Escaping the Mongols: A Survivor’s Account from the 13th Century”
“William of Rubruck’s Account of the Mongols”

Through roughly 70 years of military campaigning, the Mongols established the largest contiguous land empire in world history. As the historian Morris Rossabi explains, because of the speed and ruthlessness with which they did so, the Mongols have been portrayed as barbaric in Persian, Chinese, and Russian accounts. Yet, the Mongols were certainly not the first or the last to brutally conquer others in the quest for empire. This raises the question as to whether, in other facets of their lives, the Mongols are as barbaric as these sources show them to be.

Outsider accounts of the Mongols are available that offer insight into their culture and way of life. For example, one of the earliest and most useful accounts was written by William of Rubruck, a Catholic missionary (a Flemish Franciscan, to be precise) who traveled through Mongol territory from 1253 to 1255 CE.

For this discussion, review the short article about Mongols methods of warfare, “Escaping the Mongols.” Then read sections of William of Rubruck’s account that pertain to Mongol culture or that are of particular interest to you (especially “Mongols social and religious customs”, “Funeral Practices”, “The Khan’s Palace at Karakorum”, “Religious Customs”).

Does William of Rubruck’s account show another side to Mongol culture different from what one might see solely from considering the way they waged war? Are they wholly barbaric or also civilized and sophisticated? Choose at least four examples from William of Rubruck’s account to explain your answer.