The Travels of Marco Polo/Book 1/Chapter 17

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Concerning the Kingdom of Kerman[edit]

Kerman is a kingdom which is also properly in Persia, and formerly it had a hereditary prince. Since the Tartars conquered the country the rule is no longer hereditary, but the Tartar sends to administer whatever lord he pleases.[1] In this kingdom are produced the stones called turquoises in great abundance; they are found in the mountains, where they are extracted from the rocks.[2] There are also plenty of veins of steel and Ondanique.[3] The people are very skilful in making harness of war; their saddles, bridles, spurs, swords, bows, quivers, and arms of every kind, are very well made indeed according to the fashion of those parts. The ladies of the country and their daughters also produce exquisite needlework in the embroidery of silk stuffs in different colours, with figures of beasts and birds, trees and flowers, and a variety of other patterns. They work hangings for the use of noblemen so deftly that they are marvels to see, as well as cushions, pillows quilts, and all sorts of things.[4]

In the mountains of Kerman are found the best falcons in the world. They are inferior in size to the Peregrine, red on the breast, under the neck, and between the thighs; their flight so swift that no bird can escape them.[5]

On quitting the city you ride on for seven days, always finding towns, villages, and handsome dwelling-houses, so that it is very pleasant travelling; and there is excellent sport also to be had by the way in hunting and hawking. When you have ridden those seven days over a plain country, you come to a great mountain; and when you have got to the top of the pass you find a great descent which occupies some two days to go down. All along you find a variety and abundance of fruits; and in former days there were plenty of inhabited places on the road, but now there are none; and you meet with only a few people looking after their cattle at pasture. From the city of Kerman to this descent the cold in winter is so great that you can scarcely abide it, even with a great quantity of clothing.[6]









  1. 1.0 1.1 Kerman is mentioned by Ptolemy, and also by Ammianus amongst the cities of the country so called (Carmania): "inter quas nitet Carmana omnium mater." (XXIII. 6.)

    M. Pauthier's supposition that Sirjan was in Polo's time the capital, is incorrect. (See N. et E. XIV. 208, 290.) Our Author's Kerman is the city still so called; and its proper name would seem to have been Kuwashir. (See Reinaud, Mem. sur l'Inde, 171; also Sprenger P. and R. R. 77.) According to Khanikoff it is 5535 feet above the sea.

    Kerman, on the fall of the Beni Buya Dynasty, in the middle of the 11th century, came into the hands of a branch of the Seljukian Turks, who retained it till the conquests of the Kings of Khwarizm, which just preceded the Mongol invasion. In 1226 the Amir Borak, a Kara Khitaian, who was governor on behalf of Jalaluddin of Khwarizm, became independent under the title of Kutlugh Sultan. [He died in 1234.] The Mongols allowed this family to retain the immediate authority, and at the time when Polo returned from China the representative of the house was a lady known as the Padishah Khatun [who reigned from 1291], the wife successively of the Ilkhans Abaka and Kaikhatu; an ambitious, clever, and masterful woman, who put her own brother Siyurgutmish to death as a rival, and was herself, after the decease of Kaikhatu, put to death by her brother's widow and daughter [1294]. The Dynasty continued, nominally at least, to the reign of the Ilkhan Khodabanda (1304-13), when it was extinguished. [See Major Sykes' Persia, chaps, v. and xxiii.]

    Kerman was a Nestorian see, under the Metropolitan of Fars. (Ilch. passim; Weil, III. 454; Lequien, II. 1256.)

    ["There is some confusion with regard to the names of Kerman both as a town and as a province or kingdom. We have the names Kerman, Kuwashir, Bardshir. I should say the original name of the whole country was Kerman, the ancient Karamania. A province of this was called Kureh-i-Ardeshir, which, being contracted, became Kuwashir, and is spoken of as the province in which Ardeshir Babekan, the first Sassanian monarch, resided. A part of Kureh-i-Ardeshir was called Bardshir, or Bard-i-Ardeshir, now occasionally Bardsir, and the present city of Kerman was situated at its north-eastern corner. This town, during the Middle Ages, was called Bardshir. On a coin of Qara Arslan Beg, King of Kerman, of A.H. 462, Mr. Stanley Lane Poole reads Yazdashir instead of Bardshir. Of Al Idrisi's Yazdashir I see no mention in histories; Bardshir was the capital and the place where most of the coins were struck. Yazdashir, if such a place existed, can only have been a place of small importance. It is, perhaps, a clerical error for Bardshir; without diacritical points, both words are written alike. Later, the name of the city became Kerman, the name Bardshir reverting to the district lying south-west of it, with its principal place Mashiz. In a similar manner Mashiz was often, and is so now, called Bardshir. Another old town sometimes confused with Bardshir was Sirjan or Shirjan, once more important than Bardshir; it is spoken of as the capital of Kerman, of Bardshir, and of Sardsir. Its name now exists only as that of a district, with principal place S'aidabad. The history of Kerman, 'Agd-ul-'Ola, plainly says Bardshir is the capital of Kerman, and from the description of Bardshir there is no doubt of its having been the present town Kerman. It is strange that Marco Polo does not give the name of the city. In Assemanni's Bibliotheca Orientalis Kuwashir and Bardashir are mentioned as separate cities, the latter being probably the old Mashiz, which as early as A.H. 582 (A.D. 1186) is spoken of in the History of Kerman as an important town. The Nestorian bishop of the province Kerman, who stood under the Metropolitan of Fars, resided at Hormuz." (Houtum-Schindler, l.c. pp. 491-492.) There does not seem any doubt as to the identity of Bardashir with the present city of Kerman. (See The Cities of Kirman in the time of Hamd-Allah Mustawfi and Marco Polo, by Guy le Strange, Jour. R. As. Soc. April, 1901, pp. 281, 290.) Hamd-Allah is the author of the Cosmography known as the Nuzhat-al-Kulub or "Heart's Delight." (Cf. Major Sykes' Persia, chap. xvi., and the Geographical Journal for February, 1902, p. 166.)--H. C.]

  2. 2.0 2.1 A MS. treatise on precious stones cited by Ouseley mentions Shebavek in Kerman as the site of a Turquoise mine. This is probably Shahr-i-Babek, about 100 miles west of the city of Kerman, and not far from Parez, where Abbott tells us there is a mine of these stones, now abandoned. Goebel, one of Khanikoff's party, found a deposit of turquoises at Taft, near Yezd. (Ouseley's Travels, I. 211; J. R. G. S. XXVI. 63-65; Khan. Mem. 203.)

    ["The province Kerman is still rich in turquoises. The mines of Pariz or Parez are at Chemen-i-mo-aspan, 16 miles from Pariz on the road to Bahramabad (principal place of Rafsinjan), and opposite the village or garden called God-i-Ahmer. These mines were worked up to a few years ago; the turquoises were of a pale blue. Other turquoises are found in the present Bardshir plain, and not far from Mashiz, on the slopes of the Chehel tan mountain, opposite a hill called the Bear Hill (tal-i-Khers). The Shehr-i-Babek turquoise mines are at the small village Karik, a mile from Medvar-i-Bala, 10 miles north of Shehr-i-Babek. They have two shafts, one of which has lately been closed by an earthquake, and were worked up to about twenty years ago. At another place, 12 miles from Shehr-i-Babek, are seven old shafts now not worked for a long period. The stones of these mines are also of a very pale blue, and have no great value." (Houtum-Schindler, l.c. 1881, p. 491.)

    The finest turquoises came from Khorasan; the mines were near Maaden, about 48 miles to the north of Nishapuer. (Heyd, Com. du Levant, II. p. 653; Ritter, Erdk. pp. 325-330.)

    It is noticeable that Polo does not mention indigo at Kerman.--H. C.]

  3. 3.0 3.1 Edrisi says that excellent iron was produced in the "cold mountains" N.W. of Jiruft, i.e. somewhere south of the capital; and Jihan Numa, or Great Turkish Geography, that the steel mines of Niriz, on the borders of Kerman, were famous. These are also spoken of by Teixeira. Major St. John enables me to indicate their position, in the hills east of Niriz. (Edrisi, vol. i. p. 430; Hammer, Mem. lur la Perse, p. 275; Teixeira, Relaciones, p. 378; and see Map of Itineraries, No. II.) ["Marco Polo's steel mines are probably the Parpa iron mines on the road from Kerman to Shiraz, called even to-day M'aden-i-fulad (steel mine); they are not worked now. Old Kerman weapons, daggers, swords, old stirrups, etc., made of steel, are really beautiful, and justify Marco Polo's praise of them" (Houtum-Schindler, l.c. p. 491)--H. C.]

    Ondanique of the Geog. Text, Andaine of Pauthier's, Andanicum of the Latin, is an expression on which no light has been thrown since Ramusio's time. The latter often asked the Persian merchants who visited Venice, and they all agreed in stating that it was a sort of steel of such surpassing value and excellence, that in the days of yore a man who possessed a mirror, or sword, of Andanic regarded it as he would some precious jewel. This seems to me excellent evidence, and to give the true clue to the meaning of Ondanique. I have retained the latter form because it points most distinctly to what I believe to be the real word, viz. Hundwaniy, "Indian Steel." (See Johnson's Pers. Dict. and De Sacy's Chrestomathie Arabe, II. 148.) In the Vocabulista Arabico, of about A.D. 1200 (Florence, 1871, p. 211), Hunduwan is explained by Ensis. Vuellers explains Hundwan as "anything peculiar to India, especially swords," and quotes from Firdusi, "Khanjar-i-Hundwan," a hanger of Indian steel.

    The like expression appears in the quotation from Edrisi below as Hindiah, and found its way into Spanish in the shapes of Alhinde, Alfinde, Alinde, first with the meaning of steel, then assuming, that of steel mirror, and finally that of metallic foil of a glass mirror. (See Dozy and Engelmann, 2d ed. pp. 144-145.) Hint or Al-hint is used in Berber also for steel. (See J. R. A. S. IX. 255.)

    The sword-blades of India had a great fame over the East, and Indian steel, according to esteemed authorities, continued to be imported into Persia till days quite recent. Its fame goes back to very old times. Ctesias mentions two wonderful swords of such material that he got from the king of Persia and his mother. It is perhaps the ferrum candidum of which the Malli and Oxydracae sent a 100 talents weight as a present to Alexander. Indian Iron and Steel ([Greek: sidaeros Indikos kai stomoma]) are mentioned in the Periplus as imports into the Abyssinian ports. Ferrum Indicum appears (at least according to one reading) among the Oriental species subject to duty in the Law of Marcus Aurelius and Commodus on that matter. Salmasius notes that among surviving Greek chemical treatises there was one [Greek: peri baphaes Indikou sidaerou], "On the Tempering of Indian Steel." Edrisi says on this subject: "The Hindus excel in the manufacture of iron, and in the preparation of those ingredients along with which it is fused to obtain that kind of soft Iron which is usually styled Indian Steel (HINDIAH). They also have workshops wherein are forged the most famous sabres in the world.... It is impossible to find anything to surpass the edge that you get from Indian Steel (al-hadid al-Hindi)."

    Allusions to the famous sword-blades of India would seem to be frequent in Arabic literature. Several will be found in Hamasa's collection of ancient Arabic poems translated by Freytag. The old commentator on one of these passages says: "Ut optimos gladios significet ... Indicos esse dixit," and here the word used in the original is Hundwaniyah. In Manger's version of Arabshah's Life of Timur are several allusions of the same kind; one, a quotation from Antar, recalls the ferrum candidum of Curtius:

    "Albi (gladii) Indici meo in sanguine abluuntur."
    In the histories, even of the Mahomedan conquest of India, the Hindu infidels are sent to Jihannam with "the well-watered blade of the Hindi sword"; or the sword is personified as "a Hindu of good family." Coming down to later days, Chardin says of the steel of Persia: "They combine it with Indian steel, which is more tractable ... and is much more esteemed." Dupre, at the beginning of this century, tells us: "I used to believe ... that the steel for the famous Persian sabres came from certain mines in Khorasan. But according to all the information I have obtained, I can assert that no mine of steel exists in that province. What is used for these blades comes in the shape of disks from Lahore." Pottinger names steel among the imports into Kerman from India. Elphinstone the Accurate, in his Caubul, confirms Dupre: "Indian Steel [in Afghanistan] is most prized for the material; but the best swords are made in Persia and in Syria;" and in his History of India, he repeats: "The steel of India was in request with the ancients; it is celebrated in the oldest Persian poem, and is still the material of the scimitars of Khorasan and Damascus."

    Klaproth, in his Asia Polyglotta, gives Andun as the Ossetish and Andan as the Wotiak, for Steel. Possibly these are essentially the same with Hundwaniy and Alhinde, pointing to India as the original source of supply. [In the Sikandar Nama, e Bara (or "Book of Alexander the Great," written A.D. 1200, by Abu Muhammad bin Yusuf bin Mu, Ayyid-i-Nizamu-'d-Din), translated by Captain H. Wilberforce Clarke (Lond., 1881, large 8vo), steel is frequently mentioned: Canto xix. 257, p. 202; xx. 12, p. 211; xlv. 38, p. 567; lviii. 32, pp. 695, 42, pp. 697, 62, 66, pp. 699; lix. 28, p. 703.--H. C.]

    Avicenna, in his fifth book De Anima, according to Roger Bacon, distinguishes three very different species of iron: "1st. Iron which is good for striking or bearing heavy strokes, and for being forged by hammer and fire, but not for cutting-tools. Of this hammers and anvils are made, and this is what we commonly call Iron simply. 2nd. That which is purer, has more heat in it, and is better adapted to take an edge and to form cutting-tools, but is not so malleable, viz. Steel. And the 3rd is that which is called ANDENA. This is less known among the Latin nations. Its special character is that like silver it is malleable and ductile under a very low degree of heat. In other properties it is intermediate between iron and steel." (Fr. R. Baconis Opera Inedita, 1859, pp. 382-383.) The same passage, apparently, of Avicenna is quoted by Vincent of Beauvais, but with considerable differences. (See Speculum Naturale, VII. ch. lii. lx., and Specul. Doctrinale, XV. ch. lxiii.) The latter author writes Alidena, and I have not been able to refer to Avicenna, so that I am doubtful whether his Andena is the same term with the Andaine of Pauthier and our Ondanique.

    The popular view, at least in the Middle Ages, seems to have regarded Steel as a distinct natural species, the product of a necessarily different ore, from iron; and some such view is, I suspect, still common in the East. An old Indian officer told me of the reply of a native friend to whom he had tried to explain the conversion of iron into steel--"What! You would have me believe that if I put an ass into the furnace it will come forth a horse." And Indian Steel again seems to have been regarded as a distinct natural species from ordinary steel. It is in fact made by a peculiar but simple process, by which the iron is converted directly into cast-steel, without passing through any intermediate stage analogous to that of blister-steel. When specimens were first examined in England, chemists concluded that the steel was made direct from the ore. The Ondanique of Marco no doubt was a fine steel resembling the Indian article. (Mueller's Ctesias, p. 80; Curtius, IX. 24; Mueller's Geog. Gr. Min. I. 262; Digest. Novum, Lugd. 1551, Lib. XXXIX. Tit. 4; Salmas. Ex. Plinian. II. 763; Edrisi, I. 65-66; J. R. S. A. A. 387 seqq.; Hamasae Carmina, I. 526; Elliot, II. 209, 394; Reynolds's Utbi, p. 216.)

  4. 4.0 4.1 Paulus Jovius in the 16th century says, I know not on what authority, that Kerman was then celebrated for the fine temper of its steel in scimitars and lance-points. These were eagerly bought at high prices by the Turks, and their quality was such that one blow of a Kerman sabre would cleave an European helmet without turning the edge. And I see that the phrase, "Kermani blade" is used in poetry by Marco's contemporary Amir Khusru of Delhi. (P. Jov. Hist. of his own Time, Bk. XIV.; Elliot, III. 537.)

    There is, or was in Pottinger's time, still a great manufacture of matchlocks at Kerman; but rose-water, shawls, and carpets are the staples of the place now. Polo says nothing that points to shawl-making, but it would seem from Edrisi that some such manufacture already existed in the adjoining district of Bamm. It is possible that the "hangings" spoken of by Polo may refer to the carpets. I have seen a genuine Kerman carpet in the house of my friend, Sir Bartle Frere. It is of very short pile, very even and dense; the design, a combination of vases, birds, and floral tracery, closely resembling the illuminated frontispiece of some Persian MSS.

    The shawls are inferior to those of Kashmir in exquisite softness, but scarcely in delicacy of texture and beauty of design. In 1850, their highest quality did not exceed 30 tomans (14l.) in price. About 2200 looms were employed on the fabric. A good deal of Kerman wool called Kurk, goes via Bandar Abbasi and Karachi to Amritsar, where it is mixed with the genuine Tibetan wool in the shawl manufacture. Several of the articles named in the text, including pardahs ("cortines") are woven in shawl-fabric. I scarcely think, however, that Marco would have confounded woven shawl with needle embroidery. And Mr. Khanikoff states that the silk embroidery, of which Marco speaks, is still performed with great skill and beauty at Kerman. Our cut illustrates the textures figured with animals, already noticed at p. 66.

    The Guebers were numerous here at the end of last century, but they are rapidly disappearing now. The Musulman of Kerman is, according to Khanikoff, an epicurean gentleman, and even in regard to wine, which is strong and plentiful, his divines are liberal. "In other parts of Persia you find the scribblings on the walls of Serais to consist of philosophical axioms, texts from the Koran, or abuse of local authorities. From Kerman to Yezd you find only rhymes in praise of fair ladies or good wine."

    (Pottinger's Travels; Khanik. Mem. 186 seqq., and Notice, p. 21; Major Smith's Report; Abbott's MS. Report in F. O.; Notes by Major O. St. John, R.E.)

  5. 5.0 5.1 Parez is famous for its falcons still, and so are the districts of Aktur and Sirjan. Both Mr. Abbott and Major Smith were entertained with hawking by Persian hosts in this neighbourhood. The late Sir O. St. John identifies the bird described as the Shahin (Falco Peregrinator), one variety of which, the Farsi, is abundant in the higher mountains of S. Persia. It is now little used in that region, the Terlan or goshawk being most valued, but a few are caught and sent for sale to the Arabs of Oman. (J. R. G. S. XXV. 50, 63, and Major St. John's Notes.)

    ["The fine falcons, 'with red breasts and swift of flight,' come from Pariz. They are, however, very scarce, two or three only being caught every year. A well-trained Pariz falcon costs from 30 to 50 tomans (12l. to 20l.), as much as a good horse." (Houtum-Schindler, l.c. p. 491.) Major Sykes, Persia, ch. xxiii., writes: "Marco Polo was evidently a keen sportsman, and his description of the Shahin, as it is termed, cannot be improved upon." Major Sykes has a list given him by a Khan of seven hawks of the province, all black and white, except the Shahin, which has yellow eyes, and is the third in the order of size.--H. C.]

  6. 6.0 6.1 We defer geographical remarks till the traveller reaches Hormuz.