The Description of the World is a book written by Marco Polo together with Rustichello da Pisa, describing his long journeys in the Mediterranean, Eurasia and China. While the original text was lost, there are many different manuscripts and none of them are totally the same. Despite its marveling stories inside, the credibility of DW has always been a hot topic among scholars and researchers. The succession disputes mentioned in sixth chapter in DW are a part of Mongol conflicts, which are also very important parts in Mongol history. By analyzing the process of succession, we can have a sight on whether the Mongol conflicts are real or not.


According to DW, Hulegu was the first khan of the Ilkhanate, after he died, his son Abaqa succeeded him in the summer. According to Marco Polo, the succession disputes in the Ilkhanate of Persia started with Abaqa’s death, stirring up a succession combat between his son Arghun and his brother Ahmad. Ahmad had reigned for 2 years, from 1284 to 1286. After Arghun won the battle, he reigned for six years, from 1286 to 1292. When Arghun died of illness, his uncle Geikhatu, who was the brother of his father, Abaqa, took the lordship for two years. After Geikhatu dead due to drink , Baidu, who was his uncle and a Christian, took the lordship in the year 1293. In 1294, Ghazan, the son of Arghun, successfully beaten Baidu and began to reign and held the lordship.


The Descendants


Although Marco Polo didn’t give an exact year when Abaqa died, he did mention Arghun got his lordship in the year 1286 of the incarnation of Jesus Christ and Ahmad Sultan held the lordship for 2 years. By reckoning, we can know that Abaqa was dead in year 1284. However, Henri Cordier’s notes add that Abaqa actually died at Hamadan on 1st April 1282[1]. David Morgan also wrote Abaqa ruled from 1265-82[2]. Although none of the texts talked about how Abaqa was dead,  P. Jackson mentioned that “in 1285, Abaqa’s minister of finance Shams-ad-Din Juvayni was accused of having him poisoned[3].” Atwood also added on that Arghun believed Shams-ad-Din had poisoned Abaqa, accused ‘Ala’ud-Din’s men of embezzlement[4].



When Abaqa died, his son Arghun was governor in Khurasan, far to the east. Thus, his brother Ahmad took the throne himself. According to Marco Polo, Ahmad reigned for two years, from 1284 to 1286, but Morgan pointed that Sultan Ahmad ruled from 1282 to 1284[5]. Also, Atwood validated that when Abaqa suddenly died, “Sultan Ahmad (1282–84), executed Majd- ul-Mulk and honored Shams-ud-Din[6].” Moreover, Macro Polo said that “Ahmad Sultan conducted a very good lordship and pleased everyone. But he did a base thing [vilaine couse], for which many people highly reproached him[7].” While in Pauthier’s text, it added the last sentence “but he did one evil thing that was greatly reprobated by all; for he took all the wives of his brother Abaqa, and kept them for himself[8].” This was just a common Tartar tradition, and would scarcely be “reprobated by all[9].” It was probably because of Ahmad’s execution of his bother as well as a potential competitor— Qonqortai, that finally led to his baron’s dissatisfaction towards him.



Arghun got his lordship in 1286 and reigned 6 years; after 6 years, Arghun died of illness—they say that he died of drink.[10] While in the Yule-Cordier edition, “Arghún Khan died on 10th March, 1291;” “Argon reigned six years; and at the end of those six years he became ill and died; but some say ’twas of poison[11].” Also according to the Old French version,  “Argon reigned six years, at the end of which he died, as was generally said, by poison[12].” Moreover, according to Hamadani, Rashidaddin, alchemy attracted Arghun a lot at the end of his reign[13]. He met an alchemist who said he could lived longer than other people, and then became a friend of him, asking for the alchemist’s power. Rashid al-Din claimed the alchemist mixed up sulphur and mercury to Arghun as a magic  potion, and this concoction was also mentioned in Marco Polo’s Indian yogis’ experience. However, Arghun had taken the concoction for 8 months, which led to his illness and his health went worse gradually afterwards. On 27 January, Arghun was paralyzed and he finally died on March 10,1291. While according to Grousset, Rene, Arghun died in the morning of March 7[14]. Thus, Arghun probably died on March 1291, and as in DW he reigned for 6 years, he got the lordship in 1285. However, Atwood verified that Arghun reigned for 7 years, from 1284-1291[15], which is consistent with Morgan that Arghun ruled from 1284-91[16]. Since Ahmad died in 1284, I think Arghun reigned from 1284-1291 is the most accurate.



As Marco Polo stated, “when Arghun died, an uncle of his, named Geikhatu, who was the brother of his father, took the lordship in 1291. He held the lordship 2 years and at the end of 2 years he died due to drink[17].” While the Yule-Cordier version pointed that “he held the throne for two years, and at the end of those two years he died; for you must know he was poisoned[18].” The old French version also said  Geikhatu held the sovereignty two years, at the end of which he was carried off by poison[19]. However, Henri Cordier added notes that Geikhatu was the brother, not the uncle, of Arghun, and actually he reigned for four years[20], this is also similar to what Atwood wrote: “by 1291 the new khan, Ghazan’s uncle Geikhatu…when Geikhatu was overthrown in March 1295…[21]” Paul Pelliot also elaborated on that “Geikhatu was Arghun’s younger brother. He succeeded Arghun, but ascended the throne only on July 22, 1291, four months and a half after Arghun’s death. He proved to be a most dissolute sovereign, and was finally murdered on April 21, 1295, by Baidu.[22]

This also sheds a light on Geikhatu’s death and his personality. As for how Gekhatu was dead, René Grousset thought that he was killed by Baidu “with a bowstring so as to avoid bloodshed on 21 March 1295[23]”, which was also mentioned by Ekici, Kansu with a different date 25 April[24]. Antony Teixeira claimed Baidu “made war on Geikhatu because of his introduction of paper money and subsequently killed him in battle[25].” The paper money also appeared in Morgan’s words as chao[26]. As for his personality, in the “F” version, Marco Polo mentioned “Geikhatu took his nephew Arghun’s wife and took her for his own. He took great pleasure with the ladies, for he was a man of very great lust[27]”, and this is consistent with all other versions. Atwood shared same point that Geikhatu had taken over most of Arghun’s wives and ordos[28]. Thus, we could conclude that Geikhatu succeeded his brother Arghun in 1291 and he was killed by Baidu in 1295, and he was a dissolute man.


Baidu and Ghazan



When Geikhatu was dead, Baidu, who was his uncle and a Christian, took the lordship in the year 1293[29]. While in both Yule-Cordier and Latham, this was in the year 1294. However, as I mentioned above that Geikhatu was killed in 1295, Baidu could only get the lordship in 1295, which was consistent with Paul Pelliot: “on May 6, Baidu ascended the throne but, after five months, was overcome and on October 5, 1295 killed by Arghun’s son Ghazan[30].” Moreover, Marco Polo said that during the battle, many of those who were with Baidu went over to Ghazan and fought against Baidu[31]. This was verified by Atwood offering a person Chuban, who was chief commander under the last Il-Khan reigns, first supported Geikhatu as khan (1291–95) and in August 1295 deserted Baidu Khan for Ghazan Khan (1295–1304)[32]. Moreover, Atwood talked about a person Taghachar, a Mongol commander who overthrew three khans before being executed by his fourth khan, Ghazan Khan. He forced the crown on the easygoing Baidu, making him a figurehead under nobles. The kingdom was divided among the conspirators, and in May 1295 Taghachar secretly contacted the clique around Ghazan in northeast Iran. “When Ghazan and Baidu’s armies met on September 26, Tagachar’s desertion gave the challenger victory[33].” Baidu’s easygoing and weakness was noted by Mar Yahballaha III as well[34]. Thus, Ghazan began to reign in the year 1295.




Restoring to story, probably due to Shams-ad-Din’s poison, Abaqa died, which stirred up a succession combat between his son Arghun and his brother Ahmad. While Arghun was far to the east, Ahmad had reigned for 2 years, from 1282 to 1284. After Arghun won the battle, he reigned for seven years, from 1284 to 1291, and was killed by poison. Then, his brother Geikhatu, a very dissolute man, got the lordship in 1291 and was killed by Baidu in 1295. Baidu was probably forced to ascend the throne as a figurehead by Taghachar and nobles in 1295, and only after five months, Biadu was killed during the battle with Ghazan, the son of Arghun. The reason Baidu lost the battle was because of desertion of his men. Therefore, in 1295 Ghazan became the seventh ruler of the Ilkhanate. Although the details of succession disputes described in sixth chapter in DW by Marco Polo were not so accurate, the Mongol conflicts did exist. Marco Polo’s story is a combine of both exaggerated marvels and valuable historical facts for us to figure out.







[1] The book of Marco Polo, Vol 2, p.404

[2] The Mongols, p.142

[3]  Encyclopædia Iranica Vol.1,  p. 63.

[4] The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.281

[5] The Mongols, p.141

[6] The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.281

[7] The Description of the World, p.200

[8] The book of Marco Polo, Vol 2, p.402

[9] The book of Marco Polo, Vol 1. p. 253, 256

[10] The Description of the World, p.208

[11] The book of Marco Polo, Vol 2, p.406

[12] The Travels of Marco Polo, the Venetian, p.373

[13] Compendium of Chronicles, p.574

[14] The Empire of the Steppes: a History of Central Asia, p.376

[15] The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.234

[16] The Mongols, p.141

[17] The Description of the World, p.208

[18] The book of Marco Polo, Vol 2, p.407

[19] The Travels of Marco Polo, the Venetian, p.366

[20] The book of Marco Polo, Vol 2, p.407

[21] The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.199

[22] Notes On Marco Polo, Vol2, p.816

[23] Empire of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia, p377

[24] Ilkhanid ruler Gaykhatu and His Era, p258

[25] The history of Persia, p163

[26] The Mongols, p.145

[27] The Description of the World, p.209

[28]The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.199

[29] The Description of the World, p.209

[30] Notes On Marco Polo, Vol1, p.69

[31] The Description of the World, p.209

[32] The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.109

[33] The Encyclopedia of Mongolia and the Mongol Empire, p.525

[34]  The Monks of Kublai Khan, Chapter X