The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxix.

How Totamangu was Lord of the Tartars of the Ponent.

You must know there was a Prince of the Tartars of the Ponent called MONGOTEMUR, and from him the sovereignty passed to a young gentleman called TOLOBUGA. But TOTAMANGU, who was a man of great influence, with the help of another Tartar King called NOGAI, slew Tolobuga and got possession of the sovereignty. He reigned not long however, and at his death TOCTAI, an able and valiant man, was chosen sovereign in the place of Totamangu. But in the meantime two sons of that Tolobuga who was slain were grown up, and were likely youths, able and prudent.

So these two brothers, the sons of Totamangu, got together a goodly company and proceeded to the court of Toctai. When they had got thither they conducted themselves with great discretion, keeping on their knees till Toctai bade them welcome, and to stand up. Then the eldest addressed the Sovereign thus: “Good my Lord Toctai, I will tell you to the best of my ability why we be come hither. We are the sons of Totamangu, whom Tolobuga and Nogai slew, as thou well knowest. Of Tolobuga we will say no more, since he is dead, but we demand justice against Nogai as the slayer of our Father; and we pray thee as Sovereign Lord to summon him before thee and to do us justice. For this cause are we come!”1

(Toctai agrees to their demand and sends two messengers to summon Nogai, but Nogai mocks at the message and refuses to go. Whereupon Toctai sends a second couple of messengers.)

NOTE 1. — I have not attempted to correct the obvious confusion here; for in comparing the story related here with the regular historians we find the knots too complicated for solution.

In the text as it stands we first learn that Totamangu by help of Nogai kills Tolobuga, takes the throne, dies, and is succeeded by Toctai. But presently we find that it is the sons of Totamangu who claim vengeance from Toctai against Nogai for having aided Tolobuga to slay their father. Turning back to the list of princes in chapter xxiv. we find Totamangu indeed, but Tolobuga omitted altogether.

The outline of the history as gathered from Hammer and D’Ohsson is as follows:—

NOGHAI, for more than half a century one of the most influential of the Mongol Princes, was a great-great-grandson of Chinghiz, being the son of Tatar, son of Tewal, son of Juji. He is first heard of as a leader under Batu Khan in the great invasion of Europe (1241), and again in 1258 we find him leading an invasion of Poland.

In the latter quarter of the century he had established himself as practically independent, in the south of Russia. There is much about him in the Byzantine history of Pachymeres; Michael Palaeologus sought his alliance against the Bulgarians (of the south), and gave him his illegitimate daughter Euphrosyne to wife. Some years later Noghai gave a daughter of his own in marriage to Feodor Rostislawitz, Prince of Smolensk.

Mangu — or Mangku–Temur, the great-nephew and successor of Barka, died in 1280–81 leaving nine sons, but was succeeded by his brother TUDAI-MANGKU (Polo’s Totamangu). This Prince occupied himself chiefly with the company of Mahomedan theologians and was averse to the cares of government. In 1287 he abdicated, and was replaced by TULABUGHA (Tolobuga), the son of an elder brother, whose power, however, was shared by other princes. Tulabugha quarrelled with old Noghai and was preparing to attack him. Noghai however persuaded him to come to an interview, and at this Tulabugha was put to death. TOKTAI, one of the sons of Mangku–Temur, who was associated with Noghai, obtained the throne of Kipchak. This was in 1291. We hear nothing of sons of Tudai–Mangku or Tulabugha.

Some years later we hear of a symbolic declaration of war sent by Toktai to Noghai, and then of a great battle between them near the banks of the Don, in which Toktai is defeated. Later, they are again at war, and somewhere south of the Dnieper Noghai is beaten. As he was escaping with a few mounted followers, he was cut down by a Russian horseman. “I am Noghai,” said the old warrior, “take me to Toktai.” The Russian took the bridle to lead him to the camp, but by the way the old chief expired. The horseman carried his head to the Khan; its heavy grey eyebrows, we are told, hung over and hid the eyes. Toktai asked the Russian how he knew the head to be that of Noghai. “He told me so himself,” said the man. And so he was ordered to execution for having presumed to slay a great Prince without orders. How like the story of David and the Amalekite in Ziklag! (2 Samuel, ch. i.).

The chronology of these events is doubtful. Rashiduddin seems to put the defeat of Toktai near the Don in 1298–1299, and a passage in Wassáf extracted by Hammer seems to put the defeat and death of Noghai about 1303. On the other hand, there is evidence that war between the two was in full flame in the beginning of 1296; Makrizi seems to report the news of a great defeat of Toktai by Noghai as reaching Cairo in Jumadah I.A.H. 697 or February–March, 1298. And Novairi, from whom D’Ohsson gives extracts, appears to put the defeat and death of Noghai in 1299. If the battle on the Don is that recounted by Marco it cannot be put later than 1297, and he must have had news of it at Venice, perhaps from relations at Soldaia. I am indeed reluctant to believe that he is not speaking of events of which he had cognizance before quitting the East; but there is no evidence in favour of that view. (Golden Horde, especially 269 seqq.; Ilchan. II. 347, and also p. 35; D’Ohsson, IV. Appendix; Q. Mákrizi, IV. 60.)

The symbolical message mentioned above as sent by Toktai to Noghai, consisted of a hoe, an arrow, and a handful of earth. Noghai interpreted this as meaning, “If you hide in the earth, I will dig you out! If you rise to the heavens I will shoot you down! Choose a battle-field!” What a singular similarity we have here to the message that reached Darius 1800 years before, on this very ground, from Toktai’s predecessors, alien from him in blood it may be, but identical in customs and mental characteristics:—

“At last Darius was in a great strait, and the Kings of the Scythians having ascertained this, sent a herald bearing, as gifts to Darius, a bird, a mouse, a frog, and five arrows. . . . Darius’s opinion was that the Scythians meant to give themselves up to him. . . . But the opinion of Gobryas, one of the seven who had deposed the Magus, did not coincide with this; he conjectured that the presents intimated: ‘Unless, O Persians, ye become birds, and fly into the air, or become mice and hide yourselves beneath the earth, or become frogs and leap into the lakes, ye shall never return home again, but be stricken by these arrows.’ And thus the other Persians interpreted the gifts.” (Herodotus, by Carey, IV. 131, 132.) Again, more than 500 years after Noghai and Toktai were laid in the steppe, when Muraview reached the court of Khiva in 1820, it happened that among the Russian presents offered to the Khan were two loaves of sugar on the same tray with a quantity of powder and shot. The Uzbegs interpreted this as a symbolical demand: Peace or War? (V. et Turcomanie, p. 165.)

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