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The History of the Tartars


We are excited to announce our forthcoming publication of the History of the Tartars: The Flower of the Histories of the East on May 18, 2021.

The History of the Tartars: The Flower of the Histories of the East first appeared in 1307 in the city of Poitiers. Dictated in French by the Cilician Armenian statesman and general, Het’um, and then translated into Latin the same year by his secretary, Nicholas Falcon, the work is contained in four books: Book I is a geographical survey of the Far East, Central Asia, the Caucasus, Asia Minor, and parts of the Near East. Book II is a brief account of Muslim military history, including the rise of the Seljuks and Khwarazmians. Book III describes the early history of the Mongols, information on the Great Khans, the Il-Khans of Iran, and Mongol warfare in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Caucasus to ca. 1304. Book IV contains Het'um's suggestions to Pope Clement V (1305-14) on initiating a crusade to retake Jerusalem and parts of Cilician Armenia, Lebanon and Syria from Muslim powers, using the combined forces of the Europeans, Cilician Armenians and Mongols. Some scholars have suggested that Book IV was not part of the original French composition, but was added to the Latin translation and then translated into French and appended to the French text. Without Book IV, Het'um's work is an interesting account of Asian, Middle Eastern, and Mongol history and geography, to be categorized with accounts of 13th century European visitors to the East. With Book IV, Het'um's History enters the ranks of Crusader literature, but with the difference that its author, rather than being a pious and limited cleric, was instead a successful and influential general and tactician who had participated with his troops in numerous Mongol campaigns against the Mamluks.

The present edition is the first translation of The History of the Tartars into modern English in a long line of manuscripts and translations. Filling a gap in Europe's knowledge of the Mongols, The History of Tartars quickly became a popular work and remained so for several hundred years. Fifteen copies of the original French text and thirty-one copies of the Latin text have survived. In the mid 14th century, the Latin text was translated back into French twice, while a vernacular Spanish text appeared at the end of the century. (One of the Old French texts dated 1400-1410 has been digitized by the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF) and can be viewed here, and at least one other from the mid-late 15th century at the British Library can be viewed here). Printed editions soon followed these manuscripts. The French text was published three times in the early 16th century, and editions of the Latin text appeared in 1529, 1532, 1537, 1555, and 1585. Between 1517 and 1520 Richard Pynson published A Lytell Cronycle, a Middle English translation that he made from the French. Translations also were made into German (1534), Italian (1559, 1562), Spanish (1595), and Dutch (1563, as well as three subsequent translations in the late 17th century). By this time, Het'um had become known as Hetoum/Hethum, Haiton/Hayton, Haithon/Haython, and Brother Anton. An Armenian edition was published by Awgerean in 1842, based on a Latin text. The only modern edition of the French and Latin versions appeared in 1906 and the Spanish text, with a study, was published in 1934.

Het'um, born sometime in the mid 1240s, was a son of prince Oshin, lord of Korikos in Cilician Armenia. Though biographical details of his early life are lacking, his family clearly enjoyed great influence in Cilicia. His father, Oshin, was the younger brother of King Het'um I (1226-69) and of the kingdom's Constable, Smbat Sparapet (commander-in-chief of the army, d. 1276). Of the author's own children, several were also deeply involved in Cilician affairs of the late 13th century: Baudoin became governor of Tarsus; Constantine became Constable; Oshin became regent of Cilicia during the reign of Levon III (1305-07); and daughter Zabel (born 1282) was the wife of King Oshin (1307-20).

The History of the Tartars is translated by Robert Bedrosian. Robert received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 1979, specializing in ancient and medieval Armenian history, followed by a decades-long successful career in computer programming. Since 2009, he has uploaded over 2,000 documents online about ancient and medieval Armenian culture. A list of these documents can be found here, accompanied by 23 resource guides (clickable syllabuses) to help people navigate the materials.