Marco Polo

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Marco Polo

(c. 1300)

Venetian traveller. Travels co-authored with Rustichello da Pisa.

Old French.

Chapter XXXIX


ABASCIA is an extensive country, termed the Middle or Second India. Its principal king is a Christian. Of the others, who are six in number, and tributary to the first, three are Christians and three are Saracens. 3 I was informed that the Christians of these parts, in order to be distinguished as such, make three signs or marks (on the face), namely, one on the forehead, and one on each cheek, which latter are imprinted with a hot iron and this may be considered as a second baptism with fire, after the baptism with water. The Saracens have only one mark, which is on the forehead, and reaches to the middle of the nose. The Jews, who are likewise numerous here, have two marks, and these upon the cheeks.

The capital of the principal Christian king is in the interior of the country. 1 The dominions of the Saracen princes He towards the province of Aden. 2 The conversion of these people to the Christian faith was the work of the glorious apostle, St. Thomas, who having preached the gospel in the kingdom of Nubia, and converted its inhabitants, afterwards visited Abascia, and there, by the influence of his discourses and the performance of miracles, produced the same effect. He subsequently went to abide in the province of Maabar; where, after converting an infinite number of persons, he received, as we have already mentioned, the crown of martyrdom, and was buried on the spot. These people of Abascia are brave and good warriors, being constantly engaged in hostility with the sultan of Aden, the people of Nubia, and many others whose countries border upon theirs. In consequence of this unceasing practice in arms, they are accounted the best soldiers in this part of the world.

In the year 1288, as I was informed,, this great Abyssinian prince adopted the resolution of visiting in person the Holy Sepulchre of Christ in Jerusalem, a pilgrimage that is every year performed by vast numbers of his subjects; but he was dissuaded from it by the officers of his government, who represented to him the dangers to which he would be exposed in passing through so many places belonging to the Saracens, his enemies. He then determined upon sending thither a bishop as his representative, a man of high reputation for sanctity, who, upon his arrival at Jerusalem, recited the prayers and made the offerings which the king had directed. Returning, however, from that city, through the dominions of the sultan of Aden, the latter caused him to be brought into his presence, and endeavoured to persuade him to become a Mahometan. Upon his refusing with becoming firmness to abandon the Christian faith, the sultan, making light of the resentment of the Abyssinian monarch, caused him to be circumcised, and then suffered him to depart. Upon his arrival, and making a report of the indignity and violence to which he had been subjected, the king immediately gave orders for assembling an army, at the head of which he marched, for the purpose of exterminating the sultan; who on his part called to his assistance two Mahometan princes, his neighbours, by whom he was joined with a very large force. In the conflict that ensued, the Abyssinian king was victorious, and having taken the city of Aden, he gave it up to pillage, in revenge for the insult he had sustained in the person of his bishop.

The inhabitants of this kingdom live upon wheat, rice, flesh, and milk. They extract oil from sesame, and have abundance of all sorts of provisions. In the country there are elephants, lions, camelopards, and a variety of other animals, such as wild asses, and monkeys that have the figure of men, together with many birds, wild and domestic. It is extremely rich in gold, and much frequented by merchants, who obtain large profits. We shall now speak of the province of Aden.

Selected editions

The Travels of Marco Polo the Venetian, ed. E. Rhys (London: 1908).