The Travels of Marco Polo, by Marco Polo

Chapter iv.

Of the Battle that the Great Kaan Fought with Nayan.

What shall I say about it? When day had well broken, there was the Kaan with all his host upon a hill overlooking the plain where Nayan lay in his tent, in all security, without the slightest thought of any one coming thither to do him hurt. In fact, this confidence of his was such that he kept no vedettes whether in front or in rear; for he knew nothing of the coming of the Great Kaan, owing to all the approaches having been completely occupied as I told you. Moreover, the place was in a remote wilderness, more than thirty marches from the Court, though the Kaan had made the distance in twenty, so eager was he to come to battle with Nayan.

And what shall I tell you next? The Kaan was there on the hill, mounted on a great wooden bartizan,1 which was borne by four well-trained elephants, and over him was hoisted his standard, so high aloft that it could be seen from all sides. His troops were ordered in battles of 30,000 men apiece; and a great part of the horsemen had each a foot-soldier armed with a lance set on the crupper behind him (for it was thus that the footmen were disposed of);2 and the whole plain seemed to be covered with his forces. So it was thus that the Great Kaan’s army was arrayed for battle.

When Nayan and his people saw what had happened, they were sorely confounded, and rushed in haste to arms. Nevertheless they made them ready in good style and formed their troops in an orderly manner. And when all were in battle array on both sides as I have told you, and nothing remained but to fall to blows, then might you have heard a sound arise of many instruments of various music, and of the voices of the whole of the two hosts loudly singing. For this is a custom of the Tartars, that before they join battle they all unite in singing and playing on a certain two-stringed instrument of theirs, a thing right pleasant to hear. And so they continue in their array of battle, singing and playing in this pleasing manner, until the great Naccara of the Prince is heard to sound. As soon as that begins to sound the fight also begins on both sides; and in no case before the Prince’s Naccara sounds dare any commence fighting. 3

So then, as they were thus singing and playing, though ordered and ready for battle, the great Naccara of the Great Khan began to sound. And that of Nayan also began to sound. And thenceforward the din of battle began to be heard loudly from this side and from that. And they rushed to work so doughtily with their bows and their maces, with their lances and swords, and with the arblasts of the footmen, that it was a wondrous sight to see. Now might you behold such flights of arrows from this side and from that, that the whole heaven was canopied with them and they fell like rain. Now might you see on this side and on that full many a cavalier and man-at-arms fall slain, insomuch that the whole field seemed covered with them. From this side and from that such cries arose from the crowds of the wounded and dying that had God thundered, you would not have heard Him! For fierce and furious was the battle, and quarter there was none given.4

But why should I make a long story of it? You must know that it was the most parlous and fierce and fearful battle that ever has been fought in our day. Nor have there ever been such forces in the field in actual fight, especially of horsemen, as were then engaged — for, taking both sides, there were not fewer than 760,000 horsemen, a mighty force! and that without reckoning the footmen, who were also very numerous. The battle endured with various fortune on this side and on that from morning till noon. But at the last, by God’s pleasure and the right that was on his side, the Great Khan had the victory, and Nayan lost the battle and was utterly routed. For the army of the Great Kaan performed such feats of arms that Nayan and his host could stand against them no longer, so they turned and fled. But this availed nothing for Nayan; for he and all the barons with him were taken prisoners, and had to surrender to the Kaan with all their arms.

Now you must know that Nayan was a baptized Christian, and bore the cross on his banner; but this nought availed him, seeing how grievously he had done amiss in rebelling against his Lord. For he was the Great Kaan’s liegeman,5 and was bound to hold his lands of him like all his ancestors before him.6

NOTE 1. —“Une grande bretesche.” Bretesche, Bertisca (whence old English Brattice, and Bartizan), was a term applied to any boarded structure of defence or attack, but especially to the timber parapets and roofs often placed on the top of the flanking-towers in mediaeval fortifications; and this use quite explains the sort of structure here intended. The term and its derivative Bartizan came later to be applied to projecting guérites or watch-towers of masonry. Brattice in English is now applied to a fence round a pit or dangerous machinery. (See Muratori, Dissert. I. 334; Wedgwood’s Dict. of Etym. sub. v. Brattice; Viollet le Duc, by Macdermott, p. 40; La Curne de Sainte–Palaye, Dict.; F. Godefroy, Dict.)

[John Ranking (Hist. Res. on the Wars and Sports of the Mongols and Romans) in a note regarding this battle writes (p. 60): “It appears that it is an old custom in Persia, to use four elephants a-breast.” The Senate decreed Gordian III. to represent him triumphing after the Persian mode, with chariots drawn with four elephants. Augustan Hist. vol. ii. p. 65. See plate, p. 52. — H. C.]

NOTE 2. — This circumstance is mentioned in the extract below from Gaubil. He may have taken it from Polo, as it is not in Pauthier’s Chinese extracts; but Gaubil has other facts not noticed in these.

[Elephants came from the Indo–Chinese Kingdoms, Burma, Siam, Ciampa. — H. C.]

NOTE 3. — The specification of the Tartar instrument of two strings is peculiar to Pauthier’s texts. It was no doubt what Dr. Clarke calls “the balalaika or two-stringed lyre,” the most common instrument among the Kalmaks.

The sounding of the Nakkára as the signal of action is an old Pan–Asiatic custom, but I cannot find that this very striking circumstance of the whole host of Tartars playing and singing in chorus, when ordered for battle and waiting the signal from the boom of the Big Drum, is mentioned by any other author.

The Nakkárah or Nagárah was a great kettledrum, formed like a brazen caldron, tapering to the bottom and covered with buffalo-hide — at least 3–1/2 or 4 feet in diameter. Bernier, indeed, tells of Nakkáras in use at the Court of Delhi that were not less than a fathom across; and Tod speaks of them in Rájpútána as “about 8 or 10 feet in diameter.” The Tartar Nakkárahs were usually, I presume, carried on a camel; but as Kúblái had begun to use elephants, his may have been carried on an elephant, as is sometimes the case in India. Thus, too, P. della Valle describes those of an Indian Embassy at Ispahan: “The Indian Ambassador was also accompanied by a variety of warlike instruments of music of strange kinds, and particularly by certain Naccheras of such immense size that each pair had an elephant to carry them, whilst an Indian astride upon the elephant between the two Naccheras played upon them with both hands, dealing strong blows on this one and on that; what a din was made by these vast drums, and what a spectacle it was, I leave you to imagine.”

Joinville also speaks of the Nakkara as the signal for action: “So he was setting his host in array till noon, and then he made those drums of theirs to sound that they call Nacaires, and then they set upon us horse and foot.” The Great Nakkara of the Tartars appears from several Oriental histories to have been called Kúrkah. I cannot find this word in any dictionary accessible to me, but it is in the Ain Akbari (Kawargah) as distinct from the Nakkárah. Abulfazl tells us that Akbar not only had a rare knowledge of the science of music, but was likewise an excellent performer — especially on the Nakkárah!

Illustration: Nakkaras. (From a Chinese original.)

The privilege of employing the Nakkara in personal state was one granted by the sovereign as a high honour and reward.

The crusades naturalised the word in some form or other in most European languages, but in our own apparently with a transfer of meaning. For Wright defines Naker as “a cornet or horn of brass.” And Chaucer’s use seems to countenance this:—

“Pipes, Trompes, Nakeres, and Clariounes,

That in the Bataille blowen blody sounes.”

        — The Knight’s Tale.

On the other hand, Nacchera, in Italian, seems always to have retained the meaning of kettle-drum, with the slight exception of a local application at Siena to a metal circle or triangle struck with a rod. The fact seems to be that there is a double origin, for the Arabic dictionaries not only have Nakkarah, but Nakír and Nákúr, “cornu, tuba.” The orchestra of Bibars Bundukdári, we are told, consisted of 40 pairs of kettle-drums, 4 drums, 4 hautbois, and 20 trumpets (Nakír). (Sir B. Frere; Della Valle, II. 21; Tod’s Rájasthán, I. 328; Joinville, p. 83; N. et E. XIV. 129, and following note; Blochmann’s Ain-i-Akbari, pp. 50–51; Ducange, by Haenschel, s.v.; Makrizi, I. 173.)

[Dozy (Supp. aux Dict. Arabes) has [Arabic] [naqqarè] “petit tambour ou timbale, bassin de cuivre ou de terre recouvert d’une peau tendue,” and “grosses timbales en cuivre portées sur un chameau ou un mulet.”— Devic (Dict. Étym.) writes: “Bas Latin, nacara; bas grec, [Greek: anáchara]. Ce n’est point comme on l’a dit, l’Arabe [Arabic] naqïr ou [Arabic] náqör, qui signifient trompette, clairon, mais le persan [Arabic] en arabe, [Arabic] naqara, timbale.” It is to be found also in Abyssinia and south of Gondokoro; it is mentioned in the Sedjarat Malayu.

In French, it gives nacaire and gnacare from the Italian gnacare. “Quatre jouent de la guitare, quatre des castagnettes, quatre des gnacares.” (MOLIÈRE, Pastorale Comique.)— H. C.]

Illustration: Nakkaras. (From an Indian original.)

NOTE 4. — This description of a fight will recur again and again till we are very tired of it. It is difficult to say whether the style is borrowed from the historians of the East or the romancers of the West. Compare the two following parallels. First from an Oriental history:—

“The Ear of Heaven was deafened with the din of the great Kurkahs and Drums, and the Earth shook at the clangour of the Trumpets and Clarions. The shafts began to fall like the rain-drops of spring, and blood flowed till the field looked like the Oxus.” (J. A. S. sér. IV. tom. xix. 256)

Next from an Occidental Romance:—

“Now rist grete tabour betyng,

Blaweyng of pypes, and ek trumpyng,

Stedes lepyng, and ek arnyng,

Of sharp speres, and avalyng

Of stronge knighttes, and wyghth meetyng;

Launces breche and increpyng;

Knighttes fallyng, stedes lesyng;

Herte and hevedes thorough kervyng;

Swerdes draweyng, lymes lesyng

Hard assaylyng, strong defendyng,

Stiff withstondyng and wighth fleigheyng.

Sharp of takyng armes spoylyng;

So gret bray, so gret crieyng,

Ifor the folk there was dyeyng;

So muche dent, noise of sweord,

The thondur blast no myghte beo hirde,

No the sunne hadde beo seye,

For the dust of the poudré!

No the weolkyn seon be myght,

So was arewes and quarels flyght.”

        — King Alisaunder, in Weber, I. 93–94.

And again:—

“The eorthe quaked heom undur,

No scholde mon have herd the thondur.”

        — Ibid. 142.

Also in a contemporary account of the fall of Acre (1291): “Renovatur ergo bellum terribile inter alterutros . . . clamoribus interjectis hine et inde ad terrorem; ita ut nec Deus tonans in sublime coaudiri potuisset.” (De Excidio Acconis, in Martene et Durand, V. 780.)

NOTE 5. —“Car il estoit homme au Grant Kaan.” (See note 2, ch. xiv., in Prologue.)

NOTE 6. — In continuation of note 4, chap. ii., we give Gaubil’s conclusion of the story of Nayan: “The Emperor had gone ahead with a small force, when Nayan’s General came forward with 100,000 men to make a reconnaissance. The Sovereign, however, put on a bold front, and though in great danger of being carried off, showed no trepidation. It was night, and an urgent summons went to call troops to the Emperor’s aid. They marched at once, the horsemen taking the foot soldiers on the crupper behind them. Nayan all this while was taking it quietly in his camp, and his generals did not venture to attack the Emperor, suspecting an ambuscade. Liting then took ten resolute men, and on approaching the General’s camp, caused a Fire-Pao to be discharged; the report caused a great panic among Nayan’s troops, who were very ill disciplined at the best. Meanwhile the Chinese and Tartar troops had all come up, and Nayan was attacked on all sides: by Liting at the head of the Chinese, by Yusitemur at the head of the Mongols, by Tutuha and the Emperor in person at the head of his guards and the troops of Kincha (Kipchak). The presence of the Emperor rendered the army invincible, and Nayan’s forces were completely defeated. That prince himself was taken, and afterwards put to death. The battle took place in the vicinity of the river Liao, and the Emperor returned in triumph to Shangtu” (207). The Chinese record given in detail by Pauthier is to the like effect, except as to the Kaan’s narrow escape, of which it says nothing.

As regards the Fire-Pao (the latter word seems to have been applied to military machines formerly, and now to artillery), I must refer to Favé and Reinaud’s very curious and interesting treatise on the Greek fire (du Feu Grégeois). They do not seem to assent to the view that the arms of this description which are mentioned in the Mongol wars were cannon, but rather of the nature of rockets.

[Dr. G. Schlegel (T’oung Pao, No. 1, 1902), in a paper entitled, On the Invention and Use of Fire–Arms and Gunpowder in China, prior to the Arrival of Europeans, says that “now, notwithstanding all what has been alleged by different European authors against the use of gunpowder and fire-arms in China, I maintain that not only the Mongols in 1293 had cannon, but that they were already acquainted with them in 1232.” Among his many examples, we quote the following from the Books of the Ming Dynasty: “What were anciently called P’ao were all machines for hurling stones. In the beginning of the Mongol Dynasty (A.D. 1260), p’ao (catapults) of the Western regions were procured. In the siege [in 1233] of the city of Ts’ai chow of the Kin (Tatars), fire was for the first time employed (in these p’ao), but the art of making them was not handed down, and they were afterwards seldom used.”— H. C.]

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