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William and the Khans

Topics: Mongol Empire, Genghis Khan, Mongolia / Pages: 3 (1066 words) / Published: Mar 10th, 2013
History 2B
January 31, 2013
William and the Khans
William of Rubruck composed a sequential and descriptive analysis of his experiences during his journey to the Mongolian empire in 1253 CE. His conquest took place primarily to affirm that Sartach Khan and the other Mongol Khans were Christian. Throughout his recordings he is repeatedly overwhelmed by the religious, cultural, linguistic, and political differences between the Mongolian Empire, and Western Europe. As a Franciscan friar, his humble circumstances pose a challenge as he proves to be unprepared in his encounters with Captains and the Khans. With little gifts to bear, William is advised by the merchants of Constantinople that the captains and the Mongol Khans must be greeted with gifts, otherwise he will not be looked upon properly (William, p. 49). William embarked on this mission to deliver a letter on behalf of King Louis IX to Sartach, and to encourage conversion to Christianity. However, in his encounters with Sartach, Baatu, and Mangu Khan the purpose of his visit is misunderstood by a linguistic misinterpretation. Despite his failure to convert many people to Christianity, his letter is significant in presenting some of the educational and religious movements occurring within Europe, and the relations that were emerging through commerce in the thirteenth century. Europe’s growing emphasis on education would broaden the horizons of Christianity, and commerce created interconnectedness among cultures regardless of religious differences. Western Europe developed a growing desire for advancements in education during the twelfth century. Places such as Toledo, Spain was “renowned as a center of learning where Muslims, Jews, and Christians freely intermingled” (Smith, Crossroads p. 414). After the Latin translations of Aristotle’s works began to enhance the method of thought towards the natural world, Pope Innocent III, along with the other popes of Rome, “placed Paris’s schools of theology under their own supervision”, and recognized them as the first university (Smith, Crossroads, p. 414). The school’s basis on Christianity was built on language of religion, translation of texts, and the notion of spreading Christian values. With driven by such educational and religious values, William informed King Louis IX that his letter had been translated into Arabic and Syriac, so that it could be interpreted for Sartach Khan (William, p. 105). To his misfortune, the lack of linguistic accuracy did not allow the letter to be delivered as he expected. From this mistake, he was sent to see Baatu, who then sent him to see Mangu Khan. Upon seeing Mangu, William was informed that Baatu had sent a letter to Mangu informing him that he had “asked for troops and aid from Sartach against the Sarcens (William, p, 166). Upon hearing this, William was overcome with a sense of astonishment and annoyance toward what he believed to be a misinterpretation. However, during this period Europe was heavily involved in the Crusades, and a plea for assistance from King Louis IX by letter might have been a probability. Western European universities promoted a sense of support for the spread of Christianity among people with various languages. Language barriers were to be overcome to properly interact the religious teachings. William’s attempts, though futile, were agreeable with the church and universities in the spread of Christianity. Along the way to Karakorum, William encounters many people of diverse cultural and religious backgrounds. Some of which include Muslims, Tibetan, Buddhists, and Nestorian Christians. With such a willingness to allow the existence of other religious sects in the Mongolian Empire, there is a better sense of commercial mentality throughout the land. During this century, economic growth “was driven by rising agricultural productivity, population increases, and the expansion of markets, rather than revolutionary changes in industrial organization and technology” (Smith, Crossroads, p. 381). European benefactors that contributed to this growing commercial environment include, innovations in navigation such as the nautical compass, portolans, and the astrolabe (Smith, Crossroads, p. 382). Intercultural commerce became interdependent and more efficient. In the 1300’s “the Mongol conquests dominate the history of Eurasia”, which allowed them to control many components of commerce along China, the Pacific Ocean, and the Mediterranean (Smith, Crossroads, p. 443). This reign in intercultural trade and commerce was expressed in the Mongol’s excessive representation of pride in their culture, and apathy towards others. Before William’s encounter with Baatu, he mentions that “they have risen so much in their pride, that though they may believe somewhat in Christ, yet will they no be called Christian, wishing to exalt their own name of Moal above all other” (William, p. 107). As a leading culture, the Mongols represent their religious and political dominance by moral expressions, and a vast control in agricultural trade around the time of William’s visit. The connections between William’s visit to Karakorum, and Europe’s new found desire for educational institutions can be drawn together by a desire for advancement. Just as educational acknowledgements in “Christian teachings, Summa Theologica” were core ideas for progress in the overgrowing number of Universities, the spread of Christianity had a similar drive within European society (Smith, Crossroads, p. 414). William’s attempt to translate the French King’s letter was done in a hopeful effort to make it understandable to Sartach, and to show his acceptance of Christianity as suspected prior to the mission. Rather than converting Sartach, he was sent to see Baatu, where his mission and efforts of conversion continued. William’s experience throughout his journey was one of constant struggle. He was thoroughly misunderstood by the Mongolian people, and was looked down upon at various times. During this period the Mongolian Empire had a sense of superiority for their culture, which was a reflection of their successes. Controlling and preserving China’s “agriculture way of life would generate far greater rewards”, and would allow them ample opportunities in the trade market (Crossroads and Cultures, p.442). Despite William’s detailed recollections, the events and circumstances that surrounded him superseded the importance of a single friar on a conquest to covert people into Christians. Following his journey, he noted that his efforts only allowed him to convert six people. Whether this account is truthful is unknown. His recollections must be taken as observations of a time period, rather than an individual’s experience. It is probable that his input consists of biased opinions, but when we observe how the outside world reacted towards the writer, we are able to get a better perspective of the time and context of discussion.

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