CELEBRATED TRAVELLERS BETWEEN THE TENTH AND THIRTEENTH CENTURIES.
Sartach received the envoys of the King of France very graciously, and seeing their poverty, he supplied them with all that they required. They were to be presented to the prince in their sacerdotal dress, when, bearing on a cushion a splendid Bible, the gift of the King of France, a Psalter given by the Queen, a Missal, a crucifix and a censer, they entered the royal presence, taking good care not to touch the threshold of the door, which would have been considered profanation. Once in the royal presence, they sang the "Salve Regina." After the prince and those of the princesses who were present at the ceremony had examined the books, &c., that the monks had brought with them, the envoys were allowed to retire; it being impossible for Rubruquis to form any opinion as to Sartach's being a Christian, or not; but his work was not yet finished, the prince having pressed the envoys to go to his father's court. Rubruquis complied with the request, and crossing the country lying between the Volga and the Don, they arrived at their destination. There the same ceremonies had to be gone through as at the court of Prince Sartach. The monks had to prepare their books, &c., and be presented to the Khan, who was seated on a large gilded throne, but not wishing to treat with the envoys himself, he sent them to Karakorum, to the court of Mangu-khan.
They crossed the country of the Bashkirs and visited Kenchat, Talach, passed the Axiartes and reached Equius, a town of which the position cannot be accurately ascertained in the present day; then by the land of Organum, by the Lake of Balkash, and the territory of the Uigurs, they arrived at Karakorum, the capital of the Mongolian empire, where Carpini had stopped without entering the town.
This town, says Rubruquis, was surrounded with walls of earth, and had four gates in the walls. The principal buildings it contained were two mosques and a Christian church. While in this city, the monk made many interesting observations on the surrounding people, especially upon the Tangurs, whose oxen, of a remarkable race, are no other than the Yaks, so celebrated in Thibet. In speaking of the Thibetans he notices their most extraordinary custom of eating the bodies of their fathers and mothers, in order to secure their having an honourable sepulture.
When Rubruquis and his companions reached Karakorum, they found that the great khan was not in his capital, but in one of his palaces which was situated on the further side of the mountains which rise in the northern part of the country. They followed him there, and the next day after their arrival presented themselves before him with bare feet, according to the Franciscan custom, so securing for themselves frozen toes. Rubruquis thus describes the interview: "Mangu-Khan is a man of middle height with a flat nose; he was lying on a couch clad in a robe of bright fur, which was speckled like the skin of a sea-calf." He was surrounded with falcons and other birds. Several kinds of beverages, arrack punch, fermented mare's milk, and ball, a kind of mead, were offered to the envoys; but they refused them all. The khan, less prudent than they, soon became intoxicated on these drinks, and the audience had to be ended without any result being arrived at. Rubruquis remained several days at Mangu-Khan's court; he found there a great number of German and French prisoners, mostly employed in making different kinds of arms, or in working the mines of Bocol. The prisoners were well treated by the Tartars, and did not complain of their lot. After several interviews with the great khan, Rubruquis gained permission to leave, and he returned to Karakorum.
Near this town stood a magnificent palace, belonging to the khan; it was like a large church with nave and double aisles, here the sovereign sits at the northern end on a raised platform, the gentlemen being seated on his right, and the ladies on his left hand. It is at this palace that twice every year splendid fêtes are given, when all the nobles of the country are assembled round their sovereign.
While at Karakorum, Rubruquis collected many interesting documents relating to the Chinese, their customs, literature, &c.; then leaving the capital of the Mongols, he returned by the same route as he had come, as far as Astrakhan; but there he branched to the south and went to Syria with a Turkish escort, which was rendered necessary by the presence of tribes bent on pillage. He visited Derbend, and went thence by Nakshivan, Erzeroum, Sivas, Cæsarea, and Iconium, to the port of Kertch, whence he embarked for his own country. His route was much the same as that of Carpini, but his narrative is less interesting, and the Belgian does not seem to have been gifted with the spirit of observation which characterized the Italian monk.
With Carpini and Rubruquis closes the list of celebrated travellers of the thirteenth century, but we have the brilliant career of Marco Polo now before us, whose travels extended over part of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries.