The Garden Guide

Book: Journey and Embassy to Samarkand
Chapter: Vii. The City of Samarkand

Timurid justice

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[Note: 'Cambalu' (or Kambaluk) was the name used by Marco Polo the city of Beijing (Peking)] From Samarkand to the chief city of the empire of China, called Cambalu, is a journey of six months, two of which are passed in crossing an uninhabited land, never visited by anyone but shepherds, who wander with their flocks, in search of pasture {The town of Yarkand, on the extreme Western frontier of the Chinese dominions, is five months journey from Pekin. A telegraph, by means of beacons, can transmit a message in six days, and an extraordinary express can go over the distance in thirty-five days}. In this year as many as eight hundred camels, laden with merchandize, came from Cambalu to this city of Samarkand, in the month of June. When Timur Beg heard what the ambassadors from China had demanded, he ordered these camels to be detained, and we saw the men who came with the camels. They related wonderful things, concerning the great power of the lord of China: we especially spoke to one of these men, who had been six months in the city of Cambalu, which he said was near the sea, and twenty times as large as Tabreez. The city of Cambalu is the largest in the world, because Tabreez is a good league in length, so that Cambalu must be twenty leagues in extent. He also said that the lord of China had so vast an army that, when he collected troops to march beyond his own territory, not counting those who thus departed with him, four hundred thousand cavalry and more were left to guard the land; he added that it was the custom of this lord of China not to allow any man to mount a horse, unless he had a thousand followers; and he told many others wonders, concerning this city of Cambalu, and the land of China. This emperor of China used to be a gentile, but he was converted to the faith of the Christians {Yung-la is said to have promoted literature, and continued the universal toleration granted by his father Hung-woo, but his Christianity may be doubted}. While the ambassadors were in Samarkand, the seven years were completed, during which Timur Beg had sworn he would not enter the castle containing his treasure. He went to it, with much pomp and festivity, and all the arms which the captives had made since he departed, were carried before him, amongst which were three thousand pairs of breastplates, adorned with red cloth, well made, except that they are not strong, and that these people do not understand how to temper the iron. They also carried a great number of helmets; and on that day the lord divided the breastplates and helmets amongst his knights, and other followers. The helmets are round and high, and in front a plate, two fingers broad, descends as far down as the chin, which can be moved up and down, and is intended to protect the face from a sword cut. The breast plates are made like ours, except that long skirts of cloth hang from them, like shirts.