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Francesco Pegolotti, Advice to Merchants Bound for Cathay (c. 1340)

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Guided Short Essay: Historical Document Analysis

Name of the historical document:

Francesco Pegolotti, Advice to Merchants Bound for Cathay (c. 1340)

Part One: Identifying the Document

1. Who wrote it?

Francesco Balducci Pegolotti

2. When is it from?

From c.1340

Part Two: Making Sense of the Document

3. What is the document talking about? Why did the author write it? (150 words minimum)

The document is talking about when during the 13th century, the Mongol Empire had great connections around Eurasia. Due to that, there were merchants especially polos travelling to China for trading and merchandising. However, before travelling to Cathay, there are several important guidelines to be noted for the merchants. For example, physically one should have a long beard to fit in the local culture and to look like the locals. Also, in order to be safe and communicate properly, the merchant should have a good translator (Dragonman) with an additional two good menservants who are able to speak Cumanian. For comfortability, the merchant can choose to take a woman with him who speaks Cumanian. On the journey, meals of 25 days should be prepared which should include flour and salt fish. The estimated total cost of the journey from Tana to Cathay will cost sixty to eighty sommi of silver. The road which the merchant will be taking from Tana to Cathay is safe, but by chance, if the merchant dies, all of his merchandises will be given to the lord of the country he dies. And if the merchants want to travel from Tana to Sara, the road is less safe but if one has enough company, then it is not an issue at all to get there safely. Merchants carrying silver will be exchanged for yellow papers. The merchant can use the yellow paper to buy silk and other products.  

The author wrote it to guide merchants who have never traded in Cathay. He is teaching the merchants to not only how to merchandise in Cathay but also how to stay safe during the journey to Cathay. He is also guiding on the total expenses of the journey and which way is safer and how much silk should cost and how much should one buy if bought. He also explains the different types and value of the money. He further mentions things to do and things not do. It is a business guidebook for male merchants who have interest to trade in Cathay.

4. What is surprising or interesting to you about the document? Or more specifically, does it, in any way, relate to your career aspiration and/or current world affairs? (150 words minimum)

It does relate to the current world affairs especially when we look at how trading is done today to how it was done back in the older periods. It is interesting how merchandising was conducted back in the 13th century. Merchants had to consider so many factors while travelling to the place they wanted to trade, for example, the safety of the journey as well as the place they were going to trade in. They also had to consider how they looked physically such as having specific requirements, for example, as mentioned in the reading, the merchants shouldn’t shave and should grow their beard long.  (Francesco, 1340). They also had to consider the convenience of finding food on the way. Due to not having any mobile or technology, they needed translators to help translate and also needed someone to entertain them on their journey such as the use of women as entertainers. The convenience of trading in other countries was definitely not high and was much more incomprehensible as compared to today’s merchandising. Merchants in today's world have shorter distances to travel, convenient ways to travel and even don’t need to travel with their goods anymore. The convenience of high technology has abled them to do anything and everything just by using their mobile phones. In terms of the gender division, in older centuries, merchants were all males as the writer used “he” all the time, while today we see women as merchants too. The changes in merchandising are very significant but it is also surprising to witness such huge changes in today's merchant industry.

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