More About Mongols and Marco
In the book Peril in the Palace, you read about Kublai Khan and the great riches and power he had. But did you know that the Mongols lived only in gers before Kublai Khan became ruler? Kublai Khan wanted the Mongols to begin living more like the Chinese, and so Kublai Khan moved into a palace.
Here are some other unusual facts about Kublai Khan and the ancient Mongolian culture.
A Horse, of Course!
The Mongol horse breed still lives in Mongolia today. It is a small and sturdy. The animals are also usually very quiet. The ancient Mongols measured their wealth in the number of horses they owned.
What’s your favorite animal? Would it be fun to own or horse? Why or why not? What responsibilities come with owning a horse?
The Mongols didn’t worship horses, but the animals were a big part of their lives. Mongol weavings and drawings had horses as the subjects. A mare’s milk provided food for the people. The horses provided transportation. They also provided fuel for Mongol fires—the Mongols burned dried horse dung. (Supposedly it doesn’t smell that bad.)
Warning—this next fact is really gross. The Mongol warriors crossed the wide Gobi dessert on horseback. How did they do it? They took three or more horses. What did they eat to survive? Dried meat. What did they drink to survive? The horses’ milk, or their blood!
One Mongol rule was this: If a traveler passes by a group of people eating, the traveler must stop and ask to eat with them. Do you often share food with people outside your family?
Talk About Rocs
Rocs are legendary giant birds of prey. Some ancient stories say the birds were all white. A roc is described in a famous book called Arabian Nights. A few ancient sailing legends contain stories about rocs attacking the ships.
Here’s what Marco wrote about the rocs: "It was for all the world like an eagle, but one indeed of enormous size; so big in fact that its quills [feathers] were twelve paces long and thick in proportion. And it is so strong that it will seize an elephant in its talons and carry him high into the air and drop him so that he is smashed to pieces; having so killed him, the bird swoops down on him and eats him at leisure." (The Travels of Marco Polo, page 282.)
The Mongols were among the first people to have a postal service delivered by “postmen” on horseback. What do you think they wrote about in their letters?
The Travels of Marco Polo
Marco Polo came from a family of traders. He grew up in a region where lots of countries were at war. Because of the wars, the Polos had to avoid war zones. Often he and his uncles had to wait before they could travel safely. Sometimes they had to travel out of their way to find a safe route. It took about four years for Marco and his uncles to travel to Kublai Khan’s palace in China.
Kublai Khan asked Marco to travel all over the Mongol Empire as an ambassador (see map). Marco was to report about what he saw. Marco probably took notes so he could report to the Khan, though no one knows for sure.
Marco returned home to the republic of Venice in Italy, after leaving Kublai Khan. At that time, Venice was fighting another Italian republic called Genoa. The Genoese captured Marco after a sea battle. Marco was a prisoner of war for a year.
While Marco was in prison, he met a man named Rustichello. Rustichello was a great storyteller. Together the men wrote The Travels of Marco Polo.
Marco probably learned how to speak Turkish and Mongol during the four years it took to reach Kublai Khan’s palace. Do you know anyone who speaks a foreign language?