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THE STORY OF
THE KHAN'S FLEET PASSING THROUGH THE INDIAN ARCHIPELAGO.
AUTHOR OF "AMERICAN STATESMEN," WASHINGTON
IN LINCOLN'S TIME," ETC.
THE CENTURY CO.
Copyright, x896, 1897, by
THE CENTURY CO.
Printed in U. S. A.
SHE story of Marco Polo and his companions is
one of the most romantic and interesting of
medieval or of modern times. The manner of the
return of the Polos long after they had been given up
for dead, the subsequent adventures of Marco Polo,
the incredulity with which his book of travels was
received, the gradual and slow confirmation of the
truth of his reports as later explorations penetrated
the mysterious Orient, and the fact that he may be
justly regarded as the founder of the geography of
Asia, have all combined to give to his narrative a
certain fascination, with which no other story of
travel has been invested. At first read for pure
amusement, Marco Polo's book eventually became an
authoritative account of regions of the earth which
were almost wholly unknown to Europe up to his
time, and some portions of which even now remain
unexplored by Western travellers.
In this little book the author and compiler has
endeavoured to give a connected account of the travels
of Marco Polo for the entertainment and instruction
of young readers, with the hope that maturer minds
may find therein a comprehensive and intelligible
summary of the most valuable and trustworthy parts
of the said book. As far as possible he has allowed
the traveller to speak for himself, refraining from that
fashion of condensation, which suppresses the original
author and gives the reader only a narration which
has been coloured by its passage through the mind
of an editor. In his comments on the text of Marco
Polo, the author has made use of the erudite notes of
Colonel Henry Yule, C.B., whose admirable trans-
lation of "The Book of Ser Marco Polo, the
Venetian" (John Murray, London, 1871) has been
made the basis of this volume. The works of the
Abb6 Huc, Williams's "The Middle Kingdom,"
Gilmour's "Among the Mongols," and other less-
known books have been consulted in quest of light
and information for the better understanding of the
great Venetian's pages.
CONCERNING MARCO, HIS FATHER, AND HIS UNCLE-MISTY
NOTIONS OF THE FAR EAST HELD BY MEN OF MEDIEVAL
TIMES-HOW THE POLOS WENT TO THE DOMINIONS OF
KUBLAI KHAN AND GOT BACK AGAIN-A MARVELLOUS
YOUNG MARCO AT THE COURT OF KUBLAI KHAN-THE GREAT
KHAN'S CONDESCENSION TO THE YOUNG TRAVELLER-
THE MANNER OF THE RETURN OF THE POLOS-HOW
MESSER MARCO POLO WAS CAPTURED BY THE GENOESE,
AND HOW HE WROTE HIS FAMOUS BOOK OF TRAVELS 12
MARCO DISCOURSES OF ANCIENT ARMENIA-THE KINGDOM
OF GEORGIANIA-THE EXPLOITS OF ALEXANDER THE
GREAT-STORY OF THE MISERLY CALIPH OF BAGDAD
AND HIS GOLD-A GREAT MARVEL. ., 26
THE THREE KINGS-THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN-
STORIES AND ADVENTURES IN PERSIA-ORIGIN OF THE
THE GEMS OF BADAKSHAN-A ROYAL PREROGATIVE-THE
CONJURERS OF CASHMERE 60
THE ROOF OF THE WORLD-HOW THE PAMIR COUNTRY
BORDERS ON THREE GREAT EMPIRES-THE GREAT
HORNED SHEEP OF THE STEPPES-A MARVELLOUS STORY
OF SAMARCAND 66
THE SEA OF SAND AND ITS MARVELS-THE FABLED SALA-
MANDER AND ITS TRUE STORY-SOMETHING ABOUT AS-
HOW JENGHIZ KHAN DEFEATED PRESTER JOHN-THE MYTHI-
CAL CHRISTIAN KING AND THE MONGOL CONQUEROR-
DIVINERS AND THEIR TRICKS-TATAR MIGRATIONS 80
MANNERS AND CUSTOMS OF A STRANGE PEOPLE-CONCERNING
THE TATARS AND THEIR WAYS-THE ORIGIN OF CON-
DENSED MILK 86
TIBET-THE "GRUNTING OXEN" OF THAT
DEER AND OTHER ANIMALS
WHO WERE GOG AND MAGOG?-THE SPLENDOURS OF THE
COURT OF KUBLAI KHAN-COLERIDGE'S POEM "IN XA-
THE TRICKS OF CHINESE CONJURERS-FLYING CUPS AND
HOW THE GREAT EMPEROR WENT TO WAR-KUBLAI KHAN'S
VICTORIOUS CAMPAIGN AGAINST A KINSMAN-HOW THE
KHAN REWARDED THE VALOUR OF HIS CAPTAINS. III
THE BEAUTIFUL PALACE OF KUBLAI KHAN-HOW THE EM-
PEROR SPENT HIS TIME-CONCERNING THE MIGHTY
CITY OF CAMBALUC-THE MANNER OF SERVING DINNER
IN THE GREAT KHAN'S PALACE-ANCIENT AND MODERN
PEKING-COSTLY ROBES 124
THE KHAN AS A MIGHTY HUNTER-HIS FALCONERS, HAWKS,
AND HUNTING GEAR-RIDING IN A CHAMBER ON ELE-
PHANTS' BACKS-RIGHT ROYAL SPORT 139
KUBLAIS FINANCES AND GOVERNMENT-THE GREAT KHAN
AS A MONEY-SPINNER-PRINTING MONEY TO ORDER-
THE EMPEROR'S VALUABLE MONOPOLIES-THE TWELVE
BARONS AND THEIR POWERS-POST-RUNNERS WHO
TRAVEL FAST-BURNING BLACK STONES" FOR FUEL-
THE KHAN'S PATRIARCHAL RULE. 147
THE GOLDEN KING AND PRESTER JOHN-THE FAMED YEL-
LOW RIVER-SOME OF THE WONDERS OF YUNNAN-THE
TRAVELLER MEETS WITH CROCODILES-" THE PEOPLE
OF THE GOLD TEETH "-CURIOSITIES OF TATTOOING-
A FAMOUS BATTLE-THE CITY OF MIEN 163
IN SOUTHERN CHINA AND LAOS-CURIOUS CUSTOMS OF A
STRANGE PEOPLE-LIONS AND LION-HUNTING DOGS-
MARVELLOUS PRODUCTS OF SILK-THE REBELLION AND
PUNISHMENT OF LIYTAN. 185
BAYAN HUNDRED-EYES-THE POLO BROTHERS INTRODUCE
WESTERN SIEGE ARTILLERY-THE YANG-TSE-KIANG AND
ITS MONASTERIES-KINSAY (THE CITY OF HEAVEN)
AN EXCURSION TO CIPANGO, OR JAPAN-INGENIOUS SHIPS
BUILT BY THE CHINESE-THE KHAN FAILS TO CONQUER
JAPAN-THE RHINOCEROS-HISTORY OF SAGAMONI BOR-
CAN, OR BUDDHA-RELIQUES OF ADAM. 211
THE WONDERS OF INDIA-PEARL-FISHERS AND THEIR PERILS
-A STORY LIKE ONE IN "THE ARABIAN NIGHTS' EN-
TERTAINMENTS"-HUNTING DIAMONDS WITH EAGLES 226
A PEEP INTO AFRICA-THE MYTHICAL ROC AND ITS MIGHTY
EGGS-THE EXPLOITS OF KING CAIDU'S DAUGHTER-
LIST OF FULL-PAGE ILLUSTRATIONS.
THE KHAN'S FLEET PASSING THROUGH THE INDIAN ARCHIPELAGO
THE POLO BROTHERS RECEIVING THE TABLET OF GOLD Facing page 8
MARCO POLO'S GALLEY I
THE THREE KINGS AT THE WELL t 42
THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN. P. 56
THE MIRACULOUS COLUMN .. 70
TATARS ON THE MARCH ,, 90
CHINESE PHEASANT ,, 96
THE GREAT WALL AND THE RAMPART OF GOG AND MAGOG ,, ,, 98
A PAVILION OF THE SUMMER PALACE ,, 1, I6
A CHINESE CONJURER IO8
THE PALACE OF THE GREAT KHAN 126
THE WEST GATE OF PEKING ,, ,, 130
THE EAGLE AND ITS VICTIM .,, 140
PART OF THE KHAN'S ENCAMPMENT 144
CATAPULTS, MANGONELS, AND OTHER MACHINES ,, 98
AN ISLAND MONASTERY 202
GOLDEN ISLAND ,, 204
. ? 210
THE THREE ASIATIC RHINOCEROSES: INDIAN (UPPER),
SUMATRAN (LOWER), JAVANESE (MIDDLE) .
THE ROC ,
LIST OF ILLUSTRATIONS.
ILLUSTRATIONS IN THE TEXT.
THE EMPEROR OF CHINA .
THE CASTLE OF THE FIRE-WORSHIPPERS
THE GREAT NACCARAS
EAST AFRICAN SHEEP
On page 3
S,, 1, 40
,, ,, 69
. ,, 232
STORY OF MARCO POLO
STORY OF MARCO POLO.
CONCERNING MARCO, HIS FATHER, AND HIS UNCLE-MISTY
NOTIONS OF THE FAR EAST HELD BY MEN OF MEDIEVAL
TIMES-HOW THE POLOS WENT TO THE DOMINIONS OF
KUBLAI KHAN AND GOT BACK AGAIN-A MARVELLOUS
M ANY hundred years ago, in the year 1295, let
us say, before Columbus discovered America,
or the art of printing had been invented, a strange
thing happened in Venice. Three men, dressed
in outlandish garb, partly European and partly
Asiatic, appeared in the streets of that city, making
their way to the gates of a lofty and handsome house
which was then occupied by members of the ancient
family of Polo. The three strangers, whose speech
had a foreign accent, claimed admittance to the
mansion, saying that they were Maffeo and Nicolo
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
Polo, brothers, and Marco, son of Nicolo, all of whom
had been absent in the wild and barbarous countries
of the Far East for more than twenty-four years, and
had long since been given up as lost.
In those days nobody in Europe knew much about
the regions in which the three Polos had travelled,
the little that was known being derived from
scanty and vague reports. Two friars, Plano Carpini
and William Rubruquis, it is true, had reached the
borders of Cathay, or Northern China, and had
brought back slender accounts of the wonders of that
mysterious land, of which they had heard from the
subjects of the Great Khan, who reigned over a vast
empire. But nobody among the learned and most
travelled people of Europe knew exactly what manner
of people lived, or what countries lay, beyond the
western boundary of Cathay. None knew aught of
the inhabitants (or if there were inhabitants) of the
regions that we now know as India, Sumatra, Japan,
Corea, and the eastern coasts of Asia and Africa.
It was supposed that the farthest extreme, or eastern
edge, of Cathay ran off into a region of continual
darkness, a bog or marsh where all manner of strange
beasts, hobgoblins, and monsters roamed and howled.
And it was not surprising that, when the three Polos
(for these were they) came back from that desperately
savage country and claimed their own, they were
laughed to scorn. It seemed reasonable to believe
RETURN OF THE WANDERERS.
that the three, having been gone so many years, had
wandered off into the Sea of Darkness and had
perished miserably, or had been destroyed by the
wild creatures of that terrible region.
How the three Polos so far convinced their rela-
tions, who were in possession of the Polo mansion
Chi. 1zipjror of Cthu
in Venice, as to gain admittance, we do not know;
but John Baptist Ramusio, who has written an
entertaining history of the Polo family, sets forth
what was done by the three Polos to prove that
they were what they claimed to be, after they had
taken possession of their house. They explained
that they had been in the service of the Great
Khan, or Emperor, of the Mongol Empire, and
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
that they had amassed wealth while in the region
variously known as Cathay, China, Mongolia, and the
Far East Here is what the good John Baptist
Ramusio has to tell of the device by which Maffeo,
Nicolo, and young Marco Polo finally convinced
their neighbours of the truth of their marvellous
They invited a number of their kindred to an entertain-
ment, which they took care to have prepared with great
state and splendour in that house of theirs; and when the
hour arrived for sitting down to table, they came forth of
their chamber, all three clothed in crimson satin, fashioned
in long robes reaching to the ground, such as people in
those days wore within doors. Andswhen water for the
hands had been served, and the guests were set, they took
off those robes and put on others of crimson damask, whilst
the first suits were by their orders cut up and divided among
the servants. Then after partaking of some of the dishes,
they went out again and came back in robes of crimson
velvet; and when they had again taken their seats, the
second suits were divided as before. When dinner was
over, they did the like with the robes of velvet, after they
had put on dresses of the ordinary fashion worn by the.
rest of the company. These proceedings caused much
wonder and amazement among the guests. But when the
cloth had been drawn, and all the servants had been
ordered to retire from the dining-hall, Messer Marco, as-
the youngest of the three, rose from table, and, going into
another chamber, brought forth the three shabby dresses
of coarse stuff which they had worn when they first arrived.
Straightway they took sharp knives and began, to rip up
some of the seams and welts, and to take. out of them
ALL DOUBTS REMOVED.
jewels of the greatest value in vast quantities, such as
rubies, sapphires, carbuncles, diamonds, and emeralds,
which had all been stitched up in those dresses in so artful
a fashion that nobody could have suspected the fact. For
when they took leave of the Great Can, they had changed
all the wealth that he had bestowed upon them into this
mass of rubies, emeralds, and other jewels, being well aware
of the impossibility of carrying with them so great an
amount of gold over a journey of such extreme length and
difficulty. Now this exhibition of such a huge treasure of
jewels and precious stones, all tumbled out upon the table,
threw the guests into fresh amazement, insomuch that they
seemed quite bewildered and dumbfounded. And now
they recognized that in spite of all former doubts these
were in truth those honoured and worthy gentlemen of
the Ca' Polo* that they claimed to be; and so all paid
them the greatest honour and reverence. And when the
story got wind in Venice, straightway the whole city, gentle
and simple, flocked to the house to embrace them, and
to make much of them, with every conceivable demonstra-
tion of affection and respect. On Messer Maffeo, who was
the eldest, they conferred the honours of an office that
was of great dignity in those days; whilst the young men
came daily to visit and converse with the ever polite and
gracious Messer Marco, and to ask him questions about
Cathay and the Great Can, all of which he answered
with such kindly courtesy that every man felt himself in a
manner his debtor. And as it happened that in the story,
which he was constantly called on to repeat, of the mag-
nificence of the Great Can, he would speak of his revenues
as amounting to ten or fifteen millions of gold, and in
like manner, when recounting other instances of great
wealth in those parts, would always make use of the term
* House of Polo.
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
millions, so they gave him the nickname of MESSER MARCO
MILLIONI: a thing which I have noted also in the Public
Books of this Republic where mention is made of him.
The Court of his House, too, at S. Giovanni Chrisostomo,
has always from that time been popularly known as the
Court of the Millioni.
It is with the youngest of the three Polos that
our story has to do; for Marco, the son of Nicolo,
was the author of the book that bears his name;
and he was the most famous traveller of his time,
as we shall presently see. He was seventeen
years old when he first started on his adventurous
journey into Far Cathay. He was forty-one years
old when he returned to his native city of Venice,
with his father and his uncle Maffeo; and it was
not until three or four years later, while he was a
prisoner of war, that he began to write, or dictate,
the tale of his wonderful travels.
The two Polo brothers, Nicolo and Maffeo, began
their wanderings in the Far East before Marco was
born. After several years of trading and travelling
in that region of the world, which was called the
Levant, because the sun was seen to rise there (from
the French verb lever, to rise), the two Polos were
in Constantinople in 1260. From that city they
went on a trading venture round the northern shore
of the Black Sea to the Crimea and the Sea of Azov,
and thence into Western Asia and to Bokhara, where
they remained three years. While there, they heard
distinct and trustworthy tales of the Great Khan,
as he was called-the Emperor of the Mongols-
and they resolved to go and see the splendours of
At that time the Mongolian Empire was one of
the largest, if not the largest, in the world. The
Mongols, beginning their wandering life in the
northern part of Asia, had overrun all the western
part of that continent, and as far to the southward
as the island of Sumatra, excepting India. To the
eastward, the islands of Cipango, or Japan, alone
resisted the dominion of the Great Khan; and in
the west, his hordes had even broken over the borders
of Europe, had taken possession of the country
now known as Russia, had invaded Poland and
Hungary, and had established themselves on the
mouths of the Danube. During the reign of the
great Jenghiz Khan and his immediate successors,
it has been said, "In Asia and Eastern Europe
scarcely a dog might bark without Mongol leave,
from the borders of Poland and the coast of Cilicia
to the Amur and the Yellow Sea."
When the two Polos arrived at the chief city of
the Mongol Empire, Kublai Khan, a grandson of
the great Jenghiz, was the reigning Sovereign. The
Khan had never seen any Europeans, and he was
greatly pleased with the appearance of the Polo
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
brothers. This is what Marco Polo says of the
reception of his father and uncle by Kublai Khan:
When the Two Brothers got to the Great Kaan, he
received them with great honour and hospitality, and
showed much pleasure at their visit, asking them a great
number of questions. First, he asked about the emperors,
how they maintained their dignity and administered justice
in their dominions, and how they went forth to battle,
and so forth. And then he asked the like questions about
the kings and princes and other potentates.
And then he inquired about the Pope and the Church,
and about all that is done at Rome, and all the customs
of the Latins. And the Two Brothers told him the truth
in all its particulars, with order and good sense, like
sensible men as they were; and this they were able to
do, as they knew the Tartar language well.
When that Prince, whose name was CUBLAY KAAN,
Lord of the Tartars all over the earth, and of all the
kingdoms and provinces and territories of that vast quarter
of the world, had heard all that the Brothers had to tell
him about the ways of the Latins, he was greatly pleased,
and he took it into his head that he would send them on
an Embassy to the Pope. So he urgently desired them
to undertake this mission along with one of his Barons;
and they replied that they would gladly execute all his
commands as those of their Sovereign Lord. Then the
Prince sent to summon to his presence one of his Barons
whose name was COGATAL, and desired him to get ready,
for it was proposed to send him to the Pope along with
the Two Brothers. The Baron replied that he would
execute the Lord's commands to the best of his ability.
After this the Prince caused letters from himself to the
Pope to be indited in the Tartar tongue, and committed
them to the Two Brothers and to that Baron of his own,
THE POLO BROTHERS RECEIVING THE TABLET OF GOLD.
THE KHAN'S INSTRUCTIONS.
and charged them with what he wished them to say to
the Pope. Now the contents of the letter were to this
purport: He begged that the Pope would send as many
as an hundred persons of our Christian faith; intelligent
men, acquainted with the Seven Arts, well qualified to
enter into controversy, and able clearly to prove by force
of argument to idolaters and other kinds of folk, that the
Law of Christ was best, and that all other religions were
false and naught; and if they would prove this, he and
all under him would become Christians and the Church's
liegemen. Finally he charged his Envoys to bring back
to him some Oil of the Lamp which burns on the Sepulchre
of our Lord at Jerusalem.
When the Prince had charged them with all his com-
mission, he caused to be given them a Tablet of Gold,
on which was inscribed that the three Ambassadors should
be supplied with everything needful in all countries through
which they should pass-with horses, with escorts, and, in
short, with whatever they should require. And when they
had made all needful preparations, the three Ambassadors
took their leave of the Emperor and set out.
So great was the reverence in which the Great
Khan was held by all who frequented his court
that he was called the Lord, or the Lord of the
Earth. Ramusio spells the title variously, sometimes
"Kaan," and sometimes "Can." He also calls him
"Cublay" at times, but most scholars give the
name as Kublai. The Seven Arts which the Great
Khan wanted to have brought to his court by
teachers were: Rhetoric, Logic, Grammar, Arith-
metic, Astronomy, Music and Geometry. These
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
were then regarded as the sum of human knowledge;
and if the people of the Great Khan were taught
these, they would know all that the Europeans knew.
Everything went well with the travellers, except that
the Tatar baron fell sick, and had to be left behind.
They reached Acre in 1269, where, finding to their
dismay that the Pope was dead, and that his successor
had not been chosen, they went, says Marco Polo,
to a certain wise Churchman who was Legate for the
whole kingdom of Egypt, and a man of great authority, by
name Theobald of Piacenza, and told him of the mission
on which they were come. When the Legate heard their
story, he was greatly surprised, and deemed the thing to
be of great honour and advantage for the whole of
Christendom. So his answer to the Two Ambassador
Brothers was this: "Gentlemen, ye see that the Pope is
dead; wherefore ye must needs have patience until a new
Pope be made, and then shall ye be able to execute your
charge." Seeing well enough that what the Legate said
was just, they observed: But while the Pope is a-making,
we may as well go to Venice and visit our households."
So they departed from Acre and went to Negropont, and
from Negropont they continued their voyage to Venice.
On their arrival there, Messer Nicolas found that his wife
was dead, and that she had left behind her a son of fifteen
years of age, whose name was Marco; and 'tis of him this
Book tells. The Two Brothers abode at Venice a couple
of years, tarrying until a Pope should be made.
When the Two Brothers had tarried as long as I have
told you, and saw that never a Pope was made, they said
that their return to the Great Kaan must be put off no
longer. So they set out from Venice, taking Marco along
POPE GREGORY X.
with them, and went straight back to Acre, where they
found the Legate of whom we have spoken. They had
a good deal of discourse with him concerning the matter,
and asked his permission to go to Jerusalem to get some
Oil from the Lamp on the Sepulchre, to carry with them
to the Great Kaan, as he had enjoined. The Legate
giving them leave, they went from Acre to Jerusalem and
got some of the Oil, and then returned to Acre, and went
to the Legate and said to him: "As we see no sign of
a Pope's being made, we desire to return to the Great
Kaan; for we have already tarried long, and there has been
more than enough delay." To which the Legate replied:
"Since 'tis your wish to go back, I am well content."
Wherefore he caused letters to be written for delivery to
the Great. Kaan, bearing testimony that the Two Brothers
had come in all good faith to accomplish his charge, but
that as there was no Pope they had been unable to do so.
Armed with these, the Polos started on their
return; but they had not gone far when they were
overjoyed to learn that their good friend, Archdeacon
Tebaldo, had been chosen Pope. The news was sent
after them, and they went back to Acre, where
Tebaldo, afterwards known as Pope Gregory X.,
received them graciously; but he could supply them
with only two priestly teachers, and these afterwards
became so alarmed by the dangers of the way that
they drew back. It is related that the Great Khan,
in consequence of this failure to supply him with
Christian teachers, resorted to Tibet, where he found
holy men who brought for his unruly subjects in-
struction in the religion of Buddha.
YOUNG MARCO AT THE COURT OF KUBLAI KHAN-THE GREAT
KHAN'S CONDESCENSION TO THE YOUNG TRAVELLER-THE
MANNER OF THE RETURN OF THE POLOS-HOW MESSER
MARCO POLO WAS CAPTURED BY THE GENOESE, AND HOW HE
WROTE HIS FAMOUS BOOK OF TRAVELS.
MARCO and his father and uncle were very
cordially received when they reached the
court-of the Great Khan, which was then established
at the imperial summer residence among the hills to
the north of Cambaluc, or Peking. The palace was
a vast group of buildings, and was known as the City
of Peace, or Chandu: its other names were Kemenfu,
Kaiminfu, and Kaipingfu. Here is young Marco's
own account of the reception which the three
Venetians had in the City of Peace:
And what shall I tell you? When the Two Brothers
and Mark had arrived at that great city, they went to the
Imperial Palace, and there they found the Sovereign
attended by a great company of Barons. So they bent
the knee before him, and paid their respects to him with
all possible reverence, prostrating themselves on the ground.
Then the Lord bade them stand up, and treated them
MARCO, THE LINGUIST.
with great honour, showing great pleasure at their coming,
and asked many questions as to their welfare and how they
had sped. They replied that they had in verity sped well,
seeing they had found the Kaan well and safe. Then they
presented the credentials and letters which they had received
from the Pope, which pleased him right well; and after
that they produced the Oil from the Sepulchre, and at
that also he was very glad, for he set great store thereby.
And next, spying Mark, who was then a young gallant,
he asked who was that in their company ? "Sire," said
his father, Messer Nicolo, "'tis my son and your liegeman."
"Welcome is he too," quoth the Emperor. There was
great rejoicing at the Court because of their arrival; and
they met with attention and honour from everybody. So
they abode at the Court with the other Barons.
Now it. came to pass that Marco, the son of Messer
Nicolo, sped wondrously in learning the customs of the
Tartars as well as their language, their manner of writing,
and their practice of war; in fact, he came in brief space
to know several languages and four sundry written characters.
And he was discreet and prudent in every way, insomuch
that the Emperor held him in great esteem. And so when
he discerned Mark to have so much sense, and to conduct
himself so well and beseemingly, he sent him on an
ambassage of his, to a country which was a good six months'
journey distant. The young gallant executed his com-
mission well and with discretion. Now he had taken note
on several occasions that when the Prince's ambassadors
returned from different parts of the world they were able
to tell him about nothing except the business on which they
had gone, and that the Prince in consequence held them
for no better than fools and dolts, and would say, I had
far liever hearken about the strange things, and the manners
of the different countries you have seen, than merely be
told of the business you went upon"; for he took great
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
delight in hearing of the affairs of strange countries. Mark,
therefore, as he went and returned, took great pains to
learn about all kinds of different matters in the countries.
which he visited, in order to be able to tell about them
to the Great Kaan.
When Mark returned from his ambassage, he presented
himself before the Emperor; and after making his report
of the business with which he was charged, and its suc-
cessful accomplishment, he went on to give an account,
in a pleasant and intelligent manner, of all the novelties
and strange things that he had seen and heard; insomuch
that the Emperor and all such as heard his story were
surprised, and said: "If this young man live, he will
assuredly come to be a person of great worth and ability."
And so from that time forward he was always entitled
MESSER MARCO POLO, and thus we shall style him hence-
forth in this Book of ours, as is but right.
Thereafter Messer Marco abode in the Kaan's employ-
ment some seventeen years, continually going and coming,
hither and thither, on the missions that were entrusted
to him by the Lord, and sometimes, with the permission
and authority of the Great Kaan, on his own private affairs.
And as he knew all the Sovereign's ways, like a sensible
man he always took much pains to gather knowledge of
anything that would be likely to interest him, and then
on his return to Court he would relate everything in regular
order, and thus the Emperor came to hold him in great
love and favour. And for this reason also he would employ
him the oftener on the most weighty and most distant of
his missions. These Messer Marco ever carried out with
discretion and success, God be thanked. So the Emperor
became ever more partial to him,, and treated him with
the greater distinction, and kept him so close to his person
that some of the Barons waxed very envious threat.
And thus it came about that Messer Marco Polo had
MARCO, THE EXPLORER.
knowledge of, or had actually visited, a greater number of
the different countries of the World than any other man;
the more that he was always giving his mind to get
knowledge, and to spy out and inquire into everything, in
order to have matter to relate to the Lord.
It is pleasant to think of this bright young stranger
in the court of Kublai Khan, winning friends for
himself by his zeal in acquiring knowledge of the
peoples and countries subject to the sway of the
Khan. By his intelligence and agreeable manners
he was able to command the means to explore
countries which, even to this day, are very imperfectly
understood by the rest of the world. Within the
memory of men now living, European travellers
have explored, for the first time since Marco Polo's
visits, the Pamir steppes, other portions of Mongolia,
Tibet, and some of the south-western provinces of
He was the first traveller to trace a route across
the whole length of Asia, says one of his biographers,
"describing kingdom after kingdom that he had seen
with his own eyes." He was the first traveller to
explore the deserts and the flowering plains of
Persia, to reveal China with its mighty rivers, its
swarming population, and its huge cities and rich
manufactures; the first to visit and bring back
accounts of Tibet, Laos, Burmah, Siam, Cochin China,
Japan, the Indian Archipelago, Ceylon, Farther India,
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
and the Andaman Islands; the first to give any dis-
tinct account of the secluded Christian empire of
Abyssinia; the first to speak even vaguely of
Zanzibar, Madagascar, and other regions in the
mysterious South, and of Siberia and the Arctic
Ocean in the terrible and much dreaded North.
Although centuries have passed since young Marco
Polo grew to man's estate while threading his danger-
ous way among these distant lands, we must still
look back to his discoveries for much that we know
about those countries; for we have learned nothing
new of many of them since his time.
Years passed while the three Polos were gathering
riches and knowledge in Cathay; the Great Khan
was growing old and infirm, and the father and the
uncle of Marco were now well stricken in years. It
was time that they took back to Venice their gold,
precious stones, and costly stuffs. But the old
Emperor growled a refusal whenever they suggested
that they would like to leave his court. A lucky
chance gave them an opportunity of getting away.
The Khan of Persia, Arghun, who was a great-
nephew of Kublai Khan, had lost his favourite wife,
and, fulfilling her dying request, he now sent to the
Mongol court for a lady of her own kin. The Lady
Kukachin, a lovely damsel of seventeen years, was
selected to be the bride of the Persian Khan, and
three envoys of the widowed ruler were told to take
A MISSION TO PERSIA.
her to him. But the way from Cathay to Persia
was very hazardous, owing to the wars which then
prevailed; and it was thought best for the party to
take ship from one of the ports of China to Ormus,
on the Persian Gulf. The Tatars are not good
sailors; and the Persian envoys, who could not get
much help or comfort from their friends in the court
of Kublai Khan when they planned their voyage,
naturally bethought them of engaging the services of
the three hardy and venturous Venetians, who were
voyagers, as well as land travellers.
The Great Khan was most unwilling to part with
his favourite and useful Venetians; but having con-
sented to let them go, he fitted out a noble fleet of
ships; and giving them friendly messages to many
of the kings and potentates of Europe, including the
king of England, he sped them on their way. They
sailed from Zayton, now called Tsinchau, a seaport
of Fuhkien, on the south-east coast of China, but were
so detained by storms and the illness of some of the
suite that it was twenty-six months before they
arrived at their destination. Two of the three
envoys died on the way; and when the three
Venetians and the lady who had been confided to
their care reached the court of Persia, they found
that the Persian Khan was dead, and another,
Kaikhatu, reigned in his stead. In that country and
in those days, the wishes of a lady were not much
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
considered in the matter of marriage, and the son of
the reigning Khan, Ghazan, married the young lady
who had journeyed so far to find a husband. It is
recorded that the young lady wept sadly when she
parted with the kindly and noble Venetians; and so
they took their way homeward, and arrived in Venice,
as we have said, in the year 1295-more than six
hundred years ago.
At that time Venice and Genoa were rival republics,
not merely Italian cities. Each was an independent
state, and held rich possessions in the Levant, the
Crimea, and around the Mediterranean. They were
almost continually at war with each other and with
the republic of Pisa. It was expected and required
of all rich and noble citizens of these republics, that
they should furnish a certain number of fighters and
war vessels whenever a war was brought on; and as
most of the fighting was done on the sea, the great
crafts, propelled by oars and called galleys, were
brought into service. In one of these wars the Polo
family took part, for they were rich and noble; and
Marco Polo, now a man of mature years, was com-
mander of a great and powerful galley. He had the
misfortune to be captured in a battle with the Genoese
fleet, off the island of Curzola, on the Dalmatian
coast, in September, 1298.
After that great defeat, Marco Polo was carried a
prisoner to Genoa, where he was held until some time
MARCO POLO'S GALLEY.
during the following year, probably in August, when,
a treaty of peace between the two warring republics
having been signed, he was restored to his own
country. If Marco Polo had not been captured at the
battle of Curzola, or in some other of the many sea-
fights between the two republics, we probably never
would have had his famous book to enlighten us
concerning the lands he saw and described.
And this is how it happened. We have already
seen that it was Marco's sensible custom to tell his
adventures to those who came to ask him about his
travels in the heart of Asia; and when he found
himself shut up in the prison of Genoa, he speedily
made the acquaintance of his fellow-prisoner, one
Rusticiano of Pisa, who was also a captive of war.
Luckily for us, Rusticiano was a writer of some repute;
and hearing from Marco's lips many tales of mar-
vellous adventure, he besought the traveller to set
these down in writing. But noblemen, and indeed
gentlemen of high degree, in those days did not
think well of writing; it was no disgrace to be unable
to write anything more than one's name; and the
high and mighty of the land looked down with con-
tempt upon "scriveners and scribes," as writers were
called. The world has gotten bravely over that
Howbeit, Marco agreed to dictate his story to
Rusticiano, having recourse to his own memory, and
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
perhaps to the note-books which he must have written
when he was in the service of the Great Khan, and
which may have been sent to him while he was in
the Genoese prison. It is to the book written by
Rusticiano, as the words fell from the lips of Marco
Polo, that we are indebted for the valuable informa-
tion and the entertaining knowledge of the East
which is now spread over many books. And it is
because it was dictated, or recited, and not written by
Marco's own hand, that we find that in it Marco is
always spoken of in the third person ; he never says
"I did this and that," but always "Messer Marco
Polo" ; or he uses some such modest terms.
As the art of printing had not then been invented,
Rusticiano was obliged to write on parchment the
story of Marco Polo; and for many years afterwards,
copies of that book were very precious, for every one
of them had to be written out with infinite labour,
and some of them were illustrated with drawings and
paintings of the wonders described in the book. The
oldest and most valuable of these manuscript books
in existence is in the Great Paris Library; and, as it
was undoubtedly written during the lifetime of Marco
Polo, and may have been revised by him, it is
regarded as the most authentic, as it is the oldest, of
all the manuscript copies of Marco Polo's book. It
may be the original book. There are, all told, more
than seventy-five manuscript copies of Marco's book
A FAMOUS BOOK.
in various parts of Europe, and written in various
languages. The original work was written in French,
then one of the commonest languages of the com-
mercial world. The first printed edition of the book
was in German, and was produced in Nuremberg in
1477. There have been several editions printed in
English, the most famous and best of which, Travels
of Marco Polo," was translated and edited by Colonel
Henry Yule, an English officer and scholar of renown.
It is from his book that we derive all the information
collected for the readers of these chapters.
The strange knowledge of the world which the book
of Marco Polo contained, confirmed, among other
things, the tales brought from the East by the Friars
Plano Carpini and William Rubruquis in 1246 and
1253 respectively. People now learned 'that the
eastern part of Asia did not run off into an impene-
trable swamp covered with clouds of perpetual
darkness; for the three Venetians had sailed from
the south-eastern coast of Cathay, or China, round
to the Persian Gulf. Scholars and travellers were a
long time, however, trying to digest the vast amount
of geographical knowledge brought back by the Polos.
They learned that there was an ocean east of Asia,
as well as an ocean west of Spain and England. Why
didn't they begin to think of crossing westward from
Spain to the Cathay of which such exact accounts
had been brought by Marco Polo ?
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
As written books were all that readers had, and
these works were few and costly, the book of Messer
Marco Polo did not have a wide circulation. As we
have seen, people travelled very slowly in those days,
and news and information of all kinds also spread
with even greater slowness. When Christopher
Columbus, who lived in the very city where Marco
Polo had been imprisoned, and in which his book was
written, began to pick up information about the world,
some two hundred years later, he must have come
across some of the tales told by Marco. But there is
no certainty that he ever saw a copy of Polo's book.
Columbus derived from other sources, or at second-
hand from Polo, the facts which confirmed him in
his belief that the sea between Europe and Cathay-
the Ocean Sea-was very narrow, and that the round
world was not so big as most people supposed.
But when Columbus finally set forth on his voyage
into the Sea of Darkness," bound for India and an
unknown land, he carried with him letters written to
the Great Khan by the sovereigns of Spain, Ferdinand
and Isabella. When he lighted upon what we now
know as the islands of the American Continent, he
supposed that he had touched the dominions of the
Great Khan ; and he was continually on the look-out
for the land of Cipango, spoken of by Marco Polo,
where there were such riches of gold and gems and
fabulously gorgeous commodities.
MARCO, THE TRUTH-TELLER.
In his lifetime, and indeed long after, Marco Polo
was regarded as an inventor of idle tales. Even
within fifty years, thoughtless and ignorant writers
have alluded to him as a great liar ; but time has set
him right, and recent explorations and rediscoveries
have proved that he told the truth about things and
places that he saw. If he sometimes gave currency
to fables and traditions, he never adopted them as
his own; he told his readers what he had heard, and
then left them to judge whether these things were
true or not. And some of the wonders that he
described, and which seemed incredible, are now
proved to be not so wonderful after all. Now that
we understand what a volcano is, we can admit
that those, who never saw or heard of one, would
be slow to believe a traveller who told of a burn-
ing mountain that continually sent forth fire and
smoke from its inside. To this day some of the
natives of tropical regions refuse to believe that water
becomes a solid mass in the winter of the North, so
that men and boys can walk on it, and drag heavy
weights over it
Marco Polo was not a great genius inspired with a
lofty enthusiasm, as Christopher Columbus was; but
he told the truth, and deserves a very high place
among those who have made notable additions to
the knowledge of the world. Perhaps he suffered
some slight from the people who lived during his
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
own time, because they found it hard to believe
that the world was inhabited by human beings all
round it; that there was no sea of perpetual darkness,
as they had been taught; and that the people of
Asia were really ingenious and skilful traders and
workers, and not savages and cannibals, as they had
supposed. Perhaps, too, the big, swelling words and
bombastic style, with which the worthy Rusticiano
set forth Marco's book, caused some people to regard
it with contempt and even suspicion. We cannot
better conclude this chapter than with Rusticiano's
prologue, or preface, to the book of Marco Polo:
GREAT Princes, Emperors, and Kings, Dukes, and
Marquises, Counts, Knights, and Burgesses and People of
all degrees who desire to get knowledge of the various
races of mankind and of the diversities of the sundry
regions of the World, take this Book and cause it to be
read to you. For ye shall find therein all kinds of wonder-
ful things, and the divers histories of the great Hermenia,
and of Persia, and of the'Land of the Tartars, and of
India, and of many another country of which our Book
doth speak, particularly and in regular succession, according
to the description of Messer Marco Polo, a wise and noble
citizen of Venice, as he saw them with his own eyes.
Some things indeed there be therein which he beheld not;
but these he heard from men of credit and veracity. And
we shall set down things seen as seen, and things heard as
heard only, so that no jot of falsehood may mar the truth
of our Bo6k, and that all who shall read it or hear it read
may put full faith in the truth of all its contents.
For let me tell you that since our Lord God did mould
II.] RUSTICIANO'S PROLOGUE. 25
with his hands our first Father Adam, even until this day,
never hath there been Christian, or Pagan, or Tartar, or
Indian, or any man of any nation, who in his own person
hath had so much knowledge and experience of the divers
parts of the World and its Wonders as hath had this
Messer Marco And for that reason he bethought himself
that it would be a very great pity did he not cause to be
put in writing all the great marvels that he had seen, or on
sure information heard of, so that other people who had
not these advantages might, by his Book, get such know-
ledge. And I may tell you that in acquiring this knowledge
he spent in those various parts of the World good
six-and-twenty years. Now, being thereafter an inmate of
the Prison of Genoa, he caused Messer Rusticiano of Pisa,
who was in the said Prison likewise, to reduce the whole to
writing; and this befell in the year 1298 from the birth of
MARCO DISCOURSES OF ANCIENT ARMENIA-THE KINGDOM OF
GEORGIANIA-THE EXPLOITS OF ALEXANDER THE GREAT-
STORY OF THE MISERLY CALIPH OF BAGDAD AND HIS GOLD-
A GREAT MARVEL.
IN the former chapter we had the preface to Marco
Polo's book as it was composed by Rusticiano.
In reading the first chapter of the book itself, we
can imagine the prisoner and illustrious traveller
pacing up and down in his place of confinement,
and dictating to his companion the words that are
to be set down. And this is the first chapter of
the work as dictated by Marco:
HERE THE BOOK BEGINS; AND FIRST IT SPEAKS OF THE
THERE are two Hermenias, the Greater and the Less.
The Lesser Hermenia is governed by a certain King, who
maintains a just rule in his dominions, but is himself
subject to the Tartar. The country contains numerous
towns and villages, and has everything in plenty; moreover,
it is a great country for sport in the chase of all manner
of beasts and birds. It is, however, by no means a healthy
Ch. III.] ARMENIA. 27
region, but grievously the reverse. In days of old the
nobles there were valiant men, and did doughty deeds of
arms; but nowadays they are poor creatures, and good at
naught. Howbeit, they have a city upon the sea, which
is called LAYAS, at which there is a great trade. For you
must know that all the spicery, and the cloths of silk and
gold, and other valuable wares that come from the interior,
are brought to that city. And the merchants of Venice
and Genoa, and other countries, come thither to sell their
goods, and to buy what they lack. And whatsoever persons
would travel to the interior (of the East), merchants or
others, they take 'their way by this city of Layas.
By "Hermenia" we are to understand that the
traveller is speaking of the country now known as
Armenia, a province of Turkey in Asia, lying to
the westward, embracing the regions of the valley
of the Euphrates and the mountainous Ararat. The
subdivisions of the greater and the less Armenia
are not known and used nowadays. Here is what
Marco has to say about the other division of
DESCRIPTION OF THE GREATER HERMENIA.
This is a great country. It begins at a city called
ARZINGA, at which they weave the best buckrams in the
world. It possesses also the best baths from natural
springs that are anywhere to be found. The people of
the country are Armenians, and are subject to the Tartar.
The country is indeed a passing great one, and in the
summer it is frequented by the whole host of the Tartars
of theLevant, because it then furnishes them with such
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
excellent pasture for their cattle. But in winter the cold
is past all bounds, so in that season they quit this country
and go to a warmer region where they find other good
pastures. [At a castle called PAIPURTH, that you pass in
going from Trebizond to Tauris, there is a very good
And you must know that it is in this country of Her-
menia that the Ark of Noah exists on the top of a certain
great mountain, on the summit of which snow is so con-
stant that no one can ascend; for the snow never melts,
and is constantly added to by new falls. Below, however,
the snow does melt, and runs down, producing such rich
and abundant herbage that in summer cattle are sent to
pasture from a long way round about, and it never fails
them. The melting snow also causes a great amount of
mud on the mountain.
The country is bounded on the south by a kingdom
called Mosul, the people of which are Jacobite and Nes-
torian Christians, of whom I shall have more to tell you
presently. On the north it is bounded by the Land of
the Georgians, of whom also I shall speak. On the con-
fines from Georgiania there is a fountain from which oil
springs in great abundance, insomuch that a hundred ship-
loads might be taken from it at one time. This oil is not
good to use with food, but 'tis good to burn, and is also
used to anoint camels that have the mange. People come
from vast distances to fetch it, for in all the countries
round about they have no other oil.
Between Trebizond and Erzerum was Faipurth,
which must be the Baiburt of our day.. Even in
Marco Polo's time it appears that sometf:ig was
known about petroleum, or coal-oil; for the fintain
of which he speaks is doubtless in the pq leum
region on the peninsula of Baku, on the western
coasts of the Caspian Sea, from which many ship-
loads of oil are now annually exported, chiefly to
Russia, under whose rule the country is now held.
Even later than Marco's day it was believed that
Noah's Ark, or fragments of it, rested on the top
of Mount Ararat; but as that mountain 'is nearly
17,oo0 feet high, and is covered with perpetual
snow, nobody had the courage to go up and find
the ark, until as late as 1829, when the ascent was
made by Professor Parrot, a German traveller.
Every school-boy knows that Bagdad was the
seat of Arabic learning in ancient times, and that
its name often appears in that most delightful book
"The Arabian Nights' Entertainments" with that of
the Caliph, the good Harun-al-Rachid. That famous
personage died long before Marco Polo visited
Bagdad; but the stories of the Arabian Nights
were commonly believed by the people of those parts,
as we shall see later on in Marco's book.
The kingdom of Georgiania, of which Marco
Polo speaks, is that province of Russia which lies
south of the Caucasian range of mountains, between
the Black Sea and the Caspian. The Georgian
men and women are still famous for their beauty;
they represent the purest type of the Caucasian
race now known. From this region, for centuries
Eastp princes and potentates have been wont te
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
bring the beautiful women of their harems. Other
writers besides Marco refer to the fact that all the
kings of ancient Georgia bore the name of David,
just as each Roman emperor for a time was known
as Casar. Marco sets down the statement about
the eagle-mark on the right shoulder of the king,
it will be noticed, with some reserve; he says this
was true "in old times," as if it were a legend in
the country in his day.
The reader will find that Marco uses the words
"Ponent" and "Levant" throughout his book to
distinguish between the extreme East and the more
immediate West. East of the Caspian Sea was,
and is, the Levant: westward, on both sides of
the Black Sea, was the Ponent. Alexander the
Great, whose conquests extended to these parts,
occupied Derbend, or Derbent, a port on the west
shore of the Caspian Sea, where to this day they
will show you the remains of a wall along the
the mountains, known as "Alexander's Rampart."
The story, goes that Alexander drove into the
country beyond the mountains several unclean tribes,
who were cannibals and idolaters, and shut them
in by building a huge iron gate, which kept them
securely behind the Caucasus.
Concerning the products of the country of which
our traveller speaks, it may be said that boxwood,
a dense, fine-grained wood, used for engraving
GEORGIANIA AND ITS KINGS.
pictures for printing, is still brought from those
regions, the Turkish boxwood being the most
highly esteemed. The silk of the province of Gil,
or Ghell6, is famed for its high quality. In the
Middle Ages one of the sports of royalty and
nobility in Europe, as well as in Far Cathay, was
hunting game with trained hawks, and the goshawks
of Georgia were said to be the best in the world
for that purpose. Marco's tale of the lake in which
a great abundance of fish could be found during
Lent, when all good Catholics eat no meat, and
which were gone during the rest of the year, is
only one of many such traditions of sundry rivers
and lakes in different parts of the world. The
same is told of many lands and countries; and if
Marco believed what he heard of the miraculous
fish of "St. Leonard's," he really believed one of
the commonest travellers' tales of his time.
OF GEORGIANIA AND THE KINGS THEREOF.
In GEORGIANIA there is a King called David Melic,
which is as much as to say "David King "; he is subject
to the Tartar. In old times all the kings were born
with the figure of an eagle upon the right shoulder. The
people are very handsome, capital archers, and most valiant
soldiers. They are Christians of the Greek Rite, and have
a fashion of wearing their hair cropped, like Churchmen.
This is the country beyond which Alexander could not
pass when he wished to penetrate to the region of the
Ponent, because that the defile was so narrow and perilous,
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
the sea lying on the one hand, and on the other lofty
mountains impassable to horsemen. The strait extends
like this for four leagues, and a handful of people might
hold it against all the world. Alexander caused a very
strong tower to be built there, to prevent the people
beyond from passing to attack him, and this got the name
of the IRON GATE. This is the place that the Book of
Alexander speaks of, when it tells us how he shut up the
Tartars between two mountains; not that they were really
Tartars, however, for there were no Tartars in those days,
but they consisted of a race of people called COMANIANS
and many besides.
In this province all the forests are of boxwood. There
are numerous towns and villages, and silk is produced in
great abundance. They also weave cloths of gold, and
all kinds of very fine silk stuffs. The country produces
the best goshawks in the world, which are called Avigi.
It has indeed no lack of anything, and the people live
by trade and handicrafts. 'Tis a very mountainous region,
and full of strait defiles and of fortresses, insomuch that
the Tartars have never been able to subdue it out and out.
There is in this country a certain Convent of Nuns called
St. Leonard's, about which I have to tell you a very
wonderful circumstance. Near the church in question
there is a great lake at the foot of a mountain, and in this
lake are found no fish, great or small, throughout the year
till Lent come. On the first day of Lent they find in
it the finest fish in the world, and great store too thereof;
and these continue to be found till Easter Eve. After
that they are found no more till Lent come round again;
and so 'tis every year. Tis really a passing great miracle !
That sea whereof I spoke as coming so near the moun-
tains is called the Sea of GHEL or GHELAN, and extends
about seven hundred miles. It is twelve days' journey
distant from any other sea, and into it flows the great
River Euphrates and many others, whilst it is surrounded
by mountains. Of late the merchants of Genoa have
begun to navigate this sea, carrying ships across and
launching them thereon. It is from the country on this
sea also that the silk called Ghelli is brought. The said
sea produces quantities of fish, especially sturgeon, at the
river-mouths salmon, and other big kinds of fish.
In Marco's day Bagdad was known as Baudas;
and one of the chapters of his book runs thus:
OF THE GREAT CITY OF BAUDAS, AND HOW IT
BAUDAS is a great city, which used to be the seat of the
Calif of all the Saracens in the world, just as Rome is
the seat of the Pope of all the Christians. A very great
river flows through the city, and by this you can descend
to the Sea of India. There is a great traffic of merchants
with their goods this way; they descend some eighteen
days from Baudas, and then come to a certain city called
KisI, where they enter the Sea of India. There is also
on the river, as you go from Baudas to Kisi, a great city
called BASTRA, surrounded by woods, in which grow the
best dates in the world.
In Baudas they weave many different kinds of silk stuffs
and gold brocades, such as nasich, and nac, and cramoisy,
and many other beautiful tissues richly wrought with figures
of beasts and birds. It is the noblest and greatest city in
all those regions.
Now it came to pass on a day in the year of Christ 1255,
that the Lord of the Tartars of the Levant, whose name
was Alaii, brother to the Great Kaan now reigning, gathered
a mighty host and came up against Baudas and took it by
storm. It was a great enterprise! for in Baudas there were
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
more than one hundred thousand horse, besides foot soldiers.
And when Alaii had taken the place he found therein a tower
of the Calif's, which was full of gold and silver and other
treasure; in fact, the greatest accumulation of treasure in
one spot that was ever known. When he beheld that great
heap of treasure he was astonished, and, summoning the
Calif to his presence, he said to him: Calif, tell me now
why thou hast gathered such a huge treasure ? What didst
thou mean to do therewith ? Knewest thou not that I was
thine enemy, and that I was coming against thee with so
great an host to cast thee forth of thine heritage ? Where-
fore didst thou not take of thy gear and employ it in paying
knights and soldiers to defend thee and thy city ?"
The Calif wist not what to answer, and said never a
word. So the Prince continued: "Now then, Calif, since
I see what a love thou hast borne thy treasure, I will e'en
give it thee to eat!" So he shut the Calif up in the
Treasure Tower, and bade that neither meat nor drink
should be given him, saying: "Now, Calif, eat of thy
treasure as much as thou wilt, since thou art so fond of it;
for never shalt thou have aught else to eat !"
So the Calif lingered in the tower four days, and then
died like a dog. Truly his treasure would have been of
more service to him had he bestowed it upon men who
would have defended his kingdom and his people, rather
than let himself be taken and deposed and put to death as
he was. Howbeit, since that time, there has been never
another Calif, either at Baudas or anywhere else.
The Bastra of Marco Polo is the modern Basra,
which is situated below the meeting of the Euphrates
and the Tigris, and is still famed for the abundance
of its delicious dates. The beautiful cloths called
THE MISERLY CALIPH.
by Marco nac, nasich, and cramoisy were woven of
silk and gold threads; and when they found their
way to the courts of Europe, long afterwards, they
were worn by the rich and great. In tales of
the time of good Queen Bess we find references
Many modern writers have made use of the story
of the miserly Caliph of Bagdad who perished so
miserably in the midst of his gold; and it is clear
that the poet Longfellow had in mind the tale
told by Marco Polo when he wrote in his Flower-
de-Luce" the poem of "Kambalu," the chief part
of which runs thus:
I said to the Kalif: Thou art old;
Thou hast no need of so much gold.
Thou shouldst not have heaped and hidden it here
Till the breath of battle was hot and near,
But have sown through the land these useless hoards,
To spring into shining blades of swords,
And keep thine honour sweet and clear.
Then into his dungeon I locked the drone,
And left him there to feed all alone
In the honey-cells of his golden hive:
Never a prayer nor a cry nor a groan
Was heard from those massive walls of stone,
Nor again was the Kalif seen alive.
This is the story strange and true,
That the great Captain Alai!
Told to his brother, the Tartar Khan,
When he rode that day into Kambalu
By the road that leadeth to Ispahan.
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
Marco Polo now proceeds to tell us of "a great
marvel that occurred between Baudas and Mansul":
There was a Calif of Baudas [probably the predecessor
of our miserly friend] who bore a great hatred to Christians,
and was taken up day and night with the thought how he
might bring those that were in his kingdom over to his
own faith, or might procure them all to be slain. And he
used daily to take counsel about this with the devotees and
priests of his faith, for they all bore the Christians like
malice. And, indeed, it is a fact that the whole body of
Saracens throughout the world are always most malignantly
disposed towards the whole body of Christians.
Now it happened that the Calif, with those shrewd
priests of his, got hold of that passage in our Gospel which
says, that if a Christian had faith as a grain of mustard
seed, and should bid a mountain be removed, it would be
removed. And such indeed is the truth. But when they
had got hold of this text they were delighted, for it seemed
to them the very thing whereby either to force all the
Christians to change their faith, or to bring destruction
upon them all. The Calif therefore called together all the
Christians in his territories, who were extremely numerous,
and when they had come before him he showed them
the Gospel, and made them read the text which I have
mentioned. And when they had read it, he asked them
if that was the truth? The Christians answered that it
assuredly was so. "Well," said the Calif, "since you say
that it is the truth, I will give you a choice. Among such
a number of you there must needs surely be this small
amount of faith, so you must either move that mountain
there "-and he pointed to a mountain in the neighbour-
hood-" or you shall die an ill death; unless you choose
to eschew death by all becoming Saracens and adopting
THE ONE-EYED COBBLER.
our Holy Law. To this end I give you a respite of ten
days; if the thing be not done by that time, ye shall
die or become Saracens." And when he had said this he
dismissed them to consider what was to be done in this
strait wherein they were.
All the wisest of the Christians took counsel together,
and among them were a number of bishops and priests;
but they had no resource except to turn to Him from
whom all good things do come, beseeching Him to protect
them from the cruel hands of the Calif.
So they were all gathered together in prayer, both men
and women, for eight days and eight nights. And whilst
they were thus engaged in prayer it was revealed in a
vision by a Holy Angel of Heaven to a certain Bishop
who was a very good Christian, that he should desire a
certain Cobbler, who had but one eye, to pray to God,
and that God in His goodness would grant such prayer
because of the Cobbler's holy life.
Now when this vision had visited the Bishop several
times, he related the whole matter to the Christians, and
they agreed with one consent to call the Cobbler before
them. And when he had come, they told him it was their
wish that he should pray, and that God had promised to
accomplish the matter by his means. On hearing their
request, he made many excuses, declaring that he was not
at all so good a man as they represented. But they per-
sisted in their request with so much sweetness, that at last
he said he would not tarry, but do what they desired.
And when the appointed day was come, all the Christians
got up early, men and women, small and great-more than
one hundred thousand persons-and went to church, and
heard the Holy Mass. And after Mass had been sung,
they all went forth together in a great procession to the
plain in front of the mountain, carrying the precious Cross
before them, loudly singing and greatly weeping as they
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
went. And when they arrived at the spot, there they
found the Calif with all his Saracen host armed to slay
them if they would not change their faith; for the Saracens
believed not in the least that God would grant such favour
to the Christians. These latter stood, indeed, in great
fear and doubt, but nevertheless they rested their hope on
their God Jesus Christ.
So the Cobbler received the Bishop's benison, and then
threw himself on his knees before the Holy Cross, and
stretched out his hands towards Heaven, and made this
prayer: "Blessed Lord God Almighty, I pray Thee by
Thy goodness that Thou wilt grant this grace unto Thy
people, insomuch that they perish not, nor Thy faith be
cast down, nor abused, nor flouted. Not that I am in
the least worthy to prefer such request unto Thee; but
for Thy great power and mercy I beseech Thee to hear
this prayer from me Thy servant full of sin."
And when he had ended this his prayer to God the
Sovereign Father and Giver of all grace, and whilst the
Calif and all the Saracens and other people there were
looking on, the mountain rose out of its place, and moved
to the spot which the Calif had pointed out. And when
the Calif and all his Saracens beheld, they stood amazed
at the wonderful miracle that God had wrought for the
Christians, insomuch that a great number of the Saracens
became Christians. And even the Calif caused himself to
be baptised in the Name of the Father and of the Son
and of the Holy Ghost, Amen, and became a Christian,
but in secret. Howbeit, when he died, they found a little
cross hung round his neck; and therefore the Saracens
would not bury him with the other Califs, but put him in
a place apart. The Christians exulted greatly at this most
holy miracle, and returned to their homes full of joy,
giving thanks to their Creator for that which He had done.
THE THREE KINGS-THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN-STORIES
S AND ADVENTURES IN PERSIA-ORIGIN OF THE ASSASSINS.
OUBTLESS all our readers are well acquainted
With the story of the visit of the Three Kings,
or Magi, to Bethlehem, when the Saviour was born.
There is an ancient Christian tradition that the three
men set out from Persia, and that their names were
Melchior, Balthazar, and Kaspar: these wise men
of the East, as they were called, are supposed to have
returned to Persia after their visit to Palestine; and
Marco Polo tells this tale as it was told to him :
OF THE GREAT COUNTRY OF PERSIA; WITH SOME
ACCOUNT OF THE THREE KINGS.
PERSIA is a great country, which was in old times very
illustrious and powerful; but now the Tartars have wasted
and destroyed it.
;-; : I rr
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
In Persia is the city of Saba, from which the Three Magi
set out when they went to worship Jesus Christ; and in
this city they are buried, in three very large and beautiful
monuments side by side. And above them there is a
square building, carefully kept. The bodies are still entire
with the hair and beard remaining. Messer Marco Polo
THE CASTLE OF THE FIRE-WORSHIPPERS.
asked a great many questions of the people of that city as
to those Three Magi, but never one could he find that
knew aught of the matter except that these were Three
Kings who were buried there in days of old. However, at
a place three days' journey distant he heard of what I am
going to tell you. He found a village there which goes by
the name of Cala Ataperistan, which is as much as to say,
"The Castle of the Fire-worshippers." And the name is
THE THREE MAGL
rightly applied, for the people there do worship fire, and I
will tell you why.
They relate that in old times Three Kings of that country
went away to worship a Prophet that was born, and they
carried with them three manner of offerings, Gold, and
Frankincense, and Myrrh; in order to ascertain whether
that prophet were God, or an earthly king, or a physician.
For, say they, if He take the Gold, then He is an earthly
king; if He take the Incense, He is God; if he take the
Myrrh, he is a physician.
So it came to pass when they had come to the place
where the Child was born, the youngest of the Three Kings
went in first, and found the Child apparently just of his
own age; so he went forth again, marvelling greatly. The
middle one entered next, and like the first he found the
Child seemingly of his own age; so he also went forth
again, and marvelled greatly. Lastly, the eldest went in,
and as it had befallen the other two, so it befell him; and
he went forth very pensive. And when the three had
rejoined one another, each told what he had seen; and
then they all marvelled the more. So they agreed to go
in all three together, and on doing so they beheld the
Child with the appearance of its actual age, to wit, some
thirteen days. Then they adored, and presented their
Gold, and Incense, and Myrrh. And the Child took all
the three offerings, and then gave them a small closed
box; whereupon the Kings departed to return into their
And when they had ridden many days, they said they
would see what the Child had given them. So they opened
the little box, and inside it they found a stone. On seeing
this they began to wonder what this might be that the
Child had given them, and what was the import thereof.
Now the signification was this: When they presented their
offerings, the Child had accepted all three; and when they
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
saw that, they had said within themselves that He was the
True God, and the True King, and the True Physician.
And what the gift of the stone implied was that this Faith
which had begun in them should abide firm as a rock.
For He well knew what was in their thoughts. Howbeit,
they had no understanding at all of this signification of
the gift of the stone; so they cast it into a well. Then
straightway a fire from Heaven descended into that well
wherein the stone had been cast.
And when the Three Kings beheld this marvel they were
sore amazed, and it greatly repented them that they had
cast away the stone; for well they then perceived that it
had a great and holy meaning. So they took of that fire,
and carried it into their own country, and placed it in a
rich and beautiful church. And there the people keep it
continually burning, and worship it as a god, and all the
sacrifices they offer are kindled with that fire. And if ever
the fire becomes extinct, they go to other cities round about
where the same faith is held, and obtain of that fire from
them, and carry it to the church. And this is the reason
why the people of this country worship fire. They will
often go ten days' journey to get of that fire.
Such then was the story told by the people of that Castle
to Messer Marco Polo; they declared to him for a truth
that such was their history, and that one of the Three
Kings was of the city called SABA, and the second of AVA,
and the third of that very Castle where they still worship
fire, with the people of all the country round about.
The latter part of this account of the Three Kings
and their doings undoubtedly refers to the ancient
Persian sect of fire-worshippers, known as Parsees.
The custom of worshipping fire as the source of life,
THE THREE KINGS AT THE WELL.
light, and warmth is almost as old as the human race.
We can readily imagine how profound must have
been the reverence and admiration with which the
primitive man regarded fire when first that element
was brought into his view. The warming, kindling
flame, its ruddy and changeful colours and shapes,
and the comforting of its warmth, must have inspired
him with rapture and adoration. The sect founded
by Zoroaster, who flourished about six hundred years
before the Christian era, paid reverence to the four
elements of fire, air, earth, and water; from these
people, it is believed, descended the Persian fire-
worshippers, or Parsees. In the course of time,
however, Persia adopted the Moslem faith, and the
fire-worshippers were expelled from the country.
The greater part of them fled to India, where they
are found in large numbers at the present time; forty
thousand of them are living in Bombay, and there
are not less than two hundred thousand Parsees in
The sacred fire which attracted the attention of
Marco Polo is still maintained in the temples of the
Indian fire-worshippers; and if by accident the fire
should die, it is rekindled by coals brought from
another temple, as was the custom among the fire-
worshippers of whom Marco gives account. "The
Towers of Silence," near Bombay, are isolated, lonely
structures where the Parsees expose their dead to be
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
devoured by the flocks of vultures that hover around
In Polo's further account of Persia we have the
following interesting chapter:
OF THE EIGHT KINGDOMS OF PERSIA, AND HOW THEY
Now you must know that Persia is a very great country,
and contains eight kingdoms. I will tell you the names
of them all.
The first kingdom is that at the beginning of Persia, and
it is called CASVIN; the second is further to the south, and
is called CURDISTAN; the third is called LOR; the fourth
SUOLSTAN; the fifth ISTANIT ; the sixth SERAZY; the seventh
SONCARA; the eighth TUNOCAIN, which is at the further
extremity of Persia. All these kingdoms lie in a southerly
direction except one, to wit, Tunocain; that lies towards
the east, and borders on the country of the Arbre Sol.
In this country of Persia there is a great supply of fine
horses, and people take them to India for sale, for they are
horses of great price, a single one being worth as much of
their money as is equal to 200 livres Tournois; some will
be more, some less, according to the quality. Here also
are the finest asses in the world, one of them being worth
30 marks of silver, for they are very large and fast, and
acquire a capital amble. Dealers carry their horses to
Kisi and Curmosa, two cities on the shores of the Sea of
India, and there they meet with merchants who take the
horses on to India for sale.
In this country there are many cruel and murderous
people, so that no day passes but there is some homicide
among them. Were it not for the Government, which is
that of the Tartars of the Levant, they would do great
YASDI AND KERMAN.
mischief to merchants; and indeed, maugre the Govern-
ment, they often succeed in doing such mischief. Unless
merchants be well armed they run the risk of being
murdered, or at least robbed of everything; and it some-
times happens that a whole party perishes in this way
when not on their guard. The people are all Saracens,
i.e. followers of the Law of Mahommet.
In the cities there are traders and artisans who live by
their labour and crafts, weaving cloths of gold, and silk
stuffs of sundry kinds. They have plenty of cotton produced
in the country; and abundance of wheat, barley, millet,
panick, and wine, with fruit of all kinds.
CONCERNING THE GREAT CITY OF YASDI.
YASDI also is properly in Persia; it is a good and noble
city, and has a great amount of trade. They weave there
quantities of a certain silk tissue known as Yasdi, which
merchants carry into many quarters to dispose of. The
people are worshippers of Mahommet.
When you leave this city to travel further, you ride for
seven days over great plains, finding harbour to receive
you at three places only. There are many fine woods,
producing dates, upon the way, such as one can easily ride
through; and in them there is great sport to be had in
hunting and hawking, there being partridges and quails
and abundance of other game, so that the merchants who
pass that way have plenty of diversion. There are also
wild asses, handsome creatures. At the end of those seven
marches over the plain you come to a fine kingdom which
is called Kerman.
CONCERNING THE KINGDOM OF KERMAN.
KERMAN is a kingdom which is also properly in Persia,
and formerly it had a hereditary prince. Since the Tartars
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
conquered the country the rule is no longer hereditary, but
the Tartar sends to administer whatever lord he pleases.
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. There are also
plenty of veins of steel and ondanique. 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 em-
broidery 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.
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.
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
OF THE CITY OF CAMADI AND ITS RUINS; ALSO TOUCHING
THE CARAONA ROBBERS.
After you have ridden downhill those two days, you find
yourself in a vast plain, and at the beginning thereof there
is a city called CAMADI, which formerly was a great and
noble place, but now is of little consequence, for the
Tartars in their incursions have several times ravaged it.
The plain whereof I speak is a very hot region; and the
province that we now enter is called REOBARLES.
The fruits of the country are dates, pistachioes, and
apples of Paradise, with others of the like not found in our
cold climate. There are vast numbers of turtle-doves,
attracted by the abundance of fruits; but the Saracens never
take them, for they hold them in abomination. And on
this plain there is a kind of bird called francolin, but
different from the francolin of other countries, for their
colour is a mixture of black and white, and the feet and
beak are vermilion colour.
The beasts also are peculiar; and first I will tell you of
their oxen. These are very large, and all over white as
snow; the hair is very short and smooth, which is owing to
the heat of the country. The horns are short and thick,
not sharp in the point; and between the shoulders they
have a round hump some two palms high. There are no
handsomer creatures in the world. And when they have to
be loaded, they kneel like the camel; once the load is
adjusted, they rise. Their load is a heavy one, for they
are very strong animals. Then there are sheep here as
big as asses; and their tails are so large and fat that one
tail shall weigh some thirty pounds. They are fine fat
beasts, and afford capital mutton.
In this plain there are a number of villages and towns
which have lofty walls of mud, made as a defence against
the banditti, who are very numerous, and are called
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
CARAONAS. This name is given them because they are
the sons of Indian mothers by Tartar fathers. And you
must know that when these Caraonas wish to make a
plundering incursion, they have certain devilish enchant-
ments whereby they do bring darkness over the face of
day, insomuch that you can scarcely discern your comrade
riding beside you; and this darkness they will cause to
extend over a space of seven days' journey. They know
the country thoroughly, and ride abreast, keeping near one
another, sometimes to the number of ten thousand, at other
times more or fewer. In this way they extend across the
whole plain that they are going to harry, and catch every
living thing that is found outside of the towns and villages;
man, woman, or beast, nothing can escape them I The old
men whom they take in this way they butcher; the young
men and the women they sell for slaves in other countries;
thus the whole land is ruined, and has become well-nigh a
The king of these scoundrels is called NOGODAR. This
Nogodar had gone to the Court of Chagatai, who was
own brother to the Great Kaan, with some ten thousand
horsemen of his, and abode with him; for Chagatai was
his uncle. And whilst there this Nogodar devised a most
audacious enterprise; and I will tell you what it was. He
left his uncle, who was then in Greater Armenia, and fled
with a great body of horsemen, cruel, unscrupulous fellows,
first through BADASHAN, and then through another province
called PASHAI-DIR, and then through another called
ARIORA-KESHEMUR. There he lost a great number of
his people and of his horses, for the roads were very
narrow and perilous. And when he had conquered all
those provinces, he entered India at the extremity of a
province called DALIVAR. He established himself in that
city and government, which he took from the King of the
country, ASEDIN SOLDAN by name, a man of great power
and wealth. And there abideth Nogodar with his army,
afraid of nobody, and waging war with all the Tartars in
Now that I have told you of those scoundrels and their
history, I must add the fact that Messer Marco himself was
all but caught by their bands in such a darkness as that I
have told you of; but, as it pleased God, he got off and
threw himself into a village that was hard by, called
CONOSALMI. Howbeit he lost his whole company except
seven persons who escaped along with him. The rest were
caught, and some of them sold, some put to death.
Marco sometimes regards a city as a province, or
even a kingdom, as he does in this list of the eight
kingdoms of Persia." It is now supposed by the
most intelligent writers on Persia that Marco refers
to the ancient city of Kazwin, whi h he calls Casvin,
the first on his list. But the province in that
part of Persia, the northern, is now known as Irak.
Curdistan is an old form of spelling Kurdistan. Lor
is Luristan, next to the southward, and the people of
that province are still noted thieves and bandits.
Suolstan, so called by Marco, is probably the modern
Shulistan; the region known by that name was
inhabited by the Shuls, or Shauls. Marco's Istanit
is now believed to be the famous city of Ispahan;
and Serazy is readily translatable into the modern
Shiraz. Soncara is the country of the Shawankars;
Tunocain is Kuhistan, the hill country of Persia, of
which Tun and Kain are the chief cities.
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
Persian horses are quite as famous for beauty and
speed as they were in the days when our Venetian
traveller explored the country in which they were
bred. These fine animals are still exported to India,
whence a few of them are ultimately carried to
England and other parts of Europe. Colonel Yule,
in his book about Marco Polo, tells of a horse of this
breed that travelled nine hundred miles in eleven
days, and of another that accomplished about eleven
hundred miles within twelve days, taking two days of
that time for rest. The livre tournois, which Marco
uses as a standard of coin valuation, was worth '
sterling in modern English money, allowing for the
lower relative value of gold as compared with silver
in those far-off days; so that a fine Persian steed
would cost about 193, English money, or a little
more than $950, American money. The silver mark
of that time, thirty of which were paid for a good
donkey, would be about equal to forty English
shillings; and that sum-thirty marks-again allow-
ing for the lower value of gold as related to silver,
would be equal to 88 sterling, or $440, American
The fame of Oriental steel blades has extended all
over the world, dating back to the most ancient
times; and marvellous stories are told of the flexibility,
sharpness, and hardness of edged weapons made by
Arabs, Moors and other warlike tribes of the East.
The ondanique of Marco Polo is probably the Indian
steel" of which many writers have made mention.
It was so manufactured that a blade of this material
possessed an edge of surpassing keenness and hard-
ness. It was said that a Kerman sabre would cleave
a European metal helmet in twain without turning
its own edge. The embroidered and woven silk
stuffs and carpets of the Kerman region are still
held in high repute on account of their fineness and
The francolin, referred to in the extract above
quoted, is the bird known in England and some parts
of America as the black partridge, and is highly
esteemed for its delicate quality. Any intelligent
youngster will recognize the humped oxen that
attracted the attention of Marco Polo and awakened
his interest. They are to be found in India and
other Eastern countries, and poor is the menagerie
that does not have one or two specimens of the zebu,
or Indian ox, as it is now called. These beasts are
very docile, and are taught to kneel to receive the
loads which they carry on their backs. Fat-tailed
sheep are also common in various portions of Asia
Minor and Africa. The tail is broad and flat,
sometimes weighing fifty or sixty pounds, and is
considered a great delicacy by the inhabitants of
those parts of the world. Some travellers of good
repute have said, that they have seen fat-tailed
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
sheep whose tails were so large, that each animal
was provided with a slab of wood, fitted under the
tail, with little trucks, or wheels, attached to the
end that dragged on the ground.
The notion that fogs and mists can be brought
upon the face of the earth by the command of an
enchanter is truly Oriental; this is still believed in
some parts of India, and Mr. F. Marion Crawford,
the novelist, has made use of an enchanted fog in one
of his romances. It is certain, however, that a dry
fog, which seems to be really a dust-storm, is of
common occurrence in Persia and Northern India.
The phenomenon is strange and baffling, and it is
not surprising that the residents of that country, not
understanding why the air should be filled with dry
dust while it is yet perfectly still, should charge this
to the operations of some enchanter. In such a
dust-storm the raids of robbers, who take advantage
of the panic and the obscurity prevailing, would be
successful, and very disastrous to the unfortunates
whose flocks and herds would be captured and driven
off. The Caraonas, nowadays known as Hazaras,
are bold and daring brigands; they have sometimes
ridden up to the very gates of the city of Ispahan on
their wild forays in search of plunder, ravaging the
country and leaving behind them nothing that can be
carried off or destroyed.
Here may be given a few extracts from Marco's
interesting account of the city of Hormos and its
inhabitants, showing what they eat and drink, how
they build their ships, and how they avoid the
poison-wind and its terrible effects.
'Tis, he says, a city of immense trade. There are
plenty of towns and villages under it, but it is the capital.
The King is called Ruomedam Ahomet. It is a very sickly
place, and the heat of the sun is tremendous. If any
foreign merchant dies there, the King takes all his property.
In this country they make a wine of dates mixed with
spices, which is very good. When any one not used to
it first drinks this wine, it causes repeated and violent pains;
but afterwards he is all the better for it, and gets fat upon
it. The people never eat meat and wheaten bread except
when they are ill, and if they take such food when they are
in health it makes them ill. Their food when in health
consists of dates and salt fish (tunny, to wit) and onions,
and this kind of diet they maintain in order to preserve
Their ships are wretched affairs, and many of them get
lost; for they have no iron fastenings, and are only stitched
together with twine made from the husk of the Indian nut.
They beat this husk until it becomes like horsehair, and
from that they spin twine, and with this stitch the planks
of the ships together. It keeps well, and is not corroded
by the sea-water, but it will not stand well in a storm.
The ships are not pitched, but are rubbed with fish-oil.
They have one mast, one sail, and one rudder, and have
no deck, but only a cover spread over the cargo when
loaded. This cover consists of hides, and on the top of
these hides they put the horses which they take to India
for sale. They have no iron to make nails of, and for this
reason they use only wooden trenails in their shipbuilding,
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
and then stitch the planks with twine as I have told you.
Hence 'tis a perilous business to go a voyage in one of
those ships, and many of them are lost, for in that Sea of
India the storms are often terrible.
The people are black, and are worshippers of Mahommet.
The residents avoid living in the cities, for the heat in
summer is so great that it would kill them. Hence they
go out (to sleep) at their gardens in the country, where
there are streams and plenty of water. For all that they
would not escape but for one thing that I will mention.
The fact is, you see, that in summer a wind often blows
across the sands which encompass the plain, so intolerably
hot that it would kill everybody, were it not that, when
they perceive that wind coming, they plunge into water up
to the neck, and so abide until the wind have ceased.
And to prove the great heat of this wind, Messer Mark
related a case that befell when he was there. The Lord
of Hormos, not having paid his tribute to the King of
Kerman, the latter resolved to claim it at the time when
the people of Hormos were residing away from the city.
So he caused a force of sixteen hundred horse and five
thousand foot to be got ready, and sent them by the
route of Reobarles to take the others by surprise. Now it
happened one day that through the fault of their guide
they were not able to reach the place appointed for their
night's halt, and were obliged to bivouac in the wilderness
not far from Hormos. In the morning as they were starting
on their march they were caught by that wind, and every
man of them was suffocated, so that not one survived to
carry the tidings to their lord. When the people of
Hormos heard of this, they went forth to bury the bodies,
lest they should breed a pestilence. But when they laid
hold of them by the arms to drag them to the pits, the
bodies proved to be so baked, as it were, by that tremendous
heat, that the arms parted from the trunks, and in the
IV.] THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN. 55
end the people had to dig graves hard by each where it
lay, and so cast them in.
In Marco's account of Persia we find the hero
Alaii again mentioned by name. It was Alan who
captured the castle of the miserly Caliph; and he it
was who put an end to the crimes of the wicked
Old Man of the Mountain. Here is the chapter
concerning both of those two personages :
CONCERNING THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN.
MULEHET is a country in which the Old Man of the
Mountain dwelt in former days; and the name means
" Place of the Aram." I will tell you his whole history as
related by Messer Marco Polo, who heard it from several
natives of that region.
The Old Man was called in their language ALOADIN. He
had caused a certain valley between two mountains to be
enclosed, and had turned it into a garden, the largest and
most beautiful that ever was seen, filled with every variety
of fruit. In it were erected pavilions and palaces, the most
elegant that can be imagined, all covered with gilding and
exquisite painting. And there were runnels, too, flowing
freely with wine and milk and honey and water; and
numbers of ladies, the most beautiful in the world, who
could play on all manner of instruments, and sang most
sweetly, and danced in a manner that it was charming to
behold. For the Old Man desired to make his people
believe that this was actually Paradise. So he had
fashioned it after the description that Mahommet gave of
his Paradise, to wit, that it should be a beautiful garden run-
ning with conduits of wine and milk and honey and water;
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
and sure enough the Saracens of those parts believed that
it was Paradise.
Now no man was allowed to enter the Garden save those
whom he intended to be his ASHISHIN. There was a
Fortress at the entrance to the Garden, strong enough to
resist all the world, and there was no other way to get in.
He kept at his Court a number of the youths of the country,
from twelve to twenty years of age, such as had a taste for
soldiering, and to these he used to tell tales about Paradise,
just as Mahommet had been wont to do, and they believed
in him just as the Saracens believe in Mahommet. Then he
would introduce them into his Garden, some four, or six,
or ten at a time, having first made them drink a certain
potion which cast them into a deep sleep, and then causing
them to be lifted and carried in. So when they awoke they
found themselves in the Garden.
Now this Prince whom we call the Old One kept his
Court in grand and noble style, and made those simple hill-
folks about him believe firmly that he was a great Prophet.
And when he wanted one of his Ashishin to send on any
mission, he would cause that potion, whereof I spoke, to be
given to one of the youths in the Garden, and then had
him carried into his Palace. So when the young man
awoke, he found himself in the Castle, and no longer in
that Paradise; whereat he was not over-well pleased. He
was then conducted to the Old Man's presence, and
bowed before him with great veneration, as believing him-
self to be in the presence of a true Prophet. The Prince
would then ask whence he came, and he would reply tht.._
he came from Paradise! and that it was exactly such as
Mahommet had described it in the Law. This of course
gave the others who stood by, and who had not been
admitted, the greatest desire to enter therein.
So when the Old Man would have any Prince slain, he
would say to such a youth: "Go thou and slay So-and-So; and
THE OLD MAN OF THE MOUNTAIN.
when thou returnest my Angels shall bear thee into Paradise.
And shouldst thou die, natheless even so will I send my
Angels to carry thee back into Paradise." So he caused them
to believe; and thus there was no order of his that they
would not affront any peril to execute, for the great desire
they had to get back into that Paradise of his. And in this
manner the Old One got his people to murder any one
whom he desired to get rid of. Thus, too, the great dread
that he inspired all Princes withal made them become his
tributaries, in order that he might abide at peace and amity
I should also tell you that the Old Man had certain
others under him, who copied his proceedings and acted
exactly in the same manner. One of these was sent into
the territory of Damascus, and the other into Curdistan.
Now it came to pass in the year 1252, that Alaii, Lord of
the Tartars of the Levant, heard tell of these great crimes
of the Old Man, and resolved to make an end of him. So
he took and sent one of his Barons with a great Army to
that Castle, and they besieged it for three years, but they
could not take it, so strong was it. And indeed if they had
had food within, it never would have been taken. But after
being besieged those three years they ran short of victual,
and were taken. The Old Man was put to death with all
his men, and the Castle with its Garden of Paradise was
levelled with the ground. And since that time he has had
no successor; and there was an end to all his villainies.
The region in which, according to Marco Polo, the
Old Man of the Mountain lived and reigned was
the mountainous part of Persia, in the far north.
But in the time of the first Crusaders, which was
some two hundred years earlier, the chief of a band
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
of scoundrels and men-slayers, one Hassan-ben-Sabah,
had his stronghold in Mount Lebanon, in the southern
part of Syria; and he was also known as the Old
Man of the Mountain.
It is interesting to know that the story of the Old
One was current all over the East, and that we get
our word "assassin" from the vile practices of that
wicked man, who really did exist, and whose fol-
lowers are still to be found in remote corners of the
East. The drug which he gave to those whom he
desired to enlist in his band was hashish, or Cannabis
Indica. This is a learned name for Indian hemp,
from which the drug is derived. Men who used the
hashish, to give them pleasant sleep and beautiful
dreams were called "hashishiyyin "; and it was easy
to make the word assassin out of hashishiyyin.
That this is the true origin of the English word
nobody need doubt. As Marco passed by the castle
of the Old Man of the Mountain not long after the
defeat of the latter by the Prince Alaii, we can believe
that he heard a true account of what had happened;
and it is not unlikely that the followers of this chief,
the Assassins, as they were called, were a numerous
band of fanatics who were spread over a considerable
part of the East.
At Taican, three days' journey from Badashan,
Marco is much struck (and no wonder) by the moun-
tains of salt:
IV.] MOUNTAINS OF SALT. 59
Taican is a fine place, and the mountains that you see
towards the south are all composed of salt. People from
all the countries round, to some thirty days' journey, come
to fetch this salt, which is the best in the world, and is so
hard that it can only be broken with iron picks. 'Tis in
such abundance that it would supply the whole world to the
end of time.
THE GEMS OF BADAKSHAN-A ROYAL PREROGATIVE-THE
CONJURERS OF CASHMERE.
B ADASHAN, of which our traveller wrote an
interesting account, is now known as Badak-
shan; it lies to the north of that range of mountains
which bears the name of the Hindu Kush, in Central
Asia, south of Bokhara and north of Afghanistan.
Marco's eyes are now turned eastward, and- he writes
thus of the country of which the outside world knew
nothing then :
OF THE PROVINCE OF BADASHAN.
BADASHAN is a Province inhabited by people who worship
Mahommet, and have a peculiar language. It forms a very
great kingdom, and the royalty is hereditary. All those
of the royal blood are descended from King Alexander
and the daughter of-King Darius, who was Lord of the
vast Empire of Persia. And all these kings call themselves
in the Saracen tongue Zulcarniain, which is as much as
to say "Alexander "; and this out of regard for Alexander
It is in this province that those fine and valuable gems,
the Balas Rubies, are found. They are got in certain
GEMS OF BADAKSHAN.
rocks among the mountains, and in the search for them
the people dig great caves underground, just as is done
by miners for silver. There is but one special mountain
that produces them, and it is called Syghinan. The stones
are dug on the King's account, and no one else dares dig
in that mountain on pain of forfeiture of life as well as
goods; nor may any one carry the stones out of the
kingdom. But the King amasses them all, and sends them
to other kings when he has tribute to render, or when he
desires to offer a friendly present; and such only as he
pleases he causes to be sold. Thus he acts in order to
keep the Balas at a high value; for if he were to allow
everybody to dig, they would extract so many that the
world would be glutted with them, and they would cease
to bear any value. Hence it is that he allows so few to
be taken out, and is so strict in the matter.
There is also in the same country another mountain,
in which azure is found; 'tis the finest in the world, and
is got in a vein like silver. There are also other mountains
which contain a great amount of silver ore, so that the
country is a very rich one; but it is also (it must be said)
a very cold one. It produces numbers of excellent horses,
remarkable for their speed. They are not shod at all,
although constantly used in mountainous country and on
very bad roads. They go at a great pace even down steep
descents, where other horses neither would nor could do
the like. And Messer Marco was told that not long ago
they possessed in that province a breed of horses, descended
from Alexander's horse Bucephalus, all of which had from
their birth a particular mark on the forehead. This breed
was entirely in the hands of an uncle of the King's; and
in consequence of his refusing to let the King have any of
them, the latter put him to death. The widow then, in
despite, destroyed the whole breed, and it is now extinct.
In the mountains there are vast numbers of sheep-
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
400, 500, or 600 in a single flock, and all of them wild;
and though many of them are taken, they never seem to
get aught the scarcer.
Those mountains are so lofty that 'tis a hard day's work,
from morning till evening, to get to the top of them. On
getting up, you find an extensive plain, with great abundance
of grass and trees, and copious springs of pure water running
down through rocks and ravines. In those brooks are
found trout and many other fish of dainty kinds; and the
air in those regions is so pure, and residence there so
healthful, that when the men who dwell below in the
towns, and in the valleys and plains, find themselves
attacked by any kind of fever or other ailment that may
hap, they lose no time in going to the hills; and after
abiding there two or three days, they quite recover their
health through the excellence of that air. And Messer
Marco said he had proved this by experience; for when
in those parts he had been ill for about a year, but as soon
as he was advised to visit that mountain he did so and
got well at once.
In this kingdom there are many strait and perilous
passes, so difficult to force that the people have no fear
of invasion. Their towns and villages also are on lofty
hills, and in very strong positions. They are excellent
archers, and much given to the chase; indeed, most of
them are dependent for clothing on the skins of beasts,
for stuffs are very dear among them. The great ladies,
however, are arrayed in stuffs, and I will tell you the style
of their dress. They all wear trousers made of cotton
cloth, and into the making of these some will put 60, 8o,
or even ioo ells of stuff.
OF THE PROVINCE OF PASHAI.
You must know that ten days' journey to the south of
Badashan there is a Province called PASHAI, the people of
HORSES OF BADAKSHAN.
which have a peculiar language, and are Idolaters, of a
brown complexion. They are great adepts in sorceries and
the diabolic arts. The men wear earrings and brooches of
gold and silver set with stones and pearls. They are a
pestilent people and a crafty; and they live upon flesh and
rice. Their country is very hot.
Now let us proceed and speak of another country which
is seven days' journey from this one towards the south-east,
and the name of which is KESHIMUR.
The Badakshan country is still famed for its
rubies, although the quality of the gems is not so
high as in earlier times; and the working of the
ruby mines is a monopoly in the hands of the govern-
ment By "azure" Marco means lapis-lazuli, a
semi-precious stone of a beautiful blue colour, greatly
esteemed by gem-workers. As for the horses that
were claimed to have descended from the famous
Bucephalus *of Alexander the Great, we may say
that many Oriental people are famous braggarts;
and although the horses of Badakshan are still so
beautiful and strong that Afghan robbers continually
raid the country to steal them, it is unlikely that
any progeny of Bucephalus were then to be found
in any quarter of the world.
Keshimur, of which our traveller next speaks, is
readily understood to be Cashmere, lying just south
of the Hindu Kush, and famous for its shawls, attar
of roses, and other products. Here is Marco's very
brief account of that province:
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
OF THE PROVINCE OF KESHIMUR.
Keshimur also is a Provirnce inhabited by a people who
are Idolaters and have a language of their own. They
have an astonishing acquaintance with the devilries of en-
chantment; insomuch that they make their idols to speak.
They can also by their sorceries bring on changes of
weather and produce darkness, and do a number of things
so extraordinary that no one without seeing them would
believe them. Indeed, this country is the very original
source from which Idolatry has spread abroad.
In this direction you can proceed further till you come
to the Sea of India.
The men are brown and lean, but the women, taking
them as brunettes, are very beautiful. The food of the
people is flesh, and milk, and rice. The clime is finely
tempered, being neither very hot nor very cold.
There are in this country Eremites (after the fashion of
those parts), who dwell in seclusion and practise great
abstinence in eating and drinking. They keep from all
sins forbidden in their law, so that they are regarded by
their own folk as holy persons. They live to a great age.
There are also a number of idolatrous abbeys and
monasteries. The people of the province do not kill
animals nor spill blood; so if they want to eat meat they
get the Saracens who dwell among them to play the
butcher. The coral which is carried from our parts of
the world has a better sale there than in any other
Now we will quit this country, and not go any further
in the same direction; for if we did so we should enter
India, and that I do not wish to do at present. For, on
our return journey, I mean to tell you about India: all in
regular order. Let us go back therefore to Badashan, for
we cannot otherwise proceed on our journey.
The conjurers of Cashmere seem to have made
a great impression on Marco, who had seen them
before at the court of Kublai Khan. They had, and
still have, a wide reputation for their skill. Like
many other so-called magicians, they have the power
ofdeceiving on-lookers to so great an extent that men
have soberly reported that they saw iron float in the
water, rocks rise in the air without being touched by
any one, and clouds come and go and mists fall, all
at the bidding of the magician. It is, of course, all
Marco's statement that Buddhism, or Idolatry,"
as he styles it, spread from Cashmere, must be taken
with some allowance; for although that faith did
spread thence into Tibet and other lands where it
holds great power, it first went into Cashmere from
India. One of the first of the Ten Obligations, or
commandments, of Buddhism is to refrain from
taking life; and the pious Eremites (or hermits) and
Buddhists whom Marco saw, while they did not
hesitate to eat meat, would not kill with their own
hands the animal that was to be eaten. That is still
the custom of the country; the good Buddhist will
not cause death if he can possibly avoid it.
CHE ROOF OF THE WORLD-HOW THE PAMIR COUNTRY BORDERS
ON THREE GREAT EMPIRES-THE GREAT HORNED SHEEP OF
THE STEPPES-A MARVELLOUS STORY OF SAMARCAND.
WE have heard much, of late years, about the
Pamir country; and we shall hear more
about it as time goes on: for the Pamir steppe, as
it is sometimes called, lies in the heart of Central
Asia, north-east of Afghanistan, south of Asiatic
Russia, and west of Turkestan. Therefore it borders
on the empires of Russia, China, and British India;
on its lofty plains may be fought more than one
battle for supremacy. It is a series of plateaus,
15,000 feet above the level of the sea; and some of
its loftiest mountain peaks are 25,000 feet above sea-
level. The first account of this wonderful region
was written by Marco Polo, and is as follows
In leaving Badashan you ride twelve days between east
and north-east, ascending a river that runs through land
belonging to a brother of the Prince of Badashan, and
containing a good many towns and villages and scattered
habitations. The people are Mahommetans, and valiant
Ch. VI.] THE ROOF OF THE WORLD.
in war. At the end of those twelve days you come to a
province of no great size, extending indeed no more than
three days' journey in any direction, and this is called
VOKHAN. The people worship Mahommet, and they have
a peculiar language. They are gallant soldiers, and they
have a chief whom they call NONE, which is as much as
to say Count, and they are liegemen to the Prince of
There are numbers of wild beasts of all sorts in this
region. And when you leave this little country, and ride
three days north-east, always among mountains, you get
to such a height that 'tis said to be the highest place in
the world! And when you have got to this height, you
find a great lake between two mountains, and out of it a
fine river running through a plain clothed with the finest
pasture in the world; insomuch that a lean beast there
will fatten to your heart's content in ten days. There are
great numbers of all kinds of wild beasts; among others,
wild sheep of great size, whose horns are a good six palms
in length. From these horns the shepherds make great
bowls to eat from, and they use the horns also to enclose
folds for their cattle at night. Messer Marco was told also
that the wolves were numerous, and killed many of those
wild sheep. Hence quantities of their horns and bones
were found, and these were made into great heaps by the
wayside in order to guide travellers when snow was on the
The Plain is called PAMIER, and you ride across it for
twelve days together, finding nothing but a desert without
habitations or any green thing, so that travellers are obliged
to carry with them whatever they have need of. The
region is so lofty and cold that you do not even see any
birds flying. And I must notice also that because of this
great cold, fire does not burn so brightly, nor give out so
much heat as usual, nor does it cook food so effectually.
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
Now, if we go on with our journey towards the east-
north-east, we travel a good forty days, continually passing
over mountains and hills, or through valleys, and crossing
many rivers and tracts of wilderness. And in all this way
you find neither habitation of man, nor any green thing,
but must carry with you whatever you require. The
country is called BOLOR. The people dwell high up in
the mountains, and are savage Idolaters, living only by
the chase, and clothing themselves in the skins of beasts.
They are in truth an evil race.
This is an interesting chapter of Marco's book,
because it describes a region of which the outside
world knew nothing from his time until 1838, when
another European traveller, Captain John Wood,
passed over it, and verified the account written by
Marco Polo, more than six hundred years before.
The Tatars call the loftiest part of the Pamir country
the Bam-i-Duniah, or Roof of the World" ; it is the
highest level region to be found anywhere on the
globe. It is swept by cold winds, and even in
summer the dry snow is driven across its surface.
The great sheep of which Marco speaks are still
to be found there, and they have been named the
Ovis Poli, in honour of Marco Polo, who first
described them. A pair of sheep horns, brought
home by Captain Wood, measured three feet from
tip to tip, and each horn was four feet and eight
inches in length, following the curve of the horn.
The animals are hunted by the Kirghiz who inhabit
the lower steppes of that country; and Wood's
narrative says: "We saw numbers of horns strewed
about in every direction, the spoils of the Kirghiz
hunter. Some of these were of an astonishingly
large size, and belonged to an animal between a
goat and a sheep, inhabiting the steppes of Pamir.
The ends of the horn projecting above the snow
often indicated the direction of the road," which is
precisely what Marco has told us. Captain Wood,
who crossed the Pamir in February, says, when-
ever they came in sight of a large number of these
big horns arranged in a semi-circle, they knew that
there had been a summer encampment of the Kirghiz
What Marco says of the difficulty of cooking by
a fire at a great height is entirely correct. Water
boils at a lower temperature on the top of a high
mountain than it does in the plain at its foot. The
usual boiling-point is at 212 degrees, as every bright
youngster knows ; but on the tops of high mountains
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
water boils at 179 or 180, and men unused to so
curious a phenomenon are puzzled to see the water
boiling, and the food remaining uncooked. The
pressure of the atmosphere is less on the mountain
top than it is in the plain, and the heat of the fire
causes the boiling of the water more quickly at the
greater altitude. Water boils at the top of Mount
Blanc at a temperature of 185 degrees.
MARCO TELLS A WONDERFUL STORY.
Samarcand lies in the southern part of Turkestan,
just north of Bokhara, and therefore it was behind
Marco Polo when he had passed the Pamir steppes:
evidently, he did not visit Samarcand, and could
not give us any information about the city; so he
tells us this story:
Samarcan is a great and noble cicy towards the north-
west, inhabited by both Christians and Saracens, who are
subject to the great Kaan's nephew, CAIDOU by name;
he is, however, at bitter enmity with the Kaan. I will tell
you of a great marvel that happened at this city.
It is not a great while ago that Sigatay, own brother to
the Great Kaan, who was lord of this country and of many
an one besides, became a Christian. The Christians re
joiced greatly at this, and they built a great church in the
city, in honour of John the Baptist; and by his name the
church was called. And they took a very fine stone which
belonged to the Saracens, and placed it as the pedestal of
a column in the middle of the church, supporting the roof.
It came to pass, however, that Sigatay died. Now the
THE MIRACULOUS COLUMN.
A GLORIOUS MIRACLE.
Saracens were full of rancour about that stone that had been
theirs, and which had been set up in the church of the
Christians; and when they saw that the Prince was dead,
they said one to another that now was the time to get back
their stone, by fair means or by foul. And that they might
well do, for they were ten times as many as the Christians.
So they gat together and went to the church and said
that the stone they must and would have. The Christians
acknowledged that it was theirs indeed, but offered to pay
a large sum of money and so be quit. Howbeit, the others
replied that they never would give up the stone for any-
thing in the world. And words ran so high that the Prince
heard thereof, and ordered the Christians either to arrange
to satisfy the Saracens, if it might be, with money, or to
give up the stone. And he allowed them three days to do
either the one thing or the other.
The Saracens would on no account agree to leave the
stone where it was, and this out of pure despite to the
Christians, for they knew well enough that if the stone
were stirred the church would come down by the run. So
the Christians were in great trouble and wist not what to
do. But they did do the best thing possible; they besought
Jesus Christ that He would consider their case, so that the
holy church should not come to destruction, nor the name
of its Patron Saint, John the Baptist, be tarnished by its
ruin. And so when the day fixed by the Prince came
round, they went to the church betimes in the morning,
and lo, they found the stone removed from under the
column; the foot of the column was without support, and
yet it bore the load as stoutly as before Between the
foot of the column and the ground there was a space of
three palms. So the Saracens had away their stone, and
mighty little joy withal. It was a glorious miracle, nay,
it is so, for the column still so standeth, and will stand as
long as God pleaseth.
72 THE STORY OF MARCO POLO. [Ch. VI.
Marco was not often at a loss for real information
concerning the places of which he makes mention.
But in this case he was like some of the geographers,
of whom the wise Plutarch speaks when he says,
that they crowd into the edges of their maps
parts of the world about which they know nothing,
and add notes in the margin to the effect, that
"beyond this lies nothing but sandy deserts full of
wild beasts and unapproachable bogs." This remark
moved Dean Swift, the author of Gulliver's Travels,"
So geographers, in Afric maps,
With savage pictures fill their gaps,
And o'er unhabitable downs
Place elephants for want of towns.
THE SEA OF SAND AND ITS MARVELS-THE FABLED SALAMANDER
AND ITS TRUE STORY-SOMETHING ABOUT ASBESTOS.
LEAVING Turkestan, and entering China to the
eastward of Kashgar and Yarkand, Marco Polo
crossed the western end of the Great Sandy Desert
of Gobi, or Shamo, otherwise known to the Chinese
as the Sea of Sand. This vast extent of desert
extends over forty degrees of latitude, and has never
been fully explored even in our own day. In Marco's
time it was a haunt of mystery, thought to be peopled
by the strange creatures of the air. That part
traversed by Marco is narrow, and he crossed it in a
south-westerly direction. Here is his account of the
Desert of Lop, or, as it is sometimes called, Lob:
Lop is a large town at the edge of the Desert, which is
called the Desert of Lop, and is situated between east
and north-east. It belongs to the Great Kaan, and the
people worship Mahommet. Now, such persons as pro-
pose to cross the Desert take a week's rest in this town
to refresh themselves and their cattle; and then they make
ready for the journey, taking with them a month's supply for
man and beast. On quitting this city they enter the Desert.
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
The length of this Desert is so great that 'tis said it
would take a year and more to ride from one end of it to
the other. And here, where its breadth is least, it takes
a month to cross it. 'Tis all composed of hills and valleys
,of sand, and not a thing to eat is to be found on. it.
But after riding for a day and a night you find fresh water
enough mayhap for some fifty or a hundred persons with
their beasts, but not for more. And all across the Desert
you will find water in like manner, that is to say, in some
twenty-eight places altogether you will find good water,
but in no great quantity; and in four places also you find
Beasts there are none; for there is naught for them to
eat. But there is a marvellous thing related of this Desert,
which is that when travellers are on the move by night,
and one of them chances to lag behind, or to fall asleep
or the like, when he tries to gain his company again he
will hear spirits talking, and will suppose them to be his
comrades. Sometimes the spirits will call him by name;
and thus shall a traveller ofttimes be led astray, so that
he never finds his party. And in this way many have
perished. Sometimes the stray travellers will hear as it
were the tramp and hum of a great cavalcade of people
away from the real line of road, and taking this to be their
own company they will follow the sound; and when day
breaks they find that a cheat has been put on them, and
that they are in an ill plight. Even in the daytime one
hears those spirits talking. And sometimes you shall hear
the sound of a variety of musical instruments, and still
more commonly the sound of drums. Hence in making
this journey 'tis customary for travellers to keep close
together. All the animals too have bells at their necks,
so that they cannot easily get astray. And at sleeping-time
a signal is put up to show the direction of the next march.
So thus it is that the Desert is crossed.
A HAUNTED DESERT.
Probably this tale of the desert, told by Marco
Polo, was one of those which gave him a bad name
among people who were ignorant of what really
goes on in the midst of a vast desert. From the
earliest times, men have associated deserts of land or
sea with mystery; and all sorts of evil spirits were
believed to inhabit the waste places of the earth.
And those who heard Marco's stories, or read them
afterwards, thought that they were the idle tales of
But Marco's tale is corroborated by the Chinese
historian Matwanlin, who writes: You have to
cross a plain of sand, extending for more than one
hundred leagues. You see nothing in any direction
but the sky and the sands, without the slightest trace
of a road ; and travellers find nothing to guide them
but the bones of men and beasts and the droppings
of camels. During the passage of this wilderness
you hear sounds, sometimes of singing, sometimes of
wailing; and it has often happened that travellers,
going aside to see what those sounds might be, have
strayed from their course and been entirely lost;
for they were voices of spirits and goblins." Another
Chinese writer, Hwen Thsang speaks of illusions,
such as visions of troops marching and halting with
gleaming arms and waving banners, constantly
shifting, vanishing, and reappearing. A voice behind
him calls, "Fear not! fear not!" Troubled by these
THE STORY OF MARCO POLO.
fantasies on one occasion, Hwen Thsang prayed to
Kwanin (a Buddhist divinity), but could not get rid
of them; though as soon as he had pronounced a
few words from the Prajna (a holy book) they
vanished in the twinkling of an eye.
And it is undoubtedly true that strange sounds
are often produced by the shifting of the sands,
especially in the night, after a hot day, when the
sand cools and the wind blows. It would be easy
for a superstitious person to believe that these sounds
were the voices of unseen creatures in the air.
Sometimes the sounds are like those of a bell, or of
a drum; and scientific writers have described the
places where they have been heard in various parts
of the world.
In the story of" The Boy Emigrants," published in
1876, the author tells of a lad who hears, in the
midst of the Great American Desert, as it was
once called, the nine-o'clock bell ringing in his
New England home, far away. This really hap-
pened, and the author of the book actually thought
he heard the bell ring. So, too, the same party of
boy emigrants saw what they thought were trees,
water, and lovely hills, floating just above the edge
of the desert. That was a mirage; and people have
seen on the sea-coast a strange apparition of towers,
palaces, and lofty pinnacles, most beautiful to behold.
This is a natural phenomenon, and is called the
fata Morgana. So much for this "marvellous"
story, which no doubt has been called "one of
Marco Polo's lies."
In what he says about the fabulous salamander
we find some more truth; but he uses it to put to
ridicule an ancient fable. Here is his account:
Chingintalas is also a province at the verge of the Desert,
and lying between north-west and north. It is an extent
of sixteen days' journey, and belongs to the Great Kaan,
and contains numerous towns and villages. There are
three different races of people in it-Idolaters, Saracens,
and some Nestorian Christians. At the northern extremity
of this province there is a mountain in which are excellent
veins of steel and ondanique. And you must know that
in the same mountain there is a vein of the substance from
which Salamander is made. For the real truth is that the
Salamander is no beast, as they allege in our part of the
world, but is a substance found in the earth; and I will
tell you about it.
Everybody must be aware that it can be no animal's
nature to live in fire, seeing that every animal is com-
posed of all the four elements. Now I, Marco Polo, had
a Turkish acquaintance of the name of Zurficar, and he
was a very clever fellow. And this Turk related how
he had lived three years in that region on behalf of the
Great Kaan, in order to procure those Salamanders for
him. He said that the way they got them was by digging
Sin that mountain till they found a certain vein. The sub-
stance of this vein was then taken and crushed, and when
so treated it divides as it were into fibres of wool, which
they set forth to dry. When dry, these fibres were pounded
in a great copper mortar, and then washed, so as to remove