Het'um the Historian's

History of the Tartars

[The Flower of Histories of the East]

[Book One]

Chapter 1

The Kingdom of Cathay

The kingdom of Cathay is considered the richest and most noble realm in the world. Full of people and incalculable splendor, it is located by the shore of the Ocean sea. There are so many islands in the sea bordering it that no one knows their number, since no one has visited all of them. Yet as far as the foot of man has travelled thereabouts, countless luxuries, treasures, and wealth have been observed. Olive oil is an item which fetches a great price there and is much esteemed, and kings and grandees have kept it with great care as a major medicine.

There are numerous strange animals in the kingdom of Cathay, which I shall not mention. People there are creative and quite clever; and thus they have little regard for the accomplishments of other people in all the arts and sciences. They claim that they themselves are the only ones to see with two eyes, while the Latins see with but one eye, and all other peoples are blind. And their word is confirmed by the fact that, generally, they regard other people as imbeciles. For such a quantity of varied and marvellous wares with indescribably delicate workmanship is brought from that kingdom, that no one is capable of matching such goods in the scales [end of grabar (Classical Armenian) textpage 5; henceforth shown as, for example, g5].

All the people in that kingdom are called Cathayans, and among them are many attractive men and women. But by and large, they have tiny eyes and are beardless by nature. These Cathayans have very beautiful letters, in some respects similar in beauty to Latin letters. It is difficult to describe the [religious] doctrines of the people of this kingdom. For some folk worship idols made out of metal; some worship cattle (since they work the land which brings forth wheat and other produce); some worship gigantic trees; some, the natural elements; some, the stars. There are those who worship the sun and those who worship the moon. Yet others have no belief or doctrine and lead their lives like irrational beasts. Although they are full of genius with regard to making all sorts of material goods, no acquaintance with the spiritual exists among them.

[In warfare] the people of this country are very cowardly, and must be heavily armed. However, they are extremely skilled on the seas where they defeat their enemies more so than on land. They possess many types of weapons not found among other peoples. As for the money which this people uses, it is made of sedge, of square shape and bears the royal stamp, and it is based on this stamp that the money's value is determined, great or small. If the money becomes worn through age, they take it to the royal court and exchange it for fresh money. They make vessels and other ornaments out of gold and other metals.

Only in the west is Cathay bordered by another kingdom, that of Tars [g6]. In the north is the Belgean desert, and to the south are the aforementioned islands in the Ocean sea.

Chapter 2

The Kingdom of Tars

There are three provinces in the kingdom of Tars and their respective lords are styled kings. The people thereabouts are called Eo'gur [Uighurs]. They have always been idolators and at present still are, excepting the kin of those kings who came, guided by a vision of the Star to Bethlehem in Judea to worship the birth of the Lord. Even now one may find many grandees and nobles among the Tartars who are descended from that line, and who firmly hold the faith of Christ. The idol-worshippers in these parts are powerless in arms, but gifted and perceptive in studying the arts and sciences. They possess their own distinct alphabet. All the inhabitants of this kingdom refuse meat and wine and refuse to kill any living thing. Their cities are extremely agreeable, and they have numerous temples wherein they worship the idols. Wheat and other produce grow abundantly here. But they do not have wine, for they regard it as sinful to drink it, in no way differing from the Saracens.

In the east the kingdom of Tars is bordered by the above-mentioned kingdom of Cathay; in the west, by Turkestan; in the north, by a desert; and in the south by an extremely rich province called Sune, located between the kingdom of India and Cathay. In this province enormous diamonds are found [g7].

Chapter 3

The Kingdom of Turkestan

In the east, the kingdom of Turkestan is bordered by the kingdom of Tars; in the west, by the kingdom of Persia; in the north, by the kingdom of Khwarazmia; in the south it stretches to the Indian desert. In this kingdom there are few good cities. There are extensive, rolling plains for herds. Thus the greater part of the inhabitants are tent-dwelling herders, that is, they live in such houses which may be transported easily from place to place. The large city of this kingdom is called Okerra [Otrar]. Little barley or wheat is harvested here. [The people] never use wine, instead drinking Kursam [qumiss] and other light beverages which they make, and milk. They eat rice, millet, and meat. They are called Turks. Although they are Muhammedan, nonetheless, some of them have no faith or laws. They lack their own letters, instead employing the Arabic script in the city and army.

Chapter 4

The Kingdom of Khwarazmia

The kingdom of Khwarazmia is well endowed with good cities and villages and abundant population; for it is a fertile and temperate land. They harvest much wheat and other produce, but have little wine. This kingdom borders a desert the length of which stretches one hundred traveling days to the east; in the west, Khwarazmia reaches the Caspian Sea; in the north, it borders the kingdom of Komania; and in the south, the kingdom of Turkestan, discussed above [g8]. The major city of the kingdom is called Khwarazme and the people, Khwarazmians. They are pagans, lacking writing or laws and are ferocious warriors. Amongst them are people called Koltink' [Soldains], possessing their own language and using Greek letters and the Greek rite. They take communion in accordance with the Greek ritual, and they obey the patriarch of Antioch.

Chapter 5

The Kingdom of Komania[Cumans/Ghuzz]

The kingdom of Komania is extremely large, but because of the intemperate climate, it is a difficult place for human habitation. During the winter, in places, it gets so cold that it is impossible for man or beast to live. Meanwhile, in the summer, in other places, it gets so hot that neither man nor beast can bear the heat or the flies. This kingdom is almost entirely plains, and on such lands neither trees nor other wood are found, except in gardens by a few cities. The people who dwell in tents on those plains burn animal dung in place of wood.

In the east, the kingdom of Komania is bordered by the kingdom of Khwarazmia and a desert; in the west, by the Great Sea [Black Sea] and a small sea [called the sea of Reme [Azov] oe10]; in the north by the kingdom of Kassi [Russia]; in the south, it stretches to the huge river called Et'il [Volga]. Every year this river freezes, and sometimes it remains frozen year round; and men, as well as beasts, go about on the ice as though walking on land. By the shores of this river grow some trees of low height. On the far side of the river [g9] dwell various and sundry peoples not counted among [the peoples of] the kingdom of Komania, but obedient to its king.

There are some who dwell close to Mount Caucasus, which is very lofty and awesome. The goshawks and other large birds and birds of prey born on that mountain are white in color. This mountain is set between two seas; for on the west is the Great [Black] Sea and on the east, the Caspian Sea which lacks an outlet to the Ocean. It is like a lake, but by reason of its size, is called a sea. Yet it is larger than any lake in the world, for it extends from the Caucasus mountain to the beginning of the Persian kingdom, dividing the entire land of Asia into two parts. The part to the east is called deeper Asia [Central Asia and the Far East], while the part to the west is called greater Asia [Asia Minor, Iraq, and western Iran]. There are many excellent fish in the Caspian Sea, while buffaloes and numerous other wild animals are found in the vicinity. On the far side are many islands where birds nest, especially falcons, and marlyons [merlins], and other types of birds which are found there and nowhere else. The major city of the kingdom of Komania is called Sarai. In the past it was a noble and renowned city, but it was overthrown and almost completely destroyed by the Tartars who took it forcibly, as we shall relate below.

Chapter 6

The Kingdom of India

The kingdom of India stretches very far [south] into the Ocean, which there is called the Indian Sea. This kingdom borders the kingdom of Persia and stretches east to the district named Balazam [Badakhshan] [g10]. Precious stones called palays [balas rubies] are found in that province. In the north is the long and large Indian desert where, they say, King Alexander [the Great, d. 323 B.C.] found numerous snakes and various sorts of animals. In this kingdom the Apostle Thomas preached the faith of Christ and converted many districts and peoples. However, because they are very distant from other lands and places where the Christian faith is held, their faith became quite weak. And there is but one city wherein Christians dwell, for the rest [of the population] by and large has completely abandoned Christianity.

Now there are numerous islands in the south along the coast. People inhabiting them are black and go about totally naked in the summers because of the heat. They foolishly worship idols. There are sources of pearls and gold and many varieties of spices on those islands, which people frequently bring to this country.

An island named Ceylon is located there and it has gems, rubies and sapphires in particular. The king of the island has a rare ruby, large and choice. At the coronation of the king, the latter holds that stone in his hand and circulates through the city mounted on a horse. Only after this [ceremony] do people obey him as king.

The land of India itself is like an island, surrounded by the aforementioned desert and the Ocean. Consequently, it is difficult for someone to enter by land save by way of the kingdom of Persia. Merchants who would enter that country first go to the city known as Hermes [Hormuz], which the philosopher Hermes, as mayor, skillfully established, thence they pass along an arm of the sea until they arrive at the city of Kompak' [Cambay], where green parrots may be found [g11]. And there are as many of those birds in that country as there are sparrows here. Merchants sell all kinds of wares in the harbor there. Should they want to advance farther, they may do so with no effort. The country lacks abundance of barley and wheat; instead the inhabitants eat rice, milk, butter, and the fruits which grow there in plenty.

Chapter 7

The Kingdom of Persia

The kingdom of Persia is divided into two parts, though one king rules as common lord over both sections. The first part of the Persian land begins in the east, where it borders the kingdom of Turkestan, and stretches west to the great Phison River—the first of the four rivers flowing from the earthly Paradise. In the north, [the Persian kingdom] extends to the Caspian Sea; in the south, to the Indian desert. That land is entirely plains. There are two cities among others which are very large and opulent. One is called Poktara [Bukhara] and the other, Seonorgant [Samarqand]. The inhabitants of this kingdom are called Persians and have their own language. They live by trade and agriculture, but do not take up arms in battle. Previously they worshipped idols, and fire as the chief deity; however, when the faith of Mahmet conquered those parts, the people generally became Saracens, accepting the doctrine of Mahmet.

Now the other part [of the Persian kingdom] begins with the aforementioned Phison [g12] River and stretches west to the borders of the kingdom of Media, and partly to the borders of Greater Armenia. It extends north to the Caspian Sea and in the south [it borders one province of the realm of India and in some parts the ocean while another part borders oe13] one of the districts of the Median kingdom. Two very large cities, Niwshapuh and Spahan, are located in that part of the kingdom. In religion and way of life, the people there resemble those [in the first part of the kingdom] whom we have described already.

Chapter 8

The Kingdom of Media

The kingdom of Media is extremely long and narrow. In the east it borders the kingdom of Persia and, partly, the kingdom of Greater India. It extends westward to the kingdom of Chaldea; north to the kingdom of Greater Armenia; and south to the city of Ak'isum [Qishm] by the Ocean. The large pearls found there circulate throughout the world.

In the Median kingdom there are great mountains and few plains. There are two districts [in the kingdom]. The people living in one of them are called Saracens; while those in the other district are called Kurds. The Median kingdom possesses two very great cities, one named Soraket [Shiraz] and the other Aworemon [Kermanshah]. By law and faith they are Muhammedan and use the Arabic script. They are brave and powerful infantry bowmen [g13].

Chapter 9

The Kingdom of Armenia

There are four kingdoms in the land of Armenia, but one monarch always holds the lordship. Lengthwise, the land of Armenia begins with the Persian kingdom and stretches west to the kingdom of the Turks. In breadth Armenia begins at the city of Darial, called the Iron Gate. This was constructed by King Alexander [the Great] because he did not want the various and sundry peoples living in the depths of Asia to enter Greater Asia without his command. This city was built at the narrow part of the Caspian Sea, and extended to the great Mount Caucasus.

Now in breadth, Armenia extends [from the same city, oe14] as far as the kingdom of Media. There are many great and rich cities in the kingdom of Armenia, but the most renowned is the city of Tabriz, which is more glorious than the rest. In Armenia, [the terrain consists of] lofty mountains, extensive plains, great rivers and lakes of both fresh and salt water with fish in abundance. The people inhabiting the land of Armenia are called by various names according to their districts and localities. They are valiant warriors, both mounted and on foot. In respect to armaments, they imitate the Tartars, under whose domination they have been for a long time. As for letters, they have [different sorts of alphabets, oe14], some Armenian and another besides, called Alo'ye'n [Alcen oe14, RB:Aghuanian].

In Armenia there is one mountain, commonly called Ararat, which is taller than any other. And it was on the summit of this mountain that Noah's Ark first rested after the Flood. Now despite the fact that there is a great deal of snow on the mountain winter and summer, such that no one can climb it, nonetheless, on the mountain's summit something black is visible, which people say is the Ark [g14].

Chapter 10

The Kingdom of Georgia

The kingdom of Georgia begins in the east at the mountain called Alponis [Mount Elbruz]. Many different peoples dwell there, and thus that district is named Alank'. The kingdom of Georgia extends to the west and north up to some lands in the kingdom of the Turks. Lengthwise it coasts the Great [Black] sea. In the south it borders the kingdom of Greater Armenia. The Georgian kingdom is divided into two parts: one called Georgia, and the other, Abkhazia. There were always two kings there, one of whom, the king of Georgia, fell under [the sway of] the Emperor of Asia. The other king, of Abkhazia, has many people and secure fortresses. Thus neither the Emperor of Asia nor the Tartars were able to subjugate them.

There is a miraculous and strange place in the realm of Georgia which—had I not seen it with by own eyes—I would neither dare to speak about it nor to believe in it. But since I was there in person and saw it, I shall discuss it. There is a district named Hamshen in that area, its circumference being a three day's journey. And despite the district's extent, the place is so foggy and dark that no one can see anything. For no road goes through it. People in those parts say that one frequently hears the sounds of men bellowing, of cocks crowing, of horses neighing in the forest, and the murmuring of a river which flows thence. These are all regarded as trustworthy signs there that a settlement of people exists in the area. This much is true [g15]: in the histories of the kingdoms of Armenia and Georgia it may be read that a certain wicked Emperor Shaworeos [? Shapuhr II, A.D. 309-79], an idolator and ferocious persecutor of Christians, one day ordered that all the inhabitants of Asia come and worship the idols. Those who ignored the command were to be burned with fire. Whereupon it transpired that some of the Christians chose martyrdom to worshipping the idols. Some chose to convert temporarily and, out of fear, worshipped the idols, so that they not be deprived of their lives and wordly goods. Meanwhile others took to the mountains and deserted places and somehow kept themselves alive. The group of the best Christians who lived in the Moghon [Mughan] plain thought to leave their belongings and to pass to Greece [Byzantium]. While they were so resolved, the [Persian] Emperor arose before them, ordering that those refusing to sacrifice to the idols should be pulled apart, limb by limb. Now the people cried out to the Lord Jesus Christ and, going by the straight path, they survived. However, the infidels have resided in that gloomy valley to the present. [And then the Christians made a great cry to Our Lord God, and soon after came this great darkness that blinded the Emperor and all his men; and so the Christian men escaped, and the Emperor with his men tarried in the darkness. oe15] And they must stay there until the end of the world. So it is believed by everyone, and so it is related.

Chapter 11

The Kingdom of Chaldea

The kingdom of Chaldea stretches from the Median mountains in the east to the great and ancient city of Nineveh, close to the Tigris River, the same city mentioned in the Bible. [Nineveh is the city mentioned in the Holy Scriptures where the prophet Jonas was sent to preach at the command of God. oe15] Today it is a complete ruin; and, after regarding the folk who still dwell there, one needs confirmation to believe that Nineveh was once one of greatest cities in the world [g16]. In breadth, the kingdom of Chaldea stretches north to the city of Maragha and south to the Ocean. The major city of Chaldea, [Baghdad], is commonly called Babylon as it has ever been known. It was to Babylon that Nebuchadnezzar led into captivity the sons of Israel from the holy city of Jerusalem.

There are many plains and few mountains in the kingdom of Chaldea, and few rivers pass through it. Some of the inhabitants of Chaldea are called Nestorians and belong to the heresy of Nestorius; they employ the Chaldean [Syriac] alphabet. Other inhabitants use Arabic and are of the Muhammedan faith.

Chapter 12

The Kingdom of Mesopotamia

In the east the realm of Mesopotamia stretches from the great city of Mosul, built by the Tigris River, far westward to the Euphrates River and the city of Roha [Urha/Edessa], which was the city of Abgar's kingdom. It was to Abgar that the Veronica icon—which is now in Rome—was sent. And close to Urha is the land of Harran, where Abraham once dwelled. The Lord commanded him to leave Harran and to pass to the Promised Land on the other side of the Euphrates River. Thus Scripture is full of traditions about it. In Greek, this land is called Mesopotamia because it lies between two rivers of Paradise, the Tigris and the Euphrates.

In breadth the country stretches from one of the Armenian mountains called Sanson [Sasun] south to the desert of Lesser Arabia [g17]. This land has numerous beneficent and agreeable plains. There are two very tall and fruitful mountains: one in the east called Siniat [Mount Sinjar] and the other [in the west] called Lisson [Diarbakir mountain range]. Few rivers flow through this country, thus the people drink water from wells and basins. There are some Christians among them, such as the Syrians and Armenians, while others are Saracen by law and religion. The Christian Armenians are valiant cavalrymen and infantrymen, while the Saracens and Syrians never raise arms, since they are craftsmen and tillers of the soil, and some, herders of flocks. However, in the place named Merdin there are some extremely skilled Saracen bowmen called Kurds.

Chapter 13

The Kingdom of the Land of the Turks

The kingdom of the land of the Turks is extremely good and large, possessing mines of silver, gold, iron and copper, as well as an abundance of alum. Similarly, there is plentitude of all kinds of grains, fruit, and wine. Many types of animals are found there, especially choice horses. In the east [the kingdom] borders Greater Armenia and, in part, Georgia; while in the west it extends to the city of Satalia [modern Adalia], built by the Greek [Mediterranean] Sea. In the north it borders no country but, for its whole expanse, coasts the shore of the Great [Black] Sea. In the south it borders Lesser Armenia and a part of Cilicia while part of it stretches to the Greek Sea, facing the island of Cyprus. This land is called Greece by many peoples of the East [g18], since formerly the Emperor of Greece held this country of the Turks as his own property and it was then governed by the Emperor's dukes and officials. But after the capture of the country by the Turks and their settlement in it, they selected a lord to rule over them and called him sultan, that is to say, king. Thereafter the land was called the country of the Turks.

There are many districts containing very large major cities in the kingdom of the Turks. In the district of Lycaonia, the renowned city of Konya, the largest city in the kingdom, is located. The second district, Cappadocia, contains the city of Caesarea of Greece. The third district, Isauria, contains the ancient city of Seleucia. The fourth district, Phrygia, contains the city Zikia [Laodicea] of Greece. Fifth is the district of Kisitan [Lydia] with its city, Ephesus. Sixth is Bithynia, with the city Nicea. Seventh is Pamphlagonia, where the city of Kinapolis [Kastamonu] is located. Eighth is called Kenex [Pontus] with the city of Trapizon. This district was a kingdom, though for a brief time only. For when the Turks conquered what became the kingdom of the Turks, they were unable to take the city of Trapizon and those areas around it, due to the security of the fortresses and to other defenses. So it remained under the authority of the Emperor of Constantinople who would send a duke or general there each year to see to the country's economy. However, it came to pass that one of the dukes or overseers of the place revolted and personally seized power in the country, proclaiming himself king. And so, the man who seized the country of Trapizon had himself styled Emperor [g19].

The inhabitants of these parts are Greeks and they conduct the Greek [Orthodox] rite and use the Greek alphabet. We have placed Trapizon among the districts and not kingdoms, because the histories of the eastern regions so instruct us. In the country of the Turkish kingdom dwell four peoples: the Greeks, Armenians, Jacobites (who are Christians living by trade and agriculture), and the Turks, who are Saracens and who took the lordship of that country from the Greeks. Some of them live by trade and agriculture, residing in cities and villages, while others always live in the forests and plains, winter and summer, as herders of flocks. And they are very skilled bowmen.

Chapter 14

The Kingdom of the Country of Syria

The realm of Syria stretches from the Euphrates River in the east to the city of Samos [Gasere [Gazette, Gaza] oe18] in the west, located by the Greek [Mediterranean] Sea, where the Egyptian desert begins. In breadth the kingdom extends from the city of Beirut to the Krak of Montreal [Ash-Shaubak]. In the east it borders Mesopotamia; in the north, it partly borders Lesser Armenia and partly the kingdom of the Turks. In the southwest no kingdom borders it, since it is surrounded on two sides by the Greek Sea and the Arabian desert.

The kingdom of the land of Syria is divided into four parts or states which, in antiquity [g20], usually were styled kingdoms because of their size and because kings resided in them. However, in the histories of the East they are called districts, not kingdoms. The first and chief district of the Syrian kingdom is named Sham. The noble city of Damascus was built in its midst. The second district is called Palestine and contains the Holy City of Jerusalem. The third district is named Antiochia and contains two great cities: Aleppo and Antioch. The fourth district is called Cilicia, and in it is the impregnable city of Tarsus where the venerable Apostle Paul was born. Cilicia is presently called Armenia, for after the enemies of the Christian faith took that country from the Greeks and held it a long while, the Armenians so labored that Cilicia was retaken from the infidels. The King of Armenia holds the lordship there now, by the grace of God.

Various peoples dwell in the country of Syria: Greeks, Armenians, Jacobites, Nestorians, and Saracens. Furthermore, there are other Christian peoples resident there, such as the Assyrians and the Maronites. The Assyrians who are more numerous than the Maronites follow the Greek rite and long since have been obedient to the Holy Roman Church. While they speak Arabic, the church service employs Greek letters. The Maronites follow the Jacobite rite, using the Arabic language and letters. They dwell near Mount Lebanon and in the Jerusalem area. They are skilled bowmen and live by farming.

It takes twenty travelling days to traverse the length of the Syrian kingdom, while the breadth requires five days and in some places less than that, because the Arabian desert and the Greek Sea intersect here and there [g21].


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