The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xv.

Of the Eight Kingdoms of Persia, and How They are Named.

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 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.1

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.2 Here also are the finest asses in the world, one of them being worth full 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 mischief to merchants; and indeed, maugre the Government, 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 sometimes 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.3

In the cities there are traders and artizans 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 fruits of all kinds.

[Some one may say, “But the Saracens don’t drink wine, which is prohibited by their law.” The answer is that they gloss their text in this way, that if the wine be boiled, so that a part is dissipated and the rest becomes sweet, they may drink without breach of the commandment; for it is then no longer called wine, the name being changed with the change of flavour.4]

NOTE 1. — The following appear to be Polo’s Eight Kingdoms:—

I. KAZVÍN; then a flourishing city, though I know not why he calls it a kingdom. Persian ‘Irák, or the northern portion thereof, seems intended. Previous to Hulaku’s invasion Kazvín seems to have been in the hands of the Ismailites or Assassins.

II. KURDISTAN. I do not understand the difficulties of Marsden, followed by Lazari and Pauthier, which lead them to put forth that Kurdistan is not Kurdistan but something else. The boundaries of Kurdistan according to Hamd Allah were Arabian ‘Irak, Khuzistán, Persian ‘Irak, Azerbaijan and Diarbekr. (Dict. de la P. 480.) [Cf. Curzon, Persia pass. — H. C.] Persian Kurdistan, in modern as in mediaeval times, extends south beyond Kermanshah to the immediate border of Polo’s next kingdom, viz.:

III. LÚR or Lúristán. [On Lúristán, see Curzon, Persia, II. pp. 273–303, with the pedigree of the Ruling Family of the Feili Lurs (Pusht-i-Kuh), p. 278. — H. C.] This was divided into two principalities, Great Lúr and Little Lúr, distinctions still existing. The former was ruled by a Dynasty called the Faslúyah Atabegs, which endured from about 1155 to 1424, [when it was destroyed by the Timurids; it was a Kurd Dynasty, founded by Emad ed-din Abu Thaher (1160–1228), and the last prince of which was Ghiyas ed-din (1424). In 1258 the general Kitubuka (Hulagu’s Exp. to Persia, Bretschneider, Med. Res. I. p. 121) is reported to have reduced the country of Lúr or Lúristán and its Atabeg Teghele. — H. C.]. Their territory lay in the mountainous district immediately west of Ispahan, and extended to the River of Dizfúl, which parted it from Little Lúr. The stronghold of the Atabegs was the extraordinary hill fort of Mungasht, and they had a residence also at Aidhej or Mal–Amir in the mountains south of Shushan, where Ibn Batuta visited the reigning Prince in 1327. Sir H. Rawlinson has described Mungasht, and Mr. Layard and Baron de Bode have visited other parts, but the country is still very imperfectly known. Little Lúristán lay west of the R. Dizfúl, extending nearly to the Plain of Babylonia. Its Dynasty, called Kurshid, [was founded in 1184 by the Kurd Shodja ed-din Khurshid, and existed till Shah–Werdy lost his throne in 1593. — H. C.].

The Lúrs are akin to the Kurds, and speak a Kurd dialect, as do all those Ilyáts, or nomads of Persia, who are not of Turkish race. They were noted in the Middle Ages for their agility and their dexterity in thieving. The tribes of Little Lúr “do not affect the slightest veneration for Mahomed or the Koran; their only general object of worship is their great Saint Baba Buzurg,” and particular disciples regard with reverence little short of adoration holy men looked on as living representatives of the Divinity. (Ilchan. I. 70 seqq.; Rawlinson in J. R. G. S. IX.; Layard in Do. XVI. 75, 94; Ld. Strangford in J. R. A. S. XX. 64; N. et E. XIII. i. 330, I. B. II. 31; D’Ohsson, IV. 171–172.)

IV. SHÚLISTÁN, best represented by Ramusio’s Suolstan, whilst the old French texts have Cielstan (i.e. Shelstán); the name applied to the country of the Shúls, or Shauls, a people who long occupied a part of Lúristán, but were expelled by the Lúrs in the 12th century, and settled in the country between Shíráz and Khuzistán (now that of the Mamaseni, whom Colonel Pelly’s information identifies with the Shúls), their central points being Naobanján and the fortress called Kala’ Safed or “White Castle.” Ibn Batuta, going from Shiraz to Kazerun, encamped the first day in the country of the Shúls, “a Persian desert tribe which includes some pious persons.” (Q. R. p. 385; N. et E. XIII. i. 332–333; Ilch. I. 71; J. R. G. S. XIII. Map; I. B. II. 88.) [“Adjoining the Kuhgelus on the East are the tents of the Mamasenni (qy. Mohammed Huseini) Lúrs, occupying the country still known as Shúlistán, and extending as far east and south-east as Fars and the Plain of Kazerun. This tribe prides itself on its origin, claiming to have come from Seistán, and to be directly descended from Rustam, whose name is still borne by one of the Mamasenni clans.” (Curzon, Persia, II. p. 318.)— H. C.]

V. ISPAHAN? The name is in Ramusio Spaan, showing at least that he or some one before him had made this identification. The unusual combination ff, i.e. sf, in manuscript would be so like the frequent one ft, i.e. st, that the change from Isfan to Istan would be easy. But why Istanit?

VI. SHÍRÁZ [(Shir = milk, or Shir = lion)— H. C.] representing the province of Fars or Persia Proper, of which it has been for ages the chief city. [It was founded after the Arab conquest in 694 A.D., by Mohammed, son of Yusuf Kekfi. (Curzon, Persia, II. pp. 93–110.)— H. C.] The last Dynasty that had reigned in Fars was that of the Salghur Atabegs, founded about the middle of the 12th century. Under Abubakr (1226–1260) this kingdom attained considerable power, embracing Fars, Kermán, the islands of the Gulf and its Arabian shores; and Shíráz then flourished in arts and literature; Abubakr was the patron of Saadi. From about 1262, though a Salghurian princess, married to a son of Hulaku, had the nominal title of Atabeg, the province of Fars was under Mongol administration. (Ilch. passim.)

VII. SHAWÁNKÁRA or Shabánkára. The G. T. has Soucara, but the Crusca gives the true reading Soncara. It is the country of the Shawánkárs, a people coupled with the Shúls and Lúrs in mediaeval Persian history, and like them of Kurd affinities. Their princes, of a family Faslúyah, are spoken of as influential before the Mahomedan conquest, but the name of the people comes prominently forward only during the Mongol era of Persian history. [Shabánkára was taken in 1056 from the Buyid Dynasty, who ruled from the 10th century over a great part of Persia, by Fazl ibn Hassan (Fazluïeh-Hasunïeh). Under the last sovereign, Ardeshir, Shabánkára was taken in 1355 by the Modhafferians, who reigned in Irak, Fars, and Kermán, one of the Dynasties established at the expense of the Mongol Ilkhans after the death of Abu Saïd (1335), and were themselves subjugated by Timur in 1392. — H. C.] Their country lay to the south of the great salt lake east of Shíráz, and included Niriz and Darábjird, Fassa, Forg, and Tárum. Their capital was I/g or I/j, called also Irej, about 20 miles north-west of Daráb, with a great mountain fortress; it was taken by Hulaku in 1259. The son of the prince was continued in nominal authority, with Mongol administrators. In consequence of a rebellion in 1311 the Dynasty seems to have been extinguished. A descendant attempted to revive their authority about the middle of the same century. The latest historical mention of the name that I have found is in Abdurrazzák’s History of Shah Rukh, under the year H. 807 (1404). (See Jour. As. 3d. s. vol. ii. 355.) But a note by Colonel Pelly informs me that the name Shabánkára is still applied (1) to the district round the towns of Runiz and Gauristan near Bandar Abbas; (2) to a village near Maiman, in the old country of the tribe; (3) to a tribe and district of Dashtistan, 38 farsakhs west of Shíráz.

With reference to the form in the text, Soncara, I may notice that in two passages of the Masálak-ul-Absár, translated by Quatremère, the name occurs as Shankárah. (Q. R. pp. 380, 440 seqq.; N. et E. XIII.; Ilch. I. 71 and passim; Ouseley’s Travels, II. 158 seqq.)

VIII. TÚN-O-KÂIN, the eastern Kuhistán or Hill country of Persia, of which Tún and Káin are chief cities. The practice of indicating a locality by combining two names in this way is common in the East. Elsewhere in this book we find Ariora–Keshemur and Kes-macoran (Kij–Makrán). Upper Sind is often called in India by the Sepoys Rori–Bakkar, from two adjoining places on the Indus; whilst in former days, Lower Sind was often called Diul–Sind. Karra-Mánikpúr, Uch–Multán, Kunduz–Baghlán are other examples.

The exact expression Tún-o-Káin for the province here in question is used by Baber, and evidently also by some of Hammer’s authorities. (Baber, pp. 201, 204; see Ilch. II. 190; I. 95, 104, and Hist. de l’Ordre des Assassins, p. 245.)

[We learn from (Sir) C. Macgregor’s (1875) Journey through Khorasan (I. p. 127) that the same territory including Gháín or Kaïn is now called by the analogous name of Tabas-o-Tún. Tún and Kaïn (Gháín) are both described in their modern state, by Macgregor. (Ibid. pp. 147 and 161.)— H. C.]

Note that the identification of Suolstan is due to Quatremère (see N. et E. XIII. i. circa p. 332); that of Soncara to Defréméry (J. As. sér. IV. tom. xi. p. 441); and that of Tunocain to Malte–Brun. (N. Ann. des V. xviii. p. 261.) I may add that the Lúrs, the Shúls, and the Shabánkáras are the subjects of three successive sections in the Masálak-al-Absár of Shihábuddin Dimishki, a work which reflects much of Polo’s geography. (See N. et E. XIII. i. 330–333; Curzon, Persia, II. pp. 248 and 251.)

NOTE 2. — The horses exported to India, of which we shall hear more hereafter, were probably the same class of “Gulf Arabs” that are now carried thither. But the Turkman horses of Persia are also very valuable, especially for endurance. Kinneir speaks of one accomplishing 900 miles in eleven days, and Ferrier states a still more extraordinary feat from his own knowledge. In that case one of those horses went from Tehran to Tabriz, returned, and went again to Tabriz, within twelve days, including two days’ rest. The total distance is about 1100 miles.

The livre tournois at this period was equivalent to a little over 18 francs of modern French silver. But in bringing the value to our modern gold standard we must add one-third, as the ratio of silver to gold was then 1:12 instead of 1:16. Hence the equivalent in gold of the livre tournois is very little less than 1l. sterling, and the price of the horse would be about 193l.1

Mr. Wright quotes an ordinance of Philip III. of France (1270–1285) fixing the maximum price that might be given for a palfrey at 60 livres tournois, and for a squire’s roncin at 20 livres. Joinville, however, speaks of a couple of horses presented to St. Lewis in 1254 by the Abbot of Cluny, which he says would at the time of his writing (1309) have been worth 500 livres (the pair, it would seem). Hence it may be concluded in a general way that the ordinary price of imported horses in India approached that of the highest class of horses in Europe. (Hist. of Dom. Manners, p. 317; Joinville, p. 205.)

About 1850 a very fair Arab could be purchased in Bombay for 60l., or even less; but prices are much higher now.

With regard to the donkeys, according to Tavernier, the fine ones used by merchants in Persia were imported from Arabia. The mark of silver was equivalent to about 44s. of our silver money, and allowing as before for the lower relative value of gold, 30 marks would be equivalent to 88l. sterling.

Kisi or Kish we have already heard of. Curmosa is Hormuz, of which we shall hear more. With a Pisan, as Rusticiano was, the sound of c is purely and strongly aspirate. Giovanni d’Empoli, in the beginning of the 16th century, another Tuscan, also calls it Cormus. (See Archiv. Stor. Ital. Append. III. 81.)

NOTE 3. — The character of the nomad and semi-nomad tribes of Persia in those days — Kurds, Lúrs, Shúls, Karaunahs, etc. — probably deserved all that Polo says, and it is not changed now. Take as an example Rawlinson’s account of the Bakhtyáris of Luristán: “I believe them to be individually brave, but of a cruel and savage character; they pursue their blood feuds with the most inveterate and exterminating spirit. . . . It is proverbial in Persia that the Bakhtiyaris have been compelled to forego altogether the reading of the Fatihah or prayer for the dead, for otherwise they would have no other occupation. They are also most dextrous and notorious thieves.” (J. R. G. S. IX. 105.)

NOTE 4. — The Persians have always been lax in regard to the abstinence from wine.

According to Athenaeus, Aristotle, in his Treatise on Drinking (a work lost, I imagine, to posterity), says, “If the wine be moderately boiled it is less apt to intoxicate.” In the preparation of some of the sweet wines of the Levant, such as that of Cyprus, the must is boiled, but I believe this is not the case generally in the East. Baber notices it as a peculiarity among the Kafirs of the Hindu Kush. Tavernier, however, says that at Shíráz, besides the wine for which that city was so celebrated, a good deal of boiled wine was manufactured, and used among the poor and by travellers. No doubt what is meant is the sweet liquor or syrup called Dúsháb, which Della Valle says is just the Italian Mostocotto, but better, clearer, and not so mawkish (I. 689). (Yonge’s Athen. X. 34; Baber, p. 145; Tavernier, Bk. V. ch. xxi.)

1 The Encyc. Britann., article “Money,” gives the livre tournois of this period as 18.17 francs. A French paper in Notes and Queries (4th S. IV. 485) gives it under St. Lewis and Philip III. as equivalent to 18.24 fr., and under Philip IV. to 17.95. And lastly, experiment at the British Museum, made by the kind intervention of my friend, Mr. E. Thomas, F.R.S., gave the weights of the sols of St. Lewis (1226–1270) and Philip IV. (1285–1314) respectively as 63 grains and 61–1/2 grains of remarkably pure silver. These trials would give the livres (20 sols) as equivalent to 18.14 fr. and 17.70 fr. respectively.

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Last updated Thursday, March 6, 2014 at 16:24