The travels of Marco Polo: selected excerpts

Here is a selection of some interesting excerpts I marked when reading The travels of Marco Polo:

Marco Polo on Kubilai Khan

"..For the Great Khan their king is, I tell you, the wisest and most accomplished man, the greatest Captain, and best to govern men and rule an Empire, as well as the most valiant, that ever existed among the Tribes of Mongols."

Marco Polo on Kubilai Khan's selection of wives

"Now every year a hundred of the most beautiful maidens of the tribe are sent to the Great Khan, who commits them to the charge of certain elderly ladies dwelling in his palace. And these old ladies make the girls sleep with them, in order to ascertain if they have sweet breath (and do not snore), and are sound in all their limbs. Then such of them as are of approved beauty... are appointed to attend on the Emperor by turns. Thus six of these damsels take their turn for three days and nights, wait on him when he is in his chamber and when he is in his bed, to serve him in any way, and to be entirely at this orders. At the end of the three days and nights they are relieved by other six."

Marco Polo on Kubilai Khan's falconing expeditions

"The Emperor himself is carried upon four elephants in a fine chamber made of timber, lined inside with plates of beaten gold, and outside with lion's skins (for he always travels in this way on his fowling expeditions, because he is troubled with gout). He always keeps beside him a dozen of his choicest falcons, and is attended by several of his Barons, who ride alongside him. ..[when one of the barons sees a crane flying overhead, Kubilai] casts one of his falcons, whichever he pleases, and often his quarry is struck within his view, so that his has the most exquisite sport and diversion... So it is not without reason I tell you that I do not believe there ever existed in the world or ever will exist, a man with such sport and enjoyment as he has, or with such rare opportunities."

Marco Polo on Kubilai Khan's hunting dogs

"The emporer hath two Barons who are own brothers [who are] 'The Keepers of the Mastiff Dogs". Each of these brothers have 10,000 men under his orders, each body of 10,000 being dressed alike, the one in red and the other in blue, and whenever they accompany the Lord to the chase, they wear this livery.. Out of each body of 10,000 there are 2,000 men who are each in charge of one or more great mastiffs. And when the king goes hunting,... 5,000 dogs go towards the right, whilst the other go toward the left. They move along, all abreast of one another, so that the whole line extends over a full day's journey, and no animal can escape them. Truly it is a glorious sight to see the working of the dogs and the huntsmen on such an occasion! will see these big hounds coming tearing up, one pack after a bear, another pack after a stag, or some other beast, as it may hap, and running the game down.. so that it is really a most delightful sport and spectacle."

Marco Polo on a custom regarding offering women to guests in a Himalayan Kingdom under Mongol rule

"I must tell you of a custom they have in this country regarding their women. No man considers himself wronged if a foreigner, or any other man, dishonour his wife, or daughter, or sister, or any woman of his family, but on the contrary he deems such intercourse a piece of good fortune... For this reason they bestow their wives on foreigners and other people as I will tell you.

When they fall in with any stranger in want of a lodging they are all eager to take him in. And as soon as he has taken up his quarters the master of the house goes forth, telling him to consider everything at his disposal, and after staying so he proceeds to his vineyards or his fields, and comes back no more till the stranger has departed. the latter abides in the [host's] house, be it three days or be it four, enjoying himself with the fellow's wife or daughter or sister... as long as he abides there he leaves his hat hanging at the door, to let the master of the house know that he is still there. As long as the wretched fellow sees that token, he must go not in. And such is the custom over all that province."

[My note: I have been unable to locate this place; if any travelers manage to find it, please use the Contact Me form and let me know immediately!]

Of one of the world's first police states, created by the Mongol Yuan Dynasty to rule over the Chinese majority. (sounds a little familiar...)

"And I must tell you that every hosteler who keeps a hostel for travelers is bound to register their names and surnames, as well as the day and month of their arrival and departure. And thus the King hath the means of knowing, whenever it pleases him, who come and go throughout his dominions. And certain this is a wise order and provident... Since the Great Khan occupied the city he has ordained that each of the 12,000 bridges should be provided with a guard of ten men, in case of any disturbance, or of any being so rash as to plot treason or insurrection against him..." [Marco goes on to describe the strict enforcement of a curfew throughout the city].

Marco Polo on Genghis Khan

"He was a man of great worth, and of great ability and valour. And as soon as the news that he had been chosen King was spread abroad through those countries, and all the Mongols in the world came to him and owned him for their Lord. And right well did he maintain the Sovereignty they had given him."

On burial of the Mongol Khans

"Let me tell you a strange thing too. When they are carrying the body of any Emporer to be buried with the others, the convoy that goes with the body doth put to the sword all whom they fall in with on the road.. For they do in sooth believed that all such as they slay in this manner do go to serve their Lord in the other world. They do the same too with horses, for when the Emperor dies, they kill all his best horses, in order that he may have the use of them in the other world, as they believe. And I tell you as a certain truth, than when Mongke Khan [Genghis' grandson, who reigned before Kubilai Khan] died, more than 20,000 persons, who chanced to meet the body on its way, were slain in the manner I have told."

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