Mongol Group c2

Is Marco Polo’s description of cities and stories in Chapter 1 reliable?



Referring to the topic of my group–Is Marco Polo’s description of cities and stories in Chapter 1 (West Asia) reliable, by combining abundant evidence, specifically, I will research on the credibility of Marco Polo’s description of Baghdad and the great marvel occurred with the mountain in Baghdad which are located in section 25-29. Testifying Marco Polo’s account of West Asia is important since West Asia was regarded as the very first step in Marco Polo and his companions’ journey to the east. Hence, researching on the route in the area of West Asia laid the foundation of studying the reliability of Marco Polo’s follow-up China trip and even the east trip. Similarly, the city of Baghdad was in the significant location of West Asia through which Marco Polo and his companies could reach to Hormuz, the estuary of the Persian Gulf, to travel further to China.

Overall, based on studies, I found that Marco Polo did not mention sufficiently with the river Tigris and the city Kish. For the content of the death of last caliph and the fall of Baghdad, it was partially reliable since Marco Polo marked an inaccurate year of the Mongol’s attack on Baghdad. Different sources especially the notes of Henry Yule and Bretschneider’s mediaeval researches were used to make this conclusion. Details will be included in the following subsections.


The city of Baghdad (the river and the city Kish)

Based on my research, Marco Polo’s account of the river and city Kish was lack of detailed descriptions. In The Description of the World (Section 25, p.20). he only mentioned a river from Baghdad to the Indian Sea where merchants could follow this river down to a city called Kish [Chisi] and then from there, they could enter the Indian Sea. Also, a great citycBasra [Bascra] was on this river between Baghdad and Kish, there was a great city called Basra [Bascra] which produced the best dates in the world. However, Marco Polo did not convey enough information and descriptions to audiences that the river was famous Tigris flowing to Kish, whereas three-fourths of the length of the Persian Gulf intervened between the river mouth and Kish (Polo, Yule, Cordier, & Yule, 1903). The controversy of the city Kish known as important trading place was also not recorded in the DW. To illustrate, the historian Wassaf (citied in Henry Yule’s notes) who had been in the service of Jamaluddin al-Thaibi, the Lord of Kish, acknowledged that Kish was a trading place where horses were exported to India for example [1].


[1] Polo, Yule, Cordier, & Yule (1903) mentioned that the island Kish was about 200 miles far from the mouth of the Gulf and was known as the main port for trade with India and the East.



The cloth of gold and silk

Overall, Marco Polo’s account of this part was reliable from different sources. Marco Polo claimed the presence of various cloth of gold and silk—which was nassit, nac, cremosi, and other different kinds in Baghdad (DW, Section 25, p.20). This information also appeared in Chapter 2, the cloth of gold was called fine nascisi and nac. Among the articles sent from Baghdad to Okkodai Khan (The Secret History of the Mongol Dynasty) and quoted by Bretschneider {Med. Res. II. p. 124), we noted this information: Nakhut was a kind of gold brocade, Nachidut was silk stuff woven with gold and Dardas was a stuff embroidered in gold. Additionally, Bretschneider (p. 125) added the statement that “nakhut” and “nachidut” represented the Mongol plural form of nakh(nac) and nachetti. In regard of Nac, it appeared in accounts and inventories of the 14th century, French and English while nassit was from the Arabic necidj [2].

Marco Polo also recorded cloth of gold were worked in many ways and worked very richly with animals and bird, which could be supported by different sources. The brocades wrought with figures of animals in gold were known from hunting-grounds, which was nearly a translation of the name ‘beast-hunts,” by which they were known to the mediaeval Saracens (Q. Makrizi, IV. 69-70.) [3].


[2] Polo, Yule, Cordier, & Yule (1903) stated this information by referring to Dictionnaire des Tissus. And regarding the origin of Cramoisy (cremosi), its name came from the Kermes insect (Ar. Kirmiz) and found on Quercus coccifera, which now has been replaced by cochineal. It was believed that these things were originally crimson velvet, but it was used to represent tissue rather than the color like Purpura in the Middle Ages.

[3] Bretschneider (1887) noted this information: Plautus mentioned these animal patterns on the carpet. Athenaeus also talked about Persian carpets in the extravagant entertainment of Antiochus Epiphanes and described the same description. The same author quoted Alexander’s banquet in Persia where expensive curtains embroidered with animals were found.



Fall of Baghdad and the death of the last caliph

Marco Polo’s description of the fall of Baghdad was reliable in the content but the account of specific year was inaccurate that should be questioned. According to The Description of the World (Section 25, p.20), in the year of 1255, the ruler of the Mongol empire Hülegü assembled a large host, marched on Baghdad, and took it by force. However, as Bretschneider (1887) mentioned, on the 2nd May, 1253, Hülegü left Karakorum, the residence of his brother, and he returned later to organize his army. On the 19th October of the same year, when all preparations being ready, he started for the west. He arrived at Samarkand in September, 1255. And it also recorded specifically that on the 21st September 1257, the Mongol prince sent an envoy to Baghdad but received a haughty reply from the caliph, which incited the attack on Baghdad crossing the Tigris at Mosul [4].


For the story of the last caliph, DW (Section 25, p.20) wrote that when Hülegü entered the Baghdad, he found a loft full of gold. He was shocked and he ordered the caliph to be taken and severely rebuked him for his greed and despicability as the caliph would not use these treasures to organize an army and defend the capital against powerful enemies. After that, the caliph was locked in the attic and cut off all food supplies. In the end, the caliph tragically ended his life in front of his huge wealth after 4 days, and the last Abbasid Caliphate collapsed. To support this description, as Polo, Yule, Cordier, & Yule (1903) mentioned, the story of the death of the last caliph was told in much the same way by Hayton, an Armenian prince who belonged to the Latin Christian monastic order of the Premonstratensians, Ricold, Pachymeres, and Jean de Joinville [5]. On top of this, according to Perter Jackson (2017), the end of “The Abbasid Caliphate” and the death of the Caliphate due to starvation were consistent with the three sources mentioned in the journal article. These recounts of the miracle story added the credibility of the Marco Polo’s account.


[4] Apart from this, speaking of the usage of gunpowder in siege warfare, Raphael (2009) also pointed out the siege of Baghdad in 1258. All of these messages conflicted with year appeared in the Marco Polo’s account.

[5] To illustrate this point, one source was written by the Armenian Prince Hayton, who belonged to the Latin Christian monastery of the Premonstratensians. The second was “Vie de Saint Louis” by Jean de Joinville (§§586–87; Joinville 1963, 311–12), which was the biography of his former companion, Louis IX of France.



The great marvel occurred with the mountain in Baghdad

Generally, the great marvel occurred with the mountain in Baghdad was reliable as a story since it occurred in different sources and various similar stories remained. However, this story tended to have different versions that was not precise as an evidence strongly validating Marco Polo’s presence in Baghdad.

In DW (Section 26-29, p.21-24), the caliph wished harm to all Christians and also wished Christians convert to Saracen. So, he found a gospel said if Christians were faithful enough, two mountains will put together. Given this, the caliph threatened the Christians to move the mountain or they would all be executed. To solve this difficulty, Christians found the most holy man a shoemaker to pray for the savior and some magic thing happened. It was a marvel that when the shoemaker saintly pray to the heaven, the mountain began to break down and move. Moved and shocked by this marvel, as a consequence, the caliph turned Christian. Jackson (1998) confirmed that such tales were met with in other sources, and Polo (and indeed anyone else) could have heard them in eastern Christian circles when passing through Persia or Iraq on the way home. As a consequence, the story was not convening as a firsthand source proving Marco Polo’s presence. A miracle similar to Marco Polo’s account could be found in a late twelfth-/early thirteenth-century Armenian source (Pruitt, 2015). Facing the request of the caliph, under his rule, Christians must be good in this biblical verse, the Coptic patriarch. Thanks to the help of a one-eyed tanner, Christians eventually raised Muqattam Mountain. The Caliph was so impressed that he allowed the restoration of two churches in Fustat (Old Cairo): the so-called Hanging Church and the Saint Mercurius Complex [6].


[6] The writer F. Goring wrote three articles about Marco Polo to the Neue Zürcher-Zeitung on April 5th, 6th and 8th, 1878, and stated a similar story related to Egypt (Polo, Yule, Cordier, & Yule, 1903). By referring the similar miracle, the marvel in the Marco Polo’s account seemed more convening to the audience since we can understand more about the faith of the Christians and the relationship between the Christians and caliph.




In conclusion, we can find that Marco Polo’s account of Baghdad including the geographical features for example the river Tigris and other cities was reliable though many scholars claimed those descriptions were not sufficient enough. The Mongols’ attack on Baghdad was recorded in his travel notes by Marco Polo as a historical event with great historical milestones. Although his grasp of the specific time was blurry, the credibility of the events he recorded was still relatively high. For the story of the last caliph and the great marvel, since some sources included similar and even the same core content they were regarded as convening and reliable to some extent. However, since different versions and interpretations regarding them also pointed out by some scholars, we tend to believe that they were unreliable as a story source to validate Marco Polo’s presence in Baghdad and even in West Asia. Referring back to the group topic, even though the account of some cities was creditable, we are supposed to question and criticize the Marco Polo’s account and presence in West Asia.



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  2. Jackson, P. (1998). Marco Polo and His ‘Travels’. Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, 61(1), 82-101. Retrieved December 21, 2020, from

  3. Jackson, P. (2017). HÜLEGÜ’S CAMPAIGNS AND IMPERIAL FRAGMENTATION (1253–62). In The Mongols and the Islamic World: From Conquest to Conversion (pp. 125-151). NEW HAVEN; LONDON: Yale University Press. Retrieved December 2, 2020, from

  4. Joinville, Jean de. 1963. “The Life of Saint Louis.” In Joinville and Villehardouin. Chronicles of the Crusades. Trans. M. R. B. Shaw. London: Penguin.

  5. Polo, M., Yule, H., Cordier, H., & Yule, A. F. (1903). The book of Ser Marco Polo the Venetian concerning the kingdoms and marvels of the East / e3. ed. rev. throughout in the light of recent discoveries; Henry Cordier; cWith a memoir of Henry Yule by his daughter Amy Frances Yule. London.

  6. Pruitt, Jennifer. 2015. “Miracle at Muqattam: Moving a Mountain to Build a Church in the Early Fatimid Caliphate (969–995).” In Sacred Precincts: Non-Muslim Religious Sites in Islamic Territories, edited by Mohammad Gharipour and Stephen Caffey. 277–90. Boston: Brill.

  7. Rachewiltz, Igor de, “The Secret History of the Mongols: A Mongolian Epic Chronicle of the Thirteenth Century” (2015). Shorter version edited by John C. Street, University of Wisconsin―Madison. Books and Monographs. Book 4.

  8. Raphael, Kate. “Mongol Siege Warfare on the Banks of the Euphrates and the Question of Gunpowder (1260–1312).” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 19. 3 (June 2009): 355–70.

  9. Polo, M. (2016). The Description of the World (S. Kinoshita, Trans.). Hackett Publishing Company, Inc.

  10. Image 1 copyright from

  11. Image 2 copyright from