Volume 1, Chapter 9, Sections 6-10 -- Travels of William de Rubruquis into Tartary, about the year 1253: *section index*


Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 21 -- Of the Court of Baatu, and our Entertainment there.

On that part of the Volga where we arrived, they have lately built a new village, in which there is a mixed population of Russians and Tartars, established for the service of the ferry, that they may transport messengers going to and from the court of Baatu, as he always remains on the east side of the Volga. Neither does he ever travel any farther north, in summer, than to the place where we arrived on that river, and was even then descending towards the south. From January till August, he and all the other Tartars ascend by the banks of rivers towards the cold regions of the north, and in August they begin again to return. From the place where we came to the Volga, is a journey of five days northward to the first villages of the Greater Bulgaria, and I am astonished to think how the Mahometan religion should have travelled thither; as from Derbent, on the extreme borders of Persia, it is thirty days journey to pass the desert and ascend along the Volga into Bulgaria, and in the whole track there are no towns, and only a few villages where the Volga falls into the Caspian; yet these Bulgarians[1] are the most bigotedly attached to the religion of Mahomet, of any of the nations that have been perverted to that diabolical superstition.

The court of Baatu having already gone towards the south, we passed down the stream of the Volga in a bark from the before mentioned village, to where his court then was; and we were astonished at the magnificent appearance of his encampment, as his houses and tents were so numerous, as to appear like some large city, stretching out to a vast length; and there were great  numbers of people ranging about the country, to three or four leagues all around. Even as the children of Israel knew every one on which side of the Tabernacle to pitch his tent, so every Tartar knows on to what side of the court of his prince he ought to place his house, when he unlades it from his cart. The princes court is called in their language Horda, which signifies the middle, because the chieftain or ruler always dwells in the midst of his people; only that no subject or inferior person must place his dwelling towards the south, as the court gates are always open to that quarter. But they extend themselves to the right and left, according as they find it convenient. On our arrival we were conducted to a Mahometan, who did not provide us with any provisions; and we were brought next day to the court, where Baatu had caused a large tent to be erected, as his house was two small to contain the multitude of men and women who were assembled at this place.

We were admonished by our guide, not to speak until we should receive orders from Baatu to that purpose, and that then we should be brief in our discourse. Baatu asked if your majesty had sent us as ambassadors to him? I answered, that your majesty had formerly sent ambassadors to Ken-khan; and would not have sent any on the present occasion, or any letters to Sartach, had it not been that you had been advised they were become Christians; on which account only I had been sent in congratulation and not through any fear. We were then led into the pavilion, being strictly charged not to touch any of the tent ropes, which they consider as equivalent to the threshold of a house, which must not be touched. We entered the tent barefooted and with our heads uncovered, forming a strange spectacle in their eyes; for though Friar John de Plano Carpini had been there before me, yet being a messenger from the Pope, he had changed his habit that he might not be despised. We were brought forward into the middle of the tent, without being required to bow the knee, as is the case with other messengers. Baatu was seated upon a long broad couch like a bed, all over gilt, and raised three steps from the ground, having one of his ladies beside him. The men of note were all assembled in the tent, and were seated about in a scattered manner, some on the right and some on the left hand; and those places which were not filled up by Baatu's wives, were occupied by some of the men. At the entrance of the tent there stood a bench well furnished with cosmos, and with many superb cups of gold and silver, richly set with precious stones. Baatu surveyed us earnestly for some time, and we him; he was of a fresh ruddy colour, and in my opinion had a strong resemblance to the late Lord John de Beaumont.

After standing in the midst of the tent for so long as one might have rehearsed the Miserere, during which an universal silence prevailed, we were commanded to speak, and our guide directed us to bow our knees before we spoke. On this I bowed one knee as to a man; but he desired me to kneel on both knees, and being unwilling to contend about such ceremonies, I complied; and being again commanded to speak, I bethought me of prayer to God on account of my posture, and began in the following manner: "Sir, we beseech God, the giver of all good, who hath bestowed upon you these earthly benefits, that he would grant you hereafter the blessings of Heaven, seeing that the former are vain without the latter. Be it known to you therefore, of a certainty, that you cannot attain to the joys of heaven unless you become a Christian; for God hath said, whosoever believeth and is baptized shall be saved, but he that believeth not shall be condemned." At this he modestly smiled, but the other Moals clapped their hands in derision; and my interpreter, who ought to have comforted me, was quite abashed.

After silence was restored, I proceeded thus: "Having heard that your son was become a Christian, I came to him with letters from my master the king of the Francs, and your son sent me hither; for what reason it behoves you to know." He then desired me to rise, and inquired the name of your majesty, and my name, and the names of my companion and interpreter, all of which he caused to be set down in writing. After which, he asked who it was that your majesty made war against, as he had heard that you had departed from your own country with an army. To which I answered, that you warred against the Saracens, because they had violated the house of God at Jerusalem. He then asked if your majesty had ever before sent ambassadors to him. And I said never to him. He then desired us to be seated, and gave us to drink; and it is accounted a great favour when any one is admitted to drink cosmos in his house. While I sat looking down upon the ground, he desired me to look up; either wishing to observe me more distinctly, or out of some superstitious fancy: for these people look upon it as a sign of ill-fortune, when any one sits in their presence holding down his head in a melancholy posture, and more especially when he leans his cheek or chin upon his hand.

We then departed from the tent of audience, and immediately afterwards our guide came and told us, that, as our king had desired that we might remain in this country, Baatu could not consent to this without the knowledge and authority of Mangu-khan; and it was necessary, therefore, that I should go with the interpreter to Mangu, while my companion and the clerk should return to the court of Sartach, and remain there till my return. On this the interpreter began to lament himself as a dead man; and my companion declared, that rather as separate from me, he would allow them to take off his head. I added, that I could not possibly go without my interpreter, and that we should need two servants, that we might be sure of one in case of the other being sick. Upon this the guide returned into the presence and reported to Baatu what we had said, who now gave orders that the two priests and the interpreter should go forwards to Mangu, but that the clerk must immediately return to Sartach; and with this answer the guide came to us. When I now endeavoured to plead for the company of our clerk, he desired me to be silent; for as Baatu had already given the orders, they must be obeyed, and he dared not go again into the court. Goset, our clerk, still had twenty-six yperperas remaining of the alms we had formerly received, ten of which he retained for himself and the servant, and gave us the remaining sixteen. We then sorrowfully parted, the clerk returning to the court of Sartach, while we remained following the court of Baatu. On Assumption eve, 14th August, our clerk arrived at the court of Sartach, and the next day the Nestorian priests were seen adorned in the vestments of which they had deprived us.

[1] The Greater Bulgaria of our author seems to comprehend the provinces of Astracan and Casan in Russia.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 22 -- The Journey to the Court of Mangu-khan.

From the audience we were conducted to the dwelling of a person who was ordered to provide us in lodging, food, and horses; but as we had no presents to give, he treated us with great neglect. We travelled along with Baatu, down the banks of the Volga for five weeks, and were often so much in want of provisions, that my companion was sometimes so extremely hungry as even to weep. For though there is always a fair or market following the court, it was so far from us, that we, who were forced to travel on foot, were unable to reach it. At length, some Hungarians, who had for some time been looked upon as priests, found out, and relieved our distresses. One of these was able to sing with a loud voice, and being considered by his countrymen as a kind of priest, was employed at their funerals; the other had been decently instructed in the Latin grammar, so that he understood whatever we spoke to him deliberately, but was unable to make answer. These men were a great consolation to us, as they supplied us with flesh and cosmos. They requested some books from us, and it grieved me much that we could not comply, having only one bible and a breviary. But I made them bring some ink and paper, and I copied out for them the Hours of the blessed Virgin, and the Office for the Dead. It happened one day that a Comanian passing by saluted us in Latin, saying Salvete domini. Surprized at this unusual salutation, I questioned him how he had learnt it, and he told me he had been baptized in Hungary by our priests, who had taught him. He said, likewise, that Baatu had inquired many things at him respecting us, and that he had given him an account of the nature and rules of our order. I afterwards saw Baatu riding with his company, who were the whole of his subjects that were householders or masters of families, and in my estimation they did not exceed 500 men.[1]

At length, about the Holyrood, 14th September, or festival of the exaltation of the Holy Cross, there came to us a certain rich Moal, whose father was a millenary or captain of a thousand horse, who informed us that he had been appointed to conduct us. He informed us that the journey would take us four months, and that the cold was so extreme in winter, as even to tear asunder trees and stones with its force. "Advise well with yourselves, therefore," said he, "whether you be able to endure it, for otherwise I shall forsake you by the way." To this I answered, that I hoped we should be able, with the help of God, to endure hardships like other men; but as we were sent by his lord under his charge, and did not go on any business of our own, he ought not to forsake us. He then said that all should be well, and having examined our garments, he directed us what we should leave behind in the custody of our host, as not useful for the journey; and next day he sent each of us a furred gown, made of sheep skins, with the wool on, and breeches of the same, likewise shoes or footsocks made of felt, and boots of their fashion, and hoods of skins. The second day after the holy cross day, 16th September, we began our journey, attended by three guides, and we rode continually eastwards during forty-six days, till the feast of All-Saints, 1st November. The whole of that region, and even beyond it, is inhabited by the people named Changle or Kangittae, who are descended from the Romans. Upon the north side we had the country of the Greater Bulgaria, and to the south the Caspian sea.

[1] This, however, is only to be understood of what may be termed the pretorian or royal horde, in a time of profound peace, travelling in their usual and perpetual round in quest of forage; the almost boundless space of the desert must have been interspersed with numerous subordinate hordes, and though the usual guard of Baatu might not have exceeded 500 heads of families, the military force of his dominions, though subordinate to Mangu-khan, certainly exceeded 200,000 fighting men.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 23 -- Of the River Jaic or Ural, and of sundry Regions and Nations.

At the end of twelve days journey from the Etilia or Volga, we came to a great river named the Jagag (Jaic or Ural); which, issuing from the land of Pascatir (of Zibier or of the Baschirs, now Siberia), falls into the Caspian. The language of the Baschirs and of the Hungarians is the same, and they are all shepherds, having no cities; and their land is bounded on the west by the Greater Bulgaria; from which country eastwards, in these northern parts, there are no cities whatsoever, so that the Greater Bulgaria is the last country which possesses towns and cities. From this country of Pascatir the Huns went, who were afterwards called Hungarians. Isidore writes, that with swift horses they passed the walls of Alexander, and the rocks of Caucasus, which opposed the barbarians, and even exacted tribute from Egypt, and laid waste the whole of Europe as far as France, being even more warlike in their day than the Tartars are now. With them the Blacians or Walachians, the Bulgarians, and the Vandals united. These Bulgarians came from the Greater Bulgaria, The people named Ilac or Vlac, who inhabit beyond the Danube from Constantinople, not far from Pascatir, are the same people, being properly named Blac or Blacians, but as the Tartars cannot pronounce the letter B, they are called Ilac, Vlac, or Wallachians. From them, likewise, the inhabitants of the land of the Assani are descended, both having the same name in the Russian, Polish, and Bohemian languages. The Sclavonians and the Vandals speak the same language; and all of these joined themselves formerly with the Huns, as they now do with the Tartars. All this that I have written concerning the land of Pascatir, I was informed by certain friars predicants, who had travelled there before the irruption of the Tartars; and as they had been subdued by their neighbours the Bulgarians, who were Mahometans, many of them adopted that faith. Other matters respecting these people may be known from various chronicles. But it is obvious, that those provinces beyond Constantinople, which are now called Bulgaria, Wallachia, and Sclavonia,[1] formerly belonged to the Greek empire; and Hungary was formerly named Pannonia.

We continued riding through the land of the Changles or Kangittae, as before mentioned, from Holy Cross-day till All-Saints, travelling every day, as well as I could guess, about as far as from Paris to Orleans, and sometimes farther,[2] according as we happened to be provided with relays; for sometimes we would change horses two or three times a-day, and then we travelled quicker; while sometimes we had to travel two or three days without finding any inhabitants to supply us, and then we were forced to travel more deliberately. Out of thirty or forty horses, we were always sure to have the worst, being strangers, as every one took their choice before it came to our turn. They always, however, provided me with a strong horse, because I was corpulent and heavy; but whether his pace happened to be hard or gentle, was all one to them, and I dared not to make any complaints. Our horses often tired before we could fall in with any of the inhabitants, and we were then obliged to beat and whip them up, being obliged to lay our garments upon spare horses, and sometimes two of us obliged to ride on one horse.

[1] Probably intended for what is now called Servia--E.
[2] This may be taken at a medium of thirty miles a day which, in forty-six days, would amount to 1380 miles; no doubt a very fatiguing journey for a corpulent heavy man as he describes himself--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 24 -- Of the Hunger, Thirst, and other Miseries we endured.

There was no end of hunger and thirst, and cold and weariness. In the morning they gave us something to drink, or some boiled millet; but afterwards we had nothing to eat until the evening, when they bestowed some flesh upon us, being generally the shoulder and breast of a ram, and every one was allowed a proportion of the broth to drink; and we considered ourselves fortunate when we had enough of broth, as it was exceedingly refreshing, pleasant, and nutritive. Sometimes we were constrained to eat our meat half boiled, or even almost raw, for want of fuel, especially when we were benighted and obliged to pass the night in the fields, because we could not conveniently gather horse or cow-dung to make a fire, and we seldom found any other fuel, except a few thorns here and there, and a few rare woods on the banks of some rivers. Every Saturday I remained fasting until night, and was then constrained, to my great grief, to eat flesh, as I could not procure any other food in the desert. In the beginning of our journey our guide disdained us exceedingly, and seemed quite indignant at being obliged to take charge of such base fellows as he seemed to esteem us; but he afterwards behaved better, and often took us purposely to the courts of rich Moals, who requested us to pray for them; and if I had been so fortunate as to have a good interpreter, I might have been able to do some good among these ignorant people.

Zingis, the first great khan or emperor of the Tartars, left four sons, from whom descended many grandsons, who are daily multiplying and dispersing over that immense waste desert, which is boundless like the ocean. These Moals whom we visited and prayed for, were astonished when we refused their proffered gifts of gold and silver and fine garments. They often enquired whether the great Pope was actually 500 years old, as they had heard from report. They likewise enquired into the nature and productions of our country, especially whether we had abundance of cattle, sheep, and horses. When we spoke to them about the ocean, they could form no adequate conception of its immense expanse, without banks or limits.

On the feast of All-Saints, 1st November, as the people had now descended very much to the southwards, we now discontinued our eastern route, and journied directly south for eight days, along certain high mountains. In the desert we saw many wild asses resembling mules, called colan or coulan by the Tartars, which our guide and his companions often chased with great eagerness, but without success, owing to the great swiftness of these animals. Upon the seventh day of our southern route, we saw directly before us some exceedingly high mountains, and we entered upon a fine cultivated plain, which was irrigated like a garden. Next day, 7th November, we arrived at a town belonging to the Mahometans named Kenchat, the governor of which came out to meet our guide with ale and other refreshments; for it is the custom of all the subjected cities, to welcome the messengers of Baatu and Mangu with meat and drink on their arrival. At this season, the ice was fully bearing, and we found frost in the desert before the feast of St Michael, 29th September. I inquired the name of the province, but being in a strange land they could not inform me, and could only tell me the name of this city, which is very small. Into this district a large river descends from the mountains, which the inhabitants lead off to water or irrigate the whole region; so that this river does not discharge itself into any sea, but after forming many pools or marshes, is absorbed into the earth. In this region we saw vines growing, and drank twice of their wines.



Volume 1, Chapter 9, Section 25 -- Of the Execution of Ban, and concerning the residence of certain Germans.

The next day we came to another village nearer to the mountains, which, I understood, were called Caucasus, and that they reached from the eastern to the western sea, even passing the Caspian to the west. I likewise inquired concerning the town of Talas, in which, according to Friar Andrew,[1] there were certain Germans in the service of one Buri, and I had formerly made inquiries concerning them at the courts of Sartach and Baatu.[2] But I could only learn, that their master, Ban, had been put to death on the following occasion. This Ban happened to have his appointed residence in inferior pastures, and one day when drunk, he said to his people, that being of the race of Zingis as well as Baatu, whose brother or nephew he was, he thought himself entitled to feed his flocks on the fine plains of the Volga as freely as Baatu himself. These speeches were reported to Baatu, who immediately wrote to the servants of Ban to bring their lord bound before him. Then Baatu demanded whether he had spoken the words, which were reported, and Ban acknowledged them, but pled that he was drunk at the time, and it is usual among the Tartars to forgive the words and actions of drunk men. But Baatu reproached him for daring to use his name in his cups, and ordered his head to be immediately struck off.

On my arrival at the court of Mangu-khan, I learnt, that the before mentioned Germans had been removed from the jurisdiction of Baatu to a place named Bolac, a months journey to the east of Talus, where they were employed to dig for gold, and to fabricate arms. In the before mentioned town we learnt that Talas was near the mountains behind us, at the distance of six days journey. From the before mentioned village near the mountains,[3] we went directly eastwards, coasting these mountains; and from that time we travelled among the immediate subjects of Mangu-khan, who in all places sang and danced in honour of our guide, because he was the messenger of Baatu; it being the custom for the subjects of Mangu-khan to receive the messengers of Baatu in this manner, and reciprocally, the subjects of Baatu shew like honour to the messengers of Mangu; yet the subjects of Baatu are more independently spirited, and do not evince so much courtesy. A few days afterwards, we entered upon the mountains where the Cara-Catayans used to dwell, where we found a large river which we had to pass in boats. We afterwards came to a cultivated valley, in which were the ruins of a castle, which had been surrounded by walls of mud or earth. After this we came to a large village called Equius, inhabited by Mahometans, who spoke Persian, although so far removed from Persia. On the day following, having passed those Alps which descend from the high mountains towards the south, we entered a most beautiful plain, having high mountains upon our right hand, and a sea or lake on our left, which is fifteen days journey in circumference.[4] This plain is watered or irrigated at will, by means of streams descending from these mountains, all of which fall into the before mentioned lake. In the subsequent summer we returned by the north side of this lake, where likewise there are great.[5] In this plain there used to be many towns; but most of these have been destroyed by the Tartars, that the excellent lands around them might be converted into pastures for their cattle. We still found one large town named Cailac, in which was a market frequented by many merchants; and we remained fifteen days at this place, waiting for one of Baatu's scribes, who was to assist our guide in the management of certain affairs at the court of Mangu. This country used to be called Organum,[6] and the people Organa, as I was told, because the people were excellent performers on the organ[7] or lute; and they had a distinct language and peculiar manner of writing. It was now entirely inhabited by the Contomanni, whose language and writing are used by the Nestorians of these parts. I here first saw idolaters, of whom there are many sects in the east.

[1] The person here alluded to was a monk named Andrew Luciumel, who had been sent ambassador, by the pope, to the emperor of the Mongals, in 1247 or 1248, with the same views as in the missions of Carpini and Asceline at the same period; but of his journey we have no account remaining.--E
[2] It is exceedingly difficult, or rather impossible, to trace the steps of the travels of Rubruquis, for want of latitudes, longitudes, and distances, and names of places. After passing the Volga and Ural or Jaik, he seems to have travelled east in the country of the Kirguses, somewhere about the latitude of 50°. N. to between the longitudes of 65°. and 70°. E. then to have struck to the south across the Kisik-tag into Western Turkestan, in which the cultivated vale may have been on the Tshui or the Talas rivers.--E
[3] Probably near the north side of the Arguin or Alak mountains.--E.
[4] This position of Rubruquis is sufficiently distinct: Having ferried over the river Tshui, and crossed the Jimbai mountains, the route now lay between the Alak mountain on his right, or to the south, and the lake of Balkash or Palkati Nor, to the left or north.--E.
[5] The Kisik-tag, which he had before passed in descending into Western Turkestan.--E.
[6] This absurd derivation of the name of the country and people, is unworthy of credit. Organum was probably the country called Irgonekan or Irganakon by Abulgari; and the word signifies a valley surrounded by steep mountains, exactly correspondent with the description in the text.--Forst.
[7] The Contomanni or Kontomanians, were probably a Mongal tribe, originally inhabiting the banks of the Konta or Khonda, who had afterwards settled on the banks of the river Ili and lake of Balkash. --Forst.


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