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Francesco Pegolotti

The Book of Descriptions of Countries



Francesco Pegolotti was an agent of the Bardi banking house of Florence. Around 1340 he wrote a manual for merchants traveling to China. 

In the first place, you must let your beard grow long and not shave. And at Tana [1] you should furnish yourself with a dragoman. And you must not try to save money in the matter of dragomen [2] by taking a bad one instead of a good one. For the additional wages of the good one will not cost you so much as you will save by having him. And besides the dragoman it will be well to take at least two good menservants, who are acquainted with the Cumanian [3]tongue. And if the merchant likes to take a woman with him from Tana, he can do so; if he does not like to take one there is no obligation, only if he does take one he will be kept much more comfortably than if he does not take one. Howbeit, if he does take one, it will be well that she be acquainted with the Cumanian tongue as well as the men.

And from Tana traveling to Gittarchani [4] you should take with you twenty-five days' provisions, that is to say, flour and salt fish, for as to meat you will find enough of it at all the places along the road. And so also at all the chief stations noted in going from one country to another in the route, according to the number of days set down above, you should furnish yourself with flour and salt fish; other things you will find in sufficiency, and especially meat.

The road you travel from Tana to Cathay is perfectly safe, whether by day or by night, according to what the merchants say who have used it. Only if the merchant, in going or coming, should die upon the road, everything belonging to him will become the perquisite of the lord of the country in which he dies, and the officers of the lord will take possession of all. And in like manner if he die in Cathay. But if his brother be with him, or an intimate friend and comrade calling himself his brother, then to such a one they will surrender the property of the deceased, and so it will be rescued.

And there is another danger: this is when the lord of the country dies, and before the new lord who is to have the lordship is proclaimed, during such intervals there have sometimes been irregularities practiced on the Franks, and other foreigners. (They call "Franks" all the Christians of these parts from Romania [5] westward.) And neither will the roads be safe to travel until the other lord be proclaimed who is to reign in place of him who is deceased.

Cathay is a province which contains a multitude of cities and towns. Among others there is one in particular, that is to say the capital city, to which is great resort of merchants, and in which there is a vast amount of trade; and this city is called Cambalec. [6] And the said city has a circuit of one hundred miles, and is all full of people and houses and of dwellers in the said city. . .

You may reckon also that from Tana to Sara the road is less safe than on any other part of the journey; and yet even when this part of the road is at its worst, if you are some sixty men in the company you will go as safely as if you were in your own house.

Anyone from Genea or from Venice, wishing to go to the places above-named, and to make the journey to Cathay, should carry linens with him, and if he visit Organci he will dispose of these well. In Organci he should purchase sommi of silver [7], and with these he should proceed without making any further investment, unless it be some bales of the very finest stuffs which go in small bulk, and cost no more for carriage than coarser stuffs would do.

Merchants who travel this road can ride on horseback or on asses, or mounted in any way that they choose to be mounted.

Whatever silver the merchants may carry with them as far as Cathay the lord of Cathay will take from them and put into his treasury. And to merchants who thus bring silver they give that paper money of theirs in exchange. This is of yellow paper, stamped with the seal of the lord aforesaid. And this money is called balishi; and with this money you can readily buy silk and all other merchandise that you have a desire to buy. And all the people of the country are bound to receive it. And yet you shall not pay a higher price for your goods because your money is of paper. And of the said paper money there are three kinds, one being worth more than another, according to the value which has been established for each by that lord.

[1] The modern city of Azov on the Black Sea.

[2] An interpreter fluent in Arabic, Persian or Turkish.

[3] A Turkish speaking people living around the Volga River.

[4] The modern city of Astrakhan, located on the Volga River delta.

[5] The Western European name for the Byzantine Empire.

[6] The modern city of Beijing.

[7] The modern city of Urgench on the Oxus River. A sommi is a weight of silver, each sommo was worth about 5 golden florins, the standard coin of Florence. According to Andrea and Overfield, "Pegolotti calculated that the average merchant would carry merchandise worth about twenty-five thousand florins, and the expenses for the merchant, interpreter, and the two personal servants would amount to a combined sixty to eighty sommi, or three to four hundred florins." (p. 428).

From: Henry Yule, ed. and trans., Cathay and the Way Thither, 2nd ed., (rev. by H. Cordier), 4 vols. (London; Hakluyt Society, 1913-1916),vol. 3, pp. 151-155. Reprinted in: Alfred J. Andrea and James H. Overfield, The Human Record: Sources of Global History, 3rd ed., Vol. I: To 1700 (Boston; Houghton Mifflin, 1998) pp. 427-428.

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