The account of his visit to Ani in 1255

Little is known about Friar William of Rubruck's life. He was probably born between 1215 and 1230, was a Franciscan, and may have belonged to the Holy Land province rather than one in Western Europe.

He travelled to the Mongol court of Khan Mongke at Karakorum in central Asia, leaving Constantinople on 13th April 1253. Although he carried letters from King Louis of France, and Baldwin the Latin "emperor" of Constantinople, he travelled as a simple friar and his journey was evangelical rather than political: he had intended to spread the Christian faith among the Mongols. This was a difficult task given that his translator was incapable of translating the friar's theological language! When he left Karakorum he had baptised only six people.

King Louis had required him to put down in writing everything he saw among the "Tartars". Five copies of his manuscript survive dating from the last quarter of the 13th century. His account was written in Latin and was first translated into English in 1598. There were several subsequent translations, the excerpt below is taken from the most recent: "The Mission of Friar William of Rubruck. His Journey to the Court of the Great Kahn Mongke, 1253-1255", translated by Peter Jackson, the Haklyut Society, volume 173, 1990.

The "Sahensa" written about by William of Rubruck was Shahanshah, head of the Zakarian dynasty that had ruled Ani on behalf of the Georgians. The Mongols had captured Ani in either 1236 or 1239, during which a large part of the population had been massacred. Shahanshah had been absent from the city at the time of its capture, and later returned to govern Ani on behalf of the Mongols.

"Zacharias" was his son Zakare. Zakare enjoyed favour with the Mongol khan Hulagu and took part in the Mongol's Baghdad campaign in 1258, but was executed in 1261 on a number of charges. It seems that he was implicated in the rebellion of King David V of Georgia. Shahanshah also died in 1261, it is said from grief due to the execution of his son. Shortly after this, mainly as a result of excessive Mongol taxation, the Zakarians were forced to sell Ani to the Persian grand vizier of Hulagu khan.


We left this city (1) on the octave of the Epipany (2) having made a long stay there in view of the snow. It took us as many as four days to reach the territory of Sahensa, a Georgian who was at one time extremely powerful but is now tributary to the Tartars, who have demolished all of his fortifications. It was his father, named Zacharias, who acquired this territory, plucking its Armenian population out of the Saracens' grasp. It contains very fine villages inhabited exclusively by Christians, whose churches are run in the Frankish manner.

On the feast of the Purifaction (3) I was in a city called Aini, which belongs to Sahensa. Its population is extremely strong: it contains a thousand Armenian churches and two Saracen synagogues, and the Tartars station a commissioner there.

I took food with Sahensa, and was shown considerable respect by him, his wife and his son, Zacharias, a very fine-looking and sensible youth, who asked me whether you would be willing to retain him if he joined you. For the Tartars' overlordship goes so much against the grain with him that although he owns an abundance of everything he would rather be a pilgrim in a foreign land than endure their rule. They said in addition that they were sons of the Roman Church and that if the Lord Pope would send them some reinforcements they would personally bring all the neighbouring peoples into subjection to the church.

(1)     Naxvan - present day Nakhichevan
(2)     13th January 1255
(3)     2nd February 1255