The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxxvi.

Concerning the Province of Aden.

You must know that in the province of ADEN there is a Prince who is called the Soldan. The people are all Saracens and adorers of Mahommet, and have a great hatred of Christians. There are many towns and villages in the country.

This Aden is the port to which many of the ships of India come with their cargoes; and from this haven the merchants carry the goods a distance of seven days further in small vessels. At the end of those seven days they land the goods and load them on camels, and so carry them a land journey of 30 days. This brings them to the river of ALEXANDRIA, and by it they descend to the latter city. It is by this way through Aden that the Saracens of Alexandria receive all their stores of pepper and other spicery; and there is no other route equally good and convenient by which these goods could reach that place.1

And you must know that the Soldan of Aden receives a large amount in duties from the ships that traffic between India and his country, importing different kinds of goods; and from the exports also he gets a revenue, for there are despatched from the port of Aden to India a very large number of Arab chargers, and palfreys, and stout nags adapted for all work, which are a source of great profit to those who export them. 2 For horses fetch very high prices in India, there being none bred there, as I have told you before; insomuch that a charger will sell there for 100 marks of silver and more. On these also the Soldan of Aden receives heavy payments in port charges, so that ’tis said he is one of the richest princes in the world.3

And it is a fact that when the Soldan of Babylon went against the city of Acre and took it, this Soldan of Aden sent to his assistance 30,000 horsemen and full 40,000 camels, to the great help of the Saracens and the grievous injury of the Christians. He did this a great deal more for the hate he bears the Christians than for any love he bears the Soldan of Babylon; for these two do hate one another heartily.4

Now we will have done with the Soldan of Aden, and I will tell you of a city which is subject to Aden, called Esher.

NOTE 1. — This is from Pauthier’s text, which is here superior to the G.T. The latter has: “They put the goods in small vessels, which proceed on a river about seven days.” Ram. has, “in other smaller vessels, with which they make a voyage on a gulf of the sea for 20 days, more or less, as the weather may be. On reaching a certain port they load the goods on camels, and carry them a 30 days’ journey by land to the River Nile, where they embark them in small vessels called Zerms, and in these descend the current to Cairo, and thence by an artificial cut, called Calizene, to Alexandria.” The last looks as if it had been edited; Polo never uses the name Cairo. The canal, the predecessor of the Mahmúdíah, is also called Il Caligine in the journey of Simon Sigoli (Frescobaldi p. 168). Brunetto Latini, too, discoursing of the Nile, says:—

“Così serva su’ filo,

Ed è chiamato Nilo.

D’un su’ ramo si dice,

Ch’ è chiamato Calice.”

Tesoretto, pp. 81–82.

Also in the Sfera of Dati:—

—“Chiamasi il Caligine

Egion e Nilo, e non si sa l’origine.” P. 9.

The word is (Ar.) Khalíj, applied in one of its senses specially to the canals drawn from the full Nile. The port on the Red Sea would be either Suákin or Aidháb; the 30 days’ journey seems to point to the former. Polo’s contemporary, Marino Sanudo, gives the following account of the transit, omitting entirely the Red Sea navigation, though his line correctly represented would apparently go by Kosseir: “The fourth haven is called AHADEN, and stands on a certain little island joining, as it were, to the main, in the land of the Saracens. The spices and other goods from India are landed there, loaded on camels, and so carried by a journey of nine days to a place on the River Nile, called Chus (Kús, the ancient Cos below Luqsor), where they are put into boats and conveyed in 15 days to Babylon. But in the month of October and thereabouts the river rises to such an extent that the spices, etc., continue to descend the stream from Babylon and enter a certain long canal, and so are conveyed over the 200 miles between Babylon and Alexandria.” (Bk. I. pt. i. ch. i.)

Makrizi relates that up to A.H. 725 (1325), from time immemorial the Indian ships had discharged at Aden, but in that year the exactions of the Sultan induced a shipmaster to pass on into the Red Sea, and eventually the trade came to Jidda. (See De Sacy, Chrest. Arabe, II. 556.)

+Aden is mentioned (A-dan) in ch. cccxxxvi. of the Ming History as having sent an embassy to China in 1427. These embassies were subsequently often repeated. The country, which lay 22 days’ voyage west of Kuli (supposed Calicut, but perhaps Káyal), was devoid of grass or trees. (Bretschneider, Med. Res., II. pp. 305–306.)

[Ma-huan (transl. by Phillips) writes (J.R.A.S., April 1896): “In the nineteenth year of Yung-lo (1422) an Imperial Envoy, the eunuch Li, was sent from China to this country with a letter and presents to the King. On his arrival he was most honourably received, and was met by the king on landing and conducted by him to his palace.”— H.C.]

NOTE 2. — The words describing the horses are (P.‘s text): “de bons destriers Arrabins et chevaux et grans roncins à ij selles.” The meaning seems to be what I have expressed in the text, fit either for saddle or pack-saddle.

[Roncins à deux selles. Littré‘s great Dictionary supplies an apt illustration of this phrase. A contemporary Eloge de Charles VII. says: “Jamais il chevauchoit mule ne haquenée, mais un bas cheval trotier entre deux selles” (a cob?).]

In one application the Deux selles of the old riding-schools were the two styles of riding, called in Spanish Montar á la Gineta and Montar á la Brida. The latter stands for the old French style, with heavy bit and saddle, and long stirrups just reached by the toes; the former the Moorish style, with short stirrups and lighter bit. But the phrase would also seem to have meant saddle and pack-saddle. Thus Cobarruvias explains the phrase Hombre de dos sillas, “Conviene saber de la gineta y brida, ser de silla y albarda (pack-saddle), servir de todo,” and we find the converse expression, No ser para silla ni para albarda, good for nothing.

But for an example of the exact phrase of the French text I am indebted to P. della Valle. Speaking of the Persian horses, he says: “Few of them are of any great height, and you seldom see thoroughbreds among them; probably because here they have no liking for such and don’t seek to breed them. For the most part they are of that very useful style that we call horses for both saddles (che noi chiamiamo da due selle)” etc. (See Cobarruvias, under Silla and Brida; Dice. de la Lengua Castellana por la Real Academia Española, under Silla, Gineta, Brida; P. della Valle, Let. XV. da Sciraz, § 3, vol. ii, p. 240.)

NOTE 3. — The supposed confusion between Adel and Aden does not affect this chapter.

The “Soldan of Aden” was the Sultan of Yemen, whose chief residence was at Ta’izz, North–East of Mokha. The prince reigning in Polo’s day was Malik Muzaffar Shamsuddín Abul Mahasen Yusuf. His father, Malik Mansúr, a retainer of the Ayubite Dynasty, had been sent by Saladin as Wazir to Yemen, with his brother Malik Muazzam Turan Shah. After the death of the latter, and of his successor, the Wazir assumed the government and became the founder of a dynasty. Aden was the chief port of his dominions. It had been a seat of direct trade with China in the early centuries of Islam.

Ibn Batuta speaks of it thus correctly: “It is enclosed by mountains, and you can enter by one side only. It is a large town, but has neither corn nor trees, nor fresh water, except from reservoirs made to catch the rain-water; for other drinking water is at a great distance from the town. The Arabs often prevent the townspeople coming to fetch it until the latter have come to terms with them, and paid them a bribe in money or cloths. The heat at Aden is great. It is the port frequented by the people from India, and great ships come thither from Kunbáyat, Tána, Kaulam, Kalikút, Fandaráina, Sháliát, Manjarúr, Fákanúr, Hinaur, Sindábúr,1 etc. There are Indian merchants residing in the city, and Egyptian merchants as well.”

The tanks of which the Moor speaks had been buried by débris; of late years they have been cleared and repaired. They are grand works. They are said to have been formerly 50 in number, with a capacity of 30 million gallons.

Illustration: View of Aden in 1840.

This cut, from a sketch by Dr. Kirk, gives an excellent idea of Aden as seen by a ship approaching from India. The large plate again, reduced from a grand and probably unique contemporary wood-engraving of great size, shows the impression that the city made upon European eyes in the beginning of the 16th century. It will seem absurd, especially to those who knew Aden in the early days of our occupation, and no doubt some of the details are extravagant, but the general impression is quite consonant with that derived from the description of De Barros and Andrea Corsali: “In site and aspect from the seaward,” says the former, “the city forms a beautiful object, for besides the part which lies along the shore with its fine walls and towers, its many public buildings and rows of houses rising aloft in many stories, with terraced roofs, you have all that ridge of mountain facing the sea and presenting to its very summit a striking picture of the operations of Nature, and still more of the industry of man.” This historian says that the prosperity of Aden increased on the arrival of the Portuguese in those seas, for the Mussulman traders from Jidda and the Red Sea ports now dreaded these western corsairs, and made Aden an entrepôt, instead of passing it by as they used to do in days of unobstructed navigation. This prosperity, however, must have been of very brief duration. Corsali’s account of Aden (in 1517) is excellent, but too long for extract, Makrizi, IV. 26–27; Playfair, H. of Yemen, p. 7; Ibn Batuta, II. 177; De Barros, II. vii. 8; Ram. I. f. 182.

NOTE 4. — I have not been able to trace any other special notice of the part taken by the Sultan of Yemen in the capture of Acre by the Mameluke Sultan, Malik Ashraf Khalil, in 1291. Ibn Ferat, quoted by Reinaud, says that the Sultan sent into all the provinces the most urgent orders for the supply of troops and machines; and there gathered from all sides the warriors of Damascus, of Hamath, and the rest of Syria, of Egypt, and of Arabia. (Michaud, Bibl. des Croisades, 1829, IV. 569.)

“I once” (says Joinville) “rehearsed to the Legate two cases of sin that a priest of mine had been telling me of, and he answered me thus: ‘No man knows as much of the heinous sins that are done in Acre as I do; and it cannot be but God will take vengeance on them, in such a way that the city of Acre shall be washed in the blood of its inhabitants, and that another people shall come to occupy after them.’ The good man’s prophecy hath come true in part, for of a truth the city hath been washed in the blood of its inhabitants, but those to replace them are not yet come: may God send them good when it pleases Him!” (p. 192).

1 All ports of Western India: Pandarani, Shalia (near Calicut), Mangalore, Baccanore, Onore, Goa.

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