N° 32
Letter from Argun, Mongol Khan of Persia, to Philppe le Bel, King of France

Paper scroll
H: 25 cm, L: 180 cm
Uigur characters, Mongol language, Chinese seals of the Mongol sovereign, red ink
Paris, National Archives, Museum of French History
(J.937. II.n°8) (A.E.III 202)

Following Saint-Louis' attempts at alliance with the Mongols, more than twenty years passed without any project being organised against the Mamelukes of Egypt, regarded by both parties as the common enemy.

In 1289, however, Argun, son of Khan Agaba, presented Philippe le Bel with a plan of campaign aimed at recovering Jerusalem for the West. Thirty years on, it is again a question of proposing an alliance against the Mamelukes of Egypt, a proposition which, for the Mongols, appears self-evident, convinced as they were of their legitimate sovereignty over the affairs of the region.

Here are the terms set out in Argun's letter, conserved in the National Archives:

By the might of Eternal God, under the auspices of Khagan Argoun, our word: King of France, by the envoy Mar-Bar Sevma Sakhora, you have summoned me:

When the Ilkhan's troops march against Egypt, we shall set off from here to join them. Having received this message from you, I have said that we would propose, placing our confidence in God, to set out in the last month of winter in the year of the TIger (January 1291), and camp before Damascus towards the 15th of first month of spring (around 20 February). If you keep you word and send your troops at the agreed time, and if God is with us, when we have taken Jerusalem from these people we shall hand it over to you. To miss the rendezvous, however, would mean moving the troops in vain: would this suit you? And if, furthermore, one of us is not ready to act with the other, what advantage could he obtain? I have sent Mouskeril the Tchurtchi who will tell you that if you send us ambassadors conversant with several languages and who bring us rare and pleasant gifts from France with paintings of different hues, we shall be most grateful to you, by almighty God and the fortune of the Khagan.

Our letter is written this sixth day of the last half of the first month of summer in the year of the Ox (1289) at our residence at Koundouian.

The letter bears the seal, no doubt given by Kublai, Mongol Emperor of China, as token of authorisation to exercise sovereignty in the name of the powers resident in Cambalic (Peking). The Chinese characters of the seal designate him as «he (who)upholds the State and who brings peace to the people".

Accompanying the letter is a diplomatic note drawn up by Argun's ambassador, the Genoese Buscarel (cat n°33). Having handed over the document to Philippe le Bel, Buscarel travelled on to London for an audience with Edward I in January 1290, thus completing the mission to Western sovereigns with which Argun had entrusted him.

The project, however, like the previous one conceived by Saint-Louis, came to nothing, no doubt owing, on the one hand, to certain oversights on the part of the Westerners, and, on the other, to the death of Argun the following year.

Marie-Catherine Rey