Hugh Murray.

Historical account of discoveries and travels in Asia, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) online

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came next to Robad-bar (Korumabad ?) where he
found twenty thousand Jews. The next large



place was Amaria (possibly Kermanshaw), situated
at the foot of a great range of mountains, inha-
bited by that sect of Jews who are called Is-
maelites. He mentions here a singular story,
confirmed by other authorities, of one David
Elsoi, M'ho had set up for the Messiah, and
threatened the conquest of India, and even of
all the East. This movement was discouraged by
all the most respectable heads of the Jewish na-
tion, who dreaded its drawing down upon them
the vengeance of the King of Persia ; and that
monarch having succeeded in procuring the assas-
sination of the pretender, the other Jews, by dint
of presents and submission, succeeded in mol-
lifying him.

Benjamin now turning westward, came in ten
days to Hamadan, then a very great city, which
he represents as containing fifty thousand Jews.
From Hamadan he went by Dabrestan to Ispahan,
already the capital of the empire, and containing
twelve thousand Jews, including the " head of
" the captivity." Beyond Ispahan is Siaphaz
and Ginah, two places which it seems impossible
to identify ; and beyond these Samarcand, called
•the remotest place of Persia, and a famous city,
where he asserts there are fifty thousand Jews.
He now mentions Thibet, and the musk which
it produces, but errs widely in placing it only
four days journey beyond Samarcand. Here fol-


lows a very apocryphal account of a nation of
Jews situated in the north, with whom the King
of Persia had waged an unsuccessful war ; also
pf their neighbours, the Copheral Turks, who eat
raw flesh, and have no noses, but merely two
holes in the face through which tliey breathe.
This last feature, however, may pass as a carica-
ture of the extreme flatness of the Mongal nose.
Upon the whole, however, it seems very doubtful
if our author ever travelled beyond Ispahan.

In his return from these countries, Benjamin
states that he came to Khusistan, and to the
banks of the Tigris, which, in its passage to the
sea, encompasses Nekrokis, an island six days
journey in extent. The learned have perplexed
themselves much about this island, but it appears
to me that it must be the territory of Irak Arabi,
nearly enclosed between the Euphrates and Tigris,
which he describes as carrying on that extensive
trade with India, Arabia, and Persia, which has
been always centered in some port near the mouth
of this river. Thence he sailed to Katipha (el
Katif), and describes the fishery of pearls on this
coast, though he favours us with a very erroneous
theory of their formation. The rest of his course
is very dark, but it appears to have included a
voyage to India, where he mentions the practice
of burning the dead, of self-immolation, and the
growth of pepper. He adds, that a voyage of


forty days leads to the coast of Tzin or China,
How he found his way back to Arabia is not
very clear J but, on entering the Red Sea, be
sailed •* to the Indies on the opposite coast," by
which it soon appears that he means Ethiopia.
His narrative from this time has no farther re-
ference to any part of Asia.





The Tartars. — Conquests qfZingis and his dynasty. — Embassies
Jrom the Pope. — Ascelin. — Carpini,

From the sea which washes the eastern shores of
Asia, westward as far as the confines of Germany,
across nearly the whole of one hemisphere, an
uninterrupted expanse of level plain, like an ocean,
extends itself. To this the ancients, at all the
points where they came in contact with it, ap-
plied the vast and vague name of Scythia ; while
the moderns, after severing the European part,
but with enlarged knowledge of the Asiatic, gave
it the equally wide appellation of Tartary. The
whole, till the genius of Peter impressed a new


character on some portion of it, continued, from
the earliest records, to exhibit one uniform as-
pect. The inhabitants had already emerged from
the hunting state, and supported themselves by
pasturage ; but, defects of soil, climate, and
government, always prevented them from enter-
ing on agricultural pursuits. To the inhabitant
of a civihzed country, the pastoral state suggests
only pleasing ideas. The hut of the shepherd
seems the abode of innocence, gentleness, and
rural simplicity ; and the picture, after due allow-
ance for poetic colouring, is not quite illusory.
Perhaps even it may not be inapplicable, in their
retired and domestic state, to the tenants of
the Scythian wilds ; — but when they are formed
into vast assemblages, and acted upon by ambi-
tious chiefs, a very different scene arises. Trained
from infancy to the use of arms, they imbibe, in
all its fury, the spirit of war, and are easily im-
pelled to the spoil of happier regions, in which
nature seems unjustly to have lavished goods, of
which their sword renders them the rightful pos-
sessors. In rude tribes, the laws of war are always
cruel ; but the pastoral nations, destitute of all
the refinements of civilization, are strangers to
humanity and mercy ; and even nations whose
military code is considered by us as barbarous,
speak with horror of Scythian devastation. The
series of invasions, therefore, which have poured


down from these regions, have always numbered
among the most dreadful calamities to which the
human race is liable ; they have been compared
to a scourge, which the Deity holds continually
in his hand, to chastise the crimes of mankind.
In a rude state of the military art, bodily strength
and prowess form the leading qualifications ;
hence the Scythians, who live as it were on
horseback, and are inured to eveiy vicissitude
of the seasons, proved always an overmatch for
the effeminate natives of Southern Asia. The
great empires have thus been long subjected to
Scythian and Tartar dynasties j and, as these
were successively enervated by wealth and luxury,
new northern swarms poured in to occupy their
place. One sweep was usually sufficient to drive
from his seat the effeminate monarch of Delhi
and Ispahan. But the Roman empire, cast in a
firmer mould, and having carried the military art
to a perfection before unknown, long resisted and
repelled these formidable assailants. The mighty
tide of invasion, however, continued to roll on,
wave over wave, from the farthest depths of in-
terior Asia, till Rome, with all her greatness and
all her glory, was buried beneath it. Already
the eastern empire drew faintly its expiring
breath ; and the moment was fast approaching
when the imperial city was to be trampled under
foot by the hordes of Northern Asia.


After the successive inundations of Goths, of
Huns, and of Turks, which had poured from that
grand storehouse of nations, it might have been
expected that an interval of exhaustion would
follow, and that the world would enjoy a pause
of tranquillity. This hope was soon dispelled ;
for, of all these mighty destroyers of mankind,
none ever equalled the power and terror of the
name of Zingis. This daring chief appears to
have been originally little more than a private
individual among the Mogul tribe to the north of
China. His countrymen being engaged in a war
with their neighbours, elected him for their com-
mander. He vanquished them ; and enlisting
under his standard the tribes whom he subdued,
was soon able to attack, with success, the opu-
lent and defenceless empire of China. Europe
then attracted his eye ; and his hordes swept
across nearly the entire breadth of the known
world, till they reached the frontier of Germany.
Zingis himself died on the shores of the Caspian ;
but his successors overran Russia, Poland, Hun-
gary, and then entered Silesia. Europe was
struck with inexpressible terror at this new ene-
my, thrown up, as it were, from the depth of an
unknown world. Their immense numbers, and
the rapidity of their movements, rendered it alike
vain to fly or to resist ; and the countries swept
by this human tempest were converted at once


from the fair abodes of man into smoking deserts.
Rumour and fancy magnified even the terrible
truth. It was reported, that the wretched and
unsuspecting inhabitants were not only slaughter-
ed without mercy, but their bodies devoured with
ravenous avidity, " the Tartars glutting them-
" selves as with delicious cates ;" so that, when
the fragments were at length abandoned to the
vultures, those birds of prey found the bones so
thoroughly picked, that they turned from them
with disdain. The people of that age, ignorant of
the real distance and position of countries, were
bewildered and amazed, and knew not when or
where they might encounter the destroyers. It
may be mentioned as an instance, that the Danes
were thus deterred, for one season, from setting
out for the herring-fishery on the coast of Scot-

The Tartars were met by the Duke of Silesia ;
but that unfortunate prince and his whole army,
after a most gallant resistance, were entirely cut
to pieces. The Tartars, however, were some-
what stunned by this first encounter with the
chivalry of Europe. When they heard, there-
fore, that the King of Bohemia, the Patriarch of
Aquileia, the Duke of Carinthia, and other chiefs,
were approaching with a mighty army, " that
" accursed crew immediately vanished," and they
retired with the same rapidity as they had ad-


vanced, into the interior of Poland and Russia.
Tliey departed, however, with loud threats of
speedily returning ; and though the tide of deso-
lation was for a moment rolled back, it was be-
lieved to be only collecting new strength, that it
might flow on with a more mighty and irresistible
current. Europe, therefore, continued still bound
in the spell of terror ; for this new enemy moved
with such unparalleled swiftness, as not to afford
a moment's security against his threatened return.
In this crisis, the Pope, as the spiritual ruler of
Europe, felt himself called upon to make some
effort for delivering the Christian world from so
tremendous a scourge. For this purpose, he
could employ only embassy ; and his choice of
ambassadors fell naturally upon churchmen, who,
indeed, were then the persons usually invested
with diplomatic functions. Besides the peril
which menaced the eastern frontier of Europe,
the Tartars were advancing through Persia to
attack the possessions which successful crusade
had placed in the hands of the Christians in Syria
and the Holy Land. To this last quarter were
despatched a body of friars of the order of St
Francis ; at the head of whom was Ascelin, ac-
companied by Simon de St Quintin, Alexander,
and Albert. The other embassy was composed
of what were called Friars Preachers ; the princi-
pal of whom was John de Piano Carpini, attends


ed by a Polish friar of the name of Benedict.
Whatever we may think of the judgment with
which their mission was performed, it is impossi.
ble not to admire the intrepidity with whicli they
faced hunger, thirst, cokl, slavery, and death, in
execution of this strange and perilous mission.

We shall begin with relating the result of the
mission of Ascehn and his companions of the
Franciscan order. These personages appear to
have been taken from the depth of conventual life,
without the least idea of the business of life, or
of the mode of dealing with mankind. Their
only qualification was an awful and unbounded
veneration for the Pope, who appeared to them
raised to an infinite height above other mortals,
and to whose will, when they should announce it,
it appeared to them that the mightiest monarchs
were bound, and might be expected, to pay im-
plicit obedience. With these dispositions, they
set out in search of an army of Tartars. They
found one, accordingly, on the northern frontier
of Persia, and marched up to the camp in a very
intrepid manner. As soon as the friars were
seen approaching, several of the Mogul chiefs
advanced to meet them, and demanded who they
were or whence they came. Ascelin replied, that
he was ambassador from the Pope, the head of
the Christian world, throughout the whole of


which he was regarded as a father. At this re-
sponse, visible dissatisfaction appeared in the
countenances of the Tartars ; however, they
merely said, in an ironical tone : " Since your
" Pope is so great a personage, he will doubtless
** know that the Khan is the son of God, by
" whom the dominion of the earth has been com-
" mitted to him ; and that he has ordered Bathy
" in the north, and Baiothnoy here, to receive
" similar honours with himself." The friar had
so little judgment as to make the following reply :
He said, " that the Pope had never heard of the
*• Khan, or of Baiothnoy, or of Bathy, and had
" not the remotest idea that there existed any
" such persons. All he knew was, that there was
" a strange and barbarous people, called Tartars,
" who came ravaging and destroying all whom
** they met, particularly Christians ; and his pur-
" pose was to exhort them, that they should re-
" pent of their past wickedness, and cease to de-
" stroy the people of God." However ungra-
cious this reply might appear, it was received
without any comment, and immediately convey-
ed to the Khan. The Tartars then changed their
clothes, and came out to ask what presents the
ambassadors brought from the Pope to their mas-
ter. The friars, with the same courtesy and pru-
dence as before, answered, " that their master
" was accustomed to receive presents from all


** men, but never to give any to his best friends,
** far less to strangers and infidels." This was
contrary to every idea prevalent in the East,
where the smallest chieftain expects that no one
shall approach without some present. The Tar-
tars, however, made still no remark, but merely
carried in the report to Baiothnoy. Having
changed their clothes a second time, they again
came out, asking, how they dared to present
themselves before their master without making a
present, as was done by every one else ? The
friar stated, that the rule was irrevocable ; but
that if they could not obtain admission, they
would deliver their letters, which the chiefs them-
selves might present to Baiothnoy. The Tartars,
however, said that they might have an audience,
provided they would conform to the Khan's re-
gulation, by which all who approached him or
any of his deputies were directed to make three
genuflexions before him. The ambassadors being
visibly startled by the proposal, a Cremonese
friar, who had resided here for some time, stept
forward and assured them, that this ought by
no means to be considered as an act of worship,
but merely as a mark of respect, which was
paid by every one to the prince as a mighty sove-
reign. The friars, however, having retired for
a consultation, decided, that it would be a ground
of shame to themselves, and of scandal to all


Christendom, if they should perform such an act
of idolatry to a heathen j and that they would
endure every extremity rather than submit to it.
This resolution they announced to the Tartars,
adding, however, if their prince and themselves
would become Christians, that, for the honour
of the church, they would perform the required
genuflexions. At this proposition, the rage of
the Tartars, which had hitherto been covered
under a veil of decorum, burst all bounds. They
told them that they would be sorry, indeed, to
make themselves Christian dogs like them ; and
froze them with horror by adding, that the Pope
was a dog. Ascelin, attempting to reply to these
invectives, was silenced by loud cries and me-
naces ; and the chiefs immediately repaired to
the council which had been called by Baiothnoy,
in order to deliberate on the treatment which
might appear best merited by the deportment of
the embassy.

At this assembly a considerable diversity of
opinion prevailed. Some were of opinion, that
the friars should be flayed alive, and that
their skins, stufled with hay, should be sent
to the Pope j others suggested, that they might
be kept till the next battle with the Christians,
and placed in the front of it, so as to fall by the
hands of their own countrymen. A third advised,
that they should be whipped through the camp


and forthwith put to death. To Baiothnoy,
in his present mood, the most prompt punish-
ment appeared the most eligible ; he therefore
issued orders that sentence of death should be
executed, without a moment's delay, upon the
whole party. In this fearful predicament, an in-
terposition was made by that female humanity
which has so often been the subject of just pane-
gyric. The principal wife of Baiothnoy, hearing
of the fate which impended over these unhappy
strangers, ran to her husband, and finding him
inaccessible to pity, endeavoured to move him
by motives addressed to his interest. She repre-
sented the disgrace which he would incur by thus
violating the law of nations ; and that many who
now repaired to him with homage and presents,
would be deterred from coming. She reminded
him of the deep displeasure expressed by the
Khan at his treatment of a former ambassador,
whose heart he had caused to be plucked out,
and had rode round the camp with it fastened to
the tail of his horse. By these arguments, and
by earnest entreaty, she at length obtained his
consent to spare the lives of the friars. The
chiefs, however, again waited upon them to ne-
gociate as to the measure of respect which they
were willing to pay to their Prince. The friar
stated, that partially taking off their bonnets, and
bowing the head, was the utmost extent which


their conscience could permit them to go. The
chiefs, however, were deeply scandalized to see
them kneeling before their crucifix, and exclaim-
ed, You worship wood and stone, and will you
not do the same to the representative of the ruler
of mankind? It was then proposed, that they
should set out for the court of the Great Khan,
the magnificence of which, they were assured,
would enable them to form an adequate idea of
the Tartarian empire. Ascelin, however, who
thought he had seen quite enough of Tartar
courts, declared that his mission was not to the
Khan, but to the first army which he might hap-
pen to meet, and having fulfilled his instructions,
nothing but force should induce him to go
further. After repeated urgency the proposal
was dropped.

At length Baiothnoy permitted the letters to be
presented to him, and gave directions to have
them interpreted. Nothing remained but to give
the answers, and the embassy fondly hoped that
their sufferings were drawing to a period. Four
days after, however, they began to inquire if they
were to be furnished with their letters and guides ;
when the chiefs said, that, as they had felt so
much curiosity respecting a Tartar army, it would
be much better to wait till some reinforcements
arrived, which would enable them to view the
present one in a complete state. Ascelin solemn-


ly protested, that he had not the remotest wish
to see more Tartars than he had already seen : —
but he soon found that there was no serious in-
tention of dismissing them. Meantime, not only
were they treated on all occasions as if they had
been the refuse of mankind, or rather as belong-
ing to the brute creation ; but invention was
kept always on the stretch to discover new modes
of harassing and annoying them. No provisions
were allowed but black bread and sour milk, and
that in such scanty portions, that they laboured
often under the most extreme and doleful inanity.
A favourite amusement consisted in. the Prince
sending for them early in the morning, as if to
have an immediate audience, when they were
kept the whole day standing at the outside of the
tent, and scorched by the rays of a tropical sun,
without food or shelter, till evening, when they
were fain to return to their home. The Tartars
took peculiar delight in taunting them on the
subject of the Pope, which appeared always to be
the most sensible point. They asked how many
armies this Prince maintained, and what was the
number of each ? how many battles he had gain-
ed? how many kingdoms he had conquered?
and finally, whether he had any kingdom at
all ? No satisfactory answers being returned to
any one of their questions, they indignantly en-
quired, how they could presume to compare such



a personage to the Great Khan, who had subdued
kingdoms innumerable, and whom the remotest
extremities of the East and of the West obeyed?
Ascehn laboured hard to give them an idea of
the spiritual nature of the Papal dominion ; but
found it impossible to inspire these " barbarous
" and brutal men" with any due respect for such
a potentate.

The unfortunate friars were thus detained for
several months at the Tartar camp, daily, but in
vain, imploring their dismissal. The Khan,
meanwhile, not only caused every kind of insult
and contempt to be heaped upon them, but
shewed repeatedly a disposition to put them to
death. These severities he justified, by alleging
the rude answers they returned to every question
that was put to them ; and, though the Tartars
protest that they never said a word which could
justly give offence, yet, as they have recorded
some of their answers, the reader may judge be-
tween them and Baiothnoy. However, that Prince
at length listened to their earnest entreaty, and
ordered the letters to be prepared. He changed
his mind, however, and directed them to be kept
till a personage of the name of Auguta should
arrive from the Great Khan. Their miseries were
thus prolonged for three weeks longer, till the
appearance of Auguta, who, having performed
all the ceremonies refused by the friars, was re-


ceived with every mark of joy and cordiality. A
scene of barbarous festivity now began. Kou-
miss had been copiously prepared for the occa-
sion ; and they continued for seven successive
days, drinking, dancing, and howling, without
the least apparent recollection that the friars

At the end of that time Baiothnov at length
deigned to give orders that the friars should be
sent away, and that their letters should be given
them. One of these letters was from the Khan
to Baiothnoy, and was called a " letter of God.*'
It began in the following terms, which may be
considered as a sort of profession of Tartar faith.
" By order of the living God, Zingis Khan, the
" son of God, mild and venerable, saith thus :
" God is high over all and immortal, but on earth
" Zingis Khan is the only lord." It goes on to
instruct, that this truth should be proclaimed to
the farthest extremities of the earth, and along
with it, the dreadful punishments that would fall
upon those who should disobey this universal and
rightful dominion. The other letter was from
Baiothnoy to the Pope, and contsiined the follow-
ing very unceremonious expressions. ** Know,
*• Pope, that your messengers have come to us,
" and have given your letters, and have held the
" strangest discourses that ever were heard. We
** know not if you gave them authority to speak


" as they have done ; but we send you the firm
" commandment and ordinance of God, which is,
*' that if you wish to remain seated in your land
" and heritage, you. Pope, must come to us in
" your proper person, and do homage to him
*' who holds just sway over the whole earth.
" And, if you do not obey this firm command of
*' God, and of him who holds just sway over the
" whole earth, God only knows what may hap-
*' pen/* With this unpropitious result of their
unfortunate expedition, the friars thought them-
selves too happy in being able to set out, and to
reach with all speed the coast of Syria, from
whence they might embark for France.

Meantime Carpini and his companions were
proceeding upon their mission by way of North-
ern Europe. They travelled in haste, dreading
an immediate invasion, and hoping, apparently,
that a word from them would put a stop to such
a danger. They passed through Bohemia, Sile-
sia, and Poland, and met with much courtesy
from the princes of those countries, who were

Online LibraryHugh MurrayHistorical account of discoveries and travels in Asia, from the earliest ages to the present time (Volume 1) → online text (page 5 of 30)