The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter vi.

Of the Great City of Baudas, and How it was Taken.

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.1 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.2 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.3

In Baudas they weave many different kinds of silk stuffs and gold brocades, such as nasich, and nac, and cramoisy, and many another beautiful tissue richly wrought with figures of beasts and birds. It is the noblest and greatest city in all those regions.4

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 Alaü, brother to the Great Kaan now reigning, gathered a mighty host and came up against Baudas and took it by storm.5 It was a great enterprise! for in Baudas there were more than 100,000 horse, besides foot soldiers. And when Alaü had taken the place he found therein a tower of the Califs, which was full of gold and silver and other treasure; in fact the greatest accumulation of treasure in one spot that ever was known.6 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? Wherefore 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.7 Howbeit, since that time, there has been never another Calif, either at Baudas or anywhere else.8

Now I will tell you of a great miracle that befell at Baudas, wrought by God on behalf of the Christians.

NOTE 1. — This form of the Mediaeval Frank name of BAGHDAD, Baudas [the Chinese traveller, Ch’ang Te, Si Shi Ki, XIII. cent., says, “the kingdom of Bao-da,” H. C.], is curiously like that used by the Chinese historians, Paota (Pauthier; Gaubil), and both are probably due to the Mongol habit of slurring gutturals. (See Prologue, ch. ii. note 3.) [Baghdad was taken on the 5th of February, 1258, and the Khalif surrendered to Hulaku on the 10th of February. — H. C.]

NOTE 2. — Polo is here either speaking without personal knowledge, or is so brief as to convey an erroneous impression that the Tigris flows to Kisi, whereas three-fourths of the length of the Persian Gulf intervene between the river mouth and Kisi. The latter is the island and city of KISH or KAIS, about 200 miles from the mouth of the Gulf, and for a long time one of the chief ports of trade with India and the East. The island, the Cataea of Arrian, now called Ghes or Kenn, is singular among the islands of the Gulf as being wooded and well supplied with fresh water. The ruins of a city [called Harira, according to Lord Curzon,] exist on the north side. According to Wassáf, the island derived its name from one Kais, the son of a poor widow of Síráf (then a great port of Indian trade on the northern shore of the Gulf), who on a voyage to India, about the 10th century, made a fortune precisely as Dick Whittington did. The proceeds of the cat were invested in an establishment on this island. Modern attempts to nationalise Whittington may surely be given up! It is one of the tales which, like Tell’s shot, the dog Gellert, and many others, are common to many regions. (Hammer’s Ilch. I. 239; Ouseley’s Travels, I. 170; Notes and Queries, 2nd s. XI. 372.)

Mr. Badger, in a postscript to his translation of the History of Omán (Hak. Soc. 1871), maintains that Kish or Kais was at this time a city on the mainland, and identical from Síráf. He refers to Ibn Batuta (II. 244), who certainly does speak of visiting “the city of Kais, called also Síráf.” And Polo, neither here nor in Bk. III. ch. xl., speaks of Kisi as an island. I am inclined, however, to think that this was from not having visited it. Ibn Batuta says nothing of Síráf as a seat of trade; but the historian Wassáf, who had been in the service of Jamáluddín al-Thaibi, the Lord of Kais, in speaking of the export of horses thence to India, calls it “the Island of Kais.” (Elliot, III. 34.) Compare allusions to this horse trade in ch. xv. and in Bk. III. ch. xvii. Wassáf was precisely a contemporary of Polo.

NOTE 3. — The name is Bascra in the MSS., but this is almost certainly the common error of c for t. BASRA is still noted for its vast date-groves. “The whole country from the confluence of the Euphrates and Tigris to the sea, a distance of 30 leagues, is covered with these trees.” (Tav. Bk. II. ch. iii.)

NOTE 4. — From Baudas, or Baldac, i.e. Baghdad, certain of these rich silk and gold brocades were called Baldachini, or in English Baudekins. From their use in the state canopies and umbrellas of Italian dignitaries, the word Baldacchino has come to mean a canopy, even when architectural. [Baldekino, baldacchino, was at first entirely made of silk, but afterwards silk was mixed (sericum mixtum) with cotton or thread. When Hulaku conquered Baghdad part of the tribute was to be paid with that kind of stuff. Later on, says Heyd (II. p. 697), it was also manufactured in the province of Ahwaz, at Damas and at Cyprus; it was carried as far as France and England. Among the articles sent from Baghdad to Okkodai Khan, mentioned in the Yüan ch’ao pi shi (made in the 14th century), quoted by Bretschneider (Med. Res. II. p. 124), we note: Nakhut (a kind of gold brocade), Nachidut (a silk stuff interwoven with gold), Dardas (a stuff embroidered in gold). Bretschneider (p. 125) adds: “With respect to nakhut and nachidut, I may observe that these words represent the Mongol plural form of nakh and nachetti. . . . I may finally mention that in the Yüan shi, ch. lxxviii. (on official dresses), a stuff, na-shi-shi, is repeatedly named, and the term is explained there by kin kin (gold brocade).”— H. C.] The stuffs called Nasich and Nac are again mentioned by our traveller below (ch. lix.). We only know that they were of silk and gold, as he implies here, and as Ibn Batuta tells us, who mentions Nakh several times and Nasíj once. The latter is also mentioned by Rubruquis (Nasic) as a present made to him at the Kaan’s court. And Pegolotti speaks of both nacchi and nacchetti of silk and gold, the latter apparently answering to Nasich. Nac, Nacques, Nachiz, Nacíz, Nasís, appear in accounts and inventories of the 14th century, French and English. (See Dictionnaire des Tissus, II. 199, and Douet d’ Arcq, Comptes de l’Argenterie des Rois de France, etc., 334.) We find no mention of Nakh or Nasíj among the stuffs detailed in the Aín Akbari, so they must have been obsolete in the 16th century. [Cf. Heyd, Com. du Levant, II. p. 698; Nacco, nachetto, comes from the Arabic nakh (nekh); nassit (nasith) from the Arabic nécidj. — H. C.] Quermesis or Cramoisy derived its name from the Kermes insect (Ar. Kirmiz) found on Quercus coccifera, now supplanted by cochineal. The stuff so called is believed to have been originally a crimson velvet, but apparently, like the mediaeval Purpura, if not identical with it, it came to indicate a tissue rather than a colour. Thus Fr.-Michel quotes velvet of vermeil cramoisy, of violet, and of blue cramoisy, and pourpres of a variety of colours, though he says he has never met with pourpre blanche. I may, however, point to Plano Carpini (p. 755), who describes the courtiers at Karakorum as clad in white purpura.

The London prices of Chermisi and Baldacchini in the early part of the 15th century will be found in Uzzano’s work, but they are hard to elucidate.

Babylon, of which Baghdad was the representative, was famous for its variegated textures in very early days. We do not know the nature of the goodly Babylonish garment which tempted Achan in Jericho, but Josephus speaks of the affluence of rich stuffs carried in the triumph of Titus, “gorgeous with life-like designs from the Babylonian loom,” and he also describes the memorable Veil of the Temple as a [Greek: péplos Babylónios] of varied colours marvellously wrought. Pliny says King Attalus invented the intertexture of cloth with gold; but the weaving of damasks of a variety of colours was perfected at Babylon, and thence they were called Babylonian.

The brocades wrought with figures of animals in gold, of which Marco speaks, are still a spécialité at Benares, where they are known by the name of Shikárgáh or hunting-grounds, which is nearly a translation of the name Thard-wahsh “beast-hunts,” by which they were known to the mediaeval Saracens. (See Q. Makrizi, IV. 69–70.) Plautus speaks of such patterns in carpets, the produce of Alexandria —“Alexandrina belluata conchyliata tapetia.” Athenaeus speaks of Persian carpets of like description at an extravagant entertainment given by Antiochus Epiphanes; and the same author cites a banquet given in Persia by Alexander, at which there figured costly curtains embroidered with animals. In the 4th century Asterius, Bishop of Amasia in Pontus, rebukes the Christians who indulge in such attire: “You find upon them lions, panthers, bears, huntsmen, woods, and rocks; whilst the more devout display Christ and His disciples, with the stories of His miracles,” etc. And Sidonius alludes to upholstery of like character:

“Peregrina det supellex

* * *

Ubi torvus, et per artem

Resupina flexus ora,

It equo reditque telo

Simulacra bestiarum

Fugiens fugansque Parthus.” (Epist. ix. 13.)

A modern Kashmír example of such work is shown under ch. xvii.

(D’Avezac, p. 524; Pegolotti, in Cathay, 295, 306; I. B. II. 309, 388, 422; III. 81; Della Decima, IV. 125–126; Fr.-Michel, Recherches, etc., II. 10–16, 204–206; Joseph. Bell. Jud. VII. 5, 5, and V. 5, 4; Pliny, VIII. 74 (or 48); Plautus, Pseudolus, I. 2; Yonge’s Athenaeus, V. 26 and XII. 54; Mongez in Mém. Acad. IV. 275–276.)

NOTE 5. —[Bretschneider (Med. Res. I. p. 114) says: “Hulagu left Karakorum, the residence of his brother, on the 2nd May, 1253, and returned to his ordo, in order to organize his army. On the 19th October of the same year, all being ready, he started for the west.” He arrived at Samarkand in September, 1255. For this chapter and the following of Polo, see: Hulagu’s Expedition to Western Asia, after the Mohammedan Authors, pp. 112–122, and the Translation of the Si Shi Ki (Ch’ang Te), pp. 122–156, in Bretschneider’s Mediaeval Researches, I. — H. C.]

NOTE 6. —[“Hulagu proceeded to the lake of Ormia (Urmia), when he ordered a castle to be built on the island of Tala, in the middle of the lake, for the purpose of depositing here the immense treasures captured at Baghdad. A great part of the booty, however, had been sent to Mangu Khan.” (Hulagu’s Exp., Bretschneider, Med. Res. I. p. 120.) Ch’ang Te says (Si Shi Ki, p. 139): “The palace of the Ha-li-fa was built of fragrant and precious woods. The walls of it were constructed of black and white jade. It is impossible to imagine the quantity of gold and precious stones found there.”— H. C.]

NOTE 7. —

“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 to feed there 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 Alau

Told to his brother, the Tartar Khan,

When he rode that day into Cambalu.

By the road that leadeth to Ispahan.” (Longfellow.)1

The story of the death of Mosta’sim Billah, the last of the Abbaside Khalifs, is told in much the same way by Hayton, Ricold, Pachymeres, and Joinville. The memory of the last glorious old man must have failed him, when he says the facts were related by some merchants who came to King Lewis, when before Saiette (or Sidon), viz. in 1253, for the capture of Baghdad occurred five years later. Mar. Sanuto says melted gold was poured down the Khalif’s throat — a transfer, no doubt, from the old story of Crassus and the Parthians. Contemporary Armenian historians assert that Hulaku slew him with his own hand.

All that Rashiduddin says is: “The evening of Wednesday, the 14th of Safar, 656 (20th February, 1258), the Khalif was put to death in the village of Wakf, with his eldest son and five eunuchs who had never quitted him.” Later writers say that he was wrapt in a carpet and trodden to death by horses.

[Cf. The Story of the Death of the last Abbaside Caliph, from the Vatican MS. of Ibn-al-Furat, by G. le Strange (Jour. R. As. Soc., April, 1900, pp. 293–300). This is the story of the death of the Khalif told by Ibn-al-Furat (born in Cairo, 1335 A.D.):

“Then Hulagu gave command, and the Caliph was left a-hungering, until his case was that of very great hunger, so that he called asking that somewhat might be given him to eat. And the accursed Hulagu sent for a dish with gold therein, and a dish with silver therein, and a dish with gems, and ordered these all to be set before the Caliph al Musta’sim, saying to him, ‘Eat these.’ But the Caliph made answer, ‘These be not fit for eating.’ Then said Hulagu: ‘Since thou didst so well know that these be not fit for eating, why didst thou make a store thereof? With part thereof thou mightest have sent gifts to propitiate us, and with part thou shouldst have raised an army to serve thee and defend thyself against us! And Hulagu commanded them to take forth the Caliph and his son to a place without the camp, and they were here bound and put into two great sacks, being afterwards trampled under foot till they both died — the mercy of Allah be upon them.”— H. C.]

The foundation of the story, so widely received among the Christians, is to be found also in the narrative of Nikbi (and Mirkhond), which is cited by D’Obsson. When the Khalif surrendered, Hulaku put before him a plateful of gold, and told him to eat it. “But one does not eat gold,” said the prisoner. “Why, then,” replied the Tartar, “did you hoard it, instead of expending it in keeping up an army? Why did you not meet me at the Oxus?” The Khalif could only say, “Such was God’s will!” “And that which has befallen you was also God’s will,” said Hulaku.

Wassáf’s narrative is interesting:—“Two days after his capture the Khalif was at his morning prayer, and began with the verse (Koran, III. 25), ‘Say God is the Possessor of Dominion! It shall be given to whom He will; it shall be taken from whom He will: whom He will He raiseth to honour; whom He will He casteth to the ground.’ Having finished the regular office he continued still in prayer with tears and importunity. Bystanders reported to the Ilkhan the deep humiliation of the Khalif’s prayers, and the text which seemed to have so striking an application to those two princes. Regarding what followed there are different stories. Some say that the Ilkhan ordered food to be withheld from the Khalif, and that when he asked for food the former bade a dish of gold be placed before him, etc. Eventually, after taking counsel with his chiefs, the Padishah ordered the execution of the Khalif. It was represented that the blood-drinking sword ought not to be stained with the gore of Mosta’sim. He was therefore rolled in a carpet, just as carpets are usually rolled up, insomuch that his limbs were crushed.”

The avarice of the Khalif was proverbial. When the Mongol army was investing Miafarakain, the chief, Malik Kamál, told his people that everything he had should be at the service of those in need: “Thank God, I am not like Mosta’sim, a worshipper of silver and gold!”

(Hayton in Ram. ch. xxvi.; Per. Quat. 121; Pachym. Mic. Palaeol. II. 24; Joinville, p. 182; Sanuto, p. 238; J. As. sér. V. tom. xi. 490, and xvi. 291; D’Ohsson, III. 243; Hammer’s Wassáf, 75–76; Quat. Rashid. 305.)

NOTE 8. — Nevertheless Froissart brings the Khalif to life again one hundred and twenty years later, as “Le Galifre de Baudas.” (Bk. III. ch. xxiv.)

1 Not that Alaü (pace Mr. Longfellow) ever did see Cambalu.

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