William of Rubruck

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William of Rubruck (also William of Rubruk, Willem van Ruysbroeck, Guillaume de Rubrouck, Willielmus de Rubruquis, born c. 1220 in Rubrouck, Flanders,[1] died c. 1293) was a Flemish Franciscan missionary and explorer. His account is one of the masterpieces of medieval! geographical literature comparable to that of Marco Polo.



[edit] Mission

William accompanied Louis IX on the Seventh Crusade in 1248. In May, 1253, on Louis' orders, he set out from Constantinople on a missionary journey to convert the Tartars. He actually followed the route of first journey of the Hungarian Friar Julian. With William's party were Bartolomeo da Cremona, an attendant called Gosset, and an interpreter named Homo Dei, "man of God", literally translating Abdullah. William of Rubruck's was the fourth European mission to the Mongols. Before him went Giovanni da Pian del Carpine and Ascelin of Lombardia in 1245 and André de Longjumeau in 1249. The King was encouraged to send another mission by reports of the presence of Nestorian Christians at the Mongolian court.

[edit] Travels

William crossed the Black Sea, traversed the Crimea and then continued eastward; nine days after crossing the Don he met Sartaq Khan, ruler of the Kipchak Khanate. The Khan sent William on to his father, Batu Khan, at Sarai near the Volga. Batu refused conversion but sent the ambassadors on to the great Mongol Mangu Khan. They reached Karakorum at Easter, 1254. After residing there for some time, they returned home, without having achieved their goal, reaching Cyprus in the spring of 1255.

[edit] Account

On his return, William presented to the king a very clear and precise report, entitled
Itinerarium fratris Willielmi de Rubruquis de ordine fratrum Minorum, Galli, Anno gratia 1253 ad partes Orientales.

In this report, he described the peculiarities of Mongolia as well as many geographical observations, making it the first scientific description of central Asia. There were also anthropological observations, such as his surprise at the presence of Islam in Inner Asia.[2]
William also answered a long-standing question, demonstrating by his passage north of the Caspian, that it was an inland sea and did not flow into the Arctic Ocean; although earlier Scandinavian explorers had doubtless already known this, he was the first to report it.
William's report is divided into 40 chapters. Chapters 1 - 10 relate general observations about the Mongols and their customs. Chapters 11 - 40 give an account of the course and the events of William's voyage.
The report of William of Rubruck is one of the great masterpieces of medieval! geographical literature, comparable to that of Marco Polo, although they are very different. William was a good observer, and an excellent writer. He asked many questions along the way and did not take folk tale and fable as truth.
At one point of his stay among the Mongols, William entered into a famous competition at the Mongol court, as the khan encouraged a formal debate between the Christians, Buddhists, and Muslims, to determine which faith was correct, as determined by three judges, one from each faith. The debate drew a large crowd, and as with most Mongol events, a great deal of alcohol was involved. As described by Jack Weatherford in his book Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World:

No side seemed to convince the other of anything. Finally, as the effects of the alcohol became stronger, the Christians gave up trying to persuade anyone with logical arguments, and resorted to singing. The Muslims, who did not sing, responded by loudly reciting the Koran in an effort to drown out the Christians, and the Buddhists retreated into silent mediation. At the end of the debate, unable to convert or kill one another, they concluded the way most Mongol celebrations concluded, with everyone simply too drunk to continue.
Jack Weatherford, Genghis Khan and the Making of the Modern World, p. 173

[edit] Footnotes

  1. ^ w in the Nord-Pas-de-Calais région (Nord département) of France.
  2. ^ De Weese, Devin A., Islamization and Native Religion in the Golden Horde, (Penn State Press), 1994. ISBN 0-271-01073-8 pg.3

[edit] See also

[edit] References

Rubruck's account was partly edited and translated into English by Richard Hakluyt in 1598-1600. The full account has been edited by the Société de Géographie in the Recueil de voyages et de mémoires, IV (Paris, 1893), English translation by Rockhill, The Journey of William of Rubruk to the Eastern Parts (London, 1900, ISBN 0-8115-0327-5). The Hakluyt Society released an updated translation in 1990 (see below).
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