Bar Sawma


Brief Biography: Bar Sauma, born in Tai-tu (Northern China) about  1260, was a descendant of the Onggud Turks who joined the Mongols early in the  reign of Chinggis Khan. Like other Onggud Turks, his family were members of the  Nestorian church, the most active Christian church in Central Asia. By the age  of twenty-five, Sauma had taken vows to become a Nestorian monk and built a cell  to meditate in isolation. Able to read Syraic, Turkic, and possibly Chinese, he  was well-educated as well as pious. Fired by a zeal to visit Nestorian monuments  in the Middle East and Jerusalem, Sauma and his student Markos, later to become  the patriarch and leader of the Nestorian church centered in Baghdad, set out on  their arduous pilgrimage sometime before 1278. They reached the Mongol  territories in Persia, but were unable to continue their journey to Jerusalem  because of the political situation. Instead Sauma eventually found himself  appointed to a diplomatic mission which would take him to Constantinople, Genoa,  Paris, Bordeaux, and Rome and which would involve negotiations for joint  operations to force the Mamluks of Egypt out of the Holy Land. He died in  Baghdad in 1313 without reaching Jerusalem.

Brief Itinerary: Leaving Taitu shortly after Marco Polo arrived in  China, Sauma and Markos followed the Yellow River southwest to Ningxia. From  there, they took the southern silk road below the Taklamakan Desert passing  through Miran and following a course along the Chenchen river for about 500  miles to Khotan. The section of their travel from Ningxia to Khotan took two  months. They proceeded to Kashgar, Talas, and Tus, the Ilykhan capital of  Khurasan, Maragha, and finally Baghdad. From there the two men travelled to  Nestorian centers in Beth Garmai, Arbil, Mosul, and back to Baghdad. From there  they went to Tabriz and Ani, and then headed to port cities abong the Black Sea.  At this point Armenian and Georgian friends advised them of the great danger of  trying to reach the Holy Land, so they return to Maragha.


  • Text based on Budge, E.A. Wallis. The Monk of Kublai Khan, Emperor of  China; or The History of the Life and Travels of Rabban Sawma, Envoy and  Plenipotentiary of the Mongol Khans to the Kings of Europe and Markos who as  Yahbh-Allaha III Became Patriarch of the Nestorian Church in Asia. London:  The Religious Track Society, 1928.

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