Rabban Sauma

Remains of a Nestorian Church, Xian China

During the time that Marco Polo was mucking about in China another traveller was making a journey that would take him far from home. Rabban Sauma started from Karakorum, the capital of Ghengis Khan’s empire, and travelled the silk routes to the far west to Constantinople, Rome, Paris and Bordeaux. He met with kings and popes and yet is so unknown in comparison to the more esteemed Polo.

Philip IV of France

The Chinese Christian monk of the now extinct sect of Nestorians, Rabban Sauma left home with the sole intention of visiting the sites of Christendom which then dominated the region. Travelling with his close friend, Bar Sauma, the two were waylayed in Persia when they were enticed into the employ of the local Khan Arghun. Arghun was at war with the Muslim rulers of Jerusalem and thought that he could entice the Western Christian kingdoms to take part in a two pronged assault on the region, he sent Rabban Sauma to negotiate a treaty with the papacy in Rome. Upon arrival in Rome the current Pope had just died so our travelling monk decided to see the sites of Paris where he met with King Philip IV then travelled onto Bordeaux where the English King Edward I was residing. On his return he passed through Rome and was able to submit Arghun’s proposal to the new Pope Nicholas IV. Rabban Sauma returned to Persia with promises of assistance but these were hollow and the western Christians did not come through.

Edward I of England

When Polo returned to Europe he made a stop in Europe to deliver the Mongol bride, Cocachin, who was intended to wed the recently widowed Arghun. Arghun had died while Polo was on the voyage and Cocachin was wedded to Arghun’s son Ghazan. When Polo delivered the bride to the court in 1293 Rabban Sauma was still in the employ of the Persian Sultanate. Did the two encounter each other? It is possible however unlikely but both their accounts provide no details on their who may have been present.

Unlike Polo’s account, Rabban Sauma’s account is short, it is an edited version in which much has been omitted by a medieval editor.

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