Marco Polo [1254-1324] is the most famous of medieval European travelers. His account of China inspired other Europeans, including Columbus, to both interest and greed. Serious questions have always been raised about the authenticity of the text. Most recently Frances Wood, head of Chinese language materials at the British Library, has pointed out that much of Polo's vocabulary is Persian rather than Chinese, and suggested that he got only as far as Persia. Others have noted that he omits descriptions of certain aspects of Chinese life which would seem unmissable - the Great Wall for instance, or the custom of foot-binding [which was well established by the 13th century].

Fact of fiction, the book was extraordinarily important and can be read now with pleasure and profit.

I.    Activating Prior Knowledge
Before you read this article, what are the qualities or characteristics that a strong leader should possess? How does a leader go about acquiring power?

II.    Setting a Purpose for Reading
As you read about Marco Polo's encounter with Chingis-khan, how does Polo's opinion compare to the other opinions that we read in class?

III.    Reading the Text (Read, Re-Read, and Read Again)

Chapter 45

Concerning Chingis-khan, first emperor of the Tartars, and his warfare with Un-khan, whom he overthrew, and of whose kingdom he possessed himself.

Some time after the migration of the Tartars to this place, and about the year of our Lord 1162, they proceeded to elect for their king a man named Chingis-khan, one of approved integrity, great wisdom, commanding eloquence, and eminent for his valor. He began his reign with so much justice and moderation, that he was beloved and revered as their deity rather than their sovereign; and as the fame of his great and good qualities spread over that part of the world, all the Tartars, however dispersed, placed themselves under his command.

Stop! Can you answer this question? If not, go back and re-read the passage.
What were the qualities or characteristics that made Chingis-khan a great ruler, according to Marco Polo?

Finding himself thus at the head of so many brave men, he became ambitious of emerging from the deserts and wildernesses by which he was surrounded, and gave them orders to equip themselves with bows, and other weapons they were expert at using from the habits of their pastoral life. He then made himself master of cities and provinces, and such was the effect produced by his character for justice and other virtues, that wherever he went, he found the people disposed to submit to him, and to esteem themselves happy when admitted to his protection and favor. In this manner he acquired the possession of about nine provinces. Nor is his success surprising, when we consider that at this period each town and district was either governed by the people themselves or had its petty king or lord; and as there was no general confederacy, it was impossible for them to resist, separately, so formidable a power.

Stop! Can you answer this question? If not, go back and re-read the passage.
According to Marco Polo, how Chingis-khan take control of the different regions he “conquered?”

Upon the subjugation of these places, he appointed governors to them, who were so exemplary in their conduct that the inhabitants did not suffer either in their persons or their properties. He likewise adopted the policy of taking along with him, into other provinces, the principal people, on whom he bestowed allowances and gratuities.

Stop! Can you answer this question? If not, go back and re-read the passage.
How did Chingis-khan maintain order and control?

Seeing how prosperously his enterprises succeeded, he resolved on attempting still greater things. With this view he sent ambassadors to Prester John, charged with a specious message, which he knew at the same time would not be listened to by that prince, demanding his daughter in marriage. Upon receiving the application, the monarch indignantly exclaimed: "Whence arises this presumption in Chingis-khan, who, knowing himself to be my servant, dares to ask for the hand of my child? Depart instantly," he said, "and let him know from me, that upon the repetition of such a demand, I shall put him to an ignominious death." Enraged at this reply, Chingis-khan collected a very large army, at the head of which he entered the territory of Prester John, and encamping on a great plain called Tenduk, sent a message desiring him to defend himself. The latter advanced likewise to the plain with a vast army, and took his position at the distance of about ten miles from the other. In this conjuncture Chingis-khan commanded his astrologers and magicians to declare to him which of the two armies in the approaching conflict should obtain the victory. Upon this they took a green reed, and dividing it lengthways into two parts, they wrote upon one the name of their master, and upon the other the name of Un-khan. They then placed them on the ground, at some distance from each other, and gave notice to the king that during the time of their pronouncing their incantations, the two pieces of reed, through the power of their idols, would advance towards each other, and that the victory would fall to the lot of that monarch whose piece should be seen to mount upon the other. The whole army was assembled to be spectators of this ceremony, and whilst the astrologers were employed in reading their books of necromancy, they perceived the two pieces begin to move and to approach, and after a short time, the one inscribed with the name of Chingis-khan placed itself on top of its adversary.

Stop! Can you answer this question? If not, go back and re-read the passage.
What does this passage tell you about the religious beliefs and practices of Chingis-khan and his people?

Upon witnessing this, the king and his band of Tartars marched with exultation to the attack of the army of Un-khan, broke through its ranks and entirely routed it. Un-khan himself was killed, his kingdom fell to the conqueror, and Chingis-khan espoused [married] his daughter. After this battle he continued during six years to render himself master of additional kingdoms and cities; until at length, in the siege of a castle named Thaigin, he was struck by an arrow in the knee, died of the wound, and was buried in the mountain of Altai.

Source: Medieval Sourcebook - http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/source/mpolo44-46.asp

IV.    Personal Reflection - Respond to the following question(s) in your blog. Be sure to include quotes from the text to support your response.

Part 1 Response - How did Marco Polo view Chingis-khan as a leader? Cite at least one quote to support your response.
Part 2 Response - To what extent is Polo's view of Chingis-khan similar or different to those that we looked at in class? Should we trust Polo's views? Be sure to explain your response.

V.    Peer Reflection - Read 3 classmates' responses and respond to what they have written.

Leave a Reply.