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The Travels of Marco Polo 1: Chapter 1

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CHAPTER I.

HERE THE BOOK BEGINS; AND FIRST IT SPEAKS OF THE LESSER HERMENIA.


There are two Hermenias, the Greater and the Less. The Lesser Hermenia is governed by a certain King, who maintains a just rule in his dominions, but is himself subject to the Tartar.[NOTE 1] The country contains numerous towns and villages,[NOTE 2] and has everything in plenty; moreover, it is a great country for sport in the chase of all manner of beasts and birds. It is, however, by no means a healthy region, but grievously the reverse.[NOTE 3] In days of old the nobles there were valiant men, and did doughty deeds of arms; but nowadays they are poor creatures, and good at nought, unless it be at boozing; they are great at that. Howbeit, they have a city upon the sea, which is called LAYAS, at which there is a great trade. For you must know that all the spicery, and the cloths of silk and gold, and the other valuable wares that come from the interior, are brought to that city. And the merchants of Venice and Genoa, and other countries, come thither to sell their goods, and to buy what they lack. And whatsoever persons would travel to the interior (of the East), merchants or others, they take their way by this city of Layas.[NOTE 4]

Having now told you about the Lesser Hermenia, we shall next tell you about Turcomania.


NOTE 1.--The _Petite Hermenie_ of the Middle Ages was quite distinct from the Armenia Minor of the ancient geographers, which name the latter applied to the western portion of Armenia, west of the Euphrates, and immediately north of Cappadocia.

But when the old Armenian monarchy was broken up (1079-80), Rupen, a kinsman of the Bagratid Kings, with many of his countrymen, took refuge in the Taurus. His first descendants ruled as _barons_; a title adopted apparently from the Crusaders, but still preserved in Armenia. Leon, the great-great-grandson of Rupen, was consecrated King under the supremacy of the Pope and the Western Empire in 1198. The kingdom was at its zenith under Hetum or Hayton I., husband of Leon's daughter Isabel (1224-1269); he was, however, prudent enough to make an early submission to the Mongols, and remained ever staunch to them, which brought his territory constantly under the flail of Egypt. It included at one time all Cilicia, with many cities of Syria and the ancient Armenia Minor, of Isauria and Cappadocia. The male line of Rupen becoming extinct in 1342, the kingdom passed to John de Lusignan, of the royal house of Cyprus, and in 1375 it was put an end to by the Sultan of Egypt. Leon VI., the ex-king, into whose mouth Froissart puts some extraordinary geography, had a pension of 1000_l._ a year granted him by our Richard II., and died at Paris in 1398.

[Illustration: Coin of King Hetum and his Queen Isabel.]

The chief remaining vestige of this little monarchy is the continued existence of a _Catholicos_ of part of the Armenian Church at Sis, which was the royal residence. Some Armenian communities still remain both in hills and plains; and the former, the more independent and industrious, still speak a corrupt Armenian.

Polo's contemporary, Marino Sanuto, compares the kingdom of the Pope's faithful Armenians to one between the teeth of four fierce beasts, the _Lion_ Tartar, the _Panther_ Soldan, the Turkish _Wolf_, the Corsair _Serpent_.

(_Dulaurier_, in _J. As._ sér. V. tom. xvii.; _St. Martin, Arm._; _Mar. San._ p. 32; _Froissart_, Bk. II. ch. xxii. seqq.; _Langlois, V. en Cilicie_, 1861, p. 19.)

NOTE 2.--"_Maintes villes et maint chasteaux_" This is a constantly recurring phrase, and I have generally translated it as here, believing _chasteaux (castelli)_ to be used in the frequent old Italian sense of a _walled_ village or small walled town, or like the Eastern _Kala'_ applied in Khorasan "to everything--town, village, or private residence-- surrounded by a wall of earth." (_Ferrier_, p. 292; see also _A. Conolly_, I. p. 211.) Martini, in his _Atlas Sinensis_, uses "_Urbes_, _oppida_, castella," to indicate the three classes of Chinese administrative cities.

NOTE 3.--"_Enferme durement_." So Marino Sanuto objects to Lesser Armenia as a place of debarkation for a crusade "_quia terra est infirma_" Langlois, speaking of the Cilician plain: "In this region once so fair, now covered with swamps and brambles, fever decimates a population which is yearly diminishing, has nothing to oppose to the scourge but incurable apathy, and will end by disappearing altogether," etc. (_Voyage_, p. 65.) Cilician Armenia retains its reputation for sport, and is much frequented by our naval officers for that object. Ayas is noted for the extraordinary abundance of turtles.

NOTE 4.--The phrase twice used in this passage for the _Interior_ is _Fra terre_, an Italianism (_Fra terra_, or, as it stands in the Geog. Latin, "_infra terram Orientis_"), which, however, Murray and Pauthier have read as an allusion to the _Euphrates_, an error based apparently on a marginal gloss in the published edition of the Soc. de Géographie. It is true that the province of Comagene under the Greek Empire got the name of _Euphratesia_, or in Arabic _Furátiýah_, but that was not in question here. The great trade of Ayas was with Tabriz, viâ Sivas, Erzingan, and Erzrum, as we see in Pegolotti. Elsewhere, too, in Polo we find the phrase _fra terre_ used, where Euphrates could possibly have no concern, as in relation to India and Oman. (See Bk. III. chs. xxix. and xxxviii., and notes in each case.)

With regard to the phrase _spicery_ here and elsewhere, it should be noted that the Italian _spezerie_ included a vast deal more than ginger and other things "hot i' the mouth." In one of Pegolotti's lists of _spezerie_ we find drugs, dye-stuffs, metals, wax, cotton, etc.




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