The Journey of Friar John of Pian de Carpine to the Court of Kuyuk Khan, 1245-1247

translated by

William Woodville Rockhill (1900)

Editor's Note:
This translation of John of Pian de Carpine's travels are excerpted from The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, 1235-55, as narrated by himself, with two accounts of the earlier journey of John of Pian de Carpine (London: Hakluyt Society, 1900), translated and annotated by W.W. Rockhill. For those who wish to cite the latter, Rockhill's page numbers are given throughout the text in the format // [p.xx]. The annotation has been omitted.

--Lance Jenott (2003)

In 1245-1247 John of Plano Carpini (Pian del Carpine) and Benedict the Pole, two Franciscan monks, were sent as envoys of Pope Innocent IV to the Mongol Khan. The monks traveled through the dominions of Khan Batu (ruler of the "Golden Horde") to the vicinity of Karakorum, where they witnessed the proclamation of GŁyŁg as the new Great Khan. Where he is discussing that which he actually saw, Friar John's account is "the first direct authentic description of Asia" (Olschki) and one of the most perceptive and detailed accounts we have of the Mongols in the thirteenth century. Considering his European Christian perspective, it is surprisingly unbiased. It became quite widely known in Europe through excerpts in an encyclopedia compiled by Vincent of Beauvais, the Speculum Historiale.

//[p.1] I. When therefore we had arranged, as has been already stated elsewhere, to set out for the (land of the) Tartars we (left Lyons on the 16th April, 1245, and after travelling through Germany) came to the King of Bohemia. And having asked his advice, for we were personally acquainted with this lord from of old, which was the best road for us to go by, he answered that //[p.2] it were best, it seemed to him, to go by Peland and Ruscia ; for he had relatives in Poland, with whose aid we could enter Ruscia; so having given us his letters and a good escort to take us through Poland, he caused also money to be given us to defray our travelling expenses through his lands and cities as far as (the court of) Boleslas, Duke of Selesia, his nephew, with whom also we were personally acquainted.

II. The later also gave us his letters and an escort and money for our expenses in his towns and cities, as far as Conrad, Duke of Lenczy. At that time, through Cod's special grace, the Lord Vassilko, Duke of Ruscia, had come there, from whom we learnt more accurately of the Tartars ; for he had sent his ambassadors to them, who had come back to him and to his brother Daniel, bearing to the lord Daniel a safe conduct to go to Bati. And he told us that if we wanted to go to them we must have rich presents to give them, for they were in the habit of asking for them most importunately, and if they were not given them (and this is quite true), an ambassador could not conduct his business satisfactorily with them; and that furthermore he was looked upon as a mere nothings. Not wishing that the affairs of the Lord Pope and of the Church should be obstructed on this account, with some of that which had //[p.3] been given us in charity, so that we should not be in want and for use on our journey, we bought some skins of beavers and of some other animals. Duke Conrad, the Duchess of Cracow,' some knights and the bishop of Cracow, hearing of this, gave us some more of these skins. Furthermore Duke Conrad, his son, and the Bishop of Cracow besought most earnestly Duke Vassilko to help us as much as he could in reaching the Tartars; and he replied that he would do so willingly.

III. So he took us with him to his country; and as he kept us for some days as his guests that we might rest a little, and had called thither his bishops at our request, we read them the letters of the Lord Pope, in which he admonished them to return to the unity of holy mother Church ; we also advised and urged them as much as we could, as well the Duke as the Bishops, and all those who had met there, to that same end. But as at the very time when this duke had come to Poland, his brother, Duke Daniel, had gone to Bati and was not present, they could not give a final answer, but must wait his return before being able to give a full reply.

IV. After that the Duke sent one of his servants with us as far as Kiew. Nevertheless we travelled ever in danger of our lives on account of the Lithuanians, who often committed undiscovered outrages as much as possible in the country of Ruscia, and particularly in these places through which we had to pass ; and as the greater part of the men of Ruscia had been killed by the Tartars or taken off into captivity, they were unable to offer them //[p.4] the least resistance; we were safe, however, from the Ruthenians on account of this servant. Thence then, by the grace of God having been saved from the enemies of the Cross of Christ, we came to Kiew, which is the metropolis of Ruscia. And when we came there we took counsel with the Millenarius, and the other nobles who were there, as to our route. They told us that if we took into Tartary the horses which we had, they would all die, for the snows were deep, and they did not know how to dig out the grass from under the snow like Tartar horses, nor could anything else be found (on the way) for them to eat, for the Tartars had neither straw nor hay nor fodder. So, on their advice, we decided to leave our horses there with two Qservants to keep them ; and we had to give the Millenarius presents, that he might be pleased to give us pack-horses and an escort. Before we reached Kiew, when in Danilov, I was ill to the point of death; but I had myself carried along in a cart in the intense cold through the deep snow, so as not to interfere with the affairs of Christendom.

V. Having settled then all these matters at Kiew, on the second day after the feast of the Purification of Our Lady (February 4, 1246), we started out from Kiew for other barbarous peoples, with the horses of the Millenarius and an escort. We came to a certain town which was under the direct rule of the Tartars and is called Canov; the prefect of the town gave us horses and an escort as far as another town in which was a certain Alan prefect who was //[p.5] called Micheas, a man full of all malice and iniquity, for he had sent to us to Kiew some of his body-guard, who lyingly said to us, as from the part of Corenza, that we being ambassadors were to come to him ; and this he did, though it was not true, in order that he might extort presents from us. When, however, we reached him, he made himself most disagreeable, and unless we promised him presents, would in no wise agree to help us. Seeing that we would not otherwise be able to go farther, we promised to give him some presents, but when we gave him what appeared to us suitable, he refused to receive them unless we gave more; and so we had to add to them according to his will, and something besides he subtracted from us deceitfully and maliciously.

VI. After that we left with him on the second day of Quinquagesima (19th February), and he led us as far as the first camp of the Tartars, and on the first Friday after Ash Wednesday (23rd February), while we were stopping for the night as the sun went down, the Tartars broke in on us in arms in horrible fashion asking who we were. We answered them that we were envoys-of the Lord Pope, and then, having accepted some food from us, they left at once. Starting again at morn, we had only gone a little way when their chiefs who were in the camp came to us, and inquired of us why we came to them, and what was our business. We answered them that we were the envoys of the Lord Pope, who was the lord and father of Christians; that he had sent us to the King as well as to the princes and all the Tartars, because he desired that //[p.6] all Christians should be friends of the Tartars and at peace with them. Moreover, as he wished that they should be mightyurith God in heaven, he, the Lord Pope, advised them as well through us as by his letters, that they should become Christians and receive the faith of Our Lord Jesus Christ, for otherwise they could not be saved. He told them furthermore that he was astonished at the slaying of human beings done by the Tartars, and especially of Christians and above all of Hungarians, Moravians and Poles, who were his subjects, when they had injured them in nothing nor attempted to injure them; and as the Lord God was gravely offended at this, he cautioned them to abstain henceforth from such acts, and to repent them of those they had done. Furthermore we said that the Lord Pope requested that they should write to him what they would do and what was their intention; and that they would give answer to him to all the above points in their letters. Having heard our motives, and understood and noted them down, they said that, in view of what we had said, they would give us pack-horses as far as Corenza, and supply a guide; and at once they asked for presents, which we gave them, for we must needs do their will.

VII. Having given them the presents, and taken as packhorses some from which they got off, we started under their guidance for Corenza; but they sent ahead a swift messenger to this chief with what we had told them. This chief is lord of all those (Tartars) who are encamped facing the peoples of the West, lest they suddenly and unexpectedly attack them. This chief has under him, we were told, sixty thousand armed men. When we reached him, he made us put our tents far from him, and sent us //[p.7] his slave stewards' who asked us with what we wanted to bow to him, that is to say whether we would make him presents. We replied that the Lord Pope had not sent any presents, for he was not sure we could reach them ; and that furthermore we had had to pass through very dangerous places, exposed to the Lithuanians, who make raids along the roads from Poland to near the Tartars, over which we had had to travel; but nevertheless with what we were carrying with us, by the grace of God and of our Lord the Pope, and for our personal use, we would show him our respect as well as we could. But when we had given him a number of things, they were not enough for him, and he asked for more through intermediaries, promising to have us conducted most honourably if we complied with his request, which we had to do since we wished to live and carry out satisfactorily the order of the Lord Pope.

VIII. Having received the presents they led us to his orda or tent, and we were instructed to bend three times the left knee before the door of his dwelling, and to be very careful not to put our feet on the `threshold of the door; and this we were attentive to observe, for sentence of death is on those who knowingly tread upon the threshold of a chiefs dwelling. After we had entered we were obliged to repeat on bended knee before the chief and all the other nobles, who had specially been convened there for that purpose, what has been previously said. We presented to him also the letters of the Lord Pope ; but as our interpreter, whom we had brought with us from Kiew, was not able to translate them for him, nor was there any one else competent to do so, they could not be interpreted. After this, horses were given us, and three Tartars, two of //[p.8] whom were chiefs over ten, and the other a man (homo) of Bati, guided us with all speed to that latter chief. This Bati is more powerful than all the other Tartar princes save the Emperor, whom he is held to obey.

IX. We started (for Bati's camp) on the Monday after the first Sunday of Quadragesima (26th February), and riding as fast as horses could go trotting, for we had fresh horses three or four times nearly every day, we rode from morning to night, and very often even at night, and it was not before Wednesday in Holy Week (4th April) that we could get to him. We crossed the whole country of the Comans, which is all a plain, and has four great rivers. The first is called the Neper, along which, on the side of Ruscia, roams Corenza, and on the other side through those plains, Mauci, who is mightier than Corenza. Secondly, the Don, along which roams a certain prince called Catan, who has as wife Bati's sister. The third is the Volga, a very big river, along which goes Bati. The fourth is called Jaec, along which go two Millenarii, one along one side of the river, the other along the other. All these (chiefs) descend in winter time to the sea, and in summer go up the courses of these rivers to the mountains. Now this sea is the Mare-Magnum from which goes out the arm of Saint George which goes to Constantinople. We went along for many days on the ice on the Neper. These rivers //[p.9] are big, very full of fish, especially the Volga, and they fall into the sea of Greece which is called Mare-Magnum. We went for many days along the shore of this sea, which on account of the ice was very dangerous in several places; for it freezes along the coast quite three leagues out. But before we came to Bati, two of our Tartars went ahead to tell him all we had said at Corenza's.

X. When then we came to Bati on the borders of the Comans' country, we were made to camp a good league from their tents, and before we were taken to his court we were told we would have to pass between two fires, which we refused to do under any consideration. But they told us: "Fear not, we only make you pass between these two fires lest perchance you think something injurious to our lord, or if you carry some poison, for the fire will remove all harm." We answered them: "Since it is thus we will pass through, so that we may not be suspected of such things." When we came to the orda we were questioned by his procurator, who is called Eldegai, as to what we wanted to make our obeisance with, that is to say, what gifts we desired to give him; we answered him as we had previously answered Corenza, that the Lord Pope had sent no presents, but that we ourselves, of those things which we had by the grace of God and the Lord Pope for our //[p.10] expenses, desired to show him our respect as best we could. Presents having been given and accepted, the procurator called Eldegai questioned us as to our coming ; and to him we gave the same reasons as we had previously given to Corenza.

XI. Having been informed of our reasons, they led us into the dwelling, after having made a bow, and heard the caution about the threshold, which has be%n mentioncd. Having entered then we said what we had to say on bended knees, and then we presented him the letters (of the Pope), and requested that interpreters be given us able to translate them. These were given us on Good Friday (6th April), and we carefully translated the letters into the Ruthenian, Saracenic, and Tartar languages, and this latter interpretation was given to Bati, who read it and noted it carefully. After that we were taken back to our dwelling, but no food wa-~given us, save once on the night of our arrival a little millet in a bowl.

XII. This Bati holds his court right magnificently, for he has door-keepers and all the other officials like unto their Emperor. He sits also in a raised place, as on a throne, with one of his wives ; but every one else (of his family), as well his brothers and his sons as others of lesser degree, sit lower down on a bench in the middle (of the tent). All the other people sit behind them on the ground, the men to the right, the women to the left. He has tents made of linen (pannis lzneis). They are large and quite handsome, and used to belong to the King of Hungary. And no outsider save a servant dare enter the tent, no matter how great and mighty he may be, unless he is called, unless perchance he knows he is wanted. When we had stated our object, we took a seat to the left,' for thus do all //[p.11] ambassadors in going, but on coming back from the Emperor they always placed us on the right. In the middle of the dwelling near the door is a table, on which is placed drink in gold and silver vases; and Bati never drinks, nor does any prince of the Tartars, especially when they are in public, without there being singing and guitar playing. And when he rides out, there is always carried over his head on a pole an umbrella or little awning; and all the very great princes of the Tartars do likewise. This Bati is kind enough to his own people, but he is greatly feared by them. He is, however, most cruel in fight ; he is very shrewd and extremely crafty in warfare, for he has been waging war for a long time.

XIII. On Holy Saturday (7th April) we were called to his tent and that same procurator of Bati's came out to us, and told us from him that we were to io to the Emperor Cuyuc in their country, and that some of our party would be kept there (with Bati) in the expectation that they would want to send them back to the Lord Pope. We gave them letters concerning all we had done to carry back (to the Pope), but when they , had got as far as Mauci, he detained them until our return. As for ourselves, on the day of the Resur- rection of the Lord (8th April), having said mass and settled everything, accompanied by the two Tartars who had been detailed to us at Corenza's, we started out most tearfully, not knowing whether we were going to life or death. We were furthermore so feeble that we could hardly ride; during the whole of that lent our only food had been millet with salt and water; and likewise on the //[p.12] other fast days; nor had we anything else to drink but snow melted in the kettle.

XIV. Comania hath to the north of it, immediately after Ruscia, the Morduins, the Bilers, or great Bulgaria, the Bascarts or great Hungary; after the Bascarts, the Parrosits (748) and the Samogeds, after the Samogeds those who are said to have dog-faces, who live in the deserts along the coasts of the Ocean. To the south it (i.e., Comania) has the Alans, the Circasses, the Gazars, Greece and Constantinople ; also the land of the Ibers, the Cachs, the Brutaches, who are said to be Jews and who shave their heads, the country of the Zicci, of the Georgians and of the Armenians, and the country of the Turks. To the west it has Hungary and Ruscia. And this country (of Comania) is extremely long, for we were riding through it at great speed, having every day fresh horses, five or seven times a day, except, as I have said, when we were riding through desert tracts when we got better and stronger horses able to stand more work, and we //[p.13] kept this up from the beginning of lent to the eighth day after Easter (16th April). The Tartars killed these Comans; some fled from before them, and others were reduced to slavery. Most of those who fled have come back to them. XV. After that we entered the country of the Cangitae, which in many places suffers from a great scarcity of water, and in which but few people remain on account of this deficiency of water. And so it happened that the men of leroslav, Duke of Ruscia, who were going to join him in the country of the Tartars, lost some of their number who died of thirst-in this desert. In this country and also in Comania, we found many human skulls and bones scattered about on the ground like cattle-dung. We travelled through this country (of the Cangitae) from the eighth day after Easter to nearly the Ascension of our Lord. These people are pagans, and the Comans as well as the Cangitae do not till the soil, but only live on the produce of their animals; nor do they build houses, but live in tents. The Tartars have also annihilated them, and now occupy their country; those of them. who were left they have reduced to slavery.

XVI. Leaving the country of the Cangitae we entered that of the Bisermins. These people used to speak the //[p.14] Coman language, and do still speak it ; but they hold the religion of the Saracens. We found in that country in- numerable ruined cities, overthrown villages, and many deserted towns. There is a great river in that country whose name I do not know, and on which stands a city called Ianckint, and also another called Barchin, and still another called Ornas, and many more whose names I do not know. This country used to have a lord who was called //[p.15] the Great Soldan, and he was put to death by the Tartars with all his progeny, but I am ignorant of his name. The country has very high mountains ; to the south of it is Jerusalem, Baldach, and the whole country of the Saracens. Near its borders are stationed the chiefs Burin and Cadan, who are uterine brothers. To the north of it is a part of the country of the Black Kitayans and an Ocean, and in that quarter is stationed Sitan, a brother of Bati. We travelled through this country from the feast of the Ascen- sion (17th May) to about eight days before the feast of Saint John the Baptist (24th June).

XVII. After that we entered the country of the Black Kitayans, in which they (i.e., the Mongols) have built anew, as it were, a city called Omyl, in which the Emperor has erected a house where we were invited to drink; and he who was there on the part of the Emperor //[p.16] made the nobles of the town and also his own two sons clap their hands before us (when we drank). Leaving this place we found a not very large lake, and as we did not ask its name, we do not know it. On the shore of this lake was a little hill, in where there is said to be an opening, whence in winter there issue out such great tempests of wind that people can barely and at great.danger pass by. In summer, however, though one always hears the sound of the winds, but little comes out of the opening, according to what the inhabitants told us. We travelled along the shore of this lake for several days; it has several islands //[p.17] in it, and it lay upon our left hand. This country has great abundance of streams, not large ones, however ; on either bank of these rivers are woods, but of no great width." Ordu lives in this country; he is older than Bati, in fact, older than any of the other chiefs of the Tartars, and the orda or court is that of one of his wives who rules over it. For it is a custom among the Tartars that the courts of their princes and nobles are riot broken up (on their death), but some women are always appointed who govern them, and the same proportion of presents are given them that their lord had been in the habit (during his life) of allowing them. After this we came to the first orda of the Emperor, in which was one of his wives; but as we had not yet seen the Emperor they would not invite us nor let us come into her orda, though they had us well served in our own tent, according to Tartar fashion; and they kept us there for a whole day, so that we might rest.

XVIII. Proceeding thence on the eve of the feast of Saint Peter (28th June), we entered the country of the Naiman, who are pagans. On the day of the feast of the apostles Peter and Paul (29th June) there fell in that place a great snow, and we experienced great cold. This country is exceptionally mountainous and cold, and //[p.18] there is very little plain in it. These two nations do not till the soil, but like the Tartars live in tents. These latter have nearly exterminated them. We travelled through this country many days.

XIX. After that we entered the country of the Mongals, whom we call Tartars. And we journeyed through that country for three weeks, I think riding hard, and on the day of the feast of blessed Mary Magdalen (22nd July) we arrived at Cuyuc's, the present emperor. Along all this (part of the) route we travelled very fast, for our Tartars had been ordered to take us quickly to the solemn court which had already been convened for several years for the election of an emperor, so that we might be present at it. So we had to rise at dawn and travel till night without a stop; often we arrived so late that we did not eat at night, but that which we should have eaten at night was given us in the morning; and we went as fast as the horses could trot, for there was no lack of horses, having usually fresh horses during the day, those which we left being sent back, as I have stated previously ; and in this fashion we rode rapidly along without interruption.

Concerning the arrangement of the Emperor's court and of his princes.

I. When we reached Cuyuc's camp, he caused us to be given a tent and allowances such as the Tartars are in the habit of giving; but they treated us better than they did the other ambassadors. We were not called (before Cuyuc) however, for he had not yet been elected, nor had they //[p.19] settled about the succession ; the translation of the letters of the Lord Pope, and what else we had said (to Corenza and Batu), had been sent him by Bati. And when we had been there five or six days, he sent us to his mother, where the solemn court was being held. When we got there they had already erected a great tent made of white purple, which in our opinion was large enough to hold more than two thousand persons; and around it a wooden paling had been made, and it was ornamented with divers designs. On the second or third day we went with the Tartars who had been assigned to guard us (to this tent); and all the chiefs met there, and each one was riding around in a circle over hill and dale with his men. On the first day they were all dressed in white purple; on the second day, and then it was that Cuyuc came to the tent, they were dressed in red (purple); on the third day they were all in blue purple, and on the fourth day in the finest baldakins. In the paling near the tent were two big gates: one through which only the Emperor could pass, and at which there was no guard though it was open, for no one would dare to go in or out by it; and the other way by which all those who had admittance went in, and at this one were guards with swords, bows and arrows, and if anyone came near the tent outside of the set bounds, he was beaten if caught, or shot at with headless arrows if he ran away. The horses were kept at about two arrow-flights, I should say, from the tent. The chiefs went about everywhere with a number of their men all armed; but nobody, unless a chief, could go to the horses, without getting badly beaten for //[p.20] trying to do so. And many (of the horses) there were which had on their bits, breast-plates, saddles and cruppers quite twenty marks worth of gold I should think. And so the chiefs held counsel beyond the tent, and discussed the election, while all the rest of the people were far away from the tent. And there they remained till about noon, when they began drinking mare's milk, and they drank till evening so plentifully that it was a rare sight.

III. They called us inside (the tent), and gave us mead, for we would not drink mare's milk at all; and this was a great honor they showed us; and they kept on urging us to drink, but not being in the habit of it, we could not do so, and we let them see that it was distasteful to us, so they stopped pressing us. In the great square was the duke Jeroslav of Susdal in Ruscia, and several princes of the Kitayans and Solanges, also two sons of the King of Georgia, a soldan, the ambassador of the Calif of Baldach, and more than ten other soldans of the Saracens, I believe, and as we were told by the procurators. For there were more than four thousand envoys, as well those bringing tribute as those offering presents, soldans and other chiefs who had come to present themselves in person, those who had been sent by their (rulers), and those who were governors of countries. All these were put together outside the paling, and drink was given to them at the same time; as for ourselves and the duke Jeroslav, whenever we were outside with them they always gave us a higher place. I think, if I remember rightly, that we //[p.21] were at that place for a good four weeks; and I am under the impression that the election was made there, though it was not proclaimed. It was for the following reason that it was generally believed (that Cuyuc had been chosen) whenever Cuyuc came out of the tent, they sang to him, and as long as he remained outside of it they inclined before him certain fine staffs on the ends of which were (tufts of) red wool, which was done to no other chief. They called this tent (swio) or court the Sira-Orda.

IV. Coming out of the tent, we all rode together to another place some three or four leagues distant, where there was a fine large plain near a river flowing between //[p.22] mountains, where another tent was set up, and it is called by them the Golden Orda: and here it was that Cuyuc was to have been placed on the throne on the day of the Assumption of our Lady (15th August); but it was deferred on account of the hail which fell, to which I have referred previously. This tent rested on pillars covered with gold plates, fastened with gold nails and other woods, and the top and sides of it were covered with baldakips; the outside, however, being of other kinds of stuff. Here we remained until the feast of Saint Bartholomew (24th August), when there assembled a great multitude, and they all stood with their faces turned to the south, some of them a stone's throw from others, going ever farther and farther away, making genuflexions towards the south. As for us, not knowing whether they were making incantations or bending their knees to God or what else, we would not make any genuflexions. After doing this for a long while they went back to the tent, and placed Cuyuc on the imperial seat, and the chiefs knelt before him ; and after that the whole people did likewise, except ourselves who were not his subjects. Then they began drinking, and as is their custom, they kept on drinking till evening. After that they brought in carts of cooked meat, without salt, and to each four or five they gave a quarter. //[p.23] To those who were inside (the tent) they gave meat and salted broth for sauce ; and in this fashion they passed days in feasting.

V. It was at this place (the Golden Orda) that we were called into the Emperor's presence; after that Chingayl the prothonotary had written down our names and the names of those who had sent us, and also those of the chief of the Solanges and of the others, he repeated them all, shouting with a loud voice before the Emperor and all the chiefs. When. this had been done each of us had to bend the left knee four times, and they cautioned us not to touch the threshold, and having searched us carefully for knives, and not having found any, we entered the door on the east side, for no one dare enter That on the west side save the Emperor; and the same rule applies if it is the tent of a chief ; but those of low rank pay little attention to such matters. And when we entered his tent, it was the first occasion since he had been made Emperor (that he had given an audience). He received likewise the ambas- sadors, but very few persons entered his tent. Here also such great quantities of presents were given him by the ambassadors, silks, samites, purples, baldakins, silk girdles worked in gold, splendid furs and other things, that it was a marvel to see. Here also it was that a kind of umbrella or awning that is carried over the Emperor's head was presented to him, and it was all covered with precious stones. Here also a certain governor of a province brought //[p.24] to him many camels covered with baldakin and with saddles on them, and a kind of arrangement inside of which people could sit, I think there were forty or fifty of them ; and (he also gave him) many horses and mules covered with armour, some of hide, others of iron. They asked us if we wished to make any presents; but we had already used up nearly everything we had, so we had, nothing at all to give him. It waSi while here that on a hill some distance from the tent there were more than five hundred carts, all full of gold and silver and silken gowns, all of which was divided up between the Emperor and the chiefs ; and the various chiefs divided their shares among their men as they saw fit.

VI. Leaving this place, we came to another where there was a wonderful tent, all of red purple, a present of the Kitayans. We were taken into it also, and here again when we entered they gave us mead or wine to drink, and offered us cooked meat, if we wanted it. There was a high platform of boards in it, on which was the Emperor's throne and the throne was of ebony, wonderfully sculptured; and there were also (on it) gold, and precious stones, and, if I remember rightly, pearls ; and one went up to it by steps, , and it was rounded behind. There were benches placed around the throne, on which the ladies sat in rows on the left side; on the right side no one sat on raised seats, but the chiefs sat on seats of lesser height placed in the middle (of the tent), and the other people sat behind them and the whole day there came there a great concourse of ladies.

These three tents of which I have spoken were //[p.25] very big; but his wives had other tents of white felt, and they were quite large and handsome. It was here also that they separated : the mother of the Emperor went in one direction, the Emperor in another, for the purpose of rendering justice. The paternal aunt of the Emperor was in prison, for she had killed his father in the time when their army was in Hungary, and it was for this that the army had retreated from those countries. She and a number of others were tried for this, and put to death.

VII. At this same time Jeroslav, grand-duke in a part of Ruscia called Susdal, died at the Emperor's orda. It happened that he was invited by the mother of the Emperor (to her tent), and she gave him to eat and drink with her own hand, as if to honour him ; and he went back to his lodgings straightway and fell ill, and after seven days he was dead, and all his body became livid in strange fashion; so that everyone believed that he had been poisoned, that they might get free and full possession of his lands. As an argument in favour of this (supposition, the Empress) sent at once, without the knowledge of any of her people who were there, an. envoy in all haste to his son Alexander in Ruscia to come to her, for she wished to give him his father's lands; but he would not go, but remained there (at home); in the meanwhile (the Empress) sent also letters for him to come and receive his father's lands. It was believed by all that he would be put to death if he should come, or imprisoned perpetually.

//[p.26] VIII. It was after this death (of Jeroslav) that our Tartars took us to the Emperor, if I remember correctly the time; and when the Emperor heard from our Tartars that we had come to him, he ordered us to go back to his mother, for he wanted two days after that to unfurl his standard against the whole of the western world, as was emphatically told us by those who knew, as has been previously stated, and he wished us not to know it. When we had returned (to the Empress), we remained there a few days, when we were sent back again to him; and we remained with him for quite a month, in such hunger and thirst that we were barely able to keep alive, for the allowances which they gave the four of us were scarcely enough for one; and we could find nothing to buy, the market being too far away. Had not the Lord sent us a certain Ruthenian called Cosmas, a goldsmith, and a great favourite of the Emperor, who helped us a little, I verily believe we should have died, unless the Lord had helped us in some other way. He showed us before putting it in place the throne of the Emperor which he himself had made, and also the seal he had manufactured for him, and he told us the superscription on his seal. We also learnt many private details (secreta) about //[p.27] the Emperor, from those who had come with other chiefs, several Ruthenians and Hungarians who knew Latin and French, also Ruthenian clerks and others who had been with them, some as long as thirty years, in war and in other events, and who knew all about them as they understood the language, having been continually with them sonfie twenty, others ten years, more or less. From these we were able to learn about everything : they told us most freely of all things without our having to question them, for they knew of our desire.

IX. After these things had happened the Emperor sent his prothonotary Chingay to tell us to write down what we had to say and our business, and to give it to him ; this we did, writing down all we had previously said at Bati's, as has been stated above. After an interval of several days, he had us again called, and told us, through Kadac, the procurator of the whole empire, and in the presence of the prothonotaries Bala and Chingay, and of many others of his secretaries, to say all we had to say; and this we did right willingly. Our interpreter on that occasion, as well as on the other, was Temer, a knight of Jeroslav's, now a clerk with him, and another cleric of the Emperor's. And he (i.e., Kadac) asked us on the latter occasion if there were any persons with the Lord Pope who understood the written languages of the Ruthenians or Saracens or Tartars. We replied that we did not use either the Ruthenian, Tartar, or Saracenic writing, and that though there were Saracens in the country, they were far distant from the Lord Pope. We added that it appeared to us the best plan for them to write in Tartar, and to have it translated to us, and that we would carefully write it down //[p.28] in our language, taking both the (original) letter and the translation to the Lord Pope. On this they left us and went back to the Emperor.

X. On the feast of Saint Martin (11th November) we were again summoned, and Kadac, Chingay, Bala and several others of the secretaries came to us, and the letter was translated to us word for word ; and as we translated it into Latin they made us explain each phrase, wishing to ascertain if we had made a mistake in any word; and when the two letters were written they made us read them together and separately for fear we had left out anything, and they said to us: "Be sure you understand it all, for it must not be that you do not understand everything, when you have reached such very distant lands." And having told them: "We understand it all," they re-wrote the letter in Saracenic, so that it might be read to the Lord Pope if he could find any one in our part of the world able to do so.

XI. It is the custom of the Emperor of the Tartars never to address in person a stranger, no matter how great he may be; he only listens, and then answers through the medium of someone, as I have explained. Whenever they explain any business to Kadac, or listen to are answer of the Emperor, those who are under him (i.e., his own subjects), remain on their knees until the end of the speech, no matter how great they may be. One may not, for it is not the custom, say anything more about any question after it is disposed of by the Emperor. This Emperor has a procurator, prothonotaries and secretaries, and also all the other officers for public as well as private affairs, except advocates, for they carry out without a murmur all judgments according to the Emperor's decision. The //[p.29] other princes of the Tartars do in like manner as regards those things which pertain to their offices.

XII. This Emperor may be forty or forty-five years or more old ; he is of medium stature, very prudent and extremely shrewd, and serious and sedate in his manners; and he has never been seen to laugh lightly or show any levity, and of this we were assured by Christians who were constantly with him. We were also assured by Christians who were of his household that they firmly believed that he was about to become a Christian. As signal evidence of this he keeps Christian clerks and gives them allowances, and he has always the chapel of the Christians in front of his great tent, and (these priests) chant publicly and openly and beat (a tablet) according to the fashion of the Greeks at appointed hours, just like other Christians, and though there may be ever so great a multitude of Tartars and of other people. And the other chiefs do not have this.

XIII. Our Tartars who were to come back with us told us that the Emperor proposed sending his ambassadors with us. He wished, however, I think, that we should ask him to do so, for one of our Tartars, the elder of the two, told us to ask it ; but it not seeming to us good that they should come, we replied that it was not for us to ask it, but that if the Emperor of his own will sent them, we would with God's help guide them safely. There were various reasons, however, for which it seemed to us inexpedient that they should come. The first reason was that we feared they would see the dissensions and wars among us, and that it would encourage them to march against us. The second reason was that we feared they were intended to be spies. The third reason was that we feared lest they be put to death, as our people for the most part are arrogant and hasty: thus it was that when the servants who were with us at the request of the //[p.30] Cardinal Legate in Germany were going back to him in Tartar dress, they came near being stoned by the Germans on the road, and were forced to leave off that dress. And it is the custom of the Tartars never to make peace with those who have killed their envoys till they have wreaked vengeance upon them. The fourth reason was that we feared they would carry us off, as was once done with a Saracen prince, who is still a captive, unless he is dead. The fifth reason was that there was no need for their coming, for they had no other order or authority than to bring the letters of the Emperor to the Lord Pope and the other princes (of Christendom), which we (already) had, and we believed that evil might come of it. Therefore it pleased us not that they should come. The third day after this, which was the feast of Saint Brice (13th November), they gave us permission to leave (licentiam) and a letter of the Emperor signed with his seal, and then they sent us to the Emperor's mother, who gave to each of us a fox-skin gown with the fur outside and wadding inside, and also a piece of purple-of which our Tartars stole a palm's length from each, and also more than half of another piece which was given to our servant; but though it was no secret to us, we did not choose to make any ado over it.

Concerning the route we travelled in coming back

I. So we started on our way back, and we were travelling the whole winter, resting mostof the time in the snow in the desert, save when in the open plain where there //[p.31] were no trees we could scrape a bare place with our feet; and often when the wind drifted it we would find (on waking) our bodies all covered with snow. And so we travelled along till we came to Bati, on the Ascension of our Lord (9th May), and to him we told what (the Emperor) had answered the Lord Pope.

He replied that he had nothing to ask other than what the Emperor had written; but he said that we must carefully tell the Lord Pope and the other lords everything the Emperor had written. Safe conducts having been given us we left him, and reached Mauci on the Saturday after the octave of Pentecost (2nd June), where were our companions and servants who had been detained, and whom we caused to be brought back to us. Thence we went to Corenza, who again begged presents of us, but not having (anything) we gave nothing. He gave us two Comans, who were accounted of the Tartars, as far as Kiew in Ruscia. Our own Tartar did not leave us till we had left the last Tartar camp. The others who had been given us by Corenza led us in six days from the last camp to Kiew.

II. We reached (Kiew) fifteen days before the feast of Saint John the Baptist (9th June). The Kiewians who had heard of our arrival all came out to meet us rejoicing, and congratulated us as if we had risen from the dead, and so they did to us throughout Ruscia, Poland and Bohemia. Daniel and Vassilko his brother received us with great rejoicing, and kept us, against our will, for quite eight days ; during which time they held counsel between themselves and the bishops and other notables about those things on which we had spoken to them when on our way to the Tartars, And they answered us jointly, saying, that they wished to have the Lord Pope for their particular lord and father, and the holy Roman Church as their lady and mistress, and confirming likewise all they had previously transmitted on the matter through their abbot; and after that they sent with us to the Lord Pope their letters and ambassadors.

© 2004 Silk Road Seattle