The Travels of Marco Polo/Book 1/Chapter 46
Of the City of Caracoron
Caracoron is a city of some three miles in compass. [It is surrounded by a strong earthen rampart, for stone is scarce there. And beside it there is a great citadel wherein is a fine palace in which the Governor resides.] 'Tis the first city that the Tartars possessed after they issued from their own country. And now I will tell you all about how they first acquired dominion and spread over the world.
Originally the Tartars dwelt in the north on the borders of CHORCHA. Their country was one of great plains; and there were no towns or villages in it, but excellent pasture-lands, with great rivers and many sheets of water; in fact it was a very fine and extensive region. But there was no sovereign in the land. They did, however, pay tax and tribute to a great prince who was called in their tongue UNC CAN, the same that we call Prester John, him in fact about whose great dominion all the world talks. The tribute he had of them was one beast out of every ten, and also a tithe of all their other gear.
Now it came to pass that the Tartars multiplied exceedingly. And when Prester John saw how great a people they had become, he began to fear that he should have trouble from them. So he made a scheme to distribute them over sundry countries, and sent one of his Barons to carry this out. When the Tartars became aware of this they took it much amiss, and with one consent they left their country and went off across a desert to a distant region towards the north, where Prester John could not get at them to annoy them. Thus they revolted from his authority and paid him tribute no longer. And so things continued for a time.
- KARAKORUM, near the upper course of the River Orkhon, is said by Chinese authors to have been founded by Buku Khan of the Hoei-Hu or Uigurs, in the 8th century, In the days of Chinghiz, we are told that it was the headquarters of his ally, and afterwards enemy, Togrul Wang Khan, the Prester John of Polo. ["The name of this famous city is Mongol, Kara, 'black,' and Kuren, 'a camp,' or properly 'pailing.'" It was founded in 1235 by Okkodai, who called it Ordu Balik, or "the City of the Ordu," otherwise "The Royal City." Mohammedan authors say it took its name of Karakorum from the mountains to the south of it, in which the Orkhon had its source. (D'Ohsson, ii. 64.) The Chinese mention a range of mountains from which the Orkhon flows, called Wu-te kien shan. (T'ang shu, bk. 43b.) Probably these are the same. Rashiduddin speaks of a tribe of Utikien Uigurs living in this country. (Bretschneider, Med. Geog. 191; D'Ohsson, i. 437. Rockhill, Rubruck, 220, note.)--Karakorum was called by the Chinese Ho-lin and was chosen by Chinghiz, in 1206, as his capital; the full name of it, Ha-la Ho-lin, was derived from a river to the west. (Yuen shi, ch. lviii.) Gaubil (Holin, p. 10) says that the river, called in his days in Tartar Karoha, was, at the time of the Mongol Emperors, named by the Chinese Ha-la Ho-lin, in Tartar language Ka la Ko lin, or Cara korin, or Kara Koran. In the spring of 1235, Okkodai had a wall raised round Ho-lin and a palace called Wang an, built inside the city. (Gaubil, Gentchiscan, 89.) After the death of Kublai, Ho-lin was altered into Ho-Ning, and, in 1320, the name of the province was changed into Ling-pe (mountainous north, i.e. the Yin-shan chain, separating China Proper from Mongolia). In 1256, Mangu Kaan decided to transfer the seat of government to Kaiping-fu, or Shangtu, near the present Dolonnor, north of Peking. (Supra in Prologue, ch. xiii. note 1.) In 1260, Kublai transferred his capital to Ta-Tu (Peking).
Plano Carpini (1246) is the first Western traveller to mention it by name which he writes Caracoron; he visited the Sira Orda, at half a day's journey from Karakorum, where Okkodai used to pass the summer; it was situated at a place Ormektua. (Rockhill, Rubruck, 21, III.) Rubruquis (1253) visited the city itself; the following is his account of it: "As regards the city of Caracoron, you must understand that if you set aside the Kaan's own Palace, it is not as good as the Borough of St. Denis; and as for the Palace, the Abbey of St. Denis is worth ten of it! There are two streets in the town; one of which is occupied by the Saracens, and in that is the marketplace. The other street is occupied by the Cathayans, who are all craftsmen. Besides these two streets there are some great palaces occupied by the court secretaries. There are also twelve idol temples belonging to different nations, two Mahummeries in which the Law of Mahomet is preached, and one church of the Christians at the extremity of the town. The town is enclosed by a mud-wall and has four gates. At the east gate they sell millet and other corn, but the supply is scanty; at the west gate they sell rams and goats; at the south gate oxen and waggons; at the north gate horses.... Mangu Kaan has a great Court beside the Town Rampart, which is enclosed by a brick wall, just like our priories. Inside there is a big palace, within which he holds a drinking-bout twice a year;... there are also a number of long buildings like granges, in which are kept his treasures and his stores of victual" (345-6; 334).
Where was Karakorum situated?
The Archimandrite Palladius is very prudent (l.c. p. 11): "Everything that the studious Chinese authors could gather and say of the situation of Karakhorum is collected in two Chinese works, Lo fung low wen kao (1849), and Mungku yew mu ki (1859). However, no positive conclusion can be derived from these researches, chiefly in consequence of the absence of a tolerably correct map of Northern Mongolia."
Abel Remusat (Mem. sur Geog. Asie Centrale, p. 20) made a confusion between Karabalgasun and Karakorum which has misled most writers after him.
Sir Henry Yule says: "The evidence adduced in Abel Remusat's paper on Karakorum (Mem. de l' Acad. R. des Insc. VII. 288) establishes the site on the north bank of the Orkhon, and about five days' journey above the confluence of the Orkhon and Tula. But as we have only a very loose knowledge of these rivers, it is impossible to assign the geographical position with accuracy. Nor is it likely that ruins exist beyond an outline perhaps of the Kaan's Palace walls."
In the Geographical Magazine for July, 1874 (p. 137), Sir Henry Yule has been enabled, by the kind aid of Madame Fedtchenko in supplying a translation from the Russian, to give some account of Mr. Paderin's visit to the place, in the summer of 1873, along with a sketch-map.
"The site visited by Mr. Paderin is shown, by the particulars stated in that paper, to be sufficiently identified with Karakorum. It is precisely that which Remusat indicated, and which bears in the Jesuit maps, as published by D'Anville, the name of Talarho Hara Palhassoun (i.e. Kara Balghasun), standing 4 or 5 miles from the left bank of the Orkhon, in lat. (by the Jesuit Tables) 47 deg. 32' 24". It is now known as Kara-Kharam (Rampart) or Kara Balghasun (city). The remains consist of a quadrangular rampart of mud and sun-dried brick, of about 500 paces to the side, and now about 9 feet high, with traces of a higher tower, and of an inner rampart parallel to the other. But these remains probably appertain to the city as re-occupied by the descendants of the Yuen in the end of the 14th century, after their expulsion from China."
Dr. Bretschneider (Med. Res. I. p. 123) rightly observes: "It seems, however, that Paderin is mistaken in his supposition. At least it does not agree with the position assigned to the ancient Mongol residence in the Mongol annals Erdenin erikhe, translated into Russian, in 1883, by Professor Pozdneiev. It is there positively stated (p. 110, note 2) that the monastery of Erdenidsu, founded in 1585, was erected on the ruins of that city, which once had been built by order of Ogotai Khan, and where he had established his residence; and where, after the expulsion of the Mongols from China, Togontemur again had fixed the Mongol court. This vast monastery still exists, one English mile, or more, east of the Orkhon. It has even been astronomically determined by the Jesuit missionaries, and is marked on our maps of Mongolia. Pozdneiev, who visited the place in 1877, obligingly informs me that the square earthen wall surrounding the monastery of Erdenidsu, and measuring about an English mile in circumference, may well be the very wall of ancient Karakorum."
Recent researches have fully confirmed the belief that the Erdeni Tso, or Eideni Chao, Monastery occupies the site of Karakorum, near the bank of the Orkhon, between this river and the Kokchin (old) Orkhon. (See map in Inscriptions de l'Orkhon, Helsingfors, 1892; a plan of the vicinity and of the Erdeni Tso is given (plate 36) in W. Radloff's Atlas der Alterthuemer der Mongolei, St. Pet., 1892.)
According to a work of the 13th century quoted by the late Professor G. Deveria, the distance between the old capital of the Uighur, Kara Balgasun, on the left bank of the Orkhon, north of Erdeni Tso, and the Ho-lin or Karakorum of the Mongols, would be 70 li (about 30 miles), and such is the space between Erdeni Tso and Kara Balgasun. M. Marcel Monnier (Itineraires, p. 107) estimates the bird's-eye distance from Erdeni Tso to Kara Balgasun at 33 kilom. (about 20-1/2 miles). "When the brilliant epoch of the power of the Chinghizkhanides," says Professor Axel Heikel, "was at an end, the city of Karakorum fell into oblivion, and towards the year 1590 was founded, in the centre of this historically celebrated region of the Orkhon, the most ancient of Buddhist monasteries of Mongolia, this of Erdeni Tso [Erdeni Chao]. It was built, according to a Mongol chronicle, on the ruins of the town built by Okkodai, son of Chinghiz Khan, that is to say, on the ancient Karakorum. (Inscriptions de l'Orkhon.)" So Professor Heikel, like Professor Pozdneiev, concludes that Erdeni Tso was built on the site of Karakorum and cannot be mistaken for Karabalgasun. Indeed it is highly probable that one of the walls of the actual convent belonged to the old Mongol capital. The travels and researches by expeditions from Finland and Russia have made these questions pretty clear. Some most interesting inscriptions have been brought home and have been studied by a number of Orientalists: G. Schlegel, O. Donner, G. Deveria, Vasiliev, G. von der Gabelentz, Dr. Hirth, G. Huth, E. H. Parker, W. Bang, etc., and especially Professor Vilh. Thomsen, of Copenhagen, who deciphered them (Dechiffrement des Inscriptions de l'Orkhon et de l'Ienissei, Copenhague, 1894, 8vo; Inscriptions de l'Orkhon dechiffrees, par V. Thomsen, Helsingfors, 1894, 8vo), and Professor W. Radloff of St. Petersburg (Atlas der Alterthumer der Mongolei, 1892-6, fol.; Die alttuerkischen Inschriften der Mongolei, 1894-7, etc.). There is an immense literature on these inscriptions, and for the bibliography, I must refer the reader to H. Cordier, Etudes Chinoises (1891-1894), Leide, 1895, Id. (1895-1898), Leide, 1898, 8vo. The initiator of these discoveries was N. Iarindsev, of Irkutsk, who died at Barnaoul in 1894, and the first great expedition was started from Finland in 1890, under the guidance of Professor Axel Heikel. (Inscriptions de l'Orkhon recueillies par l'expedition finnoise, 1890, et publiees par la Societe Finno-Ougrienne, Helsingfors, 1892, fol.) The Russian expedition left the following year, 1891, under the direction of the Academician W. Radloff.
M. Chaffanjon (Nouv. Archiv. des Missions Scient. IX., 1899, p. 81), in 1895, does not appear to know that there is a difference between Kara Korum and Kara Balgasun, as he writes: "Forty kilometres south of Kara Korum or Kara Balgasun, the convent of Erdin Zoun."
A plan of Kara Balgasun is given (plate 27) in Radloff's Atlas. See also Henri Cordier et Gaubil, Situation de Holin en Tartarie, Leide, 1893.
In Rubruquis's account of Karakorum there is one passage of great interest: "Then master William [Guillaume L'Orfevre] had made for us an iron to make wafers ... he made also a silver box to put the body of Christ in, with relics in little cavities made in the sides of the box." Now M. Marcel Monnier, who is one of the last, if not the last traveller who visited the region, tells me that he found in the large temple of Erdeni Tso an iron (the cast bore a Latin cross; had the wafer been Nestorian, the cross should have been Greek) and a silver box, which are very likely the objects mentioned by Rubruquis. It is a new proof of the identity of the sites of Erdeni Tso and Karakorum.--H. C.]
- [Mr. Rockhill (Rubruck, 113, note) says: "The earliest date to which I have been able to trace back the name Tartar is A.D. 732. We find mention made in a Turkish inscription found on the river Orkhon and bearing that date, of the Tokuz Tatar, or 'Nine (tribes of) Tatars,' and of the Otuz Tatar, or 'Thirty (tribes of) Tatars.' It is probable that these tribes were then living between the Oguz or Uigur Turks on the west, and the Kitan on the east. (Thomsen, Inscriptions de l'Orkhon, 98, 126, 140.) Mr. Thos. Watters tells me that the Tartars are first mentioned by the Chinese in the period extending from A.D. 860 to 874; the earliest mention I have discovered, however, is under date of A.D. 880. (Wu tai shih, Bk. 4.) We also read in the same work (Bk. 74, 2) that 'The Ta-ta were a branch of the Mo-ho (the name the Nu-chen Tartars bore during the Sui and T'ang periods: Ma Tuan-lin, Bk. 327, 5). They first lived to the north of the Kitan. Later on they were conquered by this people, when they scattered, a part becoming tributaries of the Kitan, another to the P'o-hai (a branch of the Mo-ho), while some bands took up their abode in the Yin Shan in Southern Mongolia, north of the provinces of Chih-li and Shan-si, and took the name of Ta-ta.' In 981 the Chinese ambassador to the Prince of Kao-chang (Karakhodjo, some 20 miles south-east of Turfan) traversed the Ta-ta country. They then seem to have occupied the northern bend of the Yellow River. He gives the names of some nine tribes of Ta-ta living on either side of the river. He notes that their neighbours to the east were Kitan, and that for a long time they had been fighting them after the occupation of Kan-chou by the Uigurs. (Ma Tuan-lin, Bk. 336, 12-14.) We may gather from this that these Tartars were already settled along the Yellow River and the Yin Shan (the valley in which is now the important frontier mart of Kwei-hua Ch'eng) at the beginning of the ninth century, for the Uigurs, driven southward by the Kirghiz, first occupied Kan-chou in north-western Kan-suh, somewhere about A.D. 842."]
- CHORCHA (Ciorcia) is the Manchu country, whose people were at that time called by the Chinese Yuche or Niuche, and by the Mongols Churche, or as it is in Sanang Setzen, Jurchid. The country in question is several times mentioned by Rashiduddin as Churche. The founders of the Kin Dynasty, which the Mongols superseded in Northern China, were of Churche race. [It was part of Nayan's appanage. (See Bk. II. ch. v.)--H. C.]
- The idea that a Christian potentate of enormous wealth and power, and bearing this title, ruled over vast tracts in the far East, was universal in Europe from the middle of the 12th to the end of the 13th century, after which time the Asiatic story seems gradually to have died away, whilst the Royal Presbyter was assigned to a locus in Abyssinia; the equivocal application of the term India to the East of Asia and the East of Africa facilitating this transfer. Indeed I have a suspicion, contrary to the view now generally taken, that the term may from the first have belonged to the Abyssinian Prince, though circumstances led to its being applied in another quarter for a time. It appears to me almost certain that the letter of Pope Alexander III., preserved by R. Hoveden, and written in 1177 to the Magnificus Rex Indorum, Sacerdotum sanctissimus, was meant for the King of Abyssinia.
Be that as it may, the inordinate report of Prester John's magnificence became especially diffused from about the year 1165, when a letter full of the most extravagant details was circulated, which purported to have been addressed by this potentate to the Greek Emperor Manuel, the Roman Emperor Frederick, the Pope, and other Christian sovereigns. By the circulation of this letter, glaring fiction as it is, the idea of this Christian Conqueror was planted deep in the mind of Europe, and twined itself round every rumour of revolution in further Asia. Even when the din of the conquests of Chinghiz began to be audible in the West, he was invested with the character of a Christian King, and more or less confounded with the mysterious Prester John.
The first notice of a conquering Asiatic potentate so styled had been brought to Europe by the Syrian Bishop of Gabala (Jibal, south of Laodicea in Northern Syria), who came, in 1145, to lay various grievances before Pope Eugene III. He reported that not long before a certain John, inhabiting the extreme East, king and Nestorian priest, and claiming descent from the Three Wise Kings, had made war on the Samiard Kings of the Medes and Persians, and had taken Ecbatana their capital. He was then proceeding to the deliverance of Jerusalem, but was stopped by the Tigris, which he could not cross, and compelled by disease in his host to retire.
M. d'Avezac first showed to whom this account must apply, and the subject has more recently been set forth with great completeness and learning by Dr. Gustavus Oppert. The conqueror in question was the founder of Kara Khitai, which existed as a great Empire in Asia during the last two-thirds of the 12th century. This chief was a prince of the Khitan dynasty of Liao, who escaped with a body of followers from Northern China on the overthrow of that dynasty by the Kin or Niuchen about 1125. He is called by the Chinese historians Yeliu Tashi; by Abulghazi, Nuzi Taigri Ili; and by Rashiduddin, Nushi (or Fushi) Taifu. Being well received by the Uighurs and other tribes west of the Desert who had been subject to the Khitan Empire, he gathered an army and commenced a course of conquest which eventually extended over Eastern and Western Turkestan, including Khwarizm, which became tributary to him. He took the title of Gurkhan, said to mean Universal or Suzerain Khan, and fixed at Bala Sagun, north of the Thian Shan, the capital of his Empire, which became known as Kara (Black) Khitai. [The dynasty being named by the Chinese Si-Liao (Western Liao) lasted till it was destroyed in 1218.--H. C.] In 1141 he came to the aid of the King of Khwarizm against Sanjar the Seljukian sovereign of Persia (whence the Samiard of the Syrian Bishop), who had just taken Samarkand, and defeated that prince with great slaughter. Though the Gurkhan himself is not described to have extended his conquests into Persia, the King of Khwarizm followed up the victory by an invasion of that country, in which he plundered the treasury and cities of Sanjar.
Admitting this Karacathayan prince to be the first conqueror (in Asia, at all events) to whom the name of Prester John was applied, it still remains obscure how that name arose. Oppert supposes that Gurkhan or Kurkhan, softened in West Turkish pronunciation into Yurkan, was confounded with Yochanan or Johannes; but he finds no evidence of the conqueror's profession of Christianity except the fact, notable certainly, that the daughter of the last of his brief dynasty is recorded to have been a Christian. Indeed, D'Ohsson says that the first Gurkhan was a Buddhist, though on what authority is not clear. There seems a probability at least that it was an error in the original ascription of Christianity to the Karacathayan prince, which caused the confusions as to the identity of Prester John which appear in the next century, of which we shall presently speak. Leaving this doubtful point, it has been plausibly suggested that the title of Presbyter Johannes was connected with the legends of the immortality of John the Apostle ([Greek: ho presbyteros], as he calls himself in the 2nd and 3rd epistles), and the belief referred to by some of the Fathers that he would be the Forerunner of our Lord's second coming, as John the Baptist had been of His first.
A new theory regarding the original Prester John has been propounded by Professor Bruun of Odessa, in a Russian work entitled The Migrations of Prester John. The author has been good enough to send me large extracts of this essay in (French) translation; and I will endeavour to set forth the main points as well as the small space that can be given to the matter will admit. Some remarks and notes shall be added, but I am not in a position to do justice to Professor Bruun's views, from the want of access to some of his most important authorities, such as Brosset's History of Georgia, and its appendices.
It will be well, before going further, to give the essential parts of the passage in the History of Bishop Otto of Freisingen (referred to in vol i. p. 229), which contains the first allusion to a personage styled Prester John:
"We saw also there [at Rome in 1145] the afore-mentioned Bishop of Gabala, from Syria.... We heard him bewailing with tears the peril of the Church beyond-sea since the capture of Edessa, and uttering his intention on that account to cross the Alps and seek aid from the King of the Romans and the King of the Franks. He was also telling us how, not many years before, one JOHN, KING and PRIEST, who dwells in the extreme Orient beyond Persia and Armenia, and is (with his people) a Christian, but a Nestorian, had waged war against the brother Kings of the Persians and Medes who are called the Samiards, and had captured Ecbatana, of which we have spoken above, the seat of their dominion. The said Kings having met him with their forces made up of Persians, Medes, and Assyrians, the battle had been maintained for 3 days, either side preferring death to flight. But at last PRESBYTER JOHN (for so they are wont to style him), having routed the Persians, came forth the victor from a most sanguinary battle. After this victory (he went on to say) the aforesaid John was advancing to fight in aid of the Church at Jerusalem; but when he arrived at the Tigris, and found there no possible means of transport for his army, he turned northward, as he had heard that the river in that quarter was frozen over in winter-time. Halting there for some years in expectation of a frost, which never came, owing to the mildness of the season, he lost many of his people through the unaccustomed climate, and was obliged to return homewards. This personage is said to be of the ancient race of those Magi who are mentioned in the Gospel, and to rule the same nations that they did, and to have such glory and wealth that he uses (they say) only an emerald sceptre. It was (they say) from his being fired by the example of his fathers, who came to adore Christ in the cradle, that he was proposing to go to Jerusalem, when he was prevented by the cause already alleged."
Professor Bruun will not accept Oppert's explanation, which identifies this King and Priest with the Gur-Khan of Karacathay, for whose profession of Christianity there is indeed (as has been indicated--supra) no real evidence; who could not be said to have made an attack upon any pair of brother Kings of the Persians and the Medes, nor to have captured Ecbatana (a city, whatever its identity, of Media); who could never have had any intention of coming to Jerusalem; and whose geographical position in no way suggested the mention of Armenia.
Professor Bruun thinks he finds a warrior much better answering to the indications in the Georgian prince John Orbelian, the general-in-chief under several successive Kings of Georgia in that age.
At the time when the Gur-Khan defeated Sanjar the real brothers of the latter had been long dead; Sanjar had withdrawn from interference with the affairs of Western Persia; and Hamadan (if this is to be regarded as Ecbatana) was no residence of his. But it was the residence of Sanjar's nephew Mas'ud, in whose hands was now the dominion of Western Persia; whilst Mas'ud's nephew, Daud, held Media, i.e. Azerbeijan, Arran, and Armenia. It is in these two princes that Professor Bruun sees the Samiardi fratres of the German chronicler.
Again the expression "extreme Orient" is to be interpreted by local usage. And with the people of Little Armenia, through whom probably such intelligence reached the Bishop of Gabala, the expression the East signified specifically Great Armenia (which was then a part of the kingdom of Georgia and Abkhasia), as Dulaurier has stated.
It is true that the Georgians were not really Nestorians, but followers of the Greek Church. It was the fact, however, that in general, the Armenians, whom the Greeks accused of following the Jacobite errors, retorted upon members of the Greek Church with the reproach of the opposite heresy of Nestorianism. And the attribution of Nestorianism to a Georgian Prince is, like the expression "extreme East," an indication of the Armenian channel through which the story came.
The intention to march to the aid of the Christians in Palestine is more like the act of a Georgian General than that of a Karacathayan Khan; and there are in the history of the Kingdom of Jerusalem several indications of the proposal at least of Georgian assistance.
The personage in question is said to have come from the country of the Magi, from whom he was descended. But these have frequently been supposed to come from Great Armenia. E.g. Friar Jordanus says they came from Moghan.
The name Ecbatana has been so variously applied that it was likely to lead to ambiguities. But it so happens that, in a previous passage of his History, Bishop Otto of Freisingen, in rehearsing some Oriental information gathered apparently from the same Bishop of Gabala, has shown what was the place that he had been taught to identify with Ecbatana, viz. the old Armenian city of ANI. Now this city was captured from the Turks, on behalf of the King of Georgia, David the Restorer, by his great sbasalar, John Orbelian, in 1123-24.
Professor Bruun also lays stress upon a passage in a German chronicle of date some years later than Otho's work:
"1141. Liupoldus dux Bawariorum obiit, Henrico fratre ejus succedente in ducatu. Iohannes Presbyter Rex Armeniae et Indiae cum duobus regibus fratribus Persarum et Medorum pugnavit et vicit."
He asks how the Gur-Khan of Karakhitai could be styled King of Armenia and of India? It may be asked, per contra, how either the King of Georgia or his Peshwa (to use the Mahratta analogy of John Orbelian's position) could be styled King of Armenia and of India? In reply to this, Professor Bruun adduces a variety of quotations which he considers as showing that the term India was applied to some Caucasian region.
My own conviction is that the report of Otto of Freisingen is not merely the first mention of a great Asiatic potentate called Prester John, but that his statement is the whole and sole basis of good faith on which the story of such a potentate rested; and I am quite as willing to believe, on due evidence, that the nucleus of fact to which his statement referred, and on which such a pile of long-enduring fiction was erected, occurred in Armenia as that it occurred in Turan. Indeed in many respects the story would thus be more comprehensible. One cannot attach any value to the quotation from the Annalist in Pertz, because there seems no reason to doubt that the passage is a mere adaptation of the report by Bishop Otto, of whose work the Annalist makes other use, as is indeed admitted by Professor Bruun, who (be it said) is a pattern of candour in controversy. But much else that the Professor alleges is interesting and striking. The fact that Azerbeijan and the adjoining regions were known as "the East" is patent to the readers of this book in many a page, where the Khan and his Mongols in occupation of that region are styled by Polo Lord of the LEVANT, Tartars of the LEVANT (i.e. of the East), even when the speaker's standpoint is in far Cathay. The mention of Ani as identical with the Ecbatana of which Otto had heard is a remarkable circumstance which I think even Oppert has overlooked. That this Georgian hero was a Christian and that his name was John are considerable facts. Oppert's conversion of Korkhan into Yokhanan or John is anything but satisfactory. The identification proposed again makes it quite intelligible how the so-called Prester John should have talked about coming to the aid of the Crusaders; a point so difficult to explain on Oppert's theory, that he has been obliged to introduce a duplicate John in the person of a Greek Emperor to solve that knot; another of the weaker links in his argument. In fact, Professor Bruun's thesis seems to me more than fairly successful in paving the way for the introduction of a Caucasian Prester John; the barriers are removed, the carpets are spread, the trumpets sound royally--but the conquering hero comes not!
He does very nearly come. The almost royal power and splendour of the Orbelians at this time is on record: "They held the office of Sbasalar or Generalissimo of all Georgia. All the officers of the King's Palace were under their authority. Besides that they had 12 standards of their own, and under each standard 1000 warriors mustered. As the custom was for the King's flag to be white and the pennon over it red, it was ruled that the Orpelian flag should be red and the pennon white.... At banquets they alone had the right to couches whilst other princes had cushions only. Their food was served on silver; and to them it belonged to crown the kings." Orpel Ivane, i.e. John Orbelian, Grand Sbasalar, was for years the pride of Georgia and the hammer of the Turks. In 1123-1124 he wrested from them Tiflis and the whole country up to the Araxes, including Ani, as we have said. His King David, the Restorer, bestowed on him large additional domains from the new conquests; and the like brilliant service and career of conquest was continued under David's sons and successors, Demetrius and George; his later achievements, however, and some of the most brilliant, occurring after the date of the Bishop of Gabala's visit to Rome. But still we hear of no actual conflict with the chief princes of the Seljukian house, and of no event in his history so important as to account for his being made to play the part of Presbyter Johannes in the story of the Bishop of Gabala. Professor Bruun's most forcible observation in reference to this rather serious difficulty is that the historians have transmitted to us extremely little detail concerning the reign of Demetrius II., and do not even agree as to its duration. Carebat vate sacro: "It was," says Brosset, "long and glorious, but it lacked a commemorator." If new facts can be alleged, the identity may still be proved. But meantime the conquests of the Gur-Khan and his defeat of Sanjar, just at a time which suits the story, are indubitable, and this great advantage Oppert's thesis retains. As regards the claim to the title of Presbyter nothing worth mentioning is alleged on either side.
When the Mongol Conquests threw Asia open to Frank travellers in the middle of the 13th century, their minds were full of Prester John; they sought in vain for an adequate representative, but it was not in the nature of things but they should find some representative. In fact they found several. Apparently no real tradition existed among the Eastern Christians of any such personage, but the persistent demand produced a supply, and the honour of identification with Prester John, after hovering over one head and another, settled finally upon that of the King of the Keraits, whom we find to play the part in our text.
Thus in Plano Carpini's single mention of Prester John as the King of the Christians of India the Greater, who defeats the Tartars by an elaborate stratagem, Oppert recognizes Sultan Jalaluddin of Khwarizm and his temporary success over the Mongols in Afghanistan. In the Armenian Prince Sempad's account, on the other hand, this Christian King of India is aided by the Tartars to defeat and harass the neighbouring Saracens, his enemies, and becomes the Mongol's vassal. In the statement of Rubruquis, though distinct reference is made to the conquering Gurkhan (under the name of Coir Cham of Caracatay), the title of King John is assigned to the Naiman Prince (Kushluk), who had married the daughter of the last lineal sovereign of Karakhitai, and usurped his power, whilst, with a strange complication of confusion, UNC, Prince of the Crit and Merkit (Kerait and Merkit, two great tribes of Mongolia) and Lord of Karakorum, is made the brother and successor of this Naiman Prince. His version of the story, as it proceeds, has so much resemblance to Polo's, that we shall quote the words. The Crit and Merkit, he says, were Nestorian Christians. "But their Lord had abandoned the worship of Christ to follow idols, and kept by him those priests of the idols who are all devil-raisers and sorcerers. Beyond his pastures, at the distance of ten or fifteen days' journey, were the pastures of the MOAL (Mongol), who were a very poor people, without a leader and without any religion except sorceries and divinations, such as all the people of those parts put so much faith in. Next to Moal was another poor tribe called TARTAR. King John having died without an heir, his brother Unc got his wealth, and caused himself to be proclaimed Cham, and sent out his flocks and herds even to the borders of Moal. At that time there was a certain blacksmith called Chinghis among the tribe of Moal, and he used to lift the cattle of Unc Chan as often as he had a chance, insomuch that the herdsmen of Unc Chan made complaint to their master. The latter assembled an army, and invaded the land of the Moal in search of Chinghis, but he fled and hid himself among the Tartars. So Unc, having plundered the Moal and Tartars, returned home. And Chinghis addressed the Tartars and Moal, saying: 'It is because we have no leader that we are thus oppressed by our neighbours.' So both Tartars and Moal made Chinghis himself their leader and captain. And having got a host quietly together, he made a sudden onslaught upon Unc and conquered him, and compelled him to flee into Cathay. On that occasion his daughter was taken, and given by Chinghis to one of his sons, to whom she bore Mangu, who now reigneth.... The land in which they (the Mongols) first were, and where the residence of Chinghis still exists, is called Onan Kerule. But because Caracoran is in the country which was their first conquest, they regard it as a royal city, and there hold the elections of their Chan."
Here we see plainly that the Unc Chan of Rubruquis is the Unc Can or Unecan of Polo. In the narrative of the former, Unc is only connected with King or Prester John; in that of the latter, rehearsing the story as heard some 20 or 25 years later, the two are identified. The shadowy role of Prester John has passed from the Ruler of Kara Khitai to the Chief of the Keraits. This transfer brings us to another history.
We have already spoken of the extensive diffusion of Nestorian Christianity in Asia during the early and Middle Ages. The Christian historian Gregory Abulfaraj relates a curious history of the conversion, in the beginning of the 11th century, of the King of Kerith with his people, dwelling in the remote north-east of the land of the Turks. And that the Keraits continued to profess Christianity down to the time of Chinghiz is attested by Rashiduddin's direct statement, as well as by the numerous Christian princesses from that tribe of whom we hear in Mongol history. It is the chief of this tribe of whom Rubruquis and Polo speak under the name of Unc Khan, and whom the latter identifies with Prester John. His proper name is called Tuli by the Chinese, and Togrul by the Persian historians, but the Kin sovereign of Northern China had conferred on him the title of Wang or King, from which his people gave him the slightly corrupted cognomen of [Arabic], which some scholars read Awang, and Avenk Khan, but which the spelling of Rubruquis and Polo shows probably to have been pronounced as Aung or Ung Khan. The circumstance stated by Rubruquis of his having abandoned the profession of Christianity, is not alluded to by Eastern writers; but in any case his career is not a credit to the Faith. I cannot find any satisfactory corroboration of the claims of supremacy over the Mongols which Polo ascribes to Aung Khan. But that his power and dignity were considerable, appears from the term Padshah which Rashiduddin applies to him. He had at first obtained the sovereignty of the Keraits by the murder of two of his brothers and several nephews. Yessugai, the father of Chinghiz, had been his staunch friend, and had aided him effectually to recover his dominion from which he had been expelled. After a reign of many years he was again ejected, and in the greatest necessity sought the help of Temujin (afterwards called Chinghiz Khan), by whom he was treated with the greatest consideration. This was in 1196. For some years the two chiefs conducted their forays in alliance, but differences sprang up between them; the son of Aung Khan entered into a plot to kill Temujin, and in 1202-1203 they were in open war. The result will be related in connection with the next chapters.
We may observe that the idea which Joinville picked up in the East about Prester John corresponds pretty closely with that set forth by Marco. Joinville represents him as one of the princes to whom the Tartars were tributary in the days of their oppression, and as "their ancient enemy"; one of their first acts, on being organized under a king of their own, was to attack him and conquer him, slaying all that bore arms, but sparing all monks and priests. The expression used by Joinville in speaking of the original land of the Tartars, "une grande berrie de sablon," has not been elucidated in any edition that I have seen. It is the Arabic [Arabic] Baeriya, "a Desert." No doubt Joinville learned the word in Palestine. (See Joinville, p. 143 seqq.; see also Oppert, Der Presb. Johannes in Sage und Geschichte, and Cathay, etc., pp. 173-182.) [Fried. Zarncke, Der Priester Johannes; Cordier, Odoric.--H. C.]