The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter liv.

Concerning the City of Mien, and the Two Towers that are Therein, One of Gold and the Other of Silver.

And when you have travelled those 15 days through such a difficult country as I have described, in which travellers have to carry provisions for the road because there are no inhabitants, then you arrive at the capital city of this Province of Mien, and it also is called AMIEN, and is a very great and noble city.1 The people are Idolaters and have a peculiar language, and are subject to the Great Kaan.

And in this city there is a thing so rich and rare that I must tell you about it. You see there was in former days a rich and puissant king in this city, and when he was about to die he commanded that by his tomb they should erect two towers [one at either end], one of gold and the other of silver, in such fashion as I shall tell you. The towers are built of fine stone; and then one of them has been covered with gold a good finger in thickness, so that the tower looks as if it were all of solid gold; and the other is covered with silver in like manner so that it seems to be all of solid silver. Each tower is a good ten paces in height and of breadth in proportion. The upper part of these towers is round, and girt all about with bells, the top of the gold tower with gilded bells and the silver tower with silvered bells, insomuch that whenever the wind blows among these bells they tinkle. [The tomb likewise was plated partly with gold, and partly with silver.] The King caused these towers to be erected to commemorate his magnificence and for the good of his soul; and really they do form one of the finest sights in the world; so exquisitely finished are they, so splendid and costly. And when they are lighted up by the sun they shine most brilliantly and are visible from a vast distance.

Now you must know that the Great Kaan conquered the country in this fashion.


The City of Mien
with the gold and silver towers

You see at the Court of the Great Kaan there was a great number of gleemen and jugglers; and he said to them one day that he wanted them to go and conquer the aforesaid province of Mien, and that he would give them a good Captain to lead them and other good aid. And they replied that they would be delighted. So the Emperor caused them to be fitted out with all that an army requires, and gave them a Captain and a body of men-at-arms to help them; and so they set out, and marched until they came to the country and province of Mien. And they did conquer the whole of it! And when they found in the city the two towers of gold and silver of which I have been telling you, they were greatly astonished, and sent word thereof to the Great Kaan, asking what he would have them do with the two towers, seeing what a great quantity of wealth there was upon them. And the Great Kaan, being well aware that the King had caused these towers to be made for the good of his soul, and to preserve his memory after his death, said that he would not have them injured, but would have them left precisely as they were. And that was no wonder either, for you must know that no Tartar in the world will ever, if he can help it, lay hand on anything appertaining to the dead.2

They have in this province numbers of elephants and wild oxen;3 also beautiful stags and deer and roe, and other kinds of large game in plenty.

Now having told you about the province of Mien, I will tell you about another province which is called Bangala, as you shall hear presently.

NOTE 1. — The name of the city appears as Amien both in Pauthier’s text here, and in the G. Text in the preceding chapter. In the Bern MS. it is Aamien. Perhaps some form like Amien was that used by the Mongols and Persians. I fancy it may be traced in the Arman or Uman of Rashiduddin, probably corrupt readings (in Elliot I. 72).

NOTE 2. — M. Pauthier’s extracts are here again very valuable. We gather from them that the first Mongol communication with the King of Mien or Burma took place in 1271, when the Commandant of Tali-fu sent a deputation to that sovereign to demand an acknowledgment of the supremacy of the Emperor. This was followed by various negotiations and acts of offence on both sides, which led to the campaign of 1277, already spoken of. For a few years no further events appear to be recorded, but in 1282, in consequence of a report from Násruddin of the ease with which Mien could be conquered, an invasion was ordered under a Prince of the Blood called Siangtaur [called Siam-ghu-talh, by Visdelou. — H.C.]. This was probably Singtur, great-grandson of one of the brothers of Chinghiz, who a few years later took part in the insurrection of Nayan. (See D’Ohsson, II. 461.) The army started from Yun-nan fu, then called Chung-khing (and the Yachi of Polo) in the autumn of 1283. We are told that the army made use of boats to descend the River Oho to the fortified city of Kiangtheu (see supra, note 3, ch. lii.), which they took and sacked; and as the King still refused to submit, they then advanced to the “primitive capital,” Taikung, which they captured. Here Pauthier’s details stop. (Pp. 405, 416; see also D’Ohsson, II. 444 [and Visdelou].)

Illustration: The Palace of the King of Mien in modern times

It is curious to compare these narratives with that from the Burmese Royal Annals given by Colonel Burney, and again by Sir A. Phayre in the J.A.S.B. (IV. 401, and XXXVII. Pt. I. p. 101.) Those annals afford no mention of transactions with the Mongols previous to 1281. In that year they relate that a mission of ten nobles and 1000 horse came from the Emperor to demand gold and silver vessels as symbols of homage on the ground of an old precedent. The envoys conducted themselves disrespectfully (the tradition was that they refused to take off their boots, an old grievance at the Burmese court), and the King put them all to death. The Emperor of course was very wroth, and sent an army of 6,000,000 of horse and 20,000,000 of foot(!) to invade Burma. The Burmese generals had their point d’appui at the city of Nga tshaung gyan, apparently somewhere near the mouth of the Bhamó River, and after a protracted resistance on that river, they were obliged to retire. They took up a new point of defence on the Hill of Malé, which they had fortified. Here a decisive battle was fought, and the Burmese were entirely routed. The King, on hearing of their retreat from Bhamó, at first took measures for fortifying his capital Pagán, and destroyed 6000 temples of various sizes to furnish material. But after all he lost heart, and embarking with his treasure and establishments on the Irawadi, fled down that river to Bassein in the Delta. The Chinese continued the pursuit long past Pagán till they reached the place now called Tarokmau or “Chinese Point,” 30 miles below Prome. Here they were forced by want of provisions to return. The Burmese Annals place the abandonment of Pagán by the King in 1284, a most satisfactory synchronism with the Chinese record. It is a notable point in Burmese history, for it marked the fall of an ancient Dynasty which was speedily followed by its extinction, and the abandonment of the capital. The King is known in the Burmese Annals as Tarok-pyé-Meng, “The King who fled from the Tarok.”1

In Dr. Mason’s abstract of the Pegu Chronicle we find the notable statement with reference to this period that “the Emperor of China, having subjugated Pagán, his troops with the Burmese entered Pegu and invested several cities.”

We see that the Chinese Annals, as quoted, mention only the “capitale primitive” Taikung, which I have little doubt Pauthier is right in identifying with Tagaung, traditionally the most ancient royal city of Burma, and the remains of which stand side by side with those of Old Pagán, a later but still very ancient capital, on the east bank of the Irawadi, in about lat. 23° 28’. The Chinese extracts give no idea of the temporary completeness of the conquest, nor do they mention Great Pagán (lat. 21° 13’), a city whose vast remains I have endeavoured partially to describe.2 Sir Arthur Phayre, from a careful perusal of the Burmese Chronicle, assures me that there can be no doubt that this was at the time in question the Burmese Royal Residence, and the city alluded to in the Burmese narrative. M. Pauthier is mistaken in supposing that Tarok–Mau, the turning-point of the Chinese Invasion, lay north of this city: he has not unnaturally confounded it with Tarok-Myo or “China–Town,” a district not far below Ava. Moreover Malé, the position of the decisive victory of the Chinese, is itself much to the south of Tagaung (about 22° 55’).

Both Pagán and Malé are mentioned in a remarkable Chinese notice extracted in Amyot’s Mémoires (XIV. 292): “Mien–Tien . . . had five chief towns, of which the first was Kiangtheu (supra, pp. 105, 111), the second Taikung, the third Malai, the fourth Ngan-cheng-kwé (? perhaps the Nga-tshaung gyan of the Burmese Annals), the fifth PUKAN MIEN-WANG (Pagán of the Mien King?). The Yuen carried war into this country, particularly during the reign of Shun–Ti, the last Mongol Emperor [1333–1368], who, after subjugating it, erected at Pukan Mien–Wang a tribunal styled Hwen-wei-she-sé, the authority of which extended over Pang-ya and all its dependencies.” This is evidently founded on actual documents, for Panya or Pengya, otherwise styled Vijáyapúra, was the capital of Burma during part of the 14th century, between the decay of Pagán and the building of Ava. But none of the translated extracts from the Burmese Chronicle afford corroboration. From Sangermano’s abstract, however, we learn that the King of Panya from 1323 to 1343 was the son of a daughter of the Emperor of China (p. 42). I may also refer to Pemberton’s abstract of the Chronicle of the Shan State of Pong in the Upper Irawadi valley, which relates that about the middle of the 14th century the Chinese invaded Pong and took Maung Maorong, the capital.3 The Shan King and his son fled to the King of Burma for protection, but the Burmese surrendered them and they were carried to China. (Report on E. Frontier of Bengal, p. 112.)

I see no sufficient evidence as to whether Marco himself visited the “city of Mien.” I think it is quite clear that his account of the conquest is from the merest hearsay, not to say gossip. Of the absurd story of the jugglers we find no suggestion in the Chinese extracts. We learn from them that Násruddin had represented the conquest of Mien as a very easy task, and Kúblái may have in jest asked his gleemen if they would undertake it. The haziness of Polo’s account of the conquest contrasts strongly with his graphic description of the rout of the elephants at Vochan. Of the latter he heard the particulars on the spot (I conceive) shortly after the event; whilst the conquest took place some years later than his mission to that frontier. His description of the gold and silver pagodas with their canopies of tinkling bells (the Burmese Hti), certainly looks like a sketch from the life;4 and it is quite possible that some negotiations between 1277 and 1281 may have given him the opportunity of visiting Burma, though he may not have reached the capital. Indeed he would in that case surely have given a distincter account of so important a city, the aspect of which in its glory we have attempted to realize in the plate of “the city of Mien.”

It is worthy of note that the unfortunate King then reigning in Pagán, had in 1274 finished a magnificent Pagoda called Mengala-dzedi (Mangala Chaitya) respecting which ominous prophecies had been diffused. In this pagoda were deposited, besides holy relics, golden images of the Disciples of Buddha, golden models of the holy places, golden images of the King’s fifty-one predecessors in Pagán, and of the King and his Family. It is easy to suspect a connection of this with Marco’s story. “It is possible that the King’s ashes may have been intended to be buried near those relics, though such is not now the custom; and Marco appears to have confounded the custom of depositing relics of Buddha and ancient holy men in pagodas with the supposed custom of the burial of the dead. Still, even now, monuments are occasionally erected over the dead in Burma, although the practice is considered a vain folly. I have known a miniature pagoda with a hti complete, erected over the ashes of a favourite disciple by a P’hungyi or Buddhist monk.” The latter practice is common in China. (Notes by Sir A. Phayre; J.A.S.B. IV. u.s., also V. 164, VI. 251; Mason’s Burmah, 2nd ed. p. 26; Milne’s Life in China, pp. 288, 450.)

NOTE 3. — The Gaur — Bos Gaurus, or B. (Bibos) Cavifrons of Hodgson — exists in certain forests of the Burmese territory; and, in the south at least, a wild ox nearer the domestic species, Bos Sondaicus. Mr. Gouger, in his book The Prisoner in Burma, describes the rare spectacle which he once enjoyed in the Tenasserim forests of a herd of wild cows at graze. He speaks of them as small and elegant, without hump, and of a light reddish dun colour (pp. 326–327).

1 This is the name now applied in Burma to the Chinese. Sir A. Phayre supposes it to be Túrk, in which case its use probably began at this time.

2 In the Narrative of Phayre’s Mission, ch. ii.

3 Dr. Anderson has here hastily assumed a discrepancy of sixty years between the chronology of the Shan document and that of the Chinese Annals. But this is merely because he arbitrarily identifies the Chinese invasion here recorded with that of Kúblái in the preceding century. (See Anderson’s Western Yunnan, p. 8.) We see in the quotation above from Amyot that the Chinese Annals also contain an obscure indication of the later invasion.

4 Compare the old Chinese Pilgrims Hwui Seng and Seng Yun, in their admiration of a vast pagoda erected by the great King Kanishka in Gandhára (at Peshawur in fact): “At sunrise the gilded disks of the vane are lit up with dazzling glory, whilst the gentle breeze of morning causes the precious bells to tinkle with a pleasing sound.” (Beal, p. 204.)

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