The Travels of Marco Polo/Preface/Chapter 18

From Wikisource
Jump to: navigation, search

How the Two Brothers and Messer Marco Took Leave of the Great Kaan, and Returned to Their Own Country[edit]

And when the Prince saw that the Two Brothers and Messer Marco were ready to set forth, he called them all three to his presence, and gave them two golden Tablets of Authority, which should secure them liberty of passage through all his dominions, and by means of which, whithersoever they should go, all necessaries would be provided for them, and for all their company, and whatever they might choose to order.[1] He charged them also with messages to the King of France, the King of England,[2] the King of Spain, and the other kings of Christendom. He then caused thirteen ships to be equipt, each of which had four masts, and often spread twelve sails.[3] And I could easily give you all particulars about these, but as it would be so long an affair I will not enter upon this now, but hereafter, when time and place are suitable. [Among the said ships were at least four or five that carried crews of 250 or 260 men.]

And when the ships had been equipt, the Three Barons and the Lady, and the Two Brothers and Messer Marco, took leave of the Great Kaan, and went on board their ships with a great company of people, and with all necessaries provided for two years by the Emperor. They put forth to sea, and after sailing for some three months they arrived at a certain Island towards the South, which is called JAVA,[4] and in which there are many wonderful things which we shall tell you all about by-and-bye. Quitting this Island they continued to navigate the Sea of India for eighteen months more before they arrived whither they were bound, meeting on their way also with many marvels, of which we shall tell hereafter.

And when they got thither they found that Argon was dead, so the Lady was delivered to CASAN, his son.

But I should have told you that it is a fact that, when they embarked, they were in number some 600 persons, without counting the mariners; but nearly all died by the way, so that only eight survived.[5]

The sovereignty when they arrived was held by KIACATU, so they commended the Lady to him, and executed all their commission. And when the Two Brothers and Messer Marco had executed their charge in full, and done all that the Great Kaan had enjoined on them in regard to the Lady, they took their leave and set out upon their journey.[6] And before their departure, Kiacatu gave them four golden tablets of authority, two of which bore gerfalcons, one bore lions, whilst the fourth was plain, and having on them inscriptions which directed that the three Ambassadors should receive honour and service all through the land as if rendered to the Prince in person, and that horses and all provisions, and everything necessary, should be supplied to them. And so they found in fact; for throughout the country they received ample and excellent supplies of everything needful; and many a time indeed, as I may tell you, they were furnished with 200 horsemen, more or less, to escort them on their way in safety. And this was all the more needful because Kiacatu was not the legitimate Lord, and therefore the people had less scruple to do mischief than if they had had a lawful prince.[7]

Another thing too must be mentioned, which does credit to those three Ambassadors, and shows for what great personages they were held. The Great Kaan regarded them with such trust and affection, that he had confided to their charge the Queen Cocachin, as well as the daughter of the King of Manzi,[8] to conduct to Argon the Lord of all the Levant. And those two great ladies who were thus entrusted to them they watched over and guarded as if they had been daughters of their own, until they had transferred them to the hands of their Lord; whilst the ladies, young and fair as they were, looked on each of those three as a father, and obeyed them accordingly. Indeed, both Casan, who is now the reigning prince, and the Queen Cocachin his wife, have such a regard for the Envoys that there is nothing they would not do for them. And when the three Ambassadors took leave of that Lady to return to their own country, she wept for sorrow at the parting.

What more shall I say? Having left Kiacatu they travelled day by day till they came to Trebizond, and thence to Constantinople, from Constantinople to Negropont, and from Negropont to Venice. And this was in the year 1295 of Christ's Incarnation.

And now that I have rehearsed all the Prologue as you have heard, we shall begin the Book of the Description of the Divers Things that Messer Marco met with in his Travels.



  1. On these plates or tablets, which have already been spoken of, a note will be found further on. (Bk. II. ch. vii.) Plano Carpini says of the Mongol practice in reference to royal messengers: "Nuncios, quoscunque et quotcunque, et ubicunque transmittit, oportet quod dent eis sine mora equos subductitios et expensas" (669).
  2. The mention of the King of England appears for the first time in Pauthier's text. Probably we shall never know if the communication reached him. But we have the record of several embassies in preceding and subsequent years from the Mongol Khans of Persia to the Kings of England; all with the view of obtaining co-operation in attack on the Egyptian Sultan. Such messages came from Abaka in 1277; from Arghun in 1289 and 1291; from Ghazan in 1302; from Oljaitu in 1307. (See Remusat in Mem. de l'Acad. VII.)
  3. Ramusio has "nine sails." Marsden thinks even this lower number an error of Ramusio's, as "it is well known that Chinese vessels do not carry any kind of topsail." This is, however, a mistake, for they do sometimes carry a small topsail of cotton cloth (and formerly, it would seem from Lecomte, even a topgallant sail at times), though only in quiet weather. And the evidence as to the number of sails carried by the great Chinese junks of the Middle Ages, which evidently made a great impression on Western foreigners, is irresistible. Friar Jordanus, who saw them in Malabar, says: "With a fair wind they carry ten sails;" Ibn Batuta: "One of these great junks carries from three sails to twelve;" Joseph, the Indian, speaking of those that traded to India in the 15th century: "They were very great, and had sometimes twelve sails, with innumerable rowers." (Lecomte, I. 389; Fr. Jordanus, Hak. Soc., p. 55; Ibn Batuta, IV. 91; Novus Orbis, p. 148.) A fuller account of these vessels is given at the beginning of Bk. III.
  4. I.e. in this case Sumatra, as will appear hereafter. "It is quite possible for a fleet of fourteen junks which required to keep together to take three months at the present time to accomplish a similar voyage. A Chinese trader, who has come annually to Singapore in junks for many years, tells us that he has had as long a passage as sixty days, although the average is eighteen or twenty days." (Logan in J. Ind. Archip. II. 609.)
  5. Ramusio's version here varies widely, and looks more probable: "From the day that they embarked until their arrival there died of mariners and others on board 600 persons; and of the three ambassadors only one survived, whose name was Goza (Coja); but of the ladies and damsels died but one."

    It is worth noting that in the case of an embassy sent to Cathay a few years later by Ghazan Khan, on the return by this same route to Persia, the chief of the two Persian ambassadors, and the Great Khan's envoy, who was in company, both died by the way. Their voyage, too, seems to have been nearly as long as Polo's; for they were seven years absent from Persia, and of these only four in China. (See Wassaf in Elliot, III. 47.)

  6. Ramusio's version states that on learning Arghun's death (which they probably did on landing at Hormuz), they sent word of their arrival to Kiacatu, who directed them to conduct the lady to Casan, who was then in the region of the Arbre Sec (the Province of Khorasan) guarding the frontier passes with 60,000 men, and that they did so, and then turned back to Kiacatu (probably at Tabriz), and stayed at his Court nine months. Even the Geog. Text seems to imply that they had become personally known to Casan, and I have no doubt that Ramusio's statement is an authentic expansion of the original narrative by Marco himself, or on his authority.

    Arghun Khan died 10th March, 1291. He was succeeded (23rd July) by his brother Kaikhatu (Quiacatu of Polo), who was put to death 24th March, 1295. We learn from Hammer's History of the Ilkhans that when Ghazan, the son of Arghun (Casan of Polo), who had the government of the Khorasan frontier, was on his return to his post from Tabriz, where his uncle Kaikhatu had refused to see him, "he met at Abher the ambassador whom he had sent to the Great Khan to obtain in marriage a relative of the Great Lady Bulghan. This envoy brought with him the Lady KUKACHIN (our author's Cocachin), with presents from the Emperor, and the marriage was celebrated with due festivity." Abher lies a little west of Kazvin.

    Hammer is not, I find, here copying from Wassaf, and I have not been able to procure a thorough search of the work of Rashiduddin, which probably was his authority. As well as the date can be made out from the History of the Ilkhans, Ghazan must have met his bride towards the end of 1293, or quite the beginning of 1294. Rashiduddin in another place mentions the fair lady from Cathay; "The ordu (or establishment) of Tukiti Khatun was given to KUKACHI KHATUN, who had been brought from the Kaan's Court, and who was a kinswoman of the late chief Queen Bulghan. Kukachi, the wife of the Padshah of Islam, Ghazan Khan, died in the month of Shaban, 695," i.e. in June, 1296, so that the poor girl did not long survive her promotion. (See Hammer's Ilch. II. 20, and 8, and I. 273; and Quatremere's Rashiduddin, p. 97.) Kukachin was the name also of the wife of Chingkim, Kublai's favourite son; but she was of the Kungurat tribe. (Deguignes, IV. 179.)

  7. Here Ramusio's text says: "During this journey Messers Nicolo, Maffeo, and Marco heard the news that the Great Khan had departed this life; and this caused them to give up all hope of returning to those parts."
  8. This Princess of Manzi, or Southern China, is mentioned only in the Geog. Text and in the Crusca, which is based thereon. I find no notice of her among the wives of Ghazan or otherwise.

    On the fall of the capital of the Sung Dynasty--the Kinsay of Polo--in 1276, the Princesses of that Imperial family were sent to Peking, and were graciously treated by Kublai's favourite Queen, the Lady Jamui. This young lady was, no doubt, one of those captive princesses who had been brought up at the Court of Khanbalik. (See De Mailla, IX. 376, and infra Bk. II. ch. lxv., note 6.)