The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter xxi.

Concerning the City of Cobinan and the Things that are Made There.

Cobinan is a large town.1 The people worship Mahommet. There is much Iron and Steel and Ondanique, and they make steel mirrors of great size and beauty. They also prepare both Tutia (a thing very good for the eyes) and Spodium; and I will tell you the process.

They have a vein of a certain earth which has the required quality, and this they put into a great flaming furnace, whilst over the furnace there is an iron grating. The smoke and moisture, expelled from the earth of which I speak, adhere to the iron grating, and thus form Tutia, whilst the slag that is left after burning is the Spodium.[NOTE 2]

NOTE 1. — KUH-BANÁN is mentioned by Mokaddasi (A.D. 985) as one of the cities of Bardesír, the most northerly of the five circles into which he divides Kermán. (See Sprenger, Post — und Reise-routen des Orients, p. 77.) It is the subject of an article in the Geog. Dictionary of Yákút, though it has been there mistranscribed into Kubiyán and Kukiyán. (See Leipzig ed. 1869, iv. p. 316, and Barbier de Meynard, Dict. de la Perse, p. 498.) And it is also indicated by Mr. Abbott (J. R. G. S. XXV. 25) as the name of a district of Kermán, lying some distance to the east of his route when somewhat less than half-way between Yezd and Kermán. It would thus, I apprehend, be on or near the route between Kermán and Tabbas; one which I believe has been traced by no modern traveller. We may be certain that there is now no place at Kuh–Banán deserving the title of une cité grant, nor is it easy to believe that there was in Polo’s time; he applies such terms too profusely. The meaning of the name is perhaps “Hill of the Terebinths, or Wild Pistachioes,” “a tree which grows abundantly in the recesses of bleak, stony, and desert mountains, e.g. about Shamákhi, about Shiraz, and in the deserts of Luristan and Lar.” (Kämpfer, 409, 413.)

[“It is strange that Marco Polo speaks of Kúbenán only on his return journey from Kermán; on the down journey he must have been told that Kúbenán was in close proximity; it is even probable that he passed there, as Persian travellers of those times, when going from Kermán to Yazd, and vice versá, always called at Kúbenán.” (Houtum–Schindler, l.c. p. 490.) In all histories this name is written Kúbenán, not Kúhbenán; the pronunciation today is Kóbenán and Kobenún. — H. C.]

I had thought my identification of Cobinan original, but a communication from Mr. Abbott, and the opportunity which this procured me of seeing his MS. Report already referred to, showed that he had anticipated me many years ago. The following is an extract: “Districts of Kerman * * * Kooh Benan. This is a hilly district abounding in fruits, such as grapes, peaches, pomegranates, sinjid (sweet-willow), walnuts, melons. A great deal of madder and some asafoetida is produced there. This is no doubt the country alluded to by Marco Polo, under the name of Cobinam, as producing iron, brass, and tutty, and which is still said to produce iron, copper, and tootea.” There appear to be lead mines also in the district, as well as asbestos and sulphur. Mr. Abbott adds the names of nine villages, which he was not able to verify by comparison. These are Púz, Tarz, Gújard, Aspaj, Kuh-i-Gabr, Dahnah, Búghín, Bassab, Radk. The position of Kuh Banán is stated to lie between Bahabád (a place also mentioned by Yákút as producing Tutia) and Ráví, but this does not help us, and for approximate position we can only fall back on the note in Mr. Abbott’s field-book, as published in the J. R. G. S., viz. that the District lay in the mountains E.S.E. from a caravanserai 10 miles S.E. of Gudran. To get the seven marches of Polo’s Itinerary we must carry the Town of Kuh Banán as far north as this indication can possibly admit, for Abbott made only five and a half marches from the spot where this observation was made to Kermán. Perhaps Polo’s route deviated for the sake of the fresh water. That a district, such as Mr. Abbott’s Report speaks of, should lie unnoticed, in a tract which our maps represent as part of the Great Desert, shows again how very defective our geography of Persia still is.

[“During the next stage to Darband, we passed ruins that I believe to be those of Marco Polo’s ‘Cobinan’ as the modern Kúhbenán does not at all fit in with the great traveller’s description, and it is just as well to remember that in the East the caravan routes seldom change.” (Captain P. M. Sykes, Geog. Jour. X. p. 580. — See Persia, ch. xxiii.)

Kuh Banán has been visited by Mr. E. Stack, of the Indian Civil Service. (Six Months in Persia, London, 1882, I. 230.)— H. C.]

NOTE 2. — Tutty (i.e. Tutia) is in modern English an impure oxide of zinc, collected from the flues where brass is made; and this appears to be precisely what Polo describes, unless it be that in his account the production of tutia from an ore of zinc is represented as the object and not an accident of the process. What he says reads almost like a condensed translation of Galen’s account of Pompholyx and Spodos: “Pompholyx is produced in copper-smelting as Cadmia is; and it is also produced from Cadmia (carbonate of zinc) when put in the furnace, as is done (for instance) in Cyprus. The master of the works there, having no copper ready for smelting, ordered some pompholyx to be prepared from cadmia in my presence. Small pieces of cadmia were thrown into the fire in front of the copper-blast. The furnace top was covered, with no vent at the crown, and intercepted the soot of the roasted cadmia. This, when collected, constitutes Pompholyx, whilst that which falls on the hearth is called Spodos, a great deal of which is got in copper-smelting.” Pompholyx, he adds, is an ingredient in salves for eye discharges and pustules. (Galen, De Simpl. Medic., p. ix. in Latin ed., Venice, 1576.) Matthioli, after quoting this, says that Pompholyx was commonly known in the laboratories by the Arabic name of Tutia. I see that pure oxide of zinc is stated to form in modern practice a valuable eye-ointment.

Teixeira speaks of tutia as found only in Kermán, in a range of mountains twelve parasangs from the capital. The ore got here was kneaded with water, and set to bake in crucibles in a potter’s kiln. When well baked, the crucibles were lifted and emptied, and the tutia carried in boxes to Hormuz for sale. This corresponds with a modern account in Milburne, which says that the tutia imported to India from the Gulf is made from an argillaceous ore of zinc, which is moulded into tubular cakes, and baked to a moderate hardness. The accurate Garcia da Horta is wrong for once in saying that the tutia of Kermán is no mineral, but the ash of a certain tree called Goan.

(Matth. on Dioscorides, Ven. 1565, pp. 1338–40; Teixeira, Relacion de Persia, p. 121; Milburne’s Or. Commerce, I. 139; Garcia, f. 21 v.; Eng. Cyc., art. Zinc.)

[General A. Houtum–Schindler (Jour. R. As. Soc. N.S. XIII. October, 1881, p. 497) says: “The name Tútíá for collyrium is now not used in Kermán. Tútíá, when the name stands alone, is sulphate of copper, which in other parts of Persia is known as Kát-i-Kebúd; Tútíá-i-sabz (green Tútíá) is sulphate of iron, also called Záj-i-síyah. A piece of Tútíá-i-zard (yellow Tútíá) shown to me was alum, generally called Záj-i-safíd; and a piece of Tútíá-í-safíd (white Tútíá) seemed to be an argillaceous zinc ore. Either of these may have been the earth mentioned by Marco Polo as being put into the furnace. The lampblack used as collyrium is always called Surmah. This at Kermán itself is the soot produced by the flame of wicks, steeped in castor oil or goat’s fat, upon earthenware saucers. In the high mountainous districts of the province, Kúbenán, Páríz, and others, Surmah is the soot of the Gavan plant (Garcia’s goan). This plant, a species of Astragalus, is on those mountains very fat and succulent; from it also exudes the Tragacanth gum. The soot is used dry as an eye-powder, or, mixed with tallow, as an eye-salve. It is occasionally collected on iron gratings.

“Tútíá is the Arabicised word dúdhá, Persian for smokes.

“The Shems-ul-loghát calls Tútíá a medicine for eyes, and a stone used for the fabrication of Surmah. The Tohfeh says Tútíá is of three kinds — yellow and blue mineral Tútíá, Tútíá-i-qalam (collyrium) made from roots, and Tútíá resulting from the process of smelting copper ore. ‘The best Tútíá-i-qalam comes from Kermán.’ It adds, ‘Some authors say Surmah is sulphuret of antimony, others say it is a composition of iron’; I should say any black composition used for the eyes is Surmah, be it lampblack, antimony, iron, or a mixture of all.

“Teixeira’s Tútíá was an impure oxide of zinc, perhaps the above-mentioned Tútíá-i-safíd, baked into cakes; it was probably the East India Company’s Lapis Tútíá, also called Tutty. The Company’s Tutenague and Tutenage, occasionally confounded with Tutty, was the so-called ‘Chinese Copper,’ an alloy of copper, zinc, and iron, brought from China.”

Major Sykes (ch. xxiii.) writes: “I translated Marco’s description of tutia (which is also the modern Persian name), to a khán of Kubenán, and he assured me that the process was the same today; spodium he knew nothing about, but the sulphate of zinc is found in the hills to the east of Kubenán.”

Heyd (Com. II. p. 675) says in a note: “Il résulte de l’ensemble de ce passage que les matières désignées par Marco Polo sous le nom de ‘espodie’ (spodium) étaient des scories métalliques; en général, le mot spodium désigne les résidus de la combustion des matières végétales ou des os (de l’ivoire).”— H. C.]

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