1902 Encyclopedia > Johannes de Plano Carpini

Johannes de Plano Carpini
(also known as: Giovanni da Pian del Carpine; John of Plano Carpini; John of Pian de Carpine)
Italian traveller
(c. 1180 - 1252)




JOANNES DE PLANO CARPINI, author of a remarkable mediaeval work on Northern Asia. He appears to have been a native of Umbria, where a place formerly called Pian del Carpine, but now Piano della Magione, stands near Perugia, on the road to Cortona. He was one of the companions and disciples of his countryman St Francis of Assisi, and from sundry indications can hardly have been younger than the latter, born in 1182. John bore a high repute in the order, and took a foremost part in the pro-pagation of its teaching in Northern Europe, holding suc-cessively the offices of warden (cmtos) in Saxony, and of provincial (minister) of Germany, and afterwards of Spain, perhaps of Barbary, and of Cologne. He was in the last post at the time of the great Mongol invasion of Eastern Europe and of the disastrous battle of Liegnitz (April 12, 1241), which threatened to cast European Christendom beneath the feet of barbarous hordes. The dread of the Tartars was, however, still ou men's mind four years later, when Pope Innocent IV. determined (1245) on sending a mission to the Tartar and other Asiatic princes, the real object of which apparently was to gain trustworthy informa-tion regarding the hordes and their purposes.

At the head of this mission the Pope placed Friar John, at this time certainly not far from 65 years of age, and to his discretion nearly everything in the accomplishment of the mission seems to have been left. The legate started from Lyons, where the Pope then resided, on Easter Day (16th April 1245), accompanied by another friar, who speedily broke down and was left behind. After seeking the counsel of an old friend, Wenceslaus, king of Bohemia, he was joined at Breslau by another minorité, F. Bennet the Pole, appointed to act as interpreter. The onward journey lay by Kiev ; the Tartar posts were entered at Kaniev, and thence the route ran across the Dnieper (Neper) and the Don to the Eth'd or Volga, on which stood the Or du or camp of Batu, at this time the senior of the Chinghizid family. Here the envoys with their presents had to pass between two fires before being presented to the prince. Batu ordered them to proceed onward to the court of the supreme Kaan in Mongolia, and on Easter Day once more (April 8, 1246) they started on the second and most formidable part of their journey—" so ill," writes the legate, " that we could scarcely sit a horse ; and throughout all that Lent our food had been nought but millet with salt and water, and with only snow melted in a kettle for drink." Their bodies were tightly bandaged to enable them to endure the exces-sive fatigue of this enormous ride, which led them across the Jaic (now called River Ural), and then north of the Caspian and the Aral to the Jaxartes (quidam fluvius magnus cujus nomen ignoramus), and the Mahometan cities which then stood on its banks ; then along the shores of the Dzungarian lakes and so forward, till, on the Feast of St Mary Magdalene (22d July), at last they reached the imperial camp called Sira Ordu (Yellow Pavilion), near the Orkhon River,—this stout-hearted old man having thus ridden something like 3000 miles in 106 days.

Since the death of Okkodai the imperial authority had been in interregnum. Kuyuk, his eldest son, had now been designated to the throne ; his formal election in a great Kurultai, or diet of the tribes, took place while the friars were at Sira Ordu, numbered among 3000 to 4000 envoys and deputies from all parts of Asia and Eastern Europe, bearing homage, tribute, and presents. They afterwards, ou the 24th of August, witnessed the formal enthronement at another camp in the vicinity called the Golden Ordu, after which they were presented to the emperor.

It was not till November that they got their dismissal, bearing a letter to the Fope in Mongol, Arabic, and Latin, which was little else than a brief imperious assertion of the Kaan's office as the scourge of God. Then commenced their long winter journey homeward ; often they had to lie on the bare snow, or on the ground scraped bare of snow with the traveller's foot. They reached Kiev on the 9th of June 1247. There, and on their further journey, the Slavonic Christians welcomed them as risen from the dead, with festive hospitality. Crossing the Rhine at Cologne, they found the Pope still at Lyons, and there delivered their report and the Kaan's letter.

Not long afterwards Friar John was rewarded with the archbishopric of Antivari in Dalmatia, and was sent as legate to St Louis. We do not know the year of his death, but it would seem that his successor in the see died before April 1253 ; hence it is probable that John did not long survive the hardships of his journey.

He recorded the information that he had collected in a work, called in one MS. Liber Tartarorum, in another Hisloria Monga-lorum quos nos Tartaros appellamus. The work is divided into eight ample chapters on the country, climate, manners, religion, character, history, policy, and tactics of the Tartars, and on the best way of opposing them, followed by a single chapter on the regions passed through. The book thus answers to its title. Like some other famous mediœval itineraries it shows an entire absence of a traveller's or author's egotism, and contains, even in the last chapter, scarcely any personal narrative. John of Pian del Carpine was not only an old man when he went cheerfully upon this mission, but was, as we know from accidental evidence in the annals of his order, a fat and heavy man (vir gravis et corpulentiis), insomuch that during his preachings in Germany he was fain, contrary to Franciscan precedent, to ride a donkey. Yet not a word approaching more nearly to com-plaint than those which we have quoted above appears in his narra-tive. His book, both in its defect of personal detail and in literary quality, is inferior to that written a few years later by a younger brother of the order, and envoy to the Mongol, William de Eubruck. But it is an excellent work, and in our own day an educated Mongol, Galsang Gomboyev, has borne detailed and interesting testimony to the great accuracy of its statements (see Melanges Asiat. tirés du Bullet. Hist. Fhilol. de l'Acad. Imp. de St Petersbourg, ii. p. 650, 1856).

The book must have been prepared immediately after the return of the traveller, for the Friar Saliinbene, who met him in France in the very year of his return (1247), gives us these interesting par-ticulars :—"He was a clever and conversable man, well lettered, a great discourser, and full of a diversity of experience. . . . He wrote a big book about the Tattars (sic), and about other marvels that he had seen, and whenever he felt weary of telling about the Tattars, he would cause that book of his to be read, as I have often heard and seen" (Chron. Fr. Salimbeni Parmensis in Monum. Histor. adPnro. et Placent, pertinentia, Parma, 1857).

For a long time the work was but partially known, and that chiefly through an abridgment in the vast compilation of Vincent of Beau-vais (Speculum Historiale) made in the generation following the traveller's own, and printed first in 1473. Hakluyt (1598) and Bergeron (1634) published portions of the original work ; but the complete and genuine text was not printed till 1839, when it was put forth by the late M. D'Avezac in the 4th volume of the Réeueil_ de Voyages et de Mémoires of the Geog. Society of Paris,—a work of that great geographer which forms such a model of editorial taste, learning, and sagacity, as will hardly be surpassed or equalled.

John's companion, Benedictus Polonus, also left a brief narrative taken down from his oral relation. This was first published by M. D'Avezac in the work just named. (H. Y. )








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