The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxvii.

Of the City of Balc.

Balc is a noble city and a great, though it was much greater in former days. But the Tartars and other nations have greatly ravaged and destroyed it. There were formerly many fine palaces and buildings of marble, and the ruins of them still remain. The people of the city tell that it was here that Alexander took to wife the daughter of Darius.

Here, you should be told, is the end of the empire of the Tartar Lord of the Levant. And this city is also the limit of Persia in the direction between east and north-east.1

Now, let us quit this city, and I will tell you of another country called DOGANA.2

When you have quitted the city of which I have been speaking, you ride some 12 days between north-east and east, without finding any human habitation, for the people have all taken refuge in fastnesses among the mountains, on account of the Banditti and armies that harassed them. There is plenty of water on the road, and abundance of game; there are lions too. You can get no provisions on the road, and must carry with you all that you require for these 12 days.3

NOTE 1. — BALKH, “the mother of cities,” suffered mercilessly from Chinghiz. Though the city had yielded without resistance, the whole population was marched by companies into the plain, on the usual Mongol pretext of counting them, and then brutally massacred. The city and its gardens were fired, and all buildings capable of defence were levelled. The province long continued to be harried by the Chaghataian inroads. Ibn Batuta, sixty years after Marco’s visit, describes the city as still in ruins, and as uninhabited: “The remains of its mosques and colleges,” he says, “are still to be seen, and the painted walls traced with azure.” It is no doubt the Vaeq (Valq) of Clavijo, “very large, and surrounded by a broad earthen wall, thirty paces across, but breached in many parts.” He describes a large portion of the area within as sown with cotton. The account of its modern state in Burnes and Ferrier is much the same as Ibn Batuta’s, except that they found some population; two separate towns within the walls according to the latter. Burnes estimates the circuit of the ruins at 20 miles. The bulk of the population has been moved since 1858 to Takhtapul, 8 miles east of Balkh, where the Afghan Government is placed.

(Erdmann, 404–405; I. B. III. 59; Clavijo, p. 117; Burnes, II. 204–206; Ferrier, 206–207.)

According to the legendary history of Alexander, the beautiful Roxana was the daughter of Darius, and her father in a dying interview with Alexander requested the latter to make her his wife:—

“Une fille ai mult bele; se prendre le voles.

Vus en seres de l’mont tout li mius maries,” etc.

        (Lambert Le Court, p. 256.)

NOTE 2. — The country called Dogana in the G. Text is a puzzle. In the former edition I suggested Juzgána, a name which till our author’s time was applied to a part of the adjoining territory, though not to that traversed in quitting Balkh for the east. Sir H. Rawlinson is inclined to refer the name to Dehgán, or “villager,” a term applied in Bactria, and in Kabul, to Tajik peasantry1. I may also refer to certain passages in Baber’s “Memoirs,” in which he speaks of a place, and apparently a district, called Dehánah, which seems from the context to have lain in the vicinity of the Ghori, or Aksarai River. There is still a village in the Ghori territory, called Dehánah. Though this is worth mentioning, where the true solution is so uncertain, I acknowledge the difficulty of applying it. I may add also that Baber calls the River of Ghori or Aksarai, the Dogh-ábah. (Sprenger, P. und R. Routen, p. 39 and Map; Anderson in J. A. S. B. XXII. 161; Ilch. II. 93; Baber, pp. 132, 134, 168, 200, also 146.)

NOTE 3. — Though Burnes speaks of the part of the road that we suppose necessarily to have been here followed from Balkh towards Taican, as barren and dreary, he adds that the ruins of aqueducts and houses proved that the land had at one time been peopled, though now destitute of water, and consequently of inhabitants. The country would seem to have reverted at the time of Burnes’ journey, from like causes, nearly to the state in which Marco found it after the Mongol devastations.

Lions seem to mean here the real king of beasts, and not tigers, as hereafter in the book. Tigers, though found on the S. and W. shores of the Caspian, do not seem to exist in the Oxus valley. On the other hand, Rashiduddin tells us that, when Hulaku was reviewing his army after the passage of the river, several lions were started, and two were killed. The lions are also mentioned by Sidi ‘Ali, the Turkish Admiral, further down the valley towards Hazárasp: “We were obliged to fight with the lions day and night, and no man dared to go alone for water.” Moorcroft says of the plain between Kunduz and the Oxus: “Deer, foxes, wolves, hogs, and lions are numerous, the latter resembling those in the vicinity of Hariana” (in Upper India). Wood also mentions lions in Kuláb, and at Kila’chap on the Oxus. Q. Curtius tells how Alexander killed a great lion in the country north of the Oxus towards Samarkand. [A similar story is told of Timur in The Mulfuzat Timury, translated by Major Charles Stewart, 1830 (p. 69): “During the march ‘(near Balkh)’ two lions made their appearance, one of them a male, the other a female. I (Timur) resolved to kill them myself, and having shot them both with arrows, I considered this circumstance as a lucky omen.”— H. C.] (Burnes, II. 200; Q. R. 155; Ilch. I. 90; J. As. IX. 217; Moorcroft, II. 430; Wood, ed. 1872, pp. 259,260; Q. C. VII. 2.)

1 It may be observed that the careful Elphinstone distinguishes from this general application of Dehgán or Dehkán, the name Deggán applied to a tribe “once spread over the north-east of Afghanistan, but now as a separate people only in Kunar and Laghman.”

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