The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter ii.

Of Certain Battles that Were Fought by King Caidu Against the Armies of His Uncle the Great Kaan.

Now it came to pass in the year of Christ’s incarnation, 1266, that this King Caidu and another prince called YESUDAR, who was his cousin, assembled a great force and made an expedition to attack two of the Great Kaan’s Barons who held lands under the Great Kaan, but were Caidu’s own kinsmen, for they were sons of Chagatai who was a baptized Christian, and own brother to the Great Kaan; one of them was called CHIBAI, and the other CHIBAN.1

Caidu with all his host, amounting to 60,000 horse, engaged the Kaan’s two Barons, those cousins of his, who had also a great force amounting to more than 60,000 horsemen, and there was a great battle. In the end the Barons were beaten, and Caidu and his people won the day. Great numbers were slain on both sides, but the two brother Barons escaped, thanks to their good horses. So King Caidu returned home swelling the more with pride and arrogance, and for the next two years he remained at peace, and made no further war against the Kaan.

However, at the end of those two years King Caidu assembled an army composed of a vast force of horsemen. He knew that at Caracoron was the Great Kaan’s son NOMOGAN, and with him GEORGE, the grandson of Prester John. These two princes had also a great force of cavalry. And when King Caidu was ready he set forth and crossed the frontier. After marching rapidly without any adventure, he got near Caracoron, where the Kaan’s son and the younger Prester John were awaiting him with their great army, for they were well aware of Caidu’s advance in force. They made them ready for battle like valiant men, and all undismayed, seeing that they had more than 60,000 well-appointed horsemen. And when they heard Caidu was so near they went forth valiantly to meet him. When they got within some 10 miles of him they pitched their tents and got ready for battle, and the enemy who were about equal in numbers did the same; each side forming in six columns of 10,000 men with good captains. Both sides were well equipped with swords and maces and shields, with bows and arrows, and other arms after their fashion. You must know that the practice of the Tartars going to battle is to take each a bow and 60 arrows. Of these, 30 are light with small sharp points, for long shots and following up an enemy, whilst the other 30 are heavy, with large broad heads which they shoot at close quarters, and with which they inflict great gashes on face and arms, and cut the enemy’s bowstrings, and commit great havoc. This every one is ordered to attend to. And when they have shot away their arrows they take to their swords and maces and lances, which also they ply stoutly.

So when both sides were ready for action the Naccaras began to sound loudly, one on either side. For ’tis their custom never to join battle till the Great Naccara is beaten. And when the Naccaras sounded, then the battle began in fierce and deadly style, and furiously the one host dashed to meet the other. So many fell on either side that in an evil hour for both it was begun! The earth was thickly strewn with the wounded and the slain, men and horses, whilst the uproar and din of battle was so loud you would not have heard God’s thunder! Truly King Caidu himself did many a deed of prowess that strengthened the hearts of his people. Nor less on the other side did the Great Kaan’s son and Prester John’s grandson, for well they proved their valour in the medley, and did astonishing feats of arms, leading their troops with right good judgment.

And what shall I tell you? The battle lasted so long that it was one of the hardest the Tartars ever fought. Either side strove hard to bring the matter to a point and rout the enemy, but to no avail. And so the battle went on till vesper-tide, and without victory on either side. Many a man fell there; many a child was made an orphan there; many a lady widowed; and many another woman plunged in grief and tears for the rest of her days, I mean the mothers and the araines of those who fell.2

So when they had fought till the sun was low they left off, and retired each side to its tents. Those who were unhurt were so dead tired that they were like to drop, and the wounded, who were many on both sides, were moaning in their various degrees of pain; but all were more fit for rest than fighting, so gladly they took their repose that night. And when morning approached, King Caidu, who had news from his scouts that the Great Kaan was sending a great army to reinforce his son, judged that it was time to be off; so he called his host to saddle and mounted his horse at dawn, and away they set on their return to their own country. And when the Great Kaan’s son and the grandson of Prester John saw that King Caidu had retired with all his host, they let them go unpursued, for they were themselves sorely fatigued and needed rest. So King Caidu and his host rode and rode, till they came to their own realm of Great Turkey and to Samarcand; and there they abode a long while without again making war. 3

NOTE 1. — The names are uncertain. The G.T. has “one of whom was called Tibai or Ciban”; Pauthier, as in the text.

The phrase about their being Kaidu’s kinsmen is in the G.T., “qe zinzinz (?) meisme estoient de Caidu roi.”

NOTE 2. — Araines for Haríms, I presume. In the narrative of a merchant in Ramusio (II. 84, 86) we find the same word represented by Arin and Arino.

NOTE 3. — The date at the beginning of the chapter is in G.T., and Pauthier’s MS. A, as we have given it. Pauthier substitutes 1276, as that seems to be the date approximately connecting Prince Numughan with the wars against Kaidu. In 1275 Kúblái appointed Numughan to the command of his N.W. frontier, with Ngantung or ‘Antung, an able general, to assist him in repelling the aggressions of Kaidu. In the same year Kaidu and Dua Khan entered the Uighúr country (W. and N.W. of Kamul), with more than 100,000 men. Two years later, viz., in 1277, Kaidu and Shireghi, a son of Mangu Khan, engaged near Almalik (on the Hi) the troops of Kúblái, commanded by Numughan and ‘Antung, and took both of them prisoners. The invaders then marched towards Karakorum. But Bayan, who was in Mongolia, marched to attack them, and completely defeated them in several engagements. (Gaubil, 69, 168, 182.)

Pauthier gives a little more detail from the Chinese annals, but throws no new light on the discrepancies which we see between Polo’s account and theirs. ‘Antung, who was the grandson of Mokli, the Jelair, one of Chinghiz’s Orlok or Marshals, seems here to take the place assigned to Prester John’s grandson, and Shireghi perhaps that of Yesudar. The only prince of the latter name that I can find is a son of Hulaku’s.

The description of the battle in this chapter is a mere formula again and again repeated. The armies are always exactly or nearly equal, they are always divided into corps of 10,000 (tomans), they always halt to prepare for action when within ten miles of one another, and the terms used in describing the fight are the same. We shall not inflict these tiresome repetitions again on the reader.

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