The Merchants of Venice
The Voyage Home
Man of a Million Lies?
A Note on Religion
A Note on the Texts
Map of Marco's Journey
Prior to 1206AD, the Mongols were a disparate group of warring tribes spread out along the breadth of central Asia. It took a visionary outcast called Temudjin to bring these tribes together and forge the biggest land empire the world has ever known. We know Temudjin better today as Genghis Khan. The confederacy of tribes brought together by the Khan (Great King) were made up of Buryats, Merkits, Kirghiz, Mongols, Tartars and Tungaz. Through Genghis Khan, they set up a Mongolian capital at Karakorum. By 1206, the Mongols began their subjugation of neighbouring nations. They stormed Turkey, Afghanistan, Georgia and the Ukraine. Russia, Poland and Persia fell, as did the ancient Biblical city of more than a million people, Baghdad. Eventually, the mysterious Cathay (modern China) came under Mongol rule.
The rise and spread of the Mongols outlived Genghis Khan himself. A succession of Khans ruled until 1260 when Kublai became Great Khan with lesser Khans ruling smaller portions of the empire. Much of their success in maintaining an effective power base was founded in their tolerance of other cultures and religions, and their advanced system of communication. Genghis Khan had set up way stations all across his lands from which fresh horses were kept prepared, and where riders and travellers could receive sustenance and rest. By this system, a rider from Peking could travel all the way back to Karakorum by swapping horses from one way station to the next.
The Mongols are often referred to by contemporary peoples as Tartars, although the Tartars were in fact only one branch of the Mongol race. It is beileved that because the tribal name Tartar bears a strong similarity to the word Tartarus, an ancient name for Hell, that this was seized upon and used to name this largely unknown race which seemed to have stormed from out of the very gates og Hell itself.
The Mongols assimilated themselves into local cultures, adopting Islamic, Nestorian Christian and European traditions. As a race of tribal nomads however, they failed to stamp their own culture onto those they conquered. Even Kublai Khan's Yuan Dynasty, which achieved great success, failed to endear itself to the Chinese who were less tolerant of foreign influence. As such, the Mongol Empire remains largely forgotten by history.
All of these events, from the First Crusade to the development of the Mongol Empire had conspired to shape the eastern world; the Christian nations of the west had a foothold into the Middle East along the coasts of Palestine; Venice and Genoa had taken advantage and become powerful trading states; and the Mongols ruled vast areas of the east with an unusual tolerance of foreign culture. It is into this world that Marco Polo enters.