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History Unplugged Podcast

with Scott Rank

Explorers Who Pushed the Boundary of the Known World, Part 1: Rabban Bar Sauma (1220-1294) – the Reverse Marco Polo

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This is the first in a multi-part series on the most consequential travelers and explorers in history and how their discoveries, land conquests, and diplomatic negotiations shaped the modern world.

Whether it is Rabban Bar Sauma, the 13th-century Chinese monk commissioned by the Mongols to travel West form a military alliance against the Islam; Marco Polo, who opened a window to the East for Europe; or Captain James Cook, whose maritime voyages of discovery created the global economy of the 21st century, each of these explorers had an indelible impact on modern society.

Today’s episode focuses on Rabban Bar Sauma. He and his student Rabban Markos were two Nestorian Christian monks who resided in the heart of Mongolian China. From the East, they set out on a journey of several thousand miles to reach Jerusalem. They traveled in the capacity of both holy men and official envoys from the Mongol Empire to Europe, and Bar Sauma attempted to negotiate a military alliance between Europe and Persia to fight the Mamluks of Egypt.

Rabban Bar Sauma, dubbed by historians as the “reverse Marco Polo” for his journey of
discovery from China to the largely unknown lands of Europe, embarked on an epic
pilgrimage from the Eastern region of Beijing through Rome and as far as to Gascony, a
Gaulish kingdom in what is known today as the Bordeaux region of France. This multi-year journey afforded Bar Sauma an East-to-West perspective. He was the first traveler from China to set food in medieval Europe and the first Asian diplomat to correspond with European monarchs and popes.
June 15, 2021
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Meet Your Host
Scott Rank is the host of the History Unplugged Podcast and a PhD in history who specialized in the Ottoman Empire and modern Turkey. Before going down the academic route he worked as a journalist in Istanbul. He has written 12 history books on topics ranging from lost Bronze Age civilizations to the Age of Discovery. Some of his books include The Age of Illumination: Science, Technology, and Reason in the Middle Ages and History’s 9 Most Insane Rulers.. Learn more about him by going to
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