The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxv.

Of the War that Arose Between Alau and Barca, and the Battles that They Fought.

It was in the year 1261 of Christ’s incarnation that there arose a great discord between King Alau the Lord of the Tartars of the Levant, and Barca the King of the Tartars of the Ponent; the occasion whereof was a province that lay on the confines of both.1

<+>(They exchange defiances, and make vast preparations.)

And when his preparations were complete, Alau the Lord of Levant set forth with all his people. They marched for many days without any adventure to speak of, and at last they reached a great plain which extends between the Iron Gates and the Sea Of Sarain.2 In this plain he pitched his camp in beautiful order; and I can assure you there was many a rich tent and pavilion therein, so that it looked indeed like a camp of the wealthy. Alau said he would tarry there to see if Barca and his people would come; so there they tarried, abiding the enemy’s arrival. This place where the camp was pitched was on the frontier of the two kings. Now let us speak of Barca and his people.3

NOTE 1. —“Que marcesoit à le un et à le autre;” in Scotch phrase, “which marched with both.”

NOTE 2. — Respecting the Iron Gates, see vol. i. p. 53. The Caspian is here called the Sea of Sarain, probably for Sarai, after the great city on the Volga. For we find it in the Catalan Map of 1375 termed the Sea of Sarra. Otherwise Sarain might have been taken for some corruption of Shirwán. (See vol. i. p. 59, note 8.)

NOTE 3. — The war here spoken of is the same which is mentioned in the very beginning of the book, as having compelled the two Elder Polos to travel much further eastward than they had contemplated.

Many jealousies and heart-burnings between the cousins Hulaku and Barka had existed for several years. The Mameluke Sultan Bibars seems also to have stimulated Barka to hostility with Hulaku. War broke out in 1262, when 30,000 men from Kipchak, under the command of Nogai, passed Derbend into the province of Shirwan. They were at first successful, but afterwards defeated. In December, Hulaku, at the head of a great army, passed Derbend, and routed the forces which met him. Abaka, son of Hulaku, was sent on with a large force, and came upon the opulent camp of Barka beyond the Terek. They were revelling in its plunder, when Barka rallied his troops and came upon the army of Abaka, driving them southward again, across the frozen river. The ice broke and many perished. Abaka escaped, chased by Barka to Derbend. Hulaku returned to Tabriz and made great preparations for vengeance, but matters were apparently never carried further. Hence Polo’s is anything but an accurate account of the matter.

The following extract from Wassáf’s History, referring to this war, is a fine sample of that prince of rigmarole:

“In the winter of 662 (A.D. 1262–1263) when the Almighty Artist had covered the River of Derbend with plates of silver, and the Furrier of the Winter had clad the hills and heaths in ermine; the river being frozen hard as a rock to the depth of a spear’s length, an army of Mongols went forth at the command of Barka Aghul, filthy as Ghúls and Devils of the dry-places, and in numbers countless as the rain-drops,” etc. etc. (Golden Horde, p. 163 seqq.; Ilchan. I. 214 seqq.; Q.R. p. 393 seqq.; Q. Makrizi, I. 170; Hammer’s Wassáf, p. 93.)

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