Mongol Group A3

Marco Polo’s Description of Mongol in Terms of Custom of Tartars

Mingxuan Deng


In the following passage I would introduce Marco Polo’s description of the Mongol Empire in terms of custom. It is impossible for Marco to complete his book without including the custom of Tartar. Though the specific custom would definitely varfrom a certain city to the other along Marco’s journey to Da Yuan, the overview about Tartars’ live given by Marco is worth analyzing. I would compare the narration given by Marco Polo and other sources to verify the correctness of Marco’s statement. The possible exist of inconsistency between Marco’s word and other sources might support the claim that Marco never came to China in person.


Marco’s narration about Tartar’s custom and law

 In the 70th section of The Description of the World, the Tartars’ god and religion are described. Marco gave detailed information about the religion custom of Tartars that “they (Tartars) have a god called Nacigai and they say that this is an earthly god who guards their sons, their animals and their crops……when they go to eat, they take fatty meat and anoint the mouths of this god……then they take bread and scatter it outside the door of their house. Moreover, Marco described Tartar’s clothing briefly as well “…rich men dress very richly in cloth of gold and silk cloth, with rich linings of able, ermine, miniver, and fox…”. As for law, Marco just simply introduced that “when someone has stolen a little object but is not to be killed, he is beaten 7, 17, 27, 37, or 47 times; in this way, going up to 107, increasing by ten according to what he has stolen.” For bigger case, Marco says that “When the man steals a horse or other thing for which he is to be killed, he is sliced in two with a sword; it is true that if he who has stolen can and is willing to pay 9 times the value of what he has stolen, he escapes.


Marco’s description of Tartars’ custom in terms of military

 When it comes to arrangement of the army during battle, Marco’s words are that Tartar lord often “appoints a leader for each 10, each 100, each 1000, and each 10000 men”, meaning that this way each leader within the troop only needs to counsel with 10 people, and that works the same way for the Tartar lord himself as well. Marco mentioned that a group of 100,000 is called a tut and 10,000 is called a tomanThis organization method is created by Chingiz Khan and later became the tradition and formal military arrangement for Mongol Empire. Dr. Dali Yao in his article comments that such organization is “a 1000-family system of military-administrative union that fully reflects the uniqueness of the nomadic economy” (Yao) He also mentioned the detail that whenever an army goes forth, there will be a group of 200 men sent “on patrol two days’ journey ahead, behind, and to the sides” so that the troop cannot be attacked unawares. As for equipment, Marco said that Tartars are usually equipped with bows, swords and maces while they use bows most frequently. Tartars also wear armor of buffalo leather and other boiled leathers. Besides, when the army is sent for a long journey, each man carries two leather bottles of milk and a little pignatta, an clay pot used to cook meat. Tartars also take dried milk that solid like dough and melt it with water to get drinkable milk. More exaggerated is that Marco claims one Tartar soldier is able to ride 10 days with no food, no break, and no campfire, only living on the blood of their horses. The endurance of Tartar warriors was especially discussed by Marco as well. He mentioned that a man can survive a month without any supply except for drinking mare’s milk, and eating meat from game they hunt. More specific in battleground, according to Marco, Tartar soldiers it is not a shame to flee, they are familiar with the tactic that when they flee quickly, then they turn around with their bows and strike with their arrows and kill their enemies’ horses and also men.



To draw the conclusion, in the chapter two of the Description of the World, particularly in 70th section, Marco Polo generally described the overall custom of Mongol. These vivid narrations reflect the basic nomadic life of Tartars including the way they worship their god, the way they dress, the way they achieve justice, the way they form and organize their army and the way they fight. There is no obvious wrong message among the information given by Marco, descriptions like military-administration organization arrangement and fighting tactics are essential parts of Tartars’ life and Marco did a great job presenting them in his words. However, it is not enough to claim that this section provides sufficient evidence that suggesting Marco’s journey is historical fact merely based on his presentation of Tartar’s custom. More investigation and research is need to verify Marco’s text.


Polo, Marco. The Description of the World. Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.. Kindle version.

Haiqing, Wen. “ Wan Hu Lu”Qian Hu Zhou Mongolian thousand-household and hundred-household system and Huabei LuFuzhou county system (万州路、“千州府”,蒙古千户百户制度与华北路府州郡体制). 2013

Dali, Yao. On the Political System of Mongolian Nomadic Countries — One of the Studies on the History of Mongolian yuan Political SystemTyped manuscript of doctoral dissertation of Nanjing University, 1986.