of the customs of the natives, one is that when a king dies, the nobles throw themselves into the fire in his honour; another strange custom is that of the religious purifications twice every day, and their blind faith in astrologers and diviners; he also speaks of the frequency of religious suicides, and the sacrifice of widows whom the funeral pile awaits on the death of their husbands. He also notices the skill in physiognomy evinced by the natives.
The next resting-place of the fleet was Muftili, of which the capital is now called Masulipatam, the chief city of the kingdom of Golconda. This country was well governed by a queen, a widow for forty years, who desired to remain faithful to the memory of her husband. The country contained many valuable diamond mines, but these were unfortunately among mountains where serpents abounded; the miners had recourse to a strange device when collecting the precious stones, to protect themselves from these reptiles, which we may believe or not as we choose. Marco Polo says: "They take several pieces of meat, and throw them among the pointed rocks, where no man can go, and the meat, falling upon the diamonds, they become attached to it. Now, among these mountains live a number of white eagles, who hunt the serpents, and when they see the meat at the foot of the precipices they swoop down and carry it away. At the moment the men who have been following the eagles' movements see them alight to eat the meat, they raise fearful cries, the meat is dropped and the eagles take to flight, and thus the men have no difficulty in taking the diamonds that are attached to the meat. Diamonds are often found on the mountains, mingled with the excrement of the eagles."
After visiting the small town of St. Thomas, situated some miles to the south of Madras, where St. Thomas the apostle is said to be buried, the travellers explored the kingdom of Maabar and especially the province of Lar, from whence spring all the "Abrahamites" of the world, probably the Brahmins. These men, he says, live to a great age, owing to their abstinence and sobriety; some have been known to attain 150 and even 200 years of age; their diet is principally rice and milk, and they drink a mixture of sulphur and quicksilver. These "Abrahamites" are clever merchants, superstitious, however, but remarkably sincere, and never guilty of theft of any kind; they never kill any living thing, and they worship the ox, which is a sacred animal among them.
The fleet now returned to Ceylon, where in 1284 Kublaï-Khan had sent an ambassador who had brought him back some pretended relics of Adam, and among other things two of his molar teeth; for, if we can believe the Saracen traditions, the tomb of our first father must have been on the summit of one of the precipitous mountains, which forms the highest ground in the island. After losing sight of Ceylon, Marco Polo went to Cail, a port that we do not find marked on any of the modern maps, but a place where all the vessels touched coming from Ormuz, Kiss, Aden, and the coasts of Arabia. Thence doubling Cape Comorin they came to Coilum, now Quilon, which was a very thriving city in the thirteenth century. It is there that a great quantity of sandal-wood and indigo is found, and merchants come in large numbers from the Levant and from the West to trade in both. The country of Malabar produces a great quantity of rice, and wild animals are found there, such as leopards, which Marco Polo calls "black lions," also peacocks of much greater beauty than those of Europe, as well as different kinds of parroquets.
The fleet, leaving Coilum, and advancing northwards along the Malabar coast, arrived at the shores of the kingdom of Maundallay, which derives its name from a mountain situated on the borders of Kanara and Malabar; here pepper, ginger, saffron, and other spices abound. To the north of this kingdom extended that country which the Venetian traveller calls Melibar, and which is situated to the north of Malabar proper. The vessels of the Mangalore merchants came here to trade with the natives of this part of India for cargoes of spices, a fine kind of cloth called buckram and other valuable wares; but their vessels were frequently attacked, and too often pillaged by the pirates who infested these seas, and who were justly regarded as formidable enemies. These pirates principally inhabit the peninsula of Gohourat, now called Gujerat, where the fleet was on its way after calling at Tana--a country where is collected the frankincense--and Canboat, now Kambay, a town where there is a great trade in leather. Visiting Sumenath, a city of the peninsula, whose inhabitants are cruel, ferocious, and idolaters, and Kesmacoran, the modern city of Kedje, the capital of Makran, situated on the Indus near the sea, and the last town in India on the northwest, Marco Polo went westward across the sea of Oman, instead of going to Persia, which was the destination of the princess.
His insatiable love of exploration led him 500 miles away to the shores of Arabia, where he stopped at the Male and Female Islands, so called from the men usually living on one island, and their wives on the other. Thence they sailed to the south towards the island of Socotra, at the entrance of the Gulf of Aden, which, Marco Polo partially explored. He speaks of the inhabitants of Socotra as clever magicians, who, by their enchantments, obtain the fulfilment of all their wishes as well as the power of stilling storms and tempests. Then, taking a southerly course of 1000 miles, he arrived at the shores of Madagascar. This island appeared to him to be one of the grandest in the world. Its inhabitants are very much occupied with commerce, especially in elephants' tusks. They live principally upon camels' flesh, which is better and more wholesome food than any other. The merchants on their way from the coast of India are usually only twenty days crossing the Sea of Oman; but when they return they are often three months on the voyage on account of the opposing currents which take them always southwards. Nevertheless, they visit Madagascar very constantly, for there are whole forests of sandal-wood, and amber is also found there, from which they can obtain great profit by bartering it for gold and silk stuffs. Wild animals and game are plentiful; according to Marco Polo, leopards, bears, lions, wild boars, giraffes, wild asses, roebucks, deer, stags, and cattle were to be found in great numbers; but what seemed most marvellous of all to him was the fabulous griffin, the roc, of which we hear so much in the "Thousand and one Nights," which is not, he says, "an animal, half-lion and half-bird, able to raise and carry away an elephant in its claws." It was probably the "epyornis maximus," for some eggs of this bird are still to be found in Madagascar.
From this island Marco Polo went in a north-westerly direction to Zanzibar and the coast of Africa. The inhabitants seemed to him remarkably stout, but strong and able to carry the burdens of four ordinary men, "which is not strange," he says, "for they each eat as much as five other men;" these natives were black and wore no clothing, they had large mouths and turned-up noses, thick lips, and large eyes, a description that agrees exactly with that of the natives of that part of Africa now. They live upon rice, meat, milk, and dates, and make a kind of wine of rice, sugar, and spices. They are brave warriors and fearless of death; they are usually in war mounted on camels and elephants, and armed with a leathern shield, a sword, and a lance; they give their animals an intoxicating drink to excite them on going into action.
In Marco Polo's time, says M. Charton, the countries comprised under the title of India were divided into three parts; Greater India or Hindostan, that is, the country lying between the Indus and the Ganges; Lesser India, that is, all the country lying beyond the Ganges, between the western coast of the peninsula and the coast of Cochin China; lastly, Middle India, that is, Abyssinia and the Arabian coast to the Persian Gulf. After leaving Zanzibar it was Middle India whose coast Marco Polo explored, sailing towards the north, and first Abassy or Abyssinia, a fertile country where the manufacture of fine cotton cloths and buckram is largely carried on. Then the fleet went to Zaila, almost at the entrance of the straits of Bab-el-Mandeb, and at last by the coast of Yemen and Hadramaut they came to Aden, the port frequented by all the ships trading with India and China; then to Escier, whence a great quantity of fine horses are exported; Dafar, which produces incense of the finest quality, and Galatu, now Kalajate, on the coast of Oman; then to Ormuz, that Marco Polo had visited once before when he was on his way from Venice to the court of Kublaï-Khan. This was the furthest point that the fleet had to reach, as the princess was now on the borders of Persia, after a voyage of eighteen months. But on their arrival they were met by the sad news of the death of Prince Arghun, the fiancé of the princess, and they found the country involved in civil war. The poor princess was put under the care of Prince Ghazan, the son of Prince Arghun, who did not ascend the throne until 1295, when his uncle, the usurper, was strangled. What became of the princess we do not hear, but on parting with Nicolo, Matteo, and Marco Polo, she bestowed on them great marks of favour. It was probably during Marco Polo's residence in Persia that he collected some curious documents upon Turkey in Asia; they are disconnected pieces, which he gives at the close of his narrative, and they form a genuine history of the Mongol Khans of Persia. His travels for exploration were at an end, and after taking leave of the Tartar princess, the three Venetians well escorted, and with all expenses paid, set out on their way home. They went to Trebizond, then to Constantinople, and thence to Negropont, where they embarked for Venice.
It was in the year 1295, twenty-four years after leaving it, that Marco Polo and his companions returned to their native town. They were bronzed by exposure to the air and sun, coarsely clad in Tartar costume, and both in manners and language were so much more Mongolian than Venetian, that even their nearest relatives failed to recognize them. Beyond this, a report had been widely spread that they were dead, and it had gained so much credence that their friends never expected to see them again. They went to their own house in the part of Venice called St. John Chrysostom, and found it occupied by different members of the Polo family, who received the travellers with every mark of distrust, which their pitiable appearance did not tend to lessen, and placed no faith in the somewhat marvellous stories related to them by Marco Polo. After some persuasion, however, they gained admittance into their own house. When they had been a few days in Venice, the three travellers gave a magnificent banquet, followed by a splendid fête, to do away with any remaining doubts as to their identity. They invited the nobility of Venice and all the members of their own family, and when all the guests were assembled the three hosts appeared dressed in crimson satin robes; the guests then entered the dining-room, and the feast began. After the first course was over the three travellers retired for a few moments and then reappeared, clad in robes of splendid silk damask, which they proceeded to tear, and to present each of their guests with a piece. After the second course they dressed themselves in even more splendid robes of crimson velvet, which they wore until the feast was over, when they appeared in simple Venetian costume. The astonished guests marvelled at the magnificence of these garments, and wondered what their hosts would next show them; then the coarse rough clothes that they had worn on the voyage were brought in, and when the linings and seams were undone, rubies, sapphires, emeralds, diamonds, and carbuncles of great value were poured forth from them; great riches had been hidden in these rags. This unexpected sight cleared away all doubt; the three travellers were recognized at once as Marco, Nicolo, and Matteo Polo, and congratulations upon their return were showered upon them.
So celebrated a man as Marco Polo could not escape civic honours. He was made first magistrate in Venice, and as he was continually speaking of the "millions" of the Grand Khan, who commanded "millions" of subjects, he gained the soubriquet of Signor Million.
It was about 1296 that a war broke out between Venice and Genoa. A Genoese fleet under the command of Lamba Doria crossed the Adriatic, and threatened the sea coast. The Venetian Admiral Andrea Dandolo immediately manned a larger fleet and entrusted the command of a galley to Marco Polo who was justly considered an able commander. The Venetians were beaten in a naval battle on the 8th of September, 1296, and Marco Polo, badly wounded, fell into the hands of the Genoese, who, knowing and appreciating the value of their prisoner, treated him with great kindness. He was taken to Genoa, and there met with a hearty welcome from the most distinguished people, who were anxious to hear the account of his travels. It was during his captivity, in 1298, that he made acquaintance with Pisano Rusticien, and, tired of repeating his story again and again, dictated his narrative to him.
About 1299 Marco Polo was set at liberty; he returned to Venice, and there married. From this time we hear no more of the incidents of his life, and only know from his will that he left three daughters; he is thought to have died about the 9th of January, 1323, at the age of seventy.
Such is the life of this celebrated traveller, whose narrative had a marked influence on the progress of geographical science. He was gifted with great power of observation, and could see and describe equally well; and all later explorers have confirmed the truth of his statements. Until the middle of the eighteenth century, the documents founded on this narrative formed the basis of geographical books, and were used as a guide in commercial expeditions to China, India, and Central Asia. Posterity will concur in the suitability of the title that the first copyists gave to Marco Polo's work, that of "The Book of the Wonders of the World."