2017. Vol. 5, no. 3. Mirko Sardelić

2017. Vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 494-508

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.22378/2313-6197.2017-5-3.494-508


Mirko Sardelić
Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts
Zagreb, Croatia

The research objective is to analyse why the accounts of two missionaries who visited the same Mongol “Other” in 1245 are quite different, despite their authors belonging to the same Christian circle. More specifically, the paper explores why Simon’s report is so much more negative in its depiction of the Mongols, and the imagological and emotional impact that these representations had.
My research materials include the two mendicant reports produced by John and Simon as well as extant scholarly discussions of various aspects of the Mongol Other, apocalyptic literature, and the relations between Western Christendom and the Mongol Empire in the mid-13th century.
The research innovation of the article is in the comparison of the two contemporary accounts, the elaboration of their differences in representation of the Mongols, and the analysis of their imagery from the perspective of the history of emotions.
The aim of this paper is to show that in interpreting medieval European texts about the Mongols, one should combine approaches from various fields, including (but not limited to) history of emotions, cultural and literal history, anthropology, cross-cultural sociology, and others. Immediate and incorrect interpretations that the Mongols were cannibals or sodomites, as one could be tempted to hold from the account of Simon of Saint-Quentin, must be moderated from scholarly perspectives. These interpretations were the result of sediment layers of events in the 1240s: the violent contact of the Mongol armies with Western Christendom, contemporary Christian attempts to put the newcomers into known apocalyptic frameworks, and most probably the personal trauma of the author who had been threatened with death after an inaction with the Mongols, might be explained both as a cross-cultural misunderstanding and a display of power.
Research results: Comparison of the two accounts, one written by John of Plano Carpini and the other by Simon of Saint-Quentin, the contextualization of these sources within 13th-century missionary literature, parallel analysis of the imagery, as well as reference to other contemporary texts on the Mongols, offer a sound starting point for a complex process of re-creating the imagined Mongol conceived by Europeans in the late Middle Ages. This imagined Mongol consists of hundreds of reused images ranging from the Classical antiquity and biblical texts to medieval prophecies, with a power to elicit the most powerful emotions by a single reference. Subtle interdisciplinary approach is always needed to avoid misinterpretations of often highly emotional images that can bring hope or sow hatred, depending on their (mis)use.

Keywords: John of Plano Carpini, Simon of Saint-Quentin, mendicants, early papal missions to the East, 13th-century Mongol imaginary, apocalyptic literature, history of emotions

For citation: Sardelić M. John of Plano Carpini vs Simon of Saint-Quentin: 13th-century Emotions in the Eurasian Steppe. Zolotoordynskoe obozrenie=Golden Horde Review. 2017. Vol. 5, no. 3, pp. 494–508. DOI: 10.22378/2313-6197.2017-5-3.494-508


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About the author: Mirko Sardelić – Ph.D. (Medieval History), Research Associate at the Department for Historical Research of the Croatian Academy of Sciences and Arts; Co-Director of the Centre for the Study of Emotions in Cross-Cultural Exchange (Strossmayerov trg 2, 10000 Zagreb, Croatia); Honorary Research Fellow of the ARC Cent­re of Excellence for the History of Emotions (Europe 1100–1800) at University of Western Australia. E-mail: msardelic@hazu.hr

Received  May 19, 2017   Accepted for publication August 31, 2017
Published online  September 30, 2017