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Dusan Pajin (Yugoslavia)





King Henry II (Plantagenet, Anjou, or Angevin dynasty) -- thanks largely to his marriage with Eleanor of Aquitaine, (a formidable women, who headed the Troubadour gatherings at her court in Southern France) -- ruled in the second half of the 12th c. over a considerable empire in England, France and Ireland. The best-remembered of his sons, Richard Coeur-de-Lion, spended much of his time at the Crusades, fighting against the great Saladin (Salah-ed-Din), who has recaptured Jerusalem in 1187.

The emergence of the Seljuk Turks in the 11th c., as a power in Asia Minor and the Near East was little recognized at the time. They captured Isfahan, Iran, Damascus, Jerusalem and Antioch, and defeated the Byzantine Emperor at Manzikert in 1071. The Byzantine Emperor appealed to the West for help, but instead gets the First Crusade (1096-99) -- which he did not want, and much less wanted the Fourth Crusade (1202-4), when Crusaders conquered Constantinople, instead of Jerusalem.

However, a new secular spirit begins to assert itself as national states, and national monarchies, grow in strength. Contact with other cultures affects the Christocentric West,

which learns much from its contacts with the East, as witnessed by Marco Polo and others.

It starts to produce its own silk approximately during the 6th century (before, it was a Chinese monopoly, and since the times of Justinian, in the 6th c., a Byzantine monopoly). So Italy owed silk production to the Chinese, and Venice owed its glass-blowing skills to Egypt. At that time “the world economy was predominantly Asian-based, and so were the economic enterprise and success of Venice and Genoa, both of which derived their wealth from their intermediary position between the riches of Asia and the demand for the same in Europe” (Frank, 1998: 57).

The 13th century is one of the great periods in Europe -- age of Thomas Aquinas, and Dante, and men of learning, such as Roger Bacon, of the great culture centers, of expanding mental horizons, and commerce, by adventurous tradesman, like the Polo family. The new, inquiring spirit in the West was also sponsored by the Emperor Frederick II, of the Germanic Hohenstaufen dynasty, largely “Italianised” in culture; his court at Palermo, in Sicily, patronises men of learning from many countries, including Jewish and Islamic doctors and philosophers (Nietzsche called him "the first European").

However, a shadow is cast by four big wars, waged in the 13th c. Two were fought by Christians against Christians, third by Christians against pagans (Prussians), and the fourth was the Mongol invasion.

1) The Fourth Crusade -- called by Pope Innocent III to reconquer the Holy Land -- was diverted to Constantinople. This time the crusaders were after plunder, and why bother with Arabs, and the Holy Land, when it seemed easier to plunder Byzantium. Following the crusaders' seizure and sack of Constantinople in 1204, the European territories of the Byzantine Empire were divided up among the Western lords. In Asia Minor Byzantine resistance was successful, and two independent successor empires were established (those of Nicaea and Trebizond), In 1261, however, the Nicaean forces were able to recover Constantinople and put an end to the rule of Latin Empire. The recovery of some of the territory followed, and by the end of the 13th century parts of central Greece were once again in Byzantine hands.

2) The Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) was started on the pretext to crush the Cathari, or Albigensian heresy, but actually to plunder the rich south, and submit it to the power of the northern lords. It threw the whole of the nobility of the north of France against that of the south, and destroyed the brilliant Provençal civilization. It ended, military and politically, in the Treaty of Paris (1229), which destroyed the independence of the princes of the south, but did not extinguish the heresy, in spite of the wholesale massacres of “heretics” during the war. However, the Inquisition, operating in the south -- at Toulouse, Albi, and other towns -- during the 13th and 14th centuries, succeeded in crushing it.

3) The death of the Hohenstaufen emperor Henry VI in 1197, when he was planning a great expedition to Palestine, caused an important change: German crusaders who had arrived in Palestine decided to return home. In order to fill the gap, the German princes and bishops, together with King Amalric II of Jerusalem, in 1198 militarized the fraternity, making it a religious order of Teutonic knights. The new order was put under a monastic and military rule like that of the Templars. Innocent III in 1205 granted the knights the use of the white habit with a black cross. Under the leadership of the grand master Hermann von Salza (reigned 1210-39), the Teutonic knights transferred their main center of activity from the Middle East to eastern Europe. The order's first European enterprise started in Hungary in 1211, when King Andrew (Andras) II invited a group of the Teutonic knights to protect his Transylvanian borderland against the Cumans by colonizing it and by converting its people to Christianity. The order was granted extensive rights, but the knights' demands became so excessive that they were expelled from Hungary in 1225. By that time, a Polish duke, Conrad of Mazovia, needed help against the pagan Prussians. Hermann von Salza in 1226 obtained from Frederick II, the so-called Golden Bull of Rimini, which confirmed to the order not only the lands to be granted by Conrad for their favors, but also those that the knights were to conquer from the Prussians. In 1233, the Teutonic Knights began the conquest of Prussia. During the next 50 years, having exterminated most of the native Prussian population (during the major rebellion of 1261-83), the order established its control over Prussia. It worked to develop the region by building castles, importing German peasants to settle in depopulated areas, and monopolizing the lucrative grain trade, after 1263, when the pope allowed the knights to engage directly in trading activities.

4) In their “Drang nach West”, Mongol armies had crossed the Caucasus in 1223. They made a definite thrust into eastern Europe during the winter season, 1236-37. Mongols swept across Russia and destroyed the fine civilization of Kiev in December 1240, riding and conquering deep into Central Europe, and the Balkans, led by Batu and Qadan, two grandsons of Ghengis Khan. 1)

They went to the west of Europe, as far as Poland, and Prussia. Batu Khan defeated the Polish army at Chmielnik and the Silesian knights of the Teutonic Order at Legnica (Liegnitz, in 1241). Before the Mongols went back to Asia -- in 1242, to elect a new great khan in Mongolia -- they reached the shores of the Adriatic, and remained masters, for another 50 years, of Red Ruthenia (eastern Poland). At that time, the Mongol empire was the biggest empire ever created -- spreading from the Adriatic, to the Pacific.



In March 1241, the Mongol forces appear at the north and north-eastern passes of the Carpathians, led by Batu. The Mongols force their way through the Verecke pass, and proceed down the northern part of the country, looting and massacring on their way.

King Bela IV collected his troops and moved against the main group of Mongols, led by Batu. The fight took place in the valley of the river Sajó. The Hungarians set up a camp for the night. During that night, the Mongols managed to surround the Hungarian camp unnoticed. At dawn, on the 12th of April, Batu attacked, and Bela's heavily armored knights were overwhelmed by the tactics of the Mongols. Their fast-riding units moved in complete silence directed by the flag signals of their commanders. The destructive fire of their unusually heavy and well-aimed arrows supported by rockets and other frightening devices, such as horsemen made up as terrifying giants, brought them victory.

Actually, at that time Mongols had no match, either in Asia, or in Europe. They defeated every force, or army: from the Chinese in the far East, to the Russians in the border area, between Asian and Europe, to Poland and Teutons, in the Western Europe.

More than 50,000 Hungarians died on the field of Muhi (Mohi). The Palatine -- the "first gentleman of the realm" -- put on the king's armor and regalia and rode against the elite guard of Batu. They mistook him for Bela and concentrated their best cavalry against him and his escort, and wiped them. Taking his chance, Bela managed to slip through the Mongol lines dressed in a simple soldier's armor, followed by a few young nobles of his guard. The Mongols, realizing the mistake, chased the king, who managed to find refuge behind the Danube River, which the Mongols could not cross. There he held out until February, 1242. Then the river froze, and Batu could invade the rest of the country. The Mongol forces crossed the frozen Danube, and the land west and south of Danube was at their mercy. The rest of the region up to its western border was occupied by the Mongols.

As a surprise, instead of helping the Hungarians, from the western border, the

Austrian Prince Friedrich mounted an attack against the surviving Hungarian towns. He even imprisoned Bela IV, who had fled to his court, and released him for a heavy ransom (Halász, 1998).

The Mongols pursued the king, who was trying to organize resistance. They followed his trail to Zagreb and Dalmatia (at that time, part of Hungary). When Qadan (Kaidan), grandson of Ghengis Khan, and his Mongol horsemen arrived before the walls of Spalato (Split) in the spring of 1242, the Adriatic Sea became the westernmost boundary of the Mongol Empire. At that moment, it was stretching from the Adriatic, eastward across the vast Eurasia, to the shores of the Sea of Japan.

Thomas, archdeacon of Spalato (1200-1268), was a witness. Four chapters (XXXVI-IX) of his Historia (1894) narrate the approach of the Mongols to Hungary, the conquest of the country, and flight of Bela IV to Dalmatia, with the invading army in pursuit, ending with the unexpected withdrawal of the Mongols, and the famine that followed their departure. He mentions Belgrade (civita, or urb Albus) twice (in 1894 ed. - p. 171, 172).

In ch. XXXVIII of his Historia Thomas describes how the Mongols crossed frozen Danube during winter 1242, to burn Buda, on the west bank of Danube (part of today Budapest), and pillaged and burned Esztergom. Ch. XXXIX mostly describes further pursuit of king Bela.

First, Qadan advanced into Slavonia and Croatia pursuing Bela. Bela fled to find safety on the Dalmatian coast, and the Mongols move down to Dalmatia, and ravage the Split (Spalato) countryside. Refugees stream into the city. In March, 1242, Mongols advance guard approached walls of the city for possible reconnaissance. After the main army under Qadan arrived, fortress of Klis was besieged. When the Mongols learned that Bela was not in Klis, the siege was lifted. Mongols divided their forces; some advanced toward Trogir, others turned toward Split. Bela boarded a ship to Trogir, to run from the Mongolian army. With the Mongolian army disposed around the shore, Qadan vainly attempted to cross the channel separating Trogir from mainland. Mongol messenger addressed populace of Trogir “in the Slavonic language” to convince them to hand them Bela and his party. Failing to take the city, or to cause a rift among the defenders, the Mongols withdrew. Five or six times the coastal towns were subjected to raids.

Following the death of the Ogudai Khan (Dec. 11, 1241), in their capital, Karakorum, Batu and Qadan had to go back to settle the matter over succession. Mongols started their withdrawal in April, 1242. Bypassing Ragusa (Dubrovnik), Mongols set fire to Cattaro (Kotor). Passing inland through Serbia Qadan rejoined the forces of Batu in Bulgaria. There were brutal massacre of captives: ”Hungarians, Slavs, and other peoples” in Bulgaria, to make more easy their way back. But, we know, from other sources, that some captives from Belgrade were spared, and were taken as far as Karakorum. The recovery of Hungary after the Mongol invasions and its concurrent conflict with Serbia was described by Homan (1943, II: 165-187).




The Western traveler who, in 1254, reached Karakorum, was the Franciscan missionary, friar William of Rubruck who left an account (see, Rockhill, 1900) of what he saw there, at the time when the ruler was Mangu khan.2)

He found there a small colony of people from Europe, who were taken prisoners in Belgrade, by the Mongolians, and brought to Karakorum, when the Mongol armies retired from Central Europe.

The colony included the nephew of a Norman bishop, a certain Basil who was the son of an Englishman, and the Parisian goldsmith Guillaume Boucher. Boucher’s wife was a “daughter of Lorraine, but born in Hungary”... (Olschki, 1969: 1-2).

They all were in the service of the emperor and the members of his family. Boucher lived as a slave of Mangu Khan’s brother Arik-buga. However, he enjoyed privileges among other prisoners of war, because he was an artisan, and because Mongols held metal workers in high esteem. And most artisans in Karakorum were foreigners: Chinese, Tibetans, Moslems... Especially after 1235, experts and laborers were concentrated in the capital from the conquered parts of Western and Eastern Asia. ... this capital soon became the most cosmopolitan center of the world. (...) The Chinese and Tibetan elements prevailed... and only one Christian church of the Nestorian rite... described as “rather large and fine” had “its whole ceiling covered with a silken stuff interwoven with gold” (Olschki, 1969: 14-15).

The altar had an image of the Savior, Virgin, John the Baptist, and two angels, embroidered on cloth of gold, the lines of the body and of the garments marked with pearls (see Rockhill, 1900:168) -- which resembles very much the manner in which were presented holy figures, or kings, on some frescos in Serbian monasteries in the 13-th c.

No large group of Christians of the Greek rite seem to be settled down permanently in the capital. (...) The privileged situation of the Nestorians among all the Christians of Asia under Mongolian domination depended upon the well-known fact that several female members of the imperial family and some highly situated dignitaries of the court belonged to that sect. (...) Catholics at the capital and the Christians of Greek rite living in Mongolia refused to attend the services of those heretics... Religious peace was secured throughout the empire by the judicious policy of the Khans who granted all their peoples the most liberal freedom of worship.

At Karakorum the palaces of the court and administration seem to have been built and decorated mainly by the Chinese craftsmen. It is only in the surroundings of the capital that some specimen of Western Asiatic architecture, Byzantine craft and European art subsisted at Guillaume Boucher’s time. (Olschki, 1969: 16-17).

The throne of Kuyuk Khan was manufactured in 1246, for his enthronement, by a Ruthenian goldsmith called Cosmas, in Byzantine style.



During his career in Karakorum, Boucher made principally two kinds of art-work: one for the Catholic and Nestorian community, and the other for the khans. Most important among the first was an image of the Blessed Virgin sculptured in French fashion and protected by two hinged door, on which he presented in relief the Gospel story.

Among the second, was a fountain, which kept him busy for a long time, and which was performed as a team work of fifty artisans, from China, Turkestan and Mohammedan Asia, headed by Boucher. This fountain was a most conspious ornament of the royal residence at Karakorum.3)

The fountain was described as having a form of a tree, beneath which were four silver lions belching “white wine”, with four serpents in the upper part, which poured four other types of drink. The fountain was placed at the entrance where originally the jars or bags of wine and liquors used to stand in the Mongolian tents. Being at the front part of the reception hall of the court, its main purpose was to deliver, through its valves, various drinks to the guests. The drinks included rice wine, and cervoise of millet (from China), mead (based on honey - also known in Serbia as “medovina”), “white wine” (the national Mongolian drink kumis -- fermented mare milk), and red wine (grape wine - from Persia, and Turkestan).

At the emperors festivals and receptions all these liquors had to be distributed in large quantities and for several hours (sometimes - several days, D. P.) in a hall filled to capacity with nobles and notables from many countries. It was in order to assure a fair, speedy and orderly distribution of those different Asiatic drinks that the emperor asked the Parisian master to contrive a fountain fitting into the architectonic frame of his throne and reception hall. When the fountain was inaugurated at the spring reception of 1254, the Parisian master got a special reward... (Olschki, 1969: 58 - Rockhill, 1900: 34).



One could ask - how come, that a French goldsmith found himself in Belgrade (Hungarian: Nándorfehérvár), in 1242, and then was captured, and taken as far as Karakorum (today remnants of Karakorum are in North Central Mongolia, 350 km west of Ulan Bator).

Part of the answer can be found in the fact that king Bela III of Hungary (1148 - 1196) was married to a princess of the Capet Dynasty of France, Agnes de Chatillon (1154 - 1184), and he promoted close cultural and political ties with Western Europe, especially with France. His successor, and father of Bela IV, king Andras II (1176-1235) was also married to a French, Yolande de Courtenay (1198-1233).

Second, the Latin Bishop of Belgrade at the time of the Mongol conquest was a Norman from Belleville, near Rouen.

The French ecclesiastical dignitaries and the representatives of the French monastic orders were followed by craftsmen who spread throughout Hungary the regional and individual varieties of the gothic style in art and architecture. The French bishop of Belgrade continued in Eastern Europe the old tradition of the Norman prelates who inspired and kept busy the most enterprising architects and craftsmen during the first expansion of Romanesque art in Western Europe, England, Italy, Sicily and the Levant. At the epoch of the Tartar invasion Hungary was one of the many countries of Europe which acknowledged the prestige and accepted the supremacy of the contemporary French civilization. (...) The famous sketch book of Villard de Honnecourt reveals that even an artist who collaborated in the construction and decoration of the Cathedral of Reims settled down somewhere in Hungary for several years. We have no reason to presume that Guillaume Boucher was no less skilled and versatile a master than his famous contemporary from the neighboring Picardy. The Mongolian leaders who captured him and took him to the emperor’s capital certainly knew that they had made a good catch (Olschki, 1969: 3-4).

What kind of a city was Belgrade at that time?

The Hungarians themselves had little to contribute to it. Higher culture, courtly manners, literary interests were largely dominated by French influence. French was the language of the Hungarian court and nobility long before the Anjou dynasty succeeded Arpads on St. Stephen’s throne (Olschki, 1969: 2).




1) Batu (died c. 1255), grandson of Genghis Khan and founder of the Khanate of Kipchak, or the Golden Horde. In 1235 Batu was elected commander in chief of the western part of the Mongol empire and was given responsibility for the invasion of Europe. By 1240 he had conquered all of Russia. In the campaign in central Europe, one Mongol army defeated Henry II, Duke of Silesia (now in Poland), on April 9, 1241; another army led by Batu himself defeated the Hungarians two days later. With Poland, Bohemia, Hungary, and the Danube valley under his control, Batu was poised for the invasion of western Europe when he received news of the death of the head of the Mongol empire, the great khan Ögödei (or Ogudai) in Dec. 1241. In order to participate in the choice of a successor, Batu withdrew his army, and thus Ogudai’s death saved Europe from probable devastation. He established the state of the Golden Horde in southern Russia, which was ruled by his successors for the next 200 years. In 1240 Batu's army sacked and burned Kiev, then the major city in Russia. Under the Golden Horde, the center of Russian national life gradually moved from Kiev to Moscow.

2) Möngke, also spelled Mangu (1208-1259), grandson of Genghis Khan, was a great khan 1250-1259. He was the last who held this title to base his capital at Karakorum, in central Mongolia. Under his rule the city achieved an unprecedented splendor, and the Mongol Empire continued to expand at a rapid rate. Its territory became so large and diverse that Möngke was the last great khan capable of exerting real authority over all the Mongol conquests. Kublai had himself proclaimed great khan in 1260. Kublai's reign has been romanticized in the West ever since Marco Polo. Kublai Khan moved the capital from Karakorum (Kharakhorum), which had been built by Ögödei (not Genghis Khan), to a new city that he had built on the site of Chung-tu, naming it Ta-tu ("Great Capital"), later “Northern Capital” (Beijing - Peking).

3) As far as we know, there are two recorded images of this fountain, but both seem to be made on hear-say about the fountain. The first image (picture 1) is reproduced in the book by Olschki (1969: plate 3) and was made by an anonymous chalcographer for Pierrre Bergeron’s Voyages faits principalement en Asie, published at The Hague, in 1735. The second one was reproduced in East-West in Art (ed. by Bowie, 1966, illustr. 176, on p. 111), as a detail from the Ta-Ming Palace Scroll, attributed to Wang Chen-p’eng (Wang Zhenpeng - in the collection of John M. Crawford, Jr., now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York), and probably done in the 13th. c. Prof. Bowie said that the fountain presented is “possibly” related to the fountain constructed by G. Boucher.

However, on both images the fountain is presented as being outside of any hall.




- Barraclough, Geoffrey, ed. (1979): “The Mongol Empire Before 1259” - in Times Atlas of World History, London: Times Books Ltd.

- de Bergeron, Pierre (1735): Voyages faits principalement en Asie dans le XII, XIII, XIV, et XV siecles, The Hague (La Haye): Jean Neaulme

- Bowie, Theodore, ed. (1959): The Sketchbook of Villard de Honnecourt, Bloomington: Indiana UP

- Bowie, Theodore, ed. (1966): East-West in Art, Bloomington: Indiana UP

- Connell, C.W. (1969): “Western Views of the Tartars, 1240-1340” - Ph.D. Diss. Rutgers University

- Connell, C.W. (1973): “Western Views of the Origin of the Tartars; an Example of the Influence of Myth in the second half of the Thirteenth Century“ - Journal of Mediaeval and Renaissance Studies 3 (1973) 115-37;

- Chambers, J. (1979): The Devil’s Horsemen: The Mongol Invasion of Europe, New York

- Frank, Andre, G. (1998): ReORIENT - Global Economy in the Asian Age, Univ. of California Press

- Halász, Zoltán (1998): Hungary (A. Balla, photos; transl. by Zs. Béres), Budapest, Corvina

- Homan, B. (1943): Geschichte des Ungarischen Mittelalters (I- II) Berlin

- McDaniel, Gordon: (1982): "On Hungarian-Serbian Relations in the Thirteenth Century:

John Angelos and Queen Jelena" - Ungarn-Jahrbuch, volume 12 (1982/1983), p. 43-50

- Kont, I. (1902): Etude sur l’influence de la litterature francaise en Hongrie, Paris

- Olschki, Leonardo (1969): Guillaume Boucher - A French Artist at the Court of the Khans, New York, Greenwood Press

- Pálfy I. (1928): "A tatárok és a XIII. századi Európa" - Hefte des Colegium Hungaricum in Wien II, Budapest, p. 61-72.

- Rockhill, William W. (1900): The Journey of William of Rubruck to the Eastern Parts of the World, London, Hakluyt society

- Sweeney, James Ross (1981): “Thomas of Spalato and The Mongols: A Thirteenth-Century Dalmatian View of Mongol Customs” - paper at the Fourth International Colloquim on Mediaeval Civilization: “Travellers, Traders aand Foreigners --The Mediaeval View of the Outsider, Scarborough College, University of Toronto, January 21, 1981.

- Thomas of Spalato (1894): Historia Salonitana - F. Racki, Monumenta Spectantia Historiam Slavorum Meridionalium, Vol. III, Zagreb, 1894

- Van den Wyngaert, P. Anastasius (1929): Sinica Franciscana, Vol. I, Florence, Quaracchi


Dushan Pajin,Ph. D. is philosophy of art and aesthetics Professor at the Arts University of Belgrade, Yugoslavia. He is the author of 10 books on history of culture (East and West). Address: M. Popovica 28/14, 11070 N. Beograd, Yugoslavia - e-mail: - home page -


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