The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter li.

Wherein is Related How the King of Mien and Bangala Vowed Vengeance Against the Great Kaan.

But I was forgetting to tell you of a famous battle that was fought in the kingdom of Vochan in the Province of Zardandan, and that ought not to be omitted from our Book. So we will relate all the particulars.

You see, in the year of Christ, 1272,1 the Great Kaan sent a large force into the kingdoms of Carajan and Vochan, to protect them from the ravages of ill-disposed people; and this was before he had sent any of his sons to rule the country, as he did afterwards when he made Sentemur king there, the son of a son of his who was deceased.

Now there was a certain king, called the king of Mien and of Bangala, who was a very puissant prince, with much territory and treasure and people; and he was not as yet subject to the Great Kaan, though it was not long after that the latter conquered him and took from him both the kingdoms that I have named.2 And it came to pass that when this king of Mien and Bangala heard that the host of the Great Kaan was at Vochan, he said to himself that it behoved him to go against them with so great a force as should insure his cutting off the whole of them, insomuch that the Great Kaan would be very sorry ever to send an army again thither [to his frontier].

So this king prepared a great force and munitions of war; and he had, let me tell you, 2000 great elephants, on each of which was set a tower of timber, well framed and strong, and carrying from twelve to sixteen well-armed fighting men.[NOTE 3] And besides these, he had of horsemen and of footmen good 60,000 men. In short, he equipped a fine force, as well befitted such a puissant prince. It was indeed a host capable of doing great things.

And what shall I tell you? When the king had completed these great preparations to fight the Tartars, he tarried not, but straightway marched against them. And after advancing without meeting with anything worth mentioning, they arrived within three days of the Great Kaan’s host, which was then at Vochan in the territory of Zardandan, of which I have already spoken. So there the king pitched his camp, and halted to refresh his army.

NOTE 1. — This date is no doubt corrupt. (See note 3, ch. lii.)

NOTE 2. — MIEN is the name by which the kingdom of Burma or Ava was and is known to the Chinese. M. Garnier informs me that Mien–Kwé or Mien-tisong is the name always given in Yun-nan to that kingdom, whilst the Shans at Kiang Hung call the Burmese Man (pronounced like the English word).

The title given to the sovereign in question of King of BENGAL, as well as of Mien, is very remarkable. We shall see reason hereafter to conceive that Polo did more or less confound Bengal with Pegu, which was subject to the Burmese monarchy up to the time of the Mongol invasion. But apart from any such misapprehension, there is not only evidence of rather close relations between Burma and Gangetic India in the ages immediately preceding that of our author, but also some ground for believing that he may be right in his representation, and that the King of Burma may have at this time arrogated the title of “King of Bengal,” which is attributed to him in the text.

Anaurahta, one of the most powerful kings in Burmese history (1017–1059), extended his conquests to the frontiers of India, and is stated to have set up images within that country. He also married an Indian princess, the daughter of the King of Wethali (i. e, Vaiçali in Tirhút).

There is also in the Burmese Chronicle a somewhat confused story regarding a succeeding king, Kyan-tsittha (A.D. 1064), who desired to marry his daughter to the son of the King of Patteik–Kará, a part of Bengal.1 The marriage was objected to by the Burmese nobles, but the princess was already with child by the Bengal prince; and their son eventually succeeded to the Burmese throne under the name of Alaungtsi-thu. When king, he travelled all over his dominions, and visited the images which Anaurahta had set up in India. He also maintained intercourse with the King of Patteik Kara and married his daughter. Alaungtsi-thu is stated to have lived to the age of 101 years, and to have reigned 75. Even then his death was hastened by his son Narathu, who smothered him in the temple called Shwé-Ku (“Golden Cave”), at Pagán, and also put to death his Bengali step-mother. The father of the latter sent eight brave men, disguised as Brahmans, to avenge his daughter’s death. Having got access to the royal presence through their sacred character, they slew King Narathu and then themselves. Hence King Narathu is known in the Burmese history as the Kalá-Kya Meng or “King slain by the Hindus.” He was building the great Temple at Pagán called Dhammayangyi, at the time of his death, which occurred about the year 1171. The great-grandson of this king was Narathihapade (presumably Narasinha-pati), the king reigning at the time of the Mongol invasion.

All these circumstances show tolerably close relations between Burma and Bengal, and also that the dynasty then reigning in Burma was descended from a Bengal stock. Sir Arthur Phayre, after noting these points, remarks: “From all these circumstances, and from the conquests attributed to Anaurahta, it is very probable that, after the conquest of Bengal by the Mahomedans in the 13th century, the kings of Burma would assume the title of Kings of Bengal. This is nowhere expressly stated in the Burmese history, but the course of events renders it very probable. We know that the claim to Bengal was asserted by the kings of Burma in long after years. In the Journal of the Marquis of Hastings, under the date of 6th September, 1818, is the following passage: ‘The king of Burma favoured us early this year with the obliging requisition that we should cede to him Moorshedabad and the provinces to the east of it, which he deigned to say were all natural dependencies of his throne.’ And at the time of the disputes on the frontier of Arakan, in 1823–1824, which led to the war of the two following years, the Governor of Arakan made a similar demand. We may therefore reasonably conclude that at the close of the 13th century of the Christian era the kings of Pagán called themselves kings of Burma and of Bengala.” (MS. Note by Sir Arthur Phayre; see also his paper in J.A.S.B. vol. XXXVII. part I.)

NOTE 3. — It is very difficult to know what to make of the repeated assertions of old writers as to the numbers of men carried by war-elephants, or, if we could admit those numbers, to conceive how the animal could have carried the enormous structure necessary to give them space to use their weapons. The Third Book of Maccabees is the most astounding in this way, alleging that a single elephant carried 32 stout men, besides the Indian Mahaut. Bochart indeed supposes the number here to be a clerical error for 12, but this would even be extravagant. Friar Jordanus is, no doubt, building on the Maccabees rather than on his own Oriental experience when he says that the elephant “carrieth easily more than 30 men.” Philostratus, in his Life of Apollonius, speaks of 10 to 15; Ibn Batuta of about 20; and a great elephant sent by Timur to the Sultan of Egypt is said to have carried 20 drummers. Christopher Borri says that in Cochin China the elephant did ordinarily carry 13 or 14 persons, 6 on each side in two tiers of 3 each, and 2 behind. On the other hand, among the ancients, Strabo and Aelian speak of three soldiers only in addition to the driver, and Livy, describing the Battle of Magnesia, of four. These last are reasonable statements.

(Bochart, Hierozoicon, ed. 3rd, p. 266; Jord., p. 26; Philost. trad. par A. Chassaing, liv. II. c. ii.; Ibn Bat. II. 223; N. and E. XIV. 510; Cochin China, etc., London, 1633, ed. 3; Armandi, Hist. Militaire des Eléphants, 259 seqq. 442.)

1 Sir A. Phayre thinks this may have been Vikrampúr, for some time the capital of Eastern Bengal before the Mahomedan conquest. Vikrampúr was some miles east of Dacca, and the dynasty in question was that called Vaidya. (See Lassen, III. 749.) Patteik–Kará is apparently an attempt to represent some Hindi name such as Patthargarh, “The Stone–Fort.”

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