Volume 1, Chapter 9, Sections 16-20 -- Travels of William de Rubruquis into Tartary, about the year 1253: *section index*


Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 16 -- Of the Dominions and Subjects of Sartach.

The region beyond the Tanais is very beautiful, especially towards the north, where there are fine rivers and extensive forests. In these dwell two different nations. One of these, named the Moxel, are ignorant pagans, without any laws, who dwell in cottages among the woods, and have no cities. Their lord, and the greater part of the nation, were carried to the confines of Germany by the Tartars, and were there slain by the Germans, who are held in great estimation by the nations who are subject to the Tartars, as they hope, through their means, to be freed from the Tartar yoke. When a merchant comes among these people, the first person with whom he stops is obliged to provide him with all necessaries during his stay in the district; and they are so little jealous of their wives, that husbands pay little regard to their infidelity, unless directly under their eyes. These people have abundance of swine, honey, and wax, precious furs, and falcons. Beyond these dwell the Merdas[1] or Merdui, who are Saracens or Mahometans. Beyond them is the Etilia or Volga, the largest river I ever beheld, which comes out of the north, from the country of the Greater Bulgaria and runs southwards, into a vast lake of four months journey in circuit, of which I shall speak afterwards. In the northern region, by which we travelled, the Tanais and Volga are not above ten days journey asunder, but towards the south they are at a much farther distance; the Tanais falling into the Euxine, and the Volga into the before mentioned sea or lake, which likewise receives many rivers from Persia. In the course of our journey, we left to the south certain great mountains, on whose sides, towards the desert, dwell the Cergis and the Alani or Acas, who are Christians, and still carry on war with the Tartars. Beyond these, near the sea or lake of Etilia, or the Caspian, are certain Mahometans named Lesgis, who are subjected to the Tartars. Beyond these again are the Irongates, which were constructed by Alexander, to exclude the barbarians from Persia, of which I shall speak hereafter, as I passed that way in my return. In the country through which we travelled between these great rivers, the Comanians dwelt before it was occupied by the Tarters.

[1] In the English of Hakluyt and Harris, these people are called Merdas and Mardui.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 17 -- Of the Magnificence of the Court of Sartach.

We found Sartach encamped within three days journey of the river Volga or Etilia, and his court or horda appeared to us very large and magnificent; as he had six wives, and his eldest son three, and each of these ladies had a great house, like those already described, besides that each had several smaller houses, and 200 of the chest-carts already mentioned. Our guide went immediately to a certain Nestorian named Coiat, who has great influence at the court of Sartach; and this man carried us in the evening a considerable distance, to an officer called, in the Tartar language, the Lord's Gate, to whom belongs the duty of receiving messengers or ambassadors. Our guide inquired what we had ready to present to this person, and seemed much offended when he found we had nothing to offer. When we came into his presence, he sat majestically, having music and dancing performed before him. I then spoke to him the words formerly mentioned, giving an account of the cause of our mission, and requesting that he would bring us and our letters into the presence of his lord. I excused myself also, that as I was a monk, neither giving, receiving, or using any gold, silver, or other costly things, except our books, and the vestments in which we served God, that I could bring no present to him or his lord; and having abandoned my own goods, I could not transport such things for other men.

He courteously answered, that being a monk, I acted well in observing my vow: and that he stood in no need of any of our things, but on the contrary, was ready to give us what we might need. He then caused us to sit down and drink of his milk, and afterwards desired that we should recite a benediction for him, which we did. He inquired who was the greatest sovereign among the Francs? To which I answered the emperor, if he could enjoy his dominions in peace. "Not so, said he, but the king of France." For he had heard of your majesty from the Lord Baldwin of Hainault. I found also at this court, one of the Knight Templars, who had been at Cyprus, and had made a report of all that he had seen there concerning your majesty. We then returned to our lodgings, whence we sent a flaggon of our Muscadel wine, which had kept well during the journey, and a box of our biscuit to this officer, who received the present very graciously, and retained our servants all night in his dwelling.

In the morning he ordered us to come to court, and to bring the king's letters, and our books and vestments, along with us, as his lord desired to see these things. This we did accordingly, lading one cart with our books and vestments, and another with wine, biscuit, and fruits. Then he caused all our books and vestments to be spread out, and asked if we meant to bestow all these things upon his lord. A multitude of Tartars, Christians, and Mahometans were around us, on horseback, at this time, and I was sore grieved and afraid at this question; but dissembling as well as I could, I said, "That we humbly requested his lord and master to accept our bread, wine, and fruits, not as a present, for it was too mean, but as a benevolence, lest we should appear to come empty handed. That his lord would see the letters of the king my master, which would explain the reason of our journey; after which we, and all we had, would remain at his command: But that our vestments were holy, and were unlawful to be touched or used by any except priests."

We were then commanded to array ourselves in our sacred vestments, that we might appear in them before his lord. Then putting on our most precious ornaments, I took a rich cushion in my arms, together with the bible I had from your majesty, and the beautiful psalter, ornamented with fine paintings, which the queen bestowed upon me. My companion carried the missal and a crucifix; and the clerk, clothed in his surplice, carried a censer in his hand. In this order we presented ourselves, and the felt hanging before the lords door being withdrawn, we appeared, in his presence. Then the clerk and interpreter were ordered to make three genuflexions, from which humiliation we were exempted; and they admonished us to be exceedingly careful, in going in and out of the lords dwelling, not to touch the threshold of his door, and we were desired to sing a benediction or prayer for their lord; and we accordingly entered in singing the salve regina.

Immediately within the door there stood a bench planted with cosmos and drinking cups. All Sartach's wives were assembled in the house; and the Moals, or rich Tartars, pressing in along with us, incommoded us exceedingly. Then Coiat carried the censer with incense to Sartach, who took it in his hand, examining it narrowly. He next carried him the psalter, which he and the wife who sat next him minutely inspected. After which the bible was carried to him, on which he asked if it contained our Gospel? To which I answered, that it contained that, and all our other Holy Scriptures. I next delivered to him your majestys letter, with its translation into the Arabian and Syriac languages, which I had procured to be done at Acon;[1] and there happened to be present certain Armenian priests, who were skilful in the Turkish and Arabian languages, and likewise the before-mentioned templar had knowledge of both these and the Syriac. We then went out of the house and put off our vestments, and we were followed by Coiat, accompanied by certain scribes, by whom our letters were interpreted; and when Sartach had heard these read, he graciously accepted our bread, wine, and fruits, and permitted us to carry our books and vestments to our own lodgings. All this happened on the festival of St Peter ad Vincula.

[1] Now called St Jean d'Acre.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 18 -- They are ordered to proceed to Baatu, the Father of Sartach.

Next morning early a certain priest, who was the brother of Coiat, came to our lodging, and desired to have our box of chrism to carry, as he said, to Sartach. About evening Coat sent for us, and said that the king our master had written acceptably to his lord and master Sartach; but there were certain difficult matters, respecting which he did not dare to determine without the orders and advice of his father, and that it was, therefore, necessary that we should go to his father, leaving the two carts behind us in which we brought the books and vestments, because his lord was desirous to examine these things more carefully. Suspecting the evil that might arise from this man's covetousness, I immediately said that we would not only leave these carts, but the other two also under his custody. You shall not, said he, leave these two carts behind, but as for the other two, we will satisfy your desire. But I insisted upon leaving them all. He then desired to know whether we intended to remain in the country? To which I answered, that if he had thoroughly understood the letters of my lord and master, he would have seen that we were so inclined. And he then exhorted us to demean ourselves with patience, and humility; after which we parted for that evening.

Next day Coiat sent a Nestorian priest for the carts, to whom we caused all the four to be delivered. After whom the brother of Coiat came to our lodging, and took possession of all the books and vestments which we had shewn the day before at the court; although we remonstrated against this procedure, saying that Coiat had ordered us to carry those things along with us, that we might appear in them before Baatu; but he took them from us by violence, saying, "you brought all these things to Sartach, and would you carry them to Baatu?" And when I would have reasoned with him against this conduct, he desired me not to be too talkative, but to go my way. There was no remedy but patience, as we could not have access to Sartach, and we could not expect to procure justice from any other person. I was even afraid to employ our interpreter on this occasion, lest he might have represented matters in a quite different sense from what I should direct, as he seemed much inclined for us to give away all we had. My only comfort was, that I had secretly removed the bible and some other books, on which I set a great store, when I first discovered their covetous intentions; but I did not venture to abstract the psalter, because it was so particularly distinguished by its beautifully gilded illuminations. When the person came who was appointed to be our guide to the court of Baatu, I represented to him the necessity of leaving our other carts behind, as we were to travel post; and on this being reported to Coiat, he consented to take charge of these, and of our servant. Before leaving the residence of Sartach, Coiat and other scribes desired that we should by no means represent their lord to Baatu as a Christian, but as a Moal: for though they believe some things concerning Christ, they are very unwilling to be called Christians, which they consider as a national appellation; and they look upon their own name of Moal as worthy to be exalted above all others. Neither do they allow themselves to be called Tartars: as that is the name of another nation, according to the information I received at this place. Leaving the station of Sartach, we travelled directly eastwards for three days, on the last of which we came to the Etilia or Volga, and I wondered much from what regions of the north such mighty streams should descend.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 19 -- Of the Reverence shewn by Sartach, Mangu-khan, and Ken-chan, to the Christians.

At the time when the Francs took Antioch from the Saracens,[1] a prince named Con-can, or Khen-khan, held dominion over all the northern regions of Tartary. Con is a proper name, and can or khan is a title of dignity, signifying a diviner or soothsayer, and is applied to all princes in these countries, because the government of the people belongs to them through divination. To this prince the Turks of Antioch sent for assistance against the Francs, as the whole nation of the Turks came originally from the regions of Tartary. Con-khan was of the nation called Kara-Catay, or the black Catay; which is used to distinguish them from the other nation of Catayans, who inhabit to the eastwards upon the ocean, of whom I shall speak afterwards. These Kara-Catayans dwelt upon certain high mountains through which I travelled; and in a certain plain country within these mountains, there dwelt a Nestorian shepherd, who was supreme governor over the people called Yayman or Nayman, who were Christians of the Nestorian sect. After the death of Con-khan, this Nestorian prince exalted himself to the kingdom, and was called King John, or Prester John; of whom ten times more is reported than is true, according to the usual custom of the Nestorians, for they are apt to raise great stories on no foundations. Thus they gave out, that Sartach was a Christian, and they propagated similar stories of Mangu-khan, and even of Con-khan, merely because these princes shewed great respect to the Christians. The story of King John had no better foundation; for when I travelled through his territories, no one there knew any thing at all about him, except only a few Nestorians. In these regions likewise dwelt Con-khan, formerly mentioned, at whose court Friar Andrew once was; and I passed through that region in my return. This John had a brother, a powerful prince and a shepherd like himself, who was named Vut-khan, or Unc-khan, who dwelt beyond the mountains of Kara-Kitay, at the distance of three weeks journey from the residence of John. This Vut-khan was lord of a small village named Caracarum, and his subjects were called Crit or Merkit, being Christians of the Nestorian sect. But Vut-khan abandoned the Christian worship and followed idolatry, retaining priests to
his idols, who are all sorcerers and worshippers of the devils.

Ten or fifteen days journey beyond the territory of Vut-khan, lay the pastures of the Moal, a poor nation without laws or government, except that they were much given to sorcery and divinations; and near them was another poor nation called Tartars. On the death of John, the khan of the Cara-Kitayans, without male issue, his brother Vut succeeded to all his great riches, and got himself to be proclaimed khan. The flocks and herds of this Vut-khan pastured to the borders of the Moal, among whom was one Zingis, a blacksmith, who used to steal as many cattle as he possibly could from the flock of Vut-Khan. At length the hordes complained to their lord of the reiterated robberies which were committed by Zingis, and Vut-khan went with an army to seize him. But Zingis fled and hid himself among the Tartars, and the troops of Vut-khan returned to their own country, after having made considerable spoil both from the Moal and the Tartars. Then Zingis remonstrated with the Moal and Tartars, upon their want of a supreme ruler to defend them from the oppressions of their neighbours, and they were induced by his suggestions to appoint him to be their khan or ruler. Immediately after his elevation, Zingis gathered an army secretly together, and made a sudden invasion of the territories belonging to Vut, whom he defeated in battle, and forced to fly for refuge into Katay. During this invasion, one of the daughters of Vut was made prisoner, whom Zingis gave in marriage to one of his sons, and to whom she bore Mangu-khan, the presently reigning great khan of the Moal and Tartars. In all his subsequent wars, Zingis used continually to send the Tartars before him in the van of his army: by which means their name came to be spread abroad in the world, as, wherever they made their appearance, the astonished people were in use to run away, crying out, the Tartars! the Tartars! In consequence of almost continual war, this nation of the Tartars is now almost utterly extirpated, yet the name remains; although the Moals use every effort to abolish that name and to exalt their own. The country where these Tartars formerly inhabited, and where the court of Zingis still remains, is now called Mancherule; and as this was the centre of all their conquests, they still esteem it as their royal residence, and there the great khan is for the most part elected.

[1] About the year 1097.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 20 -- Of the Russians, Hungarians, Alanians, and of the Caspian.

I know not whether Sartach really believes in Christ, but am certain that he refuses to be called a Christian, and I rather think that he scoffs at Christianity. His residence lies in the way through which the Russians, Walachians, Bulgarians of the lesser Bulgaria, the Soldaians, or Christians of Casaria, the Kerkis, Alanians, and other Christians have to pass in their way with gifts or tribute to the court of his father Baatu-khan; and by this means Sartach is more connected with the Christians than any of the rest, yet when the Saracens or Mahometans bring their gifts, they are sooner dispatched. Sartach has always about him some Nestorian priests, who count their beads and sing their devotions.

There is another commander under Baatu-khan, called Berta or Berca, who pastures his flocks towards the Iron-gate, or Derbent, through which lies the passage of all the Saracens or Mahometans who come from Persia and Turkey, to pay their gifts and tributes to Baatu, and who make presents to Berta in their way. This person professes himself to be of the Mahometan faith, and will not permit swines flesh to be eaten in his dominions. But it appearing to Baatu, that his affairs suffered detriment by this intercourse with the Mahometans, we learnt on our return, that he had commanded Berta to remove from the Iron-gate to the east side of the Volga.

For the space of four days which we spent in the court of Sartach, we had no victuals allowed us, except once a little cosmos; and during our journey to the residence of his father Baatu, we travelled in great fear, on account of certain Russian, Hungarian, and Alanian servants of the Tartars, who often assemble secretly in the night, in troops of twenty or thirty together, and being armed with bows and arrows, murder and rob whoever they meet with, hiding themselves during the day. These men are always on horseback, and when their horses tire, they steal others from the ordinary pastures of the Tartars, and each man has generally one or two spare horses to serve as food in case of need. Our guide therefore was in great fear lest we might fall in with some of these stragglers. Besides this danger, we must have perished during this journey, if we had not fortunately carried some of our biscuit along with us. We at length reached the great river Etilia or Volga, which is four times the size of the Seine, and of great depth. This river rises in the north of Greater Bulgaria, and discharges itself into the Hircanian Sea, called the Caspian by Isidore, having the Caspian mountains and the land of Persia on the south, the mountains of Musihet, or of the Assassins on the east, which join the Caspian mountains, and on the north is the great desert now occupied by the Tartars, where formerly there dwelt certain people called Canglae, or Cangitae, and on that side it receives the Etilia, or Volga, which overflows in summer like the Nile in Egypt. On the west side of this sea are the mountains of the Alani and Lesgis, the Iron-gate or Derbent, and the mountains of Georgia. This sea, therefore, is environed on three sides by mountains, but by plain ground on the north. Friar Andrew, in his journey, travelled along its south and east sides; and I passed its north side both in going and returning between Baatu and Mangu-khan, and along its western side in my way from Baatu into Syria. One may travel entirely round it in four months; and it is by no means true, as reported by Isidore, that it is a bay of the ocean, with which it nowhere joins, but is environed on all sides by the land.

At the region from the west shore of the Caspian, where the Iron-gate of Alexander is situated, now called Derbent, and from the mountains of the Alani, and along the Palus Moeotis, or sea of Azoph, into which the Tanais falls, to the northern ocean, was anciently called Albania; in which Isidore says, that there were dogs of such strength and fierceness, as to fight with bulls, and even to overcome lions, which I have been assured by several persons to be true; and even, that towards the northern ocean, they have dogs of such size and strength, that the inhabitants make them draw carts like oxen.[1]

[1] It is astonishing how easily a small exaggeration converts truth to fable. Here the ill-told story of the light sledges of the Tshutki, drawn by dogs of a very ordinary size, is innocently magnified into carts dragged by gigantic mastiffs.--E.


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