1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Carpini, Joannes de Plano

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CARPINI, JOANNES DE PLANO, the first noteworthy European explorer of the Mongol empire (in the 13th century), and the author of the earliest important Western work on northern and central Asia, Russian Europe, and other regions of the Tatar dominion. He appears to have been a native of Umbria, where a place formerly called Pian del Carpine, but now Piano della Magione, stands near Perugia, on the road to Cortona. He was one of the companions and disciples of his countryman St Francis of Assisi, and from sundry indications can hardly have been younger than the latter, born in 1182. Joannes bore a high repute in the order, and took a foremost part in the propagation of its teaching in northern Europe, holding successively the offices of warden (custos) in Saxony, and of provincial (minister) of Germany, and afterwards of Spain, perhaps of Barbary, and of Cologne. He was in the last post at the time of the great Mongol invasion of eastern Europe and of the disastrous battle of Liegnitz (April 9, 1241), which threatened to cast European Christendom beneath the feet of barbarous hordes. The dread of the Tatars was, however, still on men’s mind four years later, when Pope Innocent IV. despatched the first formal Catholic mission to the Mongols (1245), partly to protest against the latter’s invasion of Christian lands, partly to gain trustworthy information regarding the hordes and their purposes; behind there may have lurked the beginnings of a policy much developed in after-time—that of opening diplomatic intercourse with a power whose alliance might be invaluable against Islam.

At the head of this mission the pope placed Friar Joannes, at this time certainly not far from sixty-five years of age; and to his discretion nearly everything in the accomplishment of the mission seems to have been left. The legate started from Lyons, where the pope then resided, on Easter day (April 16, 1245), accompanied by another friar, one Stephen of Bohemia, who broke down at Kanev near Kiev, and was left behind. After seeking counsel of an old friend, Wenceslaus, king of Bohemia, Carpini was joined at Breslau by another Minorite, Benedict the Pole, appointed to act as interpreter. The onward journey lay by Kiev; the Tatar posts were entered at Kanev; and thence the route ran across the Dnieper (Neper, Nepere, in Carpini and Benedict) to the Don and Volga (Ethil in Benedict; Carpini is the first Western to give us the modern name). Upon the last-named stood the Ordu or camp of Batu, the famous conqueror of eastern Europe, and the supreme Mongol commander on the western frontiers of the empire, as well as one of the most senior princes of the house of Jenghiz. Here the envoys, with their presents, had to pass between two fires, before being presented to the prince (beginning of April 1246). Batu ordered them to proceed onward to the court of the supreme khan in Mongolia; and on Easter day once more (April 8, 1246) they started on the second and most formidable part of their journey—“so ill,” writes the legate, “that we could scarcely sit a horse; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink.” Their bodies were tightly bandaged to enable them to endure the excessive fatigue of this enormous ride, which led them across the Jaec or Ural river, and north of the Caspian and the Aral to the Jaxartes or Syr Daria (quidam fluvius magnus cujus nomen ignoramus), and the Mahommedan cities which then stood on its banks; then along the shores of the Dzungarian lakes; and so forward, till, on the feast of St Mary Magdalene (July 22), they reached at last the imperial camp called Sira Orda (i.e. Yellow Pavilion), near Karakorum and the Orkhon river—this stout-hearted old man having thus ridden something like 3000 m. in 106 days.

Since the death of Okkodai the imperial authority had been in interregnum. Kuyuk, Okkodai’s eldest son, had now been designated to the throne; his formal election in a great Kurultai, or diet of the tribes, took place while the friars were at Sira Orda, along with 3000 to 4000 envoys and deputies from all parts of Asia and eastern Europe, bearing homage, tribute and presents. They afterwards, on the 24th of August, witnessed the formal enthronement at another camp in the vicinity called the Golden Ordu, after which they were presented to the emperor. It was not till November that they got their dismissal, bearing a letter to the pope in Mongol, Arabic and Latin, which was little else than a brief imperious assertion of the khan’s office as the scourge of God. Then commenced their long winter journey homeward; often they had to lie on the bare snow, or on the ground scraped bare of snow with the traveller’s foot. They reached Kiev on the 9th of June 1247. There, and on their further journey, the Slavonic Christians welcomed them as risen from the dead, with festive hospitality. Crossing the Rhine at Cologne, they found the pope still at Lyons, and there delivered their report and the khan’s letter.

Not long afterwards Friar Joannes was rewarded with the archbishopric of Antivari in Dalmatia, and was sent as legate to St Louis. The date of his death may be fixed, with the help of the Franciscan Martyrology and other authorities, as the 1st of August 1252; hence it is clear that John did not long survive the hardships of his journey.

He recorded the information that he had collected in a work, variously entitled in the MSS. Historia Mongalorum quos nos Tartaros appellamus, and Liber Tartarorum, or Tatarorum. This treatise is divided into eight ample chapters on the country, climate, manners, religion, character, history, policy and tactics of the Tatars, and on the best way of opposing them, followed by a single (ninth) chapter on the regions passed through. The book thus answers to its title. Like some other famous medieval itineraries it shows an entire absence of a traveller’s or author’s egotism, and contains, even in the last chapter, scarcely any personal narrative. Carpini was not only an old man when he went cheerfully upon this mission, but was, as we know from accidental evidence in the annals of his order, a fat and heavy man (vir gravis et corpulentus), insomuch that during his preachings in Germany he was fain, contrary to Franciscan precedent, to ride a donkey. Yet not a word approaching more nearly to complaint than those which we have quoted above appears in his narrative. His book, both as to personal and geographical detail, is inferior to that written a few years later by a younger brother of the same Order, Louis IX.’s most noteworthy envoy to the Mongols, William of Rubrouck or Rubruquis. But in spite of these defects, due partly to his conception of his task, and in spite of the credulity with which he incorporates the Oriental tales, sometimes of childish absurdity, from which Rubruquis is so free, Friar Joannes’ Historia is in many ways the chief literary memorial of European overland expansion before Marco Polo. It first revealed the Mongol world to Catholic Christendom; its account of Tatar manners, customs and history is perhaps the best treatment of the subject by any Christian writer of the middle ages. We may especially notice, moreover, its four name-lists:—of the nations conquered by the Mongols; of the nations which had up to this time (1245–1247) successfully resisted; of the Mongol princes; and of the witnesses to the truth of his narrative, including various merchants trading in Kiev whom he had met. All these catalogues, unrivalled in Western medieval literature, are of the utmost historical value. To the accuracy of Carpini’s statements upon Mongol life, a modern educated Mongol, Galsang Gomboyev, has borne detailed and interesting testimony (see Mélanges asiat. tirés du Bullet. Hist. Philol. de l’Acad. Imp. de St Pétersbourg, ii. p. 650, 1856).

The book must have been prepared immediately after the return of the traveller, for the Friar Salimbeni, who met him in France in the year of his return (1247), gives us these interesting particulars:—“He was a clever and conversable man, well lettered, a great discourser, and full of a diversity of experience. . . . He wrote a big book about the Tattars (sic), and about other marvels that he had seen, and whenever he felt weary of telling about the Tattars, he would cause that book of his to be read, as I have often heard and seen” (“Chron. Fr. Salimbeni Parmensis” in Monum. Histor. ad Prov. et Placent. pertinentia, Parma, 1857).

For a long time the work was but partially known, and that chiefly through an abridgment in the vast compilation of Vincent of Beauvais (Speculum Historiale) made in the generation following the traveller’s own, and printed first in 1473. Hakluyt (1598) and Bergeron (1634) published portions of the original work; but the complete and genuine text was not printed till 1838, when it was put forth by the late M. D’Avezac, an editorial masterpiece, embodied (1839) in the 4th volume of the Recueil de voyages et de mémoires of the Geographical Society of Paris.

Joannes’ companion, Benedictus Polonus, also left a brief narrative taken down from his oral relation. This was first published by M. D’Avezac in the work just named.

The following four MSS. may be noticed: (1) “Corpus,” i.e. Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, No. 181; (2) “Petau,” i.e. Leiden University, 77 (formerly 104)—both these are certainly earlier than 1300; (3) “Colbert,” i.e. Paris, National Library, Fonds Lat. 2477, of about 1350; (4) “London-Lumley,” i.e. London, British Museum, MSS. Reg. 13 A xiv., of late 13th century. Three other MSS. certainly exist; yet six more are perhaps to be found, but none of these possesses the value of those given above. Besides the editions referred to in the body of the article, we may also mention (1) P. Girolamo Golubovich, Biblioteca bio-bibliografica della Terra Santa e dell’ Oriente Francescano (1906), vol. i. (1215–1300), pp. 190-213; (2) William of Rubruck . . . with . . . John of Pian de Carpine, edited by W. W. Rockhill, Hakluyt Society (1900), especially pp. 1-39; (3) C. Raymond Beazley, Dawn of Modern Geography, ii. (1901), 279-317, 375-380; in. 85, 544, 553; and Carpini and Rubruquis, Hakluyt Society (1903), especially pp. vii.-xviii. 43-144, 249-295.  (H. Y.; C. R. B.)