Mongols Called the Tartars: Outsiders Beware!
The Mongols, or as the Western Europeans called them, the Tartars, were a nomadic, militant people that dominated the battlefield during the pre-industrial time period (“Tartars” 7). Over the span of the 13th century, from the Central Asian steppes in the east to the Arabian lands to the west, the Tartars subdued the unfortunate inhabitants and expanded their empire vastly. To the fear and dismay of the Western Europeans, the Tartars desired to triumph over all of Eurasia; therefore, the Western Europeans were to be conquered next. News of the imminent Tartarian attack rapidly spread through West Europe like a wildfire, and the powerful Holy Roman Church contended to prepare a strategy against the onslaught. In the year 1245, Pope Innocent IV, the head of the Church at the time, sent a group of Friars led by Giovanni da Pian del Carpini to gather some knowledge about the Tartars. It was a dreaded mission, one that would probably end in a terrible death, since the Tartars were a cruel people towards outsiders. Nevertheless, Carpini valiantly ventured into the unknown darkness, and returned to his homeland with valuable information about the Tartars. Through the insight he gained during his travels, he wrote his account of the Tartars in a report called the “Historia Mongalorum” (“Tartars” 19), which is known today as “The Story of the Mongols Whom We Call the Tartars”.
This essay will first describe and analyze the feature of Tartarian society that Carpini was seemingly most interested in. Secondly, it will logically create conclusions about what Carpini’s society was probably like, based on his report, while investigating whether Carpini really understood the Tartars or not. Thirdly, this essay will delve into what modern readers may be able to conclude about the Tartars given Carpini’s description, as well as consider whether the Tartars could be treated as a post-Classical society. The three issues presented above are all connected by the overarching theme of contact between distinctive civilizations that becomes the catalyst in progressing the world from post-Classical to more globally integrated.
While Carpini mentioned many interesting dynamics of the Tartars in his report, his main focus seemed to be on how merciless and brutal they were against foreigners, in spite of how well they treated their own. He first identified how the “Tartars seldom argue to the point of insult [with one another]” (Carpini 50) and juxtaposed that caring behavior to how they insulted foreign ambassadors “as though they were unimportant” (Carpini 66). Moreover, Carpini mentioned that the Tartars “incited [their] men to steal and plunder [when they] went into foreign lands” (Carpini 55), even though there were “no robbers and thieves of valuables” (Carpini 50) in their own society. He cited many other examples of these bigotries, including: forcing conquered slaves to “do all their work” (Carpini 83) while giving...