The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter vii.

How the Kaan Rewarded the Valour of His Captains.

So we will have done with this matter of Nayan, and go on with our account of the great state of the Great Kaan.

We have already told you of his lineage and of his age; but now I must tell you what he did after his return, in regard to those barons who had behaved well in the battle. Him who was before captain of 100 he made captain of 1000; and him who was captain of 1000 men he made to be captain of 10,000, advancing every man according to his deserts and to his previous rank. Besides that, he also made them presents of fine silver plate and other rich appointments; gave them Tablets of Authority of a higher degree than they held before; and bestowed upon them fine jewels of gold and silver, and pearls and precious stones; insomuch that the amount that fell to each of them was something astonishing. And yet ’twas not so much as they had deserved; for never were men seen who did such feats of arms for the love and honour of their Lord, as these had done on that day of the battle.1

Now those Tablets of Authority, of which I have spoken, are ordered in this way. The officer who is a captain of 100 hath a tablet of silver; the captain of 1000 hath a tablet of gold or silver-gilt; the commander of 10,000 hath a tablet of gold, with a lion’s head on it. And I will tell you the weight of the different tablets, and what they denote. The tablets of the captains of 100 and 1000 weigh each of them 120 saggi; and the tablet with the lion’s head engraven on it, which is that of the commander of 10,000, weighs 220 saggi. And on each of the tablets is inscribed a device, which runs: “By the strength of the great God, and of the great grace which He hath accorded to our Emperor, may the name of the Kaan be blessed; and let all such as will not obey him be slain and be destroyed.” And I will tell you besides that all who hold these tablets likewise receive warrants in writing, declaring all their powers and privileges.

I should mention too that an officer who holds the chief command of 100,000 men, or who is general-inchief of a great host, is entitled to a tablet that weighs 300 saggi. It has an inscription thereon to the same purport that I have told you already, and below the inscription there is the figure of a lion, and below the lion the sun and moon. They have warrants also of their high rank, command, and power.2 Every one, moreover, who holds a tablet of this exalted degree is entitled, whenever he goes abroad, to have a little golden canopy, such as is called an umbrella, carried on a spear over his head in token of his high command. And whenever he sits, he sits in a silver chair.3

To certain very great lords also there is given a tablet with gerfalcons on it; this is only to the very greatest of the Kaan’s barons, and it confers on them his own full power and authority; so that if one of those chiefs wishes to send a messenger any whither, he can seize the horses of any man, be he even a king, and any other chattels at his pleasure. [NOTE 4]

NOTE 1. — So Sanang Setzen relates that Chinghiz, on returning from one of his great campaigns, busied himself in reorganising his forces and bestowing rank and title, according to the deserts of each, on his nine Orlok, or marshals, and all who had done good service. “He named commandants over hundreds, over thousands, over ten thousands, over hundred thousands, and opened his treasury to the multitude of the people” (p. 91).

NOTE 2. — We have several times already had mention of these tablets. (See Prologue, ch. viii. and xviii.) The earliest European allusion to them is in Rubruquis: “And Mangu gave to the Moghul (whom he was going to send to the King of France) a bull of his, that is to say, a golden plate of a palm in breadth and half a cubit in length, on which his orders were inscribed. Whosoever is the bearer of that may order what he pleases, and his order shall be executed straightway.”

These golden bulls of the Mongol Kaans appear to have been originally tokens of high favour and honour, though afterwards they became more frequent and conventional. They are often spoken of by the Persian historians of the Mongols under the name of Páizah, and sometimes Páizah Sir-i-Sher, or “Lion’s Head Paizah.” Thus, in a firmán of Ghazan Khan, naming a viceroy to his conquests in Syria, the Khan confers on the latter “the sword, the august standard, the drum, and the Lion’s Head Paizah.” Most frequently the grant of this honour is coupled with Yarlígh; “to such an one were granted Yarlígh and Páizah” the former word (which is still applied in Turkey to the Sultan’s rescripts) denoting the written patent which accompanies the grant of the tablet, just as the sovereign’s warrant accompanies the badge of a modern Order. Of such written patents also Marco speaks in this passage, and as he uttered it, no doubt the familiar words Yarlígh u Páizah were in his mind. The Armenian history of the Orpelians, relating the visit of Prince Sempad, brother of King Hayton, to the court of Mangku Kaan, says: “They gave him also a P’haiza of gold, i.e. a tablet whereon the name of God is written by the Great Kaan himself; and this constitutes the greatest honour known among the Mongols. Farther, they drew up for him a sort of patent, which the Mongols call Iarlekh,” etc. The Latin version of a grant by Uzbek Khan of Kipchak to the Venetian Andrea Zeno, in 1333,1 ends with the words: “Dedimus baisa et privilegium cum bullis rubeis,” where the latter words no doubt represent the Yarlígh al-tamghá, the warrant with the red seal or stamp,2 as it may be seen upon the letter of Arghun Khan. (See plate at ch. xvii. of Bk. IV.). So also Janibek, the son of Uzbek, in 1344, confers privileges on the Venetians, “eisdem dando baissinum de auro”; and again Bardibeg, son, murderer, and successor of Janibeg, in 1358, writes: “Avemo dado comandamento [i.e. Yarlíg] cum le bolle rosse, et lo paysam.”

Under the Persian branch, at least, of the house the degree of honour was indicated by the number of lions’ heads upon the plate, which varied from 1 to 5. The Lion and Sun, a symbol which survives, or has been revived, in the modern Persian decoration so called, formed the emblem of the Sun in Leo, i.e. in highest power. It had already been used on the coins of the Seljukian sovereigns of Persia and Iconium; it appears on coins of the Mongol Ilkhans Ghazan, Oljaitu, and Abusaid, and it is also found on some of those of Mahomed Uzbek Khan of Kipchak.

Illustration: Seljukian Coin with the Lion and Sun.

Hammer gives regulations of Ghazan Khan’s on the subject of the Paizah, from which it is seen that the latter were of different kinds as well as degrees. Some were held by great governors and officers of state, and these were cautioned against letting the Paizah out of their own keeping; others were for officers of inferior order; and, again, “for persons travelling on state commissions with post-horses, particular paizah (which Hammer says were of brass) are appointed, on which their names are inscribed.” These last would seem therefore to be merely such permissions to travel by the Government post-horses as are still required in Russia, perhaps in lineal derivation from Mongol practice. The terms of Ghazan’s decree and other contemporary notices show that great abuses were practised with the Paizah, as an authority for living at free quarters and making other arbitrary exactions.


The word Paizah is said to be Chinese, Pai-tseu, “a tablet.” A trace of the name and the thing still survives in Mongolia. The horse-Bai is the name applied to a certain ornament on the horse caparison, which gives the rider a title to be furnished with horses and provisions on a journey.

Illustration: Second Example of a MONGOL PAIZA, with Superscription in the Uighúr Character, found near the River Dnieper, 1845.

Where I have used the Venetian term saggio, the French texts have here and elsewhere saics and saies, and sometimes pois. Saic points to saiga, which, according to Dupré de St. Maur, is in the Salic laws the equivalent of a denier or the twelfth part of a sol. Saggio is possibly the same word, or rather may have been confounded with it, but the saggio was a recognised Venetian weight equal to 1/6 of an ounce. We shall see hereafter that Polo appears to use it to indicate the miskál, a weight which may be taken at 74 grains Troy. On that supposition the smallest tablet specified in the text would weigh 18–1/2 ozs. Troy.

I do not know if any gold Paizah has been discovered, but several of silver have been found in the Russian dominions; one near the Dnieper, and two in Eastern Siberia. The first of our plates represents one of these, which was found in the Minusinsk circle of the Government of Yenisei in 1846, and is now in the Asiatic Museum of the Academy of St. Petersburg, For the sake of better illustration of our text, I have taken the liberty to represent the tablet as of gold, instead of silver with only the inscription gilt. The moulded ring inserted in the orifice, to suspend the plate by, is of iron. On the reverse side the ring bears some Chinese characters engraved, which are interpreted as meaning “Publication No. 42.” The inscription on the plate itself is in the Mongol language and Baspa character (supra, Prologue, note 1, ch. xv.), and its purport is a remarkable testimony to the exactness of Marco’s account, and almost a proof of his knowledge of the language and character in which the inscriptions were engraved. It runs, according to Schmidt’s version: “By the strength of the eternal heaven! May the name of the Khagan be holy! Who pays him not reverence is to be slain, and must die!” The inscriptions on the other plates discovered were essentially similar in meaning. Our second plate shows one of them with the inscription in the Uighúr character.

The superficial dimensions of the Yenisei tablet, as taken from Schmidt’s full-size drawing, are 12.2 in. by 3.65 in. The weight is not given.

In the French texts nothing is said of the size of the tablets. But Ramusio’s copy in the Prologue, where the tables given by Kiacatu are mentioned (supra, p. 35), says that they were a cubit in length and 5 fingers in breadth, and weighed 3 to 4 marks each, i.e. 24 to 32 ounces.

(Dupré de St. Maur, Essai sur les Monnoies, etc., 1746, p. viii.; also (on saiga) see Pertz, Script. XVII. 357; Rubruq. 312; Golden Horde, 219–220, 521; Ilch. II. 166 seqq., 355–356; D’Ohsson, III. 412–413; Q. R. 177–180; Ham. Wassáf, 154, 176; Makrizi, IV. 158; St. Martin, Mém. sur l’Arménie, II. 137, 169; M. Mas Latrie in Bibl. de l’Éc. des Chartes, IV. 585 seqq.; J. As. sér. V. tom. xvii. 536 seqq.; Schmidt, über eine Mongol. Quadratinschrift, etc., Acad. St. P., 1847; Russian paper by Grigorieff on same subject, 1846.)

[“The History tells us (Liao Shih, Bk. LVII. f. 2) that the official silver tablets p’ai tzu of the period were 600 in number, about a foot in length, and that they were engraved with an inscription like the above [‘Our imperial order for post horses. Urgent.’] in national characters (kuo tzu), and that when there was important state business the Emperor personally handed the tablet to the envoy, which entitled him to demand horses at the post stations, and to be treated as if he were the Emperor himself travelling. When the tablet was marked ‘Urgent,’ he had the right to take private horses, and was required to ride, night and day, 700 li in twenty-four hours. On his return he had to give back the tablet to the Emperor, who handed it to the prince who had the custody of the state tablets and seals.” (Dr. S. W. Bushell, Actes XI. Cong. Int. Orient., Paris, p. 17.)

“The Kin, in the thirteenth century, used badges of office made of silver. They were rectangular, bore the imperial seal, and an inscription indicative of the duty of the bearer. (Chavannes, Voyageurs chez les Khitans, 102.) The Nü-chên at an earlier date used wooden pai-tzu tied to each horseman and horse, to distinguish them by. (Ma Tuan-lin, Bk. 327, 11.)” (Rockhill, Rubruck, p. 181, note.)

“Tiger’s tablets — Sinice Hu fu, and p’ai tsze in the common language. The Mongols had them of several kinds, which differed by the metal, of which they were made, as well as by the number of pearls (one, two, or three in number), which were incrusted in the upper part of the tablet. Falcon’s tablets with the figure of a falcon were round, and used to be given only to special couriers and envoys of the Khan. [Yuen shi lui pien and Yuen ch’ao tien chang.] The use of the Hu-fu was adopted by the Mongols probably from the Kin.” (Palladius, l.c. p. 39.)

Rubruquis (Rockhill’s ed. pp. 153–154) says:—“And whenever the principal envoy [of Longa] came to court he carried a highly-polished tablet of ivory about a cubit long and half a palm wide. Every time he spoke to the chan or some great personage, he always looked at that tablet as if he found there what he had to say, nor did he look to the right or the left, nor in the face of him with whom he was talking. Likewise, when coming into the presence of the Lord, and when leaving it, he never looked at anything but his tablet.” Mr. Rockhill observes: “These tablets are called hu in Chinese, and were used in China and Korea; in the latter country down to quite recent times. They were made of jade, ivory, bamboo, etc., according to the rank of the owner, and were about three feet long. The hu was originally used to make memoranda on of the business to be submitted by the bearer to the Emperor or to write the answers to questions he had had submitted to them. Odoric also refers to ‘the tablets of white ivory which the Emperor’s barons held in their hands as they stood silent before him.’”

(Cf. the golden tablets which were of various classes with a tiger for image and pearls for ornaments, Devéria, Epigraphie, p. 15 et seq.) — H. C.]

NOTE 3. — Umbrella. The phrase in Pauthier’s text is “Palieque que on dit ombrel.” The Latin text of the Soc. de Géographie has “unum pallium de auro,” which I have adopted as probably correct, looking to Burma, where the old etiquettes as to umbrellas are in full force. These etiquettes were probably in both countries of old Hindu origin. Pallium, according to Muratori, was applied in the Middle Ages to a kind of square umbrella, by which is probably meant rather a canopy on four staves, which was sometimes assigned by authority as an honourable privilege.

But the genuine umbrella would seem to have been used also, for Polo’s contemporary, Martino da Canale, says that, when the Doge goes forth of his palace, “si vait apres lui un damoiseau qui porte une umbrele de dras à or sur son chief,” which umbrella had been given by “Monseigneur l’Apostoille.” There is a picture by Girolamo Gambarota, in the Sala del Gran Consiglio, at Venice, which represents the investiture of the Doge with the umbrella by Pope Alexander III., and Frederick Barbarossa (concerning which see Sanuto Junior, in Muratori, XXII. 512).

The word Parasol also occurs in the Petrarchian vocabulary, (14th century) as the equivalent of saioual (Pers. sáyában or sáiwán, an umbrella). Carpini notices that umbrellas (solinum vel tentoriolum in hastâ) were carried over the Tartar nobles and their wives, even on horseback; and a splendid one, covered with jewels, was one of the presents made to Kuyuk Kaan on his enthronement.

With respect to the honorary character attaching to umbrellas in China, I may notice that recently an English resident of Ningpo, on his departure for Europe, was presented by the Chinese citizens, as a token of honour, with a pair of Wan min sàn, umbrellas of enormous size.

The umbrella must have gone through some curious vicissitudes; for at one time we find it familiar, at a later date apparently unknown, and then reintroduced as some strange novelty. Arrian speaks of the [Greek: skiádia], or umbrellas, as used by all Indians of any consideration; but the thing of which he spoke was familiar to the use of Greek and Roman ladies, and many examples of it, borne by slaves behind their mistresses, are found on ancient vase-paintings. Athenaeus quotes from Anacreon the description of a “beggar on horseback” who

            “like a woman bears

An ivory parasol over his delicate head.”

An Indian prince, in a Sanskrit inscription of the 9th century, boasts of having wrested from the King of Márwár the two umbrellas pleasing to Parvati, and white as the summer moonbeams. Prithi Ráj, the last Hindu king of Delhi, is depicted by the poet Chand as shaded by a white umbrella on a golden staff. An unmistakable umbrella, copied from a Saxon MS. in the Harleian collection, is engraved in Wright’s History of Domestic Manners, p. 75. The fact that the gold umbrella is one of the paraphernalia of high church dignitaries in Italy seems to presume acquaintance with the thing from a remote period. A decorated umbrella also accompanies the host when sent out to the sick, at least where I write, in Palermo. Ibn Batuta says that in his time all the people of Constantinople, civil and military, great and small, carried great umbrellas over their heads, summer and winter. Ducange quotes, from a MS. of the Paris Library, the Byzantine court regulations about umbrellas, which are of the genuine Pan–Asiatic spirit; —[Greek: skiádia chrysokókkina] extend from the Hypersebastus to the grand Stratopedarchus, and so on; exactly as used to be the case, with different titles, in Java. And yet it is curious that John Marignolli, Ibn Batuta’s contemporary in the middle of the 14th century, and Barbosa in the 16th century, are alike at pains to describe the umbrella as some strange object. And in our own country it is commonly stated that the umbrella was first used in the last century, and that Jonas Hanway (died 1786) was one of the first persons who made a practice of carrying one. The word umbrello is, however, in Minsheu’s dictionary. [See Hobson–Jobson, s.v. Umbrella. — H. C.]

(Murat. Dissert. II. 229; Archiv. Storic. Ital. VIII. 274, 560; Klapr. Mém. III.; Carp. 759; N. and Q., C. and J. II. 180; Arrian, Indica, XVI.; Smith’s Dict., G. and R. Ant., s. v. umbraculum; J. R. A. S. v. 351; Rás Mála, I. 221; I. B. II. 440; Cathay, 381; Ramus. I. f. 301.)

Alexander, according to Athenaeus, feasted his captains to the number of 6000, and made them all sit upon silver chairs. The same author relates that the King of Persia, among other rich presents, bestowed upon Entimus the Gortynian, who went up to the king in imitation of Themistocles, a silver chair and a gilt umbrella. (Bk. I. Epit. ch. 31, and II. 31.)

The silver chair has come down to our own day in India, and is much affected by native princes.

NOTE 4. — I have not been able to find any allusion, except in our author, to tablets, with gerfalcons (shonkár). The shonkár appears, however, according to Erdmann, on certain coins of the Golden Horde, struck at Sarai.

There is a passage from Wassáf used by Hammer, in whose words it runs that the Sayad Imámuddín, appointed (A.D. 683) governor of Shiraz by Arghun Khan, “was invested with both the Mongol symbols of delegated sovereignty, the Golden Lion’s Head, and the golden Cat’s Head.” It would certainly have been more satisfactory to find “Gerfalcon’s Head” in lieu of the latter; but it is probable that the same object is meant. The cut below exhibits the conventional effigy of a gerfalcon as sculptured over one of the gates of Iconium, Polo’s Conia. The head might easily pass for a conventional representation of a cat’s head, and is indeed strikingly like the grotesque representation that bears that name in mediaeval architecture. (Erdmann, Numi Asiatici, I. 339; Ilch. I. 370.)

Illustration: Sculptured Gerfalcon. (From the Gate of Iconium.)

1 “In anno Simiae, octavâ lunâ, die quarto exeunte, juxta fluvium Cobam (the Kuban), apud Ripam Rubeam existentes scripsimus.” The original was in linguâ Persaycá.

2 See Golden Horde, p. 218.

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