Prior to the 13th century the horizons of Western Christians extended no further than the principalities of what is now European Russia and the Islamic powers of the near East. Beyond lay a world of which they had only the haziest impressions. The belief that Christian communities were to be found here was nurtured in the 12th century by the growth of the legend of Prester John; but otherwise Asia was peopled in the Western imagination by monstrous races borrowed from the works of late Antiquity. The rise of the Mongol empire, however, and the Mongol devastation of Hungary and Poland in 1241-2, brought the West into much closer contact with Inner Asia. Embassies were being exchanged with the Mongols from 1245; Italian merchants began to profit from the commercial opportunities offered by the union of much of Asia under a single power; and the newly emerging orders of preaching friars, the Franciscans and the Dominicans, who had been active in Eastern Europe and in the Islamic world since the 1220s, found their field of operations greatly expanded. The Franciscan William of Rubruck, who travelled through the Mongol empire in 1253-55, composed the earliest report of such a missionary journey that has come down to us. Couched in the form of a long letter to the French king Louis IX, this remarkable document constitutes an extremely valuable source on the Mongols during the era of their greatness. Rubruck was also the first Westerner to make contact with Buddhism, to describe the shamanistic practices by which the Mongols and other steppe peoples set such store, and to make detailed observations on the Nestorian Christian church and its rites. His remarks on geography, ethnography and fauna (notably the ovis poli, which he encountered a generation before the more celebrated Venetian adventurer from whom it takes its scientific name) give him an additional claim to be one of the keenest of medieval European observers to have travelled in Asia. This new annotated translation is designed to supersede that of W.W. Rockhill, published by the Society in 1900, by relating Rubruck's testimony to the wealth of material on Mongol Asia that has become accessible in other sources over the past nine decades.
Routledge is pleased to be the publisher for the Hakluyt Society.
The Hakluyt Society has for its object the advancement of knowledge and education, particularly in relation to the understanding of world history. The society publishes scholarly editions of primary sources on the 'Voyages and Travels' undertaken by individuals from many parts of the globe. These address the geography, ethnology and natural history of the regions visited, covering all continents and every period over the last two thousand years. Such texts, many previously available only in manuscript or in unedited publications in languages other than English, are the essential records of the stages of inter-continental and inter-cultural encounter.
Established in 1846, the Society has to date published over 350 volumes. All editions are in English. Although a substantial number of the Society's past editions relate to British ventures, with documentary sources in English, the majority concern non-British enterprises and are based on texts in languages other than English. Material originally written in Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French or Dutch has regularly appeared, material in Russian, Greek, Latin, Ethiopic, Chinese, Persian or Arabic occasionally.
All editions contain an introduction and scholarly annotation, giving both the general reader and the student a degree of assistance in understanding the material and providing guidance on the relevance of the episodes described, within the context of global development and world history. Volumes are often generously furnished with maps and contemporary illustrations.
Information about the Society may be obtained from the Administrative Assistant at the following address:
Hakluyt Society, c/o Map Library, The British Library, 96 Euston Road, London NW1 2DG, UK