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William Rubruck

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(Also called William of Rubruck and less correctly Ruysbrock, Ruysbroek, and Rubruquis), Franciscan missionary and writer of travels; b. at Rubrouc in northern France probably about 1200; d. after 1256. He became closely connected with St. Louis (Louis IX) in Paris, accompanied him on his crusade, and was at Acre and Tripoli. Louis, notwithstanding his repeated ill-success, again formed the plan of converting the Tatars to Christianity, and at the same time of winning them as confederates against the Saracens. Consequently at his orders Rubruck undertook an extended missionary journey, going first to visit Sartach, son of Batu and ruler of Kiptchak, then reported to have become a Christian. In 1253 Rubruck started from Constantinople, crossed the Black Sea, traversed the Crimea towards the North, and then continued eastward; nine days after crossing the Don he met the khan. The latter was not inclined to agree to the schemes of St. Louis and sent the ambassadors to his father Batu, living near the Volga. Batu would not embrace Christianity and advised the envoys to visit the great Khan Mangu. In midwinter they reached the eastern point of Lake Alakul, south of Lake Balkasch, and near this the Court of the khan, with which they arrived at Karakorum at Easter, 1254. After residing for some time in this city they had to return home without having obtained anything. On the return journey they took a somewhat more northerly route and arrived in the spring of 1255 by way of Asia Minor at Cyprus, whence they proceeded to Tripoli.

The report of the journey which Rubruck presented to the king is a geographical masterpiece of the Middle Ages. It exceeds all earlier treatises in matter, power of observation, keenness of grasp, and clearness of presentment, besides being but little spoiled by fabulous narratives. In it Rubruck gives a clear account of the condition of China, of the characteristics and technical skill of its inhabitants, of their peculiar writing, and of the manufacture of silk; he also mentions paper money, printing, the division into castes, rice brandy, kumiss, speaks of the physicians who diagnosed diseases by the pulse, and prescribed rhubarb. The Middle Ages also owed to him the solution of a disputed geographical question; he proved that the Caspian was an inland sea and did not flow into the Arctic. He called attention to the relationship between German and the Indo-Germanic group of languages, and to the family unity of the Hungarians, Bashkirs, and Huns in the great racial division of the Finns ; and he also gave a circumstantial account of the religion of the Mongols and the various ceremonies of the idolaters. Rubruck's account has been edited by the Société de Géographie in the "Recueil de voyages et de mémoires", IV (Paris, 1893), German translation by Kulb in the "Geschichte der Missionsreisen nach Mongolei", I, II (Ratisbon, 1860); English tr. by Rockhill, "The Journey of William of Rubruk to the Eastern Parts" (London, 1900).

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