The Mongol Scourge and the Fat-Bottomed Sheep

Self is on p. 68 of Marco Polo:  From Venice to Xanadu.  What a fascinating read this is turning out to be.

Here is a passage about the marauding Mongol armies of Genghis Khan:

No other invaders did as much damage to Afghanistan’s delicate infrastructure as the Mongols.  Their numbers were immense; an army of sixty or seventy thousand Mongol warriors on horseback would suddenly appear and overwhelm the region of their choice.  The warriors could fire as many as six arrows a minute on horseback, facing forward or backward, at a full gallop . . .  resistance would be met with annihilation.


Self read somewhere that the Mongols slept on horseback, and used their enemies’ skulls as drinking goblets. (On the other hand, it’s all very well for a Mongol warrior to sleep while riding on his horse, but wouldn’t the horses themselves need sleep, eventually?  They couldn’t, presumably, keep galloping for days and days without surcease?  There you go again, self, with the digressions!)

An army of sixty to seventy thousand soldiers!  That’s almost as much as the entire population of Redwood City, California.  Self can imagine why the Mongol armies, appearing so suddenly, could imbue the plains dwellers with such fear.  They must have looked like a cloud of locusts —  and been  every bit as unstoppable.

As a welcome distraction from the ever-present threat of annihilation by rampaging Mongol hordes, Marco Polo turned his attention to the “fat-bottomed sheep climbing the mountains.”  These may have “inspired women in the area to exaggerate their physiques.  They do this to show that they have large hips to become beautiful, because in that region their men delight in fat women, and she who appears more stout below the waist seems to them more beautiful”  and “not only that, but more glorious among other women.”

Stay tuned, dear blog readers.  Stay tuned.

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