The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xlvii.

Of Chinghis, and How he Became the First Kaan of the Tartars.

Now it came to pass in the year of Christ’s Incarnation 1187 that the Tartars made them a King whose name was CHINGHIS KAAN.1 He was a man of great worth, and of great ability (eloquence), and valour. And as soon as the news that he had been chosen King was spread abroad through those countries, all the Tartars in the world came to him and owned him for their Lord. And right well did he maintain the Sovereignty they had given him. What shall I say? The Tartars gathered to him in astonishing multitude, and when he saw such numbers he made a great furniture of spears and arrows and such other arms as they used, and set about the conquest of all those regions till he had conquered eight provinces. When he conquered a province he did no harm to the people or their property, but merely established some of his own men in the country along with a proportion of theirs, whilst he led the remainder to the conquest of other provinces. And when those whom he had conquered became aware how well and safely he protected them against all others, and how they suffered no ill at his hands, and saw what a noble prince he was, then they joined him heart and soul and became his devoted followers. And when he had thus gathered such a multitude that they seemed to cover the earth, he began to think of conquering a great part of the world. Now in the year of Christ 1200 he sent an embassy to Prester John, and desired to have his daughter to wife. But when Prester John heard that Chinghis Kaan demanded his daughter in marriage he waxed very wroth, and said to the Envoys, “What impudence is this, to ask my daughter to wife! Wist he not well that he was my liegeman and serf? Get ye back to him and tell him that I had liever set my daughter in the fire than give her in marriage to him, and that he deserves death at my hand, rebel and traitor that he is!” So he bade the Envoys begone at once, and never come into his presence again. The Envoys, on receiving this reply, departed straightway, and made haste to their master, and related all that Prester John had ordered them to say, keeping nothing back.2

NOTE 1. — Temujin was born in the year 1155, according to all the Persian historians, who are probably to be relied on; the Chinese put the event in 1162. 1187 does not appear to be a date of special importance in his history. His inauguration as sovereign under the name of Chinghiz Kaan was in 1202 according to the Persian authorities, in 1206 according to the Chinese.

In a preceding note (p. 236) we have quoted a passage in which Rubruquis calls Chinghiz “a certain blacksmith.” This mistaken notion seems to have originated in the resemblance of his name Temújin to the Turki Temúrjí, a blacksmith; but it was common throughout Asia in the Middle Ages, and the story is to be found not only in Rubruquis, but in the books of Hayton, the Armenian prince, and of Ibn Batuta, the Moor. That cranky Orientalist, Dr. Isaac Jacob Schmidt, positively reviles William Rubruquis, one of the most truthful and delightful of travellers, and certainly not inferior to his critic in mother-wit, for adopting this story, and rebukes Timkowski — not for adopting it, but for merely telling us the very interesting fact that the story was still, in 1820, current in Mongolia. (Schmidt’s San. Setz. 376, and Timkowski, I. 147.)

NOTE 2. — Several historians, among others Abulfaraj, represent Chinghiz as having married a daughter of Aung Khan; and this is current among some of the mediaeval European writers, such as Vincent of Beauvais. It is also adopted by Pétis de la Croix in his history of Chinghiz, apparently from a comparatively late Turkish historian; and both D’Herbelot and St. Martin state the same; but there seems to be no foundation for it in the best authorities: either Persian or Chinese. (See Abulfaragius, p. 285; Speculum Historiale, Bk. XXIX. ch. lxix.; Hist. of Genghiz Can, p. 29; and Golden Horde, pp. 61–62.) But there is a real story at the basis of Polo’s, which seems to be this: About 1202, when Aung Khan and Chinghiz were still acting in professed alliance, a double union was proposed between Aung Khan’s daughter Jaur Bigi and Chinghiz’s son Juji, and between Chinghiz’s daughter Kijin Bigi and Togrul’s grandson Kush Buka. From certain circumstances this union fell through, and this was one of the circumstances which opened the breach between the two chiefs. There were, however, several marriages between the families. (Erdmann, 283; others are quoted under ch. lix., note 2.)

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