Mongol Group c4

Marco Polo’s Description in The Book of India




In the Description of the World, Marco Polo featured a road he took along the coast of the Indian Ocean after 1291, his departure from China, and it was a way full of trading opportunities. People in Ceylon were inextricably connected to maritime affairs with different expertise to support their living, including particular transportation technologies, diversified export products, even piracies, etc.

Ceylon was one of the best islands among all that Marco Polo depicted. Thanks to its geographical location, Ceylon have carried the most successful trades along the Indian Ocean, connecting the further west to Europe and the east to Southeast Asia with multiple commodities and blooming religious cultures exchange. That is to say that it was a trading center during the 13 and 14 century.

A number of scholars consider the research of Ceylon as a breakthrough to understand maritime trading across the Indian Ocean and the spread of Buddhism in Southeast Asia. No matter in which topic of research, it is fascinating to find that “China” often appears in those works, and it to some extent reflects a close connection between China and Ceylon in 13th and 14th century.

The main theme of this semester prompts me to think about possible maritime contact between the Mongol and Ceylon. The general question of the group project tries to correspond to the maritime aspects of Marco Polo’s narratives to the Mongol. As one of the biggest trading centers, Ceylon is worth being analyzed to in order to find the most direct threats of the Mongols and their exploration over marines. The body of this passage aims to find out the maritime connections between Ceylon and the Mongol through the Description of the World from the aspects of trade and culture on the Maritime Silk Road.




The Maritime Connection Between Ceylon And the Mongol

In the southeast of Great India, there is an island called Ceylon. Just as what was assumed by the Europeans in the 13th century[1],people here commonly went about completely naked, according to Marco Polo’s description[2]. Still, they lived a rich life relying on the local products and the Indian Ocean.

Ceylon was a crucial distribution center before the rule of the Mongols. Tracing back to the Song dynasty, China has been in a relationship with Ceylon to carry out multiple kinds of trade cooperation. Whereas its commercial contacts in the west coast were mainly directed towards the west, including the Persian Gulf and the region of the Red Sea, its eastern shore focused more on Southeast Asia and China[3]. In the 11th century, with the rapid development of Chinese porcelain, Ramanna in the southern maritime region played a more important role in trade than Mantai in the northwest, which was meant to better connect Egypt and China[4]. Therefore, as a transfer station in the middle, the communications between Ceylon and China have been increased during this period of time.

In the Yuan dynasty, the Mongols had considerable control over the Indian Ocean, which straightly contributed to a growing number of contacts built between the Mongol and some maritime countries. Because of the use of the compass in navigation as well as the improvement in shipbuilding technology[5], the Mongol fleets were well developed in their scale and quality. These were all mentioned in land of the silk[6]. At the same time, after a series of conquests on land, the Mongols diverted their attention to the maritime explorations and conquests. With previous experience of shuttling between the continents, they were more familiar with surrounding naval situations. Needless to say, the Mongol’s more operating maritime activities have enriched the coastal links, including Ceylon.

Encouraged by the Mongol’s policies, the seaborne trade entered into a phase of more prosperity. Started from Quanzhou, which was the most critical open port in China under the Great Khan’s rule, porcelain, silk, tea, spices, horses, etc. were taken to Southeast Asia, Persia, Arabia and Africa along the Maritime Silk Road, and Ceylon has still been a significant link on the road because of its geostrategic location on one of the most important sea routes[7]. Bay around Ceylon was characterized by “expansive human networking”, “sojourning merchants” and “religious clerics” were playing a central role in the integrity of the Indian Ocean port polity networks during the yuan dynasty[8]. All these, in a sense, may indicate a possibly strong connection in trading and cultural dispersion between the Mongols and Ceylon.

Western Coast

It was often to see the mosques, synagogues, and churches, as well as emporium and settlements founded by Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traders on the western coast of Ceylon[9]. Connecting to the Indian Ocean that was blooming in business in the 13 century, ports in Ceylon were in the significance of trading due to an interaction between geographical feature, historical development, and economic consideration[10]. The bigger ports were responsible for gathering the local and sub-regional commodities from the smaller ports[11]. In Marco Polo’s description of Ceylon, noble rubies, sapphires, topaz, amethyst, and many good other stones have been growing here which could not be found elsewhere[12]. The precious jewelry was sent to the west through the flourishing trade across the Indian Ocean.

Its reputation was extended to the Mongols in China. Marco Polo narratives the Great Khan’s attempt in obtaining the beautiful ruby that was about a palm long and every bit as thick as a man’s arm in the Description of the World. However, he was refused by the king[13]. The story reflected the connectivity between the maritime trading along the Ceylon coast and the Mongol through the interactive communications on the Maritime Silk Road.

Eastern Coast

Compared to the western coast, the eastern focused more on the religion spreading, and it was one of the most important centers of the Buddhist faith with many great recumbent Buddhist figures[14], diffusing religious cultures to Southeast AsiaAt the same time, because of the religious instillation from Muslim, Jewish, and Christian traders along the western coast, Ceylon was a place for pilgrimage that welcomed palmers from different religions. That is corresponding to what Marco Polo tells in the Description of the World. In Marco Polo’s description, there was a sheer mountain in Ceylon that was holy for pilgrimage, with many iron chains attached so that men can climb to the top of the mountain. However, whom the monument belongs to was in the argument between the Saracens and idolators. The Saracens considered the monument as the footprints left by Adam[15], our first farther, but the idolators thought it belonged to Sergamoni, the first man who is held for ‘idol’[16] .

Likely, the Great Khan was informed about such a splendid religious culture in Ceylon, and he was attracted. In the Description of the World, Marco Polo tells that the Great Khan once sent the great embassy, 亦黑迷失, in 1284 to get the two molars, hairs, and bowls which were believed to be Adam’s[17]. It was also validated in Yuan Shi,


In Year 21, he was called back, and dispatched overseas to Sengjiaci (Ceylon) to visit the molars and bowls, then he was granted with jade belt, clothing, and An-pei.

According to “二十一年” and “僧伽刺国”,it basically determins that the envoy dispatched by the Great Khan is 亦黑迷失In a sense, the Great Khan’s dispatch embodies how well-informed the Mongols were about Ceylon thanks to glorious diplomacy and cultural exchange. We have evidence to believe that such an interaction was through communication over maritime affairs.





Even before the 11th century, Ceylon has been one of the trading centers, connecting the western and the eastern world. During the yuan dynasty, it witnessed the most prosperous age of trade along the Maritime Silk Road and over the Indian Ocean. As the starting point of the blooming trading road, China had a close connection with the coasts of Ceylon.

On one hand, the western coast of Ceylon was mainly directed to the west. It intensively transferred commodities from Ceylon and its subregion, including a variety of jewelry. The Great Khan’s sufficient information demonstrates a possible connection between maritime trading in Ceylon and the Mongol. On the other hand, the eastern coast of Ceylon focused more to the east. It played an essential role in the spread of religious culture, especially Buddhism. The embassies sent by the Great Khan for the religious purpose also well reflect a direct connection between maritime cultural exchange and the Mongol.

An understanding of the contacts between the Mongol and maritime affairs can be extended to more regions, not only Ceylon, including the other islands along the coast of the Indian Ocean. Those shreds of evidence illustrate the particular emphasis on maritime affairs and a trading coherency connected a long way during the yuan dynasty.