The Travels of Sir John Mandeville, by John Mandeville

Chapter XXVI

Of the Law and the Customs of the Tartarians Dwelling in Cathay. And How that Men Do when the EMPEROR SHALL DIE, AND HOW He Shall Be Chosen

THE folk of that country use all long clothes without furs. And they be clothed with precious cloths of Tartary, and of cloths of gold. And their clothes be slit at the side, and they be fastened with laces of silk. And they clothe them also with pilches, and the hide without; and they use neither cape ne hood. And in the same manner as the men go, the women go, so that no man may unneth know the men from the women, save only those women that be married, that bear the token upon their heads of a man’s foot, in sign that they be under man’s foot and under subjection of man.

And their wives ne dwell not together, but every of them by herself; and the husband may lie with whom of them that him liketh. Everych hath his house, both man and woman. And their houses be made round of staves, and it hath a round window above that giveth them light, and also that serveth for deliverance of smoke. And the heling of their houses and the walls and the doors be all of wood. And when they go to war, they lead their houses with them upon chariots, as men do tents or pavilions. And they make their fire in the midst of their houses.

And they have great multitude of all manner of beasts, save only of swine, for they bring none forth. And they believe well one God that made and formed all things. And natheles yet have they idols of gold and silver, and of tree and of cloth. And to those idols they offer always their first milk of their beasts, and also of their meats and of their drinks before they eat. And they offer often-times horses and beasts. And they clepe the God of kind YROGA.

And their emperor also, what name that ever he have, they put evermore thereto, Chan. And when I was there, their emperor had to name Thiaut, so that he was clept Thiaut–Chan. And his eldest son was clept Tossue; and when he shall be emperor, he shall be clept Tossue–Chan. And at that time the emperor had twelve sons without him, that were named Cuncy, Ordii, Chadahay, Buryn, Negu, Nocab, Cadu, [Siban], Cuten, Balacy, Babylan, and Garegan. And of his three wives, the first and principal, that was Prester John’s daughter, had to name Serioche–Chan, and the tother Borak–Chan, and the tother Karanke–Chan.

The folk of that country begin all their things in the new moon, and they worship much the moon and the sun and often-time kneel against them. And all the folk of the country ride commonly without spurs, but they bear always a little whip in their hands for to chace with their horses.

And they have great conscience and hold it for a great sin to cast a knife in the fire, and for to draw flesh out of a pot with a knife, and for to smite an horse with the handle of a whip, or to smite an horse with a bridle, or to break one bone with another, or for to cast milk or any liquor that men may drink upon the earth, or for to take and slay little children. And the most sin that any man may do is to piss in their houses that they dwell in, and whoso that may be found with that sin sikerly they slay him. And of everych of these sins it behoveth them to be shriven of their priests, and to pay great sum of silver for their penance. And it behoveth also, that the place that men have pissed in be hallowed again, and else dare no man enter therein. And when they have paid their penance, men make them pass through a fire or through two, for to cleanse them of their sins. And also when any messenger cometh and bringeth letters or any present to the emperor, it behoveth him that he, with the thing that he bringeth, pass through two burning fires for to purge them, that he bring no poison ne venom, ne no wicked thing that might be grievance to the Lord. And also if any man or woman be taken in avoutry or fornication, anon they slay him. And who that stealeth anything, anon they slay him.

Men of that country be all good archers and shoot right well, both men and women, as well on horse-back, pricking, as on foot, running. And the women make all things and all manner mysteries and crafts, as of clothes, boots and other things; and they drive carts, ploughs and wains and chariots; and they make houses and all manner mysteres, out taken bows and arrows and armours that men make. And all the women wear breeches, as well as men.

All the folk of that country be full obeissant to their sovereigns; ne they fight not, ne chide not one with another. And there be neither thieves ne robbers in that country. And every man worshippeth other; but no man there doth no reverence to no strangers, but if they be great princes.

And they eat hounds, lions, leopards, mares and foals, asses, rats and mice and all manner of beasts, great and small, save only swine and beasts that were defended by the old law. And they eat all the beasts without and within, without casting away of anything, save only the filth. And they eat but little bread, but if it be in courts of great lords. And they have not in many places, neither pease ne beans ne none other pottages but the broth of the flesh. For little eat they anything but flesh and the broth. And when they have eaten, they wipe their hands upon their skirts; for they use no napery ne towels, but if it be before great lords; but the common people hath none. And when they have eaten, they put their dishes unwashen into the pot or cauldron with remnant of the flesh and of the broth till they will eat again. And the rich men drink milk of mares or of camels or of asses or of other beasts. And they will be lightly drunken of milk and of another drink that is made of honey and of water sodden together; for in that country is neither wine ne ale. They live full wretchedly, and they eat but once in the day, and that but little, neither in courts ne in other places. And in sooth, one man alone in this country will eat more in a day than one of them will eat in three days. And if any strange messenger come there to a lord, men make him to eat but once a day, and that full little.

And when they war, they war full wisely and always do their business, to destroy their enemies. Every man there beareth two bows or three, and of arrows great plenty, and a great axe. And the gentles have short spears and large and full trenchant on that one side. And they have plates and helms made of quyrboylle, and their horses covertures of the same. And whoso fleeth from the battle they slay him. And when they hold any siege about castle or town that is walled and defensible, they behote to them that be within to do all the profit and good, that it is marvel to hear; and they grant also to them that be within all that they will ask them. And after that they be yielden, anon they slay them all; and cut off their ears and souse them in vinegar, and thereof they make great service for lords. All their lust and all their imagination is for to put all lands under their subjection. And they say that they know well by their prophecies, that they shall be overcome by archers and by strength of them; but they know not of what nation ne of what law they shall be of, that shall overcome them. And therefore they suffer that folk of all laws may peaceably dwell amongst them.

Also when they will make their idols or an image of any of their friends for to have remembrance of him, they make always the image all naked without any manner of clothing. For they say that in good love should be no covering, that man should not love for the fair clothing ne for the rich array, but only for the body, such as God hath made it, and for the good virtues that the body is endowed with of Nature, not only for fair clothing that is not of kindly Nature.

And ye shall understand that it is great dread for to pursue the Tartars if they flee in battle. For in fleeing they shoot behind them and slay both men and horses. And when they will fight they will shock them together in a plump; that if there be 20,000 men, men shall not ween that there be scant 10,000. And they can well win land of strangers, but they cannot keep it; for they have greater lust to lie in tents without than for to lie in castle or in towns. And they prize nothing the wit of other nations.

And amongst them oil of olive is full dear, for they hold it for full noble medicine. And all the Tartars have small eyen and little of beard, and not thick haired but shear. And they be false and traitors; and they last nought that they behote. They be full hardy folk, and much pain and woe may suffer and disease, more than any other folk, for they be taught thereto in their own country of youth. And therefore they spend as who saith, right nought.

And when any man shall die, men set a spear beside him. And when he draweth towards the death, every man fleeth out of the house till he be dead. And after that they bury him in the fields.

And when the emperor dieth, men set him in a chair in midst the place of his tent. And men set a table before him clean, covered with a cloth, and thereupon flesh and diverse viands and a cup full of mare’s milk. And men put a mare beside him with her foal, and an horse saddled and bridled. And they lay upon the horse gold and silver, great quantity. And they put about him great plenty of straw. And then men make a great pit and a large, and with the tent and all these other things they put him in earth. And they say that when he shall come into another world, he shall not be without an house, ne without horse, ne without gold and silver; and the mare shall give him milk, and bring him forth more horses till he be well stored in the tother world. For they trow that after their death they shall be eating and drinking in that other world, and solacing them with their wives, as they did here.

And after time that the emperor is thus interred no man shall be so hardy to speak of him before his friends. And yet natheles, sometime falleth of many that they make him to be interred privily by night in wild places, and put again the grass over the pit for to grow; or else men cover the pit with gravel and sand, that no man shall perceive where, ne know where, the pit is, to that intent that never after none of his friends shall have mind ne remembrance of him. And then they say that he is ravished into another world, where he is a greater lord than he was here.

And then, after the death of the emperor, the seven lineages assemble them together, and choose his eldest son, or the next after him of his blood. And thus they say to him; we will and we pray and ordain that ye be our lord and our emperor.

And then he answereth, If ye will that I reign over you as lord, do everych of you that I shall command him, either to abide or to go; and whomsoever that I command to be slain, that anon he be slain.

And they answer all with one voice, Whatsoever ye command, it shall be done.

Then saith the emperor, Now understand well, that my word from henceforth is sharp and biting as a sword.

After, men set him upon a black steed and so men bring him to a chair full richly arrayed, and there they crown him. And then all the cities and good towns send him rich presents. So that at that journey he shall have more than sixty chariots charged with gold silver, without jewels of gold and precious stones, that lords gave him, that be without estimation, and without horses, and cloths of gold, and of camakas, and tartarins that be without number.

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 23:10