Pegolotti's Merchant Handbook

[First published in the eighteenth century from a manuscript copied in 1471, the Pratica della Mercatura provides important evidence regarding the Eurasian trade ca. 1340, during the period when the "Golden Horde" (the western part of the Mongol Empire) was at its height. The author, Francesco Balducci Pegolotti, worked for the Florentine merchant firm of Bardi. He had been in Antwerp in 1315, London in 1317, Cyprus from 1324-1327 and again in the 1330s. Presumably his service in the Eastern Mediterranean required that he know the products and prices in the major centers of the Eastern trade. His account is of particular interest for its description of the relative security of trade routes through the territories of the Mongol Empire and the great variety of products available in commercial centers such as Constantinople.

The text here is excerpted from the partial translation in Henry Yule and Henri Cordier, tr. and ed., Cathay and the Way Thither, Being a Collection of Medieval Notices of China, Vol. III (London, 1916), pp. 143-171. Some identifications have been added in brackets; the footnotes have been deleted. There is a modern edition of the full text in La pratica della mercatura, ed. Allen Evans (Cambridge, Ma., 1936).]




This book is called the Book of Descriptions of Countries and of measures employed in business, and of other things needful to be known by merchants of different parts of the world, and by all who have to do with merchandize and exchanges; showing also what relation the merchandize of one country or of one city bears to that of others; and how one kind of goods is better than another kind; and where the various wares come from, and how they may be kept as long as possible.

The book was compiled by Francis Balducci Pegolotti of Florence, who was with the Company of the Bardi of Florence, and during the time that he was in the service of the said Company, for the good and honour and prosperity of the said Company, and for his own, and for that of whosoever shall read or transcnbe the said book....

[He then provides several pages of terminology and definitions, for example, giving the words for "customs duties" and "market" in several languages.]

Information regarding the journey to Cathay, for such as will
go by Tana and come back with goods.

In the first place, from Tana [Azov, at the mouth of the Don R.] to Gintarchan [Astrakhan, at the mouth of the Volga R.] may be twenty-five days with an ox-waggon, and from ten to twelve days with a horse-waggon. On the road you will find plenty of Moccols [Mongols], that is to say, of gens d'armes. And from Gittarchan to Sara [Sarai, the Mongol Capital a ways up the Volga] may be a day by river, and from Sara to Saracanco [Sarachik, on the lower reaches of the Ural R.], also by river, eight days. You can do this either by land or by water; but by water you will be at less charge for your merchandize.

From Saracanco to Organci [Urgench, on the lower Amu Darya R.] may be twenty days journey in camel-waggon. It will be well for anyone travelling with merchandize to go to Organci, for in that city there is a ready sale for goods. From Organci to Oltrarre [Otrar, in today's Kazakhstan] is thirty-five to forty days in camel-waggons. But if when you leave Saracanco you go direct to Oltrarre, it is a journey of fifty days only, and if you have no merchandize it will be better to go this way than to go by Organci.

From Oltrarre to Armalec [?Kulja, on the Ili R.] is forty-five days' journey with pack-asses, and every day you find Moccols. And from Armalec to Camexu [Ganchau, in Gansu province] is seventy days with asses, and from Camexu until you come to a river forty-five days on horseback; and then you can go down the river to Cassai [Qinsai], and there you can dispose of the sommi of silver that you have with you, for that is a most active place of business. After getting to Cassai you carry on with the money which you get for the sommi of silver which you sell there; and this money is made of paper, and is called balishi. And four pieces of this money are worth one sommo of silver in the province of Cathay. And from Cassai to Garnalec [Cambalec, Beijing], which is the capital city of the country of Cathay, is thirty days' journey.

Things needful for merchants who desire to make the journey
to Cathay above described.

In the first place, you must let your beard grow long and not shave. And at Tana you should furnish yourself with a dragoman [translator/guide]. And you must not try to save money in the matter of dragomen by taking a bad one instead of a good one. For the additional wages of the good one will not cost you so much as you will save by having him. And besides the dragoman It will be well to take at least two good men servants, who are acquainted with the Cumanian [Tatar] tongue. And if the merchant likes to take a woman with him from Tana, he can do so; if he does not like to take one there is no obligation, only if he does take one he will be kept much more comfortably than if he does not take one. Howbeit, if he do take one, it will be well that she be acquainted with the Cumanian tongue as well as the men.

And from Tana travelling to Gittarchan you should take with you twenty-five days' provisions, that is to say, flour and salt fish, for as to meat you will find enough of it at all the places along the road. And so also at all the chief stations noted in going from one country to another in the route, according to the number of days set down above, you should furnish yourself with flour and salt fish; other things you wilt find in sufficiency, and especially meat.

The road you travel from Tana to Cathay is perfectly safe, whether by day or by night, according to what the merchants say who have used it. Only if the merchant, in going or coming, should die upon the road, everything belonging to him will become the perquisite of the lord of the country in which he dies, and the officers of the lord will take possession of all. And in like manner if he die in Cathay. But if his brother be with him, or an intimate friend and comrade calling himself his brother, then to such an one they will surrender the property of the deceased, and so it will be rescued.

And there is another danger: this is when the lord of the country dies, and before the new lord who is to have the lordship is proclaimed; during such intervals there have sometimes been irregularities practised on the Franks, and other foreigners. (They call Franks all the Christians of these parts from Romania westward'.) And neither will the roads be safe to travel until the other lord be proclaimed who is to reign in room of him who is deceased.

Cathay is a province which contained a multitude of cities and towns. Among others there is one in particular, that is to say the capital city, to which is great resort of merchants, and in which there is a vast amount of trade; and this city is called Cambalec. And the said city hath a circuit of one hundred miles, and is all full of people and bouses and of dwellers in the said city.

You may calculate that a merchant with a dragoman, and with two men servants, and with goods to the value of twenty-five thousand golden florins, should spend on his way to Cathay from sixty to eighty sommi of silver, and not more if he manage well; and for all the road back again from Cathay to Tana, including the expenses of living and the pay of servants, and all other charges, the cost will be about five sommi per head of pack animals, or something less. And you may reckon the sommo to be worth five golden florins. You may reckon also that each ox-waggon will require one ox, and will carry ten cantars Genoese weight; and the camel-waggon will require three camels, and will carry thirty cantars Genoese weight; and the horse-waggon will require one horse, and will commonly carry six and half cantars of silk, at 250 Genoese pounds to the cantar [a Genoese pound was apparently about 12 ounces]. And a bale of silk may be reckoned at between 110 and 115 Genoese pounds.

You may reckon also that from Tana to Sara the road is less safe than on any other part of the journey; and yet even when this part of the road is at its worst, if you are some sixty men in the company you will go as safely as if you were in your own house.

Anyone from Genoa or from Venice, wishing to go to the places above-named, and to make the journey to Cathay, should carry linens with him, and if he visit Organci he will dispose of these well. In Organci he should purchase sommi of silver, and with these he should proceed without making any further investment, unless it be some bales of the very finest stuffs which go in small bulk, and cost no more for carriage than coarser stuffs would do.

Merchants who travel this road can ride on horseback or on asses, or mounted in any way that they list to be mounted.

Whatever silver the merchants may carry with them as far as Cathay the lord of Cathay will take from them and put into his treasury. And to merchants who thus bring silver they give that paper money of theirs in exchange. This is of yellow paper, stamped with the seal of the lord aforesaid. And this money is called balishi; and with this money you can readily buy silk and all other merchandize that you have a desire to buy. And all the people of the country are bound to receive it. And yet you shall not pay a higher price for your goods because your money is of paper. And of the said paper money there are three kinds, one being worth more than another, according to the value which has been established for each by that lord.

And you may reckon that you can buy for one sommo of silver nineteen or twenty pounds of Cathay silk, when reduced to Genoese weight, and that the sommo should weigh eight and a half ounces of Genoa, and should be of the alloy of eleven ounces and seventeen deniers to the pound.

You may reckon also that in Cathay you should get three or three and a half pieces of damasked silk for a sommo; and from three and a half to five pieces of nacchetti of silk and gold, likewise for a sommo of silver.

Chapter III
Comparison of the weights and measures of Cathay and of Tana.

...At Tana...

Wax, ladanum, iron, tin, copper, pepper, ginger, all coarser spices, cotton, madder, and suet, cheese, flax, and oil, honey, and the like, sell by the great pound.

Silk, saffron, amber wrought in rosaries and the like, and all small spices sell by the little pound.

Vair-skins by the 1000; and 1020 go to the 1000.

Ermines by the 1000; 1000 to the 1000.

Foxes, sables, fitches and martens, wolfskins, deerskins, and all cloths of silk or gold, by the piece.

Common stuffs, and canvasses of every kind sell by the picco [approx. 28 in.].

Tails are sold by the bundle at twenty to the bundle.

Oxhides by the hundred in tale, giving a hundred and no more.

Horse and pony hides by the piece.

Gold and pearls are sold by the saggio [1/6 of an ounce]. Wheat and all other corn and pulse is sold at Tana by a measure which they call cascito [1/5 of a cantaro]. Greek wine and all Latin wines are sold by the cask as they come. Malmsey and wines of Triglia and Candia are sold by the measure.

Caviar is sold by the fusco, and a fusco is the tail-half of the fish's skin, full of fish's roe.

Charges on merchandize which are paid at Tana on things entering
the city, nothing being paid on going forth thereof.

Gold, silver, and pearls at Tana pay neither comerchio, nor tamunga, nor any other duties.

On wine, and ox-hides, and tails, and horse-hides, the Genoese and Venetians pay four per cent., and all other people five per cent.

[What is paid for the transit of merchandize at Tana.]

Silk 5 aspers per pound.

All other things, at... aspers for 3 cantars.

At Tana the money current is of sommi and aspers of silver. The sommo weighs 45 saggi of Tana, and is of the alloy of 11 oz. 17 dwt. of fine silver to the pound....

[Ch. V details the relationship between weights at Tana and those of Venice, Caffa (in the Crimea, a major Genorese port), and the important commercial city of Tabriz in NW Iran. Ch. VI lists the costs for each stage of the overland route from Cilician Armenia (SE Turkey, on the Mediterranean) to Tabriz.]

Detail showing how all goods are sold and bought at Constantinople and in Pera, and of the expenses incurred by traders; but especially as regards Pera, because most of the business is done there, where the merchants are more constantly to be found. For the rest of Constantinople belongs to the Greeks, but Pera to the Franks, i.e. to the Genoese. And from Constantinople to Pera, 'tis five miles by land, but half a mile by water.

[This is one of the longest chapters in the book, and embraces numerous particulars as to the customs of trade; as of tare, damage, garbling, samples, etc. We shall give some extracts.]

Goods are sold at Constantinople in various ways.

The indigo called Baccaddeo is (sold in packages) of a certain weight, and the weight you must know should be the cantar. And if the buyer chooses to take it from the seller without weighing it, be it more or less than a cantar, 'tis to the profit or loss of the buyer. But they do almost always weigh it, and then payment is made according to the exact weight, be it more or less than a cantar. And the skin and wrapper are given with it but no tare is deducted; nor is garbling allowed nor do they allow the indigo to be examined except by a little hole, from which a small sample may be extracted. For such is use and wont in those parts.

[The following are sold by the cantar (of 150 Genoese lbs.).]

Wormwood; madder, and the bag goes as madder without any allowance for tare. Alum of every kind, and even if it be Roch-alum, the sack and cord go as alum.

[The following also are sold by the cantar at Constantinople and in Pera.]

Ox hides, buffalo hides, Horse hides: In purchasing these they are shown to the provers up the hill, i.e. in Pera; and if the hides smell damp or wet, then a fit allowance is made, and this is the system in Pera and in Constantinople, and they are not put in the sun unless they are exceedingly wet indeed.

Suet in jars; iron of every kind; tin of every kind; lead of every kind. Zibibbo or raisins of every kind, and the mats go as raisins, with no allowance for tare unless they be raisins of Syria. In that case the baskets or hampers are allowed for as tare, and remain with the buyer into the bargain.

Soap of Venice, soap of Ancona, and soap of Apulia in wooden cases. They make tare of the cases, and then these go to the buyer for nothing. But the soap of Cyprus and of Rhodes is in sacks, and the sacks go as soap with no tare allowance.

Broken almonds in bags; the bag goes as almonds; only if there be more than one sack and cord it must be removed, or deducted, so that the buyer shall not have to take more than one sack and cord as almonds, but for any beyond that there shall be tare allowed; and the cord shall go to the buyer gratis.

Honey in kegs or skins; tare is allowed for the keg or skin, but it remains with the buyer gratis.

Cotton wool; and the sack goes as cotton without tare. Cotton yarn; and the sack is allowed as tare, and remains with the buyer for nothing.

Rice; and the bag goes as rice, but if it be tied the cord is allowed as tare and remains with the seller. Turkey galls of every kind; and if they are in bags you weigh bag and all, and do not make tare of the bag. Dried figs of Majorca and Spain in hampers. Orpiment, and the bag goes as orpiment. Safflower, and you make tare of bag and cord, and after that they remain with the buyer gratis.

Henna; and the bag goes as henna, only a tare of four per cent. is allowed by custom of trade. Cummin; and the bag goes as cummin, and if tied with rope the rope is allowed as tare but remains with the buyer gratis.

Pistachios; and the bag goes with them with no allowance for tare, unless there be more bags than one, and if there be, then the excess is weighed and allowed as tare, and the buyer has the one bag gratis.

Sulphur; and the bag or barrel in which it is, is allowed as tare, and goes to the buyer gratis. Senna; and the bag is tare and goes to the buyer. Pitch; and the mat is allowed for as tare, and goes to the buyer. Morda sangue; the bag goes with it and no tare allowed.

[The following are sold in the same way (but the particulars as to customs of sale, etc., are omitted).]

Saltmeat; cheese; flax of Alexandria and of Romania; Camlet wool; washed wool of Romania; unwashed ditto; washed or unwashed wool of Turkey; chestnuts.

[The following are sold by tile hundredweight of 100 Genoese pounds (details.omitted).]

Round pepper; ginger; barked brazil-wood; lac; zedoary [a drug from SE Asia]; incense; sugar, and powdered sugar of all kinds; aloes of all kinds; quicksilver; cassia fistola; sal ammoniac or lisciadro; cinnabar; cinnamon; galbanum [a gum resin from the Middle East]; ladanum of Cyprus; mastic; copper; amber, big, middling, and small, not wrought; stript coral; clean and fine coral, middling and small.

[The jollowing are sold by the pound.]

Raw silk; saffron; clove-stalks and cloves; cubebs; lign-aloes; rhubarb; mace; long pepper; galangal [an aromatic root imported from India and China]; broken camphor; nutmegs; spike [spike lavender; ?spikenard]; cardamoms; scam-mony; pounding pearls; manna; borax; gum Arabic; dragon's blood; camel's bay; turbit [a drug from the East Indies]; silk-gauze; sweet-meats; gold wire; dressed silk; wrought amber in beads, etc.

[Sold in half scores of pieces.]

Buckrams of Erzingan and Cyprus.

[By the piece.]

Silk velvets; damasks; maramati; gold cloth of every kind; nachetti and nacchi of every kind; and all cloths of silk and gold except gauzes.

[Sold by the hundred piks of Gazaria (Khazaria--the area of the Crimea and Azov).]

Common stuffs and canvasses of all kinds, except those of Champagne; also French and North-country broad cloths.

[Then follow details of the different kinds of cloths, with the length of the pieces. And then a detail of special modes of selling certain wares, such as:]

Undressed vairs, and vair bellies and backs; Slavonian squirrels; martins and fitches; goat skins and ram skins; dates, filberts, walnuts; salted sturgeon tails; salt; oil of Venice; oil of the March; oil of Apulia, of Gaeta, etc.; wheat and barley; wine of Greece, of Turpia in Calabria, of Patti in Sicily, of Patti in Apulia, of Cutrone in Calabria, of the March, of Crete, of Romania; country wine.

[Then follow details on the money in use, on the duties levied.]

(And don't forget that if you treat the custom-house officers with respect, and make them something of a present in goods or money, as well as their clerks and dragomen, they will behave with great civility, and always be ready to appraise your wares below their real value.)...

[The rest of the book deals with issues of packing and shipment and then, in somewhat random order, with markets and products scattered through Europe and including English wool.]

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