Volume 1, Chapter 8, Sections 6-10 -- The Travels of John de Plano Carpini and other Friars, sent about the year 1246, as ambassadors from Pope Innocent IV, to the great Khan of the Moguls or Tartars: *section index*


Volume 1, Chapter 8, Section 6 -- Of the Laws and Customs of the Tartars.

Men and women guilty of adultery, or even of fornication, are punished with death. Those detected in robbery or theft are likewise slain. If any one divulges their councils, especially with regard to an intended war, he receives an hundred blows on his buttocks with a great cudgel, as hard as a strong man can lay on. When any of the meaner sort commit offences, they are severely punished by their superiors. In marriage, they pay no attention to nearness of kindred, except their mothers, daughters, or sisters by the same mother; for they will even marry their sisters from other mothers, and their father's wives after his death. The younger brother also, or some other of the kindred, is bound to marry the wives of a deceased brother.

While I remained in the country, a Russian duke, named Andrew,[1] being accused before duke Baatu, of conveying Tartar horses out of the country and selling them to other nations, was put to death, although the fact was not proved against him. After this, the widow and younger brother of Andrew came to Baatu, supplicating that they might not be deprived of the dukedom, upon which Baatu commanded them to be married according to the Tartar custom; and though both refused, as contrary to the religion and laws of Russia, they were compelled to this incestuous union. After the death of their husbands, the Tartar widows seldom marry, unless when a man chooses to wed his brother's wife or his stepmother. They make no difference between the son of a wife or of a concubine, of which the following is a memorable example. The late king of Georgia left two sons, Melich and David, of whom the former was lawful, and the other born in adultery; but he left part of his dominions to his bastard. Melich appealed to the Tartar emperor for justice, and David went likewise to the court, carrying large gifts; and the emperor confirmed the will of their father, even appointing David to have the superior authority, because eldest born. When a Tartar has more than one wife, each has her own house and establishment, and the husband eats, drinks, and sleeps, sometimes with one and sometimes with another. One is considered as principal wife, and with her he resides oftener than with the others; and though they are sometimes numerous, they very seldom quarrel among themselves.

[1] In the previous account of the travels of Carpini, Hakl. I. 27. this Andrew is said to have been duke of Sarvogle, or Seirvogle, perhaps meaning Yeroslave.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 8, Section 7 -- Of their Superstitious Traditions.

In consequence of certain traditions, they consider many indifferent actions as criminal. One is, to thrust a knife into the fire, or any way to touch a fire with a knife, to take meat from the pot with a knife, or even to hew any thing with an axe near a fire; as they consider all these things as taking away the force of the fire. Another is, to lean upon a whip, for they use no spurs, or to touch arrows with their whip, to strike their horse with their bridle, to take or kill young birds, or to break one bone upon another. Likewise, to spill milk, or any drink, or food, on the ground, or to make water in a house; for the last offence, if intentional, a man is slain, or he must pay a heavy fine to the soothsayers to be purified; in which case, the house, and all that it contains, has to pass between two fires, before which ceremony no person must enter the house, nor must any thing be removed from it. If any one takes a bit of meat that he cannot swallow and spits it out, a hole is made in the floor of the house, through which he is dragged and put to death. If any one treads on the threshold of a house belonging to one of their dukes, he is put to death. Many such things they account high offences.

But to slay men, to invade the territories of others, to take away the goods of other people, and to act contrary to the commands of God, is no crime among them; and they know nothing of the life to come, or of eternal damnation. But they believe in a future life, in which they shall tend flocks, eat and drink, and do those very things which they do in this life. At new moon, or when the moon is full, they begin any new enterprise; they call the moon the great emperor, and they worship that luminary on their knees. All who dwell in their houses must undergo purification by fire, which is performed in this manner. Having kindled two fires at a convenient distance, they fix two spears in the earth, one near each fire, stretching a cord between the tops of these spears, and about the cord they hang some rags of buckram, under which cord, and between, which fires, all the men, and beasts, and houses must pass; and all the while, a woman stands on each side, sprinkling water on the passengers, and reciting certain verses. If any one is killed by lightning, all that dwell in the same house with the dead person must be thus purified; otherwise, the house, beds, carts, felts, garments, and every thing else would be abandoned as unclean. When any messengers, princes, or other persons arrive, they and their gifts must pass between two fires for purification, lest they should bring witchcraft, poison, or any other mischief.



Volume 1, Chapter 8, Section 8 -- Of the Beginning of their Empire.

The land of Mongolia was formerly divided among four different tribes or nations. One of these was the Yeka-Mongal, or the great Mongols. The second Su-Mongal, or the Water Mongols, who called themselves Tartars, from a river of that name in their territories. The third was named Merkat, and the fourth Metrit. All these tribes resembled each other in form, and complexion, and spoke the same language, though they were divided into distinct provinces, under separate princes. In the land of the Yeka-Mongal, lived one named Zingis, a great hunter, who used to rob and take much prey, going into the neighbouring districts, where he seized all that came in his way, and associated many under his command, till at length the people of his nation attached themselves to him, and followed him as their leader to do evil. After some time, Zingis went to war with the Su-Mongal or Tartars, slew their duke, and subjugated the nation; and he successively reduced the Merkats and Metrites to his growing dominion. The Naymani, to whom all the surrounding tribes then paid tribute, were much indignant at the elevation of Zingis; but their great emperor had lately died, leaving the authority divided among his sons, who were young and foolish, and knew not how to rule the people; yet they invaded the territories of the Mongals, slaying the inhabitants and carrying off much prey. On this Zingis collected the whole strength of his subjects, and the Naymani, united with the Cara-Cathayans, gathered a mighty army in a certain narrow valley to oppose him, in which a great battle was fought, and the Mongals obtained the victory, the confederates being mostly slain, and those who escaped were reduced to subjection. Zingis established his son Occoday, Ug dai, or Octai-Khan, in the land of the Kara-Kitayans, where he built a town called Omyl or Chamyl;[1] near which, and to the south, there is a vast desert, in which there are said to be certain wild men, who do not speak, and have no joints in their legs, yet have sufficient art to make felt of camels wool for garments, to protect them from the weather.

[1] Called Chamil or Hami in the maps, in lat. 43° N. and long. 92° E It stands in a province of the same name, on the north side of the great desert of Cobi, and to the N.E. of the land of the Kalmuks, or little Bucharia.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 8, Section 9 -- Of the Mutual Victories of the Mongals and Cathayans.

After their return from conquering the Naymani and Cara-Cathayans, the Mongals prepared to go to war with the Kythaos, or Cathayans,[1] but the Mongals were defeated in a great battle, and all their nobles were slain except seven. Zingis and the rest who had escaped from this defeat, soon afterwards attacked and conquered the people called Huyri,[2] who were Nestorian Christians, from whom they learned the art of writing. After this they conquered the land of Sarugur, and the country of the Karanites, and the land of Hudirat, and returning into their own country, took a short respite from war. Again assembling a great army, they invaded Cathay, and after a long struggle, they conquered the greater part of that country, and besieged the emperor in his greatest city. The siege lasted so long, that the army of the Mongals came to be in want of provisions, and Zingis is said to have commanded that every tenth man of his own army should be slain as food for the rest. At length, by great exertions, the Mongals dug a mine underneath the walls of the city, through which a party entered and opened the gates for the rest of the army, so that the city was carried, and the emperor and many of the citizens put to the sword. Having appointed deputies to rule over his conquests, Zingis returned into Mongalia with immense quantities of gold and silver and other precious spoil. But the southern parts of this empire, as it lies within the sea, has not been conquered by the Mongals to this day.[3]

The people of Cathay are Pagans, having a peculiar kind of writing of their own, in which they are reported to possess the scriptures of the Old and New Testament. They have also lives of the fathers, and houses in which they pray at stated times, built like churches; they are even said to have saints, to worship one God, to venerate the Lord Jesus Christ, and to believe eternal life; but they are not baptised.[4] They have no beards, and they partly resemble the Mongals in their features. Their country is exceeding fruitful in corn, and abounds in gold and silver, wine and silk, and all manner of rich commodities, and the whole world has not more expert artificers in all kinds of works and manufactures.

[1] The inhabitants of Northern China, then a separate kingdom from Mangi, or Southern China.--E.
[2] The Huirs or Uigurs.--E.
[3] This probably alludes to the difficulty experienced by the Mongals in forcing a passage across the great rivers Hoang-ho and Kian-ku--E.
[4] These absurd notions must have been picked up by the credulous papal messengers, from ignorant or designing Nestorians in Mongolia.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 8, Section 10 -- Of the Wars of the Mongals against the Greater and Lesser India.

When Zingis and his people had rested some time after their conquest of Cathay, he divided his army, and sent one of his sons, named Thosut-khan,[1] against the Comaniam, whom he vanquished in many battles, and then returned into his own country. Another of his sons was sent with an army against the Indians, who subdued the lesser India. These Indians are the Black Saracens, who are also named Ethiopians. From thence the Mongal army marched to fight against the Christians dwelling in the greater India, and the king of that country, known by the name of Prester John, came forth with his army against them. This prince caused a number of hollow copper figures to be made, resembling men, which were stuffed with combustibles, and set upon horses, each having a man behind on the horse, with a pair of bellows to stir up the fire. When approaching to give battle, these mounted images were first sent forwards against the enemy, and the men who rode behind set fire by some means to the combustibles, and blew strongly with their bellows; and the Mongal men and horses were burnt with wildfire, and the air was darkened with smoke. Then the Indians charged the Mongals, many of whom were wounded and slain, and they were expelled from the country in great confusion, and we have not heard that they ever ventured to return.[2]

[1] Probably Tuschi-Khan.--E.
[2] It is needless to remark upon the confused and ignorant geography, and the idle tale of a Christian empire in India in this section. The strangely ill-told story of the copper images, by which the Mongals were scorched with wild-fire, may refer to the actual employment either of cannon or rockets against the Mongals in this invasion.--E.


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