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Mykola Zharkikh (Kyiv)

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The political circumstances of the voyage

Nicholas Zharkikh

Longjumeau's report completely destroyed the Nestorian intrigue and seemed clarified in the political situation: the Mongols are the enemies of the Catholics and seek to conquer them. But along with this sober information Longjumeau slander the King many fairy tales, particularly about the struggle of Genghis Khan against priester John and about 800 movable Christian chapels on carts, which allegedly followed the Khan's headquarters. This began a new intrigue, a purely Catholic: if the Mongols are not yet Christians, they can convert to Christianity and thus subdue to political influence of Christians.

At this point it is worth noting that not only Christians themselves believed in the possibility of wrap Mongols in their faith. The same political hopes fixed Persian historian Juzjani, who lived in Delhi (India) and in 1259 – 1260 wrote "Tabaqat-i Nasiri" (world history). In it he paid much attention to the Mongols and eagerly noted every fact and every rumor about the commitment of the Mongols to Islam. he laid on Prince Berke:

All his army consist of 30,000 Muslims; in his army was set Friday prayer. People who deserve the trust said, that in all his army established the following procedure: every rider should have a prayer mat, so that when the time to prayer comes, he do it.

To execute this plan King chose Rubruk. He had to go to the Mongols, not as ambassador of the king, but as a traveling preacher who wants to congratulate Christian Genghissides and preach Christianity among the Mongols. Of course, this trip motivation was an "open secret" and very poorly concealed its true purpose – to carry out diplomatic probing, that is, the attitude of the Mongols to certain political ideas, not imposing any obligation on himself. The first Rubruk had to visit Batu's son Sartach and find out whether he – Christian, as the King continued to believe. Recommendation letter from King was addressed to Sartaq and that charter was given to Rubruk.

The modern view of Acre

Sometime in spring 1252 (exact date unknown) Rubruk with several companions sailed from Acre (Palestine) in Constantinople (then – the capital of the Catholic Latin Empire). Here embassy for an unknown reason stayed almost year, and only 7 May 1253 sailed on.

May 21, 1253 Rubruk landed in Sudak (Crimea) and stepped on the land, subject to the Mongols. First same Mongol, which Rubruk began to explain who he was and where going, asked him: "So you – Ambassador?" Rubruk, according to the assumed role, denied as he could, but on each new meeting all this was repeated again. The logic of the Mongols was simple: if a foreigner goes to Khan, he is Ambassador; and if he – Ambassador, he went to make peace; but peace Mongols understood only as a foreign statesman recognizes the supremacy of the Mongol Khan on himself and undertakes to pay him tribute.

August 1, 1253 Rubruk visit Prince Sartaq, Batu's son (his headquarters lied between Don and Volga). After Rubruk's explanations that he is not the Ambassador and reading the King letter Sartaq replied that he could not permit by his own power Rubruk stay in his headquarters to preach Christianity, but prefers the matter to the discretion of his father – Batu.

Sartaq's admission brought to Rubruk bitter disappointment: he was convinced that Sartaq is not Christian, but loves to drink mare's milk and treat them Christians (when they occurred). But when somebody called him a Christian, he was angry and said: "I am not a Christian, but Mongol". All his commitment to Christianity ended that he took a precious Psalter, richly illuminated with gilt miniatures, which "Mrs Queen" gave Rubruk.

…Who was this "Mrs Queen"? In his book, N.P. Shastina writes:

Rubruk was close to King Louis the 9th and his mother Blanche of Castile, who was one of the most educated women of his time. About this closeness to the royal family shows at least that Rubruk several times mentioned the beautiful Psalter presented him by Queen Margaret (p. 15)

That commentator hesitate between Blanche of Castile (1188 – 1252) – mother of Louis the 9th and Margaret of Provence (1221 – 1295) – his wife. While Rubruk's proximity to Margaret substantiated by mention of Psalter, what are the evidence of his closeness to Blanche?

Rubruk accompanied the King in Egypt campaign. It is known that he visited was Damietta (see section below "French reality"). Where he was during the march on Cairo – is unknown. Provided I wrote a historical novel, I would leave him in Damietta with pregnant Queen Margaret and give him a serious role. For example, during the panic after defeat Margaret ordered him to stop the fugitives, and he took a precious Psalter as his credentials to Queen, stopped ships of brave Genoese (or courageous Venetians) for an organized evacuation. Here he took out this Psalter as a reward…

Of course, it could be and so that Psalter he had received in Accra during preparation for the journey. In short, I tend to believe that this book belonged to Margaret, not Blanche (It should be noted that Blanche died before Rubruk's leaving, and if he thought about it, he would write "deceased Mrs. Queen". It is additional stroke for Margaret. But as each argument ab silencio, it is very weak).

Rubruk crossed the Volga and in 9 days fell in the Batu's headquarters. Its usually called the "Golden Horde Khan", but we have to remember that Khan is emperor, the ruler of an independent state. Batu in the history with Rubruk behaved not as an independent ruler, but as exemplary loyalist, governor of the region: he has transferred the case to the will of the Möngke Khan.

Over the relatively short time spent in the European part of the Mongol Empire, Rubruk found that the preaching of Catholicism among the Tatars, hit a sudden difficulty. The Russians, Greeks, and Alans – Orthodox Christians who have lived among the Tatars – were convinced that those who drinking mare's milk, can not save souls; rite of absolution bond drinking koumiss looked as if a person anew converted to Christianity. Since live between Tartars and not to drink mare's milk was impossible, Rubruk's preaching could not have success. Although he does not consider mare's milk for a sin he could not convince anyone, and because of this custom Catholicism had no chance to establish itself in the western part of the Mongolian state, where there were many Orthodox.

Already in the Sartaq's headquarters Rubruk met with a numerous corporation of Nestorians, whose members held high positions at court. The further he rode east, the more Nestorians welcomed. And Möngke's nomadic headquarters and in Karakorum he saw a organized Nestorian community who fought for influence at court with communities of Muslims and Buddhists. Rubruk with his Catholicism was already fourth in the queue of applicants for influence. Although he had several meetings with Möngke and even took part in the theological debate, organized by order of Khan, Khan did not show any interest in the Catholic faith.

Rubruk's petition to stay longer at the Khan's headquarters is not even considered: the will of Khan was conveyed to him, so he went back. During the reception already known history was repeated: Rubruk was asked from what king he was an ambassador whether the king want to acknowledge the supremacy of Khan. Rubruk explain again and again, but while a letter from Möngke to Louis was written, then it still nominate Rubruk as ambassador (he specifically require to this place changed in the letter). The essence of the Möngke's letter was the same as the other letters of Mongol Khans to the European rulers: or submit yourselves to our khan power, or we go to war you.

Thus, while formally Rubruk was not ambassador, but the answer he brought was a diplomatic statement.

Carefully consider the circumstances in Mongolian court, Rubruk came to a decisive conclusion that all attempts preaching Catholicism here is futile: firstly, because the Mongols were not primitive pagans, and had their own religion with a lot of theoretical sense; in second, because the influence of Nestorian, Muslim and Buddhist communities in the court far exceeded all the possibilities for Catholics.

On the way back, while in the city Ani in Armenia, Rubruk met mission of five Dominican monks, who had letters from the pope to Sartaq and Möngke. They were going to preach Catholicism among the Tatars, but Rubruk explained them in detail this case as causa mortis. Under the influence of his information mission changed its plans.

When Rubruk arriving in Palestine, he learned that King had returned to France. Franciscan provincial of the order for unknown reasons did not allow him to travel to France to personally report on the journey. In his order Rubruk had remained in Acre. So he made a written report to the King, which we now study. In this way the unnamed provincial served to occurrence of precious historical source.

New english translation by P.Jackson (1990) contain important correction: Rubruk wrote about his companion Gosset "the bearer of this letter [to king]". The elder english translation by W.Rockhill (1900) and russian translation by A.Malein (1911, 1957) gives here "Gosset the bearer of the presents [to Sartach]". If we adopt this correction, we have a note about the messenger from Rubruk to king.