Mongl-Mission-art - 12/16/99
"Mission to the Mongols" by Bojegei (aka Kate Bercaw). This article talks about the mission of the Franciscan William of Rubruck to the Mongol Empire from 1253 to 1255. Excerpts include: the making of (what we call) Koumiss, caracosmos, butter, and preserve milk for the winter.
This article was submitted to me by the author for inclusion in this set
of files, called StefanŐs Florilegium.
These files are available on the Internet at:
Copyright to the contents of this file remains with the author.
While the author will likely give permission for this work to be
reprinted in SCA type publications, please check with the author first
or check for any permissions granted at the end of this file.
Mark S. Harris
AKA: Stefan li Rous
stefan at texas.net
RSVE60 at risc.sps.mot.com
Mission to the Mongols
by Bojegei (aka Kate Bercaw)
The mission of the Franciscan William of Rubruck, which provides probably the
fullest and most authentic information on the Mongol Empire in it's pre-
Chinese phase, was solely religious in nature and was NOT a diplomatic
embassy. It consists of William of Rubruck and Bartholomew of Cremona, a
clerk named Gosset, and an unreliable translator from Homo Dei. William of
Rubruck began his mission from the Court of St. Louis at Acre on May 7, 1253.
Since the two Friars continually stressed that they were not a diplomatic
mission, they received substantially poorer treatment from the Mongols than
prior ambassadors (since ambassadors are quasi-sacred to the Mongols.)
However, they had the advantage of information from the earlier trips and he
was able to get his letters of credence translated into Persian & Syrian plus
letters of safe conduct from Emperor Baldwin II to the commander of the Mongol
outposts. After his return from Mongolia in August, 1255, William of Rubruck
was detained by the Order in Palestine, as lector in Theology at Acre, and he
was obliged to ask St. Louis for permission to return to Europe. The request
was eventually granted and he went to Paris where he met Roger Bacon, who
refers to William of Rubruck at length in the _Opus Majus_.
The following excerpt from _The Journey of William of Rubruck_describes the
making of (what we call) Koumiss, caracosmos, butter, and preserve milk for
"Cosmos, that is mare's milk, is made in this way: they stretch along the
ground a long rope attached to two stakes stuck into the earth and at about
nine o'clock they tie to this rope the foals of the mares they want to milk.
Then the mothers stand near their foals and let themselves be peacefully
milked; if any one of them is too restless, then a man takes the foal and,
placing it under her lets it suck a little, and he takes it away again and the
milker takes its place.
And so, when they have collected a great quantity of milk, which is as sweet
as cow's milk when it is fresh, they pour it into a large skin or bag and
they begin churning it with a specially made stick which is as big as a man's
head at its lower end, and hollowed out; and when they beat it quickly it
begins to bubble like new wine and to turn sour and ferment, and they churn it
until they can extract the butter. Then they taste it and when it is fairly
pungent they drink it. As long as one is drinking, it bites the tongue like
vinegar; when one stops, it leaves on the tongue the taste of milk of almonds
and greatly delights the inner man; it even intoxicates those who have not a
very good head. It also greatly provokes urine.
For use of the great lords they also make caracosmos, that is black cosmos, in
this wise. Mare's milk does not curdle. Now it is a general rule that the
milk of any animal, in the stomach of whose young rennet is not found, does
not curdle; it is not found in the stomach of a young horse, hence the milk of
a mare does not curdle. And so they churn the milk until everything that is
solid in it sinks right to the bottom like the lees of wine, and what is pure
remains on top and is like whey or white must. The dregs are very white and
are given to the slaves and have a most soporific effect. The clear liquid
the masters drink and it is certainly a very pleasant drink and really potent.
Baatu has thirty men within a day's journey of his camp, each one of whom
provides him every day with such milk from a hundred mares - that is to say,
the milk of three thousand mares every day, not counting the other white milk
which other men bring. For, just as in Syria the peasants give a third part
of their produce, so these men have to bring to the orda of their lords the
mare's milk of every third day.
From cow's milk they first extract the butter and this they boil until it is
completely boiled down; then they store it in sheep's paunches which they keep
for this purpose; they do not put salt into the butter; however it does not go
bad owing to the long boiling. They keep it against the winter. The rest of
the milk which is left after the butter has been extracted they allow to turn
until it is as sour as it can be, and they boil it, and in boiling, it
curdles; they dry the curd in the sun and it becomes as hard as iron slag, and
this they keep in bags against the winter. During the winter months when
there is a scarcity of milk, they put this sour curd, which they call grut,
into a skin and pour hot water on top of it and beat it vigorously until it
melts in the water, which, as a result, becomes completely sour, and this
water they drink instead of milk. They take the greatest care never to drink
William of Rubruck was not the only European to travel to the courts of the
Khans. In 1245 the new Pope, Innocent IV, dispatched the first of several
missions to the Mongols. He chose two Franciscans, Lawrence of Portugal &
John of Plano Carpini. They carried two bulls to the Emperor of the Tatars
(as the Mongols were known in Europe.) The two friars were joined by Benedict
the Pole in Breslau and, at some point, Lawrence of Portugal dropped out of
the journey. They reached the Mongol outposts at the beginning of Lent and
were quickly sent to the orda of the Great Khan in order to witness the
proclamation & enthronement of Guyuk as Great Khan. The Friars refused to
take Mongol envoys back west with them and were eventually dismissed from the
Great Khan to carry the Khan's letter to the Pope.
Subsequent to Carpini's report to the pope, the Dominicans Friar Ascelin,
Simon of Tournai, and 3 others were ordered to visit the camp of the nearest
Mongol army on the frontier of Asia Minor & to demand the cessation of
hostilities against Christendom. Ascelin reached the cape of Baiju on
5/24/1247. Since he refused the usual act of homage & behaved in a
compromising manner, he was almost executed, however a higher level Mongolian
officer, Aljigiday, arrived and sent Ascelin back with two Mongol envoys (one
of which, Sargis or Sergius, was received by Pope Innocent IV in Italy in
1248) & a message similar to the one sent back with John of Plano Carpini.
Additionally, Aljigiday sent envoys to King Louis in Cyprus to arrange for a
political alliance. King Louis sent a mission lead by another Dominican,
Andrew of Longjumeau back to the Mongols along with the Mongol Envoys. There
were also numerous contacts between the kingdom of Armenia and the Khans.
Translations of records left by John of Plano Carpini (including the 2 papal
bulls), Benedict the Pole, and William of Rubruck plus several miscellaneous
letters have been edited by Christopher Dawson and published as _The Mongol
Mission_ and republished as _Mission to Asia_. The journeys of Ascelin and
Andrew of Longjumeau are (apparently) referred to in Joineville's _Life of St.
Louis_: I don't know if any other records of their trips survive.
Copyright 1998 by Kate Bercaw, <Bojegei at aol.com>. Permission is granted for
republication in SCA-related publications, provided the author is credited and
receives a copy.