Mongol Group A3

The Great Battle between Qubilai Khan and King Nayan
 By Tianze Quan

Backgrounds

Nayan is represented as embodying a traditional Mongol reaction against the increasing sinicisation shown by Kublai Khan and his administration. Nayan adhered to the ancestral nomadic values of the Mongols and was dismayed at Kublai’s estrangement from these ideals. More prosaically Kublai Khan was, possibly on the model of Chinese principles of governance, consolidating power in his own hands and the semi-independent appanage princes were beginning to feel threatened. Nayan conspired with two other descendants of brothers of Genghis Khan, Shiktur and Qada’an, who also held appanages in Eastern Mongolia and Manchuria. He was also in contact with Kublai Khan’s ‘nephew’ and inveterate enemy Kaidu, who ruled much of Central Asia.

Nayan broke into open rebellion between 14 May and 12 June, 1287, and the main battle against Kublai took place around 16 July. [1]

We will mainly discuss the reliability of Marco Polo’s description of the battle during the rebellion in the Description of the World below.

Previous Research about Related Sources

In Notes on Marco Polo I written by Paul Pelliot, the battle between Qubilai Khan and Nayan was not detailedly mentioned. The only point about Nayan’s rebellion was that “but no form approaching any of these Chinese and Mongol names occurs in the accounts of Qubilai’s campaign against Nayan, and we are left entirely in the dark as to the name which PALLADIUS equated with《Tal-nor》”[2]. Although Nayan’s rebellion was mentioned by Paul Pelliot, the event was used to introduce the connection with Chingiz Khan and Tatars. We could find no more hints from this book.

In the book of Ser Marco Polo, Vol 2, there were several notes mentioning Qubilai Khan and Nayan’s battle and the defeat of Nayan .[3]

In Jami‘al 1.2—Tarikh (史集) written by Rashid al-Din, “他与他的堂兄弟如拙赤-合撒儿兀鲁黑中的势都儿、额勒只带那颜兀鲁黑中的胜刺哈儿,阔列坚兀鲁黑中的也不干等宗王与窝阔台合罕的儿子阔端的兀鲁黑以及忽必烈合罕左右的其他宗王们策划了阴谋,企图与海都勾结起来,反对合罕。【他们的】勾结行为被发现后,合罕率领军队将他们抓了起来。他处死了若干人,将他们的军队分给了【其他人】” [4], Rashid al-Din mentioned the people participating in Nayan’s rebellion and the Great Khan’s precautions.

According to Rashid-al-Din, [5]as late as 1287, Qubilai Khan personally went to war against his own uncle or senior cousin, Nayan. On this occasion, it was recorded that ‘because of his poor health, instead of riding a horse according to Mongol tradition, Kublai Khan rode on a platform supported by four elephants for comfort’ [6].

From the previous research mentioned above, we could briefly learn about Nayan’s identity and prove the reliability of this event took place in 1287. However, what about Marco Polo’s description about this event? Is it reliable or not? Could it reflect all the details during the battle? We still need more research.

Overall Analysis

 The Great Battle took place in 1287. In the Description of the World, Marco Polo’s description about the great battle between Qubilai Khan and King Nayan was so detailed that we can approximately dope out that he was a witness at that time.
For example, according to the records in 
Yuan-shih, it was consistent with the statements in the Description of the World that it took the Great Khan’s army 20 days to come to the waring location. What’s more, the military strategy of Qubilai Khan mentioned in Polo’s book was also reliable according to different sources. It was also ture that Qubilai Khan rode on a platform supported by four elephants for comfort instead of riding horses. However, some of the facts might be exaggerated or vague according to other Chinese sources. In the individual page of this topic, Tianze talks about those facts from four different points respectively: 1) the location of the battle; 2) the time of the battle; 3) the military strength of two sides; 4) the place where Nayan was caught.

 

Location of the Battle

In the fourteenth of Ben Ji in Yuan-Shih, there is a sentence describing the time when the Great Khan set out “六月庚申朔,百官以职守不得从征乃颜,愿献马以给卫士。壬戌,至撒儿都鲁之地”[7]. We can see from “六月庚申” and “壬戌” that the Great Khan departed his place at 24th of June and arrived the plain at 14th of July. This is consistent with the time “20 days” appearing in Marco Polo’s description. However, in the Description of the World, Marco Polo did not give the accurate name of the place of the battle. Instead, he described it as “a great plain”. However, in Yuan-shih, the place was called “撒儿都鲁”[8]. In Yuan-shih Hong Wan Zhuan[9], the place was called “撒里都鲁”. In Yuan-shih 125th Tie Ge Zhuan[10], it was called “撒儿都”. These were all similar names according to the pronounciation of Chinese. As a result, it was confused that Marco Polo did not include the name which was widely known.

Time of the Battle

In the Description of the World, Marco Polo stated that “The fighting lasted from morning to about noon, but in the end the Great Khan won the battle.” In his point of view, the battle took place during the day and ended before the evening. However, it was not consistent with some records in Chinese sources. In Yuan-shih Bo Luo Huan Zhuan[11], “其党塔不带以兵来拒,会久雨,军乏食,诸将欲退。博罗欢曰:“今两阵相对,岂容先动?”俄塔不带引兵退。博罗欢以其师乘之,转战二日,身中三矢,大破之,斩其驸马忽伦”, Bo Luo Huan was one of the senior generals of the Great Khan’s army. It meant that, due to the lasting rain, he waited for the next day to attack and defeated Nayan’s army. What’s more, in Yuan-shih Li Ting Zhuan, “帝问庭:“彼今夜当何如?”庭奏:“必遁去。”乃引壮士十人,持火炮,夜入其阵,炮发,果自相杀,溃散。帝问何以知之,庭曰:“其兵虽多,而无纪律,见车驾驻此而不战,必疑有大军在后,是以知其将遁”[12]. Li Ting successfully predicted the fearful thoughts of Nayan’s inorganized soilders and attacked them accidentally at night, which caused the kill among themselves. Obviously, the battle was still going on at night instead of ending before the evening. The recordings in Yuan-shih were enough to tell that the battle lasted for more than one days. Considering about the scale of the two sides, the Chinese recordings were much more convincing than Marco Polo’s. Military Strength of the Battle

Military Strength of the Battle

In the Description of the World, the Great Khan led 360000 mounted men and 100000 foot soldiers while Nayan numbered a good 400000 mounted man. The total military power might exceed 860000 people, which was an extremely tremendous number at that time. In Yuan-shih Li Ting Zhuan, “塔不台、金家奴来拒战,众号十万”. In Yuan-shih Yu Wa Shi Zhuan, “乃颜兵号十万”. In Yuan-shih Shi Zu Ben Ji, “乃颜党塔不带率所部六万逼行在而阵”[13]. From those resources, we could dope out that Nayan actually numbered 100000 people. The exact number must be smaller than 100000. For the people of Qubilai Khan, we could also gain some hints from Yuan-shih. In Li Ting Zhuan, “庭曰:“其兵虽多,而无纪律” “庭奏:“若得汉军二万,从臣便宜用之,乃颜可擒也。”帝难之,命与月儿鲁蒙古军并进,遂缚乃颜以献”. Li Ting required 20000 reinforcements from the Great Khan but did not get it. Qubilai could not gather more military power at that time, from which we could assume that his initial power was not as strong as Nayan so that Li Ting must look for the drawbacks of the enemy and use irregular strategies to beat them. Moreover, before 1284, the northeast part of China was in caused by war since the end of Jin dynasty. Lots of people died or fled to other regions. For example, the population in Liaoyang Road decreased from 123552 families to 3980 families [14]. Due to the huge decrease of population, it was nearly impossible for Nayan to gather 460000 men as Marco Polo mentioned in that region. Therefore, the military strength might be exaggerated by Marco Polo.

Place where Nayan was Captured

 In the Description of the World, “When Nayan and his men saw that they could not endure any more, they took to flight; but it availed them nothing, for Nayan was captured and all his barons and men surrendered to the Great Khan with their arms.” Nayan was captured at the waring location. (the great plain) However, sythesizing other sources, there might be something worth doubts. In Yuan-shih Yu Wa Shi Zhuan, “追至不里古都伯塔哈之地,乃颜兵号十万,玉哇失陷阵力战,又败之。追至失列门林,遂擒乃颜。”[15] After the initial battle in 撒儿都鲁, Nayan fled to 伯塔哈 and then 失列门林. He insisted his rebellion in 伯塔哈 but finally he was captured in 失列门林[16]. Although I did not find more sources recording the place where Nayan was captured, condsidering of the huge size of the battle, he could not be captured at the initial location of the battle, even together with his barons.

Conclusion

Marco Polo’s description of the battle between Qubilai Khan and Nayan is partly reliable. The military strategy, arriving days, and the platform supported by four elephants were all consistent with other primary and secondary sources. However, the four points mentioned above show us the unreliable part of the description. 1) The exact location of the battle was 撒儿都鲁 according to different sources. However, Marco Polo only named it “a great plain”, which was extremely vague. 2)Marco Polo stated that the battle lasted from morning to the noon. On the contrary, many sources argued that the battle lasted more than one day. There were even fights in the evening. 3) In the Description of the World, the Great Khan led 360000 mounted men and 100000 foot soldiers while Nayan numbered a good 400000 mounted man. However, other sources pointed out that Nayan actually numbered 100000 people. The exact number must be smaller than 100000. The number of Qubilai’s men was even smaller. 4) In the Description of the World, Nayan was captured at the waring location. (the great plain) By contrast, other sources claimed that he was caught in 失列门林.

Footnotes

[1] Nayan (Mongol prince) – Wikipedia

[2] Notes on Marco Polo I, Paul Pelliot, Page 360

[3] Ser Marco Polo, Vol 2, Page 549, 556, 562, 564, 593

[4] Jami‘al 1.2—Tarikh (史集), Rashid al-Din, Page 72, 73

[5] The Mongol Navy: Kublai Khan’s Invasions in Dai Viet and Champa, Vu Hong Lien

[6] Jami’u’t-Tawarikh, Part two, p. 454

[7] 《元史世祖本纪十四》

[8] It was about the place around the present-day upstream of the West Lamuron River.

[9] 《洪万传》

[10] 《元史卷125铁哥传》

[11] 《元史博罗欢传》

[12] 《元史李庭传》

[13] 《元史世祖本纪》

[14] http://city.finance.sina.com.cn/city/2009-07-24/114234.html

[15] 《元史玉哇失传》

[16] There are no records about its present-day location.

Bibliography

Cordier, H. (1920) Ser Marco Polo, Vols. I and II, John Murray, London.

Pelliot, P. (1963) Notes on Marco Polo, Vols., I, II and III, Imprimerie Nationale, Paris.

Song Lian, Yuan-shih,元史, China

Rashid al-Din, Jami’u’t-Tawarikh (史集)

Vu Hong Lien, The Mongol Navy: Kublai Khan’s Invasions in Dai Viet and Champa

Zhang Taixiang 张泰湘 , “Shi lun Nai Yan zhi luan” 试论乃颜之乱

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