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

William of Rubruck wrote: “With the feast of Pentecost (31st May [1254]) they began preparing the letter which he (Mongke Khan) was to send you. In the meanwhile he came back to Caracarum (Karakorum), and held his great ceremony on the octave of Pentecost (7th June), and he wanted all the ambassadors to be present the last day of it. He sent also for me; but I had gone to the church to baptize three sons of a poor German I had found there. Master William was the chief butler at this feast, for he it was who had made the drink-flowing tree; and everyone poor and rich was singing and dancing and clapping hands before the Chan. Then he spoke to them, saying: "I have sent my brothers away, and have exposed them to danger among foreign nations. Now, let it be seen what you will do, when I shall want to send you to increase our realm." [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; /~]

“Finally, the letter he sends you being finished, they called me and interpreted it to me. I wrote down its tenor, as well as I could understand through an interpreter, and it is as follows: "The commandment of the eternal God is, in Heaven there is only one eternal God, and on Earth there is only one lord, Chingis Chan. This is word of the Son of God, Demugin, (or) Chingis 'sound of iron.' " (For they call him Chingis, 'sound of iron,' because he was a blacksmith; and puffed up in their pride they even say that he is the son of God). "This is what is told you. Wherever there be a Mongol, or a Naiman, or a Merkit or a Musteleman, wherever ears can hear, wherever horses can travel, there let it be heard and known; for the moment they hear my order and understand it but place no credence in it and wish to make war against us, you shall see that though they have eyes they shall be without sight; and when they shall want to hold anything they shall be without hands, and when they shall want to walk they shall be without feet: this is the eternal command of God. /~\

"This, through the virtue of the eternal God, through the great world of the Mongol, is the word of Mongke Khan to the lord of the French, King Louis, and to all the other lords and priests and to all the great realm of the French, that they may understand our words. For the word of the eternal God to Chingis Khan has not reached unto you, either through Chingis Khan or others who have come after him. /~\

"A certain man by the name of David came to you as the ambassador of the Mongol, but he was an impostor ; and you sent back with him your envoys to Gukuk Khan. After the death of Gukuk Khan your ambassadors reached this court. And Camus his wife sent you nasic stuffs and a letter. But as to affairs of war and of peace and the welfare and happiness of a great realm and subduing the wide world and discerning how to act for the best], what could this woman, who was viler than a dog, know about them?" (For Mongke told me with his own lips that Camus was the worst kind of a witch, and that she had destroyed her whole family by her witchcraft.)/~\

“"These two monks, who have come from you to Sartach, Sartach sent to Batu; but Batu sent them to us, for Mongke Khan is the greatest lord of the Mongol realm. Now then, to the end that the whole world and the priests and monks may be in peace and rejoice, and that the word of God be heard among you, we wanted to appoint Mongol envoys (to go back) with these your priests. But they replied that between us and you there is a hostile country, and many wicked people, and bad roads; so they were afraid that they could not take our envoys in safety to you; but that if we would give them our letter containing our commandments, they would carry them to King Louis himself. So we do not send our envoys with them; but we send you in writing the commandments of the eternal God by these your priests: the commandments of the eternal God are what we impart to you. And when you shall have heard and believed, if you will obey us, send your ambassadors to us; and so we shall have proof whether you want peace or war with us. When, by the virtue of the eternal God, from the rising of the Sun to the setting, all the world shall be in universal joy and peace, then shall be manifested what we are to be. But if you hear the commandment of the eternal God, and understand it, and shall not give heed to it, nor believe it, saying to yourselves: 'Our country is far off, our mountains are strong, our sea is wide,' and in this belief you make war against us, you shall find out what we can do. He who makes easy what is difficult, and brings close what is far off, the eternal God He knows."/~\

Good Websites and Sources on the Silk Road: Silk Road Seattle ; Silk Road Foundation; Wikipedia Wikipedia ; Silk Road Atlas ; Old World Trade Routes; Yo Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project ; International Dunhuang Project ;

William of Rubruck Leaves the Realm of Mongke Khan

William of Rubruck wrote: “They had in the first place called us in the letter your ambassadors. So I told them: "Call us not ambassadors, for I explained thoroughly to the Khan that we were not the ambassadors of King Louis." They then went to him and told him. But they came back to me and said that (though) he had taken it in a very good part, he had directed that they should write as I should tell them. I told them, nevertheless, to strike out the word 'ambassador,' and to call us monks or priests. While this was being done, my companion, hearing that we would have to go back to Batu by way of the desert, and that a Mongol would guide us, ran, without my knowing it, to Bulgai, the grand secretary, and intimated to him by signs that he would die if he went that way; and so when the day arrived on which we were to take our leave, to wit, a fortnight after the feast of saint John, when we were called to court, the secretaries said to my companion: "Now Mongke Khan wants your companion to go back by way of Batu, and you say that you are ill, as is evident you are. So Mongke says, if you want to go with your companion, go. But it rests with you; for perhaps you may be left in some Iam, and you will not be looked after, and you will be a burden on your companion. If you choose to stay here, he will provide you with everything necessary, till some other ambassadors come with whom you can go back leisurely and along a road on which towns are found." The friar replied: "God bless the Chan. I will stay." But I said to the friar: "Brother, see to it what you do. I will not leave you." "You," he said, "will not be leaving me; but I leave you; for should I go with you, I can see danger of death to my soul and body; for it cannot bear such terrible hardships." [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; /~]

Rubruck's route

“Now they were holding in their hands three gowns or tunics, and they said to us: "You will not accept gold or silver, and you have stayed here a long time praying for the Chan. He begs that each of you will accept at least a plain gown, so that you go not away empty-handed." So we had to accept them through respect for him, for they hold it very bad that one should scorn their gifts. At first he used to make inquiries as to what we wanted, and we always replied in the same way, so that the Christians used to abuse the idolaters for wanting nothing else than gifts. And these made answer that we were foolish, for if he (i.e., the Chan) wanted to give them his whole ordu, they would take it with pleasure and do wisely. Having taken the gowns, they asked us to say an orison for the Chan, and this we did; and having been granted leave, we went back to Caracarum (Karakorum). /~\

“It happened, however, on a day (before that) when we were with the monk and the other ambassadors some distance from the court, that the monk beat the board so loudly that Mongke Khan heard it, and asked what it was. And they told him. Then he asked why he was so far from the court. They told him that it was troublesome to send him daily horses and oxen (to come) to court, and they added that it would be better if he remained in Caracarum (Karakorum) beside the church and there did his praying. So the Khan sent to him to say that if he would go to Caracarum (Karakorum) and remain there by the church, he would give him all he required. The monk, however, replied: "I came here from Jerusalem, in the Holy Land, by the command of God, and I left a city in which there were a thousand churches better than that in Caracarum (Karakorum). If he wants me to remain here and pray for him, as God commanded me, I will stay; otherwise I will go back whence I came." That very same evening oxen harnessed to carts were brought him, and the next morning he went back to the place he had been in the habit of occupying in front of the ordu. A little while before we left there, a certain Nestorian monk arrived, and he seemed to be a wise man. Bulgai, the grand secretary, established him in front of the ordu; and the Khan sent him his children to bless. /~\

“We returned then to Caracarum (Karakorum); and while we were in the house of master William, my guide came, bringing ten iascot, five of which he placed in the hand of master William, telling him to spend them on the part of the Khan for the wants of the friar; the oSther five he put in the hands of Homo Dei, my interpreter, with directions to spend them on the journey for my wants. Master William had told them to do this, without our knowing it. I at once caused one (iascot) to be sold, and distributed the change among the poor Christians who were there, all of them having their eyes fixed upon us; another we spent in buying what was necessary for us in clothing and in other things; with the third, Homo Dei bought a few things on which he could make a small profit, which he did. The balance we also expended, since in no locatlity from the time we entered Persia were we given enough for our needs, nor for that matter among the Tartars; but there we rarely found anything to buy.Master William, once your subject, sends you a girdle ornamented with a precious stone, such as they wear against lightning and thunder; and he sends you endless salutations, praying always for you; and I cannot sufficiently express to God or to you the thanks I owe him. In all I baptized six persons there. /~\

Rubruck's Return Journey Through Central Asia

William of Rubruck wrote: “So we separated with tears, my companion remaining with master William, and I alone with my interpreter going back with my guide and one servant, who had an order by which we were to receive every four days one sheep for the four of us. In two months and ten days we came to Batu, and (on the way there) we never saw a town, nor the trace of any building save tombs, with the exception of one little village, in which we did not eat bread; neither did we ever take a rest in those two months and ten days, except for one day only, when we could not get horses. We came back for the most part of the way through the same peoples, though generally through different districts; for we went in winter and came back in summer by parts farther to the north, fifteen days excepted, when both in going and in coming back we had to keep along a river between mountains, where there is no grass except close to the river. We had to go for two days-sometimes for three days-without taking any other nourishment than cosmos (koumiss, mare’s milk). Sometimes we were in great danger, not being able to find any people, at moments when we were short of food, and with worn-out horses. [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; /~]

sunset on the Kazakh steppe

“When I had ridden twenty days I got news of the King of Hermenia; he had passed there at the end of August, going to meet Sartach, who was on his way to Mongke Khan with his flocks and herds, his wives and children; though his big dwellings had been left behind between the Etilia (Volga River) and the Tainais (Don River). /~\ I paid my respects (to Sartach) and told him that I would right willingly stay in his country, but that Mongke Khan wished me to go back and carry his letter. He replied that one must do the bidding of Mongke Khan. Then I asked Coiac about our servants. He replied that they were in Batu's ordu, carefully looked after. I reminded him also of our vestments and books: he replied: "Did you not bring them to Sartach?" I brought them to Sartach, but I did not give them to him, as you know; " and I repeated to him what I had replied when he had asked whether I would give them to Sartach. Then he answered: "You speak the truth, and no one can resist the truth. I left your things at my father's, who stays near Sarai, the new town that Batu is making on the Etilia (Volga River); but our priests have some of your vestments here with them." "As to the vestments," I said, "keep what you want of them, so long as my books given back to me." Then he said that he would tell Sartach what I said." I must have," I said, "a letter for your father, so that he will give me back all my things." As they were then just on the point of starting, he said: "One of the ordu of the ladies is following us closely; stop there, and I will send you by this man here the answer of Sartach." I was anxious that he should not deceive me; but I could not wrangle with him. The man he had pointed out to me came in the evening, bringing with him two tunics, which I took for a whole piece of uncut silk stuff, and he said to me: "Here are two tunics: Sartach sends you one, and the other, if you see fit, you may present to the King from him." I replied: "I do not make use of such clothes; I will present both to the King for the honor of your lord." "No," he said, "do as you choose with them." Now it pleases me to send them both to you, and I do so by the bearer of these presents. He gave me also a letter to the father of Coiac, to return to me all that belonged to me, for he wanted nothing of mine. /~\

“We reached the ordu of Batu the same day we had left it a year previously, the second day after the Elevation of the holy Cross (September 15th, 1254]), and I found with pleasure our servants in safety, but suffering from great poverty, as Gosset told me; and had it not been for the King of Hermenia, who had comforted them greatly and recommended them to Sartach, they would have been lost, for they thought that I was dead; and the Tartars were already inquiring of them if they knew how to herd cattle or milk horses. For had I not come back, they would have been made their slaves. /~\

Rubruck Meets Batu Again and Heads South Along the Volga to Sarai

Batu on throne

William of Rubruck wrote:“After that, Batu caused me to come into his presence, and had interpreted to me the letter Mongke Khan sends you. For Mongke had written to him that if he wished to add, strike out, or alter anything in them, he was to do so. Then he said to me: "Take this letter and make it understood." He asked me also which road I wanted to take, by sea or by land. I told him the sea route was closed, for it was winter, so I would have to go by land. I still thought at that time that you were in Syria, and I took the road toward Persia. If I had imagined that you had crossed over into France, I should have gone to Hungary and should have come sooner to France; and by that road I should have traveled with less trouble than in Syria. [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; /~]

“We drove about for a month with him (i.e., Batu) before we could get a guide. Finally they appointed an Iugur Uighur), who, understanding that I would not give him anything, though I told him that I wanted to go straight to Hermenia, had letters given him to take me to the Soldan of Turkie, hoping to receive a present from the Soldan and make more [profit] along that road. So we started fifteen days before the feast of All Saints (i.e., October 18th) in the direction of Sarai, going due south, and descending along the Etilia (Volga River), which divides below there into three great branches, each of which is nearly twice as large as the river of Damietta. The rest (of the river) forms four minor branches, so that we crossed that river in seven places by boat. On the middle branch is a town called Summerkeur, which is without walls; but when the river is in flood it is surrounded by water. For eight years the Tartars were around it before they got it. And there were Alans in it, and Saracens (Muslims). We found there a German with his wife, and he was a right worthy man, with whom Gosset had stopped; for Sartach had sent him there to rid his ordu of him. Round about these parts Batu is on one side of the river and Sartach on the other about Christmas time; and they go not down any farther. And it happens that the whole river freezes over, and then they pass across. About here there is very great plenty of pasturage, and (the Tartars) live among the reeds till the ice begins to thaw. /~\

“When the father of Coiac received the letter of Sartach, he gave me back my vestments, excepting three albs, an amice embroidered in silk, a stole, a girdle, a gold-fringed altar cloth and a surplice; he gave me back also the silver vases, excepting a censer and a little vase in which was holy oil, all of which latter things the priests who were with Sartach had kept. He gave me back the books, with the exception of the Psalter of my lady the queen, which he kept with my consent; I could not refuse it him, for he said that Sartach had been very much taken with it. He also asked me, in case I should come back that way, to bring a man knowing how to make parchment. He was making, by order of Sartach, a big church and a new village on the west bank of the river, and wanted, he said, to make books for Sartach's use. Though I myself am aware that Sartach has no time for such things]. Sarai (the Golden Horde capital along the Volga River in southern Russia) and the palace of Batu are on the eastern shore, and the valley through which flow these branches of the river is more than seven leagues wide, and there is a great quantity of fish there. The versified Bible and a book in Arabic, worth thirty bezants, and several other things, I did not get back. /~\

Rubruck Heads South from Sarai to the Caucasus

William of Rubruck wrote: “Leaving it (i.e., Sarai) then on the feast of All Saints (1st November), and going constantly south, we reached by the feast of Saint Martin (December 13th) the mountains of the Alans. Between Batu and Sarai, for fifteen days we found no one save one of his (i.e., Batu's) sons preceding him (south) with his hawks and hawkers, who were very numerous. From the feast of All Saints for five days we found no one, and there were two days on which we nearly died of thirst: for a whole day and a night, and a day following to the third hour, we did not find any 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; /~]

Silk Road bandit attack

“The Alans in these mountains still hold out against (the Tartars), so Sartach has had to send two out of every ten men to hold the mouths of the defiles [i.e., passes], lest they come out and lift their cattle in the plains. Between these Alans and the Iron Gate, which lay two days journey away from there, at the point where the plan begins to narrow between the sea and the mountains, there are Saracens (Muslims) called the Lesgi living among the peaks; so the Tartars at the foot of the mountains of the Alans had to give us twenty men to escort us beyond the Iron Gate. And this pleased me much, for I hoped to see them under arms; for I had never been able to see their arms, though most anxious to. When we came to a dangerous passage, out of the twenty (only) two had [breastplates]. I asked them how they came by them, and they said they had got them from the Alans, who are good makers of such things, and excellent artisans. So it seems to me that they have few arms except arrows and bows and fur gowns. I saw given to them iron plates and iron caps from Persia, and I also saw two who had come to present themselves before Mongke, armed with jackets of convex pieces of hard leather, which were most unfit and unwieldy. /~\

“Before we reached the Iron Gate, we came to a walled hamlet (castellum) of the Alans, which was Mongke Khan 's, he having conquered that (part of the) country. Here we found grape-vines for the first time and drank wine. The next day we came to the Iron Gate, which Alexander the Macedonian made; and it is a town whose eastern end is on the sea-shore, and there is a small-sized plain between the sea and the mountains across which this town stretches to the top of the mountain adjoining it on the west; so it is that there is no road higher up, on account of the steepness of the mountain, nor any lower down by the sea, but only straight through the town where is the iron gate from which the town takes its name. /~\

“The town is more than a mile long, and on the top of the mountain is a strong fort; its width, however, is but a stone's throw. It has very strong walls without moats, and towers of great dressed (politis) stones; but the Tartars have destroyed the tops of the towers and the parapets of the walls, making the towers even with the walls. Below this town the country used to be a real paradise. /~\

“Two days thence we found another town called Samaron, in which were many Jews; and when passing through it we noticed walls coming down from the mountains to the sea. Leaving the road by the sea at these walls, for at that point it turned eastward, we went uphill toward the south. The next day we crossed a valley, where we saw the foundations of walls running from one mountain to another, and along the tops of the mountains there was no road. These were once the barriers of Alexander, shutting out the wild tribes, that is the desert nomads, so that they could not get in on the cultivated lands and the towns. There are other barriers which shut out the Jews, but I could learn nothing precise concerning them; however, there are many Jews in all the towns of Persia. /~\

William of Rubruck in Azerbaijan

William of Rubruck wrote: “The next day we came to a big city called Samag [=Shamakhi, Azerbaijan]; and the day after that we entered a vast plain called Mongol, through which flows the Cur, from which the Curges, whom we call Georgians, take their name. It flows through the middle of Tefilis [=Tbilisi], which is the capital city of the Georgia, coming straight from the west and flowing eastward into that sea, and it has most excellent salmon. In that plain we again found Tartars. The Araxes (a river in Iran, Turkey, Armenia and Azerbaijan) also flows through this plain, coming out of Greater Hermenia from due south-west, out of what is called the Ararat country, which is Hermenia; thus it is that in the book of Kings it is said of the sons of Senacherib, that their father having been killed they fled into the country of the Hermenians (Armenians); while in Isaiah it is said that they fled into the country of Ararat. [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; /~]

“To the west of this beautiful plain is Curgia, and the Crosminians [=Khwarazmians] used to be in this plain; and there at the base of the mountains is a great city called Ganges [=Ganja], which used to be their capital, and which prevented the Curges from coming down into the plain. So we came to a bridge of boats held by great iron chains stretched across the river, there where the Cur and the Araxes fall into each other. Here the Araxes loses its name. From this point we ascended continually along the Araxes, of which it is said...pontem dedignatur Araxes, leaving Persia on our left to the south, and the Caspian mountains and Greater Curgia on our right to the north, and going toward Africa to the south-west. /~\

“We passed through the camp of Baachu, who is the chief of the army there on the Araxes, and who has conquered the Georgians, the Turks and the Persians. There is another (chief) at Tauris in Persia, who superintends the tribute, and whose name is Argun; and Mongke has recalled both of them to give their places to his brother who is coming to these countries. This country I am describing to you is not Persia proper, but that which used to be called Hircania. [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; /~]

“I was in the house of Baachu, and he gave me wine to drink; he himself drank cosmos, which I should have preferred to drink if he had given it to me. Though the wine was new and good, cosmos satisfies better a famished man. So we ascended along the Araxes from the feast of saint Clement (23rd November) to the second Sunday of Quadragesima (February 21st) till we reached the head of the river. And beyond the mountain in which it rises is a goodly city, called Aarserum, which is the Soldan of Turkie's, and near these to the north, at the foot of the mountains of the Georgians, rises the Eufrates. I would have gone to its source, but there was so much snow that no one could go outside the beaten path. On the other side, to the south of the mountains of the Caucasus, the Tigris takes its rise. /~\

Selim Caravanserai in Armenia

William of Rubruck in Armenia

William of Rubruck wrote: “When we left Baachu, my guide went to Tauris to speak with Argun, taking my interpreter with him. But Baachu had me taken to a certain city called Naxua [=Nakhchavan in Armenia], which used to be the capital of a great kingdom, and was a large and beautiful city; but the Tartars have reduced it to nearly a desert. And there used to be in it eighty Hermenian churches; but there are only two small ones now, for the Saracens (Muslims) have destroyed them. In one of these I kept the Christmas feast as well as I could, with our clerk. The next day the priest of the church died, and a bishop and twelve monks from the mountains came to his funeral. All the bishops of the Hermenians (Armenians) are monks, as are those of the Greeks for the most part. This bishop told me that near there was the church in which blessed Bartholomew and also blessed Judas Thaddeus were martyred; but the road was impassable on account of the snow. [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; /~]

“He told me also that they have two prophets: the first is Methodius the martyr, who was of their race, and he prophesied concerning the Ysmaelites, which prophecy has been fulfilled in the Saracens (Muslims). The other prophet is called Acatron, who on his death-bed prophesied concerning the race of Archers to come from the north, saying that they would acquire possession of all the countries of the Orient, and that (God) would spare the Eastern kingdom so as to deliver unto them the kingdom of the West; but our brethren, like the Catholic Franks, would not believe in them, and they (i.e., the Archers) would occupy the earth from the north even unto the south, and would come to Constantinople, and would occupy the port of Constantinople; and one of them, who would be called a sage, would enter the city, and seeing the churches and the ceremonies of the Franks would be baptized, and he would tell the Franks how to kill the lord of the Tartars, and how to confound them. On learning this the Franks of the center of the world, that is Jerusalem, would fall upon the Tartars in their borders, and with the help of our people, that is the Hermenians (Armenians), would pursue them, so that the King of the Franks would place his royal throne in Tauris in Persia, and then all the Orientals and all the infidels would be converted to the faith of Christ, and there would be such peace on earth that the living would say to the dead:"Woe is you, unfortunate ones, why lived ye not to these times?"/~\

“I had read this prophecy in Constantinople, brought there by the Hermenians (Armenians) who live there, but had paid no particular attention to it; when I had had this conversation, however, with the bishop, it came back vividly to my memory; and throughout Hermenia they hold this prophecy as sure as the Gospel. They used also to say to me [He (the bishop] used to say to me]: "As the souls in limbo expect the coming of Christ for their liberation, so we look to your coming to deliver us from this bondage in which we have so long been."/~\

“Near this city are mountains in which they say that Noah's ark rests; and there are two mountains, the one greater than the other; and the Araxes flows at their base; and there is a town there called Cemanum [=Thamanin (*actually Arabic for eighty, not eight)], which interpreted means "eight," and they say that it was thus called from the eight persons who came out of the ark, and who built it on the greater mountain. Many have tried to climb it, but none has been able. This bishop told me that there had been a monk who was most desirous (of climbing it), but that an angel appeared to him bearing a piece of the wood of the ark, and told him to try no more. They had this piece of wood in his church, they told me. This mountain did not seem to me so very high, that men could not ascend it. An old man gave me quite a good reason why one ought not to try to climb it. They call the mountain Massis, and it is of the feminine gender in their language. "No one," he said, "ought to climb up Massis; it is the mother of the world."/~\

“In that city (of Naxua) Friar Bernard of Catalogna, of the Order of Preaching Friars [=Dominicans], found me; he had remained in Georgia with a certain prior of the Holy Sepulcher, who had large holdings in land there; and he had learned a little Tartar, and had been with a certain friar from Hungary to Argun at Tauris, to ask leave to go through to Sartach. When they came there they were refused entry, and the Hungarian friar went back by way of Tefilis with a servant; but Friar Bernard had remained at Tauris with a German lay brother, whose language he did not understand. /~\

“We only left this city (of Naxua) on the Octave of the Epiphany (13th January), for we were kept there a long while on account of the snow. In four days we came to the country of Sahensa [=Shanshé or ShahanShah: "king of kings"], once the most powerful Curgian prince, but now tributary to the Tartars, who have destroyed all its fortified places. His father, Zacharias by name, had got this country of the Hermenians (Armenians), for delivering them from the hands of the Saracens (Muslims). And there are very fine villages there, all of Christians and having churches, just like the French; and every Hermenian has in his home, in the most honored spot, a hand of wood holding a cross, and he places a burning lamp before it; and what we do with holy water to drive away the evil spirit, they do with incense. For every evening they burn incense, carrying it to every corner of the house to drive out every kind of evil. /~\

“I took a meal with this Sahensa; and he showed me great politeness, as did his wife and his son called Zacharias, a very fine and prudent young man, who asked me, whether if he should come to you, you would keep him with you; for so heavily does he bear the domination of the Tartars, that though he has abundance of all things, he would prefer to wander in foreign lands to bearing their domination. Moreover, they told me that they were sons of the Roman Church; and if the lord Pope would send them some assistance, they would themselves subject all the neighboring countries to the Church. /~\

William of Rubruck in Turkey

William of Rubruck wrote: “In fifteen days from that city (of Naxua?) we entered the country of the Soldan of Turkie on the (second) Sunday of Quadragesima (February 14th), and the first town we found was called Marsengen. All the people in the burg were Christians: Hermenians (Armenians), Georgians and Greeks. The Saracens (Muslims) had only the lordship. The castellan said that he had received orders not to give provisions to any Frank, or to ambassadors of the king of Hermenia or of Vastacius; so from this place, which we reached on the (second) Sunday of Quadragesima, all the way to Cyprus, which I entered eight days before the feast of saint John the Baptist (16th June) we had to buy our provisions. He who was guiding me procured us horses; he received also money for our provisions, but he put it in his purse. When we came to some field and saw a flock, he would carry off a sheep by force, and give it to his followers to eat, and was greatly astonished because I would not eat of his theft. [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; /~]

“On the (feast of the) Purification (2nd February) I was in a town called Aini, belonging to Sahensa, the position of which is very strong; and there are in it a thousand churches of Hermenians (Armenians) and two synagogues of Saracens (Muslims). The Tartars have placed a commisioner in it. Five preaching friars found me there. Four of them had come from the Province of France, and the fifth had joined them in Syria; and they had only one infirm servant, who knew Turkish and a little French; and they had letters from the lord Pope to Sartach, to Mongke Khan and to Buri, like those you gave me, requesting that they be allowed to stay in his country, and to preach the word of God, etc. When I had told them what I had seen, and how they had received me, they took the road to Tefilis, where are some of their friars, to hold council with them as to what they should do. I told then that, thanks to those letters, they could get through if they chose, but that they must provide themselves well with patience and with reasons for their coming, for having no other mission than preaching, they would show them scant courtesy, especially as they had no interpreter. What they did after this, I know not. /~\

“So on the second Sunday after Quadragesima (February 21st) we came to the head of the Araxes, and after crossing a mountain, we came to the Eufrates, along which we descended for eight days, going always westward till we came to a certain fort called Camath [=Kamakh]. Here the Eufrates turns southward toward Halapia [=Aleppo]. We crossed the river, continuing westward through very high mountains and deep snow. That same year there was such an earthquake there that in one city called Arsengen [=Arzijan] ten thousand persons known by name were lost, exclusive of the poor, of whom there was no record. During three days' ride we saw a rent in the ground as if split in the commotion, and masses of earth which had slid down from the mountains and filled the valleys: had the earth been shaken a little more, what Isaiah said would have been fulfilled to the letter: "Every valley shall be filled up, and every mountain and hill shall be made low."/~\

“We crossed the valley in which the Soldan of Turkie had been defeated by the Tartars. It would take too long to write how he had been defeated, but a servant of my guide, who had been with the Tartars (in the battle), said that there were not over ten thousand Tartars in all; and a Curgian slave of the Soldan's said that there were with the Soldan two hundred thousand, all on horses. In that plain in which that fight and that rout occurred, a large lake burst out in the earthquake; and I said to myself that that whole country had opened its mouth to drink in the blood of the Saracens (Muslims). /~\

“We were in Sebaste [=Sivas] in Lesser Hermenia during Holy Week (March 21-27th), and we visited there the sepulcher of the Forty Martyrs. There is at that place a church of Saint Blaise, but I could not go there, for it was up in the citadel. On the Octave of Easter (4th April) we came to Cesarea of Capadocia, where there is a church of saint Basil the Great. After that in fifteen days (i.e., 19th April), we came to Iconium, traveling by short stages and resting in many places, for we could not get horses very quickly. And my guide used to do this trick: he would sell in every town his requisition on it for three days. I was much worried over this; but I dared not speak, for he could have sold or killed me or our servants; there would have been no one to say him nay.

William of Rubruck Makes His Way from Turkey to Cyprus to Tripoli

William of Rubruck wrote: “I found several Franks in Iconium, and a Genoese trader from Acon (Acre in Palestine), Nicholas by name, from Santo Siro, who with his partner, a Venetian called Benefatius de Molendino, had monopolized all the alum in Turkie, so that the Soldan could sell none of it to any save these two; and they resold it so dear that what used to be sold for fifteen besants is sold for fifty. My guide presented me to the Soldan. The Soldan said he would be pleased to have me taken to the sea of Hermenia or of Silicia. But this trader (Nicholas) knowing that the Saracens (Muslims) would take little care of me, and that I was wearied beyond measure with my guide's company, who pestered me daily for presents, had me taken to Curta [=Gorighos], a port of the king of Hermenia. Here I arrived the day before the Ascension (5th May), and remained to the day after Pentecost (17th May). [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; /~]

“Then I heard that messengers had come from the king (of Hermenia) to his father, so I put our things in a ship to be carried to Acon, and I myself went at once to the king's father, to learn whether he had received any news from his son. I found him at Assissi with all his sons, save one called Barunusin [=Baron Oshin (d. 1264)], who was having a castle built; and he had received messengers from his son (saying) he was coming back, and that Mongke Khan had greatly reduced the tribute for him, and that he had granted him the privilege that no ambassadors should enter his country; on account of this the old man with all his sons and all his people were holding a great feast. He had me taken to the sea, to a port called Auax [=Ayas]; and from there I passed over into Cyprus, and at Nicosia I found your Provincial, who the same day took me with him to Antioch, which is in a most dilapidated condition. We were there for the feast of the Apostles Peter and Paul (29th June). Thence we came to Tripoli, where we held our chapter on the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin (15th August); and the Provincial ordered me to teach in Acre, not allowing me to come to you, ordering me to send in writing, by the bearer (of the letter), what I wished to say.

William of Rubruck’s Message to the King of France

Once safely n the Christian realm of the Holy Land and the Mediterranean William of Rubruck wrote to the King of France: “Not daring to disregard my vow of obedience; I did as best I could and have written; and I beg grace from your great kindness for what is said either too much or too little, or injudiciously or foolishly, as it comes from a man with little ability, and not accustomed to composing such long stories. May the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your heart and mind. [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; /~]

“I would gladly see you and those particular friends I have in your kingdom; so if it displeases not Your Majesty, I would beg you to write to the Provincial that he allow me to come to you, to return after a little while to the Holy Land. You must know of the Turks that not one man out of ten (among them) is a Saracen ; nearly all are Hermenians (Armenians) and Greeks, and (the country) is governed by children. For the Soldan who was defeated by the Tartars (as I have related) had as a legitimate wife an Iberian woman, by whom he had one son, an invalid, who he ordered should be Soldan (after him). By a Greek concubine, whom he gave (later on) to a certain powerful emir, he had another; and he had yet another by a Turk; and a lot of Turks and Turkemans conspired with this one to kill the sons of the Christian (women). They arranged, as I was told, that when they had gained the victory they would destroy all the churches, and put to death all those who would not become Saracens (Muslims). He was, however, defeated, and many of his followers were killed. A second time he got together an army, and that time he was made prisoner, and is still kept in chains. The stepfather of the son by the Greek woman contrived for his stepson to be sultan since other son was an invalid, and they have sent him to the Tartars; and this has angered his relatives on the side of his mother, the Iberians and Georgians. So it is that a child governs in Turkic without a treasure, with few soldiers and many enemies. The son of Vastacius is delicate, and is at war with the son of Assan [=Tsar of Bulgaria], who likewise is a youth, and under the yoke of the Tartars; so if the army of the Church mere to come to the Holy Land, it would be very easy to conquer or to pass through all these countries. /~\

The King of Hungary has not at most thirty thousand soldiers. From Cologne to Constantinople is not over forty days in a cart. From Constantinople it is not so far as that to the country of the King of Hermenia. In times past valiant men passed through these countries, and succeeded, though they had most powerful adversaries, whom God has since removed from the earth. Nor should we (if the followed this road) be exposed to the dangers of the sea or to the mercies of the sailor men, and the price which would have to be given for a fleet would be enough for the expenses of the (whole) land journey. I state it with confidence, that if your peasants — I speak not of the princes and noblemen — would but travel like the Tartar princes, and be content with like provisions, they would conquer the whole world. /~\

“It seems to me inexpedient to send another friar to the Tartars, as I went, or as the preaching friars go; but if the Lord Pope, who is the head of all Christians, wishes to send with proper state a bishop, and reply to the foolishness they have already written three times to the Franks (once to Pope Innocent the Fourth of blessed memory [Dec. 7, 1254], and twice to you: once by David, who deceived you, and now by me), he would be able to tell them whatever he pleased, and also make them reply in writing. They listen to whatever an ambassador has to say, and always ask if he has more to say; but he must have a good interpreter — nay, several interpreters — abundant traveling funds, etc. /~\

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Asia for Educators, Columbia University University of Washington’s Visual Sourcebook of Chinese Civilization, /=\; National Palace Museum, Taipei; Library of Congress; New York Times; Washington Post; Los Angeles Times; China National Tourist Office (CNTO); Xinhua;; 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

This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been authorized by the copyright owner. Such material is made available in an effort to advance understanding of country or topic discussed in the article. This constitutes 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner. If you are the copyright owner and would like this content removed from, please contact me.