Mongol Names in 13th Century Latin

by Mari ingen Briain meic Donnchada (Kathleen M. O'Brien)

© 1999-2007 by Kathleen M. O'Brien. All rights reserved.
Version 1.3, updated 12 November 2007


The document that we know today as the Tartar Relation, is a description of the Carpini Mission to Central Asia in 1245-1247. It is a Latin document written in Europe in 1247 and so the Mongol names in this source are European Latin interpetations of Mongol names and not the names as they would have been found in their native form.

The Carpini Mission

In 1245, concern about the Mongols led Pope Innocent IV to send two missions into Central Asia to gather information on the Mongols. The first of these missions was led by Friar John de Plano Carpini (d. 1252) and consisted of at least two other members: Friar Benedict the Pole, and likely Friar Ceslaus the Bohemian (named in the Tartar Relation). This mission left Lyons on Easter Day, April 16, 1245, and traveled via a northern route to Karakorum, returning to Lyons on November 18, 1247.

Carpini wrote an account of the journey which he entitled Historia Mongalorum [sic] quos nos Tartaros appellamus [1] (of which there were two versions). The Tartar Relation (originally entitled Historia Tartarorum) was written by a Franciscan friar C. de Bridia as a report to Friar Boguslaus (a minister of their order in Bohemia and Poland) and was completed on July 30, 1247. He wrote his account of the Carpini mission, by his own statement, from knowledge gained from contact with the three members of the mission (and possibly from a draft of a document by Friar Benedict). "The primary subjects of this report were the history of the Mongols and their conquests, their character, way of life, social customs, and religious beliefs, their methods of making war and their future intentions". [2]

About the Manuscript Source for the Tartar Relation

The manuscript which the editors of The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation used as their source for the Tartar Relation has been dated to the Upper Rhineland, circa 1440. They say of the Tartar Relation manuscript that it appears "to have been written in extreme haste, as though the scribe had it in his possession for a very short time." [3]

Normalization and Standardization of Orthograpy in the The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation

The book The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation contains a facsimile of both the Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation manuscripts. Following the facsimile are sections dealing with the history behind these documents, then a facing page translation of the text of the Tartar Relation. The left pages are in modern English. The right pages are in the Latin of the text, though the editors have standardized the Latin to make it more readable. In instances where the proper names in the transcription have been standardized from their form in the actual manuscript, the editors have noted that fact. They chose one Latin spelling for each name (say Cingis for Chingis Khan) and have used that one spelling consistently throughtout the Latin text. In the instances where the manuscript did not spell the name in this form, they included a footnote identifying that fact (i.e. MS Cingiz).

It is worth noting that the Latin forms of Mongol names in this record do not seem to decline. In other words, regardless of whether the Latin sentence structure would cause the name to take a nominative or genitive (or some other) case, the form of the Mongol name is the same. The variance in the spelling of names seen in this document seems to be simple variance, not changes due to changes in case.


1. pp. 21-22 of Skelton, R. A. Thomas E. Marston, and George D. Painter, ed., The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, new edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

2. p. 22, ibid.

2. p. 8, ibid.


Skelton, R. A. Thomas E. Marston, and George D. Painter, ed., The Vinland Map and the Tartar Relation, new edition (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1995).

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