01.08.

1252: Giovanni da Pian del Carpine Visited Mongolia before even Marco Polo

1252: Giovanni da Pian del Carpine Visited Mongolia before even Marco Polo
Photo Credit To Wikipedia Commons/John of Plano Carpini's great journey to the East. His route is indicated, railroad track style, in dark blue

Story Highlights

  • Historical event
  • 1 August 1252
  • As a papal legate, Giovanni da Pian del Carpine personally communicated with the Mongol Great Khan, ruler of the world’s greatest empire. The Mongol Empire was at the time a nominally unified state under the leadership of the Great Khan (also known as the “Kagan”, or Khan of Khans”).

This day in 1252 marked the death of famous Christian missionary Giovanni da Pian del Carpine.

He is of special interest since he traveled from Europe to the far-off capital of the great Mongol Empire before even Marco Polo.

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine even personally spoke with the Mongol Great Khan, ruler of the world’s largest empire. Marco Polo wasn’t even born until after Giovanni’s death.

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine was born Italian. He was roughly the same age as St Francis of Assisi, and both hailed from the same region (Umbria in Italy). Giovanni was one of St Francis’s colleagues and thus one of the first Franciscans.

As it is widely known, the Mongols launched an invasion of Europe during the 1240s, and it is often claimed that only the death of Great Khan Ögedei saved Europe from ruin.

In these circumstances, after direct Mongol pressure lessened, Pope Innocent IV sent the first Catholic delegation to the Mongol capital, far away in Central Asia.

Its leader was Giovanni da Pian del Carpine, who set off in 1245 and took a route more to the north of Marco Polo’s. Thus, after much hardship, Giovanni da Pian del Carpine arrived in 1246 in Karakorum, capital of the world’s largest empire.

In Karakorum a new Great Khan, Güyük, had recently inherited the throne from his father Ögedei. Güyük was a grandson of the famous Genghis Khan.

The Mongol Empire was at the time nominally a unified state under the leadership of the Great Khan (also known as the “Kagan”, or “Khan of Khans”).

The capital at Karakorum was located roughly in the center of the modern state of Mongolia, several hundred kilometers west of the current Mongol capital at Ulaanbaatar.

From there the Great Khan ruled over the vast Mongol Empire, which stretched from Korea to Hungary.

Giovanni da Pian del Carpine even participated in Güyük’s enthronement ceremony. The Great Khan refused to convert to Christianity, but sent a letter to the Pope via Giovanni.

The delegation started its return journey to Europe near the end of that year. After he arrived back in Rome, the Pope appointed Giovanni the Catholic Archbishop of Bar (in modern Montenegro). Archbishop Giovanni died on this day, only five years after he returned from Mongolia.

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