Silk Road Trade & Travel Encyclopedia

Interesting Facts & Trivia

40 - QUESTION:  What European nation sent Friar William of Rubruck to Central Asia during the 13th century?

Answer:  France.

Friar "William of Rubruck" was sent to Karakorum by the King of France. Willem van Ruysbroeck (c. 1210-1270) was a Flemish Franciscan missionary from Flanders who traveled through the Black Sea and the territories of the Golden Horde to the court of the Great Khan Möngke at Karakorum, and wrote the most detailed and valuable early Western account of the Mongols. The account called "Itinerarium," offers varied information about the Asiatic life of his times. It contains comprehensive and authentic information on the Mongol Empire in its pre-Chinese period. It is of interest for descriptions of encounters with Nestorian Christians, the city of Karakorum, and the palace which no longer exists. Rubruck's account did not become widely known until it was translated and published late in the sixteenth century.

William had participated in the crusade of King Louis IX of France to Palestine and there heard about the Mongols from friar Andrew of Longjumeau, a Dominican who had been involved in papal diplomacy aimed at trying to enlist the Mongols in the Christian crusade against the Muslims. Rubruck then decided to undertake his own mission to the Mongols primarily in the hope of promoting their conversion to Christianity. In 1253 he set out through the lands of the western part of the empire of the Golden Horde. After starting out through the southern steppes of what is now Ukraine and Russia, his roundtrip journey lasted about three years. William had the distinction of being the first European to visit the Mongol capital of Karakorum on the Orhon River and return to write about it. He describes generally with great precision Mongol traditional culture, provides a unique description of the Khan's palace, and describes the individuals of various ethnicities and religions whom he encountered. He was particularly interested in the Nestorian Christians.

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