Women appear many times in the historical resources, and their customs, roles were also recorded. They played an important role in economics and the spread of the religions. And they even joined the battle when it was necessary. At the same time, they still need to take care of their families. In the mongol empire, because of its large territory, women’s customs varied. These customs could be interesting, strange,  confusing, and even brutal. In the description of the world, Marco Polo mentioned women and their customs main times. Especially, when he was in China, he mentioned many women’s customs in different regions, such as Tibet and Dadu.  He described them vividly, but it is important to know whether what he said is true. As a result, this research will dig into Tartar women’s customs in different regions and their rules in the huge Mongol empire. And, I will mainly use David Morgan’s The Mongols, Frances Wood’s Did MArco Polo Go to China? , Paul Pelliot’s Note on Marco Polo, and many other scholars’ resources to help me focus on Tibet Women and their differences between women in other regions and whether or not Marco Polo said is reliable. It’s an important issue because it could indirectly prove Polo had been to the China mainland, which fits in our group topic.


Tibet Women

When Marco Polo visited Tibet, he told us an Tibet women custom. In Tibet, people thought if a woman was a virgin, then sh e was worth of nothing because she was not accustomed to many men. So, when foreigners passed this region and lifted their pitches, the old women from this regions would bring their daughters to them. They told the foreigners they could do whatever they wanted to their daughters, but they could not take them away. And when the foreigners left, they usually gave the girls some trinket or sigh, which could show the girls had many lovers. By doing this, the girls was held to be the best, and the lover would say them are more gracious than the others. M. Gabriel Durand, a missionary priest,might prove what Polo said was true. His route is quiet same as Marco’s. And he also went to Tibet and told similar stories. He said, “No man of that country would on any consideration take to wife a girl who was a maid; for they say a wife is nothing worth, and  for every girl is expected to obtain at least 20 such tokens in the way.’(_Ann. de la Propag. de la Foi_, XXXV. 352 seqq.) But, he also added that the man there believed it was a great villainy for a man to meddle with another’s wife and encouraged young fellows to go to this fine country. Throughout the history, it seems like that this customs also exists in YunNan, Sifan near the southern elbow of the Kin-sha Kiang, and even in India. The slight difference might be the gifts the foreigners gave to the girls. In  Lybia , the foreigners gave the girls exquisite feathers. (Martini Garnier, I. 520; Pall. Samml. II. 235; Ael. Var. Hist. III. 1; Rawl. Herod. Bk. IV. ch. clxxvi.) These opinions were also recorded by many historians. “Women having many gallants are esteemed better than virgins, and are more anxiously desired in marriage’ (Westermarck, Human Marriage, p. 81.) Mr. Cooper was one of the foreigners when he visited Kin-sha Kiang, west of Bathang. In his journal, he recorded his own experiences with Tibet women. He said he was absolutely startled by this custom.He writed ‘_Well, Sir, this is a bad business … they are marrying you.’ Good heavens! how startled I was.”( Mr.Copper’s journal, Travels, ch. x.)

There are still many historical resources that recorded this custom, so we could believe this custom really exist in many different regions. As a result, we could deem that Marco Polo really went to Tibet and his stories about Tibet women were reliable. This could indirectly prove Marco had been to China, or at least, had contact with external Mongol empires(Tibet).


Zardandan(Cardandan) Women

Zardandan was five days route from Qarajang. Its capital was called Vocian. Maorco Polo told us a very interesting custom in the description of the world. Zardandan is a Persian world meaning “ gold teeth” and it was located at the head-waters of the Mekong river. ( E.W.Gudger, 504). The first custom Polo told us is that, “ The people all have gold teeth: that is, each tooth is covered in gold; for they make a cast of gold, made in the manner of one’s tooth, and cover the tooth underneath with this above: the men do this and not the women.” Marco did not provide us too much materials. And there was scarce resources related to Zardandan. But, we could found that similar stories in Paul Pelliot’s book. “The earliest notice of the « Gold-teeth > occurs in the 蠻,書 Man shu (Chien-hsi-tB^un-shft ed. 20 b9 21 a)9 written in 864 (of. BEFE09 iv, 132), from which it is quoted (under the alternativo tide ■ Description of the Southern Barbarians », Nan^i chiK) in the Tailing ytbkm9 789, 19 b9 The Gold Teeth Barbarians carve gold dips with which they sheathe their teeth;`When they go out to see people oif business, they use these as ornaments; they take them off to deep and to eat.” ( Paul Pelliot, 604). Rashid also record similar customs in his book. And he did not make any distinction between man and woman as to the use of gold teeth. As a result, this might be an indication that what Marco said are right-about how to use the gold teeth.

The second custom was quiet interesting. When the ladies have given birth, Zardandan people wash them and wrap them in cloth; and the lady’s lord gets in bed and holds the infant with him and lies in bed 40 days, not getting upexcept when necessary. All his friends and relatives come to see him; they stay with him and bring him joy and pleasure. They do this because they say that his wife has endured great fatigue in carrying the child in her belly; therefore they say they do not want to endure any more during this 40-day period. As soon as she has given birth, the wife rises from the bed and does all that’s needed around the house and serves her lord in bed ( Rustichello, 107).

And we found out the reasons in other scholars’ books. “In the Antilles, Du Tertre states, the father was debarred from a variety of animals as food lest by his partaking of them the child should afterwards display as vices the peculiar weaknesses of these animals. It was their opinion that the child proceeded wholly from the father, receiving nutrition indeed and birth from the mother, but nothing more. Moreover, when a family had a baby, the father was the one had to be careful. Before the birth of the children, the father has to be more than usually circumspeet with regard to what he does since any untoward act on his part would assuredly have a prejudicial effect on the child, and cause a birthmark or even actual deformity. “(C.V. Mosby Company, 832). These information help us better understanding the reason of this custom and Zardandan peoples. And, it could prove that Marco was probably reliable, but he might exaggerates or lie on some slight things.


The role of Mongolian Women

Women played an important role, not only at times in political affairs, but also on occasion in warfare, and always in the management of the family’s flocks and herds.(David Morgan,541). They controlled all the property and toke care of the whole family. When the man go to fight, they will crow the crops and teach their children fighting skills and knowledge at the same time. As a result, the women at that time would be very smart, powerful, and industrious.

Although Marco Polo mentioned so many perspectives of women, he did not say any words about women on the battlefield. But, if we check the historical resources, we would find out that Women played an essential role in Mongolian wars. They knew the necessary fighting skills, and they would also fight on the battlefield. Though typically, these women usually had more to do with internal affairs. They were mainly responsible for financing, regulating foods, and packaging loads. (Women’s Role and Participation in Warfare in the Mongol Empire, De Nicola, Pg. 109). Some of them even had their campaigns and armies, although this rarely occurred. ” Only those who had a substantial amount of wealth and people under their command were taken on campaigns”( Women’s Role and Participation in Warfare in the Mongol Empire, De Nicola, Pg.111), and it would be a privilege for those women to present the wars the Mongolians were involved in.


Women’s role in the spread of religion

At that time, women usually enjoyed a higher status than latter in the society. And some of them had even their own campaigns and had the power to develop their own commercial activities. Several of them even used the money to build churches, helping the spread of religions. In the description of the world, Marco Polo introduced a kind of religions men, called sensin: these are men of great abstinence. Their idols are all women; that is to say, they all have women’s names.(Rustichello, 66)

Example: Byzantine princess Maria Palaiologina, wife to Ilkhan Abaqa, moved to Ilkhnate and experienced many different cultures. Facing so many difficulties, she did not give up. She kept learning new knowledge and decide to spread her religion in Ilkhnate. Maria advocated for Christians of every domination. Because she was the wife of Abaqa, she had her own ordos, which function as salons, gathering places for informal discussion and socializing. Maria used her own ordos and held commercial activities. By doing this, she collected many revenues and she used this money to build many Christian churches and spread this religion to others. ( Prazniak, Roxann. 63)



Marco Polo mentioned many women customs when he visited Cathy. By doing researches, we could assume that most of he said were trustworthy. We find out many relevant resources that corresponds to what Marco said. Most importantly, these researches were usually finished after the publish of the description of the World. Although Marco might exaggerate on some details, we could still believe him and think he really come to Cathy before.

Women at the Mongol empire was definitely different from Han Women. The Tartar women were more smart, industrious, and persistent. And the Han women were most likely be demure, seluded, and quiet. Perhaps the living environment changed their behaviors and caused such differences. Overall, Tartar women enjoyed a higher social status in the society.


Work Cited

Prazniak, Roxann. Constantinople in Rum Chapter 2

De Nicola, Women’s Role and Participation in Warfare in the Mongol Empire.

Rustichello, The description of the world.

David Morgan, The Mongols

Paul Pelliot, Notes on Marco Polo

Mr.Copper’s journal, Travels_, ch. x.

Martini Garnier_, I. 520; _Pall. Samml._ II. 235; _Ael. Var. Hist._ III. 1; _Rawl. Herod._ Bk. IV. ch. clxxvi.

Ann. de la Propag. de la Foi_, XXXV. 352

C.V. Mosby Company, American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology.

Gudger, E. W. “Marco Polo and Some Modern Things Old in the Asia of His Day.” The Scientific Monthly, vol. 37, no. 6, 1933,

Westermarck, Human Marriage_,