Volume 1, Chapter 9, Sections 11-15 -- Travels of William de Rubruquis into Tartary, about the year 1253: *section index*


Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 11 -- Of our first Entering among the Tartars, and of their Ingratitude.

When we first entered among these Tartars, after having made us wait for them a long time, under the shade of certain black carts, a considerable number of them on horseback surrounded us. Their first question was, whether we had ever before been among them; and being answered in the negative, they began impudently to beg some of our victuals; and we gave them some of the biscuits and wine, which we had brought with us from Constantinople. Having drank one flaggon of our wine they demanded more, saying, that a man does not enter a house with one foot only. But we excused ourselves, as not being well provided. They next inquired, whence we came, and whither we were going? To this I answered, that hearing Sartach was become a Christian, we wished to go to him, that we might present your majesty's letters to him. They then asked if we came of our own accord, or were sent upon this errand. To this I said, that no one had compelled me, and that I had come voluntarily, and by the desire of my superiors; being cautious not to say that I was the ambassador from your majesty. They then required to know if our carts contained gold and silver, or precious vestments, as presents for Sartach. To which I answered, that Sartach should see what we carried when we came to his presence, and that they had nothing to do with such questions, but ought to conduct me to their captain; that he, if he thought proper, might direct me to be carried to Sartach, otherwise I should return.

There then was in this province one Scacatai, or Zagathai, related to Baatu, to whom the emperor of Constantinople had written requisitorial letters, that I might be permitted to proceed on my journey. On being informed of this, they supplied us with horses and oxen, and appointed two men to conduct us on our journey, and those which we had brought with us from Soldaia returned. Yet they made us wait a long while, continually begging our bread to give to their children; and they admired and coveted every thing they saw about our servants, as their knives, gloves, purses, and points. But when we excused ourselves from their importunity, alleging that we had a long journey before us, and must not give away those things which were necessary for ourselves, they reviled me as a niggard; and though they took nothing by force, they were exceedingly impudent, and importunate in begging, to have every thing they saw. If a man gives them any thing, it may be considered as thrown away, for they have no gratitude; and as they look upon themselves as the lords of the world, they think that nothing should be refused to them by any one; yet, if one gives them nothing, and afterwards stands in need of their assistance, they will not help him. They gave us some of their butter milk, called Apram, which is extremely sour.

After this we left them, thinking that we had escaped out of the hands of the demons, and the next day we arrived at the quarters of their captain. From the time when we left Soldaia, till we got to Sartach, which took us two months, we never lay under a house or a tent, but always in the open air, or under our carts; neither did we see any town, or the vestiges of any buildings where a village had been; though we saw vast numbers of the tombs of the Comanians. On the same evening, our conductor gave us some cosmos, which was very pleasant to drink, but not having been accustomed to that liquor, it occasioned me to sweat most profusely.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 12 -- Of the Court of Zagathai, and how the Christians drink no Cosmos.

Next morning, we met the carts of Zagathai, laden with houses, and I thought that a great city was travelling towards us. I was astonished at the prodigious droves of oxen and horses, and the immense flocks of sheep, though I saw very few men to guide them; which made me inquire how many men he had under his command, and I was told he had not above 500 in all, half of whom we had already passed at another station. Then the servant who conducted us, informed me that it was requisite for us to make a present to Zagathai, and desired us to stop while he went forwards, to announce our arrival. It was then past three o'clock, and the Tartars unladed their houses near a certain water. After this, the interpreter of Zagathai came to us, and learning that we had not been before among them, he demanded some of our victuals, which we gave him; he also required to have some garments, as a reward for his trouble in interpreting for us to his master; but we excused ourselves on account of our poverty. He then asked us what we intended to present to his lord, when we shewed him a flaggon of wine, and filled a basket with biscuit, and a platter with apples and other fruits; but he was not satisfied, as we had not bought him some rich stuffs.

However, we entered into the presence of Zagathai with fear and bashfulness; he was sitting on a bed, having a small citern or lute in his hand, and his wife sat beside him, who, I really believe, had amputated her nose, between the eyes, that it might be the flatter, for she had no nose in that part of her face, which was smeared over with black ointment, as were also her eyebrows, which seemed very filthy in our eyes. I then repeated to him the exact same words which I had used before, respecting the object of our journey, as we had been admonished by some who had been among them formerly, never to vary in our words. I requested that he would deign to accept our small gift; for, being monks, it was contrary to the rules of our order to possess gold or silver or rich garments; on which account, we had no such things to offer, and hoped he would accept some portion of our victuals as a blessing. He received those things, and immediately distributed them among his men, who were met in his house to drink. I likewise presented to him the letters from the emperor of Constantinople. He then sent these to Soldaia to be translated, because, being in Greek, there was no person about him who understood that language.

He asked if we would drink cosmos? For the Russian, Greek, and Alanian Christians, who happen to, be among the Tartars, and conform strictly to their own laws, do not drink that liquor, and even think they are not Christians who do so; and their priests, after such conduct, formally reconcile them again to the church, as if they had thereby renounced the Christian faith. I answered that we had still a sufficiency of our own drink, but when that was done, we should be under the necessity of using what might be given us. He next asked us, what the letters contained which we carried to Sartach? I answered that these were sealed, and contained only the words of friendship and good will. He asked what I meant to say to Sartach? To this I answered, that I should speak to him the words of the Christian faith. He asked what these were, as he would willingly hear them? I then expounded to him the apostles creed, as well as I was able, by means of our interpreter, who was by no means clever or eloquent. On hearing this he shook his head, but made no reply. He then appointed oxen and horses for our use, and two men to attend upon us; but he desired us to abide with him, until the messenger should return with the translation of the emperors letters from Soldaia. We arrived at the horde of Zagathai, in the Ascension week, and we remained with him until the day after Pentecost, or Whitsun Tuesday, being ten days in all.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 13 -- How some Alanians visited them on the Eve of Pentecost.

On the eve of Pentecost or Whitsunday, there came to us certain Alanians, called there Acias or Akas, who are Christians after the Greek form, using Greek books, and having Grecian priests, but they are not schismatics like the Greeks as they honour all Christians without exception. These men brought us some sodden flesh, which they offered us to eat, and requested us to pray for one of their company who had died. But I explained to them the solemnity of the festival, and that we could eat no flesh at this time. They were much pleased with our exposition, as they were ignorant of every thing relative to the Christian rites, the name of Christ alone excepted. They and many other Christians, both Russians and Hungarians, demanded of us if they might be saved, having been constrained to drink cosmos, and to eat the flesh of animals that had been slain by the Saracens and other infidels; which the Greek and Russian priests consider as things strangled or offered to idols. They were likewise ignorant of the times of fasting, neither could they have observed these in this region, even if they had known their times and seasons. I then instructed them as well as I could, and strengthened them in the faith. We reserved the flesh which they had brought us until the feast day, for there was nothing to be bought among the Tartars for gold and silver, but only for cloth and garments, which we had not to dispose of. When our servants offered any of the coin which they call yperpera,[1] they rubbed it with their fingers, and smelt it, to see whether it were copper. All the food they supplied us with was sour, and filthy cows milk; and the water was so foul and muddy, by reason of their numerous horses, that we could not drink it. If it had not been for the grace of God, and the biscuit we brought with us, we had surely perished.

[1] Or hyperpyron, a coin said to be of the value of two German dollars, or six and eightpence Sterling.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 14 -- Of a Saracen who desired to be Baptized, and of men who seemed Lepers.

Upon the day of Pentecost, a Saracen came to visit us, to whom we explained the articles of the Christian faith; particularly the salvation of sinners, through the incarnation of Jesus, the resurrection of the dead, and judgment to come, and how through baptism all sin was washed out. He seemed much affected with these doctrines, and even expressed a desire to be baptized; but when we were preparing for that ceremony, he suddenly mounted on horseback, saying that he must first consult his wife; and he returned next day, declining to receive baptism, because he would not then be allowed to drink cosmos, without which, he could not live in that country. From this opinion, I could not move him by any arguments; so that these people are much estranged from becoming Christians, by the assertion of that opinion by the Russians, and other Christians, who come among them in great numbers.

On the same day, which was the morrow of the feast of Pentecost, Zagathai gave us one man to conduct us to Sartach, and two others to guide us to the next station, which was at the distance of five days journey for our oxen. We were presented also with a goat to serve us as food, and a great many skin bags of cows milk, but they gave us very little cosmos, as that liquor is in great estimation among themselves.

From the station of Zagathai we travelled directly north, and our attendants began to pilfer largely from us, because we took too little heed of our property, but experience at length taught us wisdom. At length we reached the bounds of this province, which is fortified by a deep ditch, from sea to sea.[1] Immediately beyond this ditch, we came to the station to which our conductors belonged, where all the inhabitants seemed to be infected with leprosy; and certain base people are placed here to receive the tribute from all who come for salt from the salt pits formerly mentioned. We were told that we should have to travel fifteen days farther before meeting with any other inhabitants. With these people we drank cosmos, and we presented them in return with a basket of fruits and biscuit; and they gave us eight oxen and a goat, and a vast number of bladders full of milk, to serve as provision during our long journey. But by changing our oxen, we were enabled in ten days to attain the next station, and through the whole way we only found water in some ditches, dug on purpose, in the vallies, and in two small rivers. From leaving the province of Casaria, we traveled directly eastwards, having the sea of Azoph on our right hand, and a vast desert on the north, which, in some places, is twenty days journey in breadth, without mountain, tree, or even stone; but it is all excellent pasture. In this waste the Comani, called Capchat,[2] used to feed their cattle. The Germans called these people Valani, and the province Valania; but Isidore terms the whole country, from the Tanais, along the Paulus Maeotis, Alania. This great extent would require a journey of two months, from one end to the other, even if a man were to travel post as fast as the Tartars usually ride, and was entirely inhabited by the Capchat Comanians; who likewise possessed the country between the Tanais, which divides Europe from Asia, and the river Edil or Volga, which is a long ten days journey. To the north of this province of Comania Russia is situated, which is all over full of wood, and reaches from the north of Poland and Hungary, all the way to the Tanais or Don. This country has been all wasted by the Tartars, and is even yet often plundered by them.

The Tartars prefer the Saracens to the Russians, because the latter are Christians: and when the Russians are unable to satisfy their demands for gold and silver, they drive them and their children in multitudes into the desert, where they constrain them to tend their flocks and herds. Beyond Russia is the country of Prussia, which the Teutonic knights have lately subdued, and they might easily win Russia likewise, if they so inclined; for if the Tartars were to learn that the sovereign Pontiff had proclaimed a crusade against them, they would all flee into their solitudes.

[1] From this circumstance it is obvious, that the journey had been hitherto confined to Casaria, or the Crimea, and that he had now reached the lines or isthmus of Precop.--E.
[2] In the English translation of Hakluyt, this word is changed to Capthak, and in the collection of Harris to Capthai; it is probably the Kiptschak of the Russians.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 15 -- Of our Distresses, and of the Comanian funerals.

In our journey eastwards we saw nothing but the earth and sky, having sometimes the sea of Tanais within sight on our right hand, and sometimes we saw the sepulchres in which the Comanians used to bury their dead, at the distance of a league or two from the line of our journey. So long as we travelled in the desert, matters were tolerably well with us, but I cannot sufficiently express the irksome and tedious plagues and troubles we had to encounter in the dwellings of the Tartars; for our guide insisted upon us making presents to every one of the Tartar captains, which we were utterly unable to afford, and we were eight persons in all, continually using our provisions, as the three Tartars who accompanied us insisted that we should feed them; and the flesh which had been given us was by no means sufficient, and we could not get any to buy. While we sat under the shadow of our carts to shelter us from the extreme heat of the sun, they would intrude into our company, and even tread upon us, that they might see what we had; and when they had to ease nature, would hardly withdraw a few yards distance, shamelessly talking to us the whole lime. What distressed me most of all, was when I wished to address them upon religious subjects, my foolish interpreter used to say, "You shall not make me a preacher, and I neither will nor can rehearse these words." Nay, after I began to acquire some little knowledge of their language, I found, when I spoke one thing, he would say quite differently, whatever chanced to come uppermost in his senseless mind. Thus, seeing the danger I might incur in speaking by so faithless an interpreter, I resolved rather to be silent.

We thus journeyed on from station to station, till at length a few days before the festival of Mary Magdalen, 22d July, we arrived on the banks of the mighty river Tanais or Don, which divides Europe from Asia. At this place Baatu and Sartach had established a station of Russians on the eastern bank of the river, on purpose to transport merchants and messengers across. They ferried us over in the first place, and then our carts; and their boats were so small that they were obliged to use two boats tied together for one cart, putting a wheel into each. In this place our guides acted most foolishly; for believing that the Russians would provide us with horses and oxen, they sent back those we had from the western side of the river, to their masters. But when relays were demanded from the Russians, they alleged that they had a privilege from Baatu, exempting them from all services except those belonging to the ferry, and for which they were even accustomed to receive considerable rewards from such merchants as passed that way. We were, therefore, constrained to remain three days in this place. The first day they gave us a large fresh fish.[1] The second day the magistrate of the village gathered from every house for us, and presented us with rye-bread and some flesh. And the third day they gave us dried fish, of which they have great abundance.

The river Tanais, at this place, is as broad as the Seine at Paris; and before arriving on its banks, we had passed many goodly waters full of fish: but the rude Tartars know not now to catch them, neither do they hold fish in any estimation, unless large enough to feed a company. This river is the eastern limit of Russia, and arises from certain marshes which extend to the northern ocean; and it discharges itself in the south, into a large sea of 700 miles extent, before falling into the Euxine; and all the rivers we had passed ran with a full stream in the same direction. Beyond this place the Tartars advance no farther to the north, and they were now, about the first of August, beginning to return into the south; and they have another village somewhat lower down the river, where passengers are ferried over in winter. At this time the people were reaping their rye. Wheat does not succeed in their soil, but they have abundance of millet. The Russian women attire their heads like those in our country; and they ornament their gowns with furs of different kinds, from about the knees downwards. The men wear a dress like the Germans, having high crowned conical hats made of felt, like sugar loaves, with sharp points.

At length, after representing that our journey was intended for the common benefit of all Christians, they provided us with oxen and men to proceed upon our journey; but as we got no horses, we were ourselves under the necessity of travelling on foot. In this manner we journied for three days, without meeting any people; and when both our oxen and ourselves were weary and faint with fatigue, two horses came running towards us, to our great joy: Our guide and interpreter mounted upon these, and set out to see if they could fall in with any inhabitants. At length, on the fourth day, having found some people, we rejoiced like seafaring men, who had escaped from a tempest into a safe harbour. Then getting fresh horses and oxen, we passed on from station to station, till we at length reached the habitation of duke Sartach on the second of the kalends of August.[2]

[1] In the Latin this fish is named Barbatus, which both Hakluyt and Harris have translated Turbot, a fish never found in rivers. It was more probably a Barbel, in Latin called Barbus; or it might be of the Sturgeon tribe, which likewise has beard-like appendages, and is found in the Don.--E.
[2] This, according to the Roman method of reckoning, ought to be the last day of July. Yet Rubruquis had previously mentioned the 1st of August a considerable time before.--E.


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