A Source Book in Geography

Author: Francesco Balducci Pegolotti  | Date: 1866

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Pegolotti’s Advice to Merchants Traveling to Asia

Information regarding the journey to Cathay, for such as will go by Tana and come back with goods

In the first place, from Tana to Gintarchan may be twenty-five days with an ox-waggon, and from ten to twelve days with a horse-waggon. On the road you will find plenty of Moccols, that is to say, of gens d’armes. And from Gittarchan to Sara may be a day by river, and from Sara to Saracanco, also by river, eight days. You can do this either by land or by water; but by water you will be at less charge for your merchandize.

From Saracanco to Organci may be twenty days’ journey in camel-waggon. It will be well for anyone travelling with merchandize to go to Organci, for in that city there is a ready sale for goods. From Organci to Oltrarre is thirty-five to forty days in camel-waggons. But if when you leave Saracanco you go direct to Oltrarre, it is a journey of fifty days only, and if you have no merchandize it will be better to go this way than to go by Organci.

From Oltrarre to Armalec is forty-five days’ journey with pack-asses, and every day you find Moccols. And from Armalec to Camexu is seventy days with asses, and from Camexu until you come to a river called . . . is forty-five days on horseback; and then you can go down the river to Cassai, and there you can dispose of the sommi of silver that you have with you, for that is a most active place of business. After getting to Cassai you carry on with the money which you get for the sommi of silver which you sell there; and this money is made of paper, and is called balishi. And four pieces of this money are worth one sommo of silver in the province of Cathay. And from Cassai to Gamalec [Cambalec], which is the capital city of the country of Cathay, is thirty days’ journey.

Things needful for merchants who desire to make the journey to Cathay above described

In the first place, you must let your beard grow long and not shave. And at Tana you should furnish yourself with a dragoman. And you must not try to save money in the matter of dragomen 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 men servants, who are acquainted with the Cumanian 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 do take one, it will be well that she be acquainted with the Cumanian tongue as well as the men.

And from Tana travelling to Gittarchan 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 an one they will surrender the property of the deceased, and so it will be rescued . . .

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. And the said city hath a circuit of one hundred miles, and is all full of people and houses and of dwellers in the said city.

You may calculate that a merchant with a dragoman, and with two men servants, and with goods to the value of twenty-five thousand golden florins, should spend on his way to Cathay from sixty to eighty sommi of silver, and not more if he manage well; and for all the road back again from Cathay to Tana, including the expenses of living and the pay of servants, and all other charges, the cost will be about five sommi per head of pack animals, or something less. And you may reckon the sommo to be worth five golden florins. You may reckon also that each ox-waggon will require one ox, and will carry ten cantars Genoese weight; and the camel-waggon will require three camels, and will carry thirty cantars Genoese weight; and the horse-waggon will require one horse, and will commonly carry six and half cantars of silk, at 250 Genoese pounds to the cantar. And a bale of silk may be reckoned at between 110 and 115 Genoese pounds.

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 Genoa 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, and with these he should proceed without making any further investment, unless it be some bales of the very finest scuffs 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 list 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 merchandize 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.

And you may reckon that you can buy for one sommo of silver nineteen or twenty pounds of Cathay silk, when reduced to Genoese weight, and that the sommo should weigh eight and a half ounces of Genoa, and should be of the alloy of eleven ounces and seventeen deniers to the pound.

You may reckon also that in Cathay you should get three or three and a half pieces of damasked silk for a sommo; and from three and a half to five pieces of nacchetti of silk and gold, likewise for a sommo of silver.

From "Pegolotti’s Notices of the Land Route to Cathay," trans. Henry Yule, in Cathay and the Way Thither (London: Hakluyt Society, 1866, no. 37) pp. 146–155 passim; © The Hakluyt Society, London.


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Chicago: Francesco Balducci Pegolotti, "Pegolotti’s Advice to Merchants Traveling to Asia," A Source Book in Geography, trans. Henry Yule in A Source Book in Geography, ed. George Kish (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1978), 266–268. Original Sources, accessed April 25, 2018, http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DMGH9S7P4B4NSHQ.

MLA: Pegolotti, Francesco Balducci. "Pegolotti’s Advice to Merchants Traveling to Asia." A Source Book in Geography, translted by Henry Yule, Vol. 37, in A Source Book in Geography, edited by George Kish, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1978, pp. 266–268. Original Sources. 25 Apr. 2018. www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DMGH9S7P4B4NSHQ.

Harvard: Pegolotti, FB, 'Pegolotti’s Advice to Merchants Traveling to Asia' in A Source Book in Geography, trans. . cited in 1978, A Source Book in Geography, ed. , Harvard University Press, Cambridge, pp.266–268. Original Sources, retrieved 25 April 2018, from http://www.originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=DMGH9S7P4B4NSHQ.