Mongke Khan

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 traveled to various places of the Mongol Empire in Asia before his return to Europe. [Source: Wikipedia]

On the beginning of his quest to meet the Mongol leader Mongke, William of Rubruck wrote: “On the Octave of the Innocents (January 4th, 1254) we were taken to court; and there came certain Nestorian priests, whom I did not know to be Christians, and they asked me in what direction I prayed. I said "to the east." And they asked that because we had shaved our beards, at the suggestion of our guide, so as to appear before the Khan according to the fashion of our country. 'Twas for this that they took us for Tuins (Buddhists), that is idolaters. They also made us explain the Bible. Then they asked us what kind of reverence we wanted to make the Chan, according to our fashion, or according to theirs. I replied to them: "We are priests given to the service of God. Noblemen in our country do not, for the glory of God, allow priests to bend the knee before them. Nevertheless, we want to humble ourselves to every man for the love of God. We come from afar: so in the first place then, if it please you, we will sing praises to God who has brought us here in safety from so far, and after that we will do as it shall please your lord, this only excepted, that nothing be required of us contrary to the worship and glory of God." Then they went into the house, and repeated what I had said. It pleased the lord, and so they placed us before the door of the dwelling, holding up the felt which hung before it; and, as it was the Nativity, we began to sing: "A solis ortus cardine Et usque terre limitem Christian canamus principem Natum Maria virgine". [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 we had sung this hymn, they searched our legs and breasts and arms to see if we had knives upon us. They had the interpreter examined, and made him leave his belt and knife in the custody of a door-keeper. Then we entered, and there was a bench in the entry with cosmos (koumiss, mare’s milk), and near by it they made the interpreter stand. They made us, however, sit down on a bench near the ladies. The house was all covered inside with cloth of gold, and there was a fire of briars and wormwood roots--which grow here to great size--and of cattle dung, in a grate in the center of the dwelling. He (Mongke Khan) was seated on a couch, and was dressed in a skin spotted and glossy, like a seal's skin. He is a little man, of medium height, aged forty-five years, and a young wife sat beside him; and a very ugly, full-grown girl called Cirina, with other children sat on a couch after them. This dwelling had belonged to a certain Christian lady, whom he had much loved, and of whom he had had this girl. Afterwards he had taken this young wife, but the girl was the mistress of all this ordu, which had been her mother's. /~\

“He had us asked what we wanted to drink, wine or terracina, which is rice wine (cervisia), or caracosmos, which is clarified mare's milk, or bal, which is honey mead. For in winter they make use of these four kinds of drinks. I replied : "My lord, we are not men who seek to satisfy our fancies about drinks; whatever pleases you will suit us." So he had us given of the rice drink, which was clear and flavored like white wine, and of which I tasted a little out of respect for him, but for our misfortune our interpreter was standing by the butlers, who gave him so much to drink, that he was drunk in a short time. After this the Khan had brought some falcons and other birds, which he took on his hand and looked at, and after a long while he bade us speak. Then we had to bend our knees. He had his interpreter, a certain Nestorian, who I did not know was a Christian, and we had our interpreter, such as he was, and already drunk. Then I said: "In the first place we render thanks and praise to God, who has brought us from so far to see Mongke Khan, to whom God has given so much power on earth. And we pray Christ, by whose will we all live and die, to grant him a happy and long life." For it is their desire, that one shall pray for their lives. /~\

“Then I told him: "My lord, we have heard of Sartach that he was a Christian, and the Christians who heard it rejoiced greatly, and principally my lord the king of the French. So we came to him, and my lord the king sent him a letter by us in which were words of peace, and among other things he bore witness to him as to the kind of men we were, and he begged him to allow us to remain in his country, for it is our office to teach men to live according to the law of God. He sent us, however, to his father Batu, and Batu sent us to you. You it is to whom God has given great power in the world. We pray then your mightiness to give us permission to remain in your dominion, to perform the service of God for you, for your wives and your children. We have neither gold, nor silver nor precious stones to present to you, but only ourselves to offer to you to serve God, and to pray to God for you. At all events give us leave to remain here till this cold has passed away, for my companion is so feeble that he cannot with safety to his life stand any more the fatigue of traveling on horse-back."/~\

“My companion had told me of his infirm condition, and had adjured me to ask for permission to stay, for we supposed that we would have to go back to Batu, unless by special grace he gave us permission to stay. Then he began his reply: "As the sun sends its rays everywhere, likewise my sway and that of Batu reach everywhere, so we do not want your gold or silver." So far I understood my interpreter, but after that I could not understand the whole of any one sentence: 'twas by this that I found out he was drunk, and Mongke himself appeared to me tipsy. His speech, it seemed to me, however, showed that he was not pleased that we had come to Sartach in the first place rather than to him. Then I, seeing that I was without interpreter, said nothing, save to beg him not to be displeased with what I had said of gold and silver, for I had not said that he needed or wanted such things, but only that we would gladly honor him with things temporal as well as spiritual. Then he made us arise and sit down again, and after awhile we saluted him and went out, and with us his secretaries and his interpreter, who was foster-father to one of his daughters. And they began to question us greatly about the kingdom of France, whether, there were many sheep and cattle and horses there, and whether they had not better go there at once and take it all. And I had to use all my strength to conceal my indignation and anger; but I answered: "There are many good things there, which you would see if it befell you to go there."”/~\

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 on Mongke Khan’s “Christian” Feast

Rubruck in the realm of the Mongols

William of Rubruck wrote: “Now on that same day Mongke Khan had had a feast, and it is his custom on such days as his diviners tell him are holy, or the Nestorian priests say for some reason are sacred, for him to hold court, and on such days first come the Christian priests with their apparel, and they pray for him and bless his cup. When they have left, the Saracen priests come and do likewise. After them come the priests of idols, doing the same thing. The monk told me that (Mongke Khan) believed only in the Christians but he wanted all to pray for him. But he lied for he believes in none, as you shall learn hereafter, and they all follow his court as flies do honey, and he gives to all, and they all believe that they are his favorites, and they all prophesy blessings to him. [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 /~]

“Mongke Khan came, and entered the church or oratory, and they brought him a gilded couch, on which he sat beside his lady, facing the altar. Then they summoned us, who did not know of the arrival of Mongke, and the door-keeper searched us, lest we had knives on us. I entered the oratory, with my Bible and breviary in my bosom. First I bowed to the altar, and then to the Chan, and passing to the other side, we stood between the monk and the altar. Then they made us intone a psalm according to our fashion and chant. "We chanted this prose: "Veni, Sancte, Spiritus."/~\

“The Khan had brought him our books, the Bible and the breviary, and made careful inquiry about the pictures, and what they meant. The Nestorians answered as they saw fit, for our interpreter had not come with us. The first time I had been before him, I had also the Bible in my bosom, and he had it handed him, and looked at it a great deal. Then he went away, but the lady remained there and distributed presents to all the Christians who were there. To the monk she gave one iascot, and to the archdeacon of the priests another. Before us she had placed a nasic, which is a piece of stuff as broad as a coverlid and about as long, and a buccaran [=an expensive cotton cloth]; but as I would not accept them, they were sent to the interpreter, who took them for himself. The nasic he carried all the way to Cyprus, where he sold it for eighty bezants of Cyprus, though it had been greatly damaged on the journey. /~\

“Then drink was brought, rice mead and red wine, like wine of La Rochelle, and cosmos (koumiss, mare’s milk). Then the lady, holding a full cup in her hand, knelt and asked a blessing, and the priests all sang with a loud voice, and she drank it all. Likewise, I and my companion had to sing when she wanted to drink another time. When they were all nearly drunk, food was brought consisting of mutton, which was at once devoured, and after that large fish which are called carp, but without salt or bread; of these I partook sparingly. And so they passed the day till evening. And when the lady was already tipsy, she got on her cart; the priests singing and howling, and she went her way. The next Sunday, when we read: "Nuptie facte sunt in Chana," [=There was a marriage in Cana (cf. John 2)] came the daughter of the Chan, whose mother was a Christian, and she did likewise, though with not so much ceremony; for she made no presents, but only gave the priests to drink till they were drunk, and also parched millet to eat.” /~\

Monke Khan’s Divinations and Religious Practices

Franciscan monk

William of Rubruck wrote: “The monk directed Mongke to fast during the week, and this he did, as I heard say. So on the Sunday of Septuagesima (8th February), which is as it were the Easter of the Hermenians (Armenians), which for the Armenians is on a level with Easter], we went in procession to the dwelling of Mongke, and the monk and we two, after having been searched for knives, entered into his presence with the priests. And as we were entering a servant came out carrying some sheep's shoulder-blades, burnt to coals, and I wondered greatly what he could do with them. When later on I enquired about it, I learnt that he [the Chan] does nothing in the world without first consulting these bones; he does not even allow a person to enter his dwelling without first consulting them. [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 /~]

“This kind of divination is done as follows. When he wishes to do anything, he has brought him three of these bones not previously charred, and holding one, he thinks of the thing about which he wishes to consult it, whether he shall do it or not; and then he hands it to a servant to burn. And there are two little buildings beside the dwelling in which he lives, in which they burn these bones, and these bones are looked for diligently every day through-out the whole camp. When they have been charred black, they are brought back to him, and then he examines whether the bones have been split by the heat throughout their length. In that case the way is open for him to act. If, however, the bones have been cracked crosswise, or round bits have been started out of them, then he may not act. For this bone always splits in the fire, or there appear some cracks spreading over it. And should one out of the three be split cleanly he acts. /~\

“When then we were going into his presence, we were cautioned not to touch the threshold. The Nestorian priests carried incense to him, and he put it in the censer and they incensed him. They then chanted, blessing his drink ; and after them the monk said his benison, and finally we had to say ours. And seeing us carrying Bibles before our breasts, he had them handed him to look at, and he examined them very carefully. When he had drunk, and the highest of the priests had served him his cup, they gave the priests to drink.” /~\

William of Rubruck Among the Homes of Mongke Khan’s Family

William of Rubruck wrote: “After this we went out, and my companion who had turned his face toward the Khan bowing to him, and following us in this fashion hit the threshold of the dwelling; and as we were proceeding in all haste to the house of Baltu, his son, those who were guarding the threshold laid hands on my companion, stopped him, and would not allow him to follow us; and calling someone, they told him to take him to Bulgai, who is the grand secretary of the court, and who condemns persons to death. But I was in ignorance of all this. When I looked back and did not see him coming, I thought they had detained him to give him lighter clothing, for he was feeble, and so loaded down with furs that he could scarcely walk. Then they called our interpreter, and made him sit with him. [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 /~]

“We for out part went to the house of the eldest son of the Chan, who has already two wives, and who lodges on the right side of his father's ordu ; and as soon as he saw us coming, he got up from the couch on which he was seated, and prostrated himself to the ground, striking the ground with his forehead, and worshipping the cross. Then getting up, he had it placed on high in the most honored place beside him. He had as a master a certain Nestorian priest, David by name, a great drunkard, who was teaching him. Then he made us sit down, and had given the priests to drink. And he also drank, after having been blessed by them. /~\

yurts, 1874

“Then we went to the ordu of the second lady...We were in the dwelling of this damsel, and she gave the priests much to drink...We went to a third house in which the Christian lady used to live. On her death she was succeeded by a young girl who, together with the daughter of the lord (Mangu?), received us joyfully, and all they in this house worshipped the cross most devoutly; and she had it placed in a high place on a silk cloth, and had food brought, to wit, mutton, and it was placed before the master (mistress?), who caused her to distribute it to the priest. I and the monk, however, took neither food nor drink. When the meat had been devoured and a great deal of liquor drunk, we had to go to the apartment of that damsel Cherina, which was behind the big ordu which had been her mother's; and when the cross was brought in she prostrated herself to the ground, and worshipped it right devoutly, for she had been well instructed in that, and she placed it in a high place on a piece of silk ; and all these pieces of stuff on which the cross was put belonged to the monk. /~\

“Thence we went to a fourth house, which was the last as to its position and its importance. For he (i.e., Mongke) did not frequent that lady, and her dwelling was old, and she herself little pleasing; but after Easter the Khan made her a new house and new carts. She, like the second, knew little or nothing of Christianity, but followed the diviners and idolaters. However, when we went in she worshipped the Cross, just as the monk and priests had taught her. There again the priests drank; and thence we went back to our oratory, which was near by, the priests singing with great howling in their drunkenness, which in those parts is not reprehensible in man or in woman. /~\

“Then my companion was brought in and the monk chided him most harshly, because he had touched the threshold. The next day came Bulgai, who was the judge, and he closely inquired whether anyone had warned us to be careful about touching the threshold, and I answered "My lord, we had no interpreter with us; how could we have understood?" Then he pardoned him, but never thereafter was he allowed to enter any dwelling of the Chan.” /~\

Mongke Khan Scolds a Christian Monk

Later, William of Rubruck wrote: “The gate-keepers of the court seeing such a crowd pressing toward the church, which was just beyond the bounds of the court, the warders of the court sent one of their number to the monk, to tell him they would not have such a great multitude congregating there just beyond the court limits. Then the monk replied roughly that he wanted to know if they gave this as the order of Mongke, adding also some threats, as if he would make complaint of them to Mongke. So they forestalled him and accused him to Mongke, saying that he talked too much, and that too great a multitude met together at his talks. [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 /~]

“After that, on Quadragesima Sunday (1st March) we were called to court, and when the monk had been so shamefully searched to see whether he had a knife that he of his own accord took off his shoes, we entered into the Chan's presence, and he had a charred sheep's shoulder-blade in his hand, and was inspecting it; and then, as if reading on it, he began to reprimand the monk, asking why, since he was a man who ought to pray to God, he talked so much to men. I was standing behind with uncovered head, and the Khan said to him: "Why do you not uncover your head, when you come into my presence, as this Frank does?" Then the monk in great confusion took off his hat, against the custom of the Greeks and Hermenians (Armenians); and when the Khan had said many harsh things to him, we went out. And then the monk handed me the Cross to carry to the oratory, for such was his confusion that he did not want to carry it. /~\

“After a few days he made his peace with the Chan, promising that he would go to the Pope, and that he would bring all the nations of the west to owe him obedience. When he came back to the oratory after this conversation with the Chan, he began inquiring about the Pope, whether I believed he would see him, if he came to him on the part of Mongke, and if he would furnish him with horses as far as Saint James [=Santiago in N. Spain, a major pilgrimage site]. He inquired also concerning you, if I believed that you would send your son to Mongke. Then I warned him to be careful not to make lying promises to Mongke, for he would be making a new mistake more serious than the first, and that God did not want lies from us, or that we should speak deceitfully. /~\

Mongke Khan's Palace at Karakorum

Model of Karakorum palace

Karakorum was the capital of the Mongol Empire between 1235 and 1260, and of the Northern Yuan in the 14–15th centuries. Its ruins lie in the northwestern corner of present-day Övörkhangai Province of Mongolia, near today's town of Kharkhorin, and adjacent to the Erdene Zuu monastery. [Source: Wikipedia]

William of Rubruck wrote: Mongke Khan “had at Caracarum (Karakorum) a great palace, situated next to the city walls, enclosed within a high wall like those which enclose monks' priories among us...And the palace is like a church, with a middle nave, and two sides beyond two rows of pillars, and with three doors to the south, and beyond the middle door on the inside stands the tree, and the Khan sits in a high place to the north, so that he can be seen by all; and two rows of steps go up to him: by one he who carries his cup goes up, and by the other he comes down. The space which is in the middle between the tree and these steps by which they go up to him is empty; for here stands his cup-bearer, and also envoys bearing presents; and he himself sits up there like a divinity. On (his) right side, that is to the west, are the men, to the left the women. The palace extends from the north (southward). To the south, beside the pillars on the right side, are rows of seats raised like a platform, on which his son and brothers sit. On the left side it is arranged in like fashion, and there sit his wives and daughters. Only one woman sits up there beside him, though not so high as he. [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 next day the Khan entered his palace, and the monk and I and the priests went to him, but they did not allow my companion to go because he had trod upon the threshold. I had pondered much within myself what I should do, whether I should go or not; but I feared the scandal if I withdrew from the other Christians, and it pleased the Chan, and I feared it might interfere with the good I hoped to do; so I decided to go, though I saw that their sect was full of superstition and idolatry. But I did nothing else while there but pray with a loud voice for the whole church, and also for the Chan, that God might guide him in the way of everlasting salvation. /~\

“So we entered the court, which is right well arranged; and in summer little streams are led all through it by which it is watered. After that we entered a palace all full of men and women, and we stood in the Chan's presence, with the tree of which I have spoken behind us, and it and the bowls (at its base) took up a large part of the palace. The priests had brought two little loaves of blessed bread, and fruit in a platter, which they presented to him, after saying grace. And a butler took it to him where he was seated on a right high and raised place; and he forthwith began to eat one of the loaves, and the other he sent to his son and to one of his younger brothers, who was being brought up by a certain Nestorian, and he knows the gospel, and had also sent for my Bible to look at it.” /~\

Great Drinking Machine at Mongke Khan’s Palace

William of Rubruck wrote: At “the great palace,” he “has his drinkings twice a year: once about Easter, when he passes there, and once in summer, when he goes back (westward). And the latter is the greater (feast), for then come to his court all the nobles, even though distant two months journey; and then he makes them largess of robes and presents, and shows his great glory. There are there many buildings as long as barns, in which are stored his provisions and his treasures. In the entry of this great palace, it being unseemly to bring in there skins of milk and other drinks, master William the Parisian had made for him a great silver tree, and at its roots are four lions of silver, each with a conduit through it, and all belching forth white milk of 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 /~]

Karakorum fountain

“And four conduits are led inside the tree to its tops, which are bent downward, and on each of these is also a gilded serpent, whose tail twines round the tree. And from one of these pipes flows wine, from another cara cosmos (koumiss, mare’s milk), or clarified mare's milk, from another bal, a drink made with honey, and from another rice mead, which is called terracina; and for each liquor there is a special silver bowl at the foot of the tree to receive it. Between these four conduits in the top, he made an angel holding a trumpet, and underneath the tree he made a vault in which a man can be hid. And pipes go up through the heart of the tree to the angel. In the first place he made bellows, but they did not give enough wind. /~\

“Outside the palace is a cellar in which the liquors are stored, and there are servants all ready to pour them out when they hear the angel trumpeting. And there are branches of silver on the tree, and leaves and fruit. When then drink is wanted, the head butler cries to the angel to blow his trumpet. Then he who is concealed in the vault, hearing this blows with all his might in the pipe leading to the angel, and the angel places the trumpet to his mouth, and blows the trumpet right loudly. Then the servants who are in the cellar, hearing this, pour the different liquors into the proper conduits, and the conduits lead them down into the bowls prepared for that, and then the butlers draw it and carry it to the palace to the men and women.” /~\

Mongke Khan's Family in Karakorum

William of Rubruck wrote: “On the eve of the Lord's Ascension (20th May) we went into all the houses of Mongke Khan ; and I noticed that when he was about to drink, they sprinkled cosmos (koumiss, mare’s milk) on his felt idols. Then I said to the monk: "What is there in common between Christ and Belial? What share has our Cross with these idols?" [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 /~]

“Furthermore, Mongke Khan has eight brothers; three uterine, and five by the father. One of the uterine ones he sent to the country of the Hacsasins, whom they call Mulidet, and he ordered him to put them all to death. Another came toward Persia and has already entered, it is believed, the land of Turkie, and will thence send an army against Baldach and against Vastacius. One of the others he sent into Cathay, against those who do not yet obey him. His youngest uterine brother, Arabuccha [=Arigh Böke (d.1264)] by name, he keeps near him, and he holds the ordu of their mother, who was a Christian, and William is his slave. For one of his own brothers by the father had captured him in Hungary, in a city called Belgrade, where was also a Norman Bishop from Belevile near Rouen, with the nephew of a bishop, whom I saw in Caracarum (Karakorum). And he gave master William to Mongke's mother, for she insisted greatly on having him; and when she died, master William became the property of this Arabuccha, together with all the other things belonging to the ordu of his mother, and through him he became known to Mongke Khan, who after the completion of the work of which I have spoken, gave this master one hundred iascot, that is a thousand marks. /~\

Karakorum model

“The day before Ascension (20th May), Mongke Khan said he wanted to visit his mother's ordu, for it was quite near; and the monk said he wanted to go with him and bestow his blessing on the soul of his mother. The Khan gave his approval. In the evening of Ascension day (21st May) the before-mentioned lady (i.e., Cota) grew a great deal worse, so that the chief of the diviners sent to the monk ordering him not to beat his board. The next day, when we left with all the court, the ordu of this lady remained behind. When we came to the place for pitching camp, the monk received orders to go farther away from the court than he was wont, which he did. Then Arabuccha came out to meet his brother the Chan, and the monk and we perceiving that he would have to pass beside us, advanced toward him with the cross. He recognized us, for he had been previously to our oratory, and held out his hand and made the sign of the cross at us like a bishop. Then the monk got on a horse and followed him, carrying some fruit with him. He (Arabuccha) alighted before the ordu of his brother, to wait for him until he should return from the chase. Then the monk got down too, and offered him his fruit, which he accepted. And there were seated beside him two men of high rank at the court of the Chan, and they were Saracens (Muslims). Arabuccha, who knew of the enmity which exists between the Christians and Saracens (Muslims), asked the monk if he knew these Saracens (Muslims). He replied: "I know that they are dogs; why have you got them beside you?" "Why," the latter asked, "do you insult us, when we have said nothing to you?" The monk said to them: " It is true what I say, you and your Machomet are low hounds." Then they began to blaspheme against Christ, but Arabuccha stopped them saying: "You must not speak so, for we know that the Messiah is God." In that very same hour there suddenly arose such a violent wind throughout the whole country, that it seemed as if devils were running through it; and after a little while there came reports that that lady (Cota) was dead. /~\

“The next day (22nd May) the Khan went back to his court (at Karakorum) by another way than that by which he had come; for it is one of their superstitions never to come back by the same road by which they go. And furthermore, wherever he sets his camp, after his departure no one may pass through the place where he has been, neither on horseback nor on foot, so long as there are any traces of the fire which has been made there. That day some Saracens (Muslims) joined the monk on the road, provoking and disputing with him; and they, having the better of him, and he not knowing how else to defend his arguments, wanted to strike them with the whip he had in his hand. He behaved so that his words and actions were reported to the court, and orders were given us to get down (to camp) with the other ambassadors, and not in front of the court as we were in the habit of doing. /~\

Final Audience with Mongke Khan

William of Rubruck wrote: “On Pentecost day (31st May) Mongke Khan called me before him, and also the Tuin with whom I had discussed; but before I went in, the interpreter, master William's son, said to me that we should have to go back to our country, and that I must not raise any objection, for he understood that it was a settled matter. When I came before the Khan I had to bend the knees, and so did the Tuin beside me, with his interpreter. [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 /~]

Audience with Mongke

“He asked: "How far do you wish to be taken?" I said: "Our power extends to the country of the King of Hermenia; if we were (escorted) that far, it would suffice me." He answered: "I will have you taken that far; after that look out for yourself." And he added: "There are two eyes in the head; but though there be two, they have but one sight, and when one turns its glance there goes the other. You came from Batu, and so you must go back by way of him." When he had said this, I asked permission of him to speak. "Speak," he said. Then I said: "My lord, we are not men of war. We wish that those should have dominion over the world who rule it most justly, in accordance with the will of God. Our office is to teach men to live after the will of God. For that we have come here, and willingly would we remain here if it pleased you. Since it pleases you that we go back, that must then be. I will go back, and I will carry your letter as well as I can, as you have ordered. I would ask of your majesty that since I shall carry your letters, I may also come back to you with your consent; principally because you have poor slaves at Bolat, who are of our tongue, and who have no priest to teach them and their sons their religion, and willingly would I remain with them." Then he replied: "If your masters should send you back to me (you will be welcome)." I said: "My lord, I know not the will of my masters; but I have their permission to go wherever I wish, where it is needful to preach the word of God; and it seems to me that it is very needful in these parts; so whether he sends back envoys by us or not, if it pleases you I will come back."/~\

“Then he asked me if I wanted gold or silver or costly clothing. I said: "We take no such things; but we have no traveling money, and without your assistance we cannot get out of your country." He said: "I will have you given all you require while in my possessions; do you want anything more?" I replied; "That suffices us." /~\

“Then he remained silent and sat for a long time as if thinking, and the interpreter told me to speak no more. So I waited anxiously for what he would reply. Finally he said: "You have along way to go, comfort yourself with food, so that you may reach your country in good health." And he had me given to drink, and then I went out from before him, and after that I went not back again. If I had had the power to work by signs and wonders like Moses, perhaps he would have humbled himself.” /~\

Mongke Khan on His Religious Beliefs

William of Rubruck wrote: Mongke Khan said to me: "Tell me the truth, whether you said the other day, when I sent my secretaries to you, that I was a Tuin." I replied: "My lord, I did not say that; I will tell you what I said, if it pleases you." Then I repeated to him what I had said, and he replied: "I thought full well that you did not say it, for you should not have said it; but your interpreter translated badly." And he held out toward me the staff on which he leaned, saying: "Fear not." And I, smiling, said in an undertone: "If I had been afraid, I should not have come here." He asked the interpreter what I had said, and he repeated it to him. [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 /~]

Mongke and his horde

“After that he began confiding to me his creed: "We Mongol," he said, "believe that there is only one God, by whom we live and by whom we die, and for whom we have an upright heart." Then I said: "May it be so, for without His grace this cannot be." He asked what I had said; the interpreter told him. Then he added: "But as God gives us the different fingers of the hand, so he gives to men several paths. God gives you the Scriptures, and you Christians keep them not. You do not find (in them, for example) that one should find fault with another, do you?" "No, my lord," I said; "but I told you from the first that I did not want to wrangle with anyone." "I do not intend to say it," he said, "I am not referring to you”. Likewise you do not find that a man should depart from justice for money." "No, my lord," I said. "And truly I came not to these parts to obtain money; on the contrary I have refused what has been offered me." And there was a secretary present, who bore witness that I refused an iascot and silken cloths. "I dare not say it," he said, "for you. God gave you therefore the Scriptures, and you do not keep them; He gave us diviners, we do what they tell us, and we live in peace."/~\

“He drank four times, I believe, before he finished saying all this. And I was listening attentively for him to say something else of his creed, when he began talking of my return journey, saying: "You have stayed here a long while; I wish you to go back. You have said that you would not dare take my ambassadors with you; will you take my words, or my letter?" And from that time I never found the opportunity nor the time when I could show him the Catholic Faith. For no one can speak in his presence but so much as he wishes, unless he be an ambassador; for an ambassador can say whatever he chooses, and they always ask if he wishes to say something more. As for me, it was not allowed me to speak more; I had only to listen to him, and reply to his questions. So I answered him that he should make me understand his words, and have them put down in writing, for I would willingly take them as best I could.

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 August 2021

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