13th century Franciscan monk

William of Rubruck (c. 1220 – c. 1293, or ca. 1210-ca. 1270) was a Flemish Franciscan missionary, monk and explorer. His account is one of the masterpieces of medieval geographical literature comparable to that of Marco Polo and Ibn Battuta and is the most detailed and valuable of the early Western accounts of the Mongols. Born in Rubrouck, Flanders, he is known also as William of Rubruk, Willem van Ruysbroeck, Guillaume de Rubrouck or Willielmus de Rubruquis. He travelled to various places of the Mongol Empire in Asia before his return to Europe. [Source: Wikipedia]

Daniel C. Waugh of the University of Washington: “ William had participated in the crusade of King Louis IX of France to Palestine and there heard about the Mongols from friar Andrew of Longjumeau, a Dominican who had been involved in papal diplomacy aimed at trying to enlist the Mongols in the Christian crusade against the Muslims. Rubruck then decided to undertake his own mission to the Mongols primarily in the hope of promoting their conversion to Christianity. [Source: Daniel C. Waugh, University of Washington ^=^]

“In 1253 he set out through the lands of the western part of their empire (what we know as the Golden Horde)--that is starting out through the southern steppes of what is now Ukraine and Russia. His roundtrip journey lasted the better part of three years. William had the distinction of being the first European to visit the Mongol capital of Karakorum on the Orhon River and return to write about it. He provides a unique description of the Khan's palace there and abundant detail about the individuals of various ethnicities and religions whom he encountered. Understandably, he was particularly interested in the Nestorian Christians. His describes generally with great precision Mongol traditional culture, many features of which have survived amongst the herders one may observe today in inner Asia.” ^=^

Good Websites and Sources on the Silk Road: Silk Road Seattle washington.edu/silkroad ; Silk Road Foundation silk-road.com; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Silk Road Atlas depts.washington.edu ; Old World Trade Routes ciolek.com; Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project silkroadproject.org ; International Dunhuang Project idp.bl.uk ; Marco Polo: Wikipedia Marco Polo Wikipedia ; “The Book of Ser Marco Polo: The Venetian Concerning Kingdoms and Marvels of the East’ by Marco Polo and Rustichello of Pisa, translated and edited by Colonel Sir Henry Yule, Volumes 1 and 2 (London: John Murray, 1903) are part of the public domain and can be read online at Project Gutenberg. Works by Marco Polo gutenberg.org ; Marco Polo and his Travels silk-road.com ; Zheng He and Early Chinese Exploration : Wikipedia Chinese Exploration Wikipedia ; Le Monde Diplomatique mondediplo.com ; Zheng He Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Gavin Menzies’s 1421 1421.tv ; First Europeans in Asia Wikipedia ; Matteo Ricci faculty.fairfield.edu Books: on the Silk Road The Silk Road (Odyssey Guides); Marco Polo: A Photographer's Journey by Mike Yamashita (White Star, 2002); “Life along the Silk Road” by Whitfield, Susan (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999); “The Silk Route: Trade, Travel, War and Faith” by Susan Whitfield, with Ursula Sims-Williams, eds. (London: British Library, 2004); “The Camel and the Wheel” by Richard Bulliet (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1975). “Marco Polo's Asia,” by Leonardo Olschki (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1960). When China Ruled the Seas by Louise Levathes. Books on 18th and 19th Century European Explorers of Western China: The Question of Hu by Jonathan Spence and Foreign Devils on the Silk Road by Peter Hopkirk. Television show: Silk Road 2005, a 10-episode production by China's CCTV and Japan's NHK, with music by Yo Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble. The original series was shown in 1980s.

Websites and Resources: Mongols and Horsemen of the Steppe:
Wikipedia article Wikipedia ; The Mongol Empire web.archive.org/web ; The Mongols in World History afe.easia.columbia.edu/mongols ; William of Rubruck's Account of the Mongols washington.edu/silkroad/texts ; Mongol invasion of Rus (pictures) web.archive.org/web ; Encyclopædia Britannica article britannica.com ; Mongol Archives historyonthenet.com ; “The Horse, the Wheel and Language, How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes shaped the Modern World", David W Anthony, 2007 archive.org/details/horsewheelandlanguage ; The Scythians - Silk Road Foundation silkroadfoundation.org ; Scythians iranicaonline.org ; Encyclopaedia Britannica article on the Huns britannica.com ; Wikipedia article on Eurasian nomads Wikipedia

William of Rubruck’s Journey

William of Rubruck traveled through the lands that the Mongols had conquered in the Crimea, the Caucasus, Central Asia, and Asia Minor between 1253 and 1255. Apart from references in the Opus Maius of his fellow-Franciscan Roger Bacon, his report to the French king Louis IX, entitled simply the “Itinerarium” by scholars for the sake of reference, is our only source for his travels. We do not know his age, although the hardships of the journey he undertook render it unlikely that he was born before 1210. [Source: Peter Jackson, Encyclopedia Iranica, last updated: October 8, 2012 +/]

Peter Jackson wrote in Encyclopedia Iranica, “From Palestine, where he was among Louis’ entourage following the French king’s disastrous invasion of Egypt (647/1249-50) during the Seventh Crusade, Rubruck secured the king’s support to travel into Mongol territory in order to bring spiritual comfort to some German slaves who had been carried off into Asia from Hungary by the Mongol invaders in 1241-42. His aims also included spreading the Gospel and making contact with the Mongol prince Sartaq, who was based in the Pontic-Caspian steppes (the territory later known as the khanate of the Golden Horde) and of whose Christian sympathies the crusading army had heard. +/

“In 1253, accompanied by another Franciscan named Bartholomew of Cremona, one of Louis’ clerks and an interpreter, Rubruck sailed via Constantinople to Soldaia (Sudak) in the Crimea, and thence traveled into the steppe. In the event, he was disappointed in Sartaq, on whose Christianity he casts doubt, and failed to make contact with the German slaves. From the outset, moreover, the mission was bedeviled by the Mongols’ misapprehension that the group represented an official embassy and that the friendly letter from Louis that Rubruck carried to Sartaq was an appeal for military assistance against the Muslims. For this reason Sartaq sent the group to his father Batu Khan (grandson of Genhis Khan and ruler of the Golden Horde, the Mongols' western forces) who in turn dispatched the two friars and the interpreter across Asia to the Great Khan Möngke in Mongolia. Here it was finally recognized that the party was not an embassy. +/

“After a few months the Great Khan sent Rubruck back as his own envoy, with a letter demanding the King’s submission. Returning via the Caucasus and the encampment of the Mongol general Bayju on the Aras river, Rubruck reached Palestine (1255), only to learn that King Louis had embarked for home a year earlier; he therefore sent his report to the king and asked Louis to secure permission for him to come to France in person. We know that he subsequently traveled to France, since Bacon met him there and cites him several times in the Opus Maius. The date of his death is unknown.” +/

William of Rubruck’s Report

Peter Jackson wrote in Encyclopedia Iranica, “Apart from chapters 2-8 and 35, the Itinerarium is not organized thematically; but since King Louis had instructed Rubruck to write of everything he saw and heard, he mentions fauna, including the yak and the horned sheep that would later take its name from Marco Polo. He also incorporates a great deal of geographical and ethnographic material hitherto unknown to Europeans. [Source: Peter Jackson, Emeritus Professor of Medieval History at Keele University, Encyclopedia Iranica, last updated: October 8, 2012 +/]

“Although he did not travel as far as China, Rubruck provides the earliest Western description of the Chinese, whom he correctly identified with the Seres of Classical geography. He mentions several peoples in the Caucasus region, such as the Lesgians (“Lakz”) and the Alans (“Aas,” As), and ascertained that the Caspian Sea, which he calls the “sea of Siroan [Širvan],” was landlocked rather than being a gulf connected to the encircling ocean, as Europeans believed on the venerable authority of Isidore of Seville (d. 636). +/

“Naturally interested in religious matters, he provides an invaluable survey of Mongol shamanism (chap. 35), narrates in some detail his relations with Nestorian Christians in Mongolia, and is the earliest Western writer to furnish a description of Buddhism (chaps. 24-25), of whose existence the Catholic world had been unaware.” +/

Rubruk's route

William of Rubruck on His Mission

At the start of “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55", William of Rubruck wrote: “O the most excellent lord and most Christian Louis, by the grace of God illustrious King of the French, from Friar William of Rubruck, the meanest in the order of Minor Friars, greetings, and may he always triumph in Christ. It is written in Ecclesiasticus of the wise man: "He shall go through the land of foreign peoples, and shall try the good and evil in all things." This, my lord King, have I done, and may it have been as a wise man and not as a fool; for many do what the wise man doth, though not wisely, but most foolishly; of this number I fear I may be. Nevertheless in whatever way I may have done, since you commanded me when I took my leave of you that I should write you whatever I should see among the Tartars, and you did also admonish me not to fear writing a long letter, so I do what you enjoined on me, with fear, however, and diffidence, for the proper words that I should write to so great a monarch do not suggest themselves to me. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“Be it known then to your Sacred Majesty that in the year of our Lord one thousand two hundred and fifty-three, on the Nones of May (7th May), I entered the Sea of Pontus (Black Sea), which is commonly called Mare Majus, or the Greater Sea, and it is one thousand four hundred miles in length, as I learnt from merchants, and is divided as it were into two parts. For about the middle of it there are two points of land, the one in the north and the other in the south. That which is in the south is called Sinopolis, and is a fortress and a port of the Soldan of Turkia [=the Seljuk sultan of Rum]; while that which is in the north is a certain province now called by the Latins Gazaria [=Khazaria; the modern Crimea], but by the Greeks who inhabit along its sea coast it is called Cassaria, which is Cesaria. And there are certain promontories projecting out into the sea to the south toward Sinopolis; and there are three hundred miles between Sinopolis and Cassaria, and so there are seven hundred miles from these points to Constantinople in length and breadth, and seven hundred to the east, which is Hyberia [=Iberia], that is to say, the province of Georgia.” /~\

Rubruck Travels Across the Black Sea to the Crimea

William of Rubruck wrote: “So we made sail for the province of Gazaria (Crimea), or Cassaria, which is about triangular in shape, having on its west side a city called Kersona [=Cherson; modern Sevestopol], where Saint Clement was martyred. And as we were sailing past it we saw an island on which is a temple said to have been built by angelic hands. In the middle, at the summit of the triangle as it were, on the south side, is a city called Soldaia on the Crimea, which looketh across towards Sinopolis: and thither come all the merchants arriving from northern countries, and likewise those coming from Roscia [=Russia] and the northern countries who wish to pass into Turkia. The latter carry vair and minever, and other costly furs: the others (the former) carry cloths of cotton or bombax, silk stuffs and sweet-smelling spices. To the east of this province is a city called Matrica, where the river Tainais (Don River) falls into the Sea of Pontus (Black Sea), through an opening twelve miles wide. For this river, before it enters the sea of Pontus, forms a kind of sea to the north which has a width and breadth of seven hundred miles, with nowhere a depth of over six paces, so large vessels do not enter it, but the merchants of Constantinople who visit the said city of Matrica send their barks as far as the River Tainais (Don River) to buy dried fish, such as sturgeon, barbell and tench (shad and eel-pout), and other fishes in infinite varieties. The said province of Cassaria is therefore encompassed by the sea on three sides: to wit, on the west, where is Kersona, the city of Clement, and to the south where is the city of Soldaia, to which we were steering, and which makes the apex of the province, and to the east by the sea of Tanais (Sea of Azov, off the Black Sea). Beyond this opening is Zikuia, which does not obey the Tartars, and to the east (of that) are the Suevi and Hiberi, who do not obey the Tartars. After that, to the south, is Trapesund [Trabazon. Turkey], which hath its own lord, Guido by name, who is of the family of the emperors of Constantinople, and he obeyeth the Tartars. After that is the country of Vastacius, whose son is called Ascar after his maternal grandfather, and who is not subject (to them). From the opening (of the sea) of Tanais to the west as far as the Danube all is theirs (i.e., the Tartars'), even beyond the Danube towards Constantinople, Blakia [=Wallachia], which is the land of Assan [= Asên, the ruling dynasty of Bulgaria], and minor Bulgaria as far as Sclavonia, all pay them tribute; and besides the regular tribute, they have taken in the past few years from each house one axe and all the iron which they found unwrought. /~\

William of Rubruck in the Crimea

William of Rubruck wrote: “We arrived then in Soldaia on the 12th of the calends of June (May 21st), and there had preceded us certain merchants of Constantinople, who had said that envoys from the Holy Land were coming who wished to go to Sartach (son of Batu, ruler of the Golden Horde). I had, however, publicly preached on Palm Sunday (April 12th) in Saint Sophia that I was not an envoy, neither yours nor anyone's, but that I was going among these unbelievers according to the rule of our order. So when I arrived these said merchants cautioned me to speak guardedly, for they had said that I was an envoy, and if I said I was not an envoy I would not be allowed to pass. So I spoke in the following way to the captains of the city, or rather to the substitutes of the captains, for the captains had gone to Batu during the winter bearing the tribute, and had not yet returned : " We have heard say in the Holy Land that your Lord Sartach is a Christian, and greatly were the Christians rejoiced thereat, and chiefly so the most Christian lord the King of the French, who has come thither on a pilgrimage and is fighting against the Saracens (Muslims) to wrench the holy places from out their hands: it is for this I wish to go to Sartach, and carry to him the letters of the lord king, in which he admonisheth him of the weal of all Christendom." And they received us right favorably, and gave us lodgings in the episcopal church. And the bishop of this church had been to Sartach, and he told me much good of Sartach, which I later on did not discover myself. /~\

“Now from Kersona all the way to the mouth of the Tanais there are high promontories along the sea, and there are forty hamlets between Kersona and Soldaia, nearly every one of which has its own language; among them were many Goths, whose language is Teutonic. /~\

“Beyond these mountains to the north is a most beautiful forest, in a plain full of springs and rivulets, and beyond this forest is a mighty plain which stretches out for five days to the border of this province to the north, where it contracts, having the sea to the east and the west, so that there is a great ditch from one sea to the other. In this plain used to live Comans before the Tartars came, and they forced the cities referred to and the forts to pay them tribute; but when the Tartars came such a multitude of Comans entered this province, all of whom fled to the shore of the sea, that they ate one another, the living the dying, as was told me by a certain merchant who saw it, the living devouring and tearing with their teeth the raw flesh of the dead, as dogs do corpses. Toward the end of this province are many and large lakes, on whose shores are brine springs, the water of which as soon as it enters the lake is turned into salt as hard as ice. And from these brine springs Batu and Sartach derive great revenues, for from all Ruscia they come thither for salt, and for each cartload they give two pieces of cotton worth half an yperpera. There come there also by sea many ships for salt, and all contribute according to the quantity (they take). /~\

William of Rubruck on Tartar and Mongol Yurts


William of Rubruck wrote: “Nowhere have they fixed dwelling-places, nor do they know where their next will be. They have divided among themselves Cithia [=Scythia], which extendeth from the Danube to the rising of the sun ; and every captain, according as he hath more or less men under him, knows the limits of his pasture land and where to graze in winter and summer, spring and autumn. For in winter they go down to warmer regions in the south: in summer they go up to cooler towards the north. The pasture lands without water they graze over in winter when there is snow there, for the snow serveth them as water. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“They set up the dwelling in which they sleep on a circular frame of interlaced sticks converging into a little round hoop on the top, from which projects above a collar as a chimney, and this (framework) they cover over with white felt. Frequently they coat the felt with chalk, or white clay, or powdered bone, to make it appear whiter, and sometimes also (they make the felt) black. The felt around this collar on top they decorate with various pretty designs. Before the entry they also suspend felt ornamented with various embroidered designs in color. For they embroider the felt, colored or otherwise, making vines and trees, birds and beasts. /~\

“And they make these houses so large that they are sometimes thirty feet in width. I myself once measured the width between the wheel-tracks of a cart twenty feet, and when the house was on the cart it projected beyond the wheels on either side five feet at least. I have myself counted to one cart twenty-two oxen drawing one house, eleven abreast across the width of the cart, and the other eleven before them. The axle of the cart was as large as the mast of a ship, and one man stood in the entry of the house on the cart driving the oxen. /~\

“Furthermore they weave light twigs into squares of the size of a large chest, and over it from one end to the other they put a turtle-back also of twigs, and in the front end they make a little doorway; and then they cover this coffer or little house with black felt coated with tallow or ewe's milk, so that the rain cannot penetrate it, and they decorate it likewise with embroidery work. And in such coffers they put all their bedding and valuables, and they tie them tightly on high carts drawn by camels, so that they can cross rivers (without getting wet). Such coffers they never take off the cart. /~\

“When they set down their dwelling-houses, they always turn the door to the south' and after that they place the carts with coffers on either side near the house at a half stone's throw, so that the dwelling stands between two rows of carts as between two walls. The matrons make for themselves most beautiful (luggage) carts, which I would not know how to describe to you unless by a drawing, and I would depict them all to you if I knew how to paint. A single rich Mongol or Tartar has quite one hundred or two hundred such carts with coffers. Batu has twenty-six wives, each of whom has a large dwelling, exclusive of the other little ones which they set up after the big one, and which are like closets, in which the sewing girls live, and to each of these (large) dwellings are attached quite two hundred carts. And when they set up their houses, the first wife places her dwelling on the extreme west side, and after her the others according to their rank, so that the last wife will be in the extreme east ; and there will be the distance of a stone's throw between the iurt of one wife and that of another. The ordu of a rich Mongol seems like a large town, though there will be very few men in it. One girl will lead twenty or thirty carts, for the country is flat, and they tie the ox or camel carts the one after the other, and a girl will sit on the front one driving the ox, and all the others follow after with the same gait. Should it happen that they come to some bad piece of road, they untie them, and take them across one by one. So they go along slowly, as a sheep or an ox might walk. /~\

“When they have fixed their dwelling, the door turned to the south, they set up the couch of the master on the north side. The side for the women is always the east side, that is to say, on the left of the house of the master, he sitting on his couch his face turned to the south. The side for the men is the west side, that is, on the right. Men coming into the house would never hang up their bows on the side of the woman. /~\

Rubruck on Mongol Social Customs

Ming Dynasty, dozing Mongols

William of Rubruck wrote: “And over the head of the master is always an image of felt, like a doll or statuette, which they call the brother of the master: another similar one is above the head of the mistress, which they call the brother of the mistress, and they are attached to the wall: and higher up between the two of them is a little lank one (macilenta), who is, as it were, the guardian of the whole dwelling. The mistress places in her house on her right side, in a conspicuous place at the foot of her couch, a goat-skin full of wool or other stuff, and beside it a very little statuette looking in the direction of attendants and women. Beside the entry on the woman's side is yet another image, with a cow's tit for the women, who milk the cows: for it is part of the duty of the women to milk the cows. On the other side of the entry, toward the men, is another statue with a mare's tit for the men who milk the mares. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“And when they have come together to drink, they first sprinkle with liquor this image which is over the master's head, then the other images in order. Then an attendant goes out of the dwelling with a cup and liquor, and sprinkles three times to the south, each time bending the knee, and that to do reverence to the fire; then to the east, and that to do reverence to the air; then to the west to do reverence to the water; to the north they sprinkle for the dead. When the master takes the cup in hand and is about to drink, he first pours a portion on the ground. If he were to drink seated on a horse, he first before he drinks pours a little on the neck or the mane of the horse. Then when the attendant has sprinkled toward the four quarters of the world he goes back into the house, where two attendants are ready, with two cups and platters to carry drink to the master and the wife seated near him upon the couch. And when he hath several wives, she with whom he hath slept that night sits beside him in the day, and it becometh all the others to come to her dwelling that day to drink, and court is held there that day, and the gifts which are brought that day are placed in the treasury of that lady. A bench with a skin of milk, or some other drink, and with cups, stands in the entry. /~\

“In winter they make a capital drink of rice, of millet, and of honey, ; it is clear as wine : and wine is carried to them from remote parts. In summer they care only for cosmos (koumiss, mare’s milk). There is always cosmos near the house, before the entry door, and beside it stands a guitar-player with his guitar. Lutes and vielles [i.e. guitars] such as we have I did not see there, but many other instruments which are unknown among us. And when the master begins to drink, then one of the attendants cries with a loud voice, "Ha!" and the guitarist strikes his guitar, and when they have a great feast they all clap their hands, and also dance about to the sound of the guitar, the men before the master, the women before the mistress. And when the master has drunken, then the attendant cries as before, and the guitarist stops. Then they drink all around, and sometimes they do drink right shamefully and gluttonly. And when they want to challenge anyone to drink, they take hold of him by the ears, and pull so as to distend his throat, and they clan and dance before him. Likewise, when they want to make a great feasting and jollity with someone, one takes a full cup, and two others are on his right and left, and thus these three come singing and dancing towards him who is to take the cup, and they sing and dance before him ; and when he holds out his hand to take the cup, they quickly draw it back, and then again they come back as before, and so they elude him three or four times by drawing away the cup, till he hath become well excited and is in good appetite, and then they give him the goblet, singing and clapping and stamping their feet until he is drunk.” /~\

William of Rubruck on Mongol Food

Boodog made from a marmot

William of Rubruck wrote: “Of their food and victuals you must know that they eat all their dead animals without distinction, and with such flocks and herds it cannot be but that many animals die. Nevertheless, in summer, so long as lasts their cosmos (koumiss, mare’s milk), that is to say mare's milk, they care not for any other food. So then if it happens that an ox or a horse dies, they dry its flesh by cutting it into narrow strips and hanging it in the sun and the wind, where at once and without salt it becomes dry without any evidence of smell. With the intestines of horses they make sausages better than pork ones, and they eat them fresh. The rest of the flesh they keep for winter. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“With the hides of oxen they make big bags, which they dry in admirable fashion in the smoke. With the hind part of the hide of horses they make most beautiful shoes. With the flesh of a single sheep they give to eat to fifty men or a hundred; for they cut it up very fine in a platter with salt and water, for they make no other sauce; and then with the point of a knife or a fork which they make for the purpose, like that which we used to eat coddled pears or apples, they give to each of the bystanders a mouthful or two according to the number of the guests. Prior to this, before the flesh of the sheep is served, the master takes what pleases him; and furthermore if he gives to anyone a special piece, it is the custom, that he who receives it shall eat it himself, and he may not give it to another; but if he cannot eat it all he carries it off with him, or gives it to his servant if he be present, who keeps it; otherwise he puts it away in his captargac, which is a square bag which they carry to put such things in, in which they store away bones when they have not time to gnaw them well, so that they can gnaw them later and that nothing of the food be lost. /~\

William of Rubruck on Koumiss

Koumiss is fermented mare's milk, which Rubruck calls cosmos. William of Rubruck wrote: “This cosmos, which is mare's milk, is made in this wise. They stretch a long rope on the ground fixed to two stakes stuck in the ground, and to this rope they tie toward the third hour the colts of the mares they want to milk. Then the mothers stand near their foal, and allow themselves to be quietly milked; and if one be too wild, then a man takes the colt and brings it to her, allowing it to suck a little; then he takes it away and the milker takes its place. When they have got together a great quantity of milk, which is as sweet as cow's as long as it is fresh, they pour it into a big skin or bottle, and they set to churning it with a stick prepared for that purpose, and which is as big as a man's head at its lower extremity and hollowed out; and when they have beaten it sharply it begins to boil up like new wine and to sour or ferment, and they continue to churn it until they have extracted the butter. Then they taste it, and when it is mildly pungent, they drink it. It is pungent on the tongue like râpé wine [i.e., a wine of inferior quality] when drunk, and when a man has finished drinking, it leaves a taste of milk of almonds on the tongue, and it makes the inner man most joyful and also intoxicates weak heads, and greatly provokes urine. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

Bowl of koumiss

“They also make cara cosmos that is "black cosmos," for the use of the great lords. It is for the following reason that mare's milk curdles not. It is a fact that (the milk) of no animal will curdle in the stomach of whose fetus is not found curdled milk. In the stomach of mares' colts it is not found, so the milk of mares curdles not. They churn then the milk until all the thicker parts go straight to the bottom, like the dregs of wine, and the pure part remains on top, and it is like whey or white must. The dregs are very white, and they are given to the slaves, and they provoke much to sleep. This clear (liquor) the lords drink, and it is assuredly a most agreeable drink and most efficacious. Batu has thirty men around his camp at a day's distance, each of whom sends him every day such milk of a hundred mares, that is to say every day the milk of three thousand mares, exclusive of the other white milk which they carry to others. /~\

“As in Syria the peasants give a third of their produce, so it is these (Tartars) must bring to the ordu of their lords the milk of every third day. As to cow's milk they first extract the butter, then they boil it down perfectly dry, after which they put it away in sheep paunches which they keep for that purpose; and they put no salt in the butter, for on account of the great boiling down it spoils not. And they keep this for the winter. What remains of the milk after the butter they let sour as much as can be, and they boil it, and it curdles in boiling, and the curd they dry in the sun, and it becomes as hard as iron slag, and they put it away in bags for the winter. In winter time, when milk fails them, they put this sour curd, which they call gruit, in a skin and pour water on it, and churn it vigorously till it dissolves in the water, which is made sour by it, and this water they drink instead of milk. They are most careful not to drink pure water.” /~\

William of Rubruck on Animals in the Mongols' Diet

William of Rubruck wrote: “The great lords have villages in the south, from which millet and flour are brought to them for the winter. The poor procure (these things) by trading sheep and pelts. The slaves fill their bellies with dirty water, and with this they are content. They catch also rats, of which many kinds abound here. Rats with long tails they eat not, but give them to their birds. They eat mice and all kinds of rats which have short tails. There are also many marmots, which are called sogur, and which congregate in one hole in winter, twenty or thirty together, and sleep for six months; these they catch in great numbers. There are also conies, with a long tail like a cat's, and on the end of the tail they have black and white hairs. They have also many other kinds of small animals good to eat, which they know very well how to distinguish. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“I saw no deer there. I saw few hares, many gazelles. Wild asses I saw in great numbers, and these are like mules. I saw also another kind of animal which is called arcali[=a wild sheep], which has quite the body of a sheep, and horns bent like a ram's, but of such size that I could hardly lift the two horns with one hand, and they make of these horns big cups. They have hawks and peregrine falcons in great numbers, which they all carry on their right hand. And they always put a little thong around the hawk's neck, which hangs down to the middle of its breast, by which, when they cast it at its prey, they pull down with the left hand the head and breast of the hawk, so that it be not struck by the wind and carried upward. So it is that they procure a large part of their food by the chase. When they want to chase wild animals, they gather together in a great multitude and surround the district in which they know the game to be, and gradually they come closer to each other till they have shut up the game in among them as in an enclosure, and then they shoot them with their arrows. /~\

William of Rubruck on Mongol Clothing

Genghis Khan

William of Rubruck wrote: “Of their clothing and customs and appearance you must know, that from Cataia [=China], and other regions of the east, and also from Persia and other regions of the south, are brought to them silken and golden stuffs and cloth of cotton, which they wear in summer. From Ruscia, Moxel, and from Greater Bulgaria [=a region in the middle Volga, not to be confused with minor Bulgaria mentioned above] and Pascatir [a region between the upperl Volga and Ural R.], which is greater Hungary, and Kerkis [=Kerghiz], all of which are countries to the north and full of forests, and which obey them, are brought to them costly furs of many kinds, which I never saw in our parts, and which they wear in winter. And they always make in winter at least two fur gowns, one with the fur against the body, the other with the fur outside exposed to the wind and snow; these latter are usually of the skins of wolves or foxes or lynx; and while they sit in the dwelling they have another lighter one. The poor make their outside (gowns) of dog and kid (skins). [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“They make also breeches with furs. The rich furthermore wad their clothing with silk stuffing, which is extraordinarily soft, light and warm. The poor line their clothes with cotton cloth, or with the fine wool which they are able to pick out of the coarser. With this coarser they make felt to cover their houses and coffers, and also for bedding. With wool and a third of horse hair mixed with it they make their ropes. They also make with felt covers [both] saddle-cloths and rain cloaks; so they use a great deal of wool. You have seen the costume of the men. /~\

“The men shave a square on the tops of their heads, and from the front corners (of this square) they continue the shaving to the temples, passing along both sides of the head. They shave also the temples and the back of the neck to the top of the cervical cavity, and the forehead as far as the crown of the head, on which they leave a tuft of hair which falls down to the eyebrows. They leave the hair on the sides of the head, and with it they make tresses which they plait together to the ears. /~\

“And the dress of the girls differs not from the costume of the men, except that it is somewhat longer. But on the day following her marriage, (a woman) shaves the front half of her head, and puts on a tunic as wide as a nun's gown, but everyway larger and longer, open before, and tied on the right side. For in this the Tartars differ from the Turks; the Turks tie their gowns on the left, the Tartars always on the right. Furthermore they have a head-dress, which they call bocca, made of bark, or such other light material as they can find, and it is big and as much as two hands can span around, and is a cubit and more high, and square like the capital of a column. This bocca they cover with costly silk stuff, and it is hollow inside, and on top of the capital, or the square on it, they put a tuft of quills or light canes also a cubit or more in length. And this tuft they ornament at the top with peacock feathers, and round the edge (of the top) with feathers from the mallard's tail, and also with precious stones. The wealthy ladies wear such an ornament on their heads, and fasten it down tightly with an amess (a fur hood), for which there is an opening in the top for that purpose, and inside they stuff their hair, gathering it together on the back of the tops of their heads in a kind of knot, and putting it in the bocca, which they afterwards tie down tightly under the chin. So it is that when several ladies are riding together, and one sees them from afar, they look like soldiers, helmets on head and lances erect. For this bocca looks like a helmet, and the tuft above it is like a lance. And all the women sit their horses astraddle like men. And they tie their gowns with a piece of blue silk stuff at the waist and they wrap another band at the breasts, and tie a piece of white stuff below the eyes which hangs down to the breast. And the women there are astonishingly fat, and she who has the least nose is held the most beautiful. They disfigure themselves horribly by painting their faces. They never lie down in bed when having their children.” /~\

William of Rubruck on Mongol Men and Women

William of Rubruck wrote: “It is the duty of the women to drive the carts, get the dwellings on and off them, milk the cows, make butter and gruit, and to dress and sew skins, which they do with a thread made of tendons. They divide the tendons into fine shreds, and then twist them into one long thread. They also sew the boots, the socks and the clothing. They never wash clothes, for they say that God would be angered thereat, and that it would thunder if they hung them up to dry. They will even thrash anyone doing laundry and confiscate it. Thunder they fear extraordinarily; and when it thunders they will turn out of their dwellings all strangers, wrap themselves in black felt, and thus hide themselves till it has passed away. Furthermore, they never wash their bowls, but when the meat is cooked they rinse out the dish in which they are about to put it with some of the boiling broth from the kettle, which they pour back into it. They also make the felt and cover the houses. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“The men make bows and arrows, manufacture stirrups and bits, make saddles, do the carpentering on (the framework of) their dwellings and the carts; they take care of the horses, milk the mares, churn the cosmos or mare's milk, make the skins in which it is put; they also look after the camels and load them. Both sexes look after the sheep and goats, sometimes the men, other times the women, milking them. They dress skins with a thick mixture of sour ewe's milk and salt. When they want to wash their hands or head, they fill their mouths with water, which they let trickle on to their hands, and in this way they also wet their hair and wash their heads. /~\

“As to their marriages, you must know that no one among them has a wife unless he buys her; so it sometimes happens that girls are well past marriageable age before they marry, for their parents always keep them until they sell them. They observe the first and second degrees of consanguinity, but no degree of affinity; thus (one person) will have at the same time or successively two sisters. Among them no widow marries, for the following reason: they believe that all who serve them in this life shall serve them in the next, so as regards a widow they believe that she will always return to her first husband after death. Hence this shameful custom prevails among them, that sometimes a son takes to wife all his father's wives, except his own mother; for the ordu of the father and mother always belongs to the youngest son, so it is he who must provide for all his father's wives who come to him with the paternal household, and if he wishes it he uses them as wives, for he esteems not himself injured if they return to his father after death. When then anyone has made a bargain with another to take his daughter, the father of the girl gives a feast, and the girl flees to her relatives and hides there. Then the father says: "Here, my daughter is yours: take her wheresoever you find her." Then he searches for her with his friends till he finds her, and he must take her by force and carry her off with a semblance of violence to his house. /~\

Genghis Khan and his wife and sons

“As to their justice you must know that when two men fight together no one dares interfere, even a father dare not aid a son ; but he who has the worse of it may appeal to the court of the lord, and if anyone touches him after the appeal, he is put to death. But action must be taken at once without any delay, and the injured one must lead him (who has offended) as a captive. They inflict capital punishment on no one unless he be taken in the act or confesses. When one is accused by a number of persons, they torture him so that he confesses. They punish homicide with capital punishment, and also co-habiting with a woman not one's own. By not one's own, [I] mean not his wife or bondwoman, for with one's slaves one may do as one pleases. They also punish with death grand larceny, but as for petty thefts, such as that of a sheep, so long as one has not repeatedly been taken in the act, they beat him cruelly, and if they administer a hundred blows they must use a hundred sticks: I speak of the case of those who have been sentenced to a beating by the court. In like manner false envoys, that is to say persons who pass themselves off as ambassadors but who are not, are put to death. Likewise sorcerers, of whom I shall however tell you more, for such they consider to be witches.” /~\

William of Rubruck on Mongol Funeral Practices

William of Rubruck wrote: “When anyone dies, they lament with loud wailing, then they are free, for they pay no taxes for the year. And if anyone is present at the death of an adult, he may not enter the dwelling even of Mongke Khanfor the year. If it be a child who dies, he may not enter it for a month. Beside the tomb of the dead they always leave a tent if he be one of the nobles, that is of the family of Chingis, who was their first father and lord. Of him who is dead the burying place is not known. And always around these places where they bury their nobles there is a camp with men watching the tombs. I did not understand that they bury treasure with their dead. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“The Comans raise a great tumulus over the dead, and set up a statue to him, its face to the east, and holding a cup in its hand at the height of the navel. They make also pyramids to the rich, that is to say, little pointed structures, and in some places I saw great tiled covered towers, and in others stone houses, though there were no stones thereabout. Over a person recently dead I saw hung on long poles the skins of sixteen horses, four facing each quarter of the world; and they had placed also cosmos for him to drink, and meat for him to eat, and for all that they said of him that he had been baptized. /~\

Farther east I saw other tombs in shape like great yards covered with big flat stones, some round, some square, and four high vertical stones at the corners facing the four quarters of the world. When anyone sickens he lies on his couch, and places a sign over his dwelling that there is a sick person therein, and that no one shall enter. So no one visits a sick person, save him who serves him. And when someone from one of the great house holds is ill, they place guards all round the ordu, who permit no one to pass those bounds. For they fear lest an evil spirit or some wind should come with those who enter. They call, however, their priests, who are these same soothsayers.” /~\

William of Rubruck on Mongol Shaman

William of Rubruck wrote: “Their diviners are, as (Mongke Khan ) confessed to me, their priests; and whatever they say must be done is executed without delay. I will tell you of their office, as well as I could learn about it from master William and others who used to speak truthfully to me. They are very numerous and always have a captain, like a pontiff, who always places his dwelling before the principal house of Mongke Khan, at about a stone's throw from it. Under his custody are, as I have previously said, the carts in which the idols are carried. The others come after the ordu in positions assigned to them; and there come to them from various parts of the world people who believe in their art. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“Some among them know something of astronomy, particularly the chief, and they predict to them the eclipses of the sun and moon; and when one is about to take place all the people [stockpile] their food, for they must not go out of the door of their dwelling. And while the eclipse is taking place, they sound drums and instruments, and make a great noise and clamor. After the eclipse is over, they give themselves to drinking and feasting, and make great jollity. They predict lucky and unlucky days for the undertaking of all affairs; and so it is that they never assemble an army nor begin a war without their assent, and long since (the Mongol) would have gone back to Hungary, but the diviners will not allow it. /~\

“They (i.e., the Kam) are also called in when a child is born, to tell its fortune; and when anyone sickens they are called, and they repeat their incantations, and tell whether it is a natural malady or one resulting from witchcraft...Some among them evoke devils, and assemble at night in their dwelling those who want to have answers from the devil, and they place cooked meat in the center of the dwelling; and the cham who does the invocation begins repeating his incantations, and strikes violently the ground with a tambourine he holds. Finally he enters into a fury, and causes himself to be bound. Then comes the devil in the dark, and gives him the meat to eat, and he gives answers. Once, as I was told by master William, a certain Hungarian hid himself among them; and the demon made his appearance on top of the dwelling and cried that he could not come in, for there was a Christian among them. Hearing this, he fled in all haste, for they set about looking for him. This and many other things they do, which it would take too long to tell of.” /~\

William of Rubruck on Mongol Rituals

Mongol shaman

William of Rubruck wrote: “All things which are sent to the court they take between fires, and for this they keep the due share of it. They also cleanse all the bedding of deceased persons by taking them between fires. For when anyone dies, they put aside all that belongs to him, and they are not allowed to the other people of the ordu until they have been purified by fires. This I saw in connection with the ordu of that lady who died while we were there. On account of this (custom) there was a double reason why Friar Andrew and his companion should have gone between fires; they bore presents, and they were destined for one who was already dead, Gukuk Khan. Nothing of the sort was required of me, because I brought nothing. If any animal or any other thing falls to the ground while passing between the fires, it is the property of the soothsayers." [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“On the ninth day of the month of May, they get together all the white horses of the herds, and consecrate them. And the Christian priests are obliged to come to this with their censer. Then they sprinkle new cosmos (koumiss, mare’s milk) on the ground and hold a great feast on that day, for they consider that they then first drink new cosmos, just as in some places among us is done with wine at the feast of Bartholomew or Syxtus, and with fruit at the feast of James and Christopher.” /~\

“These same diviners disturb the atmosphere with their incantations; and when it is so cold from natural causes that they can bring no relief, they pick out some persons in the camps whom they accuse of having brought about the cold, and they are put to death at once. A short time before I left there, there was one of the concubines who was ill, and she had languished for a long time; so they said incantations over a certain German female slave of hers, who went to sleep for three days. And when she came back to herself they asked her what she had seen; (and she said) she had seen a great many persons, all of whom they declared would soon die; but she had not seen her mistress among them, so they declared that she would not die of her complaint. I saw the girl, who had still a good deal of pain in her head from her sleep. /~\

Woman Executed for Stolen Furs and Witchcraft

William of Rubruck wrote: “A woman from Metz, France, who lived among the Mongols, “told me a most remarkable thing. Once some valuable furs were presented, which were to be deposited in the ordu of her mistress, who was a Christian, as I have previously said; and the diviners carried them between fires, and took of them more than they should have done. A certain servant-woman who had charge of the treasure of this lady, accused them of this to her mistress; so the lady reproved them. Now it happened after this that this lady fell ill, and had shooting pains through her limbs. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

The diviners were called, and they, while seated at a distance, ordered one of the maids to put her hand on the painful spot, and to pull out whatever she should find. So she arose and did this, and she found they told her to put it on the ground; when it was put there it began to wriggle like some live animal. Then it was put into water, and it became like a leech, and they said: "Lady, some sorceress has done you this harm with her sorceries." And they accused her who had accused them about the furs. And she was taken outside the camp into the fields, and for seven days she was beaten and tried with other torments, so that she should confess. And in the meanwhile the lady died. When she heard of this she said to them: " I know that my mistress if dead; my kill me, that I may go after her, for I never did her wrong." And as she would confess nothing, Mongke commanded that she be allowed to live; and then those diviners accused the nurse of the daughter of the lady of whom I have spoken; and she was a Christian, and her husband was the most respected among all the Nestorian priests. /~\

“And she was taken to the place of execution with one of her maids, to make her confess; and the maid confessed that her mistress had sent her to speak to a horse, to get an answer from it. The woman (i.e., the nurse) also confessed that she had done something to make herself liked by her master (i.e., Mongke ?), so that he should show her favor, but she had never done anything which could have injured him. She was asked whether her husband knew what she had done. She made excuse for him, having burnt characters and letters she had made herself. So she was put to death; and Mongke sent her husband, this priest, to the bishop who was in Cathay, to try him, though he had not been found guilty. /~\

“In the meanwhile it happened that the first wife of Mongke Khan bore a son; and the diviners were called in to tell the child's fortune, and they all foretold it good luck, saying that it would live long and become a great lord. But after a few days it happened that the child died. Then the mother in a rage called the diviners, saying: "You told me that my son would live, and here he is dead." Then they replied: "Lady, we can see the witch, Chirina's nurse, who was put to death the other day: it is she who has killed your son, and look!--there she is, making off with him!." There still lived a grown-up son and daughter of this woman in the camp, and the lady in a fury sent for them, and caused a man to kill the youth, and a woman the daughter, in revenge for her son, who the diviners had said had been killed by their mother. After this the Khan dreamed of these children, and on the morrow he asked what had been done with them. His servants were afraid to tell him; but he inquired the more solicitously where they were, for they had appeared to him in a vision of the night. Then they told him; and he forthwith sent to his wife, and asked her where she had found out that a wife could pass a death sentence, leaving her husband in ignorance (of what she had done); and he had her shut up for seven days, with orders that no food be given her. As to the man who had killed the youth, he had him decapitated, and had his head hung around the neck of the woman who had killed the young girl, and he caused her to be beaten with burning brands through the camp, and then put to death. And he would have put his own wife to death had it not been for the children he had had of her; but he left his residence (presumably to avoid any lingering evil from his dream of the dead), and did not go back there for a month. /~\

William of Rubruck on the Nestorians, the Mongols and and Prester John

Prester John

Many of the early European explorers to Asia and Africa were hoping to meet up with Prester John, a mythological priest-king who resided somewhere in the East and was supposed to help the Crusaders reclaim Jerusalem. Portuguese explorers went looking for him up the Senegal and Congo Rivers in Africa. Maps from the late 16th century had the kingdom of Prester John located in present-day Ethiopia. Some of the first Europeans to venture on the Silk Road traveled east towards Central Asia and China looking for him. The legend of Prester John is believed to have originated with Saint Thomas, an Apostle of Christ said to have traveled to India in the A.D. first century. More miracles have been attributed to Saint Thomas than any other saint. Additionally, stories of Ung Khan (Unc Chan) — a Mongol ruler who preceded Genghis Khan and who may have been a Nestorian Christian — may have made their way to Europe, placing Prester John in Central Asia.

William of Rubruck wrote: “At the time when the Franks took Antioch the sovereignty of these northern regions belonged to a certain Con cham. Con was his proper name, cham his title, which means the same as soothsayer. All soothsayers are called cham and so all their princes are called cham, because their government of the people depends on divination. Now we read in the history of Antioch, that the Turks sent for succor against the Franks to King Con cham; for from these parts came all the Turks. That Con was of Caracatay. Now Cara means black, and Catay is the name of a people, so Caracatay is the same as "Black Catay." And they are so called to distinguish them from the Cathayans [=Chinese] who dwell by the ocean in the east, and of whom I shall tell you hereafter. Those Caracatayans lived in highlands (alpibus) through which I passed, and at a certain place amidst these alps dwelt a certain Nestorian, a mighty shepherd and lord over a people called Nayman, who were Nestorian Christians. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“When Con cham died, that Nestorian raised himself to be king (in his stead) and the Nestorians used to call him King John [presumably Prester John], and to say things of him ten times more than was true. For this is the way of the Nestorians who come from these parts: out of nothing they will make a great story, just as they have spread abroad that Sartach is a Christian, and so of Mongke Khan and Güyük Khan [Genghis Khan’s grandson Güyük Khan (d.1248)], because they show more respect to Christians than to other people; though of a truth they are not Christians. So great reports went out concerning this King John; though when I passed through his pasture lands, no one knew anything of him save a few Nestorians. On those pasture lands lived Güyük Khan, to whose court went Friar Andrew, and I also passed through them on my way back. This John had a brother, also a mighty shepherd, whose name was Unc [=Ong Khan]; and he lived beyond the alps of the Caracatayans, some three weeks journey from his brother, and he was lord of a little town called Caracarum [=Qaraqorum. Karakorum], and the people he had under his rule were called Crit and Merkit, and they were Nestorian Christians. But that lord of theirs had abandoned the worship of Christ, and had taken to idolatry, having about him priests of the idols, who are all invokers of demons and sorcerers. Beyond those pasture lands, some ten or fifteen days, were the pasture lands of the Mongol, who were very poor people, without a chief and without religion except sorcery and soothsaying, such as all follow in those parts.” /=\

William of Rubruck on Prester John, Mongke Khan and Guyuk Khan

On reaching western Mongolia, William of Rubruck wrote: “We entered the plain in which was the ordu of Gukuk Khan, and which used to be the country of the Naiman, who were the real subjects of that Prester John. I did not at that time see this ordu, but on my way back. I will tell you, however, what befell his family, his son, and his wives. When Gukuk Khan died, Batu wanted Mongke to be Chan. As to the death of this Guyuk I could learn nothing definite. Friar Andrew says that he died from some medicine which was given him, and that it was supposed that Batu had had this done. I, however, heard another story. He had called upon Batu to come and do him homage, and Batu had started in great state. He was in great fear, however, he and his men, so he sent ahead one of his brothers, Stican [=Shiban, son of Jochi Khan] by name, and when he came to Keu, and had to present him the cup, a quarrel arose, and they killed each other. The widow of this Stican detained us a whole day, to go to her dwelling and bless it; that is, that we might pray for her. So this Guyuk being dead, Mongke was elected by the will of Batu, and had already been elected when Friar Andrew was there. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“Keu had a brother called Siremon [=Shiremün, Güyük's nephew], who on the advice of the wife of Guyuk and her vassals, went in great state toward Mongke as if to do him homage. In truth, however, he intended to kill him, and to exterminate all his ordu. And when he had already got to within a day or two of Mongke, he had to leave on the road one of his carts which broke down; and while the carter was fixing it, there came along one of Mongke's men who helped him; and he asked so much about their journey that the carter revealed to him what Siremon proposed doing. Then the other, leaving him as if he did not care about it, went to a herd of horses, and taking the strongest horse he could pick in it, rode day and night in great haste till he came to Mongke's ordu, and told him what he had heard. Then Mongke promptly called all his men, and caused to be made three circles of men-at-arms around his ordu, so that no one could come in. The rest he sent against this Siremon, and they captured him, for he did not suspect that his designs had become known, and led him with all his men to the ordu. When Mongke charged him with the crime, he at once confessed. Then he was put to death, he and the elder son of Gukuk Khan, and with them three hundred of the greatest men among the Tartars. And they sent also for their ladies, that they all might be whipped with burning brands to make them confess. And when they had confessed, they were put to death. A young son of Keu, too small to take part in or to know of the plot, was alone left alive, and to him reverted his father's ordu with all that belonged thereto in men and animals. And on our way back we passed by it, but my guides did not dare, either when going or when coming back, to turn off to it, for "the mistress of nations sat in sorrow, and there was no one to console her."/~\

Rubruck on the Tartars and Unc Chan, the Brother of Prester John

William of Rubruck tells a story about the Mongols, Tartars, Chingis and Unc Khan (Ung Khan) with Unc Khan appearing to be the brother of Prester John and Chingis being Genghis Khan. Rubruck wrote: “And next to the Mongol were other poor people, who were called Tartars. Now King John being dead without an heir, his brother Unc was brought in (ditatus est), and caused himself to be proclaimed Chan, and his flocks and herds were driven about as far as the borders of the Mongol. At that tune there was a certain Chingis, a blacksmith, among the people of Mongol, and he took to lifting the cattle of Unc Khan whenever he could, so that the herdsmen complained to their lord Unc Chan. So he got together an army, and made a raid into the land of the Mongol, seeking for this Chingis, but he fled among the Tartars and hid himself there. Then this Unc Khan having got great booty from the Mongol and the Tartars went back. [Source: “The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1253-55" by William of Rubruck, translation by W. W. Rockhill, 1900; depts.washington.edu/silkroad /~]

“Then that Chingis spoke to those Tartars and to those Mongol, saying, " 'Tis because we are without a chief, that our neighbors oppress us." And they made him chief and captain of the Tartars and the Mongol. Then he secretly got together an army and fell upon Unc Khan and defeated him, so that he fled to Cathay. And it was there that his daughter was captured, and Chingis gave her to wife to one of his sons, who by her had Mangu [=Mönke Khan (d.1259)] who now reigneth. /~\

“Now this Chingis used to dispatch the Tartars in every direction, and so their name spread abroad, for everywhere was heard the cry: "The Tartars are coming!" But through the many wars they have been nearly all killed off, and now these Mongol would like to extinguish even the name and raise their own in its stead. The country in which they first lived, and where is still the ordu of Chingis Chan, is called Onankerule. But because Caracarum (Karakorum) is the district where their power first began to spread, they hold it their royal city, and near there they elect their Chan. /~\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University afe.easia.columbia.edu ; University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, depts.washington.edu/chinaciv /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua; China.org; China Daily; Japan News; Times of London; National Geographic; The New Yorker; Time; Newsweek; Reuters; Associated Press; Lonely Planet Guides; Compton’s Encyclopedia; Smithsonian magazine; The Guardian; Yomiuri Shimbun; AFP; Wikipedia; BBC. Many sources are cited at the end of the facts for which they are used.

Last updated November 2016

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