Volume 1, Chapter 11, Sections 6-10 -- Travels of Marco Polo, through Tartary, China, the Islands of India, and most of Asia, from A. D. 1260 to 1295: *section index*


Volume 1, Chapter 11, Section 6 -- Of the city of Samarcand, the town of Lop, the Great Desert in its Neighbourhood, and other remarkable Passages.

Samarcand[1] is a great and famous city, in a fertile plain, and surrounded by fine gardens. It is subject to the nephew of the great khan, and is inhabited by a mixed population of Christians and Mahometans, among whom there is little agreement; and in one of their disputes, the following miracle is said to have happened, about an hundred years ago. Zagathai, the brother of the great khan, then governed this country, and was persuaded to become a Christian; and the Christians, through his favour, built a church in honour of St John the Baptist, which was constructed with such skill, that the whole roof seemed to depend for support upon one central pillar, which was founded upon a large stone, which, by the permission of Zagathai, had been taken from a building belonging to the Mahometans. After the death of Zagathai, he was succeeded by a son who was not of the Christian faith, and from him the Mahometans obtained an order, by which the Christians were compelled to restore that stone; and though they offered a sum of money as a compensation, the Mahometans absolutely insisted to have the stone itself, hoping, by that means, to reduce the Christian church to ruins: But the pillar lifted itself up, that the Mahometans, might remove the contested stone, and still continues suspended in the air.

Departing from this city, we came into the province of Charahan,[2] which is about five days journey in length, and has plenty of provisions. The inhabitants are mostly Mahometans, intermixed with some Nestorian Christians, and are subject to the nephew of the great khan. They are diligent artificers in various manufactures, but are much subject to thick legs, and the goitres or large wens on their throats, occasioned by the bad quality of the waters of the country. The province of Cotam follows between the east and the north-east.[3] It is subject to the nephew of the great khan, and has many cities and towns, the chief city being called Cotam. This province extends eight days journey in length, and possesses every thing necessary for life, in sufficient abundance; particularly cotton, flax, hemp, corn, and wine. The people are Mahometans, and not warlike, but are skilful in various articles of manufacture.

Proceeding through the same country, we come to the province of Peim, extending four days journey in length, and containing many towns and castles, the city of Peim being the chief, near which there is a river in which jaspers and chalcedonies and other valuable stones are found. The inhabitants, who are Mahometans, are expert manufacturers, and are subject to the great khan. There is a custom in this province, that when any married man goes to a distance from home, and remains absent for twenty days, it is lawful for his wife to marry another husband; and reciprocally, if the wife absents herself for twenty days, the husband may take another wife.

The next province, Ciascian,[4] of which the chief city is named Sartan, is subject to the Tartars, and has many cities and castles. In its rivers abundance of jaspers, chalcedonies, and other fine stones are found, which are carried by merchants all the way to Ouchach or Kathay, and sold there with great profit From Peim to Sartem, and quite through this latter province, the soil is very sandy, having very little water, and that generally bad. When an army passes through this province, all the inhabitants take their wives and children, with all their cattle and valuables, two days journey into the sands, to places where they know that good water is to be found, and remain there till the army has quitted the country; after harvest also, they uniformly take all their corn into the desert, and hide it in pits, and the wind soon obliterates all traces of their footsteps, so that their enemies are unable to discover where they have deposited these precious hoards. After travelling for five days through the sands from this province, we arrive at the great city of Lop, which is at the entrance of a great desert called the Wilderness of Lop.[5] The inhabitants of this place are Mahometans, and are subject to the great khan. All the before-mentioned provinces, Cashgar, Yarkand, Koten, Peim, Sartem, and Lop, are in the bounds of Turkestan.

It requires a months journey to cross this desert from south to north, but to go through it lengthways would take up a whole year. Those who intend to cross the desert remain for some time in Lop, on purpose to prepare all necessaries for the journey, as no provisions are to be met with for a whole month. These, with their merchandize, are loaded on asses and camels, and if provisions fall short in the desert, the unfortunate travellers are reduced to the necessity of killing their beasts of burden for sustenance, preferring the asses for this purpose, as the camels can carry much heavier burdens, and are satisfied with less food. This journey is entirely through sands and barren mountains, in which water is found every day; yet at some of the resting places it is so scanty as hardly to suffice for a caravan of fifty of an hundred persons and their cattle. In three or four places the water is salt and bitter, but in all the rest of the journey it is very good. In the whole of this journey there are no beasts or birds to be seen. It is reported, that many evil spirits reside in the wilderness, which occasion wonderful illusions to travellers who happen unfortunately to lag behind their companions calling them even by their names, and causing them to stray farther from the right course, so that they lose their way and perish in the sands. In the night time also they hear noises as of their friends, and sometimes the sound of music is heard in the air, and people imagine that they hear the din of drums, as if armies were marching past. To avoid the danger of separation, the travellers in the desert keep close together, and hang bells about the necks of their beasts; and if any one stays behind, they set up marks in the route, that they may know how to follow.

Having crossed the desert of Lop, we come to the city of Sachion[6] or Sachiou, which is subject to the great khan, and is situated in the great country of Tangut. The inhabitants of this city are mostly idolaters, who have a peculiar language, mixed with a good many Mahometans, and some Nestorian Christians; this people are little addicted to merchandize or manufacture, and live on the products of their soil. In this city there are many temples, consecrated to various idols, with monasteries of priests devoted to the service of these false deities, to which numerous sacrifices are offered with great reverence. When a son is born to any person, he is immediately consecrated to the protection of some particular idol, and the father nourishes a sheep in his house for a year with great care; and on the anniversary day of that idol, he presents his son and the sheep as a sacrifice, with great reverence and many ceremonies, before the shrine of this tutelary deity. The flesh of the sheep is boiled and set before the idol during the continuance of the prayers and invocations, as an offering for the preservation and protection of the boy, and the idol is supposed to inhale the savour of the meat. After the religious ceremonies are finished, the meat is carried home to the father's dwelling, where all the kindred of the family are convened, and feasted with great joy and devotion; but the bones are religiously kept in certain appropriated vessels. The priests receive the head, feet, skin, and intrails, with a portion of the flesh for their share.

When a person of any estimation dies, his funerals are celebrated with much ceremony. An astrologer is sent for by the kindred, and informed of the year, month, day, and hour when the deceased was born, when he calculates the aspect of the constellation, and assigns the day when the burial is to take place, sometimes at the distance of seven days, or perhaps the planet may not have a favourable aspect for six months, during all which time the body is kept in the house. For this purpose a fit chest or coffin is provided, which is so artificially jointed that no noisome smell can escape, and in this the body is placed, having been previously embalmed with spices. The coffin is ornamented with painting, and is covered over with an embroidered cloth. Every day, while the body remains unburied, a table is spread near the coffin, and set out with meat, bread, and wine, which remains for as long a time as a living person would require to eat and drink, and the soul of the deceased is supposed to feed upon the savour. The astrologers sometimes forbid the body to be carried out for interment at the principal door of the house, pretending to be regulated in this by the stars, and order it to be carried out by some other way; or will even command a passage to be broken out in the opposite wall of the house, to propitiate the adverse planet. And if any one object to this, they allege that the spirit of the dead would be offended, and would occasion injury to the family. When the body is carried through the city to be buried, wooden cottages are built at certain distances by the way, having porches covered with silk, in which the coffin is set down, with a table spread out with bread and wine and delicate viands, that the spirit of the dead may be refreshed with the savour. When the body is carried to the place of the funeral, a number of pieces of paper, made of the bark of trees, curiously painted with figures of men and women servants, horses, camels, money, and garments of all kinds are carried in procession, all the instruments of music in the city sounding as the cavalcade moves along; and all these pieces of painted paper are burned in the same funeral pile with the body, under the idea that the deceased will have as many servants, cattle, and garments in the next world, and as much money, as there were pictures of these things burnt along with his body, and shall live perpetually hereafter in the enjoyment of all these things.[7]

[1] The text is here obviously transposed. While the editor endeavours to illustrate and explain the descriptions of the author, he does not consider himself at liberty to alter the text, even in the most obviously faulty places.--E.
[2] Charchan, Charcham, Carcam, Hiarkand, Jarkun, Jerket, Jerken, Urkend; such are the varieties in the editions of these travels, for the Yarkand of modern maps. This paragraph ought obviously to have followed the account of Cashgar.--E.
[3] Cotan, Cotam, Hotum, Khoten, Khotan, from which the useful material of manufacture, cotton, takes its name. But instead of being between the east and north-east direction from Yarkand, as in the text, or E.N.E. it is actually E.S.E.--E.
[4] Called likewise Ciarciam, Ciartiam, and Sartam, in different editions.--E.
[5] The journey from Sartem to Lop is obviously retrograde, and this course must have been pursued by the Polos for commercial purposes; perhaps for collecting those valuable stones which are mentioned by Marco as giving so much profit when sold in China.--E.
[6] Schatscheu, Tschat-scheu, or Chat-chou, on the Polonkir, which runs into the Hara lake.--E.
[7] It is highly probable that this emblematical representation had been substituted by some humane legislator or conqueror, in place of the actual sacrifice of the servants, cattle, and goods themselves, which we are well assured was once the practice among many rude nations, in honour of their deceased great men.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 11, Section 7 -- Of the Province of Chamil and several other Countries on the road from thence to the City of Ezina; and of another great Desert.

The province of Chamil, which abounds in all the necessaries of life, is situated in the wide country of Tangut, and is subject to the great khan. This province, of which the city of Chamil or Hami is the capital,[1] is bounded by two deserts; the great desert of Lop already mentioned, and another which is only three days journey across.[2] The inhabitants are idolaters, have a peculiar language, and appear to live only for amusement, devoting their whole time to singing, dancing, and sports, playing upon instruments of music, and reading and writing after their fashion. When any traveller goes into a house for entertainment and lodging, the master of the family receives him with great joy, and commands his wife and family to obey the stranger in all things so long as he may choose to remain, and even departs immediately from his own house, that he may not be any restraint upon his guest. And while the traveller remains, he may choose a female bed fellow every night, either the wife, daughter, or servant of the polite host, as he feels inclined. The women of the country are very beautiful, and are perfectly ready to obey these singular commands; and the husbands believe that this strange hospitality is conducive to their own honour and glory, and is an acceptable service to their idols, from whose favour it secures prosperity and abundance to themselves and their country. Mangu-khan having received notice of this detestable custom, issued a peremptory order for its discontinuance, and it was accordingly laid aside for three years; but as these years happened to be unusually barren, and the inhabitants were vexed with some disasters in their domestic concerns, they sent ambassadors to the khan, earnestly entreating him to revoke so grievous a mandate, and to permit them to continue a custom which had been handed down by their ancestors. To this the khan answered, "Since you glory in your shame, you may go and act according to your customs." The messengers who brought back this favourable answer, were received with great rejoicings by the nation; and the above custom continued when I Marco was among them.

After leaving the province of Chamil, we enter into that of Chinchintalas[3], subject to the great khan, which is bounded by the desert on the north, and is sixteen days journey in length. It has large cities and many castles, the inhabitants being divided into three sects or religions: The greater number are idolaters, a considerable number are Mahometans, and a small proportion are Nestorian Christians. In this province there are mountains containing mines of steel, and andanicum or audanicum, and also a mineral substance called salamander or asbestos, from the wool of which an incombustible cloth is manufactured, which, if cast into the fire does not burn. This cloth is actually made of stone in the following manner, as I was informed by a Turk named Curifar, an intelligent industrious person of my acquaintance, who had the superintendence of the mines in this province. A certain mineral is found in these mountains, which yields fibres resembling wool: After being thoroughly dried in the sun, this substance is pounded in a brass mortar, and then washed to remove all earthy impurities; and the clean fibrous matter is spun in the same manner as wool, and woven into cloth. When this cloth requires to be cleaned or whitened, it is thrown into the fire for an hour, and is then taken out unhurt, and as white as snow. It is said, there is a napkin at Rome of this salamander wool, in which the handkerchief of the Lord Jesus is kept wrapped up, which a certain king of the Tartars sent as a present to the Pope. But as for the salamander or serpent, which is reported to live in the fire, I could hear of no such creature in all the eastern countries.

Leaving this province, we travel for ten days between the east and north-east, during which there are few habitations or things worthy of remark; after which we come to the province of Succir,[4] in which there are many towns and villages, the chief city being called Succir. In this province, which is subject to the great khan, there are a few Christians among a great number of idolaters. The best rhubarb[5] is found in great quantities in this province, and is carried thence by merchants to various parts of the world. Strangers dare not go to the mountains where the rhubarb grows, on account of certain poisonous plants, which occasion any beasts that feed upon them to cast their hoofs; but the beasts of the country know this plant, and avoid feeding upon it. Campion[6] is a great city, and is the chief place in all Tangut.  In it, besides idolaters and Mahometans, there are a good many Christians, who have three fair churches. The idolaters have many temples and monasteries dedicated to their idols. These idols are very numerous, and are made of stone, wood, or clay, some of them curiously inlaid with gold, and very artificially made: Some are very large, almost ten paces high, standing upright, and having many smaller idols placed around, which seem to give reverence to the great one. The priests of these idols appear to live more regularly, and are less addicted to voluptuousness than other idolaters. Yet wantonness is not looked upon in this country as any great sin; for they say if a woman invites a man, there is no harm in compliance, but if the man solicits the woman, it is quite otherwise.

In this country they divide the year by lunations, and in every moon they keep certain days as holy, in some five, or four, or three days, in which they kill no beast or bird, and abstain from animal food. The people of this country marry twenty or thirty wives, or as many as they are able to maintain, but the first wife always has the precedence over the others. The husband receives no portion with his wife, but on the contrary has to assign her a dower in cattle, servants, and money, according to his ability. If any of the wives does not live in harmony with the rest, or if she becomes disliked by her husband, it is lawful for him to put her away. They marry their own near relations, and even the wives of their deceased father, excepting always their own mothers. In the manners and customs of this country, I Marco was sufficiently experienced, having dwelt a whole year in this place, along with my father and uncle, for the dispatch of certain affairs of business.

In twelve days journey from Campion, we come to the city of Ezina,[7] which borders on a sandy desert towards the north. All the provinces and cities before mentioned, viz. Sachion, Camul, Chinchintalas, Succair, Campion, and Ezina, are comprehended in the great country of Tangut. The inhabitants of Ezina are idolaters, who live by agriculture, and on the produce of their flocks and herds, having great quantities of camels and other cattle, but carry on no trade. In this country there are forests of pine trees, in which there are wild asses, and many other wild beasts; there are likewise abundance of falcons, particularly the lanner and sacre, which are reckoned excellent. Such travellers as intend to pass through the great desert of Shamo, which is forty days journey in extent, must provide all their provisions in this place, as they afterwards meet with no habitations, except a few straggling people here and there on the mountains and valleys.

[1] Called also Kamul, Chamul, Khami, and Came-xu.--Forst.
[2] The desert of Noman-Cobi; or Tzokurin of modern maps.--E.
[3] Called likewise Cinchincalas, Sanghin-talgin, Sankin-talai, and Chitalas-dalai.--Forst. This appears to be the district stretching to the S.E. of the Bogdo mountains, between the Changai ridge on the north, and the Ungandag on the south, now occupied by a tribe of Eluts, and in which there do not appear to be any towns.--E.
[4] Suchur, Succuir, Souk, or Suck, on the river Suck, which empties itself into the river of Pegu to the north of Thibet.--Forst.
This I suspect to be Chioming of our modern maps, on a river which runs north into the Soukouk lake.--E.
[5] The country of the genuine rhubarb has been described by the great Russian traveller Palas, as situated on the river Selingol, not far from the town of Selinga, which falls into the Chattungol, Hoang-ho, Choango, or Karamuren.--Forst.
The travels of Palas will be found in an after portion of this work; and it need only be remarked in this place, that there are at least two kinds of true rhubarb, the China and Russia; and that two species of the genus, the R. Palmatum and R. Undulatum, certainly produce the drug nearly of the same quality, and are probably to be found in various parts of central Asia or Tartary.--E.
[6] Kampion, Kampition, Kampiciou, Kantscheu, or Kan-tcheou, in the Chinese province of Shensi, on the Etzine-moren, or Etchine river, which joins the Souk.--Forst.
[7] Eziva, or Etzine, on a river of the same name, which runs into the Suck or Souhouk.--Forst.



Volume 1, Chapter 11, Section 8 -- Of the City of Caracarum and of the Tartars, with some account of their History, Monarchs, and Manners.

Having passed over the before mentioned desert of forty days, travelling always to the northward, we come to the large city of Charachoran, or Caracarum,[1] which is three miles in circumference, and strongly fortified with an earthen rampart, as there is no stone in these parts. Near the city there is a great castle with an elegant palace, in which the governor usually resides. Near this place the Tartars used to assemble in old times, and here therefore I shall explain the original of their empire.

They dwelt at first in the northern parts called Curza and Bargu,[2] where there are many vast plains without cities and towns, but abounding in pastures, lakes, and rivers. They had no prince of their own nation, but paid tribute to a certain great king, named, as I have been told, in their language, Umcan, and which some people believe to signify, in the languages of Europe, Prester-John;[3] and to whom the Tartars gave yearly a tenth part of the increase of their flocks and herds, and of their horses. In process of time, the Tartars so increased in numbers, that Umcan became afraid of them, and endeavoured to disperse them into several parts of his empire; and when any of them rebelled, he used to send parties into their territories to reduce them to obedience; for which purpose, he even frequently deputed some of their own nobles. At length it became obvious to the whole nation, that their ruin was intended; and being unwilling to be separated from each other, they retired into the northern deserts, where they might be safe from the power of Umcan, to whom they refused the accustomed tribute. After continuing in the north for some time, they chose a king among themselves, named Zingis-khan, who was a wise and valiant man, and reigned with such justice, that he was beloved and feared of all as a god rather than as a prince, so that by his fame and prowess, he soon reduced all the Tartars in these parts under his authority. Seeing himself at the head of so many valiant men, he determined to leave the northern deserts; and commanding his people to provide themselves with bows and other weapons, he began to reduce the neighbouring cities and provinces under his dominion, in which conquests he placed such just governors, that the people were perfectly reconciled to his authority. In all his conquests he carried the chief persons along with him, bestowing upon them provisions and other gifts, and by that means attached them to his person, and continually augmented his power. After sometime, finding himself advanced to power and glory, he sent ambassadors to Umcan, to entreat that he would bestow his daughter upon him for a wife. Umcan received this message with the utmost indignation, saying to the messengers; "Does my servant presume to demand my daughter? Begone, and tell your master, that if ever he dare to repeat so insolent a proposal, I will make him die a miserable death."

Zingis seems only to have wanted a reasonable pretence to justify him in the estimation of his nobles for entering into war against Umcan; he therefore immediately levied a great army, with which he marched boldly against Umcan, and encamped in a great plain named Tanduc,[4] sending a message to Umcan to defend himself. Upon this Umcan collected a vast army, with which he advanced into the plains, and pitched his camp within ten miles of that of the Tartars. Zingis commanded his astrologers to shew him what was to be the event of the approaching battle; on which they split a reed into two pieces, on one of which they wrote the name of Zingis, and the name of Umcan on the other, and struck them separately into the ground, saying to Zingis: "While we read in our holy books, it shall come to pass through the power of the idol, that these two pieces of reed shall fight together, and whose part shall get the better, to that king shall the victory be given."  The astrologers began to mumble their prayers and incantations, while the multitude stood around to observe the result; and after some time, the two pieces of reed seemed spontaneously to fight together, and the portion inscribed with the name of Zingis got the mastery over that of Umcan; and the Tartars being encouraged by this prodigy, went into the battle fully assured of victory, which they actually obtained. By this battle, in which Umcan was slain, the sovereignty of all Tangut was transferred to Zingis, who took to wife the daughter of Umcan.  Zingis reigned six years after this, and conquered many provinces: But at last, while he endeavoured to take a certain castle called Thaigin, he approached too near the walls, and was wounded in the knee by an arrow, of which wound he died, and was buried in the mountain of Altai. Zingis was the first king of the Tartars; the second was Khen-khan, the third Bathyn-khan, the fourth Esu-khan, the fifth Mangu-khan, the sixth Kublai-khan, whose power is greater than that of all his predecessors, as, besides having inherited all their acquisitions, he has added almost the whole world to his empire, during a long and prosperous reign of sixty years.[5] All the great khans and princes of the blood of Zingis, are carried for burial to the mountains of Altai, even from the distance of an hundred days journey; and those who attend the body, kill all whom they meet by the way, ordering them to go and serve their lord in the other world, and a great number of fine horses are slain on the same occasion and pretence. It is said that the soldiers, who accompanied the body of Mangu-khan to the mountain of Altai, slew above ten thousand men during their journey.

The Tartar women are remarkably faithful to their husbands, considering adultery as the greatest and most unpardonable of crimes; yet it is accounted lawful and honest for the men to have as many wives as they can maintain, but the first married is always accounted the principal and most honourable. These wives live all in one house, in the utmost harmony and most admirable concord; in which they carry on various manufactures, buy and sell, and procure all things necessary for their husbands and families, the men employing themselves only in hunting and hawking, and in martial affairs. They have the best falcons in the world, and great numbers of excellent dogs, and they live upon flesh and milk, and what they procure by hunting. They eat the flesh of horses and camels, and even of dogs, if fat; and their chief drink is cosmos, made of mares milk in a particular manner, and very much resembling white wine. When the father of a family dies, the son may marry all his fathers wives, except only his own mother, neither do they marry their sisters; and on the death of a brother, the surviving brother may marry the widow of the deceased. The husbands receive no portions with their wives, but must assign sufficient dowries to their wives and mothers. As the Tartars have many wives, they often have great numbers of children; neither is the multitude of their wives very burthensome, as they gain much by their labour, and they are exceedingly careful in the management of family concerns, in the preparation of food, and in all other household duties.

The Tartars feed many herds of cattle, and numerous flocks of sheep, and great numbers of camels and horses. They remain with these during the summer in the pastures of the mountains and colder regions of the north, where they find abundance of grass and wood; but in winter they remove into the warmer regions of the south, in search of pasture, and they generally travel forwards for two or three months together. Their houses are made of slender rods covered with felt, mostly of a round form, and are carried along with them in carts or waggons with four wheels, and the doors of these moveable houses are always placed fronting the south. They have also very neat carts on two wheels, covered so closely with felt, that the rain cannot penetrate, in which their wives and children and household goods are conveyed from place to place. All these are drawn by oxen or camels.

The rich Tartars are clothed in sables and ermines, and other rich furs, and in cloth of gold, and all their apparel and furniture is very costly. Their arms are bows, swords, battle-axes, and some have lances; but they are most expert in the use of the bow, in which they are trained from their infancy. They are hardy, active, and brave, yet somewhat cruel; are exceedingly patient and obedient to their lords, and will often remain two days and nights armed on horseback without rest. They believe in one supreme God of heaven, to whom they daily offer incense, praying to him for health and prosperity. But every person has a little image covered with felt, or something else, in his house, called Natigay; and to this household god they make a wife, which is placed on his left hand, and children, which are set before his face. This image or idol is considered as the god of earthly things, to whom they recommend the protection of their wives and children, their cattle, corn, and other valuables. This god is held in great reverence, and before eating any thing themselves, they anoint the mouth of the idol with the fat of their boiled meat, and they cast some broth out of doors in honour of other spirits; after which they eat and drink their fill, saying, that now their god and his family have had their due portion.

If the son of one Tartar, and the daughter of another die unmarried, the parents meet together and celebrate a marriage between their deceased children. On this occasion they draw up a written contract, and paint representations of men and women for servants, of horses, camels, cattle, and sheep, of clothes of all kinds, and of paper money; and all these things are burned along with the contract, conceiving that these will all follow their children substantially to the other world to serve them, and that they will be there united in affinity, as if they had been actually married while living.

When the Tartars go to war, the prince usually leads an army of not less than an hundred thousand men, all cavalry; each man having usually eight or more horses or mares. Their troops are regularly distributed into bands of tens, hundreds, thousands, and ten thousands; a troop of an hundred is called a Tuc, and a body of ten thousand is called a Toman. They carry their felt houses along with them, for shelter in bad weather. When necessity requires, they will ride for ten days together without victuals, subsisting upon the blood of their horses, by cutting a vein and sucking the blood. But they likewise prepare dried milk, for taking with them in their expeditions, in the following manner: After taking off the cream, which is made into butter, they boil the milk and dry it in the sun into a kind of hard curd, of which every man in the army carries about ten pounds along with him. Every morning they take about half a pound of this curd, which they put into a leathern bottle with a quantity of water, and as he rides along, the motion of the horse shakes and mixes these together, and this mess suffices for the food of one day. When they approach towards the enemy, they send out numerous scouts on all sides, that they may not be assaulted unawares, and to bring intelligence of the numbers, motions, and posture of the enemy. When they come to battle, they ride about in apparent disorder, shooting with their arrows; and sometimes make a show of precipitate flight, discharging their arrows backwards as they fly; and when by these means they have broken or dispersed the enemy, they suddenly rally their forces, and make an unexpected assault, which generally decides the victory, their horses being all so thoroughly under command, as to turn any way merely by a signal.

If any Tartar steals a thing of small value, he is not put to death, but receives a certain number of blows with a cudgel, according to the measure of the offence; either seven, or seventeen, or twenty-seven, thirty-seven, or forty-seven; though some die through the severity of this cudgelling. But if any one steal a horse or other thing of great value, for which he deserves to die according to their laws, he is cut asunder with a sword, unless he redeem his life by restoring the theft nine fold. Such as have horses, oxen, or camels, brand them with their particular marks, and send them to feed in the pastures without a keeper.

Leaving the city of Caracarum, and the mountain Altai, we enter the champaign [[=plains]] country of Bargu,[6] which extends northwards for about fifty days journey. The inhabitants of this country are called Medites,[7] and are subject to the great, khan, and resemble the Tartars in their manners. They have no corn or wine, and employ themselves chiefly, during summer, in the chase of wild beasts, and in catching birds, on the flesh of which they subsist in winter; and they have great abundance of a kind of stags, which they render so tame that they allow themselves to be ridden. In the winter this country is so excessively cold, that fowls, and all other living things, remove to warmer regions. After forty days journey we arrive at the ocean, near which is a mountain frequented by storks, and fine falcons, as a breeding place, and from whence falcons are brought for the amusement of the great khan.

[1] Caracarum, Caracorum, Taracoram, Korakarum,  Karakarin, Karakum, called Holin by the Chinese. This city was laid down by Danville, with acknowledged uncertainty, on the Onguin-pira river, in Lat. 44°. 50'. N. Long. 107°. E.; while others assign its situation on the Orchon, in Lat. 46°. 30. N. Long. 108-1/2 E: about 150 miles to the N.W.--E.
[2] The original residence of the Moals or Monguis, whom Marco always calls Tartars, appears to have been limited by the Selinga and lake Baikal on the west, or perhaps reaching to the Bogdo Altai and Sayanak mountains; the Soilki mountains on the east dividing them from the Mandshurs, and the Ungar-daga mountains on the south, dividing them from the great empire of Tangut, which they overthrew. Bargu may have been on the Baikal, near which there still is a place called Barsuzin. Of Cursa no trace is to be found in our maps.--E.
[3] Prester-John, Presbyter or Priest, or, as called by the Germans, Priester Johann, from which our English denomination, was prince of the Naymanni or Karaites, a tribe residing on tke river Kallassui or Karasibi, which, discharges itself into the Jenisei. His original name is said to have been Togrul, and for some services to the Chinese in their wars, he was honoured with the title of Ong, Uang, or Wang; from whence arose his Tartarian style of Ung-khan, likewise erroneously written Aunaek, or Avenaek-khan. Perhaps this prince may have been converted by the Nestorian Christians, and may even have received priest's orders.--Forst.
It is more probable that he may have belonged to the Dalai-lama religion, which some ignorant traveller, from resemblance in dress, and the use of rosaries in prayer, may have supposed a Christian sect residing in eastern Scythia.--E.
[4] Tenduc, Tenduch, Teuduch.--Forst.
[5] According to the genealogical history of the Tartars by Abulgasi Bayadur-khan, Ugadai-khan succeeded Zingis in 1230. In 1245 he was succeeded by his son Kajuk-khan, called Khen-khan by Marco in the ext. To him Mangu-khan succeeded in 1247, who held the empire till 1257; when he was succeeded by Koplai or Kublai-khan, who reigned thirty-five years, and died in 1292.--Harris.
Marco probably dated the reign of Kublai-khan, which he extends to sixty years, from his having received a great delegated government, a long time before he became great khan, or emperor of the Tartars.--E.
[6] Bargu-fin, or Bargouin, is the name of a river on the east side of lake Baikal, on which is a town or village named Barguzin, or Barguzinskoy Ostrog, signifying the town of the Burguzians. But by the description in the text, Marco appears to have comprehended the whole north-east of Tartary, to the north of the Changai mountains, under the general name of Bargu, in which he now includes Curza, mentioned separately at the commencement of the preceding Section, and where the situation of Bargu has been already more particularly described in a note.--E.
[7] Metrites, Meclites, or Markaets.--Forst.
No such appellation is to be found in modern geography; but the discontinuance of the designations, of temporary and continually changing associations of the wandering tribes of the desert, is not to be wondered at, and even if their records were preserved, they would be altogether unimportant.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 11, Section 9 -- Of the vast Countries to the North of Tartary, and many other curious Particulars.

We now return to Campion, or Kantcheou, on the river Etziné. Proceeding thence five days journey towards the east, we come to the country of Erginul[1] in the province of Tangut, which is subject to the great khan. In this kingdom there are many idolaters, with some Nestorians and Turks. It contains many cities and castles, the chief place being of the same name with the province.

Going south-east from this place towards Kathay, we come to the famous city of Cinguy,[2] situated in a province of the same name, which is tributary to the great khan, and is contained in the kingdom of Tangut. Some of the people are Christians, some of them Mahometans, and others are idolaters. In this country there are certain wild cattle, nearly as large as elephants, with black and white hair, which is short all over the body, except on the shoulders, where it is three spans long, exceedingly fine, pure white, and in many respects more beautiful than silk. I brought some of this hair to Venice as a rarity. Many of these oxen are tamed and broken in for labour, for which they are better adapted, by their strength, than any other creatures, as they bear very heavy burdens, and when yoked in the plough will do twice the work of others. The best musk in the world is found in this province, and is procured from a beautiful animal, the size of a goat, having hair like a stag, the feet and tail resembling an antelope, but has no horns; it has two teeth in the upper jaw, above three inches long, as white as the finest ivory.[3] When the moon is at the full, a tumor, or imposthume, grows on the belly of this animal, resembling a bladder filled with blood, and at this time people go to hunt this animal for the sake of this bag or swelling, which they dry in the sun, and sell at a high price, as it is the best of musk. The flesh also of the animal is good for eating. I, Marco, brought the head and feet of one of these animals to Venice.

The people of this country of Singui live by trade and manufacture, and they have abundance of corn. They are idolaters, having fat bodies, small noses, black hair, and no beard, except a few scattered hairs on their chins. The women are exceedingly fair, and the men rather make choice of their wives by their beauty than by their nobility or riches; so, that when a great nobleman marries a poor but beautiful wife, he has often to assign a large dowery to obtain the consent of the mother. This province extends twenty-five days journey in length, and is very fertile. In it there are exceedingly large pheasants, with tails eight or ten handbreadths long, and many other kinds of birds, some of which have very beautiful and finely variegated plumage.

After eight days farther travel to the east, we come to the district of Egrigaia,[4] which is still in the kingdom of Tangut, and subject to the great khan; it contains many cities and castles, Calacia being the principal city, which is inhabited by idolaters, though the Nestorian Christians have three churches. In this city, excellent camblets are manufactured from white wool and the hair of camels[5], which are exported by the merchants to all parts of the world, and particularly to Kathay.

East from this province of Egrigaia is that of Tandach,[6] in which there are many cities and castles. The king of this nation is called George, who is a Christian and a priest,[7] and most of the people also are Christians; he is descended of Prester John, formerly mentioned under the name of Umcan, from whom he is the fourth in descent, and he pays tribute to the great khan; and ever since the battle in which Umcan was slain by Zingis, the great khans have given their daughters in marriage to the kings of this country, who do not possess all the dominions which were formerly subject to Prester John. There is a mixed race in this country, called Argons, descended of idolaters and Mahometans, who are the handsomest people in these parts, and are most ingenious manufacturers and cunning merchants. This province was the chief residence of Prester John, and there are two neighbouring districts, called Ung and Mongol by the natives, which the people of Europe call Gog and Magog.

Travelling eastwards for seven days towards Kathay, there are many cities, inhabited by idolaters, Mahometans, and Nestorians, who live by commerce and manufactures, and who make stuffs wrought with gold and flowers, and other silken stuffs of all kinds, and colours like those made among us, and also woollen cloths of various kinds. One of these towns is Sindicin, or Sindacui, where very excellent arms of all kinds fit for war are manufactured. In the mountains of this province, called Idifa, or Ydifu, there are great mines of silver.

Three days journey from Sindicin stands another city, named Iangamur,[8] which signifies the White Lake. Near this place, the khan has a palace, in which he takes great delight, as he has fine gardens, with many lakes and rivers, and multitudes of swans, and the adjacent plains abound in cranes, pheasants, partridges, and other game. There are five sorts of cranes here, some of which have black wings, others are white and bright; their feathers being ornamented with eyes like those of a peacock, but of a golden colour, with beautiful black and white necks; a third kind is not unlike our own, in size and appearance; the fourth kind is very small and beautiful, variegated with red and blue; the fifth is very large, and of a grey colour, with black and red heads. In a valley near this city, there are astonishing numbers of quails and partridges, for the maintenance of which the khan causes millet and other seeds to be sown, that they may have plenty of food; and a number of people are appointed to take care that no person may catch any of these birds, which are so tame, that they will flock around their keepers at a whistle, to receive food from their hands. There are also a great number of small huts built, in different parts of the valley, for shelter to these birds, during the severity of winter, where they are regularly fed by the keepers. By these means, when the emperor chooses to come to this part of the country, he is certain to find abundance of game; and during winter, he has great quantities sent to him on camels, or other beasts of burden.

Three days journey south-west from Iangamur is the city of Ciandu,[9] which was built by the great emperor Kublai-khan, and in which he had a palace erected, of marvellous art and beauty, ornamented with marble and other rare stones. One side of this palace extends to the middle of the city, and the other reaches to the city wall. On this side there is a great inclosed park, extending sixteen miles in circuit, into which none can enter but by the palace. In this inclosure there are pleasant meadows, groves, and rivers, and it is well stocked with red and fallow deer, and other animals. The khan has here a mew of about two hundred ger-falcons, which he goes to see once a-week, and he causes them to be fed with the flesh of fawns. When he rides out into this park, he often causes some leopards to be carried on horseback, by people appointed for this purpose, and when he gives command, a leopard is let loose, which immediately seizes a stag or deer; and he takes great delight in this sport.

In the middle of a fine wood, the khan has a very elegant house built all of wood, on pillars, richly gilt and varnished; on every one of the pillars there is a dragon gilt all over, the tail being wound around the pillar, while the head supports the roof, and the wings are expanded on each side. The roof is composed of large canes, three hand breadths in diameter, and ten yards long, split down the middle, all gilt and varnished, and so artificially [[=artfully]] laid on that no rain can penetrate. The whole of this house can be easily pulled down and taken to pieces, like a tent, and readily set up again, as it is all built of cane, and very light; and when it is erected, it is fastened by two hundred silken ropes, after the manner of tent cords, to prevent it from being thrown down by the winds. Every thing is arranged in this place for the pleasure and convenience of the khan, who spends three months here annually, in June, July, and August; but on the twenty-eighth day of August he always leaves this, to go to some other place, for the performance of a solemn sacrifice. Always on the twentieth day of August, he is directed by the astrologers and sorcerers, to sprinkle a quantity of white mares' milk, with his own hands, as a sacrifice to the gods and spirits of the air and the earth, in order that his subjects, wives, children, cattle, and corn, and all that he possesses, may flourish and prosper. The khan has a stud of horses and mares all pure white, nearly ten thousand in number; of the milk of which none are permitted to drink, unless those who are descended from Zingis-khan, excepting one family, named Boriat, to whom this privilege was granted by Zingis, on account of their valour. These white horses are held in such reverence, that no one dare go before them, or disturb them in their pastures.

There are two sects of idolatrous priests, called Chebeth and Chesmu, who ascend the roof of the palace in the midst of storms, and persuade the people they are so holy, that they can prevent any rain from falling on the roof. These people go about in a very filthy condition, as they never wash or comb themselves. They have also an abominable custom of eating the bodies of malefactors who are condemned to death, but they do not feed on any who die naturally. These are likewise called Bachsi, which is the name of their order, as our friars are named predicants, minors, and the like. These fellows are great sorcerers, and seem to be able to do any thing they please by magic art. When the great khan sits in his hall at a table, which is raised several feet above the others,[10] there is a great sideboard of plate at some distance in the midst of the hall, and from thence these sorcerers cause wine or milk to fill the goblets on the khan's table, whenever he commands. These Bachsi also, when they have a mind to make feasts in honour of their idols, send word to the khan, through certain officers deputed for the purpose, that if their idols are not honoured with the accustomed sacrifices, they will send blights on the fruits of the ground, and murrains among the beasts, and entreat, therefore, that he will order a certain number of black-headed sheep, with incense, and aloes-wood, to be delivered to them, for the due and honourable performance of the regular sacrifices.

These priests have vast monasteries, some of which are as large as small cities, and several of them contain about two thousand monks, or persons devoted to the service of the idols, all of whom shave their beards and heads, and wear particular garments, to denote that they are set apart from the laity, for the service of their gods; yet some of them may marry. In their solemnities, these men sing the praises of their idols, and carry lights in their processions. Some of them, called Sensim, or Santoms, lead an austere life, eating nothing but meal mingled with water, and when all the flour is expended, they content themselves with the bran, without any savoury addition. These men worship the fire, and those who follow other rules, allege that these austere Santoms are heretics against the religious law, because they refuse to worship idols, and never marry. These Santoms shave their heads and beards, wear coarse hempen garments of a black, or bright yellow colour, sleep on coarse thick mats, and live the severest life imaginable, amid every conceivable deprivation and austerity.[11]

[1] Erigrinul, Eriginul, Erdschi-nur; and this ought to be read fifty days south-west, instead of five days east.--Forst.
This may probably be some district in the country of the Eluts of Kokonor, not mentioned in our modern maps.--E.
[2] Singui, Sigan, or Singan-fou, in the Chinese province of Shensee.--Forst.
[3] In the edition of Harris, it is said likewise to have two similar tusks in the lower jaw, but this error must have been put in by some ignorant editor.--E.
[4] According to Forster, this passage is corrupted, and ought to be thus read: "After eight days journey west from Ergimul or Erdschi-nur, we come to Erigaia, Eggaya Organum, or Irganekon." And he names the chief town Calacia, Cailac, Gailak, or Golka.--Forst.
[5] Perhaps, the chamois are here meant, and copied camels by mistake.--Forst.
[6] Tenduc, Tenduch, Teuduch.--Forst
[7] This foolish story of Prester John has been explained in a former note.--E
[8] Cianga-nor, Cianganior, Cyangamor, or Tsahan-nor, in lat. 45°. 30. N. long. 117°. E. Marco, in these accounts of the different districts of Tangut, seems to have followed no regular order, but goes from one to another, as fancy or memory served.--Forst.
[9] Cyandi, Xandu, or Tshangtu.--Forst.
[10] In Harris, the elevation is said to be eighty feet, perhaps a typographical error for eight, as, in a subsequent passage, the table of the khan is merely said to be higher than those of the rest who have the honour to dine along with him; the particular height, therefore, is left indeterminate in the text.--E.
[11] In all ages of the world, except the social, yet irrational ancient superstitions of Greece and Rome, mankind have vainly thought to propitiate the Almighty beneficence, by ridiculous acts of austere self-torment; and even the ignorant or designing followers of the pure and rational religion of Jesus, have copied all the monstrous mummery, and abominable practices of the heathen, which they have engrafted upon his law of love and harmony.--E.



Volume 1, Chapter 11, Section 10 -- Of the great power of Kublai-khan and various circumstances respecting his Family, Government, and Dominions.

I now propose to relate the great and marvellous acts of Kublai-khan, the great emperor of the Tartars. His name, expressed in our language, signifies lord of lords, and he certainly is the greatest prince in cities, people, and treasures, that ever reigned in the world. He is lineally descended from Zingis-khan, the first prince of the Tartars, being the sixth emperor of that race, and began to reign in 1256, being then twenty-seven years of age,[1] and he has long ruled this immense empire, with great gravity and wisdom. He is a very valiant man, strong of body and well exercised in arms, and evinced himself such, in many actions, before he attained to empire, which he effected by his superior wisdom and management, contrary to the will of his brethren. Before his accession, he shewed himself a more valiant soldier, and a wiser general than ever the Tartars had before his time. Yet, since he has swayed the empire, he has always deputed his sons and other generals upon military expeditions, and has only since then gone into the field on the following occasion.

In the year 1257, or 1258, his uncle[2] named Naiam, being then thirty years of age, who had the command of so many countries and nations, that he could easily have mustered 400,000 horse, became puffed up with youthful vanity, determined to take away the empire from his lord, and drew into his schemes another great Tartar prince, named Caydu, who was nephew to Kublai, and commanded on the borders of great Turkey, and who engaged to bring 100,000 men into the field, in aid of the ambitious project of Naiam. Both of these confederates began to gather forces; but this could not be done so secretly as not to come to the knowledge of the great khan, who immediately set guards on all the roads into the desert, and assembled all the forces which lay within ten days journey of Cumbalu,[3] the imperial residence. In twenty days, he had collected an army, amounting to 360,000 horse and 100,000 foot, a large part of which vast force was composed of huntsmen and falconers, and persons belonging to the imperial household. With this army, Kublai marched with all expedition into the province occupied by Naiam, where he arrived at the end of twenty-five days march altogether unexpectedly, and before Naiam had completed his preparations, or had been joined by his confederate Caydu. After giving his troops two days rest, and having encouraged his men in the confident expectation of victory, by means of his astrologers and soothsayers, he advanced towards the encampment of Naiam, and appeared with his whole army on a hill, over against the camp of the rebels, who had not even sent out any scouts to procure intelligence.

Kublai-khan was seated on the top of a wooden castle, carried by four elephants, and filled with archers and cross-bow men, from which the royal standard was displayed, on which the pictures of the sun and moon were pourtrayed. Dividing his army into three bodies, he kept one as a reserve on the hill beside himself, and sent the two wings to attack the army of Naiam, who resolved to stand the issue of a battle. To every ten thousand horse in the army of Kublai, five hundred light armed footmen with lances were assigned, who had been taught to leap up behind the horsemen on any occasion when flight or retreat became necessary, and were instructed to alight, and kill the horses of the enemy during battle. The two armies joined in a well-contested battle, which lasted from morning till mid-day, when Naiam was made prisoner, and all his followers submitted themselves to the clemency of the victor; and having renewed their oaths of allegiance, were pardoned and dismissed, having a new governor set over them, in whose fidelity the great khan could confide.[4]

Naiam was ordered to be sewed up between two carpets, and tossed up and down till he died, to avoid shedding the blood of any one belonging to the imperial house of Zingis.

Naiam is said to have been secretly baptized, and to have professed himself a Christian, having his principal ensign marked with the sign of the cross, and to have had a great number of Christians in his army who were all slain. On this occasion, the Jews and Mahometans, who served in the army of Kublai, upbraided his Christian soldiers with the disaster which had happened to the cross in this battle. The Christians complained to Kublai of this injurious conduct, who sharply reproved the Jews and Mahometans for their behaviour; then turning to the Christians, he addressed them as follows: "Surely your God and his cross would not give aid to Naiam. Be not you therefore ashamed of what has happened; seeing that God, who is good and just, did not defend iniquity and injustice. Naiam was a traitor and a rebel, and sought the aid of your God in his mischievous purpose: But your good and upright God would not favour his bad designs." Kublai-khan returned after this great victory to Cambalu; and on Easter day he called the Christians into his presence, and kissed their gospel with great reverence, making all his great officers and barons do the same. And he acts in a similar manner on the great festivals of the Mahometans, Jews,[5] and heathens; that Segomamber-khan, the great god of the idol, Mahomet, Moses, and Jesus, or whosoever is greatest in heaven, may be favourable to him; yet he made the best shew of liking to the Christian faith, but alleged that the ignorance of the Nestorian priests, and the great interest of the sorcerers among the people, hindered him from making a profession of Christianity.

For the better rewarding his brave and faithful soldiers, the khan has a military council, composed of twelve Tartar barons, who give him notice of the meritorious services of all commanders, that they may be promoted to higher stations, giving to one the command of an hundred, to another the command of a thousand, and to a third the command of ten thousand, and so on. The captain of an hundred men has a badge or tablet of silver; the captain of a thousand has a tablet of gold or silver gilt; and the commander of ten thousand has a tablet of gold, ornamented with the head of a lion. These tablets differ in size and weight, according to the dignity of the wearers. On each tablet there is an inscription of the following import: "By the strength and power of the Almighty God, and by the grace which He hath given to our empire: Let the name of the great khan be blessed, and let all die or be destroyed who will not obey his commands." Besides these badges of distinction all officers have commissions in writing, in which all their duties, privileges, and authorities are recited. When the generals appear in public, they have a cloth or canopy carried over their heads, and they give audience sitting on chairs of silver. The badge or tablet of a general, weighs three hundred sagi, or fifty ounces of gold, having images of the sun and moon; and such as have the representation of a ger-falcon, may take with them a whole army for their guard.

Kublai-khan is a comely handsome man of middle stature, with a fresh complexion, bright black eyes, a well formed nose, and every way well proportioned. He has four lawful wives, every one of whom has the title of empress, and the eldest born son of these wives is to succeed him in the empire. Each of these empresses has her own magnificent palace and peculiar court, and is attended by three hundred women, besides many eunuchs, and the suite of each extends at least to ten thousand persons. The great Khan has also many concubines; and every second year he sends messengers to a remarkably fair tribe among the Tartars named Virgut, to make search for the fairest young women among them for his use. These messengers usually bring with them four or five hundred young women, more or less as they see cause. Examiners are appointed to take a view of all their beauties, who fix values upon them in proportion to their various merits, at sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, nineteen, twenty, or more carats; and only those are brought to court whose values reach to a certain appointed rate. On their arrival at Cambalu, other examiners again view them, and choose out twenty or thirty of the handsomest for the chambers of the khan.

Those who are thus selected, are placed for some time under the care of some of the wives of the great barons about the court, who are directed to report whether they do not snore in their sleep, and if they are not offensive in smell or behaviour. Such as are finally approved, are divided into parties of five; and one such party attends in the chamber of the khan for three days and nights in their turn, while another party waits in an adjoining chamber to prepare whatever the others may command them. Those who are less prized in the course of these rigid examinations of their qualities, are employed in cookery or other offices about the palace, or are bestowed by the khan on his favoured officers, with large portions. The men of the country from whence these young women are brought, deem it a great honour when their daughters are found worthy of the khans regard, and esteem themselves unfortunate when they are rejected at court.

Kublai had twenty-two sons by his four legitimate wives, and the first born of his first wife, named Zingis, would have succeeded him in the empire if he had not died before his father. Zingis left a son named Timur, who is a wise and valiant prince of great military experience, and who is destined to succeed his grandfather on the imperial throne, instead of his deceased father. By his concubines he has twenty-five sons, all of whom are daily exercised in martial employments, and are all promoted to high military posts and governments. Seven of his sons by his lawful wives are kings of great provinces, and rule the countries committed to their charge with great prudence and discretion.

[1] In a former note, it has been mentioned, on the authority of Abulgazi-khan, himself a descendant of Zingis, and prince, of Khuaresm, that Kublai-khan was only the fifth emperor of the Tartars, and that he ascended the throne in 1257.  The difference of date in this latter circumstance is quite unimportant, and may have proceeded, either from a different way of reckoning, or the delay of intelligence from so vast a distance. But Kublai died in 1292, after reigning thirty-five years, according to Abulgazi, and is said to have been then eighty years of age. He must therefore have been forty-five years old at his accession, instead of twenty-seven. Harris indeed mentions in, a note, that the age of Kublai in the MSS. and even in many of the printed editions, was left blank.--E.
[2] In Harris, this date is 1286; but as, in a note, this war is said to have occurred on occasion of the election of Kublai to the imperial dignity in 1257, I have ventured to restore what seems to be the true date. Besides Naiam, in 1286, thirty years of age, could not possibly have been the uncle of Kublai.--E.
[3] The new city of Pekin, of which hereafter.--E.
[4] The followers of Naiam in this rebellion are said to have consisted of four nations, or tribes of Tartars, named Ciazza, Cadi, Barscol, and Sitinqui, but of whom no other information or notice remains.--E.
[5] This is the only notice of the Jews in the east by Marco Polo, and serves considerably to confirm the authenticity of Rabbi Benjamin; who, as a Jew, felt more interest in attending to his countrymen.--E.


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