Of the first Mission of Friars Predicants and Minorites to the Tartars.
At the same period, Pope Innocent IV. sent Friar Asceline of the order of friars predicants, with three other friars from different convents, with apostolical letters to the army of the Tartars, exhorting them to desist from slaughtering mankind, and to adopt the true Christian faith; and from one of these lately returned, Friar Simon de St Quintin, of the minorite order, I have received the relations concerning the transactions of the Tartars, which are here set down. At the same period, Friar, John de Plano Carpini of the order of minorites, with some others, was sent to the Tartars, and remained travelling among them for sixteen months. This Friar John hath written a little history, which is come to our hands, of what he saw among the Tartars, or learnt from divers persons living in captivity. From which I have inserted such things, in the following relation, as were wanting in the accounts given me by Friar Simon.
Of the Situation and Quality of the Land of the Tartars, from Carpini.
The land of Mongolia or Tartary is in the east part of the world, where the east and north are believed to unite; haying the country of Kathay, and the people called Solangi on the east; on the south the country of the Saracens; the land of the Huini on the south-east; on the west the province of Naimani, and the ocean on the north. In some parts it is full of mountains, in other parts quite plain; but everywhere interspersed with sandy barrens, not an hundredth part of the whole being fertile, as it cannot be cultivated except where it is watered with rivers, which are very rare. Hence there are no towns or cities, except one named Cracurim, which is said to be tolerably good. We did not see that place, although within half a day’s journey, when we were at the horde of Syra, the court of their great emperor. Although otherwise infertile, this land is well adapted for the pasture of cattle. In some places there are woods of small extent, but the land is mostly destitute of trees; insomuch, that even the emperor and princes, and all others, warm themselves and cook their victuals with fires of horse and cow dung. The climate is very intemperate, as in the middle of summer there are terrible storms of thunder and lightning, by which many people are killed, and even then there are great falls of snow, and there blow such tempests of cold winds, that sometimes people can hardly sit on horseback. In one of these, when near the Syra Horde, by which name they signify the station of the emperor, or of any of their princes, we had to throw ourselves prostrate on the ground, and could not see by reason of the prodigious dust. It never rains in winter, but frequently in summer, yet so gently as scarcely to lay the dust,