The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter lxxviii.

Treating of the Great Yearly Revenue that the Great Kaan Hath from Kinsay.

Now I will tell you about the great revenue which the Great Kaan draweth every year from the said city of Kinsay and its territory, forming a ninth part of the whole country of Manzi.

First there is the salt, which brings in a great revenue. For it produces every year, in round numbers, fourscore tomans of gold; and the toman is worth 70,000 saggi of gold, so that the total value of the fourscore tomans will be five millions and six hundred thousand saggi of gold, each saggio being worth more than a gold florin or ducat; in sooth, a vast sum of money! [This province, you see, adjoins the ocean, on the shores of which are many lagoons or salt marshes, in which the sea-water dries up during the summer time; and thence they extract such a quantity of salt as suffices for the supply of five of the kingdoms of Manzi besides this one.]

Having told you of the revenue from salt, I will now tell you of that which accrues to the Great Kaan from the duties on merchandize and other matters.

You must know that in this city and its dependencies they make great quantities of sugar, as indeed they do in the other eight divisions of this country; so that I believe the whole of the rest of the world together does not produce such a quantity, at least, if that be true which many people have told me; and the sugar alone again produces an enormous revenue. — However, I will not repeat the duties on every article separately, but tell you how they go in the lump. Well, all spicery pays three and a third per cent. on the value; and all merchandize likewise pays three and a third per cent. [But sea-borne goods from India and other distant countries pay ten per cent.] The rice-wine also makes a great return, and coals, of which there is a great quantity; and so do the twelve guilds of craftsmen that I told you of, with their 12,000 stations apiece, for every article they make pays duty. And the silk which is produced in such abundance makes an immense return. But why should I make a long story of it? The silk, you must know, pays ten per cent., and many other articles also pay ten per cent.

And you must know that Messer Marco Polo, who relates all this, was several times sent by the Great Kaan to inspect the amount of his customs and revenue from this ninth part of Manzi,1 and he found it to be, exclusive of the salt revenue which we have mentioned already, 210 tomans of gold, equivalent to 14,700,000 saggi of gold; one of the most enormous revenues that ever was heard of. And if the sovereign has such a revenue from one-ninth part of the country, you may judge what he must have from the whole of it! However, to speak the truth, this part is the greatest and most productive; and because of the great revenue that the Great Kaan derives from it, it is his favourite province, and he takes all the more care to watch it well, and to keep the people contented. 2

Now we will quit this city and speak of others.

NOTE 1. — Pauthier’s text seems to be the only one which says that Marco was sent by the Great Kaan. The G. Text says merely: “Si qe jeo March Pol qe plusor foies hoï faire le conte de la rende de tous cestes couses,”— “had several times heard the calculations made.”

NOTE 2. — Toman is 10,000. And the first question that occurs in considering the statements of this chapter is as to the unit of these tomans, as intended by Polo. I believe it to have been the tael (or Chinese ounce) of gold.

We do not know that the Chinese ever made monetary calculations in gold. But the usual unit of the revenue accounts appears from Pauthier’s extracts to have been the ting, i.e. a money of account equal to ten taels of silver, and we know (supra, ch. l. note 4) that this was in those days the exact equivalent of one tael of gold.

The equation in our text is 10,000 x = 70,000 saggi of gold, giving x, or the unit sought, = 7 saggi. But in both Ramusio on the one hand, and in the Geog. Latin and Crusca Italian texts on the other hand, the equivalent of the toman is 80,000 saggi; though it is true that neither with one valuation nor the other are the calculations consistent in any of the texts, except Ramusio’s.1 This consistency does not give any greater weight to Ramusio’s reading, because we know that version to have been edited, and corrected when the editor thought it necessary: but I adopt his valuation, because we shall find other grounds for preferring it. The unit of the toman then is = 8 saggi.

The Venice saggio was one-sixth of a Venice ounce. The Venice mark of 8 ounces I find stated to contain 3681 grains troy;2 hence the saggio = 76 grains. But I imagine the term to be used by Polo here and in other Oriental computations, to express the Arabic miskál, the real weight of which, according to Mr. Maskelyne, is 74 grains troy. The miskál of gold was, as Polo says, something more than a ducat or sequin, indeed, weight for weight, it was to a ducat nearly as 1.4: 1.

Eight saggi or miskáls would be 592 grains troy. The tael is 580, and the approximation is as near as we can reasonably expect from a calculation in such terms.

Taking the silver tael at 6s. 7d., the gold tael, or rather the ting, would be = 3l. 5s. 10d.; the toman = 32,916l. 13s. 4d.; and the whole salt revenue (80 tomans) = 2,633,333l.; the revenue from other sources (210 tomans) = 6,912,500l.; total revenue from Kinsay and its province (290 tomans) = 9,545,833l. A sufficiently startling statement, and quite enough to account for the sobriquet of Marco Milioni.

Pauthier, in reference to this chapter, brings forward a number of extracts regarding Mongol finance from the official history of that dynasty. The extracts are extremely interesting in themselves, but I cannot find in them that confirmation of Marco’s accuracy which M. Pauthier sees.

First as to the salt revenue of Kiang–Ché, or the province of Kinsay. The facts given by Pauthier amount to these: that in 1277, the year in which the Mongol salt department was organised, the manufacture of salt amounted to 92,148 yin, or 22,115,520 kilos.; in 1286 it had reached 450,000 yin, or 108,000,000 kilos.; in 1289 it fell off by 100,000 yin.

The price was, in 1277, 18 liang or taels, in chao or paper-money of the years 1260–64 (see vol. i. p. 426); in 1282 it was raised to 22 taels; in 1284 a permanent and reduced price was fixed, the amount of which is not stated.

M. Pauthier assumes as a mean 400,000 yin, at 18 taels, which will give 7,200,000 taels; or, at 6s. 7d. to the tael, 2,370,000l. But this amount being in chao or paper-currency, which at its highest valuation was worth only 50 per cent. of the nominal value of the notes, we must halve the sum, giving the salt revenue on Pauthier’s assumptions = 1,185,000l.

Pauthier has also endeavoured to present a table of the whole revenue of Kiang–Ché under the Mongols, amounting to 12,955,710 paper taels, or 2,132,294l., including the salt revenue. This would leave only 947,294l. for the other sources of revenue, but the fact is that several of these are left blank, and among others one so important as the sea-customs. However, even making the extravagant supposition that the sea-customs and other omitted items were equal in amount to the whole of the other sources of revenue, salt included, the total would be only 4,264,585l.

Marco’s amount, as he gives it, is, I think, unquestionably a huge exaggeration, though I do not suppose an intentional one. In spite of his professed rendering of the amounts in gold, I have little doubt that his tomans really represent paper-currency, and that to get a valuation in gold, his total has to be divided at the very least by two. We may then compare his total of 290 tomans of paper ting with Pauthier’s 130 tomans of paper ting, excluding sea-customs and some other items. No nearer comparison is practicable; and besides the sources of doubt already indicated, it remains uncertain what in either calculation are the limits of the province intended. For the bounds of Kiang–Ché seem to have varied greatly, sometimes including and sometimes excluding Fo-kien.

I may observe that Rashiduddin reports, on the authority of the Mongol minister Pulad Chingsang, that the whole of Manzi brought in a revenue of “900 tomans.” This Quatremère renders “nine million pieces of gold,” presumably meaning dinars. It is unfortunate that there should be uncertainty here again as to the unit. If it were the dinar the whole revenue of Manzi would be about 5,850,000l., whereas if the unit were, as in the case of Polo’s toman, the ting, the revenue would be nearly 30,000,000 sterling!

It does appear that in China a toman of some denomination of money near the dinar was known in account. For Friar Odoric states the revenue of Yang-chau in tomans of Balish, the latter unit being, as he explains, a sum in paper-currency equivalent to a florin and a half (or something more than a dinar); perhaps, however, only the liang or tael (see vol. i. pp. 426–7).

It is this calculation of the Kinsay revenue which Marco is supposed to be expounding to his fellow-prisoner on the title-page of this volume. [See P. Hoang, Commerce Public du Sel, Shanghai, 1898, Liang-tahé-yen, pp. 6–7. — H.C.]

1 Pauthier’s MSS. A and B are hopelessly corrupt here. His MS. C agrees with the Geog. Text in making the toman = 70,000 saggi, but 210 tomans = 15,700,000, instead of 14,700,000. The Crusca and Latin have 80,000 saggi in the first place, but 15,700,000 in the second. Ramusio alone has 80,000 in the first place, and 16,800,000 in the second.

2 Eng. Cyclop., “Weights and Measures.“

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