The Mongol Era brought about the first instances of direct
contact between Europe and Mongol-ruled China.
The Mongol attacks on Hungary and Poland in 1241 had alerted
the Europeans to the power of the Mongols and so frightened
them that, in 1245, the Pope in Rome called an Ecumenical
Council to deliberate on a response to the Mongols. Two Franciscan
missionaries were eventually dispatched to the East.
The first, who left Europe in 1245, was John of Plano
Carpini, and the second was William of Rubruck,
who traveled through the Mongol domains during 1253-1255.
Both sought to achieve a kind of rapprochement with the Mongols,
attempting to deter them from further attacks and invasions
on Europe, as well as seeking to convert them to Christianity.
The Europeans had received information that the Mongols had
a leader, named "Prester John," who had converted
to Christianity. They also assumed that many of the Mongols
already were Christians. In fact, some Mongol women, including
Chinggis Khan's own mother, had converted to a heretical form
of Christianity known as Nestorian Christianity. The Nestorian
sect had been banned from Europe from around the 5th Century
C.E., but had first spread to West Asia and then reached all
the way to East Asia. But the idea that the Mongols could
be converted to Christianity was an illusion at best.
Nonetheless, John of Plano Carpini and William of Rubruck
were greeted cordially at the Mongol courts. Though they succeeded
in neither their religious nor diplomatic missions, they were
able to bring back the
first accurate accounts of the Mongols.