The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter lxxiv.

Of the City of Chinginju and the Slaughter of Certain Alans There.

Leaving the city of Chinghianfu and travelling three days south-east through a constant succession of busy and thriving towns and villages, you arrive at the great and noble city of CHINGINJU. The people are Idolaters, use paper-money, and are subject to the Great Kaan. They live by trade and handicrafts, and they have plenty of silk. They have also abundance of game, and of all manner of victuals, for it is a most productive territory.1

Now I must tell you of an evil deed that was done, once upon a time, by the people of this city, and how dearly they paid for it.

You see, at the time of the conquest of the great province of Manzi, when Bayan was in command, he sent a company of his troops, consisting of a people called Alans, who are Christians, to take this city.2 They took it accordingly, and when they had made their way in, they lighted upon some good wine. Of this they drank until they were all drunk, and then they lay down and slept like so many swine. So when night fell, the townspeople, seeing that they were all dead-drunk, fell upon them and slew them all; not a man escaped.

And when Bayan heard that the townspeople had thus treacherously slain his men, he sent another Admiral of his with a great force, and stormed the city, and put the whole of the inhabitants to the sword; not a man of them escaped death. And thus the whole population of that city was exterminated.3

Now we will go on, and I will tell you of another city called Suju.

NOTE 1. — Both the position and the story which follows identify this city with CHANG-CHAU. The name is written in Pauthier’s MSS. Chinginguy, in the G.T. Cingiggui and Cinghingui, in Ramusio Tinguigui.

The capture of Chang-chau by Gordon’s force, 11th May 1864, was the final achievement of that “Ever Victorious Army.”

Regarding the territory here spoken of, once so rich and densely peopled, Mr. Medhurst says, in reference to the effects of the T’ai-P’ing insurrection: “I can conceive of no more melancholy sight than the acres of ground that one passes through strewn with remains of once thriving cities, and the miles upon miles of rich land, once carefully parcelled out into fields and gardens, but now only growing coarse grass and brambles — the home of the pheasant, the deer, and the wild pig.” (Foreigner in Far Cathay, p. 94.)

NOTE 2. — The relics of the Alans were settled on the northern skirts of the Caucasus, where they made a stout resistance to the Mongols, but eventually became subjects of the Khans of Sarai. The name by which they were usually known in Asia in the Middle Ages was Aas, and this name is assigned to them by Carpini, Rubruquis, and Josafat Barbaro, as well as by Ibn Batuta. Mr. Howorth has lately denied the identity of Alans and Aas; but he treats the question as all one with the identity of Alans and Ossethi, which is another matter, as may be seen in Vivien de St. Martin’s elaborate paper on the Alans (N. Ann. des Voyages, 1848, tom. 3, p. 129 seqq.). The Alans are mentioned by the Byzantine historian, Pachymeres, among nations whom the Mongols had assimilated to themselves and adopted into their military service. Gaubil, without being aware of the identity of the Asu (as the name Aas appears to be expressed in the Chinese Annals), beyond the fact that they dwelt somewhere near the Caspian, observes that this people, after they were conquered, furnished many excellent officers to the Mongols; and he mentions also that when the Mongol army was first equipt for the conquest of Southern China, many officers took service therein from among the Uighúrs, Persians, and Arabs, Kincha (people of Kipchak), the Asu and other foreign nations. We find also, at a later period of the Mongol history (1336), letters reaching Pope Benedict XII. from several Christian Alans holding high office at the court of Cambaluc — one of them being a Chingsang or Minister of the First Rank, and another a Fanchang or Minister of the Second Order — in which they conveyed their urgent request for the nomination of an Archbishop in succession to the deceased John of Monte Corvino. John Marignolli speaks of those Alans as “the greatest and noblest nation in the world, the fairest and bravest of men,” and asserts that in his day there were 30,000 of them in the Great Kaan’s service, and all, at least nominally, Christians.1 Rashiduddin also speaks of the Alans as Christians; though Ibn Batuta certainly mentions the Aas as Mahomedans. We find Alans about the same time (in 1306) fighting well in the service of the Byzantine Emperors (Muntaner, p. 449). All these circumstances render Marco’s story of a corps of Christian Alans in the army of Bayan perfectly consistent with probability. (Carpini, p. 707; Rub., 243; Ramusio, II. 92; I.B. II. 428; Gaubil, 40, 147; Cathay, 314 seqq.)

[Mr. Rockhill writes (Rubruck, p. 88, note): “The Alans or Aas appear to be identical with the An-ts’ai or A-lan-na of the Hou Han shu (bk. 88, 9), of whom we read that ‘they led a pastoral life N.W. of Sogdiana (K’ang-chú) in a plain bounded by great lakes (or swamps), and in their wanderings went as far as the shores of the Northern Ocean.’ (Ma Twan-lin, bk. 338.) Pei-shih (bk. 97, 12) refers to them under the name of Su-tê and Wen-na-sha (see also Bretschneider, Med. Geog., 258, et seq.). Strabo refers to them under the name of Aorsi, living to the north but contiguous to the Albani, whom some authors confound with them, but whom later Armenian historians carefully distinguish from them (De Morgan, Mission, i. 232). Ptolemy speaks of this people as the ‘Scythian Alans’ ([Greek: Alanoí Skýthai]); but the first definite mention of them in classical authors is, according to Bunbury (ii. 486), found in Dionysius Periergetes (305), who speaks of the [Greek: alkaéentes Alanoí]. (See also De Morgan, i. 202, and Deguignes, ii. 279 et seq.)

“Ammianus Marcellinus (xxxi. 348) says, the Alans were a congeries of tribes living E. of the Tanais (Don), and stretching far into Asia. ‘Distributed over two continents, all these nations, whose various names I refrain from mentioning, though separated by immense tracts of country in which they pass their vagabond existence, have with time been confounded under the generic appellation of Alans.’ Ibn Alathir, at a later date, also refers to the Alans as ‘formed of numerous nations.’ (Dulaurier, xiv. 455).

“Conquered by the Huns in the latter part of the fourth century, some of the Alans moved westward, others settled on the northern slopes of the Caucasus; though long prior to that, in A.D. 51, they had, as allies of the Georgians, ravaged Armenia. (See Yule, Cathay, 316; Deguignes, I., pt. ii. 277 et seq.; and De Morgan, I. 217, et seq.)

“Mirkhond, in the Tarikhi Wassaf, and other Mohammedan writers speak of the Alans and As. However this may be, it is thought that the Oss or Ossetes of the Caucasus are their modern representatives (Klaproth, Tabl. hist., 180; De Morgan, i. 202, 231.)” Aas is the transcription of A-soo (Yuen-shi, quoted by Devéria, Notes d’épig., p. 75). (See Bretschneider, Med. Res., II., p. 84.)— H.C.]

NOTE 3. — The Chinese histories do not mention the story of the Alans and their fate; but they tell how Chang-chau was first taken by the Mongols about April 1275, and two months later recovered by the Chinese; how Bayan, some months afterwards, attacked it in person, meeting with a desperate resistance; finally, how the place was stormed, and how Bayan ordered the whole of the inhabitants to be put to the sword. Gaubil remarks that some grievous provocation must have been given, as Bayan was far from cruel. Pauthier gives original extracts on the subject, which are interesting. They picture the humane and chivalrous Bayan on this occasion as demoniacal in cruelty, sweeping together all the inhabitants of the suburbs, forcing them to construct his works of attack, and then butchering the whole of them, boiling down their carcasses, and using the fat to grease his mangonels! Perhaps there is some misunderstanding as to the use of this barbarous lubricant. For Carpini relates that the Tartars, when they cast Greek fire into a town, shot with it human fat, for this caused the fire to rage inextinguishably.

Cruelties, like Bayan’s on this occasion, if exceptional with him, were common enough among the Mongols generally. Chinghiz, at an early period in his career, after a victory, ordered seventy great caldrons to be heated, and his prisoners to be boiled therein. And the “evil deed” of the citizens of Chang-chau fell far short of Mongol atrocities. Thus Hulaku, suspecting the Turkoman chief Nasiruddin, who had just quitted his camp with 300 men, sent a body of horse after him to cut him off. The Mongol officers told the Turkoman they had been ordered to give him and his men a parting feast; they made them all drunk and then cut their throats. (Gaubil, 166, 167, 170; Carpini, 696; Erdmann, 262; Quat. Rashid. 357.)

1 I must observe here that the learned Professor Bruun has raised doubts whether these Alans of Marignolli’s could be Alans of the Caucasus, and if they were not rather Ohláns, i.e. Mongol Princes and nobles. There are difficulties certainly about Marignolli’s Alans; but obvious difficulties also in this explanation.

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