Szilvia Kovács (University of Szeged, Hungary) “Christian Missions in the Chagataid Ulus”


The Franciscans or the Order of Minor (Ordo Fratrum Minorum), formed in the 13th century, played a significant role in the history of Papacy in the 13–14th centuries. The Popes of this period regularly entrusted friars with diplomatic tasks. In addition, the most important duty of the Franciscans corresponding with the intention of the Papacy was to spread Christianity in territories which were regarded paganist from the point of view of the Christian World.

Like the Franciscans, the Mongol Empire was created in the 13th century. After its founder Genghis Khan died (1227), the empire was divided among his four sons from his first wife – regardless of whether it was already part of the empire or yet to be conquered. The biggest part of the territories in Central Asia (from the Tarim Basin to the Amu Darya) was ruled by the second son, Chagatay. It is well known that the Chagatay ulus such as the Golden Horde (the heritage of Jochi) and Ilkhanate (the ulus of Hülegü, the son of Genghis’ fourth son) embraced Islam. However, in the second half of the 13th century and the first half of the 14th century, the Popes hoped that the Mongol Empire and its successor states could be Christianized by the efforts of missionaries. Thus, a number of Franciscan and Dominican friars took the road to the Mongols. In my presentation I will discuss the missionary activities of the Franciscan friars in the territory of the Chagatay ulus (i.e. Paschalis de Vitoria, Odoric de Pordenone) based on Franciscan sources (i.e. letters, itineraries).